Playing in the River of the Reality of Binary-Relativism
Jennifer Angelina Petro
Try and take hold of the night. What ends up filling your hands is darkness tinged with light, whether that be moonlight or starlight, there will be traces of the coming morning or the retreating sunset.
Likewise, try and take hold of the day. What ends up filling your hands is light tinged with darkness, whether it be the shimmering shadows of the willow, or your own shadow, or that small, rushing anxiousness that evening is approaching much faster than your plans would like.
Night and day are ideas—in the truest sense they do not exist as opposites—they are ever and always touching, held together by a river that flows both ways. I know, the “held together,” and “flowing both ways,” seem to contradict the idea that night and day are one. Words are limited in scope and range. And it is easier (safer) to write in ideas like black and white and the binaries of male and female. You can try and wrap words (ideas) around other ideas and, at best, you come up with a poem, and, at worst, fear-based violence.
Why is it safer (easier) to write in terms of binary ideas? Describing day and night as light and dark is strangely comforting to those people who fear stepping into the river. Describing greys, tones, gradations, the multitude of colors that inform sunsets and sunrises–this type of thinking requires more effort, more consciousness, and an openness to the idea of the infinite creativity of the God they believe in. It is easier (and safer) to let one’s thinking be governed by ideas that appear to fit their notions of “the opposites.”
It’s the same with thinking of the idea of the so-called gender-binary. Defining gender by body parts, chromosomes, and reproductive functions is the same basal reasoning as saying day and night can be defined by clocks and the amount of light we see or don’t see. Reducing genders to body parts invalidates the manifestations of the inner and outer gender identities that so many experience in the reality of their lives.
Life flows in a circular current between the ideas of binaries. The reality is spectrum, shadows, fading in and out colors, touches, whispers, hints, nuances—nothing exclusive unto themselves—travel West far enough and you slip into the East. Rise North as far as you can go. You will only descend into the South, like a waterfall.
This blending and interwoveness isn’t to be feared—not within the notions of day or night, male and female, mania and depression, faith and disbelief. Everything touches. Everything mixes. What is created along that circular movement is peace, life, the aforementioned wonder, and yes, the infinite ways these ideas manifest in the river of the world.
But what of science? Doesn’t it prove the idea of opposites? Some people use science in the same way they use bibles—selectively. While deriding the idea of the gender spectrum they propagate the ideas that climate change doesn’t exist, that the earth was created in six days, that all the animals of the world fit into an ark, and for some, that the earth is flat.
Science is crucial to the future of humanity. So is letting go of fear of change and the perceived threats to the family. Erasing the idea of gender binaries doesn’t unleash havoc on the family. Instead it opens up the definitions and manifestations of family. It doesn’t mean the end of procreation. It doesn’t mean the end of heterosexual, cisgender marriages. All it does is threaten the shadow-desires some people feel but are trained to be experienced as deviance and to be felt as shame and fear.
The idea that binaries are ideas sometimes threatens people in other ways—particularly that the world will dissolve into relativism. What is so threatening about that–whether that relativism be cultural or societal? If the idea that there are no absolute truths threatens one’s spiritual security then where is their faith? In reality, one cannot escape cultural relativism. It’s the same with the ideas of black and white and the gender binaries. For example, take a look at the word, “relativism.” It’s clearly “related” to “relating,” ‘relations,” and “relationship.” And these, in turn, can be traced back to the word, “refer,” which, means, in Latin, “to relate, and to carry back.” Let’s carry the idea that gender is based on body parts back to the reality that some “men,” are born with vulvas, and some “women,” are born with penises or combinations of both. Those aren’t ideas—those are realities. They are not mutations or abnormalities—they are as natural as being born with a certain hair color. What is the threat if someone knows they are a gender that may not correspond to the body parts that some people associate with a particular gender? In reality, there is no threat. The threat is fake news.
In the same way, relativism does not erase decades of fighting for women’s rights and feminism. However, if modern feminism and the fight for respect, dignity, safety, jobs, pay rates, does not include transwomen and other people on the spectrum that identify as female, then it isn’t truly feminism. It is as guilty as the extremist Christians that hold the old idea that in order to be female you need a vulva as defined by the confines of reproductive function.
All things are related, in relationship, and we can even have “relations.” These are realities. The idea of night being related to the idea of day and the reality of these relationships can be experienced in our everyday lives, and no one is threatened.
Knowing binaries are ideas does not blur or muddy the waters of reality’s river. They liberate us into realizing the infinite facets of the divine radiating prisms of color that touch the world with joy and wonder—in other words—variety—infinite variety.
Heaven hell, good and evil. These are ideas inherently couched in relativism—cultural and spiritual. Killing is wrong unless you’re defending your flag or religion, or the world from abortion; stealing is wrong unless you are trying to save your children; war is wrong unless it is for oil or to get rid of “evil doers,” who believe something different than you. My religion is right because yours is wrong, my book says so, your book is wrong. It’s silliness—dangerous, childish, fear-based silliness—and most of it propagated by men insecure of their own sexual/gender identities and possibilities. Everyone knows how dangerous, cunning, manipulative, and cruel a man can be when scared. History is full of men scared of losing something or scared of something being revealed and to prevent this they resort to violence. And it is undeniable that many men who rail against homosexuality are found to possess porn, and or engage in sex with other men. Why is that? Because gender is a spectrum and something to be ashamed of.
Ask yourself reading this right now if it inspires you with vehement hatred, anger, and, if you’re extreme—violence? If it does, I suggest you have little-to-no faith in your god—your beliefs, which are nothing more than ideas woven with communal feelings—are weak. Indeed, they are relative. You’re proving it by being upset. If you’re living in the prison of the idea of binaries and you’re reading this, and you have some twinge somewhere within you—whether that be between your legs, in your heart, or in your mind—that moves you to the suppressed knowledge that you are actually happily gender-non-conforming—that you are perhaps a gender other than what your genitals say. Most certainly it points to your shadow hiding conscious or unconscious secrets. What if you’re feeling a secret, joyous sense of freedom as you read this? I suggest that indicates you are a true believer—in the sense that you believe in a god of infinite possibilities and varieties that in no way threatens anyone or anything—only your limited ideas.
Go play in the river. You can’t drown in a river made of joy—unless you become afraid and slip back into the suffocating ideas that kept you from going near the river in the first place. Look, there are others already there—splashing, swimming, and forming bridges called Fun and Freedom and Faith. There is room for all. Go be baptized in the infinite variety of your god.
20 Alternative, Life-Affirming Activities to Do During Lent
Jennifer Angelina Petro
There is debate in both pagan and Christian circles as to the origins of Lent, and, as usual, both sides think they’re right. We know Norse people put ashes on their forehead to protect them from Odin’s more violent moods. And it’s hard not to notice that Yggdrasil, the World Tree, in Norse mythology, is an ash tree. We do know Jesus never mentioned Ash Wednesday, nor anything even close. It was a ritual adopted many centuries later. We also know that, in most Christian denominations—both Protestant and Catholic, that it’s traditional to “give something up” for forty days. Some people fast from meat. Other’s treat it sort of like a New Year’s Resolution and deny themselves chocolate, TV, fried foods, and the like.
I propose that Lent be a time of welcoming new things into our lives, of affirming people and things we love and new people and things we want to cultivate love for. The word, “Lent,” simply means springtime. Why, during such a lavishly abundant time of growth should we refuse ourselves even the simplest of pleasures? I truly believe that is not what Jesus wants. I believe he wants us to enjoy “the kingdom of God,” and to share of what we have. He fasted, yes, so the story goes, but he never said we should do it for forty days. Early Christian Church leaders were all about encouraging the illiterate flock to deny itself pleasures, to self-flagellate, to perform outrageous acts of penance, and all manner of self-mortifications, while they sat back in their gold-gilded rooms feasting. It almost became sort of a contest: who can sleep on a bed of nails the longest? Who can pick the worst self-abusive behaviors for the glory of God? The body was, after all, sinful.
Well, if we are made in the image and likeness of the Divine, then I say our bodies are sacred and meant to be treated as such. In light of that, here are twenty suggestions for alternative, life-affirming things we can do for the next forty days.
-Commit to doing some kind of act of self-care.
-Accept and celebrate positive things about yourself and others in active, real ways.
-Do something creative every day and then throw a party after that time to culminate the resurrection of (or the evolution of) your creativity.
-Do something kind (and in secret) for someone every day—especially perhaps for those you may not “like,” or who are “different,” than you.
-Take time to expand your understanding of things like feminism, racism, gender studies, white-privilege, etc., and ways to get involved locally and/or globally to help the world.
-Send someone (the same person or different) an email every day with a silly joke or inspirational quote.
-Sing every day–your favorite song, a new song, a silly song, a made-up song—to yourself, in the shower, at work, while walking, to strangers, to friends, to family.
-Try a new food every day and/or share food with someone else.
-Make every effort to sit down with your whole family for dinner.
-Every time you catch yourself thinking something judgmental towards someone, including yourself, reframe that thought into something loving, positive, and compassionate.
-Donate your time and resources to someone or an organization that helps others.
-Read spiritual literature every morning and/or evening. Or, at very least, read something other than online news—a story, a children’s book, poetry, a biography. You get the idea.
-Take time to learn about different faith traditions with the goal of looking for similarities and places your faiths converge.
-Eat breakfast and/or health(ier) foods.
-Take one little (or big) step towards your dream every day.
-Take a moment to breathe consciously outside.
-Take a moment to notice—really notice—a tree, flower, cloud, a loved one, your own amazingness.
-Throw away, or give away, one thing in your living space that you haven’t touched, noticed, used in ages.
-Inventory your life a little each day. Ask yourself how you’re doing as a citizen of the world. Be honest. No shame. Just objective self-reflection. What are you doing well? Where can you improve? Are there any amends to make? And so on.
-Go ahead and eat something you absolutely love.
The list is endless and as varied as you. The point is, instead of Lent being a time of denying things we like and love, we make it a time of embracing what we love in mindful, attentive, fun, and thankful ways.
It might also be fun to have your worship community, your family, your co-workers, and so on—commit to doing one of these affirming activities together and then celebrate the revelations and resurrections of playfulness and appreciation that hopefully would result by doing such a shared ritual.
As the season unfolds, it’s OK to start up a new “Forty Days,” anytime. It’s OK to celebrate the resurrection of anything that was lost and then found.
And, of course, it is the hope the cultivation of these positive things would extend far after Lent (or at least much longer than most New Year’s Resolutions); that they would become habits, so to speak, or perhaps, continually evolving spiritual practices.
You might be wondering what I have chosen to do this Lenten season. As of the writing of this post, I have the flu, so I am not committing to anything that puts me in contact with anyone else until I am officially not contagious. For now, I am committing to telling myself something nice about myself every day. I also commit to send little messages of appreciation and inspiration to someone different every day. Look in your inbox.
All donations go to medical expenses and groceries. Thank you. <3
Reflections on Going to the Super Bowl Parade for the Philadelphia Eagles
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I picked up sons Ben and Daniel at 4:30 AM. After stopping at Wawa (because everyone should stop at Wawa on the way to anything–especially on their way to a Super Bowl Parade) and headed downtown. It took us an hour to both drive and eventually find a parking space. It was another 15-minute walk to where we set up camp for the next eight hours, near where the parade was going to end—the Art Museum steps.
The sun had yet to rise, and people were filing in the slowly-lifting darkness from Broad Street down to the Art Museum, like a jubilant river. It was 6 AM and people were already shouting Eagles chants, fight songs, and Brady-Sucks, and yes, people were already drinking.
As the crowd grew hour by hour, the people grew kinder and happier. People were dancing, singing, oh, yes, and drinking—and they were also happy, high-fiving, laughing. And as the sun rose and illuminated the Art Museum, the sea of people swelled with anticipation.
People played catch with footballs that seemed to be soaring around the crowd from out of nowhere. People introduced themselves to those standing around them. People exchanged stories of how long they waited for this day and what it all means. Strangers hugged and offered each other blankets, handwarmers, and beer.
And the green. Nearly every person there—of all shapes, sizes, ages, race, gender-identity, and expression was bedecked in Eagles green. Looking out across the ever-burgeoning crowd, it turned into a luminous green sea that ebbed and flowed and raised its waves to heaven.
Yes, there were the knuckleheads. One idiot climbed a tree, urinated (very poorly aimed) into a water bottle, spraying the people below with urine, and then, threw the full bottle down among the people. If the police hadn’t been there I think he would have been beaten to a pulp. The people below were justifiably (pardon the pun) pissed.
One nearly-naked guy with green hair smashed two beer cans together in front of his face and roared as he sprayed the crowd with Budweiser. The surrounding people weren’t happy, but not as unhappy as those who were where the shit-brain peed on them.
Then there was the guy so stoned he came tumbling through the crowd like a wobbly train, and, if I hadn’t had been there to grab him, he would have plowed into the two old ladies in front of us.
“Thank you,” he said with his voice slurred and his eyes rolling around in his head like marbles, and then he just kept stumbling through the crowd.
There was no violence though. No meanness (yes, peeing off a tree was mean, but he was clearly drunk, and cracking up as he did his heinous act), no rage, no property being damage, no cars set on fire. It was plain and simply a party. It was a celebration of civic-pride—city pride—family pride—and, of course, pride for our team—the bunch of under-estimated players who overcame a ton of adversity to sweep unexpectedly and remarkably through the playoffs to bring home the long-awaited Super Bowl victory. It is a team comprised of good and decent people. It is a team together in true brotherly love. It is a team unlike any other I have ever seen, and I was proud to be there to celebrate them and our city. It was glorious, hilarious, bizarre, and fun—profoundly fun. When a city comes together to dance, sing, and embrace one another—it is a truly beautiful thing—I dare-say, holy.
There is so much wrong with the world. And, I believe there is far more right with the world. Today was one of the right things, and I am grateful to have been there with two of my sons. We will never forget it, and neither shall this team, this city—all the people living and dead who waited so long for this moment—who suffered through agonizing years of frustration. This was a day of unbridled joy—a collective exhale of relief and a collective in-breath of getting ready to sing—arm-in-arm-again and again, as loudly as humanly possible— “Fly, Eagles, Fly…”