la frontera–dwelling in the borderland

My friend Rev. Sadie Stone invited me to preach at a young adult worship service, 3rd S3SSION, at her church First Palo Alto United Methodist.  The service focused on borderland theology, inviting people to celebrate their multiple identities as sacred and as a gift from GOD.   Below is the sermon I shared at the service.

Sermon inspired by Galatians 3: 28-29:  There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

Neither greek or jew, neither male or female … many have argued that these words of Paul  reflect the makings of an emerging Christian tribe … who like us, were coming together in hopes of sorting out their identity as individuals and as a community in the midst of changes in government, religious and cultural persecution of their beliefs that differed from the norm, and infighting among their leaders over who could and couldn’t be a Christian.

However, rather than engaging this surface understanding, I want us to go deeper and query Paul’s idea and use of “or”, venturing that Paul was a theologian of la frontera. His message to the Galatians is that there is neither blank or blank, because they are a both/and people—a people who dwell in the borderland.  Like the Galatians, we too dwell in the borderland…we are individuals who embody both Greek and Jew, male and female, black and white … its a messy inner co-existance, but the early Christian communities were onto something profoundly radical…the refusal to limit people to one label and with that limitation impose a number of expectations that limit and stump.

In my journey of trying to make sense of GOD’s calling…I have often found inspiration in biblical figures who embodied intersecting identities…Individuals like Mary of Nazareth who was woman, prophet, disciple and mother…Paul, himself, who was Greek, Jew, Roman, soldier, follower of Christ, persecutor, persecuted…Like them, I too am a mosaic of identities…a person of the borderlands.  I am not one identity, though a label is often imposed on me by society, the church, and the media. I am limited to just being queer or a person of faith or Latino or a social worker, rather then having my whole self embraced, affirmed, and celebrated.

Despite labels and categories that seek to limit me and dehumanize me, I refuse to be boxed and type casted into conformity and the silence of inclusivity.  Our prophetic calling, the radicalness of Paul’s message, is to have all our identities interact, fight, and coexist…to live into and be a frontera, a borderland.  I believe that Paul and the early Christian communities were not advocating for differences and particularities to be quelled or melted into an amorphous blob of gook.  Rather, it is invitation to unity, both internal and tribal, based on the celebration of differences, a lifting up of the borders within and among us.   It is a call for us here now to bring to the table, the classroom, the church, to civil society all of who we are as individuals, as tribes, as communities–recognizing our multi-facetness, our complexities, and our richness. 

The border is more than just the division between the US and Mexico,  Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Palo Alta and San Francisco…It is more then the lines separating our denominations and religious traditions.  Boundaries are places encounter.  We are conditioned, however, to be fearful of difference, to water our traditions and our identities down.  We are brainwashed into wanting the same car, hairstyle, white picket fence, walk in closet, to be slim … our quirks are blow dried, straightened, dyed, lyposuctioned and botoxed… We are coerced by the media, the education system, and by the church to erase borders and to blur la frontera — to uphold false notions of inclusivity that in reality painfully exclude, marginalize, and oppress those who believe that cumbayah is more than just a melting pot  but a yearning for conflict and tension in harmony.  We are not the same, that’s okay … I thank GOD we are not the same,   Life would be boring — variety is the spice of life.

Borders and boundaries are not places of problematic divisiveness, but sanctuaries of encounter, to cross over and be with the other, to have the other cross over and be with us.  As poet and prophet Dr. Maya Angelou puts it, we are each a rainbow in each other’s clouds.  As we dwell in the borderlands within us and among us, we must remember that we are not alone but that we journey together—where you go, I go….where I go, you go…We dwell in the borderland in the company of witnesses who have gone before us  and witnesses with us now…challenging and being challenged to be embrace our wholeness. 

In our lucha to claim and rant our isnesses, we are faced with a society and church that  categorizes us into suffocating neat little boxes…limitations that are also placed on the awesomeness of GOD.   We are a borderland people created in the amazingness of GOD.  By embracing the borderland we are reminded  of the wowness of creation and of what it means to be created in the image of GOD…A GOD who is complex, multifaceted, multivocalic…if we look to Scripture, we discover a GOD who is at times contradictory and even snarky.  But it is this GOD…the GOD of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…the GOD praised in the Psalms…the GOD who smited and who also heard the cries of GOD’s people…the GOD whom Jesus called abba…it is this GOD who lovingly created us, graced us, blessed us as good…not just select pieces of us, but the whole person with all our quirks, contradictions, bloopers, passions, and gifts.  We are created in the image of a GOD who like us is  an embodied mosaic of interlocking, interacting, interfering identities.

Going beyond the “or” of Paul and becoming “both/and” is not easy, especially when our frontera is filled with clashing identities.   However, it can be a fun enlightening mess of confusion and wholizing holiness.  As a queer Latino who embraces Christianity…I have experienced the confusion when faith, culture, and sexuality clash.   As I dwell in the borderland of my identities interacting with each other, I realize that despite the pain and brokenness,  I have been able to weave together a colorful tapestry reflecting narratives within my Latino culture that inspired by faith have embraced Wholeheartedly, and with a lot of spice, all those of us who live and love beyond the norm….This embrace of la frontera has given many of us new ways of understanding familia through the transformation of gender roles … the ability to reclaim sacred images like Our Lady of Guadalupe as a representation of the divine that is brown like us…Finding rootedness in a heritage and story mixed with discrimination, colonialism, exile but also resilience, fuerza, community…my queerness and latinoness and christianness enrich each other… when we dwell in the borderland, we are invited to experiment, get messy, take risks, pursue chances.  As Chicana Poet and Lesbian Activist describes it, “to live in the borderlands means to put chile in the borscht, eat whole wheat tortillas, speak tex-mex with a brooklyn accent; to survive and thrive in the borderlands you must live sin fronteras, be a crossroads.”

We are called to embrace our fronteras not with fear and dominance, but with humility and gusto.  We are called to savorear, to savor, the diverse ingredients that make us, us.  A savoring and dwelling of the borderlands that was embraced and embodied by Jesus throughout his life and ministry.  Jesus was an immigrant and exilee and prophet of inclusivity… born into poverty, He was a son, teacher, carpenter, Jew, student, rabbi, friend, savior, healer, radical…A person trying to survive political, religious, and cultural upheavals…it was the interacting and interfering of all of this that helped Jesus understand His calling—He did not deny who he was or where he was from.  Rather he allowed all of it to come together…the miracles, the sermons on the mount, the parables, the times in the desert,  the work in the carpentry shop, the repetitions of stories to disciples who just didn’t seem to get it, the coming together of divine and human at the transfiguration, the cross and the resurrection….All of it together, messy, challenging, freeing, a borderland…throughout His ministry Jesus patiently, lovingly, and sometimes nudgingly helped the ragtag group of misfits who followed him dwell in la frontera.  Jesus showed them how to come into their own by embracing their own borderlands of fishermen, shepherds, zealots, tax collectors, people on the fringe…their witness of holiness through imperfection teaches us, motivates us, guides us as we seek to foster the spark to thrive in and through our borderlands.

Like Jesus, like Paul, like all those we turn to for inspiration, we are called to celebrate the fronteras within us and among us.  We are called to celebrate that we are more than just professional titles or familial roles or government labels.  We are more than just a delightful minister mom or guitar playing pastor with a dog or a worker at google or air traffic controller or the child caring au’pair…we are these things and more.   

We are all profetas, discupulos, madres y padres, we are Latino and Chicano, we are people of the African Diaspora, we are native and indigenous and Asian, we are queer and questioning, we are preachers, children, parents, godparents, we are people of faith and people who question faith, we are sexual beings, we are lovers, fighters, reconcilers, we are all peoples of colors, we are moya, ubunto, namaste, cumbayah, we are interconnected, contradictory, harmonious, re-membered, we are bordered and we are borderless, we are good and we are a sacred hot mess, we all speak with accents and with our unique dramatic flair…we are la frontera, we are the borderland

As we dwell and journey in the borderlands within us and among us, we are all called to live the prophetic life of the frontera…to give birth to the Divine in our words, deeds, hearts, thoughts, and lives … an invitation to be our whole selves and to help others live authentically whole.  As we embrace our many identities, like Jesus, like Paul, like the Galatians, like the GOD who created us, we are no longer made to feel ashamed for existing… we will rant our voices, dance our dances, pray our prayers, it will be loud and messy, but it will proclaim the wonders and dynamism of GOD and of all of creation.

As we dwell in the frontera, will we let it be done to us according to the radical and inclusive word of GOD? How have we responded? How are we responding? How will we respond?  To GOD’s call and invitation to embody the sacredness of the borders within us and among us?  May it be done to us according to GOD’s living, organic, evolving, revolutionary, transfiguring, harmoniously tense, both/anded Word.  bendiciones en su lucha y en su caminar…Blessed be…Amen.

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