Why We Need A God Who Does Not Look Like Us

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[Image: Dylan Chenfeld, a Jewish atheist, who has pased posters saying "I Met God, She's Black" all over Manhattan.]

A version of this speech was first given on July 12, 2016 at First Unitarian Church of Hobart, Indiana, during a vigil for the victims of the Orlando massacre.

My heart aches for the families of those the 49 slain in Orlando and for LGBT people everywhere who live in fear of becoming the next victims of homophobic hatred. And my heart aches for the families of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling and for people of color everywhere who live in fear of becoming the next victims of racist hatred. My thoughts today, though, are for the rest of us, those like me -- male, white, and heterosexual -- the privileged ones who don't have to live in fear every day.

I believe the religious challenge of our day is to see the divine all around us, in the natural world, in all living things, in ourselves, in our own bodies ... and in each other, in one another's bodies: male bodies and female bodies, Black bodies and white bodies and brown bodies, queer bodies, gay bodies and straight bodies, transgendered bodies and cis-gendered bodies.

For those of us who speak the language of divinity, all of these are divine, all of these are in some way God or Goddess. Each and every one of us, from our children whom we embrace to the strangers whose gaze we avoid to those whom we mock for their difference -- all of these are God, all of these are Goddess. From the able-bodied to the disabled, from the dark skinned to the fair skinned and all the myriad shades and hues in between, from the homosexual, gay, lesbian, and queer to the heterosexual and all the many varieties of sexuality in between, from the cis-gendered to the transgendered, and all the many ways in which we all embrace or reject our the gender we were assigned at birth. All of these are Goddess. All of these are God.

It is important to recognize God in our own image, our own reflection -- especially if we are female, queer, persons of color -- and our culture tells us we are somehow less than divine because of it. But for those of us who are white, or who are male, or who are heterosexual, or who are cis-gendered, it is even more important for us to recognize God in the faces of those who are different from us.

The 18th-century philosopher, Voltaire, wrote: "If God has made us in his image, then we have returned the favor." We -- especially we white, male, heterosexuals -- have been making God in our own image for many centuries. We have created an image of God which is comfortable and comforting to us, a God who looks like us and acts like us and loves like us. But this image of God is an idol, one which conveniently reflects back to us our own image.

Whatever your religion, whatever your theology, God/Goddess is bigger than the images we have created in our minds of Her/Him. The psychologist Ann Ulanov writes that it is very much a human impulse to try to picture God, and God does come to us in those pictures, but also in the smashing of those pictures! What use to us is a God who only comforts the comfortable? We need a God that comforts the afflicted, and also afflicts the comfortable. We want an image of a God that is like us. But we need the image of the God that is strange to us, that makes us uncomfortable. It is the image of a God who is not like us which challenges us, forces us to grow, to rethink our assumptions, to abandon our preconceptions, to expand our vision of what is good and true and beautiful.

The female God, the Black God, the queer God, the trans God: These are the faces of God too. We must truly see those other faces, those other bodies, and we must see God/Goddess in them. If we did, and then we would not, could not, ever stand silent while those other bodies are shamed, bullied, beaten, raped, tortured ... and murdered.

In my tradition, we have a saying which we say to one another: "Thou are God. Thou art Goddess."

I invite you to look around you. See the many faces. Look all around you. Many of these faces are like yours. Find the face of someone who is different from you. Maybe a stranger. Maybe someone who is not your gender. Maybe someone who is not your race or ethnicity. Maybe someone you know is queer or gay or transgendered. See them and behold the face of God. Behold the face of Goddess.

Whether you believe God created the Earth and all the life in it or whether you believe that Goddess is the Earth and all life in it. Whether you believe we are children of God or whether you believe we are all part of God. Whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, Pagan, or spiritual but not religious. See the face of that one who does not look like you, or act like you, or love like you -- see the image of God, the image of Goddess.

And whether your practice is to make the sign of the cross, or raise your arms to the sky, or simply bow your head. Whether you say "Hallelujah" or "Namaste" or "Allahu Akbar." Whatever you do to acknowledge the presence of the divine or the holy, I invite you to make that sign or speak that word now.

Thou art Goddess. Thou art God.