|Pen and Ink Reflections
One of my favourite stories of transgender resistance to oppression comes from India. A group of hijra people were being harassed and humiliated. Of course, this was/is nothing new. Whilst hijra have their gender officially recognised on the Indian subcontinent, they are outcasts among outcasts, typically living on the margins, in the very poorest quarters, and they stir a range of reactions in others. Like all marginalised people, behind their own remarkable brave lives lies terrible and very real fear, and many sad stories: of the sex trade and exploitation, of cruel and/or dangerous castrations, of being cast out and shamed. In one community this shaming grew intolerable. Exclusion, humiliation and actual physical and sexual violence grew exponentially. What could the hijra do? The law, politicians, even religious leaders, did not care. They were actually deeply complicit. Then, after one particularly awful day, the hijra hatched a plan. In the early hours of the morning, after stripping off their undergarments, they would walk, en masse, to the houses of the worst abusers, rattling pots and pans, bells and whistles, and anything they could put their hands on, seeking to wake up the whole neighbourhood, and make the maximum impact. This they did, raising a mighty commotion. Then, they waited whilst the worst offenders, particularly the leading fathers of the community, opened their doors and windows, and came out to see what the terrible din was all about. Standing in line, shoulder to shoulder, the hijra together then took hold of the hems of their dresses, and, with an extraordinary shriek and song of pride, lifted them up, and displayed their genitalia, in all their glory. All those who watched on were taken aback, not only with shock, but with shame. For the hijra had turned the tables on them. The shame now rested on those who were rightly shameful. The powerless had, if only temporarily, transformed the powers that oppressed them, into tools of life and liberation...
The following story is from a sermon by Martin Luther King. “My brother and I were driving one evening to Chattanooga, Tennessee, from Atlanta. He was driving the car. And for some reason the drivers were very discourteous that night. They didn’t dim their lights; hardly any driver that passed by dimmed his lights. And I remember very vividly, my brother A. D. looked over and in a tone of anger said: ‘I know what I’m going to do. The next car that comes along here and refuses to dim the lights, I’m going to fail to dim mine and pour them on in all of their power.’ And I looked at him right quick and said: ‘Oh no, don’t do that. There’d be too much light on this highway, and it will end up in mutual destruction for all. Somebody got to have some sense on this highway.’
It can be very tempting to ‘get back’ at someone whom we perceive to have wronged us or others. What Jesus offers, and Martin Luther-King took up, is a new standard; a positive approach; a non-violent way to proceed even in situations of great oppression and violence...
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘jihad’ I wonder? For many people the word ‘jihad’ conjures up images of conflagration, disturbance and violence, doesn’t it? Across the world today, there is certainly a very small minority of Muslims who not only think in that way but who actively seek to inflict such images on others and use them to oppress and destroy. The consequence is appalling violence in many places. Of course, that is a hideous betrayal of what mainstream Islam has always understood ‘jihad’ to be. Yes, it has meant active struggle, even active violent struggle, if absolutely necessary, for truth and justice. Yet above all, it means ‘struggling, striving, applying oneself, persevering’ in the way of God. This may mean active, outer, physical struggle (usually nonviolently), but the ‘greater jihad’, as it is has been termed, is the inner, spiritual, struggle of human beings to live in relationship with God. In which case, this, to some degree, is not so far from Christian ideas of what we call ‘discipleship’ or ‘the way of Jesus’. For ‘discipleship’, or ‘the way of following Jesus’ is also a way of struggle: an inner, spiritual, struggle to grow in relationship to God, and an outer, active, struggle to help realise God’s truth and justice in the world. If we see that, then we may be able to understand the challenging words of Jesus in today’s Gospel as a call not to destructive conflict, but to a ‘jihad’, or sacred struggle, for compassion and ultimate healing of our broken lives and world…