It’s been said God’s first act of creation was to make of the means of creation–letters, makers of words. The mystic Hildegard said: “The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature:” The God-Word present in worded being, earth and skin and breath.
Words matter…because words are matter.
Words are living things: transforming the continuous flow of synaptic activity into thoughts, ideas, beliefs. Words commmunicate. Words create and destroy. Words heal and words harm. Words marginalize and oppress and words create revolutions. We’re born into worlds built on words. Culture, itself, is crafted by words–the makers of paradigms and ideologies.
Every day, we’re reminded how dominating cultures manipulate and perpetuate the most basic of these paradigms: normalcy and deviance; male and female; heterosexual and same-gender loving; good and evil; color and race; class divisions and ability, ethnicity and national origin; acceptable languages, dialects, and accents…knowledge and ignorance…truth and lies. One glance at the news calls our attention to the ways we have allowed and participated in ideologies that marginalize, oppress, and concretize hatred of difference.
More, the Church has not only allowed these ideologies to emerge, it has played a role in wording them.
Words matter because The Word is present in every person.
Lately, I’ve been studying the words in Mark’s gospel–particularly, stories of Jesus casting out demons. Mark doesn’t say much about what words Jesus chose to speak. What Mark does tell us: to cast out demons is to proclaim the message. We can understand demons as: afflicting spirits; adversaries of benevolent spirit; confounders; emissaries of mal-intent.
Unclean spirits. Demons. These are metaphors for those deep-seeded things that trouble us.
We commonly refer to working out our internal troubles as exorcising our personal demons. We, as LGBTQ folks, have our undue share of internalized troubles. Many of us received those troubles in and from the church. Strangely, though, some would still call our afflictions demons.
But, I’m not so sure that we–the outcast–are, in fact, the folks who have some demons.
I wonder if we are not, in truth, afflicted by the adversarial spirits of others who are possessed by long-standing, harmful paradigms in our social consciousness. Perhaps, we are simply suffering a troubled awakening of self amid the confounding spirits around us–especially, those we find in the church.
I don’t know. I could be wrong.
What I do know is this: the more particular a self is–the less a person reflects the dominating, cisgender, heteronormative human mythology–the more that person comes up hard against assimilated, cultural paradigms conflated as universal facts.
Worse, our accepted ideologies about bodies and identities are lifted up as facts imparted to us, eons ago, by God.
We could heal this affliction if we got to the core of what it means to be a human: to be a “self,” a person, is to be endowed with particular and personal identity, existing, simply, in perpetual states of longing: for the means of a life, like food and shelter; for some sense of purpose, for connectedness and relationality, for joy and relative health, for place and meaning, and, most importantly, for thriving, for some viable sense of autonomous self in interdependent relationship with others, and perhaps, the Holy.
This, we can propose, is the one thing that constitutes our shared likeness. This, profoundly and simply. Not constructed gender. Not “normative” sexuality. Not binary sex. But being-ness in states of longing–beautifully, particularly, this and only this.
Sadly, this reality is afflicted in a world possessed by defining likeness by way of sameness. We are vexed by an idolatrous universal human by which we measure, not only the value and validity of others, but our own as well. The human, writ large, generally looks, acts, thinks, and believes–mostly–just like an assumed, mythological Us; it tells us who we are, where we belong, and who we can be; it comforts our fragile places; it affirms us.
But, it’s the human in God’s image, replaced with the human in our image and likeness.
Recognizing this reveals a larger truth: the church-troubled process of asserting transgender, intersex, and same-gender loving personhood is not a matter of exorcising our personal demons, but rather the afflicting spirits born in human doctrines. We are troubled not by some demons in our own minds, but in the unexamined mind of the church.
These spirits have been confounding us for eons. Jesus understood this. More, he knew these spirits are born, not of The Word, but of human words. We see this in the people Jesus called, the persons he healed, those with whom he shared table and teaching, people he cared for and saved from stoning, and especially, those he condemned. Jesus made his place, not with the privileged beautiful people, but among the beautiful people of the margins: the strangers, social orphans, women, widows, outcast lepers, freaks, geeks, weirdos, and all those made monsters by the tyranny of just-like-us-ness.
The demons we need to exercise are the legions of confounding spirits colonizing the collective mind of the church. Perhaps, if we free the church of false truths and separatist paradigms, we will find ourselves living among the liberated, beloved community Jesus proclaimed.
Liam Hooper lives in the deep south with his wife, Diana, a freelance publishing professional who keeps his calendar in line, and their teenage son, who keeps them on their toes.