Have you ever noticed what happens in the gospels when Jesus gets asked a question? The people ask “Jesus, THIS or THAT?” and his reply comes from the side always like a quick and sly slanting pass, pushing the question back on his audience. How many times does Jesus respond to a question with, “well… let me tell you a story about that…”? He has a tendency to leave everyone a bit bewildered, especially the disciples.
- Who sinned that this man was born blind?
- Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?
- Why does this Teacher eat with sinners and tax collectors?
- Are you the One we have been expecting or shall we wait for another?
In his responses, Jesus begins the training of the disciples in non-dual thinking. Duality thinking that we find so natural and easy is the tendency in the human brain to see things in opposing pairs: good and bad; dark and light; male and female.
Easy, right? If I write the word up, you think “down.” It’s the way our brains are on auto-pilot.
Getting past this is tough work, and I have a lot of empathy for the disciples. In our own time, the Holy Spirit has taken over our training in non-dual thinking.
And the gentle leading of the Spirit over the generations is a gift to us – a gift that includes a strange and wonderful idea: that God’s nature is simultaneously 3 and 1. This seemingly esoteric and even outdated dogma can stretch us into new ways of thinking, if we let it.
There’s an Episcopal mystic whose books I sometimes muddle through – Cynthia Bourgeault. She talks about Trinity as PROCESS rather than PERSON. In other words, the Trinity is about how to think about things rather than about creed and doctrine. Trinitarian thinking is a reconciling approach that interweaves what at first appears to be a dichotomous choice. This kind of thinking is a spiral upward, beyond the either/or. When we get to an impasse – a problem, disagreement, decision – when we feel stuck, it’s an opportunity to look for a reconciling path, a third way.
And it’s this Trinitarian thinking, this PROCESS of sitting with mystery, that is so helpful when talking about gender. We have long misunderstood gender as an either/or scenario, driven by chromosomes and anatomy. The lived experiences of our friends tell us that we are wrong.
Knowing when we are wrong is useful information. What do we do next?
Well, moving away from the gender binary is a SPIRITUAL PRACTICE. If I have friends reading this, they are laughing at this point because I sort of think everything is a spiritual practice.
As with most spiritual practices, getting beyond the gender binary is about building a pause of awareness before our response. When we practice listening to others, when we practice holding open the question of another person’s gender (often this looks like letting go of our curiosity), when we let go of the need to put people into little boxes marked M and F, when we are willing to be vulnerable, willing to admit we’re going to get it wrong sometimes and we hate getting things wrong, when we practice – we train our brains to take a deep breath.
Breathe, and let go.
Over and over.
With much practice and patience, this makes us into a gentle welcoming people. We grow into the welcome that we profess, with trans and gender non-conforming people and with everyone!
A pediatrician friend and I were talking recently about kids who are late bloomers, shorter and smaller than their peers. She said that with her late blooming patients, sometimes there’s an appointment, after a period of growing, that their height and weight finally appear as dots on the standard growth chart curve. And they pause for a little celebration: “Yay! You’re on the chart!”
Just like the disciples, we’re beginners in the Trinity way of thinking – that kind of nondual thinking that led Jesus to respond to questions in that wacky way we love so much, the nondual, Trinity-shaped thinking that can be part of our learning about gender. WE ARE BEGINNERS, but we’re on the chart. Thanks be to God.
Notes and sources:
Cynthia Bourgeault’s book is The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity.
For fantastic transgender educational resources, see PFLAG’s Straight for Equality project at straightforequality.org/trans.