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Monday, June 8, 2015

What the TRC and Caitlyn Jenner have in common

My sermon for this week was based on Mark 3:20-35.

To download a podcast of my sermon, click here.

This week, the media was dominated by two stories: the final stages of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission whose aim it is to uncover the truth about Residential Schools in Canada and to hopefully move towards reconciliation with our Aboriginal brothers and sisters who suffered and continue to suffer the effects of their cruelty, and Caitlyn Jenner (previously Bruce Jenner) unveiling her official female self to the world.

There is a link here, I promise.  I will get to that.  But first, the Gospel.

In today's Gospel, Jesus' family have decided that he is insane, that he has "taken leave of his senses" in pursuing this mission of his, and they seek him out in order to "restrain him" and take him home, probably in the hopes that he will get all better or at the very least that they can hide him away from the public eye.

Why did they think he was insane?  Well, biblical commentators have suggested three likely possibilities:

1. He was forsaking a secure career.  Jesus was a carpenter.  Not glamorous, but respectable and more or less a sure thing.  Instead, he chose to become a homeless, penniless itinerant preacher in the Galilean countryside.  Cray-cray.

2. He was obviously going to come into conflict with the religious and political authorities of his time.  Mercifully, we live in a country where we can speak pretty openly about our government.  Other countries are not like that, and Jesus' time was certainly not like that.  It was obvious to Jesus and his family and friends that this could not end well, and yet he persisted.  Nuts.

3. He chose the company of undesirable people.  In ancient Judaism, there were people you hung out with and people you avoided.  Jesus surrounded himself with the latter: tax collectors, religious fundamentalists, fishermen.  Coo-coo.

Parenthood has not actually changed significantly in 2000 years.  Don't those three points sound a lot like the following things all of us have heard or said:

1. Can you make a living doing that?

2. You can't fight City Hall.

3. I think your friend is a bad influence and I think you should stop seeing him.

We have all heard or said it.  It bears noting that much of the time, our parents were actually right, but occasionally, you gotta what you gotta do.  Part of adulthood and personal authenticity is doing what is right for you, doing what you know you must do, becoming the person you know you want to be.

Now, despite what the cynics will tell you, religion done right is actually a freeing, liberating thing that allows us to explore ourselves and gives us tools that help us actualize and realize ourselves.  Ideally, that is what a church community is for, to help each other along the way as we try to find our own personal and corporate truths.

But of course, as human beings, we judge.  We can't help it.  We look at the decisions our friends and family make, and we think, "That is a bad idea" or "That is a a good idea".  No matter how tolerant, liberal, or open-minded you think you are, it is impossible to not have an opinion on anything.  Objectivity is a human impossibility.  So when we see people making decisions, we judge them as right or wrong, but always from our point of view.

And that is where we fail.  Often, we fail to empathize, to see things from the other person's point of view, to try to see the personal truth they are seeking.

Okay, let's get back to the TRC and Jenner.

Do I understand what it is like to be a transgender person?  No, I do not.  Do I need to understand in order to treat Jenner like a human being, a fellow child of God?  No, I do not.

Do I understand what it is like to be taken away from my parents, to be told that my culture is wrong and to have all traces of it stamped out, to be abused sexually, physically and/or emotionally?  No, I do not.  Do I need to understand in order to treat my Aboriginal friends as human beings, as fellow children of God?  No, I do not.

I just need to listen.

I am white, male, heterosexual and middle class.  I don't know what is like to be poor, gay, to be a visible minority, to be differently-abled, to be a woman.  Truth be told, I don't even know what it is like to be my neighbour, who is also male, white, hetero and middle class.  I can never claim to know what is going on inside of the heart and mind of another human being with whom I have (on paper at least) so much in common, much less those with whom I have much less in common.

That is why I need to listen.

That seems to be where Jesus' family failed.  At no point did they sit down with Jesus as far as we know and say, "Tell us about this thing you feel you need to do.  Help us understand".

Did they really think that Jesus would cast aside comfort, security and social standing unless he felt there was a damn good reason for it?

Do we really think that Aboriginal people would relive painful memories and publicly stand up to the very forces that have and continue to oppress them unless there was a damn good reason for it?

Do we really think Caitlyn Jenner would risk becoming a pariah among her family and friends, not to mention submitting herself to public scrutiny unless she felt there was a damn good reason for it?

No, no and no.

In the days since the TRC and Jenner, the internet has exploded with commentary, some charitable, some not.  In the latter case, I wonder how much empathy the commentators have tried to exercise.  I wonder how often they have asked, "How would I feel?  Would I have had the courage?"

Because say what you will, but to stand up and state that a wrong has been done to you takes courage.  To stand up and state that the identity you have been living is a false one and take the steps to change that takes courage.

We owe it to one another to listen to each other, simply because we have no idea what crosses the other person is bearing, what secret truth, pain, joy or scar another is carrying.  We are all in the process of becoming.

We owe it to one another to help each other become,