Of Epiphanies and Apocalypse

Today is our final day focusing on the climate. Please enjoy this guest offering from Peterson Toscano. Peterson is an impassioned advocate for supporting our first monastery, the earth. You can find him here. Today is also the day that the People's Climate Marches are occurring around the world. If you cannot be at a march, I encourage you to offer a prayer for those who are. 

by Peterson Toscano

A life-changing, career-altering epiphany doesn’t happen everyday. Thank goodness because with epiphany comes a great swirling of activity both inside ourselves than outwardly transforming our work, our pursuits, and our relationships.

I reckon I have had three big epiphanies in my life. The first had to do with my sexuality. I was aware I was attracted to other guys since the time I drove my GI Joe Action figure in his green jeep to Malibu Barbie’s house to pick up my sister’s Ken doll. But by my teens I swallowed the poison at church, school, and most everywhere that insisted only heterosexuals mattered. I then spent spent nearly 20 years trying to de-gay myself. Finally in early 1999, I came to my senses and then came out gay. My first epiphany.

The second happened about ten years later. I had begun to travel in North America and Europe telling people my story and forming the Ex-Gay Survivor Movement I was shocked to discover among many of my gay peers, prejudiced, discrimination, and injustice abounded. Gay guys ignored, dismissed, or oppressed others based on gender, gender presentation, and even sexual orientation. Bisexuals at best were being overlooked, but more often mocked and invalidated. In what I thought of as an LGBTQ rainbow collective, I witnessed women experiencing the same kind of sexism and misogyny from gay men as they did from straight men in mainstream society. And transgender people were treated like dirt. I saw this most vividly in 2007 when gay leaders and the leading gay politician at the time reneged on the promise to push to a vote a transgender-inclusive employment non-discrimination bill. That was the straw that broke the long time burdened camel's back.

Seeing this discrimination and injustice towards trans* people and how gay men were co-opting gender non-conforming Bible characters and presenting them as gay, I then did my own Bible scholarship and created Transfigurations—Transgressing Gender in the Bible, a one-person performance lecture that reveals the many gender outlaws in the Bible. The positive theology I offered came as a welcome relief to many after years of having to engage in defensive theology in response to anti-gay attacks from people who wielded the Bible as a weapon of mass destruction. The aim of Transfigurations was to address the oppression or trans* people from gays. For justice’s sake, we needed to stop the violence and listen to trans* stories and build real community that welcomed all.

Then two years ago I had my third epiphany. This one was slightly different because I share it with another person, my husband, Glen Retief.  Also, the intensity of it feels even greater than the two previous ones. In fact, I refer to what Glen and I experienced as Apocalypse, as in the original Greek meaning of that word, something I learned from Dr. Lynn Huber, a queer Bible scholar who is an expert on the Book of Revelation. An apocalypse is a revelation, as if a curtain has been pulled back and one sees what has been hidden from sight; this vision jars one awake. That is what happened to Glen and me when two years ago the weight, the terror, and the challenge of global warming crashed into our lives like a giant wave.

While people of faith do not exclusively experience epiphany and apocalypse, for me the three revelations that shook my life have been deeply spiritual. Coming out—being authentic and speaking out about injustice and addressing wrongs committed can be acts of faith. And I find climate change work is grounded in spirituality for me, even if I don’t often talk about my faith in connection with it.

Considering a planet that has been so severely altered because of pollution, overcrowding, and overconsumption, it brings me to question my own values and lifestyle. It brings back old religious concepts from my Pentecostal Holiness days when we spoke regularly and passionately about generational sins handed down from great-great grandparents, sins that affect us today. I think of all the talk and praying we did around revival and the necessary steps of personal and public repentance, of whole nations turning away from their wicked ways and instead following a purer path.

In regards to my sexuality these sorts of teachings were disastrous to me and caused great harm. Some great-grand-uncle’s actions he may have committed on a boat with another sailor had nothing to do with my own gay desires, and no matter how much a pastor screamed in my face to cast out a gay demon, I was wasting my time repenting of homosexuality. But as a citizen of this planet, I can and must repent of actions that bring harm to God’s creation and to future generations who will have to bear the cost of my polluting and inaction. Since the problem is so severe and large though, my individual repentance and willingness to live clean on this planet is not nearly enough—it would be like redesigning the deck chairs on a sinking Titanic. No, I need to be part of a mass repentance movement, one that sees whole nations led by determined and informed leaders, transform our sources of energy in order to stop the fatal greenhouse gas polluting.

repent

I am grateful that such a movement is growing and teaming with prophets who not only warn of the disasters that may befall us if we do not repent, but also who share a new vision of the world where we live can healthier lives in community better suited to the limited energy resources we have. There are also pastors who are beginning to help people with the pastoral care needs of people having their own epiphanies about global warming. Caring lay and clergy members are helping people through their denial, fears, anger, and depression, in short the grief we are experiencing over a planet that has already changed and the possible end to civilization as we know it. And there are people who have their eyes keening focused on the human rights and social justice needs of the people who are most affected by pollution, extreme weather, and food shortages—people of color in cities and many of the people living in the Global South.

An epiphany will change your life. You will be distracted from what you once thought was important and if you are willing, your life will be filled a new meaning and purpose. As the climate changes around us and we are seeing firsthand that we are the children and the grandchildren that have inherited a broken fragile world that needs immediate and intensive care, we will each have our own epiphany. We will then begin to answer the question: What will my role be on a new planet?

by Dave Burnham (CC BY-NC)
by Dave Burnham
(CC BY-NC)

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