The old Shaker Hymn proclaims, Tis a Gift to Be Simple. (I doubt they mean in the head, rather simplicity in one’s lifestyle.)
Yesterday I received a Facebook message from a friend in the UK with a question about being different. The question soaked in on me until I found myself writing back late late in the night. She referenced a talk she heard by a trans woman named Carol who discussed the Two-Spirit people of some Native American tribes, people who possessed the spirit of male and female and were often elevated to places of honor in the community as shamans and leaders.
She then asked,
But how much more hopeful would the stories be for us if we could see stories in our history where God’s purpose for people lay in the fact that their cultures celebrated their difference and their role was uncovered in this positive context? Carol gave me hope that historically people’s difference have made them stand out as positive examples of a rich and diverse creation – some hope therefore in creation itself and not ‘just’ the redeeming power of God after we have messed up creation.
Does that make sense? Are there any examples in your rereading of the Bible where God has named and a used a person because of their difference where they have been honoured by their peers for their difference?
This got me thinking and I responded,
I am so glad you heard Carol speak. I want to know more about her. Yes, I have heard of two spirit people, in fact, in Queer 101–Now I Know My gAy,B,C’s I have my wise Professor Meadow speak about them:
But when these Native Americans discovered one of these queer two-spirit people among, they didn’t make fun of them or drive them out or make their lives miserable. No, they welcomed them as gifts to the community.
In response to your question about the Bible and people being honored for their differences, usually the people in the stories do not honor the “different” person while God clearly does. Look at the prophets who were continually misunderstood, under appreciated and despised. A big part of it was that they saw the world differently from those around them, and as a result, they lived differently.
I also think of wonderfully different Deborah in the book of Judges. She is a judge, a poet, a prophetess– and she is honored by God and as far as we can tellby man and woman but of course that may have been after all the success of saving the nation. Who knows what sort of grief she experienced before that.
But the message I see mostly in the Bible is that those who are different, are honored by God, chosen by God for special purposes, but first it often requires overcoming the reactions and rejections of the “normal” people around them. That is part of the preparation for great works. And then these “different” people turn around and do something marvelous and save everyone to boot.
That is what excites me about the Joseph story (which in the play I tell through the perspective of his Uncle Esau, the uber manly man.) It takes Esau to the end of the story to see that Joseph did what no man of his clan or generation could do. He loved his family like a mother and a sister would and through that love, saved them all.
I continued with my answer but it was all too personal to share in this context. I will share though that one of the key elements to being different in a world that does not appreciate the difference we possess, is that we then experience the gift of rejection. Yeah, strange gift, one that I would prefer to return unopened, but it doesn’t come with a proper receipt. We experience systematic and institutional rejection that can be cruel, unfair and irrational. Rejection from church, family, society. Rejection from friends.
For someone like me–white, male, middle class–this can be such a gift. It can jar me out of my blindness and soften me to other rejections in the world and other rejected people, people who are also different from the mainstream and different from me.
Embracing the rejection, seeing how it most often comes out of poverty and ignorance and not love and understanding, and letting it soak into us and tenderize our hearts and cause us to seek out knowledge about topics, issues and people who are mostly hidden from the mainstream, makes both the rejection and our differentness a gift. We may never fully understand another’s difference ,and their systematic and institutionalized rejection may be much more severe than anything I experienced, but it can still make us kin and make us allies.