Friday, May 23, 2014

Queer Spirituality (Acts 17:22-31)

     Then Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.
     "Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it - He is Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in shrines made by hands. Neither is He served by human hands as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. From one man He has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. He did this so they might eek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us. For in Him we live and move and exist, as even some of your own poets have said, 'For we are also His offspring.' Being God's offspring then, we shouldn't think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination. 
     "Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has set a day when He is going to judge the world in righteousness by the Man He has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising Him from the dead."
Acts 17:22-31

A fanatic dressed only in a toga stands at the center of debate. His arms saw the air. His voice projects to the back of the amphitheater. He is certain of the dynamics of which he speaks, but many shake their heads no, followed by hoots and hollers. There is resistance to his message. A stiff arm is given this interloper with his new sense of reality. Some hang around, but most leave after the air sawing is done. It was not Paul's finest hour. He was at Athens, the cultural center of the Hellenistic world and that culture judged him, found him wanting, and rejected him.

Paul's argument both built upon and deconstructed the religious sensibilities of the time. He builds upon one of the underlying fears of polytheism - the forgotten or unknown god. Paul uses this chink in the cultural construe of his time to deconstruct that very construe. Paul agrees that there is an unknown God, and that this unknown deity is actually well known. 

Paul begins his construction of God as the creator, the maker of heaven and earth. Paul lets us know that all of us, in our shared humanity, naturally grope for this God, and in finding the creator come to realize that we are children of God. That this God has sealed our fate in the resurrection of Jesus as a sign of the new life which attends God's transformative touch at the level of the soul.  At this juncture Paul builds upon the sensitivities of the people.

Then Paul begins to deconstruct. This God is not found in shrines, nor brought into existence by gold or stone. You do not serve this God by working in a temple to help satisfy an omnipotent clothing choice or meet a divine dietary need. Rather, this God is known directly through acts which take place in human history such as the creation of life, the rescue from bondage, the raising of Jesus. 

It strikes me that the Gay Rights Movement is the work of God in human history. As God raised Jesus, so God works to raise queer people of all stripes from the tomb of heterosexism sealed by the stone of homophobia. And like the message of Paul, so too the message of queer people of faith deconstructs the present religious sensibility. 

Queer spirituality, although far from a monolithic understanding, has in my mind brought into question some of the woefully inadequate spirituality of our own society. Queers celebrate a sex positive God, as opposed to the old sex negative deity of Victorian christianity. Queers celebrate a more fluid, shape-shifting God rather than the old static image of staid religion. Queers offer up a God who takes joy in the eroticism of creation instead of seeking to punish it as an evil by-product. Queers celebrate the God of camp who takes seriously the systemic evils of human culture and lampoons them with a holy humor which only the underbelly of society can truly laugh at. Queers are redeemed by the God who calls us to flourish as creation's children and not to fear the flesh and its desires. 

Queer spirituality resists any notion that seeks to subjugate us into "out" and "in." Queer spirituality treats with suspicion all ideas that classify some as "worthy" and others as "unworthy." Queer spirituality calls evil all that rejects mutual relationships in favor of hierarchical relationships. Queer spirituality refuses to acknowledge as "healthy" the rejection of sons and daughters, of friends and co-workers based on innate markers embedded deep in one's being. Like the crosswalk in Sydney, queer spirituality splashes color across a dab and grey religious culture.  

As with Paul, many will reject this new sensibility. Also like Paul we will continue to spread our understanding, casting the light of knowing onto the God who is still largely unknown.

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