Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Shout Out to Allies (Song of Songs 1:4b; 5:1c; 5:8-9; 6:1; 6:13a/7:1a; 8:5a)

In celebration of the US Supreme Court striking down DOMA and Prop 8

(Daughters of Jerusalem) Oh, you are sweet; let us drink you!
                                                You make us higher than any wine. (1:4b)

(Daughters of Jerusalem) Eat, friends, and drink!
                                                Sate yourselves, oh lovers. (5:1c)

(Audacious Woman) Oh, you daughters of Jerusalem,
                                                I swear to you –
                                                 if you find my lover tell him –
(Daughters of Jerusalem) Tell him what?
(Audacious Woman) Tell him I am dizzy with love!
(Daughters of Jerusalem) This shepherd of yours – tell us
                                                                how is that he is so better than the others,
                                                that you, the most beautiful among women,
                                                                should search for him in the night?
                                                Tell us, tell us – what does he have
                                                                that makes you swear of your love? (5:8-9)

(Daughters of Jerusalem) So where did he go, this lover of yours,
                                                oh, most beautiful among women?
                                             Which way did he turn, this sweet shepherd?
                                                We will seek him with you! (6:1)

(Daughters of Jerusalem) Turn, turn, Oh Shulammite,
                                                turn, turn; turn before us,
                                                 that we might gaze upon you. (6:13a or 7:1a depending upon the translation)

(Daughters of Jerusalem) And who is here, coming up from the fields
                                                of the gazelle and the deer – so weak
                                                with her love she must lean upon her dear? (8:5a)
Song of Songs

Kindergartners Support Acceptance
Who are these “Daughters of Jerusalem” in the Song of Songs? Why do they continue to be misunderstood by straight commentators? What import might they have for queers?

Some commentators also add to their voices verses 1:8, 3:6-1, 6:10, 8:8-9. Commentators tend, with good reason, to see the Daughters as a kind of Greek chorus giving directions of plot for the reader to transition through gaps in the narrative. Yet, unlike the Greek chorus, the Daughters never directly address us the readers of the Song.

Instead the Daughters address the audacious woman of the Song. They praise her lover “You make us higher than any wine.” They cheer her in love making, “Sate, yourself, oh lovers.” They tease her, “This shepherd of yours – how is he better than others?” They join her in the hunt for the lover, “We will seek him with you.” They encourage her, “Turn… that we might gaze upon you.” Finally, they laugh when she is weakened by love, “And who is here, coming up from the fields… so week with her love…”

Straight commentators have missed the true role of the Daughters, for straight commentators seldom need to have allies defend their expressions of love. The audacious woman and we queer people do. The woman has already told us she is outside the bound of respectable behavior (Forbidden Eroticism). Like her, queers have been told, and in certain circles are still told, we are outside the boundary of reasonable erotic behavior.

Enter our allies and friends – straight people who, out of love and their sense of equality, stand with us in the midst of the prejudice. Straight allies play an essential role in combating bullying and championing for queer youth in school, queer colleagues at work, and queer family members at home. Gay-Straight Alliance clubs, supportive family, friendly co-workers, all act in ways to provide safe places to be queer that the queer movement by itself cannot provide. Like the Daughters of Jerusalem, allies make significant contribution to the wellbeing of queer people through understanding and acceptance.

For many queer communities June is Pride Month: a time to be visible and loud in all our rainbow beauty. Some of that beauty is the allies in our lives, without whom we would be confined to our queer ghettos. May we, like the audacious woman of the Song of Songs, enjoy the company of those who praise our partners, cheer our love making, tease us, join us in the hunt for love, encourage us, and laugh with us.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Looking for Ms/Mr Right (Song of Songs 4:16-5-1)

Winds of the south and winds of the north, wake up and blow now:
breath through my garden, drive him mad with my fragrance, draw him into my garden;
let his tongue stop its talking, let it taste my choice fruits
            I enter your garden, my sister-bride, to gather myrrh and spice.
            I eat of your honeycomb, and drink honeyed wine with sweet milk.
                     Eat, friends, and drink!
                     Sate yourselves, oh lovers.
Song of Songs 4:16-5-1
Hugs by Raphael Perez
The audacious woman of the Song of Songs is stretched nude upon her bed. The musky sexual scents of her body lure her lover. His tongue ceases its chatter and becomes a tool of pleasure. Tasting. Eating. Drinking. Eros longed for union of giving and receiving, of partaking in intimate delight has come to pass. Yet, like so many things in the muddled world of human Eros, it will prove difficult to hang onto. Even the Song of Songs is given more to searching than to finding.

You don’t need to be queer to experience the pangs of Eros yearning. The longing to be connected at deep personal and intimate levels is universal across the sexual continuum. Eros, as passionate longing, may indeed be the sexuality of which all human sexual expressions, including heterosexuality, arise from and return to.

Eros creates the primary boundary of our lives. “In the interval between reach and grasp, between glance and counterglance, between ‘I love you’ and ‘I love you too,’ the absent presence of desire comes alive” (Anne Carson). 

The “absent presence” is the very warp and weft of the Song of Songs. The lover is out there. But until the certainty of union, we can only glimpse, guess at, and catch echoes of what we seek. Our anticipation, longing, and expectation contours Eros within us as we seek to express it with the assurance of sensual gratification and contentment.

Eros is both friend and fiend to queer and straight alike. He - Eros is male in both Greek and Roman mythology - He opens us up and brings forth vulnerable trusting in the other - the lover. He also drives us into areas which can be quite dark and dangerous for the human soul as we seek Ms/Mr Right with whom we can share our vulnerability with ease and happiness.

Too many queer men have sought this subtle inner pleasure in relationships which have the potential for debasement. Left wanting by the mere physicality of sex, some gay men are driven to seek more and more partners. It is clich├ęd among some corners of the gay male community that “it’s just sex, have as many partners as you can.” Yet, the orgasm is fleeting. We recharge, connect with another unnamed body in hopes that from this one some deeper lasting connection may emerge.

Anne Carson speaks to this all too human conundrum, “But the boundaries of time and glance and 'I love you' are only aftershocks of the main, inevitable boundary that creates Eros: the boundary of flesh and self between you and me. And it is only, suddenly, at the moment when I would dissolve that boundary, I realize I never can” (Eros the Bittersweet).

The Song disagrees with Carson’s final conclusion. Trusting love can indeed dissolve and cross this final boundary. We must be open to the point of trusting our vulnerabilities to the night air in anticipation that the lover, our lover will find us.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Kicked Out in the Name of God (1 King 9:22-23, 41-43 )

Then Solomon stood before the altar of God in the presence of the whole assembly of Israel, with hands spread out to heaven, and said, “Adonai, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above and on the earth below – keeping your Covenant of love with your servants who continue wholeheartedly to be faithful to you with all their hearts….
“And the foreigners as well, those who do not belong to your people Israel, if they come from a distant country for the sake of your Name – for they will hear of your Name, of  your mighty hand and outstretched arm – if they come and worship in this Temple, then hear from heaven where your home is, and do whatever the foreigners ask of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your Name and revere you, as do your people Israel, and may know that this house I built bears you name.”
1 King 9:22-23, 41-43

Artist Michael Soi
This is the prayer given at the time of the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. It is as much a political statement as it is a religious statement about the emergent self-identity of the people. As is befitting a prayer on such an august occasion, it strikes themes scattered throughout the Hebrew Scriptures: the incomparable glory of God, covenant, sin and mercy, and the place of the foreigner (Gentile) in the congregation of Israel.

It is the inclusion of the foreigner which grabs my attention. Adonai is an ethnic God, belonging solely to Israel. In covenant Israel belongs to God, and God belongs to Israel. The temple in Jerusalem in planed in such a way as to screen people not of the in-group out: first the foreigner, then the female, then the lay male (not of the priest hood), then the priests, until at last there is the solitary figure of the high priest in the Holy of Holies. 

Queer people are familiar with the experience of being screened from God’s presence. As sexual minorities we are the foreigners in a largely hetero-centric religious matrix. The assumption has been that straight people belong to God, and God belongs solely to straight people. I do wonder if it is the fear of no longer being the “sole” concern of God which drives the religious homophobe to some extent.

Yet, when we hear the bible closely we find that while God is interested in Israel, God is also interested in the foreigner. 

Foreigners are people outside the in-group; peoples whose bloodline laid no claim on the ethnic God of Israel. They are people who could never get to the temple, never get to Jerusalem for they never got the invite to begin with. Sexual minorities are also people who cannot get to sanctuary. Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples, and other organized religion seek to stop us at every turn from entering their sanctuaries. Actually, this is not totally true. We are welcome as long as we encounter the heterosexual god, become convicted of our sexual immorality, give up this “choice,” and live a committed heterosexual life. 

Should we come and encounter the God who confirms us in our innate sexual expression, inviting us to go live out the internal markers of our self-identity – well, that would get us foreigners kicked out of the in-group in the name of their ethnic god.

To be sure there are open, accepting, and LGBTQIA affirmative groups in all organized religions, and they (thankfully) are growing. These traditions have acted on welcoming the foreigner. They have heard the voice of a God who favors inclusion.

In antiquity the temple was the earthly abode of the deity. Rituals of sacrifice and libations were undertaken to “feed and water” the god, as apparently what was good to domesticate animals was also good to domesticate deities. While I may poke a little fun at ancient faith practices, I take seriously this invitation to the foreigner to come and be at home with God.

Queers have spent the better part of the last fifty years fighting hard to establish a sense of home which honors diversity and safety. God, we find, has been working for millennia to establish us in such a sacred home. 

Monday, June 3, 2013

If Madonna is a Fake, is Lady Gaga the Real Thing? (Deuteronomy 4:9a)

Take care and be diligent in guarding yourselves, that you do not forget those things which your own eyes have seen. ..
Deuteronomy 4:9a

Madonna lactans by Ambrogio Bergognone

For a few years now we have been told that the emerging spiritual yearning at the beginning of the 21st century is for groups which come together for the purpose of meaning-making, as opposed to being told what to believe. This is the difference between those who are “spiritual” and those who are “religious.” Recently I was asked what meaning-making entailed. Here is what I think it is about:

Let’s say you’re an adult of the sixties and a huge fan of the Beatles. You even get to see them in concert, an event which ranks as one of the highest moments of your life not only for the music, but also for everything the Beatles are and represent. The Beatles break up and the best you can offer your children is the Beatles Experience. A band that copies not only Beatles music, but also their mannerisms, haircuts, accents, and so on, but you know they lack the je ne sais qua of the real group. By the time your grandchildren arrive all that is available is a cover band playing Beatles’ songs, yet having nothing else in common with the original. Now the great grandchildren are on hand and it’s the symphony’s Beatles night, no guitars to be found, little less anything resembling the iconic rock band from Liverpool. This simulation of a simulation for which the original is forgotten is called a “simulacrum.”

It has been suggested that our society’s religious imagination is lost in a never-ending simulacra of god-images in which the authentic God is no longer represented, and therefore, no longer present. “‘This mad pursuit of images’ has led to the point where images no longer represent anything other than other images or previously stated ideas…  (W)e no longer have contact with the simulation’s original meaning” (Richard Lindsay, God, Sex, and Popular Culture, in Queering Religion, vol. 2).

Lindsay gives us a more contemporary example: In our culture the singer Madonna is probably the most public simulacrum. Her career has largely been wrought with the mixing of sexual and religious symbolism.  Taking the stage name “Madonna” put us on notice that “the Mother” was amongst us. She proved, however, only to be a simulation and not the real thing. Madonna could only be “Like a Virgin,” she could only offer up something “Like a Prayer,” and in the end could give an “Immaculate Collection” (a greatest hits album), but no real birth. In spite of all Madonna’s energy, talent, and passion there is no real presence supporting the symbols. They could not lift the veil between the Sacred and the mundane.  They were unable to show us a path into the future. They did not speak to our point of deepest need, walk with us on our journey, or build a bridge to connect us to God. An authentic “Mother” never arrived and the presence these symbols promised never materialized – at least in public.

Lady Gaga enters the scene also playing with sexual and religious taboos; by her own confession an intentional mirroring of Madonna. Yet, as Lady Gaga handles the symbols she also makes meaning out of them, and in making meaning invokes the presence the symbols point to. In the hit song Born This Way, Gaga shares her journey of integrating her bi-sexuality with the image of God as creator. She begins with the familiar Madonna playbook of affront, “It doesn’t matter if you love him, or capital H-I-M.” Gaga then leads us through the reflections of her own mother – her initial “group” for meaning-making. “There’s nothing wrong with who you are” she quotes her mother, “‘cause He made you perfectly.”  With this image of the creator God who makes those on the margins perfect, Gaga is able to declare, “I’m beautiful in my way, ‘cause God makes no mistakes. I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way.”

Both performers play with the same taboo combination of sex and religion. But where Madonna’s symbols were empty of any real presence and could only be used to scandalize, Gaga used her mother’s reflection on God’s creativity to add meaning to God as the designer of diversity. In this act of meaning-making the symbols reveal God, open up a path forward, bring healing, join us on our journey, and connect us to the heart of the Sacred.

If we who are queer are going to find and not forget God, then we must share reflections on our living so as to comprehend in our living the acutal presence of God as Lady Gaga does – which by the way is what the bible calls “incarnation.”

I fully admit that this is risky and messy. Queer theological reflections will not be systematic, or biblically based, or give heed to tradition. If anything such reflections will offend hetro sensitivities. However, there is a chance that these reflections and their conclusions will be organic and authentic, inviting into our lives the very presence of what has become – due to the simulacrum loop – an elusive God.