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Discernment, Refinement, and Evolution: An Interview with Andrea Hawkins-Kamper


  

1. What is your understanding of spiritual transformation - in the context of your experience as a transgender person of faith - both in theory (theological context) and in practice/experience?

Spiritual transformation has been a process of discernment, refinement, and evolution. Claiming my own authenticity has been, and will continue to be, a ruthless application of honesty. My spiritual transformations can best be asked with this simple question: "What is it that I hold most true, and how do I live a life that sustains and nourishes that ideal?"

 

Robert Persig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" has been profoundly helpful as I began (and continue) this inner work. I now see myself as a dynamic being, always in motion, always evolving into the person I am called to be.I find the idea that I am always in motion, always sidling up next to the future and seeing it as a projection of the past, as liberating, not nihilistic. I know and love the person I was. I understand how it created the person I am. I can see the person I will become. From there I recognize the grace of God as it intersects my life. This is, to me, innately transformative. As Brennan Manning said in A Furious Longing for God, "There is nowhere God won't go to find us. No country too distant. No terrain too treacherous. No risk too great."

 

Wherever I go, there is God. Whatever the experience I move through, God is always there. Whatever the Divine of my understanding may be evolving into, Their existence is constant and affirming of my existence.


2. What opportunities or challenges have shaped your perspective?

 

I discerned a call to ordained ministry at eighteen. At twenty, I no longer had a path, and I no longer had faith. I could not serve the church of my youth as my authentic self, the person God created me to be, without running afoul of the rules man placed on that service. I walked away bitter, raging against the temples of stone and wood we have raised to capture and contain the boundless Divine. I wandered in the metaphorical desert for twenty years, always searching for a truth that I could internalize and hold as dear to my heart as I once held my faith.

 

Scar tissue formed over the succeeding years, a balm to the Gilead of my soul. All of it became walls. Without realizing it, I built a prison to lock myself away from everything, from the birth of my daughter to the death of my grandparents. My world came crashing down in 2010. I was one of many who lost almost everything in the Great Recession. I sat shiva with my life on a porch in Chicago’s Humboldt one night. In the hours before dawn one night, I heard a still small voice which said "The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not comprehended it." The same small, still voice that had called me out of the congregation to serve the Congregation so many years before.

 

It was a wake-up call, a clarion that it was time to rise, to lay siege to the past in order to build a new and authentic way forward. My ongoing personal evolution is based in the reconciliation of who I was and who I am to who I will become. From ashes I may have come, to ashes I will most certainly return, but for now I rise. I rest safely that I am both the light that shines in the darkness, the darkness the light shines against. To be authentic is to be nothing less.

 

3. What spiritual resources/practices do you engage or draw upon to nurture resilience and renewal?

 

As I have claimed my authenticity, my heart has opened to see myself as a critical component in the constructive deconstruction of my inner walls and blind spots.  The more I sought my inner light, the more present I became. Reflection became a spiritual practice of mindfulness and prayer. These days, I trust in the fact that I was created in the image of God, as God intended; and not as man understands the intention of God. I am a child of the Divine: perfectly imperfect, imperfectly living eternally in the grace of Creation. The mundane and the sacred intersect whether I intend it or not. The actus fidei that is living perfectly imperfect is a sustaining and transformative gift, a gift of God’s grace. It is a gift of reclamation, discernment, and evolution.

 

 

4. What are issue or concerns you think need more attention in the efforts of the church and/or the world to more just community?

 

The world must awaken to understand and internalize that people are people, and the divisions and walls we place between our fellow humans is not the way of Love. As I contemplate the need for justice in the world, I am inspired by the words of Reinhold Niebuhr: "Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in a lifetime, therefore we are saved by Hope." Hope is a statement of optimism and expectation. Hope must become our standard, the hill on which we plant our flag as people of faith.

 

However, Hope without faith is stagnation, just as faith without works is death. The work of justice for all - ending of discrimination and intolerance in the name of religion - must be paramount in our lives if we are to live true to the Great Commandment of Christ. We will not complete this work in our lifetimes. What we do accomplish will leave the world better than we found it. It will give our children and grandchildren a framework on which to build, a gauge by which the needle of justice and equality may be measured. We start by loving one another as we would love God, by treating the stranger as our most honored guest, by doing the work and not simply talking about the work.

 

We can start with three goals: environmental justice, racial justice, and transgender justice. Protecting the environment gives our descendants a place to live and thrive. Without the Earth, we are homeless. Without a home, we will surely perish. Racial justice, the act of destroying institutional and systemic structures of oppression is hard and necessary work, and it is in keeping with our identity as people of faith. Christ preached not hatred for the other, but love and redemption. We should remember this always.

 

Just as it was communities of faith that started the work of oppressing trans folk, it is the communities of faith which must lead in the work of transgender justice. Forty percent of transgender people have attempted suicide, and over ninety percent have contemplated it. Simply put, It is not Christian to regulate the use of a bathroom. This is a false ethic, an ethic of hate designed to twist the teachings of Christ into a political talking about. It conflates the truth of the Kingdom of God and a worldly position of personal power. Transgender folk must be free to live and serve as the people God created us to be. Brennan Manning sums up the challenge before us in this statement: "The leading cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, but deny Him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."

In closing, let us make a spiritual practice of asking ourselves this question: "Who are we, and who do we want to become? Are we people of God, or are we the people we perceive the people of God to be?†That is the way of reclamation, discernment, and evolution. That is the work of justice, and that is the Act of Faith God requires of us.

Andrea is a seminarian at Meadville-Lombard Theological School, where she pursues both her Masters of Divinity and ordination into Unitarian Universalist ministry. She is a poet, author, artist, and storyteller. Originally from the Louisville, Kentucky area, she currently lives in Woodstock, IL with her wife, two cats, and a rescued Chihuahua who thinks she is a cat.

Liam Hooper is a transmasculine activist-advocate, UCC ordained minister and founder of Ministries Beyond Welcome. Through this ministry, Liam works with faith groups seeking to be more accommodating of trans and queer persons, consults with congregations and secular groups, engages public education and all manner of preaching, teaching, and rabble-rousing in the work for a more intersectionally just and compassionate community.  Rev. Hooper is also employed, part-time, with Reconciling Ministries Network at their Transgender Community Organizer. Liam has been connected with and committed to Transfaith for some time. He lives in North Carolina, where he, his patient and understanding spouse and their son are encouraged by a supportive and caring interfaith community. Liam interviewed Andrea as part of an effort to connect his work with RMN to Transfaith and to his work in the congregation of the world at large.

  

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