Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gay Bashing for God (Isaiah 53:4-5)

                Yet you bore our illnesses
                   and carried our suffering.
                We thought you were being punished,
                   struck down by God, and brought low –
                but it was for our offenses that you were pierced,
                   for our sins that you were crushed;
                upon you lies a chastening that brings us wholeness,
                  and through your wounds we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5

It is very human to project our personal failures onto others. The Sacred in another time and understanding made room for this dynamic. Allowing the people of God, through their priestly representative, to lay hands on a goat and transfer all of the people’s failures and foibles onto the animal. This goat became the scapegoat. Its release into the wilderness carried the nasty and ugly projections away from the community.

Over the years we exchanged the goat for humans and release for death. Nothing short of blood atonement can satisfy our hatred of ourselves. Reflecting on this dynamic the French philosopher ReneĆ© Gerard suggests the cultural purpose of religion is to give holy blessings upon the scapegoats of society. Even non-religious folk find it easier to kill others if there is a tacit agreement that universal-common-sense sanctions’ the violence of society.

The history of the U.S. is riddled with scapegoats. The “witches” of Salem took the brunt of the fears and failures associated with American Indian uprisings of the time; American Indians themselves were viewed to be in a pact with Satan as they fought to defend their homeland; the character of African-Americans was labeled “primitive” so that European society need not be bothered with the heinous legacy of slavery. Then there is the queer - we have been blamed for a host of problems related to the decline of Western power.

The servant of this passage is a scapegoat: infirmed, diseased, stricken, afflicted, wounded, crushed, punished, and bruised. I do not know of a more apt description of our experience. The scandalous insight of Isaiah is that far from being an abhorrent enemy of God, the scapegoat is an instrument for healing. Those that society deems to be the worst of sinners turn out to be the closest to the heart and ways of the Holy.

Jesus seemed to be attuned to this dynamic when he said, “You are fortunate when others insult you and persecute you, and utter every kind of slander against you because of me. Be glad and rejoice, for your reward in heaven is great; they persecuted the prophets before you in the very same way” (Matthew 5:11-12).

Hmm – Jesus a scapegoat just like “witches,” “savages,” “niggers,” and “fags.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Perverted Gospel (Romans 8:35, 38-39)

What will separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Calamity? Persecution? Hunger? Nakedness? Danger? Violence? … For I’m certain that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, neither heights nor depths – nor anything else in all creation – will be able to separate us from the love of God that comes to us in Christ Jesus, our Savior.                       
                Romans 8:35, 38-39

The promise that Paul experienced in the Sacred of the vitality and power of divine love has been sorely tested for queer persons. Paul’s assertion that nothing in all creation is able to separate us from the love of God seems to have underestimated the power of religious institutions to oppress and to torment.

In the christian tradition a great perversion of the gospel of the Christ has taken place. The good news which is meant to restore and unite in love, has instead, been used to separate and to crush.

There are those who high jacked the gospel and turned the good news from a tool of healing and joy into a tool of guilt and control. In the hands of these misguided souls the “good news” becomes the “bad news”. The bad news declares unworthiness, instills hate, and legitimates human judgment. Ultimately the bad news segregates those “justified” to be in God’s presence from those “contemptible” in the sight of the Holy. According to Paul this is the antithesis of God’s love in Christ.

Far from being a burden the good news of the Christ is to be a liberating force in our lives. The good news empowers us for union with God and creation. The good news creates hope, opens new possibilities and rouses idle potential. The good news is good for it enlivens, supports, and makes possible the compassion of God in the lives of all people.

Nothing, Paul emphasizes, can separate us from the life giving and life blessing force of the Sacred. Yet, some religious persons work their best to do exactly that. Misguided by a prejudice dressed up in righteousness, religious folk have succeeded in driving away many from the presence of God.

Still even in the toughest of times when hate filled and spiteful things are declared from the conformist religious institutions, God’s love is not stymied. The good news goes out no matter how bad the followers of Christ trip all over ourselves.

In the church of my youth, while I was given a list of those who still had time to turn before they burned, I was also given pieces of the good news. A nascent knowing that nothing in life or in death can separate me from the compassion of the Sacred. Years later it was the good news that gave me the wherewithal to be proud of who I am. The good news whispers that while trouble, calamity, persecution, danger, and violence may be used against me, I cannot be separated from the love of God.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

God’s Place in the Gay Rights Movement (Jeremiah 15:15a, 21)

Adonai, remember me!
Remember me and help me!
(God says) “I will free you from the hand of the evildoer,
and rescue you from the clutches of the violent.”
Jeremiah 15:15a, 21

Psalm 1 promises a simple truth: the path of the justice-lover leads to a good life, the path of the unjust leads to a troublesome life. Happiness, affirms the Psalm, comes to those who take delight in the wisdom of the Sacred.

Jeremiah has followed the advice of Psalm 1. He received the guidance of God with delight, staying away from bad company. Yet, instead of happiness it is bitterness that the prophet experiences. For Jeremiah even the unifying image of Psalm 1, the assurance of a God who is like flowing water nourishing fruitful trees, is a lie. The prophet contends God is no better than a seasonal stream – a mere illusion of hope (15:18).

Jeremiah’s experience of the Sacred is far from the promise of Psalm 1: instead of certainty there is anxiety, instead of confidence there is apprehension, instead of trust there is dread, instead of peace there is trepidation.

The Holy, also versed in the promises of Psalm 1, tells Jeremiah to “turn back” and to “stand before me” (15:19). Getting a little technical, the Hebrew word for stand can also mean to serve as in the notion that to “stand before the throne” is to serve the ruler. In effect the Holy One invites Jeremiah to “turn back and serve me.” The same word appears in the opening verse of Psalm 1 in the description of the justice-lovers as those “who refuse to serve with criminals.”

In the best of biblical irony, the Sacred is saying that Jeremiah’s attitude has him serving the unjust. If the face of God is hidden it is because Jeremiah is serving, or standing in front of, the wrong audience.

Jeremiah’s troubles have to do with who he is trying to please. Apparently Jeremiah fell into the trap of public opinion. In issuing an invitation to turn back, the Holy is reminding Jeremiah that service to justice does not depend upon public opinion polls. Indeed justice is not always popular.

God’s promise to Jeremiah is not that the prophet will be removed from his predicament. The promise is that the Holy will be with Jeremiah in the midst of his predicament. “I will make you a bronze wall fortified against this people. They will fight against you but they will not overcome you” (15:20a).

The dynamics of our struggles for gay rights closely reflect this encounter of the Holy and Jeremiah. Justice-lovers are never alone, God stands with us.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

A Queer Prophet (Haggai 2:20-23)

On the twenty-fourth day of the month the word of Adonai came a second time to Haggai: “Speak to Zerubbabel, the high commissioner of Judah. Say this: ‘I am going to shake the heavens and the earth. I will overturn the judgment seats of entire countries and destroy the power of the rulers of the nations. I will overthrow their chariots and charioteers, and bring down their horses and riders; they will fall to the sword of their own comrades.
                “’When the day comes’, say Adonai Omnipotent, ‘I will take you Zerubbabel ben-Shealtiel, my servant – it is Adonai God who speaks – and make you my signet ring. For I have chosen you”, says Adonai Omnipotent
Haggai 2:20-23

Haggai is a bit of a misfit in the scriptures and even among the prophets. His people are in the midst of a draught leaving them with a belly full of hunger. Poverty marks their living and inflation is rampant - a tough time to be God’s voice to the people. Yet, Haggai does not broach any of these pressing issues. Haggai raises no lament to the Sacred, does not call for social justice, nor does he encourage the turning of hearts to each other. It appears that Haggai missed a class or two at prophet school.

Haggai is an oddity in the service of the Sacred. Haggai addresses the issue of the reestablishment of the Jerusalem Temple and temple-rituals. Other prophets railed against the Temple for it abuses. Haggai proclaimed against the grain. He lived and ministered by way of a different voice and vision of the Sacred. To prophesy that Zerubbable is God’s signet ring reversed the prophecy in Jeremiah 22:24 where Zerubbable’s grandfather is symbolized as the signet ring torn from the hand of God.

Haggai is funny – doesn’t he know that scripture speaks against him? Yet, his queer voice has also become a part of scripture. Do we toss Haggai out since his is the minority report? We certainly cannot. The editing of sacred texts for the purpose of excising passages we disagree with has only led to harm and the curtailing of the rich tenor of scripture.

The book of Haggai is itself a signet ring to us. It reminds us that the Sacred invites dialogue and encourages a diversity of views. It calls us to be courageous when our experience of God forms only a minority report. Haggai reminds us that God is relating to creation in ways that are dynamic instead of static – at one time flinging away a ring and at another time gathering it back up.

On the surface Haggai’s message does not belong in the scriptures. Haggai speaks from an experience which can be labeled as surprising, perplexing – queer – for it does not match what is the accepted and expected proclamation of a prophet of God. Like we sexual queers today, Haggai had to rely on his own experience of the Sacred, ignoring the institutional understanding. Like us today, Haggai had to claim for himself the right to speak for a God who had spoken at another time in a different way. Like us today, Haggai had to deal with textual harassment in order to announce God’s new vision for a new generation.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

A Sodomite Is Not a Criminal (Titus 3:1)

Remind people to be loyall subject to the government and its officials, to obey the laws, and to be ready to do whatever is good.                                                                                          
Titus 3:1

With this passage I am transported back to my childhood with the minister droning on about being good and productive citizens. Later in my adolescence it became clear that bad citizens were equated with sin and good citizens – those that “obey the laws” – with salvation.

In my early adult years I threw this passage back into the face of its writer. Sometimes citizens have the right to rebel when in the course of events governments participate in the oppression of their citizens. Nazi Germany is a great example, so many “good citizens” obeying the law. The U.S. culture's treatment of indigenous people is another example.

As a part of the sexual minority we face laws specifically designed to keep us from supportive and loving relationships. These laws are generally known as "Sodomite Laws," and makes us a special type of sexual criminal. The term comes from the story of Sodom and Gomorrah and originally refers to anal sex between males, its meaning has been somewhat broaden to refer to any same sex activity between men and as a heading for anti-gay laws refer to women engaged in same sex loving as well. Why would I ever counsel anyone to obey these types of law? To the contrary, I have blessed queer people and encouraged them to violate the law: a sodomite is not a criminal.

It is an easy temptation to toss the writer of this letter out and write him (or her) off as a buffoon: just another Roman citizen, privileged by laws written with a slant toward Roman males. It is easy to think, “Screw you. After you spend some time in my life, then we’ll talk about the law.”

Curiously, the writer (which may/may not be Paul) did spend time in our life as a leader of a small religious movement which was misunderstood and maligned. Christianity was a fast riser on the Roman Empire’s most hated list. The writer knew by experience what it means to face rejection by the dominant culture and to live in fear of its wrath.

It is hard to reconcile the writer’s treatment at the hands of the Romans with his regard for Roman rule. While we should not disregard this tension, when I step back and think about what larger picture the writer may have in mind my imagination percolates. No government is perfect – even one administered by queer people. If private motives are a jumble, how much more public motives tugged on by battling interest groups?

We cannot plumb the mind of the writer for his philosophy of civics, but I can offer a bit of my own. When laws build community, strengthen the rights of minorities, and protect the innocent I am happy to obey them. However, when laws serve to oppress, when they are devised to exploit and punish the non-guilty, when they tear at community or prohibit supportive relationships then we must rise up. With all means at our disposal we must work to dismantle privilege and prejudice masquerading as justice.

In the end, this is the only way I can be a good citizen.