Have you ever gone to a park and watched the ducks? Have you ever gone to a park, watched the ducks, and not laughed? Allen and I have begun frequenting Lake Tomahawk Park in Black Mountain. I’ve been watching the ducks. Their waddling makes me giggle. When I walk alongside the lake, I smile at those webbed feet paddling for all they’re worth. And that sound they make! It sounds like laughter.
Watching the ducks last week, it hit me why I giggle when they waddle. I giggle when ducks waddle because I’m anthropomorphizing them…which means I’m looking at the ducks as if they are humans. If a human were to walk like a duck, it would be hilarious… because that’s just not how humans walk…unless they’re on the cast of Monty Python.
When ducks waddle, they aren’t trying to be funny. And they certainly aren’t trying to be human. They’re just being ducks. Short legs, webbed feet, large disproportion between legs and bodies. The only way for a duck to walk is to waddle. If I look at a waddling duck and think of John Cleese, I’m going to laugh every time. But when I look at a duck and see the duck, I realize, that’s just how ducks walk. That’s just how they swim. That’s just how they “talk.”
Human beings are the only creatures in existence who can choose whether or not to be their authentic selves. Bears don’t sit down and choose to act like bears; they’re just bears. Dogs don’t sit down and choose to act like dogs; they’re just dogs. Cats are just cats. Fish are just fish. Elephants are just elephants. Ducks are just ducks.
We human beings can learn a lot from the rest of creation. Some people do live their fully-authentic lives. Most of us, though, spend our lives trying to figure out who we are so that we can be who we are.
Last week in worship, we looked at the 5½ days of creation recounted in Genesis 1. Toward the end of the sixth day, human beings are created. The pattern of the liturgy changes. Instead of simply creating human beings, God says, “Let’s create humankind in our image, to be like us.” Then we’re told: “Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them: female and male, God made them.”
I have been blessed over the years to learn from folks who are transgender. Folks who are transgender are born into a body that feels foreign to them. The disconnect between who they understand themselves to be and the bodies they inhabit creates tremendous psychological suffering. The number of trans people who die by suicide or who attempt suicide is staggering. The number of trans people who are murdered–particularly trans women who are Black–also is staggering. Living as a trans person in our world can be scary.
And yet, in my conversations with folks who are trans, talking with them at different stages of their transitioning, I have heard a depth of personal understanding that I’ve heard from few other people. Those of us who are cis-gender–meaning we’re born into bodies that make sense to us–we have gender-privilege, which means we don’t have to think about our gender. Like the ducks, we simply live our lives in the bodies we were born in without giving it a thought.
Folks who are trans, HAVE to think about who they are and what it means to be the gender they feel belongs to them–male, female, nonbinary, intersexual, pansexual…
When I read the line from Genesis 1–in the divine image God created them;
female and male, God made them–I always think of my trans friends. Perhaps their experience of two genders give them special insight into who God is. A couple of weeks ago, we heard the Prayer of Jesus in Aramaic. The address in the Aramaic version of the prayer is Abwom, literally, “Father-womb.” So, when we pray to “Our Mother and Father, who art in heaven,” we’re getting pretty close to what Jesus prayed, which has good resonance with Genesis 1.
One of the people who’s taught me a lot about what it means to be transgender is my friend, Monica Helms. Monica and her wife, Darlene, were members of the church I served in Marietta, Georgia. Monica designed the trans flag. I interviewed Monica about that experience and had planned to show it to you during Pride month in June. Technical difficulties ensued (really, human error) and we weren’t able to show it then. Happily, Kathleen Carter found the interview in the innards of my computer and we can show it today.
Here’s my friend, Monica Helms, on the process of designing the trans flag.
Video: Monical Helms
Sometimes, with my friends who transition from male to female, I want to ask them: Why would you ever choose to be a woman in this world? I realize, of course, that’s my question and not theirs.
It’s not easy being a woman in this world, is it? On September 2, when I read the story of the Supreme Court’s late night decision to let Texas’ new abortion law stand,// I felt like I’d been gut-punched. The law criminalizes abortions after six weeks, a time when many women don’t even know yet they’re pregnant. The law also rewards vigilantism. People are rewarded if they turn in someone who has had an abortion after six weeks or someone who performs an abortion, or even an Uber driver who drives someone to get an abortion.
I live in a country where people of my gender can be forced to undergo significant changes–even traumas–to their bodies, and then have their lives altered significantly economically and in every other way. Is it no wonder girls grow up being terrified of getting pregnant, really, all women? Why are women’s bodies subject to government control while men’s bodies are not?
How can women feel like whole human beings when we’re prevented from making fundamental decisions about our own bodies? The idea for the Equal Rights Amendment was introduced 100 years ago…and it’s still not ratified. Here’s the language of the ERA: Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex. That’s it. All people are created equal. Period. And our country can’t affirm that. Humankind was created as God’s reflection: in the divine image God created them;
female and male, God made them.
The first assignment God gives to humankind is the task of stewardship, simply to let each creature be what it was created to be. Perhaps that’s our main task with other human beings, too: simply to let each person be who they were created by God to be…to work not to label others or put them in boxes just so we can understand them better. Maybe the most human, humane, and HOLY thing we can do as people of faith is to give others permission simply to be themselves. I share with you a poem written by Rachel Alana. Permission.
You have permission to inhabit your own life.
To say no // To say yes.
To inhabit your own knowing
Your own body,
And all you allow or do not allow // within it.
To love who you love. // To feel.
To inhabit anger, // contentment, // joy.
And heavy sorrow.
To be full of strength, // and to know weakness.
Permission to stand for something. Or to walk away.
To find rest. To tell your story.
To give or take what is yours,
And to never explain why you leave —
Or why you stay.
You have permission, grand permission,
to have a voice. And to use it.
And to let others have theirs too.
To add your voice to the Grand Mosaic,
Your brilliant tile to humanity,
and not be silenced.
You have permission to tell the truth
and to let others tell theirs. Or to be in quiet.
To choose to engage in the old wars
To win the game. To lose it,
or to stand firm.
–Or to find something higher.
To know. –When not to listen,
Or when to be cracked open.
To let the silver spores of being, infuse your life
Or to watch your tender soul unfurl,
and come to flower.
You have permission to be Wild. So wild
To live in, under, to live *through*.
To experience belief. And what it is to follow.
Or to gather all you own, your whole being, if need be,
and take up your sacred path.
You have permission to live in your full truth today,
Even if that truth is gone, tomorrow.
To be reborn.
Stunned like a babe, gasping from the womb,
only to find rest in the warmth and soft breast
of new Knowing.
You have permission to follow the call of your soul —
Even if it doesn’t make sense.
Even if it is inconvenient.
Even if it only forms more questions —
Even if it only brings you freedom,
Or a heavy burden.
For you are not a herd beast.
*You are a Being of Light*
Individuating your way out of the sleeping tribe.
You are an archangel, exalted to human,
Spreading the great arms of your wings // into Life.
You are a Boat Builder,
A Clock Maker,
A Worker at the Compass.
Full of beauty. Complexity,
and magnificent contradiction.
You, my dear, are a Singer of the Soul.
Never, // Ever,
ask for permission.~
Every time I read Genesis 1, I think about a line from The Chronicles of Narnia. In the scene, all the creatures of Narnia have gathered. Together, they look up to the lion Aslan, who tells them: “Creatures, I give you yourselves.”
That about sums up the message of the creation story: God has given us ourselves. It is our one happy task in life to be ourselves…to walk how we walk…and talk how we talk…and love who we love…and wear whatever clothes we want to wear…and to wear our hair however we want… As stewards of creation, we also have one happy task: to let others be themselves. God gives us ourselves. As God’s reflection in the world, that is the gift we give each other.
Imago Dei, imago dei, born in the image of God are we.
Imago Dei, imago dei, called to compassion, born to be free.
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2021