Confused Monk Seeking Unknown (Time for a New Lay Order?)

Once again I feel the calling. The force inside that must spill out, that must be given voice. I know that force intimately, even as it remains unfathomable. Living with a force of nature all your life lends an odd familiarity with ever-changing wildness. I know that the malaise, the sense of aimlessness I have lately felt is a reflection of this force not being given what it needs to grow, to thrive, to thrum at its preferred frequency. And so I search.

I look again at lay orders: communities of people out in the world who have dedicated themselves to a relationship with monastic orders. It is a way to live a life of deep faith, of structured daily commitment to contemplation and compassion, with a family and worldly commitments too. It has always been alluring to me. And yet… again I read and again I know none of these communities are for me.

I search this resistance to established lay orders and I wonder, is it an obstacle I should push past? Is it a hindrance, or a gift? Is it disobedience? Is the problem that I need to commit more? I seek this connection in part because I know I don’t have all the answers, even to the questions of what my path should be. I’m looking for guidance. And so, to move forward, do I need to humble myself, in the sense that I should let go of some of these answers I’ve been clinging to? It’s so hard to know what human groups to trust with my faith journey, and past betrayals don’t ease the difficulty.

Deep down I know, that this isn’t just a matter of disobedience. Yes, I crave a commitment to something larger than me, to something that will give more structure to my spiritual life and something that will give shape to what I can give back. But each of these communities I look at – lay orders of Benedictines, Franciscans, etc. – are all firmly rooted in classical theology. They are born of a theological worldview that feels incomplete to me personally. They have profound wisdom to offer, but they are missing critical pieces that I know in my heart are a part of my path.

I know that my life is missing some structure to support my devotion to God. I know that I crave a deeper commitment to contemplation, to prayer, for its own sake. I know that I want that contemplation to guide my action in the world, and that I don’t just want to insert a habit of contemplation underneath activism that I have chosen without appropriate discernment.

I know that I want to cultivate a deep relationship with many traditional Christian virtues: compassion, faithfulness, honesty, kindness, gentleness, purity of heart, courage, conversion, service, respect for personal conscience/agency, conscientiousness, mutuality, peace… and yes, even appropriate obedience, humility, penance, and anger. All have strong Christian roots. I also know that I want my relationship to virtue to include an understanding of structures of oppression, and God’s answer to those structures. So, to that list of Christian virtues add resistance, anti-racism, anti-capitalism, dismantling colonialism and appropriately supporting healing from it, full affirmation and blessing of gender diversity, body positivity, undoing privilege and practicing resurrection. These also have long Christian roots. I want integration, but not in the style of a systematic theology. What I want is structure to support a thriving way of living… the trellis that supports the climbing rose.

Just like when contemplation undergirds and drives service, I think this deeper integrated foundation of lifestyle is what reaches beyond us to others. I know I’ve written a handful of small, personal Rules of Life before, often incredibly specific to encourage living out the goals (like naming a number of hours of reading each week). I kept them to myself, and they would serve me for small spans of time. But I am craving something deeper and broader, to connect me to others.

I know my seminary training, my ordination, and my ministry in chaplaincy was because of this underlying drive, and I know they ultimately did not fit my calling. I don’t regret any of it. But I know I was seeking some very different religious calling in pursuing them than what my career came to be. This awareness of my own experience makes me wonder if there is a dearth of possibilities for the devoted religious life that others have felt too. How many more monks and oblates would there be if there were more ways to embody this deep commitment? What if acknowledged charisms – or gifts of the Spirit – were a much longer list? What if, besides Dominican preaching and Ignatian prayer, there were also devoted Christian communities providing service in sexuality education or lived embodiments of genderqueerness? What gifts those would be to the world.

I have recently joined the Abbey of the Arts community, and I expect to find some comfort, wisdom and kinship there. I hope it to be a shelter as I prepare and plan, a kind of training up in further virtuous practices. But I also suspect that I will find it incomplete, and that I am looking for something more.

I don’t know what form this will all take. But I know I want to pursue this. I know I want to build not just another few habits for myself, but something larger. While freedom of conscience is critical to me, so is accountability. This accountability can be hard to find for atomized monks making their way in online community. But I can’t help but think that there are new ways we can be accountable to each other. Perhaps in following my own conscience, and linking what is particular to me to what makes for solidarity with others, I can find this calling of mine.

Perhaps it resonates with something in you too. If it does, let us keep in touch.

Published in: on August 24, 2014 at 5:13 pm  Leave a Comment  


(Trigger warnings: this post includes explicit talk about sexual activity, genitals, and a brief mention of a threat of violence.)

This post is part of Queer Theology’s Queer Synchroblog 2013.

The Initiation

The initiation was supposed to happen May of 2014. It is then that I’ll turn forty.

There’s many more positive messages available these days about women over forty than there used to be. But when I was coming up, forty was the most hotly contested age for a woman. When I was a very young kid, a woman’s life was supposed to be over at 40. At 10 I watched my mother find her fortieth birthday humiliating. That elusive “real womanhood” was revoked from anyone who had it once they turned forty. I have an imprint of that information somewhere deep in me, along with a ghost of a counter-image: some commercials for hair dye and the like with that capitalist co-opting of “empowerment”: your life doesn’t have to be over/don’t grow old gracefully/buy our shit and maybe you’ll still be a woman. During my teenage years and my twenties, though, I began exploring feminism, and I began finding communities of non-heteronormative sexualities. And there I found a flip side with substance to it: women that had begun embracing themselves at forty and older. They were fortysomething when they came out. They were fortysomething when they started the career they really wanted. The other side of the big 4-0 coin I saw was a lot of women coming into their own at forty, and that I found far more alluring as a milestone. As hard as I’ve worked to find myself and build myself, I expected that finally being forty would mean I’d made it — I’d survived intact, and I’d learned. I imagined I could look back and see that I had been created – and had then created my self – in wonderful ways. And I’d be that much more me, that much more comfortable, that much happier in my own skin.

So as my fortieth birthday came over the far horizon – about a year and a half before its arrival – I began planning. I knew I wanted a meaningful celebration. For me, that means no huge party. Instead, I wanted a new tattoo. I wanted a trip with my chosen family. And I wanted… to do something terrifying. To face a fear on my terms. The first real candidate I found for the leap of terror was jumping out of an airplane for the first time. I dreamt, and I waited.

That was the plan. The initiation was supposed to happen next year.

What I didn’t plan was the pain. The pain started in the first couple of days of May in 2013.


I’m very grateful now for every scrap of radical thought that has passed across my psychic desk. I’m grateful for the current self of mine that each of those moments – these brushes with grace – has created and is creating.

I’m grateful for the anti-capitalism that has seeped into me. For so many years, productivity and work were driven into me as vital values — ‘value’ in the monetary sense, not in the moral sense. Much of my Christian walk has reinforced that valuing of action and activism, doing and getting done, productivity for and usefulness to an employer who was now God. But there was a voice long ago that began with small questions and got louder and louder. And now I have, more than once in my life, valued my precious self separate and apart from my paycheck and my job performance.

I am grateful for every moment I’ve spent soaking up a deeply-rooted body positivity. I’m grateful for a valuing of flesh that goes beyond valuing pleasure (though pleasure is important), and that avoids the pitfall of universalizing some “common” human experience of embodiment. I am thankful for all the lessons I’ve received in a body positivity that values difference, values specificity, values real individuals with real uniqueness. I’m grateful for every time I’ve practiced a mindful approach to physical activity, for every moment that I’ve spent over the years valuing where I am specifically, right now, and what I can do today as something sacred… every one of those moments is saving my life right now.

I’m grateful for body theology, for every time I’ve considered the fact that this body is me, for every moment I’ve known that life as this flesh is my primary text for knowing God, my living document of divine love. Every experience I have of this world is from this body, as this body. Every relationship I have is rooted in this body. I’m not sure I would have the audacity to insist on valuing this pained flesh, insist on valuing my changing needs were it not for every moment spent practicing this knowledge.

unfinished self portrait

A Summer of Swelling

One of the first teasing explanations we made for the growing ache was that my cock was having growing pains.

I was designated female at birth, and I never questioned that identity directly, until the last couple of years. This summer I’ve explored aspects of my genderqueerness – of my transgender self – in ways I never have before. I’ve opened up to my partner and myself simultaneously, and I have been amazed by what I’ve found. So, even though I haven’t explored any ways to change my physical self, a strange new passing genital pain seemed oddly reasonable at first.

After a few days I was back to “normal”, back to my well-known-to-me queer body. (If we use ‘queer’ as a verb, how well can we know a queer body? Is queer flesh so constantly defying definition that we are unknowable even to our queer selves… are we the Ultimate Mystery? I wonder sometimes.)

But the pattern continued. The pain came, and went, and came again, for longer and longer periods. The pain is primarily in my clitoris, and I am learning new levels of continuous pain I didn’t know existed. Our best guess through the weeks of May… and then one by one through the weeks of June… is a strangely behaving, recurring yeast infection.

July comes, and this queer body has been in bed a lot. A lot of work has been missed. Sometimes it seems my genitals may still bud a new penis — maybe I get to have one? I’ve always wondered what a penis feels like from the inside — for the tremendous swelling and redness going on between my legs. I often couldn’t walk without pain, or lay on my side. I am kinky, and I have experience with consensual pain. I can’t decide whether this makes the nonconsensual pain easier or more difficult. No pain is easy, but I feel layers of societal shit in this specific, sharp, clitoral pain: fears of rape, threats of rape, threats of losing bodily and sexual autonomy, the realities of me losing bodily and sexual autonomy. I do not consent to this pain.

I meet with a specialist and get a biopsy done of my labia. Recovering from having a chunk cut out of my vulva doesn’t feel much different than the last few weeks have.

July 12 I get a diagnosis. The term is lichen sclerosis, and it’s a rare autoimmune disorder. Pain and itching are common. The skin of the genitals gets inflamed, white and patchy, thin and easily cracked and torn. Scar tissue can develop. Scar tissue can close my vagina or cover over my clitoris. Some of this is worst case. Some of this happens when it’s not treated. We don’t know how mine will develop. Stories online include terrible years of problems, or few problems at all. Doctors say many folks respond well to treatment. Many folks use the internet to vent. It’s frightening. I don’t know what happens next.

Spoons get so elusive

Faith and Spoons*

Can I still follow Jesus flat on my back, unable to move much?

Am I still a theologian when pain prevents me from thinking clearly?

Does being a good Christian mean always striving to follow well? What if I don’t have the spoons to strive?

What does living my faith look like when my biggest need is rest?

Years of Christian fellowship – and a Master of Divinity degree – leave me wholly unprepared for these questions.

Time and Pain

I’m writing this on September 12, the two month anniversary of my diagnosis. I stayed home from work today and likely will tomorrow. I’m becoming certain that I’m disappointing my coworker and boss, but my partner has made it clear that taking care of me is my first priority. There has been terrible pain pretty constantly for two weeks; I powered through a lot of it, still going to work, and it’s eased up some now. But I’m more exhausted than I knew I could be.

Faith and Healing

Much of my years spent as a hospital chaplain were spent exploring questions about God and healing — about God’s power and suffering, and how those two things interact. I never did figure out why someone would worship an omnipotent God. It’s never appealed to me. If a God could stop suffering, but doesn’t… I just don’t want to know them, much less worship them. That’s just me. I mostly kept that to myself.

Queer Flesh

I’ve long resonated with multiple definitions of the word “queer”: as an umbrella term that encompassed both my bisexuality and the long-unnamed elements of my gender identity; as synonymous with being anti-assimilationist in a heteronormative society; and as a verb that means turning things on their head. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures have a fair amount of upside-down-edness, from the underdogs that the God of the Hebrew texts often champions, to the bizarre new kind of upside-down lordship and kingdom Jesus describes. I see all my scriptures as attempts to upend the status quo, uproot settled power structures, and to center those of our community members with the least power as full human beings and sacred human bodies with voices and power and beauty. I understand from my scriptures that justice and peace stem from valuing human bodies as sacred. In the Christian stories, God so loved human flesh that God couldn’t stop Godself from becoming some flesh.

The Disabled God

Nancy Eiesland changed my life when I read her book, The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability. Her response to the deeply-embedded ableism of Christianity is to make us all aware that a resurrected Christ is a disabled Christ, with impaired hands, feet, and side. His is not the perfect vision that we often define as “health”. His divine body is not an unblemished body. Christ the resurrected and disabled God responds directly to many of our stereotypes of people with disabilities. He is not to be pitied. He is not a picture of noble suffering. He is not romanticized as a stoic, heroic overcomer of obstacles. Jesus Christ the disabled God bears dignity, survivorhood and interdependence into the Godhead. This sacred interdependence blesses each of us when we need help from others. The disabled God is a God who “celebrates joy and experiences pain not separate in time and space, but simultaneously.”** This blesses a critical part of my own current existence, my own current body. God Godself finds wholeness and hope with disability. To paraphrase and embrace an insight from Eiesland, the existence of a disabled God makes it possible for me and for others to bear nonconventional bodies. This insight echoes into creating queer lives as well.

Holy Bed, Holy Comforter, Holy Pillow -- sacred trilogy, hear my prayer

Privilege and Intersectionality

I’ve had privilege. I’ve had cis privilege. My gender nonconformity has not yet exposed me to physical violence. While it has shaped job choices, it has not generally closed doors I was interested in opening. I didn’t feel entirely dead inside whenever I’ve been named female. I feel partly seen… though I still mourn and have always mourned all the ways my father never saw me as a boy.

I’ve got privilege to still assume I won’t always have this trouble getting to work, getting around a store, getting out of bed. It’s possible I won’t have mobility issues for the rest of my life. When the pain hits, I do often forget this privilege. But assumptions that come with being able-bodied still float to the surface every few days: the pain should be gone by now. I shouldn’t have to make these accommodations anymore. How much longer will this phase last? I float between various self-definitions of being disabled, being chronically ill, being temporarily out of commission, getting a health issue “under control”. I wonder if it’s okay or not to call myself disabled. I look up definitions of chronic pain. I don’t want to appropriate. What’s appropriation and what’s denial? I don’t have a way of knowing what my LS will look like. So what role does the possible course of my illness play in defining me now? How does my (lack of) knowledge of my own future shape my identity now?

I have privilege. I don’t have health insurance, but I have the money to have seen a third doctor, someone who knew enough to diagnosis a rare condition. I have a diagnosis that we think is helping. I still have my flexible job in a forgiving, caring setting, which helps, and I’m not sure someone non-white would have been hired there.

I have white privilege. I’ll never know how hard it is for all my other identities to intersect with non-whiteness. I won’t ever know the types of ableism and sexism and heterosexism that people of color endure. I try to understand, and even in that, I have the choice whether to try.

What does it mean for me to embrace the identities of chronically ill and bigender in the same month? I wonder just that even as I’m certain it will take years for the answer to unfold. I can still remember the moment a few months ago where I realized I would still be fat as a boy too. It was a surprise. Embodiment is a complex thing. I am incredibly grateful that my sex life with my partner doesn’t center on the penis-in-vagina sex that I can’t currently have and which may get more difficult over time even on my vulva’s best days. I am thankful for the practice I already have including “prostheses” as important parts of my own body that can bring sexual pleasure. It makes for amazing, deeply satisfying sex when my partner sucks my cock, with that cock carefully placed wherever is most comfortable for me. It is one way among many that we find accessible sexual activity, suited specifically to our bodies.

Facing a Fear on My Terms

I did not choose this pain. I did not choose this fear. I did not choose this initiation. This was not part of the plan, any plan. Coming to terms with chronic genital pain has been terrifying. Hopelessness and despair have never been far away in my inner landscape anyway, and I have sometimes greatly feared getting lost in waves of one or both. But I am not as hopeless as I feared. I am not as despairing as I worried I would be. I’m not sure I could name those realities as being by choice… at least not entirely. But hope is surviving and I’m thankful for that. I know that my life is meaningful and worth having with the pain. And I know I’m not alone, even inside this flesh, even inside pain. I am co-creating this queer life with a loving God.

So far, I cry and I hope and I manage and I’m greatly blessed. I laugh too. I did choose to unfold more and more of myself and my gender as I get older. Though I did not know its exact form beforehand, I did choose that initiation as one that brings me more peace, and more self love. My current capacity for love and hope and peace owes a large debt to many theologians who have named what is Empire and what is not — body theologians and queer theologians and liberation theologians of disability. I have blessings that include a complex and God-given gender. I have blessings that include a beautiful queer body created and re-created, and re-created again, in multiple images of God.

I believe I will still celebrate 40 by getting a tattoo. There may be a family trip as well. Mobility issues might change my bodyweight in a way that will preclude parachuting out of an airplane; rather than worry about that, I’m considering a plan to shave my head for the first time, and confront a lifetime of baggage around hair, beauty and gender. I do still want to confront a fear I can choose and control. But it now feels much more symbolic as an act than it did. It feels sacramental, in a way: an outward and visible experience of an inward, tangible, lived grace. It is a remembrance and reflection of life with intersecting fear, joy, love and pain within queerness and resistance. I still find comfort in being myself… though my relationship to and definition of physical comfort is transforming. I continue to be – and continue to become – happier in my own skin than anywhere else.

*Spoon Theory was created by Christine Miserandino
**Quotation from The Disabled God: Toward a Liberatory Theology of Disability (Eiesland, 1994) appears on p. 103 of the book. The paraphrase is from information on p.105.

Drawings by the author.


This post is a part of the 2013 Queer Theology Synchroblog. The theme this year is queer creation. The master post is here, and here are the entries!

Queering Our Reading of the Bible by Dwight Welch

Queer Creation in art: Who says God didn’t create Adam and Steve? by Kittrdge Cherry

Of The Creation of Identity (Also the Creation of Religion) by Colin & Terri

God, the Garden, & Gays: Homosexuality in Genesis by Brian G. Murphy, for Queer Theology

Created Queerly–Living My Truth by Casey O’Leary

Creating Theology by Fr. Shannon Kearns

Initiation by Blessed Harlot

B’reishit: The Divine Act of Self-Creation by Emily Aviva Kapor

Queer Creation: Queering the Image of God by Alan Hooker

Queer Creation by Ric Stott

Eunuch-Inclusive Esther–Queer Theology 101 by Peterson Toscano

Valley of Dry Bones by Jane Brazelle

Queer Creation: Queer Angel by Tony Street

The Great Welcoming by Anna Spencer

Queer Creation by Billy Flood

The Mystery of an Outlandishly Queer Creation by Susan Cottrell

We’ve Been Here All Along by Brian Gerald Murphy

God Hirself: A Theology by T. Thorn Coyle

The Objectification of God by Marg Herder

Coming Out As Embodiments of God Herself by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott

An Interview by Katy

On Creation and Belonging by Andrew Watson

Creation by Liam Haakon Smith

Practically Creating Practical Queer Theology by Talia Johnson

Inspired Possibility: Opening the Gift of the Queer Soul by Keisha McKenzie

Oh What A Difference A Pope Makes! by Hilary Howes

I’m Really Angry by John Smid

Focus on the (Chosen) Family by Brian Cubbage

The Goddex by Thorin Sorensen

Coming Out As She Was Created by Liz Dyer

Published in: on September 30, 2013 at 9:00 pm  Comments (8)  

In the beginning, there were space jellyfish (pilot/S01:E01)

The introduction to this series can be seen here.

Encounter At Farpoint

Premise: The new crew of the Enterprise-D assembles, and travels to Farpoint Station to find a mystery there. En route, an immensely powerful and capricious entity places the crew on trial for all the savageries of the human race, and challenges them to prove their superiority to their ancestors while solving the Farpoint mystery – or face grave consequences.

One of the great strengths of science fiction is its capacity for social commentary. And the commentary certainly starts quick and thick here, as Picard is explicitly ordered to demonstrate how he is less savage than the human society the viewer finds hirself in. At thirteen, I had already experienced a lot of isolation, because of my own differentness, and because of some harmful mental illness present in my family. At that age I was collecting the earliest observations of what I would later turn into a worldview of linked systemic oppressions and stories of liberation from them. And at that point I felt completely alone in what I was seeing. So, when the protagonists of the show flat out agreed that 20th century patriotism (as one example given by the powerful Q) was something savage and brutal, I began connecting with them quickly.

There’s obviously a new kind of authority on this Enterprise. While Picard wasn’t a popular captain at first, I immediately took to him. He has more for me to admire in him than Kirk’s cowboy style ever did. He’s more diplomatic, more vulnerable, and more willing to reason than Kirk. In this episode, he specifically and repeatedly outsmarts a Loki-type trickster character. And he leads the team that very purposely liberates a strange entity brutally held captive; even without an adult’s understanding of the depth of value of liberation, that’s still a powerful theme from a child’s point of view. (Yes, the entity was a space jellyfish with a cheesy soundtrack behind it. But still!) I immediately admired him as an intelligent, compassionate and ethical man. Granted, Picard was aloof, especially at the start. But even that I could relate to more than Kirk’s brashness and womanizing.

As far as gender issues, what I saw then was a kickass female security chief, a close advisor to the captain that was female, and a female chief medical officer who was the only other person besides the villain who stood her ground thoroughly with the intimidating captain. What I wasn’t consciously aware of but would be influenced by is that fact that all three women are thoroughly normative in their femininity. They’re thin and buxom, mostly thirtyish with delicate features (though Doctor Crusher is the mother of a teenager and is slightly pushing the age envelope). There’s even vague elements of tokenism present, with one of the trio being blond, one brunette, and one a redhead. This episode had one small element of edgy gender-bending in it: an extra in the crew presented as male and wore a uniform that included a short skirt and bare legs (a nearly identical uniform to the one the exotic counselor wears this episode). The designers felt this clothing choice would be a “logical development, given the total equality between the sexes presumed to exist in the 24th century.”1 This one flash of nonconformity added to a sense of home-ness about the series for me, though I wasn’t consciously aware. (That uniform became known as the “space cheerleader look.” It was unpopular with fans and actors and was discontinued after a few episodes.)

In other diversity news, I also saw one major character with a disability: pilot Geordi LaForge was born blind and sees beyond human visual abilities through the use of a prosthetic device. It’s mentioned in this episode that Geordi has constant pain from using it, but I don’t recall them ever exploring the narrative potential of a contributing crew member living with chronic pain. Everyone else is conventionally able-bodied.

Of course, as an adult with anarchist and intersectional leanings, the roots of progressive liberalism in the show – perhaps the roots of my own progressive liberalism – become clear. The limitations I find in progressivism are embedded here; the creators, for example, presume we can and will have progressed past all sexism everywhere (even though it will become clear that they can’t come close to eliminating it in their writing). The complete invisibility of many populations is an issue. As one example, everyone I see – with the exception of the space-dwelling creatures revealed at the end of the episode – has a clear and distinct binary cissexuality. Even the creatures hint at a bonded heterosexual dyad, one colored pink and one blue. While Geordi is biologically blind, his Visor precludes any need for apparent adaptation, and in fact the crew use his special abilities to their advantage much more often than they are confronted with any unique needs on his part. They are still all immersed in a seeing world. Picard speaks of how they are no longer a savage race, eliciting the very imperial dichotomy of the savages and the enlightened ones. This enlightened culture is awash in militarism. As Captain Pike mentioned in the Trek reboot film, Starfleet is “a peacekeeping armada.”3 Authority is top-down, and while some of their values may (or may not) mitigate their imperialism, they are still a privileged culture traversing the universe and playing by their own (benevolent) rules.

1. Reeves-Stevens, Judith and Garfield, The Art of Star Trek, New York : Pocket Books, 1995.
2. Thanks to Memory Alpha for the photo.
3. It’s scientific fact that Star Trek (2009) kicks ass for fan and non-fan alike.

Published in: on May 24, 2012 at 1:05 am  Comments (2)  

Enterprise Theology

Edit: Episode Index here!!

I vividly remember watching the two-hour premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation when I was 13 years old. It was a Wednesday.

I had already begun an emotional investment in the series before that night. My dad had shown me some of the original series and movies; I enjoyed the universe and wanted to see more that wasn’t so “old”. I had also passionately followed news of the developing show long before the first episode aired. Fan mags (I believe my favorite was called Starlog) had been giving us production memos, casting updates and official announcements many months before the show premeired (it was the 1987 version of livetweeting its creation!). I remember first hearing there would be an android in the crew, and that we had made peace with our mortal enemies, the Klingons; one Klingon had even entered Starfleet! I remember taking in the riskiness and newness of the endeavor too. This was long before reboots and multi-series franchises became popular. It was, in fact, ST:TNG that helped blaze that trail. Grafting a new story onto an old one like this hadn’t been tried on this scale in mainstream entertainment before. It was a huge gamble.

I watched the first episode, and every one after it, for seven years. That’s age 13 until age 20 – a profoundly formative time. I fell in love with some characters, overidentified with other characters, and I really couldn’t begin to imagine how very different I might be as a person if I hadn’t adopted Jean-Luc Picard as a powerful role model and surrogate father (a choice I’m still quite thankful to my adolescent self for; my family of origin was an utter mess during my formation, and I could do a lot worse than aim for pleasing Picard). The crew felt like family.

For being a rerun whore, I’ve seen shockingly little of the show since it went off the air. I caught a few reruns perhaps ten years ago now, but at that point in my life I got entirely preoccupied with, well… some quality control hiccups I hadn’t noticed first time around. It’s possible – perhaps just a smidge possible – that there’s some wooden acting here or there. It may be true that a special effect or two might not have come together just right. Aaaand there might be a wrinkle or two in dialogue. Or plot holes the size of your average Klingon Bird of Prey. After 4 or 5 episodes of being distracted by those, my self of ten years ago stopped watching, chalking the series up to a child’s pleasure that didn’t hold up well. It felt a lot like how my honey describes his experience of the A-Team.

But I stumbled onto the show again just a couple of months ago (thank you, BBC America!). And what I’m struck by this time is the show’s heart, and what hidden gifts it gave me. I’ve been amazed by the depth of its reflections of my own journey and my own ethics over the years. I see just how formative the show was for me, how profoundly it has shaped my theology and politics. Some influences I have eventually rejected, but others are still there, as important anchor points.

I would really like to know more about how this show shaped me.

To that end, I’m about to take a journey. I’ll switch from the seemingly randomly ordered episodes broadcast on a cable channel to a chronological run-through of the whole series (thanks, Netflix!), starting at that fateful Wednesday-night encounter at Farpoint Station. I suspect that I’ll be writing here on the experience, but I don’t expect to focus on the plots, details or quality of the show. I want to explore the memories of my adolescent self, through a lens of narrative theology. I want to unpack the theological problems and social critique presented in the stories, and see how those themes have echoed through my own journey, over the 16 years since the show ended and left an impact on me.

Hopefully some elements of this exploration are compelling to you too, whether you’re a Trekkie, a Trekker, or don’t know a tribble from a tachyon emitter. I believe there are deep commonalities to be found in how our sacred stories can shape each of us. Please join me if you can.

Edit: Episode Index here!!

Further edit: Star Trek: The Next Generation and all images from the series are copyright Paramount Pictures. My footnotes on images serve to highlight multiple fansites and databases of Trek lore. I’m making no money off of this website.

Published in: on May 22, 2012 at 3:26 am  Leave a Comment  

Thoughts On The Messy Incarnation

This column is from a mother who relates her own experiences of giving birth to her understanding of God as wild, untidy, uncontrollable, and about glorious love. It is a very moving piece.

I am frequently drawn to these stories of childbirth as stories that shed light on God and the sacred… stories that talk about the holiness of mothers and infants. I am drawn to them, even though my own mother is disturbed and unkind. I am drawn to them even though I never intend to have children. I am drawn to them even after spending years working at a job that focused on dead infants.

Advent and Christmas are my favorite times of the liturgical year because they are so specifically and overwhelmingly about the goodness of bodies, of flesh. They are about a pregnancy and a birth. Even though I don’t intend to have one myself, I know enough about them to know how they are connected to my own body’s glorious, messy beauty, and that of my lovers’ bodies. Flesh is uncontrollable, creative, and sacred.

Fear of flesh has led to many, many years of trying to control it, sanitize it, curtail its capacities for pleasure and connection. The typical images of Christmas (and the suffocating overlay of commercialism) try to keep this messy embodiment of the Holy under wraps, behind tidy virgins and perfect beds of hay for infants to sleep on, untouched. But Life is always about to break through the tidy veneer. Stories like the one in the link above remind me just how close under the surface the chaotic loving truth really is.

“God, Incarnate, Word made flesh, born of a woman. We can tell the true, messy stories of the Incarnation. Emmanuel, God with us. May we recognise the miracle of the Incarnation, not in spite of the mess, but because of the very humanness of it.

Published in: on December 24, 2011 at 5:53 pm  Leave a Comment