dreaming of a non-binary world

I’ve had this post swirling around in my head for months now and decided to sit down and get it out before the year ended. Last month, I was at my multi-faith meeting listening to our Hindu friend share about Diwali and the festival of lights and I was reminded of the beauty of deeper truths that prevail across all of humanity. 

I also was thinking how many of us Christians have been taught to dismiss teachings in other religions out of fear.

As the United States election drama continues I have also been reminded of how sad it is that when it all comes down to it, we only have two political parties that have the power to win an election—red or blue. Sure, there are a few other candidates on the ballot, but we know ultimately at this stage of our history there are only two choices. 

Earlier this year–before we couldn’t go into restaurants because COVID upended our world–I remember how mad I was at being at a brand new restaurant that had a choice when they built their bathrooms and chose to have two options—male or female. Really, in 2020? I made a decision for 2021 that every time I go into a store or restaurant where I encounter this that I will say something to management–it’s time to expand our options, people. 

In my work with people finding their way out of rigid faith systems toward greater freedom, mystery, and diversity, the number one false teaching most are trying to untangle from is dualism—things are either godly or ungodly, good or bad, obedient or rebellious. 

We need more than two choices.

However, we all know that from a structural and systemic perspective, the in-out, either-or, us-them, godly-ungodly, right-left binary ways of thinking and moving in the world still prevail. 

They are still how most all our systems are built (and why the social tension we are all experiencing is so deep).

Because it’s time for our dualistic binary frameworks to go.

Long past time to go. 

As we hobble through the holidays I’ve been missing our son, Jared, so desperately and am constantly reminded how he was the future.

He was non-binary in almost every part of his life—always paradoxical, refusing to label or be labeled, despising being put in a box or putting others in one, passionately dedicated to the both/and. Sometimes it was rattling because he was tuned into a deeper truth that we knew had a cost. He saw what could be and was often so discouraged by the way our current systems worked. We always knew Jared was a sign of what the world needed more of—norm-shattering, both/and kinds of leaders who were able to embrace a far wider view of humanity than what our past keeps trying to keep alive.

Binary, hierarchical, linear has had its place in our history.

It got us the lie of white supremacy, male supremacy, Christian supremacy, straight supremacy, and a whole host of other supremacies.

It’s time is up.

But oh, goodness gracious, it’s not going to go down easy.

There’s a lot tied up in binary. 

There’s a lot tied up in hierarchy and hoarded power. 

There’s a lot tied up in us and them. 

There’s a lot tied up in what people are used to.

So this strange Christmas season as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, who embodied both-and in his practice but got squeezed into either-or by humans bent on making it work for them, I’m dreaming of a non-binary world for our future. 

In a non-binary world everything isn’t gray.

It just means there’s a much wider expanse of possibility.

Webs instead of ladders.

Narratives instead of checkboxes.

A richness in diversity across so many parts of the human experience.

Messy mixed-up humanity instead of defaulting to the neat and tidy.

Both-And.

I am so grateful for my son, my other kids and young people, all the early adopters, the marginalized, the artists, the prophets, the creatives, the brave LGBTQ community, the activists, the BIPOC leaders, the progressive multi-faith leaders, the mystics, the host of humans across so many circumstances, geographies, and realities that know that there’s no going back but only moving forward. 

Yet, like all things human, we always need to be careful that we don’t just work toward another new binary with a different twist.

We’ve got to do better than that.

But the pull of the past is strong.

Our tendencies as humans to scapegoat equally strong.

The gravitational pull toward what’s comfortable for those with most power is incredibly hard to shift.

However, I truly believe the pull of the future is stronger.

It’s gaining momentum.

It’s opening doors.

It’s widening horizons.

It’s expanding tables.

It’s magnifying new voices.

It’s writing a new story.

It’s breaking down walls.

It’s requiring us to stay in on conversations we’d rather avoid. 

It’s forcing us to reckon with our desire for ease. 

It’s reminding us that both/and is our only hope.

It’s one of the reasons the Jesus story still deeply resonates with me.

This Christmas, I sure am missing my kid in the most brutal of ways. 

I sure am sick of COVID’s destruction and our current political divisiveness. 

And while I never will hope for a white Christmas, I sure am dreaming of a more non-binary world. 

Let’s keep working together to make one.

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Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life and online. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

3 Comments

  • Amen! Rather than an either/or, I think of Jesus’ command to love the Other as we love ourselves – both/and. It is in our relationships and our narratives that we find the Sacred Light of grace and love.

    Reply
  • Some great principles… and for us in the “choir”, reminders and inspiration! Thanks for surmounting the pain to write this and to share a little more about Jared (perhaps you have already, but I’ve not followed much for many months).

    On the point of non-binary… on key worldview perspectives that involve “religious” beliefs, one of my pleas is this: Stretch your intellectual muscles just a touch to take at least a cursory look at a “golden mean” theology: Process (or its philosophy version shared by many non-Christians). Process has a reputation (maybe partially deserved, but not fully) of being “too complicated”. Well, not really. At least not in the broader strokes.

    Basically, it’s about recognizing that everything is is in process and is interconnected. “Things” themselves are in process… never completely static. People most certainly are in process, continually. The change in one atomic particle affects another. Of course, the same is true within and between people.

    When you work this out deeply in either “thought experiments” or actual ones, you get “Process” (in its various iterations).

    It’s a “golden mean” in that it stands between the “matter only” universe of scientism and the “God controls everything” universe of traditional theism. Process: Yes, God exists, but we’ve largely gotten God wrong: He/she loves so purely he/she only lures, never coerces…. Literally CAN’T stop someone’s free will in hurting someone else or themselves. We humans are “God’s body” to act in the world. Therefore God is only indirectly and in limited ways “in control”. Yes, we have reason to hope that “love is winning” the long game, but have no guarantees for a given situation nor for aversion of major catastrophe like runaway climate change.

    Still, this is liberation in relation to a God who arbitrarily (at least from our vantage point) chooses some for salvation and not others, some for suffering, others not so much (tho inevitably there’s no full escape).

    David Ray Griffin, author of dozens of books and Process theologian, calls for the 21st to be the “process century”. Hopefully, now in its second century, “process” will indeed become a powerfully guiding light that helps break us out of so many binaries. That is, the concepts more than the formal academic alliances or organizations. For anyone interested to learn more about process, it’s easy to do, from Wikipedia, etc., to an open group doing weekly sessions, local and broader projects, etc.: cobb.institute. Kathy, love to have you join us some Tues. a.m. … or others of your readers. One can join via the above site.

    Reply
  • Kathy, in saying “stretch your intellectual muscles”, I was addressing everyone, not you personally, as I know you’ve done this, and have encountered Process, perhaps been influenced by it… just noticed the challenge was possible to misconstrue.

    Reply

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