Saturday, June 28, 2014

God After Midnight (Psalm 89:46-52)

How long, Lord? will you hide yourself forever?
     How long will your wrath burn life fire?
Remember how fleeting is my life.
     For what futility you have created all humanity!
Who can live and not see death,
     or who can escape the power of the grave?
Lord, where is your former great love,
     which in your faithfulness you sword to David?
Remember, Lord how your servant has been mocked,
     how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations,
the taunts with which your enemies, Lord, have mocked,
     with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one.
Praise be to the Lord forever!
Amen and Amen.
Psalm 89:46-52 (NIV)

One of my guilty pleasures is ABBA. I enjoy their music and even own a copy of the movie Mama Mia. One song particularly stays with me, Give Me, Give Me, Give Me. The end of the chorus is rather simple, "Give me, give me, give me a man after midnight. Take me through the darkness to the break of the day." In spite of what one might think about this song running around in a gay man's head that is not why the song remains with me. Instead, through the twists of my life journey the lyrics morphed a bit and became, "Give me, give me, give me a God after midnight." This morphing has helped me to understand that while the God of light is dazzling and fantastic, it is the God of shadows which attracts my spiritual interest. Now to be sure it is the one and same Sacred Reality - even the scriptures attest that God is lord of both day and night. 

This Psalm invites us into the shadows of uncertainty and angst. "How long God? Will you hide yourself forever? (v. 44). Instead of the Promised Land, the psalmist has found the shadowlands. Groping in darkness, hands are extended with the hope that something solid will emerge out of the swirling mists. But all that is found is the disappointment of shadows folding into shadows. 

The sculpture by Ana Maria Pacheco is not a queer themed work of art. Rather it is a political themed work. The artist, now residing in the UK, is originally from Brazil and the piece represents the experience of the Brazilian death squads of the 1970s. Says Patricia Vieira in her book Seeing Politics Otherwise, while reviewing this and other works by Latina/Latino artists, "The experience of torture also lies beyond the mediation of interpretation, and the trauma resulting from the victims non-mediated encounter with reality does not lend itself to symbolic deciphering." In short, one can never make "sense" out of torture. 

Pacheco's sculpture cannot be interpreted even as it fails to interpret the reality to which it points. By what words or images can we relay the terror of indifference that leads to brutality and death? How could we ever explore the inner dialogue of the victim as her/his life is viewed as expendable? Can we, or should we seek to plumb the thought process of those who kill indiscriminately? We could try, but in the end we will fail. Only our own personal encounter with such reality can help us understand. 

All queer people wrestle with the issue of how to interpret or mediate our experience to straight people. In some way we will always fail for our experience lies beyond what can be shared as no word or symbol can carry the full load of what it means to be sexually and gender diverse in a heteronormative world. As we observe the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots we can understand that those gathered acted out, because speaking up could not help "decipher" the experience of oppression. 

This becomes more problematic for queer people of faith as we seek to share our stories in what has traditionally been heteronormative houses of worship. From such worship centers the label of "sinner" has been (and in some cases still is) used to torture all those who do not conform. Our spiritual landscape of the shadowlands lies beyond interpretation. Those who have experienced the underbelly of faith can talk to each other, but those who have not tend to scratch their heads and pass over such spiritual reality as less than faithful. I find it interesting that our psalmist simply ends the psalm without any resolution. "They have mocked every step of your Messiah (anointed one)" is abruptly followed by "Praise be to the Lord forever," as if the psalmist realizes the futility of seeking to explain the shadowlands of faith. 

William James, the father of American psychology and a deeply spiritual person in his own right, described this dynamic as being either "once-born" or "twice-born." The once-born are those for whom God is the parent who keeps them safe and from harm. No concerns have ever arisen to shake their faith. The twice-born are those for whom God is no longer the almighty parent. Twice-born people have wrestled with disappointment in God to find a deeper and more penetrating faith. God, for the twice-born, is One who walks with them through the shadows of a less than perfect life. Or to misquote ABBA, the "God after midnight." 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Penis, a Vagina, Both, or None (Genesis 1:1)

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."                                        
Genesis 1:1

I was born with a penis between my legs. This cosmic event of chromosomes set my life on a "male" course. I was given a readily recognizable male name so that anyone who meets me is aware of what dangles below. Given the era of my childhood, I played with toys and dressed in clothes which also alerted others to what was between my legs. Now mind you, in all this time I don't remember paying much attention to my penis, that would come with puberty, yet my life trajectory was set by it. According to all around me being a boy meant that I was male. I was to do all which "maleness" required of me in my cultural setting. Given where I grew up this consisted mainly in sports agility, scratching myself, light cursing (when no adults were around), and being attracted to girls. 

The course for my brother and me and my sisters was dictated by adults who's outlook on boys and girls was informed by the creation stories of the first and second chapters of Genesis. Somehow the cosmic roulette of chromosomes was the Sacred's plans for the happiness of human families. Family was, of course, defined as a man, a woman, and their children. 

While I was born a boy it would take time to figure out and even more time to own, that I was also born with a sexual attraction for men: others born with a penis between their legs. The creation stories with their emphasis on the binary female-male mating seem to leave little room for sexually and gender diverse people. Measured against these stories we are freaks, abnormal expressions of human loving and pairing. 

Creation stories are important for they express deep abiding realities that order our lives. For the Judeo-Christian tradition the two stories at the beginning of Genesis structure reality for us from the place of humanity on the earth to the place of humanity before the face of God. In both traditions so much weight has been given to these words that it has been assumed all of history flows straightforward from the words "In the beginning…" 

Life is rarely straightforward, at least with penises and vaginas and all those fleshy things that cause us to spew our drinks when spoken of out of context. Life is messy with eddies that curl upon themselves, currents that swiftly flow, and all sorts of obstacles and opportunities along the way. Truth be told, life is a rather winding path. 

The importance of the Genesis creation stories is to be found in their emphasis on creation being a loving act of God. The wonder of the Judeo-Christian tradition is that a glorious God who is love and light and majesty set creation ablaze and now seeks relationship with all that has come forth whether it has a penis, a vagina, both, or none. The painting by Michelangelo has always held power for me. Two hands reaching out, two fingers seeking touch. One is divine the other creature. In the small distance between them lies all the promises of relationship - support, love, challenge. In that intimate space is the invitation to become, as fully as possible, part of God's good creation.