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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

November 22, 2020 | Message from Dr. Blake

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR)

Then after breakfast Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than the others do?” “Why, Lord,” he said, “you know I love you.” “Then feed my lambs,” said Jesus. Again, he asked him, for the second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” “Why, Lord,” he said, “you know I love you.” “Then be a shepherd to my sheep,” said Jesus. For the third time he asked him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Now Peter was vexed at being asked a third time, “Do you love me?” So he replied; “Lord, you know everything, you can see I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep . . .” St. John XXI:15-18 (Moffatt Translation) Dr. Howard Thurman writes the following: In Jesus’ memorable conversation with Peter concerning the feeding of the sheep, there are two different words used for “love.” Initially, Thurman records, the word Jesus uses for love is strong, dynamic, carrying with it the idea of reverential understanding and intelligent commitment. The word Peter uses in reply is weak, carrying with it the notion of more feeling than understanding. It is the word, which in English is most usually defined as love – such words as philanthropy, etc. stem from this root. Three times Jesus asked Peter if he loved him. Three times Peter replied. But the third time there is a difference. Jesus used the weak word for love and Peter is grieved, not because he asked him three times if he loved him, but because the third time Jesus, as an accommodation, shifted the demand from something that was at the moment out of reach to something that was more easily possible. The text would indicate that Peter felt that as long as he was faced resolutely with an impossible demand, Jesus was paying him the greatest possible compliment by thinking that he, Peter, could rise to such staggering heights. As long as this possibility remained before him there was a chance for limitless development in that direction. When the ground was shifted to a less demand, the insistence to exert the last full ounce of spiritual energy was relaxed, Peter felt that his chances for stretching himself to the limit were short-circuited. Perhaps it is true that a goal that is in reach is not worth achieving. We find our true stature when we see ourselves in relation to a goal that can never be reached, to an end that can never be satisfied. A shepherd looks out for the sheep, sees that the sheep are provided not merely their basic nutrition but also what they need to be stable. Part of the stabilization is a place where they may safely graze. The shepherd provides protection, knows the sheep, each sheep’s distinctive cry, accompanies and anoints them when they are bruised, and brings them back to the fold when they have been run away. Jesus accommodates to Peter’s weakness which Peter perceives as besmirching his character, trustworthiness, sense of responsibility. Can Peter be counted on to carry out this essential, and difficult ministry?

Jesus’ disappointment precedes Peter’s being grieved. Jesus is disheartened by Peter’s weak response and, finally lowers his expectation of Peter. How often does this happen in our own lives? We often know that we were meant to be companions of the stars, the left out and locked up. And, yet, something happens? Is it fear? Yes, I think so – fear of some type of failure or insecurity that causes us to lessen our expectations of ourselves and our striving to completely give ourselves to causes essential to the vitality of our living.

We assent to a high understanding and commitment and settle for compromise so readily and quickly. Rarely, does this haunt our conscience the way it should because we have become almost immune from self-judgment and evaluation. And, yet there are serious consequences of our weakened resolve. The consequences include death, our own premature death, and the literal death of some many in our community. The lives of our transgender family members keep crying. Do we hear? What is our response? Annually, Fellowship Church observes Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). This year has been the deadliest for known deaths of transgender people since the beginning of records being kept. According to Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) PFLAG. The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves several purposes. It raises public awareness of hate crimes against transgender people, an action that current media doesn’t perform. Day of Remembrance publicly mourns and honors the lives of our brothers and sisters who might otherwise be forgotten. Through the vigil, we express love and respect for our people in the face of national indifference and hatred. Day of Remembrance reminds non-transgender people that we are their sons, daughters, parents, friends and lovers. Day of Remembrance gives our allies a chance to step forward with us and stand in vigil, memorializing those of us who’ve died by anti-transgender violence. TDOR 2020 honors those who died between October 1, 2019 and September 30, 2020. For that period, 47 lives were taken in the United States (that we know of), and 386 worldwide; this includes death by violence, by self-harm, those who died in ways yet to be determined and sadly, this year, from COVID-19. The list for 2020 is as follows. We ask that you #saytheirnames:

1. Corbin Ray Bach, 23, Oct 6th, 2019, Paducah, Kentucky 2. Christine Zephier, 23, Oct 10th, 2019, Mankato, Minnesota 3. Daphne Dorman, 44, Oct 11th, 2019, San Francisco, California 4. Brianna “BB” Hill, 30, Oct 14th, 2019, Kansas City, Missouri 5. Nikki Kuhnhausen, 17, Dec 7th, 2019, Larch Mountain, Oregon 6. Angel Rose Garcia, 21, Dec 10th, 2019, Hyattsville, Maryland 7. Alice Carter ("Baby Alice"), 35, Dec 18th, 2019, Washington, D. C. 8. Yahira Nesby, 33, Dec 19th, 2019, Brooklyn, New York 9. Mia Penny, 26, Dec 29th, 2019, Washington, D.C. 10. Dustin Parker, 25, Jan 1st, 2020, McAlester, Oklahoma 11. Alex McCray, 22, Jan 4th, 2020, St. Louis, Missouri 12. Camila María Concepción, 28, Feb 21st, 2020, Los Angeles, California 13. Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, Feb. 24th, Puerto Rico 14. Yampi Mendez Arocho, 19, March 5th, 2020, Puerto Rico 15. John Scott Devore/Scottlyn Kelly Devore, 51, Mar 12th, 2020, Augusta, Georgia 16. Monica Diamond, 34, Mar 18th, 2020, Charlotte, North Carolina 17. Lexi "Ebony" Sutton, 33, Mar 28th, 2020, Harlem, New York 18. Lorena Borjas, 59, Mar 30th, 2020, Queens, New York 19. Ashley Moore, 26, Apr 1st, 2020, Newark, New Jersey 20. Henrietta Robinson, 79, Apr 3rd, 2020, Miami, Florida 21. Johanna Metzger, Apr 11th, 2020, Baltimore, Maryland 22. Penelope Diaz Ramirez, April 13th, 2020 Puerto Rico 23. Serena Angelique Velazquez Ramos, April 21st, 2020 Puerto Rico 24. Layla Pelaez Sanchez, 21, April 21st, 2020 Puerto Rico 25. Nina Pop, 28, May 3rd, 2020, Sikeston, Missouri 26. Helle Jae O’Regan, 20, May 6th, 2020, San Antonio, Texas 27. Jayne Thompson, 33, May 9th, 2020, Orchard Mesa, Colorado 28. Tony McDade, 38, May 27th, 2020, Tallahassee, Florida 29. Selena Reyes-Hernandez, 37, May 31st, 2020, Marquette Park, Chicago, Illinois 30. Name Unknown, Age 16 to 20, Jun 6th, 2020, Chicago, Illinois 31. Riah Milton, 25, Jun 9th, 2020, Liberty Township, Cincinnati, Ohio 32. Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells, 27, Jun 9th, 2020, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 33. Brian Powers ("Eagle"), Jun 13th, 2020, Akron, Ohio 34. Brayla Stone, 17, Jun 25th, 2020, Sherwood, Arkansas 35. Tatiana Hall, 22, Jun 30th, 2020, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 36. Merci Mack Richey, 22, Jun 30th, 2020, Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas 37. Draya McCarty, 28, Jun 30th, 2020, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 38. Shaki Peters, 32, Jul 1st, 2020, Amite City, Louisiana 39. Bree Black, 27, Jul 3rd, 2020, Pompano Beach, Florida 40. Summer Taylor, 24, Jul 4th, 2020, Seattle, Washington 41. Angela Martinez Gómez, 42, Jul 6th, 2020, Santa Monica, California 42. Marilyn Monroe Cazares, 22, Jul 13th, 2020, Brawley, California 43. Tiffany Harris or ("Dior H Ova"), 32, July, 26th, 2020, The Bronx, New York 44. Queasha Hardy, 24, July 27th, 2020, Baton Rouge, Louisiana 45. Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears or ("Rocky Rhone"), 32, Jul 28th, 2020, Portland, Oregon 46. Kee Sam, 24, Aug 13th, 2020, Lafayette, Louisiana 47. Shelley Lynn Rose, 16, Aug 26th, 2020 48. Elie Che, 23, Aug 31st, 2020, The Bronx, New York 49. Isabella Mia Lofton, 21, Sep 7th, 2020, Brooklyn, New York 50. Gia Valentina Romualdo Rodríguez, 46, Sep 15th, 2020, Miami, Florida 51. Aerrion Burnett, 37, Sep 19th, 2020, Independence, Missouri 52. Mia Green, 29, Sep 28th, 2020, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 53. Michelle “Michellyn” Ramos Vargas, 33, September 30th, 2020, Puerto Rico

As PFLAGers--as human beings--it is imperative that we boldly, loudly, and publicly honor those we have lost to anti-trans violence and hate and speak out against violence anywhere we see it. “Then be a shepherd to my sheep,” said Jesus. This is the challenge Jesus puts before us if we truly love the idea to which his whole life was committed, the concept of the kin-dom of God coming on earth, the trust that human beings will rise to the level of understanding that we are all part of a huge family and make this understanding visible, real. If you love this way of life, then feed, stand by, advocate for those who need our voices raised and our lives lived with and for them. Simultaneously, as we honor those we have lost, we must use this as an opportunity to strongly recommit to trans inclusion at all levels of our work, providing support to people who are trans and gender expansive and to their families and friends; providing education to those who still lack the understanding necessary to be good allies; and advocating for protections at all levels of government: Local, State, and Federal.

The Black man pictured was an escaped slave who purportedly ran 80 miles to join the Union Army forces in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in 1863. The picture was taken while he was being fitted for a Union Army uniform.

In his “masterful” work, From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Transgender Elder, Rev. Jonathon Thunderword explains that the picture was used for fund-raising by abolitionists. Many Northerners were appalled by the picture, the cruelty depicted by the scars. It was difficult for them to believe that such inhumane treatment existed and recommitted themselves to abolishing slavery. Thunderword states that African Americans and Southern whites were all too familiar with the abuse that produced such enduring scars. He is crystal clear that there are scars that are not visible but hurt, maim, disfigure, mutilate, sear, and lacerate the mind and soul as despicably and demonically. He is referring to the scars imposed by religious traditions on our transgender relatives.

He writes: The welts left by religion are typically less visible, but no less enduring. Each strike against one’s very soul is an experience that leaves its mark on the individual. My flesh has born many such marks, brutally placed and without mercy, by those who would say they were only trying to help me. My well-being was scourged again and again: lashes to my self-esteem, assaults on the beauty of my spirit; violations of my body, as well as my soul – always with the expectation that I would submit, endlessly to such corrections. One bad religious experience would have been sufficient, but I have been struck again and again. Each one of the many religious traditions that I have followed or visited throughout my journey from Christianity toward freedom is its own story and relationship…. Bruises do heal with time. Even after scars become less tender, they stick around to tell their story and help us to remember. I became disfigured, but I survived, and I am claiming my story. I know that I am not alone – and I believe that we would all benefit from having more space to share our stories. I believe that we have more in common than we might think. With this book, I want to share my testimony of freedom. However, in order for you to understand my journey, I need to show you some of the scars that I carry. In most settings, I learn not to talk about these stories. While I may run my fingers over my own scars privately sometimes, we are typically encouraged to cover such wounds up for the sake of others. Most people are uncomfortable hearing much about struggle, even when it does not challenge their religious sensibilities. In such a world, it is no small task to take off my shirt to let others examine the lines on my back.

Our feeling uncomfortable does not compare with the brutality and oppression that our weak response to the command “feed my sheep” allows to continue as components of our religion, humanity, and democracy. In the interaction between Jesus and Peter, Peter was vexed. Why? He was perturbed because Jesus had compromised his evaluation and expectations of Peter in Peter’s understanding. Often this can be the supreme punishment or deflating of ego, to have someone you love to lower their expectations of you. This has been part and parcel of our political system. The masses of people are not expected to take their futures into their own hands, to demand and work for their ideals to become real in the nation. It is the weak response that becomes the norm rather than the high resolve in the heart. Reverend Thunderword leaves us with this understanding. Religion tried to kill the spirit within me – and if it were not for religion, I would not be here with a story to tell.

Benediction: Keep fresh before me the moments of my High Resolve, that in fair weather or in foul, in good times or in tempest, in the days when the darkness and the foe are nameless or familiar, I may not forget that to which my life is committed. Keep fresh before me the moments of my high resolve. – Howard Thurman

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