I happily returned to an Episcopal Church this week, to St. Paul’s, Pawtucket! And I was able to honor the amazing Pauli Murray (seriously, google her)!!!
This week, I learned about Binary in a mathematical sense. Basically (I think), everything is broken down into 1’s and 0’s. And it is the combination of those 1’s and 0’s that make up everything. Roughly. I think. I’m a great priest and was a decent lawyer, but math was never my strongest subject. But I did check with the amazing math person, who says this is correct.
In the world today, there are a lot of things that have been broken down into binaries, but in the sense of if you’re not 0, then you must be totally 1. There’s a constant sense of us v. them: black v white; gay v straight; male v female; cisgender v transgender; citizen v migrant; republican v Democrat; good v bad; strong v weak. The world and people tend to be viewed this way, instead of in the more accurate sense that each human, each of us is a unique combination of 0’s and 1’s. We are all made up of the same stuff, the same 1’s and 0’s.
In this world it seems like we’re all different, but we’re not. We’re all made up of the same stuff, just individually organized and packaged!
As the world has started to evolve, and communication has made the world seem smaller, it makes it seem like we’re all so radically different. And so what I think is happening is that we are tightening our circles around “us” and “them.”
We are focusing on what makes us different, instead of how we are the same. At the same time that people who have always felt a bit different, like outsiders, and marginalized, we are starting to see that there are a lot of people like us.
And so we are celebrating our differences, embracing the unique patterns of 1’s and 0’s that make up each of us.
It makes it seem like we’re breaking out of our binaries. And in some ways, we are. We are now embracing our uniqueness rather that trying to squeeze into boxes designed around someone else’s unique makeup.
The world has been organized around the boxes acceptable boxes to those in power. But what this organization system is now reacting against is that humans can’t easily be categorized! We’ve always been made up in unique combinations.
We just talk about it now.
As uncomfortable as it may be for many, and I admit there was a learning curve for me as well, both for how I understand and view myself, and also a learning curve in recognizing that the world, and humans, are not only one of 2 things, but instead are instead a combination of things. This view of the world, one that recognizes that the world and humans are not us and other, this is getting closer to the will of God.
Because the will of God is for us to honor and respect each human, not despite our differences but because of them.
And we have come a long, long way. Work remains to be completed, but to be sure, we have come a long way.
And on this day, this day that the Episcopal church has set aside to celebrate and remember the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray, this day is a perfect day to talk about binaries, and the will of God.
Has anyone here today heard of Pauli Murray?
It’s okay if you haven’t. It’s quite common for the women important in various movements to be less well known than their male counterparts. But Pauli is a person worth knowing about. Or else, honestly, she wouldn’t be a saint.
I’m going to jump ahead in the story of Pauli’s life. To when she was in her late 60’s. In 1977, Pauli was one of the earliest women ordained in the Episcopal church. She was ordained in the National Cathedral, next to our very own Canon to the Ordinary (and honestly the best boss I have ever had), Linda Grenz.
Pauli was the first African American woman ordained in the Episcopal Church.
Pauli is considered to be the first lesbian ordained in the Episcopal Church, even though she wasn’t able to be out at that time. But sexuality isn’t the full story of what Pauli represents.
Because what we know now, but what we didn’t know then, is that Pauli was also the first transgender person to be ordained in the Episcopal Church.
Pauli grew up and lived in a world where gender and sex assignment, those were binary things. It was a world where the word transgender didn’t exist. Where gender, which is cultural, and sex, which is biological, were conflated into the same thing. Pauli’s was a world where if you believed or behaved in a way contrary to the gender assigned at your birth, you were considered to have a mental illness, and often people who struggled with gender identity ended up in mental institutions. As Pauli did at various points.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, and making Pauli seem far to one dimensional.
And Pauli Murray was so much more than 1 dimension.
Pauli fought, scraped, and demanded her right to live, to be a black woman, to be a black woman from the south, and for her right to be educated. And she was very, very educated.
She struggled through her undergrad degree, worked for human and civil rights, became a good friend of Eleanor Roosevelt, went to Howard Law School, became very active in civil rights and nonviolent resistance, and while at Howard, Pauli’s senior thesis was the first to challenge the separate in separate but equal – and was referenced in Brown v Board of Education. Pauli became a Dr of law, Wrote what then became a seminal paper on housing discrimination and different ways to challenge discriminatory housing laws and practices. Pauli then worked as a professor at Brandis. And at each step and stop, she was badly discriminated against because of her race, gender, or both.
She was an early member of the National Organization for women. She was an incredibly active member of the Civil Rights movement, and hers was a voice that constantly pointed out the important work black women were doing in the movement, but that women were not in leadership within the movement.
And throughout her life, Faith was incredibly important to Pauli. A lifelong Episcopalian, Pauli often sought and found refuge and strength for the battles of her life in her faith.
Pauli became part of the movement for the Ordination of Women in the Episcopal Church, and while her voice wasn’t the loudest or the best known, her presence was felt. Pauli was discriminated against in Seminary, both for being a woman, and for being black. It didn’t seem to matter that Pauli was an important figure in civil rights and women’s rights. In seminary Pauli once again became only a black woman. Not a black woman who was better educated and more accomplished than even her professors.
Pauli’s sexuality and gender identity were so deeply buried and unacceptable at the time that discrimination for those were not overt issues. Other than raised eyebrows & whispered comments that followed an unmarried woman at the time.
And then, even after being ordained, Pauli struggled to find a church that was willing to have her, and non that were willing to pay her.
Pauli’s struggles, and battles, they aren’t widely known. But the reverberations of her work, and struggles, those are still widely felt today.
And Pauli’s importance, as we move into a world that is finally dealing with the fact that life and people are not easily categorized, cannot be understated.
Especially for us as a church.
The church model that we operate out of was developed in the 50’s and 60’s. And the world has simply changed a lot since the 50’s and 60’s.
Look at this world today, we are no longer merely white and black. We are no longer gay and straight. We are no longer men and women.
But what we are, and what we have always been, are the people of God.
It is time for us as a church to learn to appreciate the beautiful rainbow of humans that exist on this planet. And I mean rainbows of all different kinds!
The colors of our skins! Our sexualities! Our nationalities. The languages we speak. Our gender expressions. Our immigration status. Our religious beliefs.
This is the time to do this. The movement has started, and just as the Corinthians reading says, it’s time to finish what has already been started. We must seek to accomplish equality!
And the best part is, when we do this difficult work, when we learn to see and value everyone, it doesn’t put any additional pressure on us. It doesn’t change our position in the world. It doesn’t harm us in anyway. Instead, just as Paul said, our abundance will match their need. Our love and acceptance will create a balance of love in this world.
It will take effort. But God is with us. This is the will of God.
It is time to get out of our own ways and find a way to be in line with the will of God. If we do this, then we will find the reconciling love of God, and offer true freedom to others, and especially to ourselves.
We will find the freedom of life in the knowledge that while all things may be made up of 1’s and 0’s, all things are a unique blend of 1’s and 0’s.
And we are all beautiful.