More about: From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Trans Elder (2020) by Jonathon Thunderword (Table of Contents)
Finding Another Right Road Authentically and Holistically
I hope that you have enjoyed this journey through my trials and tribulations, my explorations and insights. My road has not always been easy, but it has been worthwhile.
My current ministry is called Trans Anointing (www.transanointing.com). It is designed to support people of transgender experience, trans expressions, and those who have transcended gender boundaries in realizing our own sanctification (being set apart) and consecration (dedication). Obviously, this book project is a part of Trans Anointing and one way that I am sharing from my experience.
Before Trans Anointing, I was already talking about Finding Another Right Road Authentically and Holistically (FARRAH)—which is not trans or gender specific. The FARRAH approach is for anyone who is exploring their spirituality and seeking spiritual independence. It is for those who need a spiritual or religious alternative, for those who are willing to bring their own oil to the anointing and sanctifying of one’s own body as a place of worship, and for those who are living out our own truth in the universe as our true Divine selves.
Building and Rebuilding
In the pages of this book, I have described some of my process toward developing my own spiritual path and religious perspective. I picked up a brick from Christianity, a brick from Judaism, a brick from Hinduism. We could argue about where each of these bricks came from and how they are “supposed” to fit together, but I do not worry much about those questions any more. I began to stack my bricks all together as I was led by spirit—and now I have a shelter for myself, with enough doors and windows to let the light in. The Spirit of God holds my bricks together, in these new constructions and that is good enough for me.
In my building and rebuilding process, I am looking at each religion and comparing it with all the other religions that I have practiced, read about, or otherwise experienced. If I find something that is a theme or practice in at least three traditions, then I am going to make a special note to myself about that. For instance, every religion that I know of encourages prayer, meditation, or incantations. Many talk about renunciation and fasting. The Oneness of God is a common belief. Not causing harm is an important ethic that we find in many traditions and it has led me to become a vegan. Selfless service is a part of most traditions.
Choosing Bricks with Discernment
As I have demonstrated through these many episodes of my life, just because a theme or practice is widespread does not mean it will come easy to me. I was frustrated by several different kinds of prayer and meditation. However, I kept exploring and trying new things. For me, cultivating quiet in combination with grounding exercises is particularly useful, but the more structured meditations of chanting, mantra, contemplative prayer, or guided meditation do not work well. You might have a different experience! A good general rule is that you should not force yourself to do things that are not enhancing your spiritual growth. Every thing is not for every one.
I believe that renunciation is about transcending dualism—and that is why it is found in so many traditions. Fasting is about being in the world, but not of it. Sometimes, it is about cultivating quiet, or trying to do less harm with our lives. I do not believe in denying myself just to create suffering. That does not feel right to me. However, abstaining from certain things can help me to restore balance, rebuild connection, and overcome separation. It can be a part of removing all of that built-up clutter that I have allowed others to place upon me, so that I can seek out my inner truth beyond the many illusions of this world.
While many traditions have sacred text, it is not essential that you focus there. For me, reading is really fun and exciting. I have learned that Christians read their texts differently than Jews who read their texts differently than Hindus. Personally, I spent too much time worrying about all of those different details for a long time. Of course, I still read a lot! But, now, I consider all of the stories in these sacred books as allegories and myths and parables. They can be useful as long as I do not get too caught up in them. Remember, they are religious texts, not history books or science books.
Similarly with traditions, I may celebrate Christmas on December 25, but that does not mean that I believe Jesus was actually born on December 25. Many of our most familiar traditions have been influenced by other traditions. For instance, some traditions are simply seasonal events that get packaged within the stories of each tradition: mid-winter and new year traditions, spring traditions, and harvest traditions.
The metaphor of seeking the light within you is a common theme in many religions, even though it might be expressed in different ways. I love fire, so this is another theme that really works for me. You might resonate more with images of water or air (wind and breath) or the earth itself. These are images that transcend traditions, also. You may resonate with planting seeds and tending to the growth of plants. You may even resonate with particular animals or with the way the planets and stars influence our lives—but, it may be something else that suits you better and rings true in a deeper way for you. Work with the medicine that works for you!
It is not so different with people. I have shared about some of the mishaps that I had looking for mentors—call it what you want: guru, pastor, rabbi, imam, teacher. Now, I really watch the way people conduct themselves. Someone’s behavior speaks volumes about who and how they are. I don’t want you to tell me that you’re a good Hindu or a good Muslim or a good Christian. Let me see you love someone. Let me see how you love everybody. Let me see how you love people who are less fortunate than you and have “nothing” to offer. I want to see how you show respect and care. I want to see if you are serving selflessly. I want to know if you will go out of your way to help others.
When I find people that meet these kinds of criteria, it usually shines like a light pouring out of them. I can see that their spiritual practice, whatever it is, is real because of how it empowers them to be in the world. They believe in whatever they believe in, and they live that life—maybe with teaching, maybe with singing, maybe with dancing, maybe with contemplation or prayer. When I find people living out loud like that, I find it inspiring regardless of what tradition they may represent. If they can do it, then maybe I can, too. So, those are the people that I want to listen to and learn from. I am less excited to spend time around people who tell you one thing but actually live in a different way than their words would suggest.
Growing in Spirit
Who is the God of your understanding? Is it a person? Is it energy, consciousness, sub-consciousness, super-consciousness, or called by many names? Finding Another Right Road means growing beyond religion and control, hate and malice for those who may believe something different from you. How you relate to the God of your understanding is totally up to you. Your path will lead you.
I do not care whether you have a BIG God or a little God or if you think God is a bad influence. Each of us has to develop our strength and abilities, like a baby eagle learning to fly. We have to learn to fly, too. If we never get out the nest to try something new, we are not going to grow. We need to get out and experiment. We need to do our own due diligence in figuring out what is real and what is only illusion. Our five senses may betray us sometimes, but it is still important to balance engaging with the world and looking within.
Each of us has scars, literal and figurative, that shape us. Some may be obvious to others. Some may be hidden deep in our inner life. Growing spiritually does not mean wallowing in that pain, but it does mean taking our pain seriously. We are microcosms of the universe, so tending to our own pain is also tending to the pain of the world. Do not let anyone tell you that it is selfish to take care of yourself. It may be important to touch your pain to claim your story and sort out the ways that it has shaped you, but it is also important to put the past behind us and learn to live in the present moment.
Whatever words or practices you use, if love is your religion, then we are family. We do not need a God to love one another. We do not need a God to control us with some promises about heaven or hell. Hopefully, the God of your understanding is someone who helps you to embrace your own insights and experiences. Whether you are a Christian or a Muslim or a Buddhist or a Pagan or an agnostic or atheist or something else, we can still be family in love. You can reject all of those labels—or weave together more than one of them in your own way. As Louis Mitchell likes to say, many of us are “Holy Hybrids.”
FARRAH and Trans Anointing are about seeking spiritual independence. Worship is not about a building or an institution. It is about how we live out our truth in the universe. It is about the divinity that is within us, whether we are transcending gender boundaries or religious boundaries.
Our African ancestors in slavery did not have a choice about how to worship. They had to adapt to the many demands of their owners and may have adopted some toxic assumptions just to survive—but they were also creative and independent within the constraints of their time.
I have been a seeker for all of my life, but it has taken me a long time to get free. Now, I know that I do not have to choose. I do not have to stay in one place. I can go with the flow of the spirit in me. I can appreciate my siblings and their various practices. I can go to the full moon service. I can dance in the moon light or roll in the mud. I can worship God in all kinds of different forms and likenesses.
I have made this journey from Christendom to freedom. Because I am now free, I can visit a group and recognize when I am at peace with them and when I am not—without internal pressures and expectations. That’s what I see as true freedom–when I can come and go as I please, when I don’t have to be afraid. If I don’t want to bow my head and pray, then I don’t. If I don’t want to chant, then I don’t. If you asked me to lead prayer, I can decline or pass without guilt or shame.
At the same time, if you are in need and you need a blessing I feel empowered to do that for and with you. I can send you all the love and energy and hope and strength that I have in a way that is honest and truthful and unique to me. That is where this journey has led me.
I tell my story because I want you to know that you do not have to be stuck with the religion you were assigned at birth. You do not have to settle for the traditions that were handed to you by your family or the neighbors who came knocking at your door, either. Take the time to find the path that is right for you. Make something new that works for you. Don’t get caught up in trying to choose just one tradition.
I love my trans siblings. The vast majority of Black trans folk have Christian origins. I have traveled through many of the great religious traditions of our world, from Mexico to India to Israel. None could give me all the answers that I was looking for or the freedom that I needed. Non-dualistic traditions invited me to look within in a different way. That helped me to recognize that I had a responsibility to bring something new into being.
I am not telling my story because you need to follow the same path as I have. I certainly wouldn’t wish upon anyone some of the heartbreak that I have experienced. But, I do want other free-thinking and independent-thinking people to know that someone is listening.
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. To quote our ancestor Maya Angelou, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey. I can’t go back. I don’t want to go back. I have no desire to go back, but the weight has been lifted from my shoulders. Now I float in the sea of love, and where the waves take me is where I need to go.
The highest value is freedom. I am an atheist theist. For me they are one and the same. To me there is no difference. Now, that is freedom!
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