The Symptoms of Our Common Humanity

Sometimes, I think that there has never been a time like this one.  Then I think about how How there is this line in  Hamlet, about how there is nothing new under the sun.  That, of course, is centuries old.  And then I think again, how Hamlet was quoting Ecclesiastes when he said that, a quote not only centuries but thousands of years old.

So to me, it feels like unchartered territory, as we enter into a world where physical “plumbing” can be different than how people identify.   I have known about these things in a vague and intellectual sense since adolescence or so.  But there is this growing acceptance of so many different ways of being a person.  That seems pretty awesome.  And it can feel pretty new.

And then I think about how the first baptized person, outside of the Jewish faith recorded in the bible was a eunoch.  He did not fall onto our either/or gender binary.  Hamlet and Solomon were right: there is nothing new under the sun.

The thing that has me thinking all this is a book.  I am reading The Symptoms of Being Human.  It is wonderful.  I am ashamed to say that perhaps it would not have made it onto my radar if it were not for the author.

The author is one of my favorite people.  He has been a dear friend since high school.   He has this amazing habbit of reinventing himself every five or ten years: actor/film maker/rock star/writer…  He has this infuriating habbit of being damn good at these things he does.  There are friends who you support because you want to be a good friend.  And then there are people like Jeff: if I did not know him, and somebody introduced me to the music of his band, I would listen to it.  If somebody introduced me to his book, I would read it, and I would love it.

But I digress a little bit.

I am thinking tonight about how there is nothing new under the sun.

I had been curious about the book, as he was writing it.  I was wondering how I would relate.  I feel a little lost, sometimes, in the world.  I don’t understand all the stuff that goes in with different ideas of gender and identity…  I couldn’t explain the difference between a bunch of the letters they put after G,L, and B.  I am lacking both a head knowledge and heart-understanding of some of this stuff.

The thing that I am thinking about tonight, though, is that there is nothing new under the sun because there is some fundamental humanity that we all just share: While it is true that I have never felt like my gender-identity switched from one day to another, while I have never felt like my biology is at odds with my psyche, I have felt like the world wants to prescribe certain beliefs and expectations on to me.  The world wants me to approach things like a multiple choice test: Answer A or B.

I so often find myself wanting to answer A and B.  Or I want to write an option C.

These are the reasons that I just jump into instant identification with this character, Riley.  That is the power of literature, and perhaps the last great hope of all of us, that we beneath the surface of things to our commanalities beneath…  Thank God that there is nothing new under the sun, because if there was, I suspect we would not be able to find each other, and find ourselves in each other.  This is a reason that you need to go out and find the book, right now.

There is another, perhaps more important reason that you ought to go out and find it…

It happens to be a damn good read.




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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

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