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|Religion blog: A straight man, a trans woman, and a lesson for all of us|
|by Rev. Paul M. Turner|
|February 28, 2011 09:45|
I remembered an old quote from a former Hall of Fame major league baseball pitcher by the name of Satchel Paige: “Never look behind you, ‘cause something might be gaining on you.” Ain’t that the truth?
This year has been full of challenges, full of loss and with more to come. But despite all odds, if we are to find peace we cannot and must not look back, but rather continue to move forward.
As I write this blog this evening all across our nation people are caught up in a war of words and ideology. It feels like we are stalled and a fierce fight is going on to push us back to the “good old days,” whatever that was or is. Folks on both sides of the various debates will tell you they are fighting for the very soul of America.
All across our world these debates are raging and sometimes resulting in historic change and at other times resulting in mayhem and death.
No one person or institution is immune from the cultural earthquakes shaking us to our very foundations of life and faith.
Mainline traditional churches are in crisis mode as they lose more and more members. Churches big and small suddenly have found their buildings facing foreclosure. The split among churches over sexual orientation, gender identity and their role in society is as great as the split of 1064.
To stave off the impending losses of both people and revenues, leaders of some churches have resorted to turning worship time into productions befitting a Broadway play, leaving far behind the “gospel” purpose of their existence.
We are not immune
In our LGBTQIA (Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer or Questioning, Inter-sexed and Allies) community, as the movement for our acceptance and all the rights and privileges which goes with it moves into its 43rd year, the divisions and debates are as bad as everywhere else.
We too have people maneuvering for power and control of the movement, not caring how many people they have to step on in their climb to the top.
We have our share of those who will cry out that one group or another is too male, too female, is too white, too black, too racist or privileged.
We have too many in our community whose mantra is “thank God I am not like them.”
North Avenue in Atlanta is still an invisible fence that too few from one side or the other will cross to do the work of the community. The areas around this invisible fence are war zones of drugs, prostitution, homelessness and property values.
We have those in our community who are young and new to the movement and think we older folks are too slow or have become a part of the establishment, and they are starting to push.
Sadly we also have our share of folks who have “made it,” feel safe in who they are, have left the reservation and don’t give a crap about those left behind.
Somewhere in all this arguing, positioning, name-calling and temper tantrums it seems we as a whole have stopped listening to each other. We talk past one another, and rather than acknowledging the person and what they are saying, most of our responses begin with the word “but.”
We have forgotten it is the little things that count. It is the little things we do for and with each other that will ultimately make the difference in all our lives.
A lesson from Thaddeus & Sophia
Let me tell you the story of two people who are living examples of what I mean. Their names have been changed.
This is the story of Thaddeus and Sophia. Thaddeus is a black man in his mid-forties. He is straight, homeless and an alcoholic.
Sophia is a 50-something male-to-female trans person. She is very active in the community and has had to fight for acceptance at every turn.
Thaddeus started coming to church services in the park about three and half years ago. I dare say there was not more than a handful of services he attended in which he wasn’t well past the legal limit of alcohol consumption.
Thaddeus originally showed up each week to get something to eat and a bus pass or money for this or that. Eventually as he got to know folks, he started coming earlier and staying for the entire service. He knew a lot of the folks who attended were gay but that didn’t bother him as he loudly announced on several occasions, because he knew he was straight.
He did, however; have a tough time wrapping his mind around the “whole changing bodies thing.” He was just as pronounced in that little gem as he was about being straight.
Sophia, who generally had a low tolerance for people who were critical of the trans community, for some odd reason always took Thaddeus as he was, giving him a hug and conversation every week he and she were there.
Over the years Sophia and the rest of us learned of Thaddeus’ plight, how he ended up homeless, his fear of the “DT’s,” his distrust and real fear of doctors and his very uneasy relationship with the Atlanta Police Department. He was a marked man and APD would and did stop him often. In fact many times when he wasn’t at church he was in jail on one charge or another, all misdemeanors.
Along this journey with Thaddeus, I noticed Sophia never criticized or ignored him. In fact she was one of the first in the group to “acknowledge” his story, his life and challenges.
As you might imagine this confused the hell out of Thaddeus. At one point he came to me and asked if she was single and I told him she had a girlfriend. He seemed to be greatly relieved…anyway I digress.
One Sunday he shows up to service with a beat-up bicycle. Most of us in all honesty were wondering when APD was going to show up and arrest him for having a stolen bike.
During prayer time he asked for prayers to find a way to get the brakes on the bike fixed. Before I could finish my thought of Thaddeus wrapped around some tree, Sophia said she would fix his brakes.
You have never seen separation anxiety until you have an intoxicated person ask for help to get the only thing they own in the world fixed, and it dawns on them you are going to take it away for a while…Oh my God we had some drama that day. Suffice to say we got Thaddeus calmed down and Sophia took the bike to her home.
It was then that one of those “little things” happened. Sophia had planned to take the brakes off a bike she had in storage. This was a brand new 10-speed bike that she had bought sometime back but for various reasons had never used.
One the way to the storage area it hit her. Why tear apart a perfectly good bike?
Two Sundays later Sophia presented Thaddeus with a brand new 10-speed bike. His face lit up like a kid at Christmas.
That happened four months ago. The same week he got the bike Thaddeus found his way to an AA meeting. Within two weeks he had gotten a medical doctor’s appointment, gotten referred to a therapist and did what he swore he would never do and found a shelter in which he could stay for as long as it takes to get his feet firmly on the ground.
Sophia, in this one little thing, convinced a broken man he counted, he was worthy and his life was important.
The story isn’t over; this isn’t a fairy tale ending. Thaddeus has a long way to go for full recovery. There will be challenges and trials, but they will be different now because one person did the little thing that shouted for all to hear, “You count!”
We all would be well served if we took notice here. This is a story of one straight man and one transgender woman. This is about as polar opposites as it gets. This is a story of one looking for a reason to live and one looking to live in acceptance.
Last Sunday Thaddeus said during prayer time, “I praise God for this church, I would not be alive if not for this church.” That was the theologically correct way to say, “Thank you, Sophia. I am alive because of you doing this little thing.”
You see it is our story too… for it is the little things that really count.
It is the little things we do for and with each other that will make the difference in those big things which occupy the headlines today.
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