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Sophia Fahs Lecture: Meditate, Liberate, Educate

General Assembly 2000 Event 270

Presenter: Rev. Elias Farajaje-Jones

Sophia Lyon Fahs revolutionized how we teach religious education when she suggested that children learn about religion through their interaction with the world. Rev. Elias Farajaje-Jones presented the Sophia Fahs lecture to Liberal Religious Educators Association (LREDA), "Queering Religious Education, Teaching the RSV (Revolutionary SubVersion)." Farajaje-Jones takes iconoclasty to a high art. Wearing bleached blonde dreadlocks, he claims African-Cherokee-Irish heritage, bisexuality, and polyamory, among other labels. The essence of his message is the necessity to question the assumptions of business as usual, a process that he refers to as "queering." He sees a world in which everything is connected and in which the impossibility of isolating individual strains of life such as racism and sexism conflicts with a world wherein dichotomies are the norm. In fact, he hates the idea of the norm, because if there is a norm, then those who fall outside of this norm are by definition abnormal, standard or nonstandard deviations, as it were.

He first began to see the fallacy of dichotomization as a child, as he progressed through his own religious education. Religious education was what women did in church for children, instead of the real work of the church, which is the service. Youth groups were the final step until full theological integration. Then, at some point he developed an understanding that the world truly consisted of interconnected elements, none of which has any life in isolation. From this premise, he saw that religious education should engage the whole person in a global, holistic process. Thus, religious education should produce intersection of concepts of race, gender, class, physicality, wealth, sexual preference, etc. Life cannot be dissected apart; it is multilayered and multifocal, and we can never truly understand life by understanding individual parts. Race cannot be dissected from class or gender; racial oppression from gender, sexual preference or religious oppression. Religious education is all that we do, not just an hour on Sunday.

How do we engage more intentionally in this work? Farajaje-Jones believes we must deconstruct the "heteropatriarchy," which is his term for the way things are. Some may quibble that this term itself violates the tenets of his philosophy in making the current norm-based system sound more intentional than it is. Nonetheless, there is no doubt that only paradigm shifts within our own way of thinking will produce the radical social change that will subvert the dominant paradigm.

The concept of "normal," in the sense of a unitary ideal only entered English between 1840 and 1860. Prior to then, it had its mathematical definition of orthogonal or perpendicular. Social processes of the norm created the concept of the deviation. All people who were not of the norm, were then connected—criminals, negroes, women, the disabled, etc. If we transcend the concept of norm, we find that categories are not mutually exclusive. We can be white and black at the same time, Jew and Unitarian Universalist. Multiracial people have to choose one group. But in Farajaje-Jones' conception, minorities don't exist, and the concept of minority gives power to the fiction that there really is a majority. We live in a world that says it's not OK to be different. We're made to think that's a survival tactic. Yet multiplicity of experience is important to draw upon. If there is no norm, there are no deviations. If there is no norm, we're all just possibilities waiting to happen. Erotophobia makes us say all sorts of things are wrong. Disability does not mean incomplete. The link of disability to tragedy tends to link to incompleteness, but the disabled are complete as they are today. All kinds of bodies can approach god.

We worry so much about being perfect that we end up doing nothing. We're all in process, and the work is never done. God is change.

Reported by Bob Hurst

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Last updated on Thursday, September 8, 2011.

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