This is the first of several reflections on my participation in the Discernment and Radical Engagement (DARE) conference facilitated by Council for World Mission last week in Mexico City.
I was part of the embodiment stream, where we explored what it means to be embodied when pone is considered ‘indecent’ or ‘abnormal’. One of the papers that really inspired me focused on Dalit theology, and was written and presented by Dr. Elizabeth Joy.
Joy focused on the link between the word Dalit (often translated as ‘untouchable’) and the Hebrew word for ‘vine’. This word-play was foundational to her assertion that all people are called to be Dalit. By extension, all people are called to be black, trans, female, poor, disabled or any of the other forms of humanity that are denigrated and oppressed.
This might all sound a bit random, but it really matters. Jesus’s new world is topsy turvy. Rules are broken, death is overcome, the rich are to be poor, and the poor are to gain everything. In Jesus’s world it makes sense to aim lower, rather than higher. Worldly value does not matter to God, the authenticity that is lived out by real, hurting people does matter…
So, as transgender people, we are called to aim lower, rather than higher. What does this mean? Precisely that we don’t have to fit in. If you don’t fit into the medical system, or you aren’t male or female, you are Dalit, you are the vine. If you are intersex and proud, you are Dalit, you are the vine. If you are scarred and unashamed, you are Dalit, you are the vine. If you are lost or afraid, you are Dalit, you are the vine.
Let’s not deny the particularity of personal experience. Of course a cis Dalit person has not experienced what it is to be me, and to be trans. Of course I have not experienced what it is to be Dalit, to be deemed untouchable. We both, however, are part of the vine, part of the body of Christ.
This mode of theological reflection is relatively new, and a lot of conclusions are still to be drawn, so use it, play with it. What are your sites of oppression or pain? Where is your cross to carry? What suffering have you endured? And how can we join in solidarity with others around the world, different as they might be?