More about: From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Trans Elder (2020) by Jonathon Thunderword (Table of Contents)
by the Reverend Monica Joy Cross
I first met Jonathon Thunderword in 2005 at a Carl’s Junior fast food restaurant while I was in the Navy and stationed in Norfolk, Virginia. My therapist helped me connect with him at a time when my life was falling apart. Thoughts of suicide were my close companions. I was divorced. I had lost my family, friends, financial standing, and church. While my naval career continued, the most intimate parts of my life had fallen away.
Since then, Jonathon has been my best friend, spiritual mentor, and colleague. He has been and continues to be that one person whose integrity I always know that I can trust. At that first meeting, Jonathon and I had a long conversation about life, gender, sexuality, and options for how I might move forward. The uncanny thing is that Jonathon was only back in Norfolk briefly to re-establish By the Way Baptist Church. I was still in the Navy and I would regularly go out to sea for months at a time. There was only a very small window of availability when our paths would have been able to cross—but cross they did!
It was a transgender support group meeting at a club called Nutty Buddy’s that helped me find a local therapist who worked with transgender clients. In therapy, I was able to gain some further understanding of my own gender, sexuality, and spirituality, while beginning a journey of liberation from oppressive, even deadly, theological concepts. I also came to understand how gender and sexuality, as expressions of cosmic mystical desire, shape my humanity.
During one therapy session the therapist said, “You’re going to be a minister, right?”
I responded, “I think so.”
I do not know how this Wiccan therapist figured that out, but her role in my life is a continuing reminder to me that the Divine Imagination, the Spirit of God, works beyond the narrow confines of sectarian religion. Religion, used as a tool of mental, emotional, and spiritual enslavement, is a debilitating structure that regularly denies the voice of the Holy. Yet, my experience of salvation has been profoundly impacted by experiences I have had with Pagan, Wiccan, and Native American practitioners, enabling me to minister with like-minded people of faith to liberate the church from what Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove, in his book, Reconstructing the Gospel: Finding Freedom from Slaveholder Religion (2018), calls the slaveholder religion—so that it might return to the liberating teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ.
I would go on to attend a local Metropolitan Community Church, which instigated a new imagination, a new horizon, and a new hope in my relationship with the Holy. It was a church where I could bring all of myself authentically. My process of transition was holistic, involving spiritual, physical, and mental dynamics as I bathed in this new experience of grace and mercy. This deep transformation took several years to accomplish—and it was one of the most healing experiences of my entire life.
As a Black man, I had spent years exhausting myself trying to meet the demands and expectations of society. Now that I had failed those standards entirely, both my theological foundations and my identity needed to be rebuilt. I continued in prayer, meditation, and Bible reading in search of authentic communion and a deep oneness with God. Looking back, I see now that grappling with such difficult questions—questions that had no easy answers—was making room for me to deepen my faith while moving toward a more loving, mystical, and grace-filled life.
Indeed, I am now a Christian clergyperson in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and working toward a Doctor of Ministry degree. My call to ministry as a Christian minister of prophetic import could not have happened without these multi-faith influences. I also credit my journey with Jonathon who lovingly helped me to sort them out
In a life that is illuminating, fluid, dynamic, queer, and not easy to define (or even understand), it has been revealed to me that the questions themselves are powerful and transformative—even and perhaps especially when those questions seem terrifying. Meanwhile, the Holy imparts people, places, and things to serve as a comforting reminder that God is journeying with us. I am so very thankful that the Divine Imagination thought to send Jonathon to journey with me through my transition of gender, sexuality, and spirituality. Truly, he has been a persistent reminder of God’s presence with me.
One of the many teachings I have gleaned from Jonathon is genuinely to appreciate the people, places, and things that greet me along life’s journey. In the midst of those experiences, I have found God’s grace and love abundantly. This book is full of such teachings through Jonathon’s anecdotes and reflections. It is a book of journey-making—through the complexities of gender and human foibles, from the confines of debilitating religion toward human freedom and liberation. This book is an invitation to experience cosmic desire and the hospitality of the Holy for yourself as you seek oneness with the God of your own understanding.
My spiritual journey has not taken the same shape that Jonathon’s has. I did follow him from Norfolk to the Pacific School of Religion to deepen my education, but I remain quite active in Christian community and ministry. I am delighted that you also will have this opportunity—to journey alongside Jonathon while making your own way forward. I invite you to open your heart to new experiences and to claim the freedom and grace to answer your own deepest questions in your own unique way as well. May we all continue to journey together as the Divine invites us into new encounters and new ways of being fully ourselves in this world.
The Reverend Monica Joy Cross
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More about: From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Trans Elder (2020) by Jonathon Thunderword
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