Friday, November 25, 2011

Closets (Esther 4:13-14)

         When Mordecai heard Esther’s reply, he wrote back the following response: “Don’t fool yourself into thinking that, just because you are in the imperial palace, you will be the only Jewish person to escape. If you insist on remaining silent at this time, vindication and liberation will come to our people through another source, but both you and your family will surely die. Who’s to say? – you may have come into your royal court for just this moment.”                                Esther 4:13-14

Closets have their own peculiar dynamics. Closets are constructed by cultural attitudes and societal expectations, yet only those who live in closets are aware of them. The positive of the closet is that it keeps us safe in hostile company.

Many queers tend to add their voice to that of Mordecai’s, decrying the closet as a psychological straight jacket and a poor excuse for holistic living. Also like Mordecai we have come to understand the fragile safety the closet provides. Great energy often goes into maintaining a closet. Yet, all can be undone by a single insightful guess of underlying reality.

Society still tends to favor the closet. Conservative western culture, following the Victorian Era, sees the closet as the best solution to the queer conundrum. The easy answer is out-of-sight, out-of-mind. Therefore we don’t ask and we don’t tell – we reside in the closet.

Those mourning the loss of the closet and pinning for a more restricted time are represented in this story by Esther’s husband Ahasuerus, king of Persia. He enjoys the privileges which come with being at the top of a rigid hierarchy. Victorian society, which constructed the modern closet, was structured to privilege the white heterosexual male. It was a time when women knew their place, servants were second-class, and queers were criminals against natural law.

Esther represents those who do not enjoy the safety of privilege and status. Born a Jew (although hiding this fact of parentage), she became a Persian queen after the former queen refused the king and quickly became an ex. In the intervening story a foe of Jewish people hatches a plan for their genocide. The king, isolated from this struggle for dignity, sanctions the plan. Esther has a crisis: does she come out of the closet and reveal all? Does she stay in and hope that her social location can save her from the troubles of her people?

Polite protocol proves tricky for us. Like Esther we are not quite sure when to speak up and act out. This decision is always situational and no one rule applies across the board.

The concluding words of Mordecai catch my attention: “Who’s to say? – you may have come into your royal court for just this moment.” Mordecai reminds us of the hard and difficult task of discernment between whether the closet is a place of safety or degradation. Esther’s story reminds us that there is no easy answer.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Talk to the Hand (3 John 9-10)

                 I wrote a letter for the members of the church, but Diotrephes, who enjoys dominating, refuses to acknowledge us. So if I do come, I will tell everyone what he is doing, and how he spreads malicious gossip about us. As if that weren’t enough, he not only refuses to welcome our co-workers, he also interferes with those who want to do so, and banishes them from the church.            
                But as for you, my dear friend, don’t imitate evil. Imitate what is good instead. Those who do what is right are children of God; those who do what is evil have never seen God.                                        
                   3 John 9-10

The writer of the Johannine letters (1, 2, 3 John) has always struck me as a person of great depth and wisdom. Love is the start of faith. Love is the substance of faith. Love is the culmination of faith. It is this writer’s emphasis on love as the primary movement of God towards us that sustains my own faith. So it is amusing to come across this spiritually adept person as angry and frustrated.

I’ve known anger and disappointment and the feeling of being stuck because others won’t get on with it or can’t seem to get out of my way. I’ve known the cutting pain of being stabbed in the back and of having my designs thwarted by another’s lack of support. Yes, I’ve known frustrations and so appreciate the candidness with which 3rd John reads.

Diotrephes has been lost to history outside of this rant. We can conjecture that Diotrephes represents another expression of faith – one that the writer of the letter is at odds with. In the context of this conflict Diotrephes “refuses to acknowledge us”, “spreads malicious gossip”, “refuses to welcome our co-workers”, and “interferes with those” who would welcome these co-workers, banishing these helpers from the church.

In a significant way the personality of Diotrephes still represents the church to queer people of faith. Acknowledgement of our concerns fall on death ears, while at the same time malicious gossip spreads half-truths and outright lies. Our allies are often shouted down or simply ignored, and in some cases banished from the church. It's enough to make us shout "Talk to the hand!"

While it may seem a just cause to fight fire with fire and use the same techniques in turn, 3rd John leaves no room for such sloppy spirituality. “Don’t imitate evil. Imitate what is good instead.” Good here being the love and acceptance which God has provided for all humanity through Jesus the Christ.

The writer of the Johannine letters is frustrated because Diotrephes has chosen to imitate something less then what is good. Diotrephes imitates attitudes and power grabs that belong more in the realm of the godless than to the realm of those who love God.

It is hard to face Diotrephes and keep our eyes on God. It is hard to bear the burden Diotrephes lays on us and keep our feet on the sure path. Yet Diotrephes represents what is small and trivial. 3rd John indicates that for those seeking the greater experience of life there is only one choice – the imitation of what is good.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gay Hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14)

When Peter came to Antioch, however, I opposed him to his face, since he was manifestly in the wrong. His custom had been to eat with the Gentiles but, after certain friends of James arrived, he stopped doing this and kept away from them altogether, for fear of the group that insists Gentiles must convert to Judaism first. The other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, and even Barnabas felt obliged to copy this behavior.
                When I saw they weren’t respecting the true meaning of the Good News, I said to Peter in front of everyone, “You’re a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not a Jew. So why do you want to make the Gentiles adopt Jewish ways?”                                                                                           
                   Galatians 2:11-14

Paul was on a campaign to open the early christian experience to Gentiles. These Gentiles were the equivalent of spiritually queer folk to good jewish-christian people in that day. Paul worked long, hard hours gathering, organizing, and building coalitions of like-minded persons. He tirelessly protested the policy which turned the Gentiles away.

Though angry, Paul at least knew that James, the brother of Jesus and head of the early church, was an opponent. What Paul did not know was that Peter, living like a Gentile, would take James’ side. Stabbed in the back, Paul confronted Peter and outed him as an “acting Gentile.”

There is a typical queer dynamic in this confrontation. We understand the need for protection – jobs, family, friends, status, and much more can be affected negatively if we are serendipitously outed, as Peter was. Having friends outed and knowing their pain and confusion, as well as frustration and fear, I cannot condone what Paul did.

Still, Peter is not innocent. If he did not want to be seen as less in the eyes of James, Peter should not have lived as a Gentile. He was a hypocrite to show one face to Paul and another to James.

For me, the knife which cuts the deepest in my queer experience is when I am damned by one of our own. The hyper-heterosexual coach who himself is latently gay; the bashing minister who is sexually active with other men; the homophobe who fears her own sexual curiosity, all are part of the queer experience. It is a deep betrayal when they turn on those who are out.

Eventually, tradition holds, Paul and Peter got their act together. In doing so they opened up the Gentile world to the richness of God’s love in Christ.

Some marvelous day we queers will finally get our act together too. Out front and latent, bold and scared, self-aware and questioning – we will all come together blessing ourselves and our kind. Like Peter and Paul, when that day arrives, great opportunities will appear, and we will all be the richer.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Queer Tribalism (1 Chronicles 7:13)

The line of Naphtali: Jahziel, Guni, Jezer, and Shallum; these were the descendants of Bilhag.
1 Chronicles 7:13

I have a unique claim with my ancestors – they arrived in North America thirteen years before the Pilgrims. The Popham Colony did not survive and so appears at best as a footnote in the annuals of New England history.

What captures my attention about Naphtali’s lineage is the lack of names – only five. The other tribes of Israel appear more robust in descendants. Obviously Naphtali was a minority in a larger society. I wonder if there was a temptation to skip over this tribe all together. Relegating it, like my ancestor’s colony, to the forgotten notes of history.

We who are queer know what it means to live in a tribe that is overlooked. Here the forgetting begins in the most intimate of personal settings – our families of birth. When I came out to my parents, my father – a minister in the denomination of my youth – made it clear that my name should be erased from any and all lists of ordained clergy.

We all cringe at the interjection “No kid of mine!” We know it means another daughter or son turned out and shut out from the family.

We too desire support and a place to belong. Not allowed to fill these needs in our family of birth we have forged our own connections and solidified our own communities. Along the way we created the phenomenal rainbow tribe known the world over as “queers.”

When solid history is written about the 20th century the greatest affirmation of the queer tribe will not be the Stonewall Riots or the liberation movements across Europe and Asia, as lofty as they are. The greatest affirmation will be the queer community’s response to AIDS.

True, we could have taken more responsibility to limit the spread of AIDS. Still as governments remained silent we looked to each other for love and dignity in death. We were not professional care givers, and were just as scared and confused as the straight population. Yet, we did not turn our backs in the time of need. The AIDS quilt – now so large as to ever be displayed in one venue again – remains a tenacious genealogy of people and personalities for us to recall and celebrate.

I give thanks to the Chronicler who resisted the temptation to skip over a small tribe. All who read the scriptures are reminded that once there was a son of Jacob named Naphtali. This son also had descendants who were part of a larger tribe known as the People of God. I look forward to the day when the same will be said of the Queer Tribe.