Friday, December 30, 2011

Erotic Authority (1 Samuel 20:17, 41-42; 2 Samuel 1:17, 25-26)

Jonathan pledged his love to David once again, for he loved David as he loved himself…
                …David got up from the side of the mound and prostrated himself on the ground three times before Jonathan. Then they kissed each other and cried together until David’s grief exceeded Jonathan’s. Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace; the two of us have pledged ourselves to one another in the name of Adonai. May Adonai be between you and me, and between your descendants and mine forever”…
                David took up his lament for Saul and Jonathan…
                “How the mighty have fallen!
                In the heat of battle Jonathan lies slain on our heights!
                I grieve for you, my brother, my Jonathan; you were my delight, my sweet!
                Your love was marvelous to me, more wonderful than the love of a woman!      
1 Samuel 20:17, 41-42; 2 Samuel 1:17, 25-26

Upon reading these verses it seems we have a love relationship between two males - one the son of the king, the other the usurper of the king. Gay and lesbian thinkers have seized upon Jonathan and David’s love as a celebration of homosexuality in the bible.

Yet, David tends to slip through our gay fingers. In rushing to portray him and Jonathan as the patron saints of gay love, we lose sight of David’s other sexual intrigues. There are of course his many wives – including Michal, Jonathan’s sister, and the infamous seduction of Bathsheba.

David’s story draws us beyond the parameters of dualistic thinking of straight and gay. If we honestly celebrate his sexuality, David appears bisexual or omnisexual. He seemed to love people for their personality, their way of leaning into life, and no doubt some for the power and prestige they brought into his sphere of influence. Regardless of the motivation, David claims his own erotic authority and moves in relation to people as he deems appropriate.

At the end of David’s story (2 Kings 1:1-4) we find him an old man who cannot stay warm. David’s advisors go out and find him a young, nubile female to “lay” with him. David, however, is not interested in the girl and neither is “little David.” It is a compelling passage leading to all sorts of jock jokes from the pulpit.

I think we have missed what David needed. We have missed it because either David is straight and impotent, or David is gay and not interested. Both understandings lead to the same conclusion – David sees the girl Abishag as a sex object.

But maybe, just maybe, we need to fathom an imponderable – that what David really wants is not sex, but relationship. It seems to me that the failure with the girl is not one of the penis, but rather of the heart. The closing scene of David’s life is tragic – a shivering old man, a bewildered adolescent Abishag. How different it would have been had the king’s advisor not usurped his erotic authority.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Flesh (John 1:14a)

And the Word became flesh…                                                                                                        
                   John 1:14a

We queer folk have a deep ability to live in our bodies. We celebrate and enjoy embodied existence. We love to touch and feel and know through our skin. We also drink in being touched and being known through the flesh. I tingle when the nerve endings clustered around my anus are stimulated. It is a thrill. To appropriately enjoy the God-given pleasures of the body is as much an act of spiritual discipline as is prayer. 

The Sacred apparently had no problems with the body. Not only did God fashion creation for embodied existence, but the writer of the Gospel according to John describes how the Sacred chose to become embodied in creation. The swirl of frosty morning air in the lungs, the feel of moist earth under bare feet, the smell of wildflowers on the wind, the refreshing splash of cool water on a hot face, all  these sensualities of the flesh celebrated by the Sacred. According to the christian story by being fleshed up God’s benevolence became more fully accessible.

Some people seem to be divorced from their bodies. The pleasures they derive from the body appear to cause great grief and turmoil. Certain philosophies have gone so far as to burn the bridge between body and soul. As if they are not one and the same entity. This thinking emphasizes the content of the mind over the content of our character.  Pornography runs rampant as we desperately seek the union of bodily pleasure and soulful existence. We have learned that soul without body is empty and unfulfilled.

Embodied existence is tricky. Some queer brothers and sisters need to examine closely their relationship to their own bodies. Our addiction to toned muscles and zero percent body fat is as dangerous as the split between body and soul. It moves the emphasis from the content of our character to the content of our bodies. This shift is problematic as it allows us to share physical pleasure without the deeper connections of heart and soul. Without this connection we are left wanting. We have learned that flesh without soul is empty and unfulfilled.

If later christian storytelling is accurate the Sacred had no problem with the flesh. Abiding with and becoming embodied so that the church could say Jesus was fully human and fully divine. As a queer I hear in this story that for the Creator the body is not a location of shame or of sin. Rather, the body and bodily experiences are rich enough to enflesh the Holy. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Subversive Sexual Relationships: Joseph, Mary, and Jesus (Matthew 1:18-25)

This is how the birth of Jesus came about.
                When Jesus’ mother, Mary, was engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband, an upright person unwilling to disgrace her, decided to divorce her quietly.
                This was Joseph’s intention when suddenly the angel of God appeared in a dream and said, “Joseph, heir to the House of David, don’t be afraid to wed Mary; it is by the Holy Spirit that she has conceived this child. She is to have a son, and you are to name him Jesus – ‘Salvation’ – because he will save the people from their sins.” All this happened to fulfill what God has said through the prophet:
                                                “The virgin will be with child
                                                   and give birth,
                                                and the child will be named
-  a name which means “God is with us.”
                When Joseph awoke, he did as the angel of God had directed, and they went ahead with the marriage. He did not have intercourse with her until she had given birth; she had a son, and they named him Jesus.                                                                                                                            Matthew 1:18-25

My spine shivers when the story from Matthew is read with solemn honor at Christmas time. A love child, conceived in fornication, is going to save us from sin. I am lost in the incongruity that this bastard child will be God’s presence with us. I am further confused when I begin to ponder the validity this story gives to subversive sexual relationships.

According to the passage, Joseph does not even get to enjoy the wedding night. This may indicate that Joseph did not take Mary as his wife for the purpose of child bearing. If Joseph and Mary did not consecrate their marriage for the purpose of pro-creation, then their marriage, according to the Holiness Code of Leviticus, is suspect and flawed.

Interestingly, it is an angel that leads Joseph into a rather queer lifestyle. This angel tells Joseph not to do the manly thing, or the religious thing, or even the expected thing: which of course is what males, in a milieu of patriarchy, are compelled to do. Joseph is asked to enter into a relationship with an alternative form of sexuality when seen from the outside. Of course, when viewed from within – which is the view of Matthew – we experience a nuanced and tender relationship.

If Joseph is odd in his relationship to Mary, he becomes odder in relation to Jesus. Precious little is said in the biblical gospels about Jesus’ years as a child and teenager. However, when we encounter Jesus as an adult we find him to be knowledgeable in the Torah, wise in the ways of God, and mature in his dealings with others – in short a fine young Jewish male. I’m sure due in no small measure to Joseph’s influence on the bastard child.

How queer of God to lay all this before a man in a dream. Queerer still is Joseph who understood the dream and lived a life of relational integrity.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Infinite Value (Colossians 2:20-23)

So if, in Christ, you’ve really died to the elemental principles of the world, why do you let regulations dictate to you, as though you were still living in the world? “Don’t handle this!” “Don’t taste that!” “Don’t touch those!” These prohibitions concern things that perish with use. They are concerned with human values and regulations. These values and rules – through self-abasement, self-imposed religious practices and false humility – give the impression of true wisdom, but they have no value in restraining licentiousness (wasteful decadence).                                                                    Colossians 2:20-23

The purpose of religion is to link us back to the Ground of Existence. When we are re-linked to the source of our being we experience a sense of liberation and freedom. For we come to understand ourselves as we are understood by God – accepted and infinitely valued.

Unfortunately as the centuries of human history unfolded religious expressions moved from the task of connecting us with the Sacred to the task of protecting the Sacred from “profane” humanity. Far from being a delight religion became a burden of rules and regulations. Various series of shalts and shalt-nots were promulgated to ensure the Sacred remains unstained by creaturely decadence.

I know that these dynamics played out in my own journey of discernment and acceptance of being gay. Raised in a conformist tradition of christianity I was well aware of the shalt-nots associated with sexual expression. They were, and still are, circumscriptions made for the purpose of avoiding the wasteful decadence associated with sexual energies. These proscriptions had their place with their understanding about the appropriate age and circumstances which allow intimate sexual giving and sharing to be life affirming instead of vague points of confusion.

As a good religious youth I internalized all of these messages including the fear and prejudice of what the scriptures call “human values and regulations” in which the proscriptions were wrapped. It took me a much longer journey of moving from the bad religion of rejection to the healthy religion of acceptance in God’s love before the severed sexuality in me was healed and mended.

For the Colossians this is the crux of the tension between religion at its best and religion at its worst. Religion at its worst is rules and regulations – burdens to the soul. Religion at its best is the enjoyment of being infinitely valued.

I am well aware that the circumscription side of religion is strong and at times fanatical in the lives of the faithful. My journey is not unique, and plays itself out in many lives. I take heart in scriptures’ insight that when I am connected to the Sacred I can die to all things born out of human exclusion. I can live in the infinite valuing which is given unreservedly and completely by the Ground of Existence.

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Struggle for Healing (2 Kings 5:1-3)

                Now Naaman was commander of the army of the ruler of Aram. He was a great officer and highly esteemed. It was at Naaman’s hand that God gave a victory to Aram. He was a mighty warrior. And he had leprosy.
                On one of their raids the Arameans captured a young woman who was an Israelite. She served Naaman’s wife. One day she said to her mistress, “If only Naaman would see the prophet who is in Samaria. He would cure Naaman’s leprosy.”
2 Kings 5:1-3

Naaman the great warrior of Aram lives with the stigma and shame that is attached to the biblical milieu’s dynamic of AIDS. His life will be spent as an outcast. His former friends will shake their heads at a great man in ruins. A disease, which Naaman has no control over, has removed him from proper society. Naaman survived arrow, sword, and spear. He will not survive leprosy.

The first half of Naaman’s story turns on a nameless young Israelite slave. As a slave her life will probably be shorter then her masters, yet she speaks to her mistress of the place where healing can be found. I am too jaded to believe the slave girl’s motives are altruistic. If her master is banned from polite society, what would become of her? On the other hand, if she can help her master, how might her future prospects change? The slave girl’s motivation, though, is no concern for Naaman as long as this path leads to healing.

As the story unfolds we find that while a slave girl speaks up, the King of Israel – enthroned with the title “Son of God” – trembles in fear. Obviously there is a political component to this exchange. If the king fails to deliver, will Naaman the warrior wreak vengeance?

Yet, we must not forget the spiritual element. Shouldn’t this son of God, like the simple slave girl, also be a conduit of the healing touch of the Divine? The irony is heightened when the king sarcastically asks, “Am I God?” No you are not, but you are God’s representative on earth.

The king, like the slave girl, is motivated by self preservation. The difference between the two is that the slave girl believes healing can be accomplished, the king believes Naaman is tragically doomed.

This is often our experience when it comes to most religious communities. Those who fashion themselves as God’s representatives mainly perceive us as tragically doomed whether we have AIDS are HIV+ or HIV-. Like Naaman we are cutoff before we can get to God. The good news is that God finds ways to work around the established religious structures to touch our lives.

Ultimately Naaman is healed by the prophet Elisha. All of us - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender - have an Elisha in our lives. Like Naaman we may not immediately recognize them as the channel of the healing power of the Sacred. But God’s agents are there being a conduit of God’s nurture and blessing.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Closets (Esther 4:13-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Talk to the Hand (3 John 9-10)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

Gay Hypocrisy (Galatians 2:11-14)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 4, 2011

Queer Tribalism (1 Chronicles 7:13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, October 28, 2011

Religion That Rocks! (Micah 6:6-8)

               “What shall I bring when I come before Adonai,
                   and bow down before God on high?” you ask.
                “Am I to come before God with burnt offerings?
                   With year-old calves?
                Will Adonai be placated by thousands of rams
                   or ten thousand rivers of oil?
                Should I offer my firstborn for my wrongdoings –
                   the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”
                Listen here, mortal:
                God has already made abundantly clear
                   what “good” is, and what Adonai needs from you:
                simply do justice,
                   love kindness,’
                   and humbly walk with Adonai.
Micah 6:6-8

At its best religion links us back to the ground of our being. At its best religion serves in establishing a relationship with the sacred dimension of life. At its best religion connects us to the web of creation. At its best religion is life manifesting. Little wonder religion has always been a part of the human experience.

Micah asks the question central to all viable faiths, how do we honor the great Heart of the universe? Does the Sacred desire offerings – what size is appropriate for the One who is maker of heaven and earth? Or is the mark of an appropriate tribute its cost to us? Should it be something valuable like flesh of my flesh? As we saw with Abraham, many good religious parents have sacrificed their queer children’s flesh in order to appease a disappointed and angry god (see the post “Sick Religion”).

Micah says such thinking is foolishness. God does not desire things such as smoke off a burnt offering or blood for justice. Micah says that there is nothing we can do to honor God with “stuff.” Rather, it is the quality of relationships – justice, kindness, humility – that honor the Sacred. Accordingly Micah indicates that it is how we relate with others that truly links us to the ground of our being.

The philosopher, Martin Buber, expanded this insight with his understanding of I-Thou. He summarized that it is the life generated in and through the gift of a “You” (Thou) which permits and authorizes an “I.”

It is far easier to buy God off with “stuff” due to the inherent danger involved in honoring the Sacred through a close relationship. After all, when I am “being with” another it means being in the presence of, being committed to, being identified with, being at risk with (to borrow an insight of the scriptural scholar Walther Eichrodt).

Hence, Micah understands that lovers of the Sacred are those who do justice, adore kindness, and walk humbly upon the earth with God. This is religion at its best – this is religion which rocks my world!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Public Acceptance (Philemon 3)

Grace and peace from Abba God and Our Savior Jesus Christ                 
                   Philemon 3

There is a rather interesting story behind this short letter of Paul. The recipient of the letter, Philemon, incurred a debt to Paul. Most likely something connected to Paul’s visit to Colossae. Subsequent to that visit Paul was imprisoned by the Romans.

Meanwhile, Onesimus, a slave of Philemon, escaped. In the understanding of Roman society, Onesimus incurred a debt to his master. Eventually, Onesimus was caught and round up Paul’s cellmate.

A friendship grows and Onesimus is converted – now a fellow christian with Philemon. Eventually Onesimus is freed from jail and Paul sends him back to Philemon. Paul also sends a letter of appeal to Philemon and offers to repay Onesimus’ debt. Onesimus arrives in Colossae with the letter to which Philemon responds in the positive (see v. 21). Paul, still in jail, anticipates a future visit to Philemon’s home.

What is unique about this letter and somewhat even contrary to the advice of 2 Timothy (a possible Pauline letter) is that here Paul is in earnest seeking the release of the slave Onesimus. While tame to our sensibilities it was quite a revolutionary letter given its intent for public reading. Of course today we would say it does not go far enough – and it doesn’t. But a closer look at the letter reveals an interesting understanding of how the Sacred plays out in the lives of those who are unequal.

Following a suggestion by Richard Melick, Jr. the central message of this letter may be the idea of community, here understood as “interchange” between people. Paul presents the close relationship he has with Philemon. Then, Paul presents the close relationship he has with Onesimus. Both people have a good friendship with Paul, and are “united” through Paul. Due to the close relationship between each person and Paul, there should be close ties, or “interchange” between Philemon and his runaway slave, Onesimus.

This mirrors an insight of the world religions. Due to our connections with the Sacred we share a certain close relationship with those others who are also connected with the Holy. Though we are different we come together, or interchange through the Divine who is the meeting place between us.

While Paul’s salutation, quoted above, is traditional, the use of the word “grace” is an indication of the community and interchange Paul sought to outline. Grace is an overused word which has lost its meaning. In the word’s rooted understanding grace simply means acceptance. Here Paul appeals to a slave owner to accept a runaway slave as God has accepted the slave owner – as a beloved child.

Revolutionary indeed! How different would the queer life be if anti-queer persons could accept us as God does? If we could accept homophobic people as God accepts us?

Friday, October 14, 2011

Divinely Sanctioned to Hate? (Joel 3:1-2)

               After that, I will pour out my Spirit on all humankind.
                   Your daughters and sons will prophesy,
                your elders will have prophetic dreams,
                   and your young people will see visions.
                In those days, I will pour out my Spirit
                   even on those in servitude,
                   women and men alike.
Joel 3:1-2 Hebrew verse number, 2:28-29 most English verse numbers

Is discrimination lodged in the Sacred? Do we have a divinely sanctioned right to hate others as a result of their birth?

This question runs deep for me. After all, I participate in a religious complex that gives holy authorization to hate and bigotry. As a gay person who happens to be a minister, I am more than aware that I work to extend the life and influence of an institution that over the centuries has labeled many as unfit and dispatched such souls to the afterlife.

Is this prejudice lodged in God? More conformist and spiteful voices would have us believe so. Joel the prophet unequivocally says no!

Joel’s vision of the Holy is on such a grand scale that when the first christians needed to express their own experience of God they quoted Joel directly. It seems that no other vision was large enough to express their expansive experience of the Sacred (see Acts 2:16-21).

Joel informs us that the Sacred does not acknowledge or pay heed to the hierarchical structures of human societies. God’s lavish Spirit is poured out on all people: male and female, young and old, master and slave. I would add straight and queer. Joel’s God is a god that transcends the barriers of culture so that “all flesh” may know the touch of the Divine.

Joel’s vision cuts across social constructs and the prejudice they serve. Joel plays the subversive roll of the spiritual egalitarian and at the very least indicates that God is not a bigot. As enacted in Acts, God’s Spirit creates a new society. Where there are obstructions the joining of hearts and minds become commonplace.

We are far from Joel’s vision as both straight and queer communities imbibe in their own orthodoxies and hierarchies. For Joel, the Sacred really is beyond the petty divisions we wrap around ourselves. Instead, the Sacred is available to all, open to all, and seeks all.

The bible says it – why can’t we believe it?

Friday, October 7, 2011

Not Playing Along (Acts 28:30-31)

For two full years, Paul stayed on in his rented lodgings, welcoming all who came to visit. With full assurance, and without any hindrance whatever, Paul preached the kindom of God and taught about our Savior Jesus Christ.                                                                                    
                   Acts 28:30-31

The second half of the Acts of the Apostles may well be labeled “the perils of Paul.” Through the highs and lows of Paul’s ministry we are swept: his dream of carrying good news to those naive of the Sacred, his speech at the Acropolis in Athens, his collection for the poor back home, his arrest in Jerusalem, his adventure of being shipwrecked on the way to face the authorities in Rome, and now his house arrest.

If I didn’t know better I would say the point of the second half of Acts was to inform us of what a failure Paul was. Yet, far from being silenced we find Paul at the end of this tale just as vigorous and active as at the beginning.

As a gay leader in a religious tradition that in arrogance abused and continues to abuse queer persons I have often wanted to throw my hands up and turn my vestments in. I am ashamed of myself when I delicately sidestep my own sexual orientation when listening to a church lament the loss of their secretary because of the pro-queer stance of my denomination. Under a “queer house arrest” I am tempted to throw the towel in and say “up yours!”

Then I am reminded of Paul in Rome. Safe in Rome the religious leaders of Jerusalem no longer needed to worry. Safe in Rome the more confirming religious leaders of the budding church no longer needed to worry. Safe under the watchful eye of the imperial authorities Paul could be kept in place.

But Paul did not play along. Instead of heeding those who worked to keep him walled in, Paul heeded the call to spread the good news. To speak about how God is stretching a realm that is marked by inclusion and understanding. And even though sequestered, Paul’s insistence was unhindered and full of competence.

I am by far not the only queer minister. Many have accomplished far more then I will dream of. Many will minister faithfully in situations and circumstances that overwhelm any experience I may ever have. I give thanks for these colleagues and for their competent ministries in spite of the opposition they encounter.

The narrative for us queer ministers, rabbis, imams, and other religious leaders might read as if to show our own failure. Yet like Paul, our competence and insistence will prove another story is at work – the story of the radical grace and blessing of the Sacred.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Dreams of Dad (Deuteronomy 34:1-7)

                Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, the headland of Pisgah which faces Jericho, and Our God showed him all the land – Gilead as far as Dan, all of Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, the Negev, and the stretch of valley of Jericho, the city of palms, and as far as Zoar. Then Our God said to Moses, “This is the land I swore to Sarah and Abraham, to Rebecca and Isaac, to Leah, Rachel and Jacob that I would give to their descendants. I have let you feast your eyes upon it, but you will not cross over.”
                So there in the land of Moab, Moses the servant of God died as Our God decreed, and he was buried in the valley opposite Beth Peor in the land of Moab, but to this day no one knows the exact burial place. Moses was one hundred and twenty years old when he died, yet his eyesight was strong and he was still quite vigorous.        
Deuteronomy 34:1-7

In all of the scriptures, for me, this is the most haunting passage. Moses, the liberator of the captive and lawgiver to a free people, dies short of his goal. One need not be queer to be acquainted with such sorrow. Goals that slip through our fingers, destinations that elude us, plans that never seem to fruit, dreams delayed.

My father to his dying day said he loved me. But it was a love that nestled within it his hope that one day I would "come to my senses" and return to the straight fold. He loved me as his prodigal son. I yearned to be loved as his gay son.

I didn’t push the conversation we knew we were dancing around. I figured some day when we’re ready… Then my father died in a car accident. In that moment “someday” died as well. My dream of reconciliation  delayed. Wandering the desert of our estrangement I longed for the Promised Land. Now I would be satisfied with an oasis.

This passage is a tender one with God and Moses meeting as old friends. Even the narrator’s description of Moses as robust and strong in his abnormal age is a reverent tribute to this giant of a faith ancestor.

I wonder if Moses was satisfied with just seeing the land for which he yearned. Or was he melancholy, knowing that he would never live in it. Never enjoy the fruits of its trees. Never know the coolness of its streams.

We who are queer deal with delayed dreams in many different areas of our lives – family, friends, jobs, society. Another dream delayed is another drop of water in the torture chair for many of us. Each drop cutting into the fibers of our nerves, until we scream from the insanity of it all.

I identify with this passage because I identify with its sorrow: fulfillment so close, yet so far way. I do not know if God’s tour of the Promised Land helped to sooth Moses’ anxiety and pain, but I suspect that God’s presence was of great comfort and joy.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Sexual Subterfuge (Ruth 3:6-8)

     Ruth went down to the threshing floor just as her mother-in-law told her to do.
     Boaz ate and drank until he was tipsy. Then he went to sleep against the bundles of grain. When Boaz was asleep Ruth silently approached, laid down next to him, and “uncovered his feet.” In the middle of the night Boaz awoke and was startled to find a woman lying at his feet.                             Ruth 3:6-8
How paradoxical to stumble across a blatant scene of sexual subterfuge in holy scripture. Yet here is Ruth, a young widow, going to a drunken kinsman and having sex with him – the meaning of the euphemism “uncover his feet”. More surprising is that in the storyline of the narrative all of this is proper and a part of God’s working out a larger plan through human circumstances.

To be sure this is a highly nuanced story. Ruth in essence betrothed herself to her mother-in-law earlier in the tale. “Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people will be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I’ll die there too and I will be buried there beside you. I swear – may Adonai be my witness and judge – that not even death will keep us apart” (26, 27)

While the notion of “family” in the bible entails something different from the modern idea of the nuclear family with husband, partner and children, it is still pushing boundaries to understand two women living together as a "family." That Ruth would claim such a relationship with her mother-in-law Naomi speaks to the strength of their bond and the resistance they displayed to the norms of society.

Into this little duet they bring a third person – Boaz. Whereas Naomi and Ruth had sealed their relationship freely and consensually, Boaz is seduced into the relationship. Sexual subterfuge is not a subtext of this story it is the motif which propels the narrative forward. At two key junctures – the bonding of Ruth with Naomi, and the tryst with Boaz – sexual maneuvering is what allows for the providence of God to be manifested in the life of this family.

Queers are routinely attacked for introducing sexual subterfuge into an otherwise prim and proper society. We bind ourselves to each other and live resisting public norms. Our sexual relations defy traditional definitions of marriage, home, and civilized romance. Yet, like Ruth our lives and relationships are the opportunity for God’s providential care to transform individuals and families.

Ruth and Boaz do marry (which probably saves the book from being censored from the bible) and Ruth gives birth to a son named Obed. Obed turns out to be the grandfather of the great king David. If we look into the Greek scriptures, Ruth is mentioned by name in Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus the Christ.

Imagine David owing his existence and Jesus his family tree to sexual subterfuge. What great and mighty providence may God have in store for our lovers and families?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Sacred Distinctiveness (Leviticus 19:1-2)

Our God told Moses to tell the entire Israelite community these things:
Be holy, for I, your God, am holy.  Leviticus 19:1-2

For ancient Israel the call to holiness is a call to be separate and different. To be holy is to be set aside by an internal orientation that is not necessarily shared by the broader society. The call to holiness – to be dissimilar – is a call to deep and abiding diversity which marks me separate from you.

For centuries the conformist traditions used these texts to curtail variety and uniqueness. Yet, here, in the book which is used by some for the purpose of making us all the same is the central invitation to sacred distinctiveness.

How wonderful that in our queerness we are called to be different, even as God is different. If we have missed our spiritual role model it may be that we have looked in the wrong place. Over the years I have searched out gay mystics, gay ministers, and a host of other more creaturely expressions of spiritual queerness. Only of late have I turned to the Sacred as that expression.

God is distinctive, as the oceans are distinct from the forest, the arctic regions divergent from the tropics. As an “other,” God is aware of the misconceptions and misperceptions experienced by minorities. Often the target of stereotypes, the Sacred is well acquainted with the taint of being singular.

This is our call as well. Let us orient ourselves to life by our internal compass.
Here, at last is my model for queer spirituality – the God who celebrates sacred distinctiveness and invites us into the celebration of diversity.