The Village Spirit: The Holy Meeting Place Between the Two

Village SpiritBy Rev. Leah Fowler, associate pastor, First United Church of Oak Park

“He’s all boy,” the mom said knowingly, as she watched her three-year-old son climb up and down the barstool at The Junction Diner. He could not sit still.

“Yeah, all boy,” the father echoed. I looked over at my three-year old daughter, who was similarly in motion, dangerously perched on top of the quarter-slot moving train engine (not in the seat where children are supposed to sit, but actually on top of the engine). So was she representing “all girl?”

Being a parent today, I am surprised at how much more gendered toys and clothes are than the late ’70s of my early childhood. I have cringed when my daughter has reached for a superhero and has been told by a nearby boy that “superheroes are for boys!” and even more disappointed by the parent who did not correct her son.

In the Bible, Genesis 1:26-27 offers the first creation story of the Jewish and Christian traditions: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness’… So God created humankind in God’s image; in the image of God they were created.” If God created male and female in God’s image, then both men and women, boys and girls, bear the image of the divine. Not only do I see a beautiful equality to the fact that the creation in this story happens at the same time. I also see in those two verses that we all hold both male and female qualities, as well as both humanity and divinity.

My daughter is more likely to choose princesses, pink, and anything that sparkles (or farkles, since she hasn’t yet mastered the “sp” sound) and that is fine by me—as long as there is always room for her to choose the superhero when she wants to. And I want her to be similarly flexible when the boy down the street trudges up the block wearing a dress, as he did the other day. Each child of God should feel like they can transgress societal norms for gender without losing any sense of their humanity.

My faith teaches that no one is purely good, and no one is purely evil. We all must wrestle with violence within us, as well as our urge to point the speck out in our neighbor’s eye without first removing the log out of our own eye. Jesus, an embodied example of human and divine being brought together into one, helps me understand how we can transcend dichotomized thinking. And so I consider those places where power and vulnerability can intersect to be holy places: grandparents in our church lose their grip on eight decades of gendered assumptions to love their transgendered grandchild; a shopkeeper—believing in redemption and recognizing no one is “all bad”—hires an ex-felon to work in the shop; a low-income, supportive housing building that was once controversial becomes a gem as the Sugar-Beet Co-op prepares to open its doors downstairs and the privileged and the poor will share space.

I am glad to live in a community like Oak Park where there is room for the exception to the norm and where strange pairings often come together.