Friday, February 24, 2017

Ongoing Culture Wars, Social Order and the use of the Bathroom by Transgender Students. Is the Intervention by those who oppose the Right of Transgender Students to use the Bathroom of their Choice Morally Credible?

The argument over the use of the bathroom by transgender students would seem to be absurd on the surface and without merit to some who embrace more progressive, thoughtful and critical views. Yet there is a deeper issue which compels the cultural and political battle lines drawn.  I remember working at my local Target store here in Emeryville, CA some years ago, where a situation arose when the only bathrooms available were the women’s bathroom and a bathroom where the parents could clean and change their baby’s diapers, etc.  What was interesting about the matter is that men having a choice to use the women’s bathroom, and/or the baby changing bathroom preferred to stand in physical stress and pain waiting the men’s restroom to open.  It was astounding as seemingly mature, thoughtful adults, chose to get physically stressed, some visibly in pain as they waited for the men’s restroom to open. 

For many, arguments over the use of the bathroom, between good, well intentioned and thoughtful people on all sides, are framed as concerns for parental rights, prevention, safety and privacy within a discourse on what is moral based on sensitivities affirmed by conservative or progressive interpretations of biblical scripture and a social order rooted in historical desires of sexism, racism and patriarchy. The bathroom issue presents a profound moral crisis as it echoes, at least for this writer, actions exemplified by the election in 2008 and 2012 of Barack Obama, the first African American, as President of the United States, the legalization of gay marriage, women’s rights, immigration, economic and cultural globalization, the war on terror, the decline and the gradual demise of the white working class as a significant voice in the U.S. cultural, economic and political arenas. The world no longer revolves around the exclusivity of desires, interpretations, imaginations and affirmations of white society and culture. 

Despite political situations unjust, alternative facts, divisive rhetoric, and the supposed deconstruction of the progressive, administrative state, as stated by Steve Bannon, senior advisor to the President of the United States at CPAC, a conservative political action convention, the U.S. is experiencing a fundamental sociocultural shift in its social order, this will not be stopped.  The use of bathrooms by transgender students is just the tip of the iceberg.  The bathroom issue is not so much about prevention, safety or privacy, but a means to address the reality that American society is moving beyond traditional notions of a social order based on the desires of white society and culture, its imagination, and its privilege as gained through genocide, enslavement, disregard for treaties, and various forms of oppression. The reaction to this shift has resulted in the election of a white alpha male daily proving he is unfit to be president, the attack on a free press, the burning of Mosques, bomb threats of Jewish Community Centers, millions of immigrants at risk of deportation, and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, to name a few.   

Rescinding the rules, contrary to Title IX, on the use of bathrooms by transgender students is just one more shot of intervention by those who fight for a more traditional social order against the inevitable progress of a liberal progressive agenda. That said, writing as one who is African American, transgender a woman and progressive, I suggest that agendas emerge from those intimate authentic spaces of being and therefore whatever intervention of religion, politics, law enforcement, cultural or social discourses engaged are primarily confronting questions of authenticity and how to live out that authenticity daily in the face of oppression and in some cases repression. June Jordan, author of Civil Wars. Touchstone, 1981, writes, Intervention has its limits. The limits of intervention, particularly when it comes to matters of civil rights and social justice, conjure images of Bull Conner, water hoses and his dogs, Church Bombings, and Jim Crow, as those who stubbornly held on to a social order that had long past. Their intervention for the sake of a social order based on racism and the affirmation of whiteness eventually led to their shame. 

Considering Black History Month, the question for this writer in addition to whether a transgender student can use the bathroom of their choice is a moral one. Is the intervention by those seeking to protect or at least, shore up a social order in transition moral? Is there moral credibility to their argument? The many successes of the civil rights movement including the election of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States makes it clear that the morality of the argument is crucial in attaining the justice of Micah 6:8 and a peace within unhindered by injustice.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God?

In closing, the use of the bathroom by transgender students must be seen within the larger context of a culture war of moral consequence at least for now being prosecuted by the local community upon the Trump administration rescinding rules regarding transgender students use of bathroom in schools and the supreme court. In this sense the bathroom issue is at the vanguard of a human rights, liberal progressive political agenda and must be defended at all cost not just for itself but for the liberation of the soul from regimes of ignorance and oppression and the freedom to be at peace within.  

Monday, February 20, 2017


As ordained clergy, transgender scholar and activist engaged in the gospel of Jesus Christ, I find that a Sabbath-rest, that is, intentional and sacred resting, is crucial to my well-being and sustainability.  Recently, while waiting for a flight out of Atlanta, GA after a Sojourner Truth Leadership Circle retreat focused on rest and appreciation, I posted on facebook the following statement, “Waiting on a plane in Atlanta, GA, I am reminded that the work we do as a matter of social justice is necessary and noble, it also requires that each of us gets the rest needed.” Working on the message for today I was reminded of the amazing work done by each of us to make the gospel of Jesus Christ real in our life and in the lives of those around us.  That we are engaged in an intense struggle of moral consequence against profound and blatant injustice.  A time when truth and facts, as reported by various credible media outlets, have been sequestered for the sake of political gain and racism and extreme affirmations of racial identity. Divisive and caustic rhetoric and lies seem to be the order of the day with the lives of people in the balance. Considering the work, we do amidst this unfortunate state of affairs the question is, “Do we rest or When do we rest?” The challenges and issues of our day are real and must be confronted for as James Baldwin writes “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”   Yet to rest, to take time out is necessary so that we might face those things referred to by Baldwin, to fight the good fight of faith.  I suggest that Jesus was the foundation of Baldwin’s words and his work, as he, that is Baldwin, was a man who answered the call of God early in his life.  If Jesus, the dynamic, rebellious rabbi and messiah of the disinherited, is foundational to the thought of James Baldwin then engaging Jesus regarding a Sabbath-rest would be fruitful to gaining a different understanding of rest. 
The life of Jesus reminds us that to be obedient to the call of God’s will, at times, characterizes the one with the courage to follow God’s call to confront the misery and injustice of this life as a rebel, revolutionary, a law breaker.  Considering the misery, the people suffered, Jesus was constantly inundated with multitudes of people who needed healing and feeding. In Mark 6:30-32, having just dealt with the beheading of John the Baptist, the apostles returned to Jesus and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by themselves. In Mark 4:35-41 Jesus modeled physical rest as he falls asleep in a boat with the disciples during a raging storm. Even when others frantically wanted His help, Jesus was willing to take a nap. He knew when His body needed physical rest and was unapologetic about taking it. Jesus also advocated for the Sabbath-Rest in Mark 2:27 “Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” And in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Based on the scriptures I imagine the life and ministry of Jesus to be intense and at times somewhat insane, with little time to rest.  Rest was a cherished time, almost a selfish time set aside, a time when he could recharge for the daunting task of ministry ahead as prescribed by God in Genesis 2:3.  For Jesus, I would suggest that the Sabbath-rest is a means to (1) glorify God, (2) trust in God (3) to re-focus, re-imagine (4) sustainability (5) restoration (6) peace within and (7) transformation.  Each one of the elements of a Sabbath-rest, as expressed in the experience of Jesus, has implications towards the confrontation of evil, injustice and our salvation.
 If we are seeking to follow in the footsteps of Jesus a Sabbath-rest must be embraced as a central part of life in community.  At the retreat, I remember a film featuring Rev. Kanyere Eaton, Pastor of Fellowship Covenant Church New York City giving a keynote address at the lives of Commitment Breakfast sponsored by Auburn Seminary, a Presbyterian Seminary in New York City. She had a lot to say about rest but the words that touched my heart were, “God is not glorified in your exhaustion.”
Her point was that God’s commands us to rest. In fact, if we do not rest, taking care of the body, mind and soul we are not honoring or glorifying God. Simply put, a healthy body, mind and soul glorifies God and makes for a productive and dynamic life.  (Wow!)  Per 2014 study at Harvard Medical School, for people with hypertension, one night without enough sleep can cause elevated blood pressure all through the next day.  Additionally, sleep deprivation can lead to higher risk of chronic health problems like high blood pressure and stroke. In a society, which traditionally has valued work over rest, reminiscent of Calvinism and the protestant work ethic, to rest, received as a holy act ordained of God, is somewhat counterintuitive. Rest would seem to be a logical and necessary part of life yet, despite God’s command and considerations of health risk rest in many circles is frowned upon.
Simone Weil, a French philosopher and activist of the 20th Century, considered a saint by Albert Camus, wrote in her book “Gravity and Grace” a posthumous 1952 collection of Weil’s enduring ideas, culled from her notebooks by Gustave Thibon, the farmer whom she entrusted with her writings before her untimely death “Attention is the rarest form of generosity Simone Weil’s statement compels the following questions, “Do we give attention to our mind, body, and soul?” “Do I rest, relax, take time out for myself?  Is this time carved out, intentional? Should I protect my time of rest as sacred, holy without compromise? These are important question to ask ourselves if we are to successfully and sustainably confront the injustice prevalent in our society today. Remember, Praise and blame, gain and loss, pleasure and sorrow come and go like the wind. To be happy, rest like a giant tree in the midst of them all.  Buddha