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.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Queer Protest (2 Timothy 4:19-20)

Greet Prisca, Aquila and the family of Onesiphorus. Erastus remained in Corinth, and I left Trophimus behind at Miletus because he was ill.                                                                                                    
                   2 Timothy 4:19-20

The traditional view is that this is one of the last, if not the last correspondence of Paul before his death. The concluding chapter certainly is filled with personal references and reads as an intimate letter from one close friend to another.

At the end of this letter Paul is asking for his friend Timothy to come to him where he is imprisoned in Rome. Along the way Timothy is to notify one person and another of Paul’s condition and to retrieve pieces of Paul’s personal belongings. If Paul is the writer (his authorship of this epistle is disputed) we have an extraordinary glimpse into his ordering of affairs before his death.

What interests me in these two short verses is the mention of Trophimus. He was a traveling companion of Paul and was inadvertently the cause of Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem. Paul had been seen about the city with Trophimus (a Gentile) and some thought Paul had taken him into the Temple, thus profaning the sacred space of Israel. A near riot ensued (Acts 20 and 21).

This same Trophimus Paul left behind due to an illness. The apostles were known for healing and other acts by which the Sacred was manifested through them. Yet, at this juncture Trophimus is left to the care of God without any assurance of how things might turn out. Parallel to Trophimus situation is Paul’s own imprisonment without any assurance of how things will unfold.

In the language of faith entrusting people and their situations to the Sacred is called providence. Over the years I have taken issue with this notion. I confess I have seen too many faithful people scapegoat the Holy through a loose and shallow understanding of providential care. Once, I was even told about a wheelchair bound person being struck by lightning as the will of God - strange providence indeed.

However, understood in its rooted sense providence is not a blind belief that whatever happens is the will or want of God. Providence, like that expressed by Paul, is a trust that the unknown resolution to our circumstances is in the hands of God - a trust born out of past experiences of the Sacred. “I left Trophimus behind at Miletus” is an expression that Paul trusts that Trophimus is better off there then with him, even though earlier in the letter Paul writes of desiring companionship.

It is difficult when we feel powerless. Yet, to leave justice and cultural norms in the hands of a future we can work toward but cannot force is an act of providential faith. To claim our fabulous lesbian, transgender, bisexual, gay, and queer dreams in the face of all that flies before us is an act of protest that is embraced as part of God's vision for God's creation. In this sense God's providence is also protest: a fuller complete future unfolding in spite of the present realities.

Friday, September 2, 2011

"Cracks" (Exodus 23:2a)

Do not be drawn into evil simply because the majority is doing it.  Exodus 23:2a

(This post veers off my usual approach - but I couldn't help responding to the ignorant, both political and religious, who are trying to convince us that cracks in the Washington Monument are signs of God's disfavor with America.)

Through the earthquake that shook the eastern seaboard God sent us a message. Yes, the cracks in the top of the Washington Monument are speaking to us: warnings for those paying attention, silent witness for those who are not.

I’m not saying this is a sign about American power. If God needed to send portents on this subject I suspect God would choose a more prominent venue. Say a paralysis in Congress which might bring the nation to financial default, or the inability of moneyed oil corporations to cap a broken well. If we are looking for omens on America’s powers they are already before us.

Still, I insist that the cracks are speaking to us. Meaning must be made of this sign, and meaning we will have. I admit that I am not adept of divining God’s mysterious reckoning through the reading of goat livers and chicken entrails, or cracks in granite as others. Yet, I offer the following list of biblically based possibilities for the meaning of our cracks. Certainly one of them must be correct.
            1. The Washington Memorial was built by wicked persons: “Every house built by the wicked is as fragile as a spider web, as full of cracks as a leafy booth,” (Job 27:18).
            2. America needs new wine containers: “These wineskins were new, but now they are old and cracked,” (Joshua 9:13).
            3. Be careful who you siege: “A woman threw down a millstone on Abimelech’s head and cracked his skull,“ (Judges 9:53).
            4. Be as good a horticulturalist as King Solomon: “Solomon was a great naturalist, with interests in animals, birds, snakes, fish, and trees – from the great cedars of Lebanon down to the tiny hyssop which grows in cracks in the walls,” (1 Kings 4:33).
            5. Or, given the phallic structure of the monument, we might understand this event as God’s calling Americans to observe the rite of circumcision: “Circumcise yourself for the LORD…” (Jeremiah 4:4).

In the end I discern a lesson of my youth: crack is whack! And so are insulting, slanderous, and defamatory declarations of God’s intent. We need not look to possible portents in fractured marble. Long ago God rescued us from the dark ages.

If you are christian and think you don’t know what God is asking, you need only to look to Jesus our Christ: “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13:35).