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.