It is Easter/Resurrection Sunday 2020 and the world has changed. Some of us are simply stuck at home. Others are struggling to breath–or have crossed over already. Some of us are missing our lost loved one, while others celebrate a Resurrection hope.
I am listening to the quiet this morning. I’ve had my bagel with cream cheese and red wine for virtual communion, but I don’t much feel like going online. As I wrote “Do this in remembrance of me” on my #QueeringTheBibleChallenge post (see Instagram), I remembered that I recently published a book called In Remembrance of Me….
It’s funny how you can know things and forget them and how writing a book can be a reminder. Long story short, I went back to that work (published just two months ago) to re-read my final chapter on Hope. I decided to share it with you in honor of Easter/Resurrection Sunday 2020.
[Siblings], we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of [hu]mankind, who have no hope.
1 Thessalonians 4:13 NIV
Twenty years of being connected to transgender communities has changed me. It has not given me all of the answers, but it has definitely changed my questions. There is no place where this shift in me is more poignant than in how it has changed my relationship with death.
Minister Bobbie Jean Baker is a transgender sister. I met her through the TransSaints ministry of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, and we stayed connected through national conferences and other gatherings. You can hear her voice in the documentary movie The Believers or in music from the historic Transcendence Gospel Choir. Bobbie Jean passed unexpectedly early on New Year’s Day 2014. She did not die from suicide or from anti-transgender violence. She did not die from neglect or poverty or inadequate health care or any of the issues that so frequently frame transgender tragedy. It was a car accident caused by a drunk driver.
It still shook me. I woke to the news. I wept in my bed. I was not in especially close contact with Bobbie Jean, though I recorded our last conversation because I was going to write about a project she was working on. We lived on opposite ends of the continent. We were both busy.
Bobbie Jean could have been anyone. She could have been any New Year’s Eve traffic accident tragedy, but she was not just anyone. She was my friend. She was someone I worked with. She was someone whose voice was familiar to me. She was someone who helped make me more real, more authentic, more human. It still makes my chest hurt to think of her as I write this. She is not just anyone. She is not just a rapidly fading memory. She is a part of me
I do not know if it was the loss of Bobbie Jean. Or Charlene. Or Lois. Or some other friend or colleague. I do not know if it was my tending to a conversation about someone else’s suicidal intentions—or someone else tending to a conversation about my own despair. But at some point, I realized that it matters for us to remember one another. I realized in deeper ways that we re-member one another—that we put one another back together when things fall apart. Sometimes in life. Sometimes in death. This remembering matters.
Some time along the way, Jesus’ words to his friends took on new life for me. “Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24b). Broken bodies. Shared meals. Lingering conversations. Friends remembering. Like Jesus, our OtherWise-gendered ancestors (some say transcestors) have been through it, too. Betrayal. Loss. Violence. Neglect. Rejection. Shame. Trying to figure how to keep going when there seems to be nothing left to hope for.
Despite what you may have been told, we do not journey through this life on our own. Some companions may hurt us. Some companions may help us. Probably most do at least a little bit of both. Yet, even when living humans may seem to have forsaken us, the ancestors are always standing by, bearing witness to our trials and tribulations and lighting our way. We are not the first. We will not be the last. Herein lies my hope.
Communities that suffer great tragedy often feel a stronger connection to our ancestors. Transgender communities are no different, except that we have less of a shared, inter-generational culture upon which to draw for our re-membering. We are never alone. Even if our connection to blood relatives may be compromised, we live under the watchful eye of those who came before us. The saints are yet with us as a cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1).
Protestant Christianity has taught many of us to worry way too much about beliefs. You may or may not believe in “God.” You may or may not believe in “heaven” or “hell.” You may or may not believe in the “ancestors” as people who we can relate to across time. But, I am not trying to convince you of any of those things. I simply offer my testimony about the power of community—Christian community, transgender community, communities of friends and relations, whether by blood or by love. Such communities are an ancestral tradition. They are a legacy passed on from one generation to another.
I believe that honoring our dead can change the way we live. The meaning in our lives is not actually created by ideologies or institutions but, rather, by and for and with the people and communities than surround us—including those who have gone on before us. We are woven into one another like threads in a rope. We make one another stronger when we hold each other close.
I do not remember Jesus because Jesus needs me to remember. I do not remember our transgender ancestors because they need me to remember them. I remember because it changes me. It moves me. I remember them because they are a part of me. May their memory be a blessing.
No, really. May we open ourselves up so that we might be blessed by their memory. May we break bread with them. May we say their names. May we sing their songs. May we honor their struggles as stories which are connected to our own. May we never forget.
Do this in remembrance of me. Not because of some charitable impulse. Not because of some sad, sappy story. Not because of some manipulative sense of obligation. But because we need one another.
In my last reflection about bearing witness to transgender tragedy, you might expect a rousing call to action. But, no. Once you take the time to lament, to feel, to be changed by the violence—once you commit to a practice of remembering and bearing witness and re-membering—you will not be able to avoid taking action. I do not need to tell you what those actions will be. It will depend on who you are, where you make community, and what your capabilities are. It will depend on the unique opportunities that present themselves to you.
If you feel deeply connected to those who have suffered, I am confident that you will find your way. Grieve, but do not grieve like those who have no hope. Do not be uninformed about those who sleep in death. Those who sleep are still our community. Weave them into your living. Do this in remembrance of them. Do this in remembrance of Jesus. Someday, I will be gone. Do this in remembrance of me, too. Weave each one of us into your living. This, too, is hope.
How will you remember?
You are loved. When you remember. When you honor those who have gone before you. When you claim your ancestors. You are loved.
With gratitude for the life of my friend, Minister Bobbie Jean Baker; for the wisdom of my teacher, Dr. Daniel Foor; and for all the saints who have helped me move beyond worrying about “what I believe” into the strength of community with our ancestors.
I rather think that this chapter pairs nicely with the final section of the final chapter of OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation.
Proceeds from In Remembrance of Me, Bearing Witness to Transgender Tragedy: An OtherWise Reflection Guide will go to the Minister Bobbi Jean Baker Memorial Fund in support of the leadership of transgender women of color.
There are links from the online Table of Contents to more excerpts from the book.
More about the OtherWise Reflection Guide series.