In last Sunday’s story from Genesis, Abraham kicks Hagar and her son, Ishmael, out of their home and sends them into the desert with only some bread and a skin of water. It’s a cruel thing to do, and pretty much a death sentence for his concubine and his oldest son. But we are given to understand that God wanted it this way. Is this true, or simply a rationalization?
The God who is author of the cosmos is rarely predictable. We can’t fathom God’s true nature any more than we can know the limits of the universe. We can testify, though, that God does not spare God’s special people from really tough experiences. This was true for many of the other heroes of the Hebrew Bible besides Hagar and Ismael. Think of the stories of Job and Jeremiah, Elijah and Esther.
I have recently had the honor to hear the stories of some transgender people of faith, and thinking of the travails God puts God’s special servants through put me in mind of them. They tell me that they are convinced that God put them in bodies that do not match their gender identities on purpose. It is God’s gift to them.
It’s not an easy gift. It is a dangerous gift. Many trans folx don’t survive it. Rejected by their families, friends, and the institutions which have responsibility for nurturing them, they know the pain of facing a very hostile world alone. And even though they are cherished deeply by God, they are killed by other people or by their own internal conflict. While I have no doubt they are then gathered into the eternal bliss of God’s love, they are lost to us. Their God-given gift is lost to us.
God calls us to accompany God’s special people through the desert. Maybe we’re the vehicle through which the precious gift of water – and hope – comes to those who are trying to live into God’s broader understanding of what it means to be human. Maybe we’re the ones who fend off the mosquitoes, bring the wood for a fire, or clear space for storytelling and listen appreciatively.
In today’s stereotype-loving world maybe we learn not to let the terrible jokes go by or not to let the demeaning images in movies get past us without calling attention to the harm they do. Maybe we stand beside trans folx, with appreciation and open hearts. Maybe we provide a space for everybody to discover – and share – who they most fully are.
I can’t pretend to know all of what trans people can teach us, but I do know that we need to shelter this gift and protect it so that it can mature. I am guessing that, among other things, it has the potential to bring humanity into a liminal space that goes beyond the binary way of understanding reality. It may acquaint us with twilight realms that are neither day nor night. It may bring us to the bogs where water and land intermix. It may open our minds to new ways of perceiving the nature of the universe or new perceptions of organic chemistry. It most surely will bring us a more nuanced understanding of the God who is all genders and none.
God does not keep God’s precious people out of harm’s way in this world. But maybe we can be of some help as allies willing to listen and lend a hand.