Easter 5, C
Bathrooms. I’ve gone this far in my life without giving them all that much thought. Until very recently, I never conceived that so many people could care with such extraordinary passion about who is doing what in which bathroom as has been demonstrated in the news cycles over the last few months. Artists are cancelling concerts, cities are boycotting states they don’t even belong to (I never even knew that was possible before, but it is happening), people are boycotting businesses. All this hullaballoo over whether trans-gender people, people who feel as if, at their core, they do not belong to the gender that their DNA and birth anatomy suggest that they do, should, when the time is right, excuse themselves to the little boys room or to the little girls room.
The latest fuel to the fire is Target’s announcement that Target’s bathrooms will be trans-gender inclusive – each person may decide for themselves which bathroom they should go into. There was the announcement, then the outrage, then the counterpoint to the outrage, then the boycott announcements, then the outrage about the boycott, and on and on and on.
Those outraged at the notion of allowing transgender persons into the bathroom corresponding to their gender identity rather than their chromosomal make up are convinced that nefarious persons will take advantage of the law – entering the “wrong” bathroom in order to prey on the vulnerable persons therein. I suppose if that never happened it would be the first law in history never subverted in a selfish or dishonest cause. The transgender community (and those who support them) suggest that they have absolutely no interest in preying on anybody. They simply want to pee. Preferably without getting beat up in the process. I’m not preaching about what the right answer is – I think everybody of every imaginable gender should drink plenty of water and be able to deal with the natural consequences of their hydration without being made to feel uncomfortable.
What I am preaching about is identity, which is at the base, I believe, of what has got everybody so riled up about this. Male/female – for most people, an intrinsic part of the fabric of our identity. The identity with which we face the world. The identity which determines many of our interactions, reactions, relationships and responses to the world outside ourselves. For a distinct minority, gender seems irrelevant; but for most it is a crucial component of identity – so crucial that it can feel like a threat if someone is questioning its validity. Like prairie dog sentries in Prairie Dog Town, we chirp the shrill, insistent “That is not a prairie dog – it is a thing not like us” alarm to all and sundry whenever our identity is threatened. Gender is, of course, far from the only component of identity
Peter’s facing up to a backlash of his own in our first lesson. Jewishness – the circumcision, the dietary laws, the purity laws – these have been the underpinnings of Peter’s identity, and the identity of his community since birth. Yet Peter went off and supped with a man, not only uncircumcised but UNCLEAN. Simon Peter stayed with Simon the tanner, a gentile who dealt with corpses on a day to day basis – unclean as unclean gets. His communities’ “not ok, not like us” alarms are blaring. Not only does he not scramble to purify himself – he makes the extraordinary claim that Simon the tanner, the ritually unclean, that the tanner and his gentile friends were privy to the same salvation, the same God, the same spirit as those believers who, up to now, believed themselves God’s chosen ones.
We fix our identities on what we are, what we have, what we know, what we feel that others are not, have not, know not, feel not; and unconsciously assume that God shares our view of who we are and who “THEY” are, or at least He would if He was paying attention.
A pastor tells this story:
My grandma had a brother who was one of the most worthless and trifling human beings I ever met. He was mean to his wife, ignored his children, avoided honest work like the plague and was known far and wide as the biggest and most brazen liar in half a state.
One day Grandma and one of her many grand-daughters were sitting on the front porch; rocking, shelling peas and gossiping about the brother. The young woman maintained that her uncle was beyond hope and a serious embarrassment to herself and every other member of the family. She filled Grandma in on his latest episodes of public sorriness.
Grandma just rocked and shelled and nodded and listened and finally she said, “I’m sure everything you say is true. Still, Jesus loves your Uncle.” The granddaughter turned red in the face and sputtered, “I doubt that, I don’t think even Jesus could love him.” “Yes child,” Grandma said, “Jesus loves everybody and Jesus loves your uncle too.
Then she stopped rocking and shelling and sat perfectly still, while she stared off across the hills. “’ Course”, she said, almost to herself,” that could be ‘cause Jesus don’t know your Uncle as good as we do”. (Rev. Delmer Chilton)
Consider the words of German pastor Martin Niemoeller (1892–1984). Pastor Niemoeller protested Hitler’s anti-semite measures to Herr Hitler in person. Not surprisingly Pastor Niemoeller was eventually arrested, then imprisoned for eight years at Sachsenhausen and Dachau. He later confessed, “It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He (God) is not even the enemy of his (God’s) enemies.”
Peter was tied up in his identity complete with all the laws and hierarchies and exclusionary customs that he “knew” to be true – until God offered him a new identity – an identity with new brothers and sisters, new understanding of God’s creation.
“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Jesus offered His disciples, offers us, a new identity. An identity that does not depend on firing off the “not like us” alarm. One that deepens and enriches what we already know. An identity based in love, His love. Love that we feel, perhaps, but more importantly – this is his command – love that we do. This is what it means to follow Christ, to love as He loved. To love selflessly, abundantly, exuberantly, to love the unloveable – especially the unlovable. The lepers and the unclean. The liberals and the conservatives. The trans-people and the cis-people. The alcoholics and the abstainers. The strident voices and the quiet souls. The mentally ill and the abnormally sane. The ones we don’t understand. The ones who don’t understand us. To love as He loved.
You may have heard the quote, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you a car.” Loving God’s children as Christ loved God’s children – this is what Jesus asked so that we might be known as his disciples, his followers.