Sunday, April 24, 2016

Bathroom Break!

Yesterday, I watched a five-minute video clip which had been posted on Facebook. It was disturbing. So much so that I only watched the first minute or so then switched it off.

It was a male pastor calling for a boycott of Target (a nationwide chain store). His tone was full of bigotry and hatred. The offence that had been committed was that a statement from their corporate headquarters about bathrooms had been put out.

This is what Target said,

In our stores, we demonstrate our commitment to an inclusive experience in many ways. Most relevant for the conversations currently underway, we welcome transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity.”

The male pastor talked about opening the door to perverts. But listening to the bit I heard of his tirade, it seemed that he was unconcerned about those who are biologically female using a designated male restroom or fitting room. His concern was all about a biological male using a female bathroom. He seemed to think this was going to put everyone else in the restroom at risk of a sexual attack!

First a definition as in the various reports I have read and heard there seems to be a good deal of confusion about gender and sex. (Certainly, the above mentioned male pastor was confused about it.)

"Sex refers to the biological and physiological characteristics that define men and women. Gender refers to the socially constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes that a given society considers appropriate for men and women." Oct 21, 2011 World Health Organisation

So second, a few facts about sexual abuse . . .

    An estimated 60% of perpetrators of sexual abuse are known to the child but are not family members, e.g., family friends, babysitters, child care providers, neighbors.
    About 30% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are family members.
    Only about 10% of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are strangers to the child.


Now a few more statistics . . .

    3.4% of U.S. Adults self identify as LGBT (
    Of that 3.4% only 5% identify as transgender (

The next question that I needed to ask was how many sexual attacks were perpetrated by transgender people in restrooms?

In the U.S. the answer is zero. Brynn Tannehill writes:

“Over the 35 year history of NDO [Non-Discrimination Ordinances]s protecting transgender people all over the world, only one case of a person abusing an NDO and committing sexual assault (in Canada) has ever been found, even by those most interested in demonizing transgender people.”

The current debate is sparked by North Carolina House Bill 2, the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, voting into effect on March 24th.

Of course, no one knows how anyone can police such a bill.

I would add that I can only think of two transgender people I know amongst my friends. But I may know more, to be quite honest I have never checked anyone’s biological sex! No that is a lie . . . I have done it three times, when each of my children was born over thirty years ago so pre-scans.

Personally, if I ever have to use a public restroom I go into a stall and lock the door! I am really very unaware of most of the other people in there apart from common curtesy demands.

So I wondered why the male pastor was so upset. What was the prejudice that caused such a strong reaction in the light of no evidence to back up his claims?

How is this sort of hatred generated? What is the obsession and fear associated with the male organ?

Then I read the lectionary passage. Sometimes, unbeknown to the compilers of the lectionary the verses they picked so many years ago are relevant to contemporary times and issues. Today was one of those days.

The passage in Acts was about the male organ! It was all about who was circumcised and who wasn’t. The story was that Peter was criticized for eating with uncircumcised believers (Acts 11:1-18). This was something the Jewish believers had avoided doing.

Peter explained how his prejudice was overcome. He had a heavenly vision which was repeated three times he saw a basket of animals, reptiles and birds which were unclean by Jewish law lowered to him. He was commanded to take them and eat them. He argued that they were unclean then a voice told him, “What God has made clean you shall not call profane.”

So today, as the bathroom debate continues to rage, this can be a message for us all. In the book of Acts, Peter talked about “them and us”. Is that still the case today?

Is there any person or group of people we call unclean? Are there reasons to exclude any? Or can we accept all people as being made in the image of God and afford them the respect that deserves?

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Hope and Encouragement

Today’s story is the tale of the resurrected Christ appearing on the side of the sea of Tiberius.  Some of the disciples are fishing they had not caught anything, but on the appearance of Christ miraculously their nets became full and overflowing. They row, or swim, ashore where they find the Christ cooking them breakfast. After they had eaten a conversation ensued where the disciple, Peter, is challenged to continue the work of Christ (John 21:1-19).

I think it is good to read the scriptures with a questioning mind. Sometimes the questions raised will be unanswerable but they will lead to good conversation and discussion as the thoughts are pursued. I don’t think we need definite answers, or definite interpretations, of each passage. It is sufficient that they provoke thoughts, thoughts which may help make sense of life’s journey. As the ideas are pondered they offer hope, encouragement, direction, stability, advice, love, spirituality, how to relate to others, how to care for those less fortunate, etc.

The first question that always comes to mind when I read this text is, “Why did the author of the gospel of John place this occurrence as a post-resurrection story?”

The synoptic gospels place this same story as the initial calling of the disciples (Luke 5:1-11, Matthew 4:18-22). Of course, some of the details are different as would be expected with stories that were an oral tradition for so many years. Yet, the core, the central story is the same. They all took place at the same sea, they all involved at least some of the same named characters, they all involved a miraculous catch of fish and they all ended with the disciples being commissioned.

This happens with quite a few of the gospel stories, the various authors place them in a different situation. I suggest that this is because they are using the stories to convey a message to their readership. If that is so, what is the message that the author of the Gospel of John is giving here?

I think the message would be one of hope and encouragement. The Gospel of John was written somewhere between 80-110 CE (scholars differ on timing). Regardless of exact dating it was a long time from the life and ministry of Jesus. If you are old enough, try thinking back to an event which happened fifty or more years ago! Time would make the event a little dim, others may recall it differently. The early church had thrived on the idea that the return of Jesus was imminent and that had not happened. Additionally, persecution had been intense. What was needed was hope re-kindled. I think placing this story post-resurrection would be a huge encouragement to those early followers. 

It would remind the readers of a bodily resurrection —although, claimed that this was in an initially unrecognizable form. It would remind the readers that their physical needs would be taken care of —they were fed, with ample provision for future needs. It would remind the readers that their spiritual needs would be met —the disciples were instructed to care for those who followed. Finally, through the conversation with Peter, this story, and the gospel, was ended with the ultimate message of love and discipleship.

A quick glance at the story reveals the humanness of the disciples. It is easy to see they were still a little lost and confused with the happenings of the previous weeks. The bottom had dropped out of their world. They returned to a place which was familiar to them. At Peter’s suggestion they went back to their old jobs! At this point, they didn’t try to continue the work of ministry, they reverted to old occupations. It was obviously a crossroads for Peter and the disciples. Many of those early readers may have been at a crossroads too. Did they go back to fishing? Did they forget the previous few years? Was that very special time over? Peter had taken a step that way when the figure on the bank was recognized as the Christ. Peter swam ashore. 

The risen Christ fed them, certainly the wording gives at least a hint towards Eucharist. After eating there was a conversation which gave direction to Peter and the disciples. They continued in the work of ministry. This was the story, a key message for the early church under persecution. A reiteration of the message that they were cared for and loved, and affirmation that the work of Christ was ongoing.

I want to add, as we are largely a bi-vocational community, that I don’t think this story is saying that everyone should give up their work to pursue the work of Christ. This was a particular story, used to give a message to a community in need of hope and encourage, to let them know they were cared for and loved. 

It is now a different time and a different culture. For many of our community the commitment is to be as Christ in the workplace and in our neighbourhoods. Yet, there is still that same need today. I hope that within our community the message of hope, encouragement, care and love can be conveyed and spill out to those around each of us.