More about: From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Trans Elder (2020) by Jonathon Thunderword (Table of Contents)
“Is there anyone here who, planning to build a new house, doesn’t first sit down and figure the cost so you’ll know if you can complete it? If you only get the foundation laid and then run out of money, you’re going to look pretty foolish. Everyone passing by will poke fun at you: ‘He started something he couldn’t finish.’
“Or can you imagine a king going into battle against another king without first deciding whether it is possible with his ten thousand troops to face the twenty thousand troops of the other? And if he decides he can’t, won’t he send an emissary and work out a truce?
“Simply put, if you’re not willing to take what is dearest to you, whether plans or people, and kiss it good-bye, you can’t be my disciple.”
Sometimes, Christians like to disclose a whole statement of faith upfront. Well, this book is not really for people who might need such a thing. In fact, this book is for people who have struggled to find our place in a world that demands such disclosures. Still, let me share with you some critical turning points from my Christian walk, so you know a little bit about what I have taken from Christian tradition that informs this project (and my life).
Counting the Cost
I began my journey at Elder Henry Newby’s church, the United Church of God. He preached the sermon that sent me on this path. The title of the sermon was “Count the Cost”—and he preached that sermon twice a year, every year. In my Bible, I would mark down notes about what was preached and taught each Sunday. Over several years, I began to see a pattern. At the same time every year, he would preach that same sermon: “Count the Cost.”
In that sermon, I learned that there was a cost to pay. Old folks used to say salvation is free, but it will cost you everything. It costs to step out into nothing. It costs to venture where you have never been before. It costs to follow the voice of God wherever the quiet, still small voice of God leads you. It is going to cost you something.
That sermon was a milestone in my life. I remember it, and I cherish it to this day. Anyone beginning a new journey should count the cost. As the scripture asks, who goes to build a house without counting the cost? Indeed, who goes on a journey without counting the cost of what you will need to complete that journey? We need to be ready to let go of everything, whenever God calls us forth into a new revelation.
When I was ordained in the African Baptist Church, the Reverend David Hoover preached the charge. That sermon was called, “Go learn.” That was another turning point in my life. He charged me always to continue to seek, always to continue my education, and to tell anyone that questioned me, “Go learn.” He said, “Anybody who does not understand what it is to be gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, tell them, ‘Go learn.’” He said, “Anybody who questions your religious practice, whether it is about baptism or speaking in tongues or anything else, tell them, ‘Go learn.’”
I have kept that phrase close in my treasure chest of tools and resources for my journey. From that time forth, I counted the cost, and I went and studied. I learned more and more through the years—on my own, in college, in seminary. I continue to learn from books and classes and conversations. When anybody asks me anything, to this day, I encourage them to go learn for themselves.
You see, I can’t teach anyone and I can’t do anything for you. I can only point you in a direction. I can give you some books, some ideas, some suggestions, and some authors—but you have to go learn for yourself. I cannot cause a person to learn. Remember, everybody learns at their own pace. So, I took the Reverend Hoover’s charge to heart. Go learn.
The third important turning point—the one that took me “off the deep end”—was a sermon by Bishop Yvette Flunder. She called it “Undressing Jesus.” For the past 15 years or so, I have been undressing and disrobing my Jesus until he was naked and unashamed.
Bishop’s sermon addressed all of the dogma that has risen around all of the various traditions. We have surrounded Jesus with superficiality and tried to place Jesus in a box. From the big hats and the fancy robes to the smells and the bells, we have put everything from nice shoes to formal church protocols ahead of being the Body of Christ, filled with Love for our neighbor.
Each generation in Christianity added another layer of what they thought Jesus looked like, sounded like, and prioritized in his lifetime. Undressing Jesus means taking off those layers—taking off the fancy clothes, dropping the academic theology, and removing all of the pretense. I got back to the basics of what Jesus taught and showed us with his life—so much so that many of my church friends could no longer recognize him.
Age of Aquarius
Even today, God is still coming, again and again, in different people all over the world. Sometimes, Christians get closed off. We think that because the Christian Bible stopped at the Book of Revelation that there is no more sacred text—and no more revelations to be had.
However, as I explored beyond Christianity, I found other incarnations of my Jesus. I have kept my naked Jesus, dragging him everywhere I go—and, everywhere I go, I always find Jesus! Because Jesus was not just a man. Jesus is an incarnation of God Almighty.
However, people are beginning to wake up in this Age of Aquarius. We are realizing that the story is not done being written. There are other books being written even now. There are new revelations being revealed. God is still speaking.
The Age of Aquarius is an age of knowledge, an age of awakening, and an age of awareness. More and more, people are waking up. You hear it all the time, “Wake up!” or “Come awake!” or “Stay woke!” It is time for us to get it together. That is my hope—that we begin to get together. It has to start with each of us as individuals. You have to get to know it for yourself before you can begin to share it with someone else. You have to get to a place where you know that you know, so that you will be ready when they challenge you.
There are people who will think you have lost your way. There will be people who will try to get you back on their straight and narrow—back into the limits of their old traditions and practices. Religious folk keep calling for peace, but we have not had peace! Ever! They will try to draw you back into the same ways that already have not been working. We need to count the cost and be ready for that.
You will never have peace, until you realize that you are Peace and that your neighbor is Peace, also; until you realize that you are Love and that your neighbor is Love, also. Stop looking at it any other way than that!
For the past 40 years, I have been seeking and searching. My journey took me from Christianity to Judaism and into the Eastern traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism. In this process, I found my own path. I am no longer an adherent of anyone else’s religion. I am a theistic atheist. I am a believing non-believer. I found the right road for me. I created and customized my own religion to meet my spiritual needs and to help me grow into the person that I am becoming.
This journey has freed me. I came to understand the Truth—the Truth that the only thing there is is God. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of things that are real enough in this world, but they still are not Truth. I can admit to the reality of sickness, disease, poverty, and oppression, but I have learned to allow the Truth to shine through even in the midst of those things. That allows me to live this victory—this peaceful, wholesome, happy life of freedom. That is what my journey has been about.
I will always continue to seek out fellowship with other believers, regardless of what religion, faith, or denomination they do (or do not) follow. I enjoy being in the company of believers because we are all one. If you are planted in a particular church, shul, synagogue, or temple, then be rooted there. I do not want to uproot your life! I only ask that you keep growing. Go learn.
I am very happy with my journey. I want to work with others to bring heaven to earth, to let other people know that as it is in heaven, so it is on earth. I believe that begins with being freed from the illusions that separate us really to appreciate our oneness.
The Reverend Jonathon Thunderword
More about: From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Trans Elder (2020) by Jonathon Thunderword
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