On Servants' Wings
A gynandromorph butterfly with the transgender pride flag for the front wing and the rainbow pride flag on the rear wing On Servants Wings
Resources and Reflections by Ari Leigh


The Blessing of I AM


January 2016 reflection for Common Ground

Print Version

Text: Exodus 3:13-15, Genesis 1:26-27

But Moses said to God, 'If I come to the Israelites and say to them, "The God of your ancestors has sent me to you", and they ask me, "What is his name?" what shall I say to them?' God said to Moses, 'I am who I am.' God said further, 'Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I am has sent me to you." ' God also said to Moses, 'Thus you shall say to the Israelites, "I AM,  the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you": This is my name for ever, and this my title for all generations.  (Exodus 3:13-15)


Then God said, 'Let us make humankind * in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, * and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.' So God created humankind * in their image,   in the image of God, God created them; *  male and female God created them.  (Genesis 1:26-27)

(Both texts are from the NRSV, and were edited to remove the presumed masculinity of God).


This reading from Genesis is one of the hardest passages of scripture for me to hear. I'm agender, and have lived as many different genders throughout my life. For years "male and female" has been thrown at me as a weapon, a binding limit that proclaimed the wrongness of my existence. While I still mourn for what I lost in breaking free from those assumptions, I have learned to celebrate the queer turn of mind God has given me to seek the third (or fourth, or fifth) path.

At the beginning of Genesis, we hear how God separated the light and the darkness. A binary was created, a hard limit established, light and dark. Yet is it not also God who makes the beauty of a sunrise, the rich colors of the sunset, and all of the spaces in-between?

In the phrase 'male and female', the 'and' is far more than a simple connector, for within that one word is hidden the richness of the spirits and souls of those genderful, agender, intersex and transgender beings who have been made in the image of God, along with all humankind.

And what does it mean to be made in the image of God? For this we now turn to the name God reveals for Godself to Moses. Visible in a dancing flame that does not consume the bush it enfolds, the name of God spoken by God echoes through the wilderness. 'I Am who I Am' or 'I Am what I Am' or even 'I will be what I will be'.

There are two key things to take from this moment. First, the name of God is a verb. And not just any verb, but a being verb, a verb of existence. Secondly, this name is sacred. Before God utters Their name, Moses is instructed to remove his sandals for "the place on which you are standing is holy ground". From ancient times up through the present this name of God has been considered too sacred to speak aloud.

Whether we speak God's name or not, the fact remains that we are still made in God's image. Unto us the phrase 'I am' has been given. And we are called by the very nature of our being to fill in the blank. "I am (silence)".


<==Break for Conversation, Fill in blank by writing or drawing on center table==>


From this understanding, that because we are made in the image of the God we have been given the freedom and responsibility to finish the sentence "I am", it is possible to reexamine our assumptions about sin and evil. Rather than being a list of things to do or not do, a terrifying doctrine of right and wrong, evil can instead be identified in a single word "not". For the phrase 'I am not' brings death, as quickly and assuredly as the words 'I am' bring life.

Examples of this corruption abound:

  • "I am not like them over there"
  • "Why should I care about them when I am not a part of this".

Moving from the theoretical, the local I'd like to share some specific instances I've seen 'not' used to raise up one group at the expense of another:

  • "I'm in this country without documentation, but at least I'm not a criminal"
  • "I'm gay, but at least I'm not queer"
  • "I'm disabled but at least I'm not insane".

I use these examples not to dismiss the rightful claims of those who have experienced discrimination, but to demonstrate a mechanism by which Satan works mischief even within our movements for justice.

All of these 'nots' used in the above examples are predicated on the assumption that those who we are not, are unworthy. Rather than seeing the people after the word not as fellow human beings, who like us have been made in the image of God, they have been rendered into caricatures. Criminal, queer, insane, monsters who are a threat, rather than people who our God has claimed as beloved children.

    The power of  words and naming becomes all the more urgent when we consider how armed whites are given the credibility of being a "militia", while unarmed protesters with #BlackLivesMatter are denounced as criminal thugs.

 

   Sitting between these examples, in the erupting tensions of race where the hidden seeds of oppression planted by my ancestors are continuing to reap a bloody harvest, never before have I been more tempted to say "I am not". I want to place as much distance between myself and those perpetrating violence from their place of privilege in Oregon as I can. I want to denounce my role in the media catering to people who look like me by treating people who are white and violent as exceptions, and people who are black and violent as the rule. I want to scream I am NOT like them.

   

    I want to but I cannot. For as I have learned to see myself as being made in the image of God through Genesis, I cannot in good conscience dismiss the struggles of my kindred who are being actively kept away from the Good News that they too are made in God's image. For my "I am" to ring clear and true, then my Black and Brown siblings must be free to speak their own "I am" and have it be celebrated with equal authority.

Race is only one example where this dynamic holds. Our society is poorer, our theology, our talk about God, is weaker where assumptions and bias abound. In the story of Rabbi Yehuda we are reminded that all of us are called to share in and form an essential part of the dominion of God. Because of this our inheritance in that holy space is greatly reduced until that blessed day when we, all of us,

those present and absent,

those we love and those we hate,

those who have hurt us, and those whom we have hurt,

are able to see ourselves and each other fully and completely as made in the image of God.

Our ability to live into the Dominion of God, hinges on our ability to name our privilege and to speak calmly and without defensiveness. We must acknowledge that we are part of the problem, that this problem has a solution, and that it is in Jesus Christ that the solution is found. The problems of colonization and violence will be solved when all of us who have a claim to power, lay it down, as Jesus did in surrendering the grandeur of heaven, to enter our world as defenseless, devalued and dangerous child.


<==So what do we do? Let us take a few moments to talk about what it means to live into the Gospel of personhood for all in a world where we learn who we are not decades before given the freedom to ask who we are?  ==>


 

   One of the things we can do is practice. We can listen for the miraculous melody of God dancing in our own I am. We celebrate and support those around us, trusting that their experiences are true, just as ours are true. We listen, and we love. We go to those who are hurting, to those who have been told time and time again "you shouldn't exist" and proclaim the countering message: You exist, you are real, and you have been named in love before time began.  

   

Let us take time to share the Good News of our existence with each other. You are all invited to share as much or as little about how you complete the phrase "I am" as feels right to you. Here, in this space all are welcomed and honored. To each invitation offered in a person's declaration of 'I am', we as a community will respond:

We receive you as you are, honor who you have been, and celebrate who you are becoming.



Copyright © Ari Leigh 2019