Thursday, February 23, 2012

Mistake to be Queer? (Job 42:5)

                Formerly I knew you only by word of mouth,
                   but now I see you with my own eyes.
Job 42:5

The book of Job is a long and anguished dispute about justice. Job’s life is robbed of all that makes it meaningful – family, social status, and spiritual certainty. First some friends drop by to help Job make sense of his reversal of fortune. Their advice is for Job to be less stubborn and admit that his woes are entirely his fault due to some unconfessed sin.

Queer folk are quite familiar with this tone. After all, it’s our mistake for being queer. My mother to this day believes that the disruption my family experienced when I came out was my fault and my fault alone. Funny, I don’t recall waiting with baited breath to “choose” the gay life just to throw my family into a tizzy.

“Job, just admit it’s’ you” is the same as “Queers just admit the fault is all yours.” See how easy it is to move on when we realize the wrong we’ve done?

Job, however, is not a weak person. Job has a largess of spirit and integrity that remains unmatched in most of the biblical characters. He does not admit any wrong for his misfortune. He does not admit it, for there is no wrong to concede too.

Looking beyond his friends and their short-sighted suggestions, Job calls for a direct confrontation with God to settle the matter once and for all. Through multiple chapters the conscience of the universe and the conscience of one mere mortal wrestle together.

There is a difference between the friends’ relationship to Job and God’s relationship to Job. The friends cast aspersions on Job – something inherent in Job is flawed and needs correcting. God, however, does not consider Job to be flawed and in need of fixing. Rather Job is in need of a higher consciousness. If Job could conceive the thoughts that God conceives then Job will have the “ah-ha” moment of insight and understanding.

Personally I am not sure as to whether or not this is a satisfactory resolution to Job’s dilemma. Obviously the final editor of the work thought it was and culminates the book with such an intention. I do agree with the insight that hearing about the Sacred is one thing while experiencing the Sacred is quite another.

For too long, we queers have been satisfied with just hearing about God. For too long we have allowed others to suppress us with a god shaped in the image of sexual conformity

Let us, like Job, demand a direct experience of God. Let us cry out with Job “now I see you with my own eyes.”

Friday, February 17, 2012

Re-Functional Families (Malachi 4:5)

                Know this: I will send you the prophet Elijah
                   before the great and terrible Day of Adonai comes,
                and he will reconcile parents to their children,
                   and children to their parents,
                so that, when I come,
                   I need not strike the land with utter destruction.
Malachi 4:5 (some English translations versus 5-6)

It is anachronistic to understand the image of parents and children reconciled as a reference to familial love. Malachi lived at a time when families were exhorted to honor each other. Love, as the binding cement of nuclear and extended families, would be an understanding centuries in the making. The family cement for Malachi was the covenant of Sinai – the causal “if you do, then I will do” expectations of the Sacred.

Still, the sentiment of family reconciliation as a sign of hope is as tender as it is curious. Malachi is not envisioning sugar-coated families of the nature of Ozzie and Harriet. Malachi envisions broken families where passions have been strained and family bonds torn and shattered. Malachi is thinking of those families that have flown apart and in their brokenness find each other once again.

I cannot help but think of those families in which the attack on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and asexual members prove traumatic and distressing: parents who have abandoned their queer children, siblings who have cut ties with their queer brothers or sisters. These families’ ability to turn with their hearts to each other is certainly a blessing to the land. All of these varied family structures remind us that there is something wonderful and life affirming about families who give their hearts to each other.

While I take joy in this image from Malachi, I am aware that families of birth present a unique issue for many a queer person – often our families of birth are the seat of the attitudes that deny us our dignity.

I find it curious that this metaphor of reconciled families is given as a sign of hope. It is saying that God’s new day is like when a dad turns to his son, and the son to his dad. The dad saying “I’m sorry,” and the son saying “It's okay, I understand.” Certainly this is a day worth struggling for, because reconciliation truly opens up a future which otherwise remains denied.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Nonconforming Relationships (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)

Love is patient; love is kind. Love is not jealous, it does not put on airs, and it is not snobbish; it is never rude or self-seeking; it is not prone to anger, nor does it brood over injuries. Love doesn’t rejoice in what is wrong, but rejoices in the truth. There is no limit to love’s forbearance, to its trust, its hope, its power to endure.                                                
                   1 Corinthians 13:4-7

For the sake of full disclosure I must share that I am a gay man who early on married a straight woman. Issues I should have dealt with remained repressed and suppressed until they forced their way forward long after my wife and I had fallen in love and given our hearts to each other. I am not unique in this circumstance. Many other good queer persons find themselves in similar situations.

What is unique is that my wife and I decided to remain together. We are a part of what is termed mixed orientation marriages. These are marriages in which one spouse is straight and the other is gay, bisexual, or transgender, intersex, or asexual. Couples like us make up a small portion of the queer experience.

When people ask why my wife and I are still together I can only answer because we love each other. Once I had a good friend declare, “I get love. I just don’t get your marriage!” For any other relationship love is the self-evident reason for the couple to be together. For mixed-oriented-marriages, it somehow is not.

I know that couples remain in relationship for a myriad of reasons. I cannot fathom why anyone would want to share life where love is not a component. This does not mean that love has resolved all of our marital issues. Love has not made me straight, but it allows my wife to affirm me as her gay husband. Love has not made my wife gay or bisexual, but it allows me to celebrate her beauty and warmth as a straight woman. Most of all, love allows us to be ever thankful for our presence in each other’s lives.

Love has taught us to see each other as precious. Love has taught us to be respectful of each other, to be courteous and considerate. Love has taught us tender patience and the fragile practice of deep forgiveness.

My wife never intended to marry a gay man. And I never intended to hurt anyone as deeply as I have hurt her. While we both freely admit we struggle toward the scriptures’ vision of love, in the end we find we cannot “quit” each other. So we celebrate the love that binds us together in all its nonconforming beauty.

The search for love is always a gamble. As queer people it is often withheld from us. So much greater the joy when it is found.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Acting Up (Nehemiah 1:2-4, 2:1-3)

Hanani, one of my brothers, came there with other Judeans. I asked them about Jerusalem, and about the Jewish remnant, the survivors of the exile. They told me, “The survivors of the captivity who returned to the province are in serious straits and are humbled. The wall is in ruin and its gates are burned down.” When I heard this, I sat down and cried, and mourned for days, fasting and praying to the heavenly God…
                It was in the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes’ reign. When it came time for the ruler’s wine, it was I who brought it to him. Now, I had never been sad in the ruler’s presence before, so he now asked, “Why do you look so ill, and yet are not ill? You must be sad of heart.” I was very afraid, but I answered, “May the ruler live forever! Should I not be sad? The city where my ancestors are buried lies in ruins, with it gates burned to the ground…”
                                               Nehemiah 1:2-4, 2:1-3

Nehemiah was not closeted. It was known by all that he was an Israelite. There is no hint in the book that carries his name that Nehemiah ever struggled to keep his identity a secret. There is no suggestion that Nehemiah ever clandestinely celebrated his connection to his tribe. Still, no matter how out he was, Nehemiah had to find his voice to address the powers-that-be on behalf of his people.

Many a queer person finds him or herself trying to balance the pull between speaking up and staying quiet. The timing to shout “I am here and I am queer” or more quietly say "Judge me by the content of my character” is not easily discerned. Most of us, if not all of us, have felt the apprehension of celebrating who we are among those who cannot see beyond the label.

The coming out process never ends and includes the crucial ability for us to find our voice. Without our voice we fall mute. In falling mute we become invisible. To be invisible is to die.

Nehemiah’s people are in danger. He cannot remain silent and invisible. Life and death are in the balance. Yet, neither can he readily speak up. He is in need of finding his voice. In need of finding his unique speech which discloses his being both in the world of his people and in the world of the Persian king.

Sometimes like we do, Nehemiah waits for permission from the one in privilege for the right to speak. I would like to jump into the story at this point and censor Nehemiah and dismiss Artaxerxes. I am all for damning a social hierarchy that damns so much of the population. Yet the relation between the royal cupbearer and the king, whose life Nehemiah so values as to lay his own on the line, forbids me from such rash thoughts.

This relation is not defined so much by social norms as it is one of mutual respect and dignity. How else would the king have noticed the distraught nature of Nehemiah? In the end it is not that Artaxerxes gives permission for Nehemiah to go to Jerusalem as it is he blesses his cupbearer. It is in this sharing of mutual concern that Nehemiah finds his voice. In finding his voice Nehemiah claims his pride. In claiming his pride Nehemiah claims his stake with his tribe and his “sadness” turns to joy.