Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Walking like a duck

Mark 3: 20-35
New Ark United Church of Christ, Newark, DE
June 7, 2015


            Earlier this week I encountered the first of what would become an onslaught of reactions to Caitlyn Jenner’s coming out photos, most of which have ranged from mixed to critical to vehemently negative.  Oddly enough, it was a letter to the New York Times from a female UCC colleague.  While acknowledging that she is an Open and Affirming minister and at the same time, that Jenner espouses a more conservative point of view, my colleague went on to state that Jenner, as a woman, was now on her ‘turf’.  She then proceeded to initiate Jenner into this dubiously-desired club by criticizing her appearance:  makeup, push-up bra, perfectly-coiffed hair, stiletto heels; that these undermine everything feminism has struggled against.  And then unthinkingly she declared, are we not all beautiful in the forms we arrived in on this planet.

            In effect, my colleague was asking if Jenner could have debuted as enlightened as the rest of us who were born in the forms we also identify with. Caitlyn Jenner was not born in the form she identifies with, which she now wishes to show off with abandon. Who can blame her? Well, apparently, plenty.


           Already some feminist and transgender advocates have resoundingly rejected Ms. Jenner as any kind of hero or role model. The media gave her the same sexist treatment as they would any female celebrity on the red carpet. There are some who are even petitioning the International Olympic Committee to strip Jenner of her gold medal from the 1976 Olympic games.

           Whenever a transgender person comes through their transition, however they manage to do so, however imperfectly, what we are witnessing is a birth. But rather than an infant, what comes into being is an adult living through yet another adolescence. Author Jennifer Finney Boylan, in her memoir She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders, writes, “Transsexuals going through transition resemble nothing so much as gawky, wonder-struck teenagers, amazed and perplexed by their bodies, startled by an awareness of themselves as men or women, as if they have invented the whole business single-handedly then and there. …It does no good to tell a transsexual that this is all old ground and to get over yourself, any more than it does to tell this to a fifteen-year-old.”

          In essence, Ms. Jenner is celebrating that in a major aspect of being human—gender identity—her outsides finally match her insides, something that hopefully all human beings aspire to. It’s just that for most of us it doesn’t require surgery. And you’d think if that it looks like a duck, talks like a duck, walks like a duck, it would in fact be accepted as a duck, inside and out. An authentic human being. A child of God.

          In this morning’s reading from the gospel of Mark, there are some that think that Jesus is out of his mind. The scribes start a story that he’s in the service of Beelzebul or Satan. Everyone has a different expectation of what a Messiah is supposed to look like, talk like, walk like. Jesus’ family even goes so far as to do an intervention, trying to restrain him, sending for Jesus and calling out to him.

           Jesus’ one purpose was to do the will of the One who sent him: to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with God. Jesus labored with his whole being to have his outsides match his insides, to be an authentic human being, a child of God, and Jesus calls us to do the same. Whenever we do God’s will, whenever we do justice, or love kindness, or walk with God and each other as humbly as a duck, we are Jesus’ sisters and brothers, and we get to claim as family anyone else who does likewise. There is no turf but God’s turf.

          This Table is where we make our transition, where our inside image of God becomes our outward being. We won’t get a Vanity Fair cover for it. No one may even take notice. Or we might even get accused of being out of our minds or working for the evil one. No one ever said it would be easy walking like a duck. 

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