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“When They Becomes Us…” – – Carole Bull – – August 6, 2017

“When They Becomes Us: Moving Towards a Rainbow of Heaven on Earth”

Carole Bull, Member-in-Discernment

August 6, 2017

Psalm 17:1-7, 15 (The Jewish Study Bible)

Hear, O Lord, what is just;

    heed my cry, give ear to my prayer,

    uttered without guile.

My vindication will come from You;

    Your eyes will behold what is right.

You have visited me at night, probed my mind,

    You have tested me and found nothing amiss;

      I determined that my mouth should not


As for man’s dealings,

     in accord with the command of Your lips,

     I have kept in view the fate of the lawless.

My feet have held to Your paths;

    My legs have not given way.

I call on You;

    You will answer me, God;

     turn Your ear to me,

     hear what I say.

Display Your faithfulness in wondrous deeds,

     You who deliver with Your right hand

     Those who seek refuge from assailants.

Then I, justified, will behold Your face;

     awake, I am filled with the vision of You.

Romans 9:1-5 (New Revised Standard Version)

I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit–
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

When They Becomes Us:

Moving Towards a Rainbow of Heaven on Earth

Carole Bull, Member-in-Discernment – August 6, 2017

Please pray with me…

Dearest God & Christ, Sustainer of us all

Let these words reflect only your Image, Glory and Hope,

We pray that your infinite patience and love flow through me

and that those who hear

Be blessed and Strengthened in your name. 

The very human voice in our scripture reading from Psalms appeals to God not once, but three times to hear them, and asks God for justice for their innocence in the face of overwhelming difficulty. As we reflect, we remind ourselves that Psalms’ authorship in “ancient and pervasive tradition” is attributed to David,” though this “on the basis of linguistic and contextual evidence, is not accepted as historical fact by modern scholars.”  These questions about who wrote what in the Bible and when are legion in my multi-cultural seminary class experiences as well as (most) biblical scholarship. Such questions have motivated me to delve deeper into the origins of scripture and also help me see a “timeless” quality, a sort of moveable filter open to both contextualization and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

You may know that David, plucked from shepherding for his gift of music, soothed Saul by playing the lyre and their initial closeness was cemented in that act since David’s musical accompaniment caused the evil spirits to leave Saul. In this Psalm, David’s three requests for God to hear us, sheds light not only on how much we can and should call on God, but also states that 

As for man’s dealings,

                 in accord with the command of Your lips,

                 I have kept in view the fate of the lawless.

           My feet have held to Your paths;

           My legs have not given way.

David as Psalmist, has both eyes on man’s lawless dealings, as well as sturdy feet and legs rooted in God and who we are called to be and do. In this sermon I shall take a look at my own “lawless dealings,” the specific ways I have failed, yet also fulfill the call to play a small part in bringing God’s reign down to earth.

Paul’s admonition to the Romans comports with Psalms as well in this hard-to-live notion that we must always keep the vision of God in our minds as we live our daily lives. Paul, who within Romans describes himself as an “Israelite,” advocates winning over the children of Israel as well as gentiles by reason of faith versus a reliance on law. He argues for the world not-yet-here that we as Christians are faithful to and welcoming in, first in our minds and ideas, and later in our actions.

In this sermon, I will tell you two short versions of my story that illustrate how groups of people (“them”) have become “us” in my life: people who are homeless, people of color, and transgender people. (These are not discrete groups, rather they overlap and my experiences with them becoming us, reflect that.) I hope by hearing these stories, you will see yourself in them, and perhaps write some of your own. I hope that together, our stories of “when they become us” will be a harbinger of hope to others as we all face the sea of “othering” both in ourselves and by those on high in this country and the world. It is to this end that I preach: May the stories of all who have wide-open worldviews and who have overcome such othering either directed at them or at others continue until the rainbow of the kingdom of heaven is everywhere on earth!

The first story begins with a poem I wrote (almost 20 years ago now) in July of 1998. I worked for many years training staff at a large provider to people who are homeless in Boston, the Pine Street Inn. Working in at that time one of most crime-ridden and the “scariest” section of Boston’s South End, down the street from what was then Boston City Hospital, I was privileged to look up at a training room ceiling half falling down, literally step over people who were laying in the alley while coming in the door, use popular education to democratically train a diverse, urban non-profit staff, and also co-lead poetry groups with our male guests in the city’s largest shelter. We sat at haphazard and often dirty folding tables, some people came half-drunk, we welcomed all, always it was a surprise and one of my life’s great privileges. The poem is called:

“The Confession: Washing Hands or Letting the Touch Linger/

Locking Doors or Leaving Them Unlocked.”

Today after poetry group with you people who are homeless

after having touched pens that you touched

and shaken hands with you –

I did not immediately

walk upstairs and wash my hands

which I to my horror had

pretended not to see myself doing.

Instead I privately marveled at how

I could let whatever touch we had


on the surface of my skin.

How you are really like me.

Who taught me incorrectly that

your touch should be wiped off?

(Standard nursing procedure notwithstanding.)

This experience reminded me



earlier revelation about


Driving through the south side of Chicago

circa 1958

Dad would stage whisper to us to

lock our doors.

The lesson I learned was the erroneous BS

that Black faces

require tighter security:

Black people rip you off.

Later on I learned the real truth

(your touch can linger on my skin).

White people have ripped Black people off

continue to rip people of color off.

Somehow the powerful switched it up on us:

Told us the wrong set of lies.

Then I told my friend.

She, black and growing up on the South Side of Chicago

circa 1958

was told the same thing

“lock your doors”

while driving through white Cicero, Illinois.

Two very different children being told

the same thing at the same time.

Holy mother of God save us from ourselves:

Let human touch linger on my skin.

Hear that voice in my head

“lock your doors”

and instead of locking

unlock the real truth:

somebody’s been teaching

that the other can be washed off

and locked away.

Let your heart inhale the touch

that lingers on your skin.

My second story is of me as a white mother in a multicultural LGBT family who has raised two beautiful and brilliant children of color and who has also gone through the at-once momentous, baffling, painful, growth-inducing, and miraculous process of my (now) son owning his transgender identity. Two isms here will be revealed, both racism and transphobia. My story may at times be hard to hear because my process was not one of instant awareness, acceptance and happiness. Instead, it shows how my children being who they are and my growing awareness of inequities and isms and my son’s courageous restoration to his essential self generated growth for me towards becoming a more humane person and one whose locus shifts more God-ward.

I’m sharing my stories because they illuminate an important spiritual and moral dilemma that is common to us all. I distanced and thereby disparaged other human beings out of ignorance, ineptitude and greed. I have begun to learn how to be more aware of what others need and to stop disparaging and instead own and celebrate those others as both mine and ours. My experiences are a microcosm of a larger process. All humans label and make assumptions about others, distance ourselves from them, and in the process cut off our own humanity and forestall the kingdom of heaven from being here on earth. The title of this sermon “When They Becomes Us” is so very multi-faceted, yet at the end there is, and I promise: a Rainbow.

When I was coming out and creating community as a lesbian nearly fifty years ago in

the late 1970’s, I knew little of those who were transgender. I had a gay male friend in college who painted his fingernails and grew his hair long and was, like me, madly in love with Joni Mitchell. I liked what I saw at that time as his “quirkiness.”  (I still like quirkiness, regardless of labels.)  Later on making my way in lesbian culture in the Greater Boston area, I accepted the vestiges of somewhat earlier lesbian culture in the U.S. and one of those was that there were two types of lesbians: butches (male-identified) and femmes (female-identified.) Period. Anyone outside of those roles which we approximated as best we could were suspect.  Anyone bisexual was thought to have had an inability to be courageous and choose to come out as gay and they were sometimes seen as “traitors.” At some point the Boston pride parade began to include those with the initial T (as in LGBT,) but I didn’t know anyone trans nor did I have any awareness of their lives.  I felt fine about “them” joining what felt like “my march,” and though “they” were now in the march, I didn’t have much to do with them. “They” were still them.  Yet I desperately needed to feel “part of” the LGBT community, so I was willingly being in community with “them.”  Them stayed them for the next 40 or so years. 

In the meantime, I fell in love with my partner Molly. We met on a softball team called (delightfully) “The Switchhitters,” and experienced deep love and wretched homophobia. Molly was physically attacked by men on the softball field, violent victimization being part of the “cost” of coming out in the past and present years (like many of our LGBTQ+ siblings and people of color.) Molly drove a motorcycle and between that (which others took as threat or provocation,) and us adopting a daughter of color from Ecuador, local Somerville teens (who I suspected at the time were vastly in need of some kind of healthy afterschool program,) not only called us anti-lesbian epithets & names but one night threw a rock through our dining room window. Terrified for our daughter as well as ourselves, we moved to Cambridge where in the public schools she at least would have 50% people of color with her in every classroom. 

When we adopted our second daughter of color, we received another continuation of what I’ve called a “crash course in racism.”  It was suggested that she perhaps be transferred into special education settings. When I toured these classrooms, they were obviously sub-standard. They lacked the energy and enthusiasm of regular classes, and the environments were sterile. And then I realized with a jolt that almost all the students were children of color. “Even in Cambridge” became our mantra for years running, as we fought against such racism and homophobia directed at our children of color and it was there that all children of color (and later all people of color) moved from “them” to “us.” I will spare you the details of me (armed with my white privilege) marching into the principal’s office screaming at him about the school teacher’s plan to put my daughter in those classrooms. 

Fast forward to July 2013, when our son told us of his transgender status. My partner and I were shocked. We didn’t “see this coming.” I also had the added reaction, feeling that since we are gay, we should have known this was coming.  The weight of the news made our heads spin.

Slowly we began to recover from what for us was the shock of our son’s news. We decided we needed to learn all I could about transgendered people and we began to read. I joined a transforming parents group that was an amazing source of grounding, camaraderie, laughter, and hope. It turns out that all I had learned prior to my son’s transition was little to nothing, though I had retained gay press accounts that trans people of color get murdered. Imagine my intense fear. The other parents in the group were wonderful. What we shared was deep love of our dearest children along with a very parental need to understand, support and protect them. At one meeting, I looked around the room and I saw their courage before I discovered my own. We also took every opportunity to hear speak trans speakers who come to the Valley to tell their story. These steps away from “othering” and towards acceptance helped “them to become us,” step by step.  And then this amazing church with its transgendered members and leaders and its welcoming to all bolsters my faith in the kingdom of God being possible and inspires me every week.

Looking back on the process of working with people who are homeless, parenting kids of color and my son’s transition has given me tools for all of the “othering” I do, being “whole and broken,” as Andrea used to say.  When I visit a patient in the hospital whose story is unfamiliar to me and I feel like leaving the room in abject judgement or mystery, I hear the whisper, this time: not “lock your doors,” but “open your mind and learn.” When I read in the newspaper or sit in a meeting that bores me to tears I hear another whisper, this time: not wash your hands, but “compassion for self and others.” 

As the Psalmist says: 

“Display Your faithfulness in wondrous deeds,

    You who deliver with Your right hand

Those who seek refuge from assailants.

Then I, justified, will behold Your face; awake, I am filled with the vision of you.



I once saw a Rainbow with Feet

On one end it was in Hadley, the other end was in Northampton

May those rainbows with feet  multiply among us so that we may increasingly

Make our journey, moving from seeing “Them” to “Us”

Now and forevermore!


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