|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...
Many years ago, before entering ordained ministry, I worked for the probation service in England. I was an assistant house manager for a hostel for what were called ‘hard to place’ ex-offenders. ‘Hard to place’ – whom do you think that included? ...
Well, it referred both to those who had committed the most serious of crimes and to those who were liable to cause physical and reputational damage, including those who had committed arson or who might be seen by the wider community as scandalous. We had men who had committed so-called ‘minor’ offences – some of whom, to be honest, could sometimes be the most awkward residents of all. We also however sometimes had men who were on ‘life license’ for taking the lives of others. Certainly, we always had at least one man, or several, who had committed sexual offences. Perhaps that group of people were also always of the greatest underlying concern, at least in terms of risking public outcry and our own limits of hospitality. For appropriate relationships with those who have committed sexual offences is rightly vital. What then does that mean, today, for churches?...
One of the Christmas cards that struck my eye this year was one that has a picture of a Jesus figure on the front, accompanied by presents around their head, and the proclamation ‘It’s All About Me’. What do you think about that? I suspect that it is a gentle way of poking fun at both the tendency of some Christians to be somewhat sanctimonious about ‘possession’ of our end of year communal festivities, and also the way in which we often want Christmas to meet our own expectations. This often begins as children - doesn’t it? – when we human beings don’t quite receive the magical Christmas for which we were hoping: maybe when we don’t have quite the special present we were expecting; and/or when our Christmas meal, or worship, isn’t quite right, or too much; or when we, or others around us, aren’t able to maintain the proverbial spirit of peace and goodwill in all our interactions. Sometimes our expectations are just too much, or too unrealistic. Sometimes they are quite right, and we are let down by events or by others. Either way, we may feel a little betrayed, especially if hopes for ourselves are involved. Perhaps however, in the disappointments of our personal Christmases, we may still learn a little of the wisdom in the birth of Christ. Fresh light may then stream in, particularly when we start looking beyond ourselves – not simply to the Christ child, but to everything about them. This may be part of the learning of this Covid-19 year, in which many Christmases are not as the world as a whole would hope. For, like the first Christmas, pictured in various ways in the Gospels, we have had to learn that it is not ‘All About Me’. If God is among us – the central message of Christmas – then he/she/they are everywhere, but not as we expected, and all of us are, truly, ‘in this together’…
Those of you who have read Elizabeth Gilbert's best selling novel, Eat, Pray Love, or seen the movie,may remember that towards the end of the story she identifies a key word that speaks to her life. It is the Italian word attraversiamo 'let us cross over'. Our gospel story today embodies that word. It is a story about power, and faith and love and in each of those deeply important areas of human life it shows the importance of a willingness to cross over.
Jon Inkpin for Holy Innocents, Sunday 28 December 2014
Today’s feast of Holy Innocents is an alternative in our church’s lectionary. For we could use other readings today. Perhaps some of us would feel more comfortable with them. After all, today’s Gospel is a tale of terror. It speaks about Jesus as a refugee. It tells of immense political violence. It recounts the massacre of children. What kind of a ‘good news’ and Christmas is this?...
Well, actually, it is very much a ‘good news’ story: both for our own day and for eternity.
Let me briefly share three things which are important about today’s Gospel reading: three things which make the otherwise terrifying feast of Holy Innocents a vital element of Christmas good news….