It was the first time my arms were bare.
As I stood up to give a workshop on being Transgender to The Reformation Project’s 2016 Leadership Development Cohort, I was keenly aware that this was the first time I had ever spoken publicly with my arms showing from the shoulders down. It was an intentional move on my part. After staying up until all hours of the morning rewriting pieces of my presentation, I looked at my planned wardrobe and decided to leave off the cumbersome cardigan I had brought to go with the ensemble. This may seem petty thing to be writing about giving the intense depths we reached as a cohort during our studies over the last few months, but I’ll explain why this it’s important:
Knowledge is most valuable when it is informing our own story; our own story is most valuable when it is effectively shared; that only happens we we achieve intense vulnerability.
Just one day earlier, I had watched the Holy Spirit capture the hearts and minds of me and my fellow reformers. Tackling some heaving issues on social justice, many of us were confronted with our own privilege; not the things we have in life or the easy road someone else might think we walk – but rather the things we don’t have to manage in life simply because the color of our skin, our anatomy or social and economic status. In the course of the conversation we lost the safe place that had been cultivated around us.
But as the tension grew I saw an incredible thing unfold. The body of Christ behaved, well, like Christ. We put others before ourselves. We didn’t settle for division and fought to reclaim the sense of unity that we knew God desired for us: not fighting each other, but each of us wrestling deeply with our selves. It wasn’t with out conflict or confrontation – there were many tough conversations – but saw people making efforts to step in to communion as a body instead of stepping out of what felt like broken fellowship.
As we gathered for worship that night, we were led in song with these words
There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain…
Sitting in with the band on the Cajon, I could feel the tension start to melt away as the room collectively surrendered itself to a power outside of our own making. God got big. Our differences got small. The spirit moved in us. We moved toward one another. We still didn’t completely understand; we just knew we didn’t need to totally understand to be part of the same spiritual community. We knew we still had work to do, but we knew the purpose for the work was greater than the concerns emanating from our own fear and uncertainty.
Back in the hotel room that night, words of another song from way back in my spiritual journey breezed into my thoughts:
Rushing wind blow through this temple, blowing out the dust within; come and breathe you breath upon me, make me whole again.
I knew in that moment that in order to grasp my own wholeness, I had to come to terms with my role as a “peacemaker” in our broader culture of racial tension. I also recognized that in coming to terms with my gender identity and being keenly aware of cis-male, straight privileges I had been pulled away from, I lost sight of the privilege I still held. To operate as a peacemaker, I would need to learn to hold that privilege with care and sensitivity. About to give a presentation on Gender Identity, I was also convicted that I needed to share this new insight into my journey of defining my identity; I needed to acknowledge the responsibility I still held. I was going to need to get vulnerable.
So to avoid simply acting vulnerable in my words, I made myself literally, physically vulnerable – at least from the shoulder down.
Privilege is a tricky creature. When you step into conversations of justice and ethnicity, be certain to carry yours with a heavy heart and open arms.
*”Break Every Chain”, by Jesus Culture; “Rushing Wind” by Keith Green