Friday, December 27, 2013

Light and Shadow (Matthew 2:16-18)

Herod became furious when he realized that the astrologers (wise men) had outwitted him. He gave orders to kill all male children that were two years old and younger living in and around Bethlehem. The age of the children was based on the date Herod had learned from the astrologers. Then what was spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
           "A voice was heard in Ramah
                 sobbing and lamenting loudly;
           it was Rachel weeping for her children
                she refused to be consoled,
               for they were no more."




This is a singularly horrible story. It intrudes like a troublesome drunken uncle on our holiday celebrations. A jolting reminder that in the midst of Christmas light and life we can still find human fear and violence. Matthew seems to be telling us that the brighter the light, the deeper the shadows which accompany it. Andy Woffe has commented, "If we are resolved to know the full story of Christmas, the glory and the horror, we must hear Rachel and the women of Bethlehem … weeping for the children." 

At the Christmas eve service of my home church - I work in a regional office - the Rev. Steven Mitchell spoke about the hope of a new world of which the birth of Jesus is a sign. New worlds never simply pop into existence. They are formed out of the glory and ruin of old worlds. The Massacre of the Innocents, as this narrative is called, starkly points to old realities seeking to subvert the emerging new.


I think the same dynamics are at play in the life of gender and sexually diverse people. The closeup of the Poussin's painting highlighting the heel on the neck of the innocent is often an emotional reality as queer people discern our inner compass. The discernment is light to us, yet, with this light comes the potential of shadows from family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and church. For some the shadows are only mist, for others the shadows are more solid - heels on necks and Rachel weeping.

On many levels the passage places us on notice that emerging realities come at a price. There is an echo of the scheme by an ancient Pharaoh to murder all the male Israelite children even as Moses is born. Rachel's tears bring before us the picture of Jerusalem laying ruined and empty as Israelite families are taken off in chains to serve in Babylon. Now, Bethlehem becomes the target of a paranoid king clasping power as tightly as possible.

It is an odd picture in which we see Jesus being spirited away to Egypt to escape old understandings and patterns of thinking. It denotes the fragility with which new understandings and ways of thinking come to birth. The story of the Massacre of the Innocents points to the vulnerability of the new as it seeks to gain adherence, the fear and violence of the old as it is displaced, and the shadows that must be transversed by those seeking the light.



Thursday, December 19, 2013

Vulnerability (Luke 2:6-8)

While (Mary and Joseph) where (in Bethlehem), the time came for her delivery. She gave birth to her first born, a son; she put him in a simple cloth wrapped like a receiving blanket, and laid him in a feeding trough for cattle, because there was no room for them at the inn.

I want to draw attention to what is not in this scene, yet our minds place there anyway. I think this colors how we receive the Nativity of Jesus. There is no stable but only the mention of a manger. There are no angels either, although eventually we find them with the shepherds. There are no wise men, nor a star, we need to steal them from Matthew's gospel. While this translation mentions cattle to describe what type of manger served as a bed, there are no sheep, donkeys, or cattle. Luke, the minimalist, gives us only a mother in labor, a husband doing his best, and emerging life. 

It's easy to miss that human history was torn open and the Holy joined our common lot in blood and flesh. So easy in fact that while some of us know better we still turn the blind eye. Such ordinary and dire circumstances do not attract our attention. It is too plain and in need of some print fabric and glitter. Albeit, the glitter should be used sparingly.

I tip my hat to whoever wrote the Gospel according to Luke. The family is completely vulnerable with but a thin blanket between the newborn and the wilds of this world. The infant has an unprivileged beginning which is raw and unsettling in its weakness. Luke holds our gaze on the unadorned as to say if you want to find the incarnation pay attention to the overlooked and uncelebrated. 

Stripped bare of every cliche we might throw into a more robust birth, we are forced to focus on the new born and the miracle of life among darkness and fear and uncertainty. For christians we are asked to see in this wrinkled, bald, and hungry baby the glory and fullness of God. Jesus' birth challenges our notions of the Sacred as impervious and invincible. It reminds us that the Heart of the Universe is as exposed and as susceptible as is any refugee infant.

The scene, however, doesn't only expose, it also invites. It invites us to strip off our facades and our persona and to join the holy family in the sheer ludicrous act of exposed vulnerability. A tough invitation for those who are queer and spent a large part of life shoring up our sense of helplessness in the face of the heteronormative tsunami. 

I wonder what it would be like to be gay without the sanctioned stereotypes through which it is deemed appropriate to be gay. The U.S. television show from some years ago, Will and Grace, played between two poles: Jack the "shallow party boy" and Will the "empathetic professional." Through the female characters, Grace and Karen, we also were taught the appropriate roles of the "fag hag." To be queer is largely to be known through the stereotypes associated with gender and sexual diversity. What would it be like to simply be known as human?

Luke indicates that the Nativity brings with it an unnerving invitation to reconceptualize our notions of the Divine and of ourselves. What if we were to respond to Luke's invitation and strip away the stereotypes, joining the Holy in being experienced in all our fragility, risking brokenness? What of ourselves do we encounter when the guise through which we engage the world is removed? Do we find something, or is there only an aching void? Underneath the costumes we wear is there a true self, a false self, or no self at all? Once the layers are peeled away and we are revealed for all to see is it a Darth Vader moment, or is there something of substance? 

This is the razor's edge of vulnerability. Our true self may appear to some as great substance and there is acceptance. To others our inner self may look more like Vader and we are rejected. This is also the risk of Luke's rendering of the Nativity: the Sacred comes in such a way that we can take great joy, or we can completely ignore the Sacred, as if nothing of import happened on Luke's solitary Bethlehem plain.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Miracle of the Crooked (Isaiah 40:3-5)

     A voice cries out, "Clear a path through the wilderness for Adonai! Make a straight road through the desert for our God! Let every valley be filled in, every mountain and hill be laid low; let every cliff become a plain, and the ridges become a valley! Then the glory of Adonai will be revealed, and all humankind will see it." The mouth of Adonai has spoken!
Isaiah 40:3-5


A more traditional rendering of the phrase "and the ridges become a valley" is "and the crooked shall be made straight." While this phrase speaks to camel roads meandering through the deserts, today's queer cannot but take notice of this turn of words that the "crooked" is to be made "straight." One time my spouse was approached by a mutual friend about "straightening" me out. I had no clue if he was addressing my theology or my sexuality, but the implication was clear, crooked is "bad" while straight is "good."

In the world of sexuality much failed effort is put into making the crooked straight. Never tempted to seek gay-aversion therapy myself, a few of my friends have. Their personal experience was of being twisted into knots. It was a reversal of this biblical invitation as something as straightforward as love was bent into a crooked understanding of the "bad" self.

I know this text is not about sexuality, it is about the way home, the joyful release of the captive, and the journey to claim God's gift of hearth and home. Historically it is a call to the exiles in Babylon to return to Judah. Still, for many queer folk the way to wellbeing includes a rather meandering path that is often fostered upon us.

Once I was invovled in a meditation on this passage when the facilitator asked, "What obstacles have you placed on your path?" A good question, but I laughed thinking, "What about all the obstacles placed on my path by others?" Our detractors warn us that they are making it their business to block our progress at every turn. Such mean-spiritedness twists and crooks the path we forge.

I admit, I'm befuddled as to how to respond to the invitation to make the crooked straight when I know any attempt will be met by detractor after detractor. I wonder if our call as queer and allied people of faith is not to the task of straightening the course, but rather to the task of humbly accepting God's presence with us on the crooked, twisted, gnarled, warped, and often jagged trail.

Could it be that as God is revealed through the miracle of straightening, so is God also revealed through the miracle of the crooked? Ed Chan seems to think so, he says of his life as a painter, "One gloomy morning … I decided that the world could be a comprehensible colourful and beautiful place." Which sounds to me like a miracle of the crooked. Note how Chan's crooked road appears inviting, even festive as the group heads toward the welcoming sun. It reminds me of the ending of that guided meditation, when the facilitator said, "Ask for the grace to navigate the twists and the bumps. We walk not alone, but with God." 

Is this not the most subversive out loud and proud protest we can undertake in the face of our detractors - celebrating God's presence on the road which twists and bends before us? 


Thursday, December 5, 2013

Comfort (Isaiah 40:1-2)

     "Console my people, give them comfort," says your God. "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem's heart and tell it that its time of service is ended, that its iniquity is atoned for, that it has received from Adonai's hand double punishment for all its sins."


As one born and raised in the christian tradition these words are very familiar this time of the year. The passage is paralleled with the advent of the Christ as a way of emphasizing the new thing God is doing. For me the essence of my faith is the ready reception of newness as given by the presence of Jesus. This passage has brought me much comfort as to the role of God in the unfolding of history.

Yet, as a gay person this very same text which once brought me comfort now leaves me a bit weary. As one who stands among a community that has been proclaimed sinful I take umbrage of the notion that Jerusalem has received "double punishment for all its sins." Historically, we are observing the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the seventy years it laid waste until its reconstruction. Metaphorically, I'm afraid we are speaking of a God who acts more like a jealous husband bent on "training" his wife than a loving parent nurturing her children.  Or at least that's how "sexual sinners" have been treated at the hands of those who supposedly speak on behalf of the Divine.

For our detractors its easy to map this passage onto sin and sexual "perversion." But a resistant reading is present.  We who self identify as les-bi-gay-trans-queer-intersex-asexual should hear the emphasis of these verses on healing. "Console," "comfort," "speak tenderly" are the opening verbs not "condemn" or "attack" which is the action ususally directed toward us. 

Into the lives of those who have been told they are the bane of existence the Holy One speaks a tender word of comfort. The time of hate is ending. We have paid double the price for being queer in a heteropatriarchial culture. But the time of hate is ending as same gender marriages become more and more widespread. The time of hate is ending as younger generations embrace the fluidity of sexual expression. The time of hate is ending and the Sacred invites us to take comfort in the approaching dawn of the new day.

As the continuing story of the returning exiles remind us, there is still much work ahead. There will be moments of triumph and setbacks, moments of great joy and utter failure. It  is a reminder to which the photo by Ogden points - that our lives and our liberation are a body of work. Some complete and some working toward completion. However, the new thing is already in our midst and in our lives as the promise of comfort comes to fruition.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Celebrating (Nehemiah 8:10)

     Nehemiah continued, "Go now and enjoy rich food and sweet wine, and be certain that you send a share to those who cannot provide for themselves, for this day is holy to Our God. Let no one be sad, for Our God's joy is your strength."
Nehemiah and the returned exiles to Jerusalem are celebrating. They are celebrating a resettlement of the land their grandparents and parents had been forcefully evicted from. They are celebrating that the presence of God, which had been with them in exile, is also with them in the resettlement. They are celebrating with joy not because of what they have, but because of whom they worship.

We, who are queer and allies, need to take note of this scene. "God's joy is your strength," proclaims Nehemiah to those huddled in the ruins of what was once a great city. Often when life is either less than expected or overwhelmed by the ruins of hopes and expectations unmet joy tends to slip away from us. We allow our surroundings to shape our inner being as oppose to allowing our inner resources to shape our environment. 

Nehemiah calls us to heed the very core of our being - the great Heart of the Universe beating within our own hearts. Openly and wonderfully the Sacred trips over the divine-Self just to say, "I love you." Here within this intimate relationship with the Holy lies the only sustained source of joy. Since it ignites from within we can easily miss it by looking without. The right partner, family acceptance, full legal rights, safe work place, these and others are certainly points of joy in our lives. Yet, as wonderful as they are we can never be assured of their presence in our lives.

Those to whom Nehemiah speaks are familiar with the fluidity of what makes for a comfortable life. Many, even though exiles, left good homes, assured food supplies, and friends to reestablish life in a "bombed out" Jerusalem. Everyday was a new struggle, presenting yet another obstacle or problem to overcome. For them joy was not something the outer world provided, as Nehemiah reminded them, joy comes from a deep, inner well of being.  

Anyone who has been marginalized realizes the wisdom of Nehemiah. Joy does not come from the world, although there may be great moments of personal contentment. Rather, joy wells us within us because the Sacred has so invaded our being that we cannot help but to celebrate this thing we call life, with all of its nobility and foibles. 

NOTE: if you are an explorer on the journey into the Sacred I inivite you to check out my other website SpiritQuests.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Unconventional (Ruth 1:11-13)

     But Naomi said to her daughters-in-law. "Go back my daughters. Why do you want to come with me? I have no more sons inside me that you can take as spouses. No, you must go back my daughters. I am too old to marry again. Even if I told you that there was still hope for me, if I were to find a spouse and have children tonight, would you be willing to wait until they are grown to marry them? Would you refuse to remarry for this far-off hope? No, if you did that, it would tear me apart, for the hand of the Most High has been raised against me."
Ruth 1:11-13



Many a queer person has been were Naomi is at: where the path forward seems clogged with insurmountable obstacles. We have felt her sense of hopelessness in the midst of mayhem. Life has crashed down around us as it crashes around Naomi. Why even pretend to hold out a thought that the pendulum will swing our way if we bleive the voice of the entrenched that God is set against us?

Naomi's dispair comes in the midst of the bleak reality of a life marginalized and adrift in the culture of her time. First her husband and then her sons died. She is a widow in a foreign land. All she can see is a road that leads to a life of poverty and begging. While Naomi's fate may not be a direct threat to us, as les-bi-gay-trans-queer-intersex-asexual people we also have been left bereft and adrift in the culture of our time. She is a sister, a member of the family, who has traveled the road of the disenfranchised before us.

Naomi's sight is on the conventional. Marriage is the best option, but she is old, and even if she can entice another, the chances of viable children are slim. Even less, is the chance that her daughters-in-law will wait around to be married to them. Woe is compounded with woe.

When I feel my hope slipping, when I lose my expectancy for the future, it is usually because I've set my sight on the conventional. Yet, our hope in the Sacred, as Naomi discovers throughout her story, often leads us into the unconventional. Her foreign daughter-in-law Ruth moves with her back to Israel - unconventional for the time. Ruth - a beggar widow - woos a prominent land owner - unconventional. Ruth will bear a son named Obed, and Obed a son named Jesse, and from Jesse's stem will come David - unconventional.

So it is with queer and allied people of faith, the Divine will goad us into the unconventional. We will be mocked and even persecuted as heretics for our oddity, yet our way forward is not the standard for that has been shut to us. Like Mallet's photo, once the way forward is cut off, we need to perceive the path from a new frame. Excitedly, we find the Great Heart of the Universe leading us into the eccentric, the unusual, the irregular, the "alternative," the avant-garde. And as with Naomi, so will great things be accomplished through us.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Relax, Let Go, Trust (Luke 12:22-31)

     Then (Jesus) said to the disciples, "That's why I tell you, don't worry about your life and what you are to eat. Don't worry about your body and what you are to wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Take a lesson from the ravens. They don't sow or reap. They have neither a food cellar nor a barn, yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable are you than birds? Can any one of you, for all your worrying add a single hour to your life? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why worry about the rest?
     "Notice the flowers grow. They neither labor nor weave, yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was robed like one of these! If that is how God clothes the grass in the field - which is here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow - how much more will God look after you! You have so little faith!
     "As for you, don't set your hearts on what you'll eat or what you'll drink. Stop worrying! All the nations of the world seek these things, yet your Abba God well knows what you need. Set your sights on the kin-dom of God, and all these other things will be given to you as well."



I start with a confession - I have always wrestled with these words: don't be anxious, don't seek to control, trust. This advice is hard enough in general, yet from a queer perspective they seem to have even more weight. There are a thousand things to fret about. For those just discerning their orientation the whole issue of managing the closet, of who knows, who doesn't know, when do we want someone to know, and each and every individual with which a potentially difficult conversation needs to take place with the risk of rejection. For those yearning and fighting for marriage equality and the constant and seemingly unending battle for respect and legal justice. For those who've mourned quietly over a break up, or even the death of a lover - not understood, or simply ignored by others. 

Into this mix of emotions and feelings comes this bit of odd wisdom: relax, let go, trust.  For none of your worrying, none of your obsessing, none of your controlling and grabbing tight can add an hour to your life. But if I'm not the one raising my blood pressure over these things then who will? 

Relax. Let go. Trust. These words fly in the face of the usual advice we receive: work harder, fight stronger, march longer. 

Relax. Let go. Trust. Reminds us that there is a buoyancy to life which AlicePopkorn captures in her image. You may call it God, or you may call it life, or you may call it the eternal force for justice, mercy, and love. Regardless of what you name it, it is there holding you as a child in the palm of the hand. Notice the joy and happiness signaled by the smile of the female figure. The hand solid yet transparent as if the buoyancy can be consciously known or totally ignored, yet remains to bear us up.

Relax. Let go. Trust. Moves us from straining to carry the world of our lives on our solders, and like Atlas, forever being pinned down by its weight. Relax. Let go. Trust. Moves us to enjoying this thing we call life, and for us this thing we call the queer life. Relax. Let go. Trust. Reminds us that our duty is not to be uptight as we fevorisly seek to control "things beyond your control," but rather to seek our inner alignment with this cosmic hand that bears us up. Or, as Jesus put it, seeking after the kin-dom of God.  

Relax. Let go. Trust. Allows us to place our values first and our fears second. What does life look like when we are chasing after what we want instead of running from what we don't want? How different would we be with others if we were to take care of our inner life before we take care of what others think of us? What pain would be releashed from our lives if we trusted instead of worried? 

Relax. Let go. Trust. That's the wisdom. May we all find peace in it.


    

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Naming (John 20:15-16)

       He asked her, "Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?"
      (Mary of Magdala) supposed it was the gardner, so she said, "Please, if you're the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you've laid the body and I will take it away."
      Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
      She turned to him and said, "Rabboni!" 
(John 20:15-16)


Her heart was already broken. Her life already disrupted. What little peace remained to her was in taking care of the dead body. Yet even that little comfort had been stolen. All that was left was turmoil, tears, and bitterness. 

The dynamics surrounding Mary Magdalene richly mirror dynamics felt by so many in the queer community. The frustration, the disappointment, the turmoil, the tears all express the experience of queer folk in the face of patronizing heteronormative attitudes. We seek a little peace, but even in the early dawn we are hounded by the cries lifted up against us.

Like Mary we are not sure where to turn. All we can grasp is that the world doesn't make sense, but we cannot grasp how to make sense, or who can make sense. We cling to what we expected, only to come up empty handed in the face of the unexpected.

In the midst of her turmoil, Jesus names Mary. The naming is more than just recognition. It is granting identity, it is speaking to the heart of the life and saying I know you intimitely for I know the very foundation of what makes you who you are. 

I confess that when I'm lost in turmoil all I really want is someone to call my name. Someone to hold my hand, someone to embrace me, that I may know I'm not losing my mind, or have been so overwhelmed that I've slipped into a dream life and lost touch with my real life.

Mary Button's rendering of the scene as solidarity with those in protest, renders the result of being named. Resolved is quickened and an understanding of "what to do next" is clarified. 

Button says of her painting: 
History has stigmatized Mary Magdalene, ignoring her deep inter truth in favor of reckless speculation about possible sexual relationships with Christ and John the Baptist…

It is only fitting that Mary Magdalene would accompany the women in this painting (Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer), who together challenged systematic discrimination agains LGBT people in our nation's highest court.

Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb apprehensive, confused, and unsure of herself. Jesus names her, hands her back her identity and self-hood. So it is when LBGTQIA people receive their identity from the hand of the Sacred, we are made whole, loved, and empowered.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Meaning Making (John 18:37-38a)

       Pilate Said, "So you're a King?
       Jesus replied, "You say I'm a King. I was born and came into the world for one purpose - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice."
       "Truth? What is truth?" asked Pilate.
John 18:37-38a



This is an interesting exchange between Jesus and the Roman Procurator of Palestine during the trial which will send Jesus to the cross. The Gospel of John gathers up several of it's threads here. Jesus is from outside this world and has come into it. Jesus bears witness to God (referred to in this passage as "the truth"), and every who responds to Jesus is in fact responding to God.


But when I read this interchange as a queer person, other themes seem to rush forward, especially Pilate's question, "What is truth?" No longer do we perceive truth to be eternal as the writer of John did. Now days truth is much more contextualized as an understanding which arises within a particular social location and is open up to critique by the experience of those who live in other settings. I wrestle with this more fully in my exploration of the "truth" of Jesus as Christ in the post entitled A Queer-Centric Christology.

What is of interest for me in this dialogue between "Rome" and "God," as John would have us see it, is their struggle to make meaning with each other. 

John, as all Gospels are want to do, makes Pilate an innocent bystander to the death of Jesus, even though execution by crucifixion was a Roman prerogative. Much like certain detractors want to paint themselves as innocent of queer bashing by pointing to the bible and the "queer-hating God" who they naively believe stands behind it. Of course our own experience is that we are "born this way." Or to be more theological - God creates us queer.

We and our detractors find ourselves like Jesus and Pilate, two opponents locked in debate. One speaks of truth, the other critiques the truth. My problem is that I don't know which is which. Is Jesus critiquing the truth of Rome? Is Pilate critiquing the truth of Jesus? Is it a mutual critique? Both of them are struggling with how to make meaning of this interaction from their own social context. Their failure to be in conversation and to move beyond debate will prove disastrous, costing an innocent victim his life. 

The same can be said for the present standoff between anti-gay factions and pro-gay dissenters. Already too many innocent people have lost their lives. Too many innocent families have been torn apart. Too many innocent communities have been disrupted. 

Meaning making is a communal act where we come together with our separate truths. Yet, instead of being in debate, we engage each other in deep listening. From this listening we begin to discern the wisdom of each other and, in that wisdom, allow a sense of what is true to organically emerge; always aware that this sense is at best partial and never fully complete. 

John's Gospel wants us to see Jesus as the truth. Yet, when I read this passage and see only debate, I sense a deeper invitation to enter into meaning making so that innocent ones do not wind up crucified.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Continuing to Overcome (John18:8,10)



        "I told you that I am he," Jesus said."And since I am the one you want, let these others go." ... Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest's slave. But Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?"
John 18:8,10


His breathing is rapid. His arms unsteady as the adrenaline ebbs from his muscles. Blood splattered the ground. By violence he intended to stop the inevitable course of events. Yet instead of being a hero, he became the object of a teachable moment.

As a person of the christian faith, this scene of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane resonates deeply within, as events portrayed here bring us ever closer to the passion of Jesus. As a gay person I also see other dynamics at play as Peter wields his sword as a crazed and fearful individual. His back is up against the proverbial wall. The betrayer and the soldiers have arrived to drag Jesus off. Peter's life, his world view, his understanding of how reality is structured is threatened to be extinguished. So he acts. He acts out of love, or fear, or desperation, or a combination. He acts by lashing out. This arrest cannot go forward. This cohort of sinister intentions must be stopped. But they cannot be stopped and Peter must humble himself in the face of history's movement.

Peter reminds me of the anti-gay folks. History's current (at least for the moment) is moving toward marriage equality and full rights for gays and lesbians. We do face "Peters" with their drawn swords, and make no mistake they are out for blood. In these times of celebration let us not forget to steady ourselves for the violent lashing out of our detractors.

This is one of the reasons I believe we must bring our haters along with us. We must help those who have privilege and station to understand why, when those things are denied to some individuals, the wider community suffers. Peter is angry at Judas, at the Roman's, at the powers that be, but it's a slave's ear that gets cut off: Judas, the Roman's, and the powers that be escape unharmed. In our anger and in our frustrations we must not lose our civility and the appreciation that being in conversation is the most powerful tool we have.

Russia can be bombastic about it's anti-gay laws. The Olympic Committee can pander about like a pompous buffoon. Families can turn us out onto the street. Yet the inexorable march of gay rights moves forward one conversation at a time inviting people to examine their unconscious structure of sex and sexuality, or gender roles and assumed norms. 

I am no romantic, it takes hard, hard work for these conversations to shift dominate thinking patterns. It also takes a mutual willingness for those in dialogue to hear, respect, and revision reality together. But I think Jesus is right in pointing out that the alternative of blood splattered swords and earless slaves lessens all of us. 

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Taboo Crossing (John 13:2-5)

        The Devil had already convinced Judas Iscariot, begot of Simon, to betray Jesus. So during supper, Jesus - knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God - rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin to wash the disciples' feet, and dry them with a towel that was around his waist. 
John 13:2-5



Clothes are removed. Water is poured. A solitary figure, dressed only in a towel kneels before a basin, inviting feet to be cleansed.

Charles Fillmore has a wonderful quote about feet: "The feet are the most willing and patient servants of the body. They go all the day at the bidding of the mind..." The feet are a rather busy pair, they have to be-in-step, and sometimes we even have to step-it-up. We might be accused of dragging-our-feet, or even of dancing-with-two-left-feet. But if we work hard we might get our foot-in-the door and even go toe-to-toe. For sure we don't want to be under-foot, or worse, shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot. Certainly our feet have carried us in marches, parades, and other places of public and private displays of queer love.

With so much riding on our feet, it's a wonder we don't honor them more.

Bathing feet was an expectation in arid, dessert lands. The homeowner, typically male, was expected to provide guests with foot washings, typically done by a servant or a wife. Which means that in the act of hospitality there was a practice of rigid patriarchal structure. This structure both welcomed and confined. The guest is welcomed, the foot-washer is confined to a demeaning role.

By taking on the role of the foot-washer, Jesus both welcomes his guests (the disciples) and offends them at the same time. Just beyond the verses cited, Peter argues with Jesus over this taboo-crossing act. In the context of John's Gospel, the action is a living parable underlying the servant nature of binding oneself as a disciple to Jesus.

Beyond the immediate context, the actions speak of the courage and rightness to cross rigid boundaries which divide people into above and below, master and slave, male and female. By this simple action Jesus throws into confusion the structure of society. Splho captures this fracturing and displacement in his cubist rendition of the scene. Jesus' transgression of the norm cast the "society" (the composition of the painting) into strong angels "cutting" at the society, as it were.

Here, for us queers, is a marvelous affirmation of our transgression of the rigid taboos which keep us in the submissive role - "below," "slave," and "female" (with female understood through the lens of patriarchy). Here also is an example to the heterosexual community that taking on the submissive role does not diminish us as a human, but rather expands our spirits.

Which, in a way, brings us back to John's context. How shall we witness this act Church? Have we so thrown our lot in with the "above," "master," and "male" that we no longer recognize in this act our own "masters" directions to us? Are we so concerned with being at the top of the power structure that we cannot follow our Savior into the diminutive role of foot-washer?

However these questions might be answered, we religious queers and allies once again find ourselves reminding the Church of what it has long forgotten: when we trespass upon sacred taboos, and chip away rigid gender and social roles, God celebrates with us.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Unbinding (John 11:43-44)

      Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
     And Lazarus came out of the tomb, still bound hand and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus told the crowd, "untie him and let him go free"
John 11:43-44


Lazarus Come Out, by Larry Farris
http://fineartamerica.com/featured/1-lazarus-come-out-larry-farris.html

Like Mary and Martha - Lazarus' sisters - the queer community knows death. Sisters and brothers beaten, jailed, killed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. It's enough to handle these external threats to life, but we also have to handle the internal threats. Self-loathing, born of internalized heteronormative attitudes, erupts within many souls of our community as suicide. The statistics speak for themselves. Within the general US population the suicide attempt rate is 1.6%. Heterosexual teen suicide attempt rate is 4%. LGB teen suicide attempt rate is 20%. Transsexual suicide attempt rate is 41% (source CDC). Then there is, of course, disease, with the great plague of our times - AIDS - having swept away many friends and loved ones. Yes the queer community is accustomed to death.

To add to our sorrow are the metaphorical deaths we receive in our psyche. The rejection which comes from public detractors, the fear shown by some of our own families, the "friends" who keep reminding us that we are in the "wrong." We react in a variety of ways. Unfortunately among them are self-hatred, alcohol and substance abuse, and other self-negating behavior that stops short of suicide yet, is just as life denying.

Like Martha and Mary we shed our tears for the great loss of life and love from our community.

We discover in this story that the Divine is not satisfied with death and decay and moves to establish life and joy. In christian terms we call this resurrection. Queer folk, like Lazarus, also know resurrection. Every time we come out, every time we "represent," we participate in resurrection. For a good article on the dynamics of Lazarus' raising and coming out see: The Raising of Lazarus and the Gay Experience of Coming Out, over at The Wild Reed.

What interest me here is that which follows the raising of Lazarus. He comes out of the tomb, yet still wrapped in the trappings of death. The process is not complete until Jesus directs the crowd to unbind the wrappings. It invites us to ponder the recent straight community's "tomb breaking" by which it is letting go of the death dealing anti-gay attitudes of the past. It seems to me that we who are queer should be about unbinding the straight community, which is also caught up in the deadly legacy of the heteronormative.

The command is for all of us to emerge from what entombs us. The invitation is to assist our neighbors in being unbound from death's heritage.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fugue on Sexuality (John 9:1-2)

As Jesus walked along, he saw someone who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, "Rabbi, was it this individual's sin that caused him the blindness or that of the parents?"                   John 9:1-2
http://www.jesusmafa.com
"Who sinned?" is the religious way of asking, "Who's fault is this?" We like to know where blame lies. Once we figured out who to blame, then we know who to shame. Our passage asks who bears shame for this man's blindness - him or his parents? Obviously, the disciples did not live in a world in which blindness "happens" as a contingency of simply being alive.

Similarly we find ourselves emerging from a worldview in which gender and sexual diversity have been considered a "fault" of some short. Who sinned that this girl is queer? What happened that this boy is transgender? Today we mask this question as scientific research. Did the individual have a childhood trauma? Did something happen in vitro? The continuing search for an "answer" to the queer "question" assumes a hetero-centric predisposition that gender and sexual diversity is not a given in life, but something abnormal to it, and therefore "caused."

Let me note here that some in the queer community have suffered trauma. I am not looking to belittle or pass off these experiences. I just wish to point out that the search for a "cause" for homosexuality unmasks the heteronormative bias against sexual diverstity.When was the last time you heard about a search for the cause of heterosexuality? We inhabit a world in which heterosexuality simply is. It is hard to locate scientific papers, religious treaties, psychological case studies into the rise of heterosexuality. Most such works exist to underscore heterosexuality's distinctiveness in the face of all things queer.

I much prefer the insights of Susan Halcomb Craig, a bisexual minister. For her sexuality is the given and all expressions, even heterosexuality, are variations. Sexuality is much like a musical fugue, she writes, where the main theme is enunciated then transformed into musical phrasing repeated in variations of the interweaving voices. Likewise, Human sexuality is the main theme and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, gay, and even heterosexual voices are but the various interweaving expressions of this one theme. ("Bisexuality: Variations on a Theme" in Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love)

Who sinned that we are queer?

"And Jesus answered, 'It wasn't because of anyones' sin - not this person's, nor the parents'. Rather, it was to let God's work shine forth in this person.'" (vs. 3)



Thursday, September 5, 2013

Stoning Ourselves (John 7:6a-8)

Jesus simply bent down and started tracing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in their questioning, Jesus straightened up and said to them, "Let the person among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her." Then he bent down again and wrote on the ground.


Christ Writes in the Dust by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
http://clivehicksjenkins.wordpress.com/category/the-woman-taken-in-adultery/
The couple was caught in the act of adultery. This must be understood, or what follows will not be wonderful. The couple was caught in mid act. He was humping. She was grunting. He was disappointing a wife and children. She was flaunting her sexuality.

The crowd catches the unfortunately indiscreet couple. The man, it seems, stepped out of the picture rather quickly. The sexualized woman caught in the midst of an erotic moan, is brought before Jesus for condemnation.

We - gender and sexually diverse people - stand with the woman, our sister. Confused. Frustrated. Anxious. Angry. The target of religious ridicule and humiliation we are trotted out so that others may feel good about themselves; trotted out so that righteousness may be reinforced. While we may not have been caught - as queers we're more apt to parade our sexuality - we are still trotted out as a modern sign of what happens when a society fails to honor God. 

It seems that Jesus would have something to say here. Something to add to the crowds growing frenzy of piety and religious anger. We have in her - in us - the very throbbing of rebellion against God by those who cannot, or choose not to curtail their sexuality. "This one has been caught in the act. Join us, Jesus, in her public demise. Call us to cast our stones. Look we already have them in hand!"

Now, it is comforting to understand the crowd as "them," those aligned against us. But that would violate the intention of the text. The crowd is also you and I. The passage calls us to ponder our own righteous anger and the stones in our own hands. The harshest critique of this blog came from a fellow queer. Someone who did not want that type of behavior, from those type of men and women, associated with their own expression of queerness. 

It would be nice to say that all judgmental attitudes belong to "them." However, we must own - I must own - my personal participation in the crowd. Which is why Jesus' scribbling on the ground  frustrates me. "Come on Jesus, this one has been caught in the very act of gay bashing. Let's tosh a few stones as the right is on our side, and right makes might!"

Jesus scribbles on, refusing to become a part of the uproar and flurry. Even as sex juices are running down the girls legs, Jesus refuses to become a part of the crowd. I am stumped. I want the Sacred to join me in my anger.  I want to be blessed in my attitude of judgement. I want to be sanctioned to throw my stone.

Jesus has just taken all that away, and left me with the stark reality that even though a part of the crowd, I am her. Taking Hicks-Jenkins portrait as a cue, it means the stones hidden behind the men's backs, the rope placed around the woman's neck are stones I hide from myself, rope I attach to myself. A haunting reminder that until our detractors are also liberated from the binding and tortures of homophobia, we will always be caught up in a crowd, angry at an "other."

So - do we throw the first stone? Jesus never denies that it is our right. Or do we recognize in "them" the same faults that exist in us and work for wholeness of the full human community?


Thursday, August 29, 2013

Self-Narratives (John 5:5-6)

One person there had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus, who knew this person had been sick for a long time said, "Do you want to be healed?"
John 5:5-6


Self Portrait - Vexed by Liz Canning
As the lame man lay beside the pool of healing - yet helpless to get into the pool - so am I caged by my own self-narrative. I cannot go anywhere my narrative does not allow. This is not necessarily a lament, after all, I have a life's investment in my self-narrative. I want people to know it. I want to be known by it.

The story I tell myself about myself helps to create who I am in this world. Simply put, we are who we say we are. Like a blanket of protection, I snuggle deep within my self-narrative. Any challenges to our self-narratives are often difficult for us to grasp. When other's tell us something different from what we tell ourselves it throws us out of sorts. Those who have taken part in an intervention on either side, know how difficult the conversations around self-narratives are.

Jesus' questioning the lame man is such a challenge. The man's narrative is "Thirty-eight years and still lame." He is a victim of the capriciousness of life. Before he is a person, he is a cripple. Before he is a child of the universe, he is a child of bad luck.

Gender and sexual diverse persons are suspect to victim narratives. Depending upon our particular journey we may experience ourselves as children of fear before we are children of courage; as children of disgrace before we are children of God. When derogatory epitaphs as faggot, dyke, tranny, freak are aimed at us we know ourselves as children of scorn before we know ourselves as children of love.

It is easy to self-identify as victim. Easy to wrap the sufferer's blanket around us for whatever comfort it grants.

Jesus speaks to us: "Do you want to be healed?" Do we want to be identified as something other than shame? Wouldn't we rather be called beautiful instead of repugnant? Wonderful instead of disgusting? Awesome instead of filthy?

Do we want to be healed?

This simple question reminds us that while detractors will continue to make us the targets of slander and anger, we do not have to be victimized. We do not have to agree with the labels used against us. We do not have to assess our expression of love through the filters of hetero-centric hate.

Do I want to be healed? Yes I do! And with this "yes" I must let go of the bitterness, the wounds, the frustrations, and the disappointments, that while a part of my story, do not need to define the core theme of my narrative. Even though queer, we are children of the cosmos, not some accident of poor genetics. Even though queer, we are children of God, not sinners doomed to judgment. Even though wounded, ours is the gift of wholeness and affirmation.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Do We Need an Alpha Male God? (John 4:48)

Jesus replied, "unless you people see signs and wonders, you won't believe."
 John 4:48
Hunky Brokeback Mountain Jesus
for a great article on "Hunky Jesus" please see Kittredge Cherry
http://gayspirituality.typepad.com/blog/2011/05/hunky-jesus-contest-a-queer-way-to-reclaim-christ.html
What miracle do I need to experience before I believe? What will convince me that God exists? What tangible manifestation can give expression of intangible reality? On the reverse, why does God seem to be more hidden than revealed? Is faith always a struggle for clarity?

This thing called faith is a bit fuzzy for me. It waxes and wanes. More fluid than substance, faith is the stream I can never step into twice. The flowing water of faith changes by the time my second foot gets planted in the stream. What is "God" to me one day is but only an image or mythic expression the next.

The rather stringent parental god of my youth gave way to the Ground of Being in my early adulthood. Now the ground of being melts away as the God of emergent horizon captures my religious imagination and calls me to worship. I know the spiritual quest I am on  searches out the thin places where the vail is removed and God is comprehended. I also know that there are other quests where the need for certainty is not as prominent, and I honor those other quests as well.

For les-gay-bi-trans-queer-intersex-asex persons the ability to experience God is hampered by the supposed heterosexuality of God. Unconsciously in the dominant monotheisms it is assumed that as we approach God we approach an older white (or middle eastern) heterosexual male. Even for those who are not as concrete in their imaging of God, the tacit thought still abides that God's self-expression is from the capacity of a straight alpha male.

It has been assumed that those who are not older, or male, or heterosexual need this God's presence mediated to us. No wonder gender and sexual diverse persons have difficulty accessing God. Not only is God's sexuality removed from us, but the assumed form of mediation has been used, still is used, to hound us.

I have made more than one person angry because of explorations into what is deemed blasphemous images of God such as a BDSM-slave Christ, a sex-positive God, a lesbian-expressive Holy Spirit. None of these images, have particularly produced faith in those offended by them, for they do not confirm to the culturally valid image of a fag-hating God, or a least a God who hates the same things I hate.

I wonder if Jesus' critique of needing signs and wonders for belief is apropos to the need by the dominate culture to enforce its image of God. Can we paraphrase Jesus as "unless you people see only the culturally approved God, you will not believe"? If we can paraphrase Jesus in this manner, then what are the implications for those who, in honesty, must answer "yes"?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Water Sports (John 4:9-10)


The Samaritan woman replied, “You’re a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” – since Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans.  Jesus answered, “If only you recognized God’s gift, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him for a drink instead, and he would have given you living water.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                                                   John 4:9-10
Bad Bad Boy by Tommi Toija
http://www.anorak.co.uk/363693/politicians/eight-metre-tall-naked-man-pissing-in-a-river-makes-waves-in-sweden.html/#more-363693
Samaritans/Jews, Romans/Barbarians, Europeans/Turks, Colonizers/Native Peoples – history is full of divisions. Of course we have our own experience of the Gay/Straight divide. I call this division the “big assumption.” We just assume that it is proper and is to be honored.

In the encounter of John 4 is a Samaritan female rebuffing the advances of a Jewish male; maintaining the divide over something as simple as a request for water. This divide is deep, for a long and tortuous history between the two ethnicities is at work here. 

There may also be another ancient divide in play, the divide between a prostitute and her John. That the woman is by herself at the well is unusual and may be a sign that she is ostracized by “proper” society. That she is at the well by herself talking to a man who is by himself certainly raises eyebrows. Her rebuff may hide a more provocative business request. The ancient divide between a sex worker and her customer seems to simmer below the innuendos and retorts.

Jesus is not concerned for such rifts. His concern is for reconciliation. He invites the woman to consider the price of reunion. The woman will need to let go of her narrative. Even in this longer passage the woman wrestles with giving up her claim on that which gives her identity: her sense of heritage, her claim to respectability, her sense of God. The woman will need to relinquish her truth and allow it to enter into deeper understanding by another.

It strikes me that to resolves the present animosity in some quarters between queer and straight folks, we need to observe the model between the Samaritan woman and Jesus. What does it mean for the heteroarchial complex to relinquish its claim to the heritage as the dominant sexual paradigm? What does it mean for queer people to set aside our sense of victimization for a narrative of overcoming?

Part of the US Civil Rights movement had a component which understood that true equality also meant liberating “white society” from its own blinders. White America is just as much trapped in the racial conundrum as is African Americans. Where the Civil Rights movement genuinely triumphs is in the liberation of all, and just not a few.

If we who are queer are going to change society in an authentic and sustainable way, we must reach out and work toward reconciliation with straight folks. If we don’t we will always be the “other.”

As we see in this exchange between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, reconciliation is hard work. We must set aside the very things that identify us as “us” and them as “them,” so a new identity of “we” may emerge. This, Jesus reminds us, is the long sought drink of living water.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Nicodemus Comes Out (John 3:3)


Jesus gave Nicodemus this answer: “The truth of the matter is, unless one is born from above (or ‘anew,’ or ‘again’), one cannot see the kindom of God.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                         John 3:3

Untitled photo by Zanele Muholi
http://www.seattleglobalist.com/2013/01/29/south-africa-zanele-muholi-lesbian-experience/9779

In the church of my youth the encounter between Jesus and this Pharisee and Sanhedrin member – Nicodemus – was given as proof that to be authentically spiritual you needed to be “born again.” Born-Again christianity is the prevailing expression of faith in Christ in the USA, giving “American christianity” an emphasis on conversion from sin and sinful behavior to salvation and its attending compliant behavior of church morality. It is the expectation of born-again christianity that in our experience of conversion, we queer people will choose to be straight, which fits church morality. Salvation for faggots and dykes is a reorientation to all attitudes heterosexual.

Yet it is intriguing that in the very story from which born-again christians take their name, there is no mention of sin and salvation. Rather, Jesus speaks of birth and rebirthing. The image played upon is not one of reorientation, but of emerging and coming out. Nicodemus and Jesus did not discuss correct versus incorrect behavior. Nicodemus and Jesus discussed a fuller and richer birth into life: “… unless one is born from above” is the Johannine Jesus way of saying that if we want to live life to the fullest we need to be enfolded in the Sacred so that the Sacred may emerge through our lives.

Nicodemus, trapped in the expectations of his fellow religious leaders, needs to name and claim the burgeoning reality taking shape within him – here the dawning of God’s realm. He wrestles with how to live the life seeking expression through him. Queer folks should recognize at once, that what Nicodemus is wrestling with is the coming out process.

The story tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus “by night.” It could as easily said that Nicodemus met Jesus in the closet, for the reality which once contoured Nicodemus’ life are giving way to a new heaven and a new earth that will mark him as different. This dynamic parallels the process of queer boys and girls and adults to allow innate dynamics to shape our lives and mark us as “different.”

In this process we find Jesus present as midwife, welcoming Nicodemus out of the closet and blessing Nicodemus’ expression of the burgeoning reality within. 

As we ponder this process, whether we call it “birth” or “coming out,” the biblical language becomes cryptic. The process is the work of the Spirit. Yet, we cannot pin the Spirit down for she is like the wind. Where the wind comes from we don’t know. Where the wind goes we don’t know. All we can be certain of is the effect of the wind: waving grass, swaying trees, cool breezes. 

So it is with the Spirit. We can only speak of her effect on our lives as she emboldens us to move from our closets as her out and proud children.

Monday, July 29, 2013

The Outing of Jesus (John 2:4)


Jesus replied, “Mother, what does that have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
John 2:4

Jesus' First Miracle at a Wedding in Cana, by He Qi
http://pelicandiaries.wordpress.com/inquirers-class/matrimony/
The coming out process, if nothing else, is an interesting dance. Sometimes the steps are intricate and follow strictly established norms. Sometimes the steps are improvisational, leaving us stretched and pulled. 
I confess that I have not finessed coming out. At times I’m blunt, “hey, I’m gay” when all that was asked for was some butter. Other times my timing is wrong, “really, you’re gay and you’re just now telling me?” Then there are times when other straight folk proceed to inform me of the plight of gay people. This last example is a hazard of being in a mixed-orientation-marriage (see Nonconfirming Relationships) and, as a result, not giving off the standard gay signals.
Then there are the times when I weigh if the effort is worth it. Subtly and not-so-subtly people change when they find out your queer. We know that every time we come out, we risk rejection. 
Jesus is wrestling with his timing for coming out. For sure he is not coming out as gay. I know there are those who want to turn Jesus into a literal queer Christ. While there is nothing wrong with such explorations, and they do have their place, in all honesty we cannot accurately make that argument based upon the present material available to us. Even if we throw in speculation about the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” homo-social relations which peppered antiquity, cannot be turned, after the fact, into the contemporary understanding of homosexual relations.
However, make no mistake Jesus is being outed by his mother. Jesus has a secret, and by the plot of John's gospel, he has shared his truth of being God’s Word (see Jn. 1:1-18) with only a small group. Jesus knows that once his truth is out people will change how they relate to him. Jesus also knows that in speaking his truth, he risks rejection. 
We can understand Jesus’ reluctance to out himself. The wedding that he is at is not home turf for him. The crowd is mixed with people he knows and strangers that he does not know. This is neither the place nor the time. Jesus weighs the situation and decides the risk is too great. 
His mother, Mary, however, doesn’t have need of a reluctant Jesus. In short order she outs her son! Mary's focus is on something larger than Jesus’ own comfort zone. There is a friend on whom this wedding will bring shame for he is without the provisions to ensure his guests wellbeing. 
Jesus doesn’t seem to care, but Mary does. 
Coming out is a sacred process by which we create ripples which move through the lives of our friends and families. However, being outed is an act of existential terror by which our most intimate self-understanding is ripped from us. Yet, Mary may provide a critical lesson for us: sometimes the circumstances in which we find ourselves are more pressing than our comfort zones. As we weigh the cost, as we weigh safety, as we weigh risks, we must not lose sight of the larger affects our coming out may have, for the distant shore where the ripples finally play out is often unknown to us. Mary was able to grasp the ripple effect of her son. 
May we view our lives through Mary’s eyes and also cast our glances to the far ripples reaching the distant shores. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Erotic Divine (Song of Songs 7:3-7

Even your feet are lovely, dancing in their sandals, like a ruler’s daughter.
   Your graceful legs are precious jewels, worked by the greatest craftsman of all .
Ah, and your navel is a chalice that I will drink sweetened wine from!
   Your belly is golden, like wheat, and scented of lilies.
Your breasts are the twin fawns of a gazelle,
   and you neck graceful as David’s ivory Tower.                
But your eyes! Looking into them is like looking into those pools of Heshbon, outside the gates of Beth Rabbim.
   And your nose is a delicate as those towers in Lebanon that face out toward Damascus.
Mount Carmel itself is no more elegant than you head,
   with its hair, weaving a tapestry that would ensnare the proudest man.
Oh, my pretty one, what a delight you are to look on, with all of your love-charms!
Song of Songs 7:3-7


               
Image found at: http://www.mangozeen.com/2012/07/16/health/good-news-for-some.htm


This is the voice of the Lover. This is he/she who our audacious sister has sought after. This is the one who the Daughters of Jerusalem cheered for. This is the one who the Guards were jealous of.

It is with the Lover that I find myself at odds with most modern commentators on the Song – whether conservative, moderate, or liberal. Modern interpreters, in order to counter abuse of this biblical book, have removed God as the subject, the Lover. On the one hand I applaud this move and the rediscovery of human eroticism as a gift celebrated in scripture.

On the other hand there are passages which, once God is removed as the subject, make no sense through the lens of human relations. Two key passages for me are 2:8-13 which portray a creation event, and 3:6-11 which allude to Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness and the construction of the Jerusalem Temple (also see 1:5 which mentions the curtains in the Temple).

Due to these references I personally read the Song on two levels. One level is about the love between a human beloved and a human lover. The other level is about the human beloved and the Divine Lover. I have found this second level a hard sale in today’s culture. While earlier christians and jews had no problem locating the erotic in the Divine, contemporary believers – even queers – find this a stumbling block. Instead of raising up eros as God’s primary movement toward us, we have raised up a rather sanitary agape love.

Agape love has become understood as God’s objective, non-judgmental love for us. Notice how sterile God is. Objective – God is removed from us, at a distance, not involved. Non-judgmental – there is no passion, no desire, just a neutral type of love exerting its influence much as gravity exerts its influence regardless of the consequences. We moderns like this God – distant and a bit cold, yes, but at least this God will not challenge us or confront us. This God is very predictable and we like the predictable.

Now imagine, if the erotic, the great burning and wholly unpredictable energies of embodied love and lust mark God’s actions toward us. A Divine Lover is impulsive, playing coy, here one day and the object of our searching the next. A Divine Lover is volatile embracing us with complete acceptance, yet holding us to strict standards. A Divine Lover is fickle, picky, nitpicky, and fussy much like the leather Jesus above. Little wonder we moderns have raised agape over eros to construct a slightly safer – though less inspiring – God.

Yet, the ultimate risk of locating the erotic in the heart of the Divine is that God can be acted on by creation. Agape keeps God safely removed from creaturely influence. Eros has lovers shaping one another in the midst of the relationship. The crux of being in love is that “Neither lover constructs the other without being affected themselves – without becoming part of the story or entering the picture"(J. Cheryl Exum, Song of Songs, A Commentary). Here’s the God who dances with us, who makes for us the nuptial bed, who consummates a relationship with us, leaving us pregnant with possibilities even as we have left our lover wanting more. This is the Lover of the Song – the great Erotic Divine. Let us be thankful.