Thursday, May 31, 2012

Amped (Ezekiel 37:1-6)

The hand of Adonai was upon me, and it carried me away by the spirit of Adonai and set me down in a valley – a valley full of bones. God made me walk up and down among them. And I saw that there was a vast number of bones lying there in the valley, and they were very dry. God asked me, “Mere mortal, can these bones live?”
                I answered, “Only you know that, Sovereign Adonai.
                And God said, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them: ‘Dry bones, hear the word of Adonai! Sovereign Adonai says to these bones: I am going to breathe life into you. I will fasten sinews on you, clothe you with flesh, cover you with skin, and give you breath. And you will live; and you will know that I am Sovereign Adonai.”
Ezekiel 37:1-6

Creative energy abstract digital art image
Used by permission

As a queer person of faith, do you ever grow tired? In the midst of the daily struggle for acceptance rest can be nothing more than a diminutive oasis in a vast desert. Worn out, dried up, and half buried by the sands of scorn, our bones lie scattered across the shifting dunes of indifference.

Water cannot revive these bones, nor can bandages knit back together what the vultures of contempt have torn apart. Only the force of life itself can revive what decay has claimed.

For Ezekiel the life giving force of the universe was the word of God - the divine creative energy dancing across the cosmos. Such energy brought into being the thoughts and aspirations of the Sacred.

“Dry bones, hear the word of Adonai!” is an invitation to allow the invasion of these holy energies into our tired lives. It is our opportunity to be infused and reanimated – our opportunity to be revived with the breath of life.

With the creative energy of the Sacred breathed into our weariness we begin to dance. We dance past slights and putdowns realizing they say more about the person who flung them then they say about us. We dance around doorways knowing that opportunities may be granted or withheld but what is of importance is the creative energies within us. We dance across deserts not in search of an oasis or refuge, but to transform the dry and cracked ground into a well watered garden of contentment.

We do not dance alone. We dance within and because of the embrace of the Sacred and other revived lives. Like Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, we are remade – glorious and whole – as at the first dawn because God has spoken and the divine word resides in us.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rainbow Altars (Ezra 3:1-3a)

When the seventh month arrived – the people having settled in their own villages – they assembled in Jerusalem as one body. Then Jeshua begot of Jozadak, together with the other priests, and Zerubbabel begot of Shealtiel, together with his family, began the building of the altar of the God of Israel so that they might make burnt offerings as was stipulated in the law of Moses, the godly one. They built the altar first, for they lived in fear of the peoples who lived around them…
Ezra 3:1-3a

LGBT Altar by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin @ Full story @
Fear is a powerful motivator. The cruelty that we enact due to fear is limitless. We slander, we provoke, we rationalize, we even kill. In the spiritual realm fear casts just as strong a shadow. Take for example the bullying behavior of those who fear the Sacred. As opposed to the behavior of those who love the Sacred.

In The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals Charles Darwin reminds us that fear is preceded by astonishment. Hence, in the world of ancient Israel “fear” or astonishment about God is the beginning of wisdom. In this passage of scripture though, fear is the sense of danger that we live with when we know that others do not like us. Fear is what we feel when we know others want us gone from their neighborhoods, and will seek our harm to get rid us.

In a twist of history those Jews returning to their ancestral homes after years in exile are now the foreigners. In a similar amazing twist we queers find ourselves suspect and feared when we return home to our authentic being. Coming out and speaking the truth to our affections and lives makes us foreigners in our own homelands.

Here we might take a cue from ancient Israel. The first thing they did after settling back down was to build an altar. The political statement involved in this project far outweighs any semblance of personal piety and devotion. An altar staked claims to a god, and a god staked political and cultural claims to a society.

This is the cue I am hoping lesbigaytransinterasexual community will be keyed to. If we are to live as foreigners in our own lands, then let us stake a claim to the Sacred. The political and religious structures allied against us will not be happy, and may, themselves, become fearful. Let us call upon God and may that calling shake the foundations of our detractors. 

Most importantly, let us stake our claim to the Holy. Let us honor the seasons of our lives as people who live in astonishment of God’s fearful and joyful love.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Sin (James 5:19-20)

My sisters and brothers, if you should wander from the truth and another should bring you back, remember that whoever turns sinners from the error of their ways saves them from death and cancels a multitude of sins.
James 5:19-20

Our Lady, by Alma Lopez @
James is a tough book to read. It enjoys its present position toward the end of the Greek Scriptures due to the great reformer Martin Luther who considered it a “right strawy epistle.” Although in Luther’s defense, it appears he missed the major emphasis of this book: faith formation as the key element in communal living.

I can also commensurate with James – it takes hard, hard work to build the beautiful community. That is the community where justice and righteousness or harmony and balance mark all relationships.

James (in theory the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem) is interested in the question of power. Particularly the question of how power plays out in a community of equality. James exhorts us to be stringent in the disciplines of the faith. These disciplines call on us to relinquish our hold on control, turn to those in need, and let go of carefully crafted priorities so they may be replaced by priorities of the crucified and resurrected One.

It is James’ unwavering focus on community that stands out. There is little room for the personal journey here. We are all in it together and we need to live compassionately together. Communal living is hard at best. Living compassionately in community is even harder. Love calls me to put others first, to think in terms of selfless concerns, and to move beyond the constraints of my own comfort zones.

Here at the close of his book James speaks of those who “wander from the truth,” and sinners being turned “from the error of their ways.” In conventional thinking by those who hold power this is a sure prohibition against sin. That I agree with. What I disagree with is how conventional thinking defines sin. Typically, this definition slants life against those without power. For the boss the worker is lazy, for the rich the poor steal, for the heterosexual the queer is unnatural.

But James resists this hierarchy of dominance. James, leading from the underbelly, defines sin as giving privilege to the wealthy, spreading false rumors about each other, and faltering in the work of faith formation.

Speaking from the margins for an equitable community James encapsulates what we may well begin to understand as a queer definition of sin – the use of power to subjugate, a dynamic keenly felt and articulated among the dyke community. As a lesbian friend of mine once said, "The sin is not that I love women, the sin is that I have been kept from loving women because 1) I am a woman and 2) I am a lesbian. On both accounts I am lesser than a male and being a lesbian who 'spurns' men I am less than a heterosexual female." She went on to say that if her "lifestyle" is a sin, then she had no problem dyking sin up a bit.

What my friend speaks about is what James wrestles with: helping the underbelly, that is the people oppressed as "sinners," to resist power-centric definitions of sin. This is religious harassment for the purpose of manipulating people through prejudice and self-righteousness. More urgent, then, is James exhortation to “bring back” and “turn sinners from their error” for the sake of the beautiful community.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sexual Minorities and Society’s Wellbeing (Judges 21:21, 23)

“When you see the young women of Shiloh dancing in the vineyard,” they were advised, “each of you should seize one of them for a spouse, and come back to the land of Benjamin…”
                So this is what the Benjaminites did. They carried off as many young women as they needed by abducting them from the vineyard during their dance
Judges 21:21, 23

Broken by gay artist Jason T. Ingram @
The book of Judges is replete with female characters. While some play minor parts, others are major figures who contribute in significant ways to the progression of Israelite history. The whole of Judges begins and ends with the place of women in society. Achsah, at the beginning demands her inheritance, land where she can make a home for herself. At the end un-named “young women” (13, 14, 15 year olds) are kidnapped from their land and homes.

Females in the book of Judges provide a barometer for the health of the community. As the narrative of Judges unfolds society spins out of control: injustices increase, chaotic confusion envelops the community, and the abuse of women escalates. Just a few versus from the ones sighted the book concludes with “all the people acted as they pleased” (21:25).

Ancient wisdom speaks truth here: if you want to know the health of a society look toward those who are most vulnerable. If you want to measure the wealth of a community take notice of how it supports those deemed “lesser citizens.”

Where do we begin? Is the starting point the taunting in school, or aspersions cast by family, the unease of co-workers? Do we include the inability to understand marriage as a right and not the privilege of the heterosexual community? Should we turn to the bloodstains on sidewalks, or the graves of those who could no longer take life as it was handed them?

As a contemporary barometer it must be acknowledged that society is ill, gravely ill. Yet, our culture seems to move on unaware of the cancer of intolerance that is ravaging its inner vitality and convulsing it into twisted expressions of hate.

There is truth to the rhetoric of conformist religious voices – our society is in trouble. Like Israel in the time of the judges, our troubles are not the result of the despised underclass. No, our troubles extend from those who should know better but act as they please; their actions contributing to the demise of the susceptible.

Not every queer faces the onslaught of prejudice. Families, co-workers, friends, and others contribute support and love to our lives. Yet, as the contemporary barometer we must raise our voices until, at last, society hears. For as long as the defenseless remain vulnerable, society as a whole is in trouble.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Vicious Time (Habakkuk 1:2)

How long, Adonai, am I to cry for help
                   while you do not listen?
                How long will I cry “Oppression!” in your ear
                   and you do not save?
Habakkuk 1:2

Impact by gay artist Jim Dryden @
Life in the “meantime” is difficult. Habakkuk is experiencing his meantime between God’s generous offer of a promise and the fruition of that promise. We know how this feels. Many of us experience the promise of equality while still living in the not-yet of the politically expedient.

Like Habakkuk, we mourn the prayers that go unanswered. Like Habakkuk, we feel that our yearning for communities of understanding is distorted. How long shall we cry for help? Will the Sacred, which professes to honor empathy and personhood, hear our cries?

There are times when God seems so far away that I wonder if I have fooled myself. For Habakkuk and us, our frustration is born out of our experience that this is the same God who breathed life into creation, the same God who split the sea, the same God who entered into covenant, and the same God who raises the dead. Why does this God tarry and turn a blind eye? Why doesn’t this God rouse the divine self and attend once again to the cries of those in need? Why have we only heard of the wonders of God in the past and not experienced them in our time?

This is the tension of the “meantime.” I long and hope and wait for a timing that is known to the Sacred yet is hidden to me. Feeling blocked out I am frustrated. Far more exhilarating is the time of receiving a promise, or the time of seeing it fulfilled. Much harder is living in the meantime. Where is that threshold at which “meantime” becomes “mean (or vicious) time?”

The question Habakkuk asks is not why is God slow? Instead Habakkuk asks “how do we live in the meantime between promise and fulfillment?” The answer according to the prophet is that we live by faith. In the context of Habakkuk’s day this means living a life informed by the Holy.

As a queer, I hear Habakkuk’s insight as encouraging me to live as if the promise has already been fulfilled. I know from experience that when I live in despair I am angry and obstinate. On the other hand, when I live in the expectancy of promise I am creative and compassionate.

Habakkuk must have had the same experience, for at the end of his writing he celebrates: “God makes my feet as agile as a deer’s, and teaches me to walk on the heights” (3:19). May God make it so for all of us.