Friday, August 26, 2011

Thwarting God's Plan for the Sexes (Nahum 3:13)

Your warriors are weaklings (Hebrew “women”),
      and there is no one to defend your walls!
The gates of our land stand open to your enemies –
      fire has burned down your barred gates!
                                                                    Nahum 3:13

The context of this verse is Nahum’s prophesy against the mighty armies of Assyria. A modern interpretation may imply that the Sacred opposes superpowers which roam the earth looking for their next victims. If this is an accurate understanding of this ancient text then I say “Here! Here!” Let God’s vengeance oppose those who pick on the weak.

But this is not why this verse interests me. As one called a sissy I stand among those taunted for our lack of masculinity. The use of the feminine (you are women) to slur men catches my attention. The purpose of this verse is to emasculate the Assyrian army by demoting their male warriors to the status of women.

Hence the dilemma – what do we do with the effeminate male? Such boundary transgressions mess with the self-identity and self-certainty that is part and partial of gender differentiation. God help the transgender persons who surgically alter their bodies – a sign of ultimate and permanent impropriety.

There is potency to the emasculating jeers aimed at gay and bisexual men. As there is potency to the derision casts at lesbian women and transgender folk. This potency is born from a culture that values the masculine over the feminine and gender segregation over gender diffusion.

“Look at your troops: they are women in your midst” (NRSV), is a taunt that is saying we are better then you because our masculinity is superior to yours. As if the Sacred is concerned with the size of our genitals or the strength of our semen and eggs. Being lesbian is not about a woman becoming more masculine, but another way of being female, to borrow an insight from Judith Grahan. She also makes the concurring statement that being gay is not about men becoming more feminine, but rather men finding another way to express maleness.

Nahum might be forgiven his taunt. After all, he is addressing the enemies of Judah and by extension the enemies of God. Yet, this is how we have been classified by those caught in a binary gender fixation. We are seen as the ones who oppose God and the divine model of differentiated gender roles.  

Being queer is not about thwarting God’s plan for the sexes. Being queer is about another way of being human. This other way allows for fullness where the traditional binary gender divide has left us wanting. This is not opposing God. Rather it is embracing another part of scripture that invites us to be complete as God is complete (Matthew 5:48).

Friday, August 19, 2011

Goliath Queers David (2 Samuel 21:19)

In still another battle with the Philistines at Gob, Elhanan ben-Jaare-oregim of Bethlehem killed Goliath of Gath, whose spear was the size of a weaver’s beam.
2 Samuel 21:19

Poor, poor Elhanan unfortunately for him David’s propaganda engine skillfully credited the king for the death of the Philistine giant Goliath. Immortalized in the scriptures, paintings, plays, and movies, David has become the unquestionable slayer of the giant.

Except for this one verse tucked into a series of battle notices, Elhanan is all but expunged from the record. In 1 Chronicles 20:5 Elhanan’s role is amended to being the slayer of Goliath’s brother. This great warrior, who brought down the feared nemesis of Israel’s army, was all but brushed aside by the recorders of history.

We are used to having our queer contributions brushed aside by embarrassed and blushing historians. Even today we are still seeking to integrate sexuality into the lives of queer notables as Abraham Lincoln, Peter Tchaikovsky, and Eleanor Roosevelt. But what does it matter if these people were queer?

On the one hand it does not matter for their contributions to society and culture stands on its own merits. On the other hand we deny these persons their full story when historians who should know better are silent on one of the most pressing and personal issues an individual deals with – sexual orientation. As critical a personal motivator as are political and religious views.

Furthermore, the combined effect of this whitewashing and silencing has been to send the unconscious message that queer persons are not among those who shape human community. That queer persons do not contribute to human progress.  Only those who embrace heterosexuality are the movers and shakers of history. Or at least that is how Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and those like him want us to believe.

Bereft of solid and able historical “alternative sexual” figures it has been easy for others to argue that there is no such thing as a good queer. History is beginning to be written with a fuller and more open understanding of people’s distinctive lives. Still most of these insights are relegated to a footnote, or a queer “Who’s Who” book.

Here the scriptures prove our model. By searching out the elusive truth that is tucked away in some unknown corner we can claim our heritage and take our stand alongside the other great figures of history. In so doing we become visible just not in our time but throughout the long sweep of human achievement.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Body Spiritual (2 Corinthians 4:7-10)

But this treasure we possess is in earthen vessels, to make it clear that its surpassing power comes from God and not from us. We are afflicted in every way possible, but we are not crushed; we are full of doubts, but we never despair. We are persecuted, but never abandoned; we are struck down, but never destroyed. Continually we carry about in our bodies the death of Jesus, so that in our bodies the life of Jesus may also be revealed.                                                                                                  
                   2 Corinthians 4:7-10

Paul was comfortable with the body, much more so than interpreters of Paul are comfortable in admitting. Paul compares communities of faith to the body, and often uses body analogies to clarify his ideas.

In this passage Paul speaks about the human body and its role in human spirituality. For Paul, it appears that the body is the central location for connecting with the Sacred. Putting this idea into context we need to say that it’s not the church or synagogue, the mosque or the temple, nor even the coven circle where the sacred abides – it is the body, the feeling, desiring, lumpy-bumpy human body. We do not enter sacred space, we are sacred space.

Paul’s understanding of the body is singularly humble – the body is like clay jars (“earthen vessels” as translated above). Proven in fire, strengthened in the crucible of flame and heat, clay jars are tough and hardy.

Yet, in this strength the jar remains exposed for one well placed hit and the jar shatters. This is true for us earthen queer vessels as well. We celebrate the insight of scripture that we carry in us the treasure of the Sacred. Like clay jars we are robust and hardy. Yet, also like clay jars we are vulnerable. One well aimed slur has the potential to shatter us.

Paul is very much aware of this. He writes not to the cream of society – the powerful and influential. Paul writes to the underbelly. He writes to those proven in the fire of an inflexible society. Paul writes to those maligned and smeared. He writes to those who have been told they are worthless, useless, and rubbish.

The scriptures celebrate persons of no-value as the Body Spiritual. It is the insignificant who prove of the greatest value and consequence for the Sacred. Like ordinary clay jars we will be handled roughly with indifference and “afflicted in every way possible.” But the Body Spiritual filled with the Sacred will not be crushed, will not give in to despair, will not be abandoned, and cannot be destroyed.

What Paul celebrated with those huddled believers in his time, we celebrate in the queer circles of our time. While death might be at work on us, life is at work in us. The Body Spiritual is you and me seeking and blessing life in the face of disparity and discrimination.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

God and the Struggle for Self-Identity (Joshua 5:13-15)

When Joshua was nearing Jericho, he looked up and saw a warrior holding a drawn sword. Joshua approached the warrior and asked, “Are you with us, or with our enemies?”
                The warrior replied, “Neither! I come to you as commander of the army of Adonai!”
                Joshua fell face down on the ground and said, “What command do you give your Servant?”
                The commander of Adonai’s army told Joshua, “Remove your sandals, for where you stand is holy ground.” And Joshua obeyed.
Joshua 5:13-15

"Neutral" is not what I want God to be. Queers are oppressed and I want a God like Moses had. I want a God who will finally hear our cries and takes action against our oppressors. I do not want Joshua’s God. I do not want a God who sends to me the commander of the armies of heaven carrying the news that neutrality is the new divine plan.

Joshua must have been devastated. He has to remove his shoes as his old friend and mentor, Moses, did. Yet Joshua is doing this without any promises of God’s favor. Did God not see in Joshua what God saw in Moses? Was Joshua less of a leader? Less of a person?

Although the holy ground motif invites comparison between Moses and Joshua, the scriptures are far too subtle for a simplistic contrast. The difference between Moses and Joshua is not a distinction between more and less. Rather we are being invited to reflect upon the discrepancy between the social location of the two men.

Moses was on the lamb, a murderer known to be an offspring of common slaves. No real Egyptian royal blood flowed through his veins. Like his people, Moses was outside the circles of power. God’s people were in need of liberation. Moses, the hero of the exodus, was God’s instrument for that deliverance.

Joshua is the hero of the conquest. Israel is no longer in need of liberation. Rather Israel is ready to engage her neighbors and begin her struggle for self-identity and self-determination. The issue facing us in the fifth chapter of the book of Joshua is not whose side God is on, but rather who side Israel is on. The Sacred is neutral for the choice here does not belong to God. The choice belongs to the people seeking to connect with God.

We often blame God for our plight and turn our backs to that which gives life meaning and completeness. We have confused the very human institutions of the church, synagogue, mosque, temple, or coven with the voice of God. They are not, and we should quit blaming the Sacred for the tyranny of bigoted people. If God is neutral with us it is because in our struggle for self-realization the choice of allegiance is ours, not God’s.