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Gender and Sexuality
Gender and Sexuality

True Self and False Self

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Gender and Sexuality

True Self and False Self
Thursday, October 24, 2019

For you who have loved Jesus—perhaps with great passion and protectiveness—do you recognize that any God worthy of the name must transcend creeds and denominations, time and place, nations and ethnicities, and all the vagaries of gender and sexual orientation, extending to the limits of all we can see, suffer, and enjoy? You are not your gender, your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, or your social class. These are not the qualities of your True Self in God!  Why, oh why, do Christians allow temporary costumes, or what Thomas Merton called the “false self,” to pass for the substantial self, which is always “hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3)? It seems that we really do not know our own Gospel.

You are a child of God, and always will be, even when you don’t believe it.

And so is everyone else! God created us all. We are all God’s children.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that social identifiers don’t make a difference for your life. Before we can see ourselves together as “one” we must be in relationship with and value the “other.” God loves and creates each one of us as a unique being with different gifts and challenges. One of my favorite poets, Rainer Maria Rilke (1875–1926), put it this way:

God speaks to each of us as he makes us,
then walks with us silently out of the night.
These are the words we dimly hear:
You, sent out beyond your recall,
go to the limits of your longing.
Embody me.
Flare up like flame
and make big shadows I can move in.
Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
Just keep going. No feeling is final.
Don’t let yourself lose me.
Nearby is the country they call life.
You will know it by its seriousness.
Give me your hand. [1]

I think this poem beautifully expresses God’s desire for us to live into the fullness of our humanity and our identity. If we stay small and “hide our light” under a bushel basket, there is almost no place for God to move in, through, and with us for the sake of the world!

I am struck by the gentle, yet practical, affirmation the Reverend Elizabeth Edman received from her mother on this lesson of knowing and being who you are. If only all children could be so fortunate! Edman shares this formative story:

I was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas in 1962. The world I grew up in was defined by rigid binaries: white/black, capitalist/communist, north/south. Oh yeah, and male/female. That one didn’t work for this tomboy.

When I was five, I had to drag my mother into the boy’s section of the shoe store to look at sneakers. “Mama, c’mere! Let me show you the ones I want!”

My family taught me, “Be who you are, Elizabeth, even when other people give you guff.” When I presented the shoes to the clerk, he said, “Those are boys’ shoes.”

My mother cut him off: “Yes, size four, please.”

My mother was a singer. Being who she was meant having the courage to witness God’s presence in the sacred music she loved. You could see her put her whole trust in God, entering into this space between heaven and earth where her best voice, her best self, emerged.

Christianity is all about being who you are [what I call your True Self in God–RR]. That’s what Jesus was trying to tell us: Orient your whole being to the sacred, he insisted. Not because I’m telling you to, not because it’s what Scripture demands; do it because it’s who you are. It’s who God created you to be. God made us to be complex creatures, every one of us, for a reason. So if you want to honor God, here’s the first step: Know who you are. Be who you are. Be the person God created you to be. Amen. [2]

[1] Rainer Maria Rilke, Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God, trans. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (Riverhead Books: 1996), 88. Used with permission.

[2] Elizabeth M. Edman, video companion to the book Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity (Beacon Press: 2016). See the free study guide with videos at

Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ: How a Forgotten Reality Can Change Everything We See, Hope For, and Believe (Convergent: 2019), 36-37.

Image credit: Gene Davis Paintings 1960-1972 Exhibition Poster (detail), Gene Davis, Smithsonian American Art Museum, Bequest of Florence Coulson Davis.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: It clearly seems that God is quite comfortable with immense diversity.  We have a much harder time with it, preferring uniformity and conformity instead. —Richard Rohr
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