Our friends over at Queer Theology were talking about Deuteronomy 30:15-20 on their podcast this week. I start chapter 1 of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation with the same theme (specifically Deuteronomy 30:19):
I am now giving you the choice
between life and death,
between God’s blessing
and God’s curse,
and I call heaven and earth
to witness the choice you make.
Good News Translation
It’s a quick conversation, coming in under 6 minutes. Actually, it’s the second time they have talked about this text (the first time was under 6 minutes, too). That’s the joy of a lectionary-based agenda–coming back to the same text with fresh eyes!
Father Shannon Kearns opens up with the basic sense…
I think that this idea of listening to your heart and trusting your heart to be able to choose life is beautiful and I think important especially for queer and trans folks who are often taught to not trust our bodies and our hearts. Instead, we are supposed to just trust things external to us. … [T]his sense of choosing life, of investing in your community, of doing the things that will give you survival is really resonating and sticking out to me. (Father Shannon Kearns)
Brian Murphy elaborates:
Just choose life! I say it all the time. Part of that is an intellectual choice to say, believe good things about yourself and hold on to theology that is life-giving. Part of that is like what Shay is talking about, be in community with people who will take care of you, and nourish you, and understand you, and walk alongside you. (Brian Murphy)
In OtherWise Christian (chapter 1), I specifically make the distinction between submitting to authorities in the church and academy compared to honoring the lived experience of the prophets among us. I go on to talk about all of the many gatekeepers that conspire to regulate transgender (and OtherWise) lives.
In the previous Queer Theology podcast episode on this text, Brian and Shay unpacked this passage a bit more around the “command” and how we think about God:
…it’s not God saying, “I’m going to destroy you if you choose wrong.” It’s just like, if you choose to invest your life into bad things, there are consequences to that. (Shannon Kearns)
As a parent, I learned to call this “natural consequences.” I believe that God empowers us by giving us choices, hoping that we will invest in that which is good and beneficial.
I did a quick Google for further commentary on this verse and quickly landed on something from Rabbi Elliot Kukla, who is actually the first openly transgender person to be ordained a rabbi in Reform Judaism:
This phrase is a classic example of a “merism,” a figure of speech that is used frequently in the Bible, where two parts or elements are used to denote the whole. … When the Torah states that God puts life and death before us, our tradition is not telling us to decide whether to live or die, but that every choice we make from birth to death matters. These choices range from how we treat our loved ones to how we spend money; from whom we bring into our world view, to how we choose our food. In each of these choices, we should choose life. (“The Commandment to Choose Life,” Commentary on Parashat Nitzavim, Rabbi Elliot Kukla)
The “merism” is also important to understand when we are talking about Genesis 1 and being created “male and female” (see chapter 6 of OtherWise Christian), so I love that Rabbi Kukla made this connection for us.
Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on September 9, 2019.
Note: This blog is intended to be an on-going work in progress. Please contact us if you have corrections or are able to contribute further context or reflections.