For last week’s chapel here at PSR, our focus was on Transgender Day of Visibility. A fellow student and friend who is trans* presented a powerful message that was much broader than just the particular observance–including themes of not only how our society makes “the other” invisible (and/or prefers that they are and remain so) but also how trans (and other “othered” folks) make themselves invisible to survive. (Watch the sermon here.)
To prepare for this observance, our chapel planning team came up with a ritual to represent and then make visible trans* people made invisible by society and the Church. Prior to chapel, we enthusiastically drew outlines of different embodiments of people on the windows of the sanctuary.
After the sermon, we invited the community to symbolically make these folks visible by through prayers we wrote on the windows.
Watching this through the screen of my phone was deeply moving; I wondered how the trans* folks in the community felt about it. (View the ritual here.)
We gathered in a circle and surrounded our trans* friends present and thought of those not-present … for strength for these our sisters and brothers and for a church committed to fostering greater visibility … for greater commitment to ourselves being visible as fierce advocates for all of God’s children regardless of gender identity and expression.
After a few days, the time came to clean the windows. A task that had at first seemed joyful suddenly became quite unpleasant. Reluctance filled my heart–not from the labor of the task at hand but from what the task itself represented. I knew the written prayers had already been lifted up to and received by the Holy; but what about the figures? You see, after we had made such a commitment as a community, what did it mean for a cisgender person to “erase” the bodies we had recognized and committed prayer on behalf of?
As I began my task, these figures spoke to me as I erased them; they said:
Please don’t erase us again!
If you erase us, will you forget us, again?
Why did you don those gloves?
Were you afraid we might linger too permanently on your skin and on your memory?
Please remember me.
I struggled with these questions. I reflected on the ways that I make trans* (and others) invisible by the amount of space I take up. How the culture I am a part of makes trans* (and other) people want to remain invisible. How society and often the Church are not safe places for trans* (and other) people to be visible. How a lack of accountability to the fullness of creation has stunted the very notion of what sanctuary is all about.
Whether our churches can indeed become sanctuaries where the oppressed and invisible–fully visible and no longer marginalized–stand side by side the privileged–no longer special or dominant or majority.
A Church whose stained glass became a true reflection of the beloved community gathered inside and the clarion call for a visible, embodied commitment to those outside its walls of glass.
May it be so. And may we remember the voices of the invisible and our responsibility to them.
In the words of our friend who spoke in chapel last week:
Don’t erase me. Have you ever noticed how, the only time trans people are visible is one is murdered—or, terrible bills get passed that restrict our freedom? Don’t erase each other. Let’s make that cloud together—That cloud of witnesses that carry the faithful witness, Jesus into the Pax Romana to totally turn it upside down. This is how I think we can become that beautiful cloud of witnesses. In that prayer I shared a few minutes ago, I prayed that we fall more in love with God through falling more in love with each other. Let’s do that. Let’s fall in love with each other. In order to do that, we have to fearless- we have to be courageous in really getting to know one another on a heart level. Getting to know one another’s hearts is the ultimate weapon against the Pax Romana. When we get to know one another on that level, we are rejecting categories, and accepting each other fully. In order for Jesus to come in on that beautiful cloud, for every eye to see, those eyes have to fully see each other. Because that’s when we’ll truly see Jesus.
(Read his complete blog entry here.)