God I thank you for the gifts of today*
This morning I was honored to be able to participate in the Bishop’s March Against Gun Violence. The past few years have been ones of change and growth and my opinions on this issue have certainly changed with me. Looking at me now, few people would know that I was once a gun-owner with a carry concealed weapons permit**. It was my step-dad who introduced me to firearms, showing me the location of the handguns in his computer shop when I was fifteen. By eighteen I’d asked him to teach me how to use them. After I moved off-campus, I was given a handgun of my own, and started the process of getting a carry-concealed (CCH) permit. What I discovered about the training bothered me. The classroom portion focused less on the moral implications of what we were preparing to do, and more on the specific phrasing to stay out of jail. “I was afraid for my life” and “I want a lawyer” were given far more emphasis than how to avoid situations where weapons would be needed in the first place.
The actual shooting portion of the test was even more disconcerting. We had to shoot at a target from three different ranges. We could retake the test twice, and could take as long as we needed to. What made this disconcerting is that as an intern with the Emporia Police Department I’d had the opportunity to participate in an active-shooter response training that was hosted by the local middle-school while the students were on break. From that experience I knew how hard it is to fire a weapon accurately under pressure. The dissonance between the swaggering confidence of those I took the CCH course with and the officers accurate reflections of the horrific nature of the situation was the first time I began to question my assumptions about self-defense and the responsibilities of being armed.
My time in the Episcopal Service Corps, and moving to Connecticut and Massachusetts which are far more attentive to the perils of weapons culture, have continued to challenge me to identify which parts of my experience with weapons was a necessary part of formation (none), which were cultural (many) and which contribute to a world in which every person risks being the victim of violence no matter where they are (a lot). So I listened with interest as our speakers this morning spoke of this nations unholy trinity of poverty, racism and violence. I was fascinated by the two speakers who spoke against our gun culture as both clergy and former police. In their stories I felt as though I was being given tools to explain my growing reluctance to be around weapons to those who’ve grown up with them.
Unfortunately I didn’t have a lot of energy to spend on processing this today. By the end of the Eucharist my repeated early mornings, coupled with late nights as I’ve been working on this blog had totally caught up to me. During our prayers I found myself being pushed along toward sleep, being reminded that resting in God can be a prayer that is just as rich as the outpouring of energy of the past few days. As such as soon as I was finished with my responsibilities at the EPF booth I headed back to the hotel and passed out. I’m extremely glad that I’m slowly learning how to take care of myself, and to trust God to keep working even when I’m no longer able to function.
Fortunately I’m fairly good about setting my alarm, so while I was rushed I did manage to make it to the Collect Call Live Show, where I was helping ensure the mic ended up where it was needed during the audience participation section. It was wonderful to hang out with such amazing people, to connect over a common thread of liturgical nerdom and to share in the joy that arises when people of prayer gather together.
As the ending credits rolled I glanced at my tablet and realized that I had five minutes to race back to the convention center for the TransEpiscopal Eucharist. This Eucharist is by far my favorite because of the vulnerability and openness of that space. In place of a sermon, everyone is invited to offer reflections on the readings, and these reflections often connect to places of richness in our gender journeys.
This year the Old Testament reading was from Isaiah, because we had decided to practice what we preach and used the name-change liturgy from Changes that we advocated for in D036 to celebrate my claiming of my full identity as Andrew Amanda and Amanda Andrew. (My actual name, as spoken by God involves both of these names being spoken together in a way that they blend into a beautiful harmony. Unfortunately human speech and writing are unable to accurate reflect that fullness, so I use both names or Andy which is short for them both.)
During the reflection I shared my experiences of connecting with the eunuchs in Isaiah 56, those who whom God promises to give a heritage that is better than children. You see I had my tubes tied at 18, just as I was beginning to explore the possibility of becoming sexually active. Since I was a child I had been told that I was mentally ill, that my inability to fit in was my fault and that any child I had would go through the same hell I was in. Having heard these lies my entire life, mostly from good people with the best of intentions, the decision to not have children was actually easy for me. It wasn’t until years later, after I’d transitioned that I’d realized what I’d lost, what had been denied me due to perceptions of my mental state and how transgender people are treated.
As such this service, where I was reminded that despite my sterile state God has ensured that I am not a “dry tree” provided a place of energy and life. When we reaffirmed our baptismal covenant, at sunset outside of the convention center I was reminded that while this path may not be easy, it is fruitful and the ground is holy.
So I will continue to walk, remembering to stop and rest along the way.
* With the bustle of convention I’ve realized that I won’t have time to keep up with both my personal journal and these blog posts. In an effort to honor my need to sleep and my desire to maintain some consistence in my devotions I’ve decided to merge the efforts and post them publically. Since Lent 2014 I begin every journal entry with this phrase. It was initially assigned as a seasonal penance but was quickly adopted into my year-round practices. I love it because it reminds me to pay attention to God’s gifts even when things aren’t going well.
**For those who are curious these experiences took place in Kansas.