Bathrooms & Baptism

The other day, someone asked me if I’d be uncomfortable sharing a public restroom with a trans person.

This was asked sincerely, by a man, who simply has not had the experience of being a woman, especially a woman in a public and vulnerable space, so they genuinely wanted to know. I gave the simple, off-the-cuff response of, “no, of course not.”

But I spoke too soon, so let me revise:

Would I be uncomfortable sharing a public restroom with a trans person? Maybe a little.

Just like I would be sitting next to them on a train, or passing the peace with them in church. Because peeing publicly, sharing a sticky subway bench, and extending the peace of Christ are all slightly uncomfortable things. These everyday moments are actually quite intimate, and sharing intimate moments with strangers – regardless of their story – is usually awkward.

Before I go any further, I want to acknowledge that I’m well aware that the debate regarding North Carolina and Mississippi’s laws is about much more than who uses which bathroom (though maybe it shouldn’t be). And I’m not going to comment on those deeper conversations here, except to say that, on some level, this debate is centered around fear.

I’ve written on this subject before, about how strange and destructive it is that we naturally approach others with concern and caution instead of warmth and hospitality. And I’ve commented on how I believe that living near other people – like in a dense and diverse city – might alleviate some of this unnecessary fear.

This time, I’m taking a slightly more direct approach, because it’s Easter – a season of the year when it’s extra appropriate to live fearlessly.

On the first Easter, one of the first things that Jesus said upon reuniting with his disciples after dying, descending to hell, and rising again was, “do not be afraid.” They had every right to be afraid, by the way, and I think Jesus knew that. After all, they had just seen their friend and mentor get publicly murdered, and now they themselves were rudderless and marginalized. To top it off, there he was again, standing in the living room. Dead people don’t usually come back from the dead. When they do, it’s probably pretty shocking.

Thus, ever so wise, Jesus told his people what they needed to hear:

Do not be afraid. I’ve defeated death, and someday you will too.
Peace be with you. Not the quiet tranquility kind of peace, but life-altering, life-sustaining shalom.

In these moments, Jesus is talking to us too. He’s giving us a sneak peek of our future, and calling us toward a particular way of life now. And for Christians, that’s what Easter is: it’s our identity, our way of seeing the world, our lifestyle.

The Easter way of life looks at the world as good and worth digging into and caring about. It looks at the future with courage and hope. It sees other people as beloved. It faces the everyday moments of real life, and lives within them fully. It doesn’t run from the darkness, but stays for the struggle. In the Easter way of life, darkness never gets the final word.

The Easter way of life is not afraid of the person in the next bathroom stall.

During the Easter season, a lot of churches make it a point to baptize babies (or adults or whatever). Baptism is an ancient and mysterious ritual, which is filled with hope. I’m quite partial to my denomination’s baptism liturgy, which talks about water as a sacred motif, and speaks of community and promise. The very best part is at the end, right before the pastor sprinkles water on the unsuspecting infant. In that moment, the pastor holds the baby – a baby that’s basically just a bunch of squirmy skin in a cute outfit, who has yet to have any tangible impact on society – and looks them in the eye and says: “For you, Jesus Christ came into this world; for you he died and for you he conquered death. All of this he did for you, even though you know nothing of it yet. We love you because he first loved us.”

(Then water gets sprinkled and the baby wiggles and cries and everyone laughs and it’s very cute but probably very embarrassing for the baby).

I can’t help but wonder what this world would look like if all Christians looked at everyone – both members of this family, but especially those who are not – the same way that pastors look at babies they’re about to baptize, with that same kind of heart, gaze, affirmation, and hope. That’s my dream this Easter: for a world, a church, and a bathroom like that.

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