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Congratulations! It’s a WHAT?

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Ho! It’s ya Brudda Hank, and I hope I don’t make (too many) enemies today, so I’ll spare you the read and let you know that if you’re a religious, political conservative, I’m probably going to deeply offend you, and if you’re an uber-liberal, progressive, I’m sure you’ll be wanting to come after me as well.

During my visit to Massachusetts, I went to a local church my daughter attends. It’s a nice Christian church, full of nice people who believe that church is a place where you go to improve yourself. I admire and respect people who acknowledge their imperfections or broken lives and hearken to communities of faith for love, support, and guidance. I’ve seen all kinds of folk attend the various faith-based congregations I’ve been privy to; from the extremely devout and committed to those who really should be committed. Also, if you don’t go to church or synagogue because you’re convinced it’s full of hypocrites:
You’re right
Don’t worry, there’s room for you.

Cynical me also knows that where sheep gather, the wolves will soon come to feed, like a certain (never to be named) church leader in Naples, Fla. His “heavenly” reward was the thirty-five million that, according to his arrest warrant, he fleeced from scores of decent fellow church members who trusted him. What he had was a Ponzi scheme that funded his lavish lifestyle and nothing more. In the past, when my fellow parishioners approached me with a “guaranteed, no risk, lucrative opportunity,” I mentally extended them the Hawaiian finger of friendship as I verbally delivered a firm “thanks, but no thanks.”

So, what was my beef last week with the church in MA? There, in front of the church, was a somewhat mannish-looking lady singing hymns. I’m an old dude, so I can tell the “difference,” if you know what I mean, unlike the younger generation, who all seem to have gone blind and deaf. I was visiting and trying to be polite, so I kept my mouth shut and my eyes diverted, but as someone who can’t help but rubberneck at auto accidents, I couldn’t stop looking and hearing someone who kind of looked like a woman but sang in a higher pitched, but definitely male baritone voice.

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Wouldn’t you know that this church was sponsoring a potluck that my daughter invited me to stay for, and as I sat down to eat, guess to whom my truly lovely but quite mischievous daughter had me sit next to? If there is a Sheol (Jewish hell, but more along the lines of boring than fiery), I had been transported there. How does a man my age pretend all is well and make conversation with someone who’s screwing up my sense of genders?
At first, I exchanged stiff pleasantries and tried to focus on eating, but my daughter (grr!!!) kept trying to have me talk to this person. I just wanted to eat what was on my plate, thank everyone for the great food and get the Sheol out of there!

Then my kid tells me her friend was born Jewish, but the congregation recently rejected her. I’m sensitive to the topic of rejection as I understand the difficulty of reconciling my religious faith with my ethnic roots, so I mentally put my judgment of her on temporary hold. When I told her I was learning Hebrew, she opened a book she was carrying and pointed out how she’d copied all the important Hebrew prayers, along with their translations. We chose a song, and she and I sang it for everyone around us (my Hebrew is getting good, thank you, Lynne B!) I have to admit we both had tears in our eyes as we lifted our voices to a God shared by many faiths.

I also found out that when she first visited this little church, “he” was dressed in men’s clothing and was using a man’s name to identify him/herself. This little church welcomed “him/her,” made her feel accepted, and since he/she had such a pleasant voice, was asked to sing with the praise team. She was invited to sing at nursing homes with the other church members and slowly became woven into the fabric of that community of faith. Shortly thereafter, he/she stopped taking testosterone supplements, and his/her bass singing voice became a pleasant, albeit higher-pitched baritone. Around that time, she started wearing dresses. No one judged her, and no one gave her preconditions for joining. They just loved her and provided her with a refuge. Did she feel pressured to revert to her biological sex? Is this why she came to church? Should we expect this “conversion” if other trans people show up at church or synagogue?

The cynical me can’t figure out God’s plan for people like this. She will never look or sound very feminine, but she is God’s perfect creation, and like the rest of us, she is finding meaning in her life with the help of a very loving, very patient community of faith. I do not understand all this trans stuff, but I do know one thing: whatever my thoughts and opinions are on this matter, should someone with a beard and a dress come to Temple on Shabbat Friday to worship, I’m going to swallow hard, put on my best smile, extend my hand, and say “Shabbat Shalom!” I pray that I don’t screw up their name or use the “wrong” pronouns. I’m an old dude and set in my ways, but I will do my best not to be too much of a hypocrite. I’ll leave the judgment and healing to powers much greater than me since when it comes to being imperfect and in desperate need of Providence, I’m a prime candidate.

“Bruddah Hank” was born in Brooklyn but has lived all over the US and abroad. A deeply spiritual man yet circumspect person, he learned the most valuable lesson at the feet of a Hawaiian Kapuna: time is the only gift that can never be taken away. Spend it wisely.

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