From Christendom to Freedom by Jonathon Thunderword

I’ve always said that OtherWise Engaged Publishing is not limited to the OtherWise Christian brand. It is a multi-tradition publishing operation for projects from OtherWise-gendered folk that are in alignment with our values. Easy to say, but the first four books were pretty specifically Christian, including the first two OtherWise Reflection Guides. Granted.

OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance began to offer some more diverse perspectives. However, we have more explicitly turned that corner with From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Transgender Elder (2020) by Jonathon Thunderword.

LAUNCH CONVERSATION with Louis Mitchell of Transfaith
Saturday, May 9, 3pm Eastern
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I first met Jonathon at a Fellowship of Affirming Ministries gathering in 2008. Under Bishop Yvette Flunder’s direction, we co-led (with others) a workshop on transgender experience. Little did I know then how either of our lives would unfold.

Like Appendix C in OtherWise Christian: A Guidebook for Transgender Liberation (2019), Jonathon talks about Christendom as something different from the Jesus Movement. Christendom is what happened with the Jesus Movement got deeply entangled with Empire. While it touches on Jonathon’s experiences (pro and con) in Christian community, this is a decidedly post-Christian memoir.

As he puts it, Jonathon “followed Jesus into Judaism” and shares some of that journey, but he does not stop there. Jonathon reflects on early years in the Nation of Islam as well as his experiences listening to non-believers. I learned a lot more about his experience with Amma and Hindu tradition in his book than I ever did in conversation around conferences we attended together.

I know that some of the memories Jonathon dredged up working on this book were painful for him. While each section is quite short, I should offer trigger-warnings for sexual abuse by religious leaders, as well as references to sex work, use of illegal substances, and sexism/misogyny. Of course, these experiences are offered in a reflective context which explores them with sensitivity.

Jonathon does not pull any punches in talking about his experience as a Black man, either. The image that opens his Introduction is more than uncomfortable, but it is offered with deliberate intent. He frequently reflects on how racial dynamics impacted his faith journey(s). I found his candid revelations about struggling with contemplative practices particularly insightful, as he embraces both the search for stillness and African-American cultural influences.

So, many of the patterns of community engagement among African-Americans emphasize call and response between the congregation and a leader in ways that do not require widespread access to books, paper, or even literacy. These patterns are also connected to our roots in Africa, which predate the written word or modern educational standards. (Chapter 8: Cultivating Quiet)

Religion is never simply one thing. It is race and gender and culture and teaching and mystical experience and physical practice and community and individual discernment and more. Jonathon manages to speak to these dynamics (and more) in a brief and accessible way, based in anecdotes from his personal adventures in religious experience.

Each chapter includes between four and six short sections. Each section is followed by a reflection question. This dynamic turns his spiritual auto-biography into a kind of workbook, which invites the reader to reflect on their own preferences and experiences. Because of his long journey and deep questions, the core of From Christendom to Freedom is not just another transgender memoir, but an an object lesson in what he calls “Finding Another Right Road Authentically and Holistically.”

The Afterword points explicitly to Jonathon’s Trans-Anointing ministry which supports people of trans experience to claim their own spiritual journeys, as he encourages spiritual independence for each of us as we live out our own truth.

I am the editor and publisher of From Christendom to Freedom: Journey-Making with a Black Transgender Elder, so, naturally, I am a fan! More importantly, I want to say what an honor and a privilege is has been to work with Jonathon (and Triptta) in birthing this project.

Anyhow, much of Jonathon’s front and back “matter” is available online on the OtherWise Engaged website: Table of Contents, Foreword by the Rev Monica Joy Cross, Preface, Introduction, Afterword, Works Cited (or Recommended). Please take a look!

While this offering is not the first in a formal series, it is still the first of a kind that you can expect more of in the OtherWise Engaged Publishing catalog. Bobbi Taylor and KimiFloyd are each also working on book projects that will be spiritual autobiographies drawing on their own experiences navigating multiple cultural/spiritual influences. Sign up for updates from OtherWise Engaged Publishing to hear about what is next!

Compiled by Mx Chris Paige on May 4, 2020.

OC2: The Rev Victoria Kolakowski (retired)


“[B]alancing an understanding of both our similarities and our differences is the key to creating a modern spirituality that can enrich us all.”

The Rev Victoria Kolakowski (retired) in
“Foreword” and “Wrestling Like Jacob”
OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance


OtherWise Christian 2 v. 3

I had lunch with Vicky while I was in the Bay area, really just hoping to catch up and maybe squeeze a Foreword out of her. As she disclosed in that Foreword, she stepped back from her religious vocation when she became a judge. So, I was pleasantly surprised that she was also willing and able to write a chapter for the book. While there is a passing mention of her role as a judge, the article focuses on Jacob’s wrestling (and her own).

Vicky’s chapter, “Wrestling Like Jacob,” will appear in OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance (March 2020) from OtherWise Engaged Publishing.

Pre-order now! Or sign up to get updates!

The Reverend Victoria S. Kolakowski received her M.Div. from the Pacific School of Religion in 1998. She was the first person to have a transgender positive article published in an academic religious journal in 1997. She was ordained in the Metropolitan Community Church as the first person to start and complete the ordination process as an openly transgender person. She served as clergy at several churches, and on the board of the California Council of Churches. She retired from ministry when she became a judge in Alameda County, California, in 2011.

Join us in celebrating the #SacredOtherWise! Claim your own story during March 2020! Possible hashtags include:

#TransAndSacred
#IntersexAndSacred
#NonBinaryAndSacred
#TwoSpiritAndSacred
or your own version of #SacredOtherWise

These are also great hashtags to add when you are talking about #TransgenderDayOfVisibility / #TDOV!! March 31, 2020 is our official launch day!

We are also using #ClaimYourStory and #ClaimingOurStories to encourage celebration of our stories of faith and resistance.

#ClaimingOurStories
#ClaimYourStory
#YouAreLoved
#YouAreNotAMistake
#SacredOtherWise

OC2: Foreword by Victoria Kolakowski

Much gratitude to the Rev Victoria Kolakowski (retired) for providing the Foreword to OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance with such a significant historical perspective!

Foreword
By Victoria Kolakowski

The book you are reading is long overdue. I know, because I have waited sooooo long for it—decades, in fact. Please bear with me as I introduce myself, for context.

I spent most of my teens and twenties trying to reconcile my firm belief in God and my firm belief that I was really a woman inside, notwithstanding what my body and the rest of the world told me. It was a difficult journey, made more so by the lack of information about transgender issues available to the general public.

Continue reading “OC2: Foreword by Victoria Kolakowski”

OC2: Table of Contents

Table of Contents
OtherWise Christian 2: Stories of Resistance
Edited by Mx Chris Paige

Foreword by the Rev Victoria Kolakowski (retired)
Preface by Mx Chris Paige
Introduction by Mx Chris Paige

Continue reading “OC2: Table of Contents”

Transgender Christian Oral Histories

When I was creating the list of transgender Christian (auto) biographies, I remembered that we also have some oral histories. It’s actually super wonderful to be able to hear our people’s voices. As always, please let me know if you are aware of transgender Christians who may be lurking in other oral history archives!

In addition, I’ll want to make a list of documentaries, which are a little different. However, The Believers is one that I think should also be on an oral history list.

Thank you to the LGBT Religious Archives Network for hosting several oral histories!

ALSO Transgender Christian (auto)Biographies

ALSO Transgender and the Christian Bible

Compiled by Mx. Chris Paige on on August 16, 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.

Transgender Christian (auto)Biographies

I just created a list of books about transgender and the Christian Bible, but we also need stories! This list looks at transgender (auto) biographical books that are explicitly Christian. I probably missed some others, so please contact me with additions!

I plan to review and provide notes on these books, as I am able. Please be in touch if you can provide me with a review copy!

Continue reading “Transgender Christian (auto)Biographies”

Reading Scripture Event, Sept 14

If you’re in the Greater Charlotte, NC area, you should really try to join the Ministries Beyond Welcome team for “Reading Scripture across Trans-Queer Experience!”

This is exactly one of the reasons that I want to have OtherWise Christian Ambassadors (OCA) across the country (and perhaps around the world!). I can’t be in North Carolina that week, but our Ambassador, The Rev Debra Hopkins, will be present with copies of OtherWise Christian: a Guidebook for Transgender Liberation available for sale (please bring $25 cash)! Continue reading “Reading Scripture Event, Sept 14”

Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith, 2003 and 2018

Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith by Justin Tanis is one of the two most influential books in transgender theology (the other being Omnigender). First published by Pilgrim Press in 2003, this book was originally Tanis’s D.Min dissertation. It was out of print for a time and was republished as Trans-Gender: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith in 2018, now by Justin Sabia-Tanis under the umbrella of Wipf and Stock. Continue reading “Trans-Gendered: Theology, Ministry, and Communities of Faith, 2003 and 2018”