Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sexually Transmitted Disturbance (Mark 4:26-29)

Jesus said further, “The reign of God is like this: a sower scatters seed on the ground, then goes to bed at night and gets up day after day. Through it all the seed sprouts and grows without the sower knowing how it happens. The soil produces a crop by itself – first the blade, then the ear, and finally the ripe wheat in the ear. When the crop is ready the sower wields the sickle, for the time is ripe for the harvest.”               
                Mark 4:26-29

Faggot by Jessicuhh Sophia
Of all the parables we have encountered this one may be the most accessible to sexual minorities. The image of a seed sprouting and growing mirrors for many a queer person their sense of being different. Our straight friends have never had to give thought to the dynamics of coming-to-terms then coming-out. Rarely has their sexual feelings been questioned, or shamed, or held in contempt. If anything their heterosexuality has been an unconscious key to their acceptance by family, friends, and co-workers. Rarely does being straight cause a disturbance.

Queer folks on the other hand, have had to come to terms with how our being different can cause a disturbance to either ourselves or to others, sometimes both. At first it may be just the seed of the thought that we are not like others. Some can articulate this feeling of “otherness” quickly. For some the thought remains nascent and ambiguous.

This seed/feeling begins to take shape. We realize that our sense of “otherness” begins to define how people relate to us. The artist Sophia writes this about her photo: "I had this idea with paint and I wanted to write Faggot on him, nothing to do with him actually being gay, he just offered to do a shoot with me. I do have an idea of painting CUNT on a girl, maybe BITCH too, REDNECK on a white person, NIGGER on a black person. And just have the photos lined up next to each other. Just how society paints descriptions on people, and also how those same people believe those descriptions." Little wonder that Sophia also provided the title for this post.

In the midst of lables and roles fears of acceptance or rejection, of love or hate, of communion or loneliness stir. In this mix as the sprout now takes on the form of a plant self-identity emerges. I am gay. I am lesbian. I am transgender. I am queer. I am asexual. I am intersex. I am bisexual. I am straight, but not narrow. I am these things by my internal compass, but am I also these things due to society's labels? This is the distrubance to ourselves.

When our little seed of a feeling bear's a harvest, we might call our fruit love, or acceptance, or dignity, or community, or congruence, or understanding. I would use the word Pride. We become proud and take joy in being “other” and celebrate our otherness as a gift from the Hand of Life.

According to Jesus this is what the empire of the Sacred is like – a seed, a nascent impression or feeling. We usually don’t experience empires built out of such inconsequential things. Empires are forged by armies and egotistical minds. But not so with the empire of the Sacred, it is organic like a seed. It takes time to sprout. It lives to bear a harvest. This empire does not exist to serve itself. This empire exists to feed the hungry.

As queer people we have been known to hunger for a morsel of peace in the midst of our sexually transmitted disturbance. God’s empire is for us, indeed for anyone left out and left behind by the empires of sexual conformity and conditional love.

“Like a seed,” Jesus intones at the beginning of several of his parables. Small. Humble. Like the unassuming sense that somehow we are different. The kingdom of God and the discernment of being queer, both prepare us to be ripe for the harvest, so that others will not hunger.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Fabulously Queer-Tinged Light (Mark 4:21-22 // Matthew 5:14-1; Luke 8:16; 11:33-35)

A Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all!

(Jesus) also said to the crowd, “Would you bring in a lamp and put it under a bushel basket or hide it under the bed? Surely you’d put it on a lamptstand! Things are hidden only to be revealed at a later time. They are made secret only to be brought out into the open.”          
                Mark 4:21-22 (Matthew 5:14-15; Luke 8:16; 11:33-35)
"This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” I have no memory of learning this song. I only have memories of singing it. Even now, these many years removed from my childhood and after a whole lifetime of living this song has the power to move me to actions – or to tears – depending upon the setting.

Light is not meant for hiding, it is meant for shinning as any fabulous person can tell you. The Gospel according to Mark binds the theme of light to the issue of private and public knowledge: what is hidden will be revealed; what is secret will be shared.

This sentiment echoes dynamics in the coming out process. To let our light shine is to claim and live publically our self-identity. This is one reason the closet is an unhealthy place, for in the closet darkness seeks to smother our light. Too many queer lights have been doused by the shadow of public hate and private self-recrimination. As the famed drag queen Ru Paul is fond of asking, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”

Part of our light is self-love. Not self-egotism, but the kind of self-acceptance which allows us to claim our God-given identity with joy and pride. Only with this self-valuing can we dare set our fabulously queer-tinged light on a lampstand.

My father was a Southern Baptist minister. I learned early on that the cardinal rule was not to embarrass the family. I also learned pretty fast that the cardinal sin was to engage in behavior which certainly did embarrass the family. My spark of self-acceptance was for a long time eclipsed by the hegemony of prim and proper heterosexual propriety. Anything less would bring public humiliation upon the family.

By way of the greatest irony of this gay boy’s life, God fanned the embers of acceptance of deep love through a young woman. Later on she would become my wife (or as she sees it, I became her husband) and continued to love the light in me even when it threatened our relationship. (For more on my marriage see the post Nonconforming Relationships).

It was barely a glowing ember which survived what I playfully call my “blissfully ignorant years.” I give thanks that they were ignorant or the ember may not have survived at all. I am more thankful for the breath of the Spirit blowing through my wife and sparking the light of love and self-appreciation within me.

All persons have this light, but bigotry and discrimination have made it hard for a number of people to claim their light with any assurance and confidence. More so our need to hear this ancient invitation from the Christ to set our light on the lampstand of the world, and to “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On the Path to a Sex-Positive God (Mark 2:21-22 // Matthew 5:36-38; Luke 9:16-17)

Prayers and hugs to those affected by the school shooting in Connecticut. When senseless violence takes the lives of children, our grief is all the deeper.
“No one sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. Otherwise, the patch pulls away from it – the new from the old – and the tear gets worse. Similarly, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If one does, the wine will burst the skins, and both wine and skins will be lost. No, new wine is poured into new wieskins.”            
                Mark 2:21-22 (Matthew 5:36-38; Luke 9:16-17)
Jesus and Lord Rama by Alex Donis
for an insightful article on this art work see
Queer spirituality suffers much under a sexual monolithic orthodoxy (which only existed in theory but rarely in practice). We have and still continue to fight hard against this idea of sexual conformity. This notion binds us to an impoverished understanding of human sexuality, which in turn is tied to a rigid obedience to even dustier notions of the Sacred. As sexual minorities, one of our greatest spiritual tasks centers around freeing ourselves from injurious beliefs which keep us chained to Victorian prudence and its accompanying hierarchy of male over female, European over indigenous cultures, and straight over queer.

Our efforts to break the chains of a sex-negative God has itself been raised as a sign of our undisciplined and heretical thinking. According to our detractors we delude ourselves when we break the bindings of sexual conformity. Our attempts at liberation are but delusional ways to participate in sexual perversity. For me this is akin to the southern white slave owner who, following the U. S. Civil War,  warns his former slaves that freedom will be the death of them. All the while the former slave owner turns a convenient blind eye to the unmarked graves on the back of the property.

The thrust of these twin parables actively encourage us to overthrow the bondage and slavery of tyrannical religion. The context of Mark’s gospel has Jesus uttering these sayings in defense of his lack of attention to the tradition of fasting. Like the Jesus movement from which this gospel arose, queer spirituality and allegiance to a sex-positive God is a fresh path into the Sacred demanding appropriate new forms of expression and honor. Donis' image reminds us that the One who created all things sexual is not shamed by sensual expression.

I think it is important that we note the foolish backward nature of the actions in these parables. We do not ruin a bolt of new cloth by cutting a piece off in order to patch a worn out cloak. Rather, we would make a new cloak from the bolt and save the old to cut pieces off as patches. Similarly we would not put fermenting wine into dried, cracked animal skins.

Yet in some ways this is what religious people seek to do. Instead of celebrating and joining in the new reality God is working to bring about, we piecemeal it onto the old reality. We have come to believe that worn out and dried up is to be prized while the new and supple are to be feared. Letting go of the harmful that keeps us bound can be a difficult step. What if we offend the Sacred? What if we get it wrong? What if Donis' art is more blasphemous than it is a window on the Divine?

The new has the propensity to come in the guise of the mysterious and giddy, looking more profane than sublime as is evident in the work of Donis. These parables warn us not to compromise the new and unfamiliar for the old and customary.

To push the parables a little further we must acknowledge that the newer does have continuity with the older. The new cloth is spun of wool sheared from sheep which contributed wool to earlier cloaks. The vineyard from which the new wine flows produced an earlier batch of wine that first filled the now cracked wineskins.

This same continuity is found within us as well. The lesbian biblical scholar Mona West reminds us that our past, our hurts and joys, our failures and accomplishments, our experience on life’s journey “is a source of revelation and can be trusted to point us to the Divine.” Queer spirituality, congruent with our experience, leads us to play at the feet of the sex-positive God. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Queer on Queer Hate (Matthew 25:31-33)

“At the appointed time the Promised One will come in glory, escorted by all the angels of heaven, and will sit upon the royal throne, with all the nations assembled below. Then the Promised One will separate them from one another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be place on the right hand, the goats on the left…                                                                                    
                Matthew 25:31-33
Self Hatred Is So Gay
Thus begins a favorite passage from my halcyon days as a social activist in college. The parable has everything a budding activist needs: a portrait of Jesus as the reigning sovereign; humanity divided by how we care for the most vulnerable among us; and – the coup-de-grace – the teaching that the Sacred is found in the marginalized, the poor, the outcast. Yes, this parable fueled my actions to care for the least of these, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. Those were some great days. My heart is still warmed by the memories of my friends and our adventures in counterculture attitudes and actions.

As expected, college gave way to seminary. In the class on parables I chose this one to investigate. At that time my budding scriptural interpretation skills (do they ever fruit?) was anchored in “Cannonical Criticism” – situating a passage in the larger flow of themes within the individual biblical book it is located, and then situating that theme within the broader flow of the entire bible (or cannon).

I found that the term “least of these” is used in Matthew to speak not of the marginalized of society, but rather to speak of the disciples and followers of Jesus (see the parallel passage in Matthew 10). Now this intrigued me – why would the emergent church self-identify as hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned? The reason was that being a christian in those days often put you at odds with your family and society.

There exists a mirroring between the estrangement of queers from family and society and the estrangement of the emergent church. Like queers today, the early followers of Jesus turned to one another for support, acceptance, and safety when society and family only offered shame, derision, and illegality. What divides (a very Matthean theme) the sheep from the goats is a failure of an oppressed and despised group to take care of their own.

We queers are guilty of such shunning. Within our attitudes and actions is as rigid a hierarchy as exist among the most pressing settings of patriarchy. Fems and flames need not respond, bears carved out their own space, and the aging gay male body is anathema. Lesbians can be more concerned about who has suffered more, bisexuals are deemed “fench setters,” transgenders and intersexuals are oddities of nature, and the asexual is a prude.

If we cannot bless and love each other in the queer community, then why should we look to the straight community to bless and accept us? We queers must learn to love one another without the barriers that keep us segregated in our subculture "ghettos." We are good at understanding how discrimination against one person due to sexual orientation, sexual expression, or gender non-conformity is discrimination against all queers everywhere. We are not so good at understanding how our personal prejudice against various persons and groups within queerdom diminishes the community as a whole. The sheep recognized they are in it together, the goats only recognized themselves.

We are now at the core of this parable. In having compassion on our own we find we have entertained Christ unaware. The empire of God comes disguised in the garb of the weak, lonely, and destitute queer sister/brother we might be tempted to turn away from due to our prejudice.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Keeping It Real (Matthew 25:1-13)

(Jesus said), “Then again, the kindom of heaven could be likened to ten attendants (bridesmaids) who took their lamps and went to meet the bridal party. Five of them were wise, five were foolish. When the foolish ones took their lamps, they didn’t take any oil with them, but the wise ones took enough oil to keep their lamps burning. The bridal party was delayed, so they all fell asleep.
                “At midnight there was a cry; ‘Here comes the bridal party! Let’s go out to meet them!’ Then all the attendants rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the wise replied, ‘Perhaps there won’t be enough for us; run to the dealers and get some more for yourselves.’
                “While the foolish ones went to buy more oil, the bridal party arrived; and those who were ready went to the marriage feast with them, and the door was shut. When the foolish attendants returned, they pleaded to be let in. The doorkeeper replied, ‘The truth is, I don’t know you.’           
                “So stay awake, for you don’t know the day or the hour.”                                                       
   Matthew 25:1-13

Gay Cake Topper

There are ten bridesmaids. Five of them are considered wise. Five of them are considered foolish. Being prepared/unprepared at the time the great moment arrives divides them. The wise attendants are able to live into their identity as bearers of light in the festive celebration. The foolish attendants miss the moment and the celebration it brings in its path.

At this level of reading we can understand this parable reminding queer people of faith to keep vigilant and to raise our voices in a church which – in some quarters – is indifferent and deaf to our cries of pain. “Don’t fall asleep while we’re working toward the time of full acceptance and blessing throughout the church – even those branches in Africa.”

The parable, though, is wrapped around the image of “bridesmaids” and this image draws us into another level of meaning. Weddings in the time and culture of Jesus started with a processional of the bride to the groom’s home: quite literally a public acknowledgement that the bride was now the possession of the groom. An historical understanding that I’m glad we have moved beyond, although it is interesting to note that Jesus reversed the procession and has it moving from the groom’s home to the bride’s. Is this signaling a reversal of possession?

The role of the attendants was to keep oil lanterns prepared and to light the way to the groom’s home. As bearers of light the bridesmaids helped to illuminate the nocturnal path traveled by the festive party if it was delayed until a late hour. Not to be prepared diminished one’s ability to “light the way.” A theme Matthew has played with before (5:14-16)

The light within the queer community is our sexual orientation and affections. This is what shines in and through us, our ability to love based upon expressions of human sexuality which calls to count heteroarchy and the injury and harm perpetrated in its defense: a light which beckons all humans to a more honest self-knowledge, and a fuller self-expression. This is the sacred light we queers offer those lost in the sexual confusion brought about by the shadows of heterosexism.

The presence of bridesmaids enmeshes us in the tricky and sticky issues of kinship which invites us to yet another level of meaning. Unlike today, the attendants in this parable were not necessarily “friends” of the bride. Rather, they were chosen from the extended family, publicly representing those girls of marriageable age to be found within the larger kinship circle. The ability/inability to prepare for the bridal party’s delay would bring honor or shame to one’s branch of the family.

The parable is now uncomfortable for queers, as we are often pointed to as “the family’s shame.” “What will the neighbors think?” has been a cry used to douse the light in us. We must tread carefully, for while the passage challenges us, it does not condemn us.

As a queer youth I was tightly bound by kinship and notions of honor/shame. So much so that conscious recognition of these issues lay beyond me. It would take as many years to unbind these chains as it took to forge them. During these years I was foolish, seeking to smother the very embers which were my light and life.

Ultimately, to borrow a phrase from Lady Gaga, I found myself “on the edge of glory waiting for the moment of truth.” At first I was not prepared to deal with my truth. But once I was prepared and the light poured forth – well my life was transformed and made whole. No longer foolish I became wise, or at least wise enough to be a feeble light bearer in the festive celebration.

At this level of reading we come to understand that what separates the wise from the foolish is self-identity. The wise bridesmaids understood and accepted the identity and it’s attending responsibilities of being bearers of light in the celebration. The foolish bridesmaids were clueless as to what this entailed for self-understanding and the responsibilities related to this comprehension. In the end the doorkeeper sends the foolish away, saying, “I don’t know you.” I suspect because the foolish attendants didn’t know themselves.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Psychotic God (Matthew 22:1-14 // Luke 14:15-24)

For those readers that live within the US - Happy Thanksgiving!

Then Jesus spoke to them again in parable. He said, “The kindom of heaven is like this: there was a ruler who prepared a feast for the wedding of the family’s heir; but when the ruler sent out workers to summon the invited guests, they wouldn’t come. The ruler sent other workers, telling them to say to the guests, ‘I have prepared this feast for you. My oxen and fatted cattle have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding.’ But they took no notice; one went off to his farm, another to her business, and the rest seized the workers, attacked them brutally and killed them. The ruler was furious, and dispatched troops who destroyed those murderers and burned their town.
                “Then the ruler said to the workers, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but the guests I invited don’t deserve the honor. Go out to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find.’ The workers went out into the streets and collected everyone they met, good and bad alike, until the hall was filled with guests.
                “The ruler, however, came in to see the company at table, and noticed one guest who was not dressed for a wedding. ‘My friend,’ said the ruler, ‘why are you here without a wedding garment?’ But the guest was silent. Then the ruler said to the attendants, ‘Bind this guest hand and foot, and throw the individual out into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
                “Many are called, but few are chosen.”                                                                                         
                   Matthew 22:1-14 (Luke 14:15-24)
Angry Christ by BenjimanWhalen
I must start by echoing the reflection of Alyce M. McKenzie concerning this parable:
I vastly prefer Luke’s version of this parable… Luke (14:15-24) has a happy ending. It doesn’t include acts of violence… It doesn’t say… invited guests made light of the invitation, seized the master’s slaves, mistreated and killed them. It doesn’t tell us that the enraged king then sends troops to destroy those murderers and burn their city. And it omits the lovely little story that Matthew adds to the parable (22:11-14), one that on the surface, seems to be about a psychotic king obsessed with the wedding attire of his guests.

It is precisely here – at the surface reading – that we need to begin. This parable sticks out like a sore thumb due to its shocking violence and virulent exclusion.

Queers can easily map this passage onto a psychotic God and “his” psychotic church. Having been made war upon by christianity and other religions our tendency is to identify with the inhabitants of the city or the banned wedding guest. When the full weight of angry righteousness has been set against you, you cannot help but to experience the full furious madness which accompanies it.

Whalen's Angry Christ gives visual representation to the emotional subjucation religious instutions seek to put sexual minorities under. The face of Christ comes to us full of indignation and a need for revenge. Like a pumped up jock his goal is to bully us by physicall abuse and psychological intimdation. What the church calls “cleansing,” we queers experience as a crusade of genocide. When the goal of religious leaders is to “rid the world” of sexual minorites, they speak of nothing less than total liquidation. Yes, the “surface” psychotic king of this parable maps easily upon the trans-les-bi-gay-inter-asexual experience of God the bully.

Delving deeper the shock remains. Even the efforts of mainstream interpreters to read this parable as an allegory and, thereby, turning the violence and death into “spiritual struggle” is but a poor attempt at making this passage palatable to those who want Jesus to remain meek and mild. In queer terms this in an acting up parable. It flies in our faces when we would rather ignore it. Yet there is wisdom here. Albeit a hard wisdom that causes us discomfort and requires we assess our lives in ways that may find us wanting.

The empire of God is like this: an invitation to a wedding banquet which may incite violence and even foster carnage on whole populations for such is the force of the empire. The invitation seeks out those who will respond positively and join in the banquet which is life in the empire. However, those who do not come prepared may find the party leaving them behind. I admit this last part is difficult for me. I do not ascribe to the “left behind” theory of God. I cannot fathom God leaving souls behind (to put it passively), nor tossing souls out (to put it actively).

I do believe in a God who has expectations. To exist within the Sacred realm requires I am prepared to be sacred myself. In some way and measure my living and being in the world is a blessing to others and to creation. This parable reminds us that those responding to the invitation to live in God’s empire are responding to God’s gracious call to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with the Holy (Micah 6:8).

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Future Can Be Fabulous (Matthew 21:28-32)

Jesus continued, “What do you think? There was a landowner who had two children. The landowner approached the elder and said, ‘My child, go out and work in the vineyard today.’ This first child replied, ‘No, I won’t,’ but afterwards regretted it and went. The landowner then came to the second child and said the same thing. The second child said in reply, ‘I’m on my way,’ but never went. Which of the two did what was wanted?”
                They said, “The first.”
                Jesus said to them, “The truth is, tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kindom of God before you. When John came walking on the road of justice, you didn’t believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes did. Yet even when you saw that, you didn’t repent and believe.”                                                                                               
                   Matthew 21:28-32

Sissy by Daren Young
On the surface this is a rather straight forward parable. There are two children, be like the one who hearkens to the invitation to partner in work with the parent. Or at least that seems to be what it is saying until we stumble across the reference to John the Baptist. With the mention of John’s name we are clued in that the decision is one between responding in faith to partner with God in the new things being done or wrapping ourselves in religious tradition, continuing to believe that God is found only in the tried-and-true.

Yet this dichotomy presents a problem. Anyone who has danced with the Sacred for any amount of time knows that the Holy is not so easily divided between old and new, between the past and the future, between the God of our fathers and mothers and the God of our children and grandchildren, or nephews and nieces and great nephews and nieces. This can be an especially difficult discernment for those who worship the eternal unchanging God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Still, it is clear that the older child’s actions, in spite of his initial reticence, are preferable to the younger child’s non-action in spite of his initial acceptance. What matters is not our initial reaction to God’s new thing, but rather our ultimate reaction.

The choice between wrapping ourselves in religious tradition and participating in the new thing God is doing is no other choice than between being the sum of our decisions (the past), or being the sum of our expectancy (the future).

The immediacy of this parable in the lives of les-bi-trans-gay-intersex-asexual-queer children and youth is apparent. In the midst of the “It Gets Better” and “Make it Better” campaigns we find the very heartbeat of God’s new thing, seeking to open the future where bigotry had closed it off. As portrayed in Young's childhood memory did doning an appron and baking a cake ultimatley close his life off, or open it up?

What may not be as apparent is the application to us older queers. Some of us cling tenaciously to the past, especially the “trauma” – real and perceived – we wrap around us as a well worn coat. I do not wish to suggest that none of our numbers have lived through a hell on earth. Certainly they have – kicked out of homes, physically beaten, emotionally bereft. I simply want to raise the question will we be defined by this hell, or will we rise, caught up in God’s harrowing, letting the “new thing” of expectancy define our future?

Two children are set before us. We are asked to choose which one responds to the invitation and then to further open ourselves to the new thing God is doing. So what will we answer - “Define me by my past,” or “Define me by my future”?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Against Homodoxy (Mathew 20:1-16)

Kudos to the states of Maine, Maryland, and Washington for passing equal marriage acts, and to Minnesota for defeating a marraige ammendment which would define marraige as between one man and one woman.

The kindom of heaven is like the owner of an estate who went out at dawn to hire workers for the vineyard. After reaching an agreement with them for the usual daily wage, the owner sent them out to the vineyard.
                (The estate owner did the same thing “about mid morning,” “around noon,” “mid-afternoon,” and “late in the afternoon.”)
                When evening came, the owner said to the overseer, “Call the workers and give them their pay, but begin with the last group and end with the first.” When those hired late in the afternoon came up, they received a full day’s pay, and when the first group appeared they assumed they would get more. Yet they all received the same daily wage.
                Thererupon they complained to the owner, “This last group did only an hour’s work, but you’ve put them on the same basis as those who worked in the scorching heat.”
                “My friends,” said the owner to those who voiced this complaint, “I do you no injustice. You agreed on the usual wage, didn’t you? Take your pay and go home. I intend to give this worker who was hired last the same pay as you. I’m free to do as I please with my money, aren’t I? Or are you envious because I am generous?”
                Thus the last will be first and the first will be last.
Mathew 20:1-16
Photograph by Kourosh Keshiri from the article Gays for God
In my book this parable is pure gold. I haven’t met a group yet, that when asked to take this parable literally instead of figuratively doesn’t get flustered and angry. We silly western capitalists with our sense of “just economics” all screwed over by the scriptures.

In all honesty though, in focusing on the economics of the parable (which we’ll get to later), we miss the comparison. The empire of God is not like workers (although they are important), rather the empire of God is like a vineyard owner who needs to get the harvest in. The repeated action of seeking and hiring laborers throughout the day speaks of urgency for a fast and speedy resolution of the harvest. This vineyard owner is not one to risk the crop when there are plenty of workers to be found. When approached through the estate owner, the empire of God is demonstrated to have immediacy about it and will act with insistence, regardless the cost.

Queer people of faith are often questioned as to why we remain with institutions of religion that from some parts spew hate and bigotry. We stay because we know this urgency - the necessity to resist the notion that God’s compassion is reserved only for heterosexuals, the necessity to help all connect with the Sacred who created fluid sexuality, the necessity to transform a culture which still seeks to subjugate queers as “abnormal” and, therefore, “sub-human.” Yes, we queer people of faith know the urgency to stake our claim in an empire which stands against discrimination, hate, and humiliation and stands for acceptance, love, and liberation.

Like Keshiri's photograph queer people know that the urgency of addressing our situation from within faith communities outweighs the cost of the backlash created, or in the language of the parable, the cost of the labor needed.

And what about those laborers – all paid the same even though all did not work the same? When approached through the laborers and their reactions against one another the parable seems to peer deep into the soul of the gay community. Far from what the stereotype suggests, the gay community is not a monolithic entity. It is porous, disjointed, and from time to time at enmity with itself. Queer folk arrive at different junctures onto the scene – some younger, some older, some bold, some timid, some excitedly and some slowly. From all this mix of chaos a queer orthodoxy or "homodoxy" (as I heard this dynamic recently referred to) and its accompanying hierarchy arises. Much as the workers of our parable feel there should be an economic hierarchy based on the number of hours worked.

This parable – from the workers point of view – flies in the face of our homodoxies. It says that no one les-bi-gay-trans-intersex-asexual-queer person is gayer or more dyke then the next queer person. It reminds gay and bisexual men that we are all queens regardless of how hard or soft our bodies are. It lets lesbians know that not all males are patriarchal. It reminds us that the grace to transition genders so as to be congruent is a gift of life, to be born with both sets of genitalia is just as human an experience as to be born with one of the other, and the dualism between in/out of the closet has more to do with our mental attitudes than reality.

"The last shall be first” we are told is the point of the parable. The image of the estate owner honoring the last in front of those who were first drives home another point: blessed are those who take no offense.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Defined By Fairy Dust (Mathew 18:21-35)

Prayers and Love to all those affected by the Super Storm Sandy.

Peter came up and asked Jesus, “When a sister or brother wrongs me, how many times must I forgive? Seven times?”
                “No,” Jesus replied, “not seven times; I tell you seventy times seven. And here’s why,
                “The kindom of heaven is like a ruler who decided to settle accounts with the royal officials. When the audit was begun, one was brought in who owed tens of millions of dollars. As the debtor had no way of paying, the ruller ordered this official to be sold, along with family and property, in payment of debt.
                “At this, the official bowed down in homage and said, ‘I beg you, your highness, be patient with me and I will pay you back in full!’ Moved with pity, the ruler let the official go and wrote off the debt.
                “Then the same official went out and met a colleague who owed the official twenty dollars. The official seized and throttled this debtor with the demand, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’
                “The debtor dropped to the ground and began to plead, ‘Just give me time and I will pay you back in full!’ But the official would hear none of it, and instead had the colleague put in debtor’s prison until the money was paid.
                “When the other officials saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and went to the ruler, reporting the entire incident. The ruler sent for the official and said, ‘You worthless wretch! I cancelled your entire debt when you pleaded with me. Should you not have dealt mercifully with your colleague, as I dealt with you?’ Then in anger, the ruler handed the official over to be tortured until the debt had been paid in full.
                “My Abba in heaven will treat you exactly the same way unless you truly forgive your sisters and brothers from your hearts.”
Mathew 18:21-35

Forgiveness Map by Paul Foreman
used by permission
This parable is about primary expectations. This parable is also about relationships, both primary and secondary. And this parable is about secondary relationships with primary expectations.

“The empire of God is like a ruler” who undertakes an audit of the books and discovers an official who embezzled such an enormous amount of money that it can never be repaid. Even if generation after generation of the family worked to service the debt it would still go unpaid. Instead of doing the expected thing, or even the just thing, the ruler forgives the debt.

The ruler and the official define themselves in relationship to each other. The bureaucrat at first is defined by his actions as a cheat and a swindler. Yet, when defined by the relationship with the ruler the bureaucrat is understood as worthy and valuable. This definition comes not from the debtor’s behavior, but from the ruler’s decision to forgive the debtor.

What we behold between the ruler and the bureaucrat then is not their individual identities. What we observe is who they are together. We understand their relationship invites some form of mutual solidarity. Separately one is an offended ruler and the other an embezzling bureaucrat. Together they are friends cemented by the gracious act of forgiveness. Forgiveness as Paul Foreman’s “map” indicates, draws upon multiple areas of our lives. Forgiveness is never an act in the life of a singular individual rather forgiveness is a relationship defining act.

The primary relationship is this intimate throne room act of forgiveness.

At this moment I want to make sure we who self-identify as queer side-step a straight conundrum. Queer folks are often defined in relationship to heteronormativity. The very label “queer” (meaning odd or non-normative) testifies to this relational identity. In correlation to heteronormativity queer people can only hope to be validated as the “other.” Any association that defines another as “other” is at best a vestige of colonialism which gives those defining the norm the right to harass and subjugate those who are defined as having less value (historically females, non-northern European males, and queers). This is not a mutual relationship and we should resist any attempts to be defined by our detractors.

On the obverse, the straight community needs queers so that they may define what “healthy” or at least “normative” heterosexuality is. This brings us to the second act of the parable. The ruler and the debtor have defined what a mutual relationship is. Their actions have placed forgiveness at the heart of their relationship which helps us to regard them as friends.

The plot thickens as the debtor in turn meets a colleague who owes the debtor a debt. It is a sum that while no readily at hand, can be raised in a reasonable amount of time. At this juncture, having received forgiveness from the ruler, the bureaucrat is in position to pay forward the tenderness and reconciliation received. The debtor can in essence also define this secondary relationship by primary expectations and allow these two to also be defined as friends. Yet, the bureaucrat acts in the very manner he pleaded to avoid with the ruler: a lesson taught, but not a lesson learned.

When the ruler hears about the actions of the official, the official is hauled before the throne to give an accounting. The primary expectation is now explicit “The ruler sent for the official and said, ‘You worthless wretch! I cancelled your entire debt when you pleaded with me. Should you not have dealt mercifully with your colleague, as I dealt with you?’”

Here’s the rub – the expectation of the ruler is that the ruler’s semi-private throne room definition of the bureaucrat would also be the public definition. Unfortunately for the bureaucrat the ruler now defines the bureaucrat by the relationship with the colleague who was treated not as a friend, but as an enemy.

What can queer people learn from this parable? The general invitation of the text calls to us – as God loves and accepts us so we too should love and accept others – even those we define as “other.” This alone can take a lifetime of spiritual practice to achieve, but the goal may be the most honorable of all.

I also see in the dynamic between the privacy of the throne room and public definition a parallel with queer life. Depending upon the culture in which we live there can be a tension between how we are defined by our lovers and most intimate of friends and family and how we are defined by the public. For example my spouse defines me in beautifully affirming ways, while certain areas of my public life insist on defining me in more degrading terms. If you are wrestling with this dynamic then the parable invites you to understand the private definition as primary over the public definition, and, to tie into the rub of the text, to make public this private definition, or to use other language to spread our fairy dust in public.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Transgressive Shepherd (Mathew 18:12-13 // Luke 15:4-7)

(Jesus said) “What do you think? Suppose a shepherd has a hundred sheep and one of them strays away- won’t the shepherd leave the ninety-nine on the hillside and go in search of the stray? If the shepherd finds it, the truth is, there is more joy over the one found than over the ninety-nine that didn’t stray. In the same way, it is never the will of your Abba God in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.”
Mathew 18:12-13 (Luke 15:4-7)

Still of transgender artist Heather Cassils from the video Transactivations
Heather's website:

This shepherd (or sheep-herder since I live in the US) is a bit queer - as in odd - in his actions. The economic  consequences of putting the welfare of the sheepfold at risk for a single animal are disastrous. It is hard for us to imagine since this parable has become a beloved image of God's care, but we should see contorted faces on the people being addressed. With the question - "Won't the shepherd leave the ninety-nine and go search for the stray?" - we should hear them emphatically replying "No!"

The parable catches us like the image of the transgender artist Heather Cassils. We look at her/his body - especially the exposed and highlighted chest and our sense of "reality" freezes or even convulses as Cassils' body resists being placed in the standard gender categories of either/or.

In order to maintain such standard categories with our parable some commentators have tried to relieve its convulsive absurdity by claiming other shepherds nearby looked after the ninety-nine. Yet, in removing the ludicrous element and returning the parable to conforming categories we remove its ability to shake our understanding of religious reality.

Starkly, this parable is not concerned with religious people. Rather this parable is for everyone who has been rejected by organized religion be it the church, the synagogue, the mosque, or other. Feminists, pagans, queers, and all heretics prove to be just as valuable to the Heart of the Universe as are those who remain in the fold. If you have ever been told you are a "lost sheep," a "sick pig," or a "pervert" then this parable is for you. If you have never been described by these or other epithets, then sorry this parable is not for you (and oh, how the religious categories shudder).

The parable is simple - the Holy One seeks and finds and in the finding there is great joy. Queer people of faith can and should appropriate this parable as an act of being valued. We, who have often been forced out of religious and family sheepfolds, are sought after in spite of the concern for the ninety-nine. The Sacred, unlike some who minister in the Sacred's name, values our safety and wellbeing.

In my own life, I was a bit late in making public discernment of internal realities. But once discernment was made I begin to write coming out letters to my friends - some who are ministers in the conformist denomination of my youth. Knowing the teachings of my former church I expected to lose friendships which nurtured me through college and seminary. I wondered just how lonely it would become after this endeavor. Then the first response (and really the most important of them all) arrived and ended with the phrase "you have a friend in me." Joy and rejoicing filled me.

Much good news for les-bi-queer-trans-intersex-asexual-allies is found in this parable. The shepherd searches not because the economics of sheep herding requires it. The shepherd searches because the joy of the relationship calls the shepherd forth. This parable is not about salvation economy - standard category. This parable is about God's pride in the rejected heretic - transgressive reality.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Abomination (Matthew 15:10-11, 16-20)

                Jesus called the crowd together and said to them, “Hear this and understand: it’s not what enters your mouth that defiles you – it’s what comes out of your mouth that defiles you.”
                Jesus replied, “Do you still not understand? Don’t you realize that everything that goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and eventually finds its way into the sewer and is gone? But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart. This what makes a person ‘unclean.’ For from the heart come all sorts of evil intentions – murder, sexual infidelity, promiscuity, stealing, lying, even foul language. These things make a person unclean – not eating with unwashed hands!”
Mathew 15:10-11, 16-20

Cuban Dancers ll by Zunayme Romero
Oh the picture which pops into my little brain: “it’s not what enters your mouth…” Half the trouble queer people get into is for what enters our mouths. The slurs “cocksucker,” and “carpet muncher” attest to the fact that straight people are extremely concerned about what passes our lips.

Mind you the same body bits pass the lips of straight people as well. Cunnilingus, fellatio, nipple play, foot fetish and other sexual stimulus know no particular orientation and are enjoyed across the sexual continuum. So why is it then, that when heterosexuals engage in such sex play it is celebrated, but when queers engage in such sex play it is an abomination? Or, to use the vocabulary of the parable, why is sex between opposite genders “clean,” while sex between same genders, or sex that transgenderizes is “unclean”?

Through this parable the concept of purity is turned on its head. It is not what enters the mouth, that is, it is not what is external or outside of us that makes us unclean. What makes us an abomination is what comes out of us – our motivations, our compass toward compassion or hate, our being closed-off or opened-up. This internal moral orientation for or against life is what deems us clean or unclean, pure or impure. 

We who self-identify as lesbians, bisexual, transgender, intersexed, asexual, or gay are quite familiar with the label “unclean.” People both in and outside the church, have called us dirty. Yet, in light of this parable we understand the application of the label is itself an act of impurity.

While rejecting the label we must not lose sight that our own attitudes and actions must also be examined. It is one thing to resist hatred and prejudice, working to dismantle the heteroarchy complex. It is another thing to become the oppressor working out of our own matrix of prejudice and hate. Often the two are blurred and undefined. 

I am reminded of the quote from justice Oliver Wendell Holmes. “The right to swing my fist ends where the other man’s nose begins.” I am also aware that Holmes worked hard as a US Supreme Court justice to buttress segregation and racism in America. Lines blurred by what comes out of our hearts.

The Cuban dancers above lead us to ponder: Are they impure and is there sex "dirty" because it is a gay act? Or, is their loving pure because the affection that comes out of them is pure? Jesus it seems would affirm the latter.