Transgender experiences are teaching us a great deal when we have learning hearts. I deeply appreciate the reality that our transgender siblings in the human family share about being “assigned” one binary identity that doesn’t match one’s inner reality. That one profound facet of the transgender journey has helped me understand the “trans” nature of my own theological, spiritual, and religious narrative. Being assigned one identity when your inner reality is quite different also sheds light on why I felt compelled to attend the first Omega Center national conference in Kansas City in July.
Born into a loving family with a Southern Baptist Preacher/public school superintendent-father and a public school teacher mother, I was “assigned” a theological tapestry centered around a picture of God as an up-there-out-there white grandfather whose repertoire of emotions toward humanity ranged from displeasure to fury. The message was that we human creatures were separated from God by our congenital propensity to sin. We were also separated from one another by our varying accomplishments at holiness. This life or condition of separateness was aggravated by our social locations on a hierarchical map with religious, racial, gender, and sexual orientation coordinates with white, straight, Christian cisgendered males having supremacy. The Christian dynamics of mercy, grace, love, and salvation were all parsed through the lens of three S’s: sin, separateness, and salvation (through good works and dogmatic beliefs). Jesus was not human but a divinity in “man’s” clothing and was the only way we could be saved from God’s wrathful readiness to torture us forever. In short, my assigned religious narrative was an ideology of fear and separateness.
A different inner reality was going on. One day when I was five or six, while playing alone in a south Georgia pine grove, I had a warm and light-filled “knowing.” In one and the same moment I knew that I was the most beloved and special creature the Creator had ever made and that without exception every other creature also was the most beloved and special creature God had ever made. Ever since that epiphany my journey has been working on getting my insides and my outsides to match, deconstructing my “assigned” ideology of fear and separateness, and reconstructing a theological narrative that coheres with a love and oneness-based epiphany.
The books and teachings of Ilia Delio along with Richard Rohr and Cynthia Bourgeault have been nothing short of oxygenating in my applying some insights of being transgender to my being “transtheological”. Ilia’s emphasis on Wholeness and Wholemaking and bringing faith and science into friendly reciprocity and conversation inspires me deeply. I joined the Omega Center as soon as I learned of it. Brie Stoner’s interviews there of other luminaries scratched deep itches of mine. Matthew Wright introduced me to the term, “interspirituality,” helping me to make sense of my multiply hyphenated spiritual experiences. So when the Kansas City conference was announced I could not stay home.
My ears perked up whenever the conference addressed the theme that the prevailing Christian narrative is simply too small and puny (Brie used the metaphor of a worn-out Operating System). That theme of an inadequate religious narrative provided the architectural framework on which all the conference’s teachings found coherence and meaning for me. (It’s important to note parenthetically that Matthew’s comment that coherence and meaning are the two dynamics required for a larger, truer new narrative to work). Consequently, the organizing central statement of my conference experience was Ilia’s joy-filled and hopeful expression of Teilhard’s thinking – that, “In the future the only religion possible is the religion which will teach us to recognize, love, and serve with passion the universe (i.e. the Whole) of which we form a part.” As Matthew added, Teilhard gives us a story big enough for our time. Matthew said further, “An interspiritually permeable Christianity is needed – a model with complementarity and without competition.”
Brie Stoner’s presentation added a dimension of deep healing to a traumatized world when she spoke of Jesus’s primary ministry being that of healing – “physical and mental restoration of everyone to the Whole,” offering Brie’s definition of Faith as “being ‘membered’ to the Whole.” So the refrain of “Wholemaking” providing a deeply moving resonance to the conference for me along with the reminder of Teilhard’s name for that Energy in the Cosmos which moves everything that is to the experience of Wholeness – the Energy of Love. Brie went on to add, “This Energy of Love can be trusted, so let go of your entrenched story” that, I would add is traumatizing, old, small, and dysfunctional.
There was one more theme that for me is crucial (and even with my describing it, these reflections will not have covered every theme of the entire conference during which I took 40 pages of notes). The important theme I now try to describe is the importance of letting go of the old, which of course is the “Paschal Mystery” theme of detachment, kenosis (or emptying), and death.
Evolutionary thinking, or expressing the gospel from an evolutionary perspective, cannot take place without understanding and even embracing the central role of dying. But it is dying understood as in the service of real living, moving forward, and belonging to something much bigger than self and all the strategies and inadequate ideologies the false self concocts. We die to all that does not reconnect us to one another, to the “More,” to the Forward Flow of Love, and to all that is. Reconnecting is re-ligio and involves death.
Ilia, in the last session of the conference said,
“We are killing ourselves because we are afraid to die…. It is in death that we fully experience who we are. Our death is the same as our relationality. I can die to fear of death to the degree that I believe/have faith in life being stronger than death even my own death…. The saints and mystics learned how to die even as they were living. As long as we live self-protected we are already dead. God invites us into self-gift. Your life and God’s life is one Life….Old religion WILL indeed die and we will have to die to what we have been in order to rise to what we can be.”
Matthew Wright reminded us of the centrality of the contemplative life, especially in this challenge. He said,
“Contemplation is the Answer. In contemplation we move into a non-identified presence – we are in Pure Presence. We are infinite objective-less love. You must die before you die.”
For me, Ilia put a fine point on it by saying,
“At death we don’t lose our personality. No. It’s when our personality becomes true and clear. Death is not the end of our life but death is transformation into even more of our true self.”
So, the first Omega Center Conference offered substantial food for me to metabolize as I continue reconstructing a Wholemaking Narrative that is based in Love and Oneness rather than an old toxic narrative of fear and separateness. As my old New Testament professor, Leander Keck told me when I graduated from seminary, “Ed, you’ve been given some quality education here. But now you have to go out and cook it on your own stove.” I find myself doing that with our Kansas City Conference every day.