Thursday, July 26, 2012

Slurs (Proverbs 12:18, James 3:1-12)

Sharp words cut like a sword,
                   but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18, James 3:1-12

found @

This proverb is a reversal of the old childhood mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words…” Well, supposedly words will never hurt us, but they do. Not only the slurs flung our way, but the very words that jumble in us as in the word-art above. Those discerning their orientation - lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning persons - are especially vulnerable to sharp words, receiving their thrust deep into the psyche.

The queer community for a number of years has been reclaiming words. In a very healthy way we have taken the swords meant to hack us and turned them into shields of honor. "Faggot," "queer," "gay," "homo," "sissy," "butch," "dyke" and others are now internalized as points of pride instead of points of shame.

The lesbian biblical scholar Mona West states it succinctly: “Oppressed peoples over the years have understood the power and importance of choosing their own words to name themselves rather than allowing the dominant culture to assign negative meaning to certain words that are used to demonize a group of people. Words are powerful tools used to describe experience and shape reality” (from the article Queer Spirituality).

In another setting James (James 3:1-12) expands upon this proverb. He uses the images of bits and rudders, sparks and fires, and pure and brackish water to describe how words shape reality.

The first set of images is of steering devices – bits in the mouths of horses, and rudders mounted to ships. Words are devices that set our course. Rather spoken about us or by us, words can determine our destination. In the case of a ship we can make it to the harbor or founder on the shoals. Living in the Denver metropolitan area I have become well aware of how words spoken about the recent shooting in the Aurora theater steer the sentiment of the public.

The image of sparks and fires reminds us that every word we speak is a spark with the potential to set a fire. Fire in itself is not necessarily a bad thing. It has the potential to refine gold. Yet, fire also has the potential to ravish, and destroy – a dynamic of speech and words we who are in the sexual minority experience all too readily.

The third image of pure and brackish water is drawn from desert living. The soil of the desert can poison the water due to its alkaline content. It is important in the desert to not only know where the water sources are, but also if it is a source of "living water" or "dead water." Words like brackish water are life cursing, not life blessing. Take the controversy with Chick-fil-A as words meant to defend one faith stance are used to curse another stance.

Unfortunately there is a tendency for queer folk to mimic straight society’s need to taunt and jeer with words. The proverb reminds us that just like anyone else, we queers can us words to hack, cut and slay or bind up, mend, and heal.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Queer Love (1 John 3:16-18)

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ died for us. And we, too, ought to lay down our lives for our sisters and brothers. If you have more than enough material possessions and see your neighbors in need yet close your hearts to them, how can the love of God be living in you? My children, our love must not be simply words or mere talk – it must be true love, which shows itself in action and truth.                                                                                                                  
                   1 John 3:16-18

"Lila" by Philip Shadblot
Love in this passage is portrayed in very down to earth terms. As Christ died for us so we ought to give our lives for others. Got more than enough to live on? Then share with those in need. Unlike those who only drone on about the virtues and beauty of loving we must love through our deeds.

While not perfect, and far from being a cohesive entity, queer love mirrors what the writer of 1 John aims at. By virtue of being outcasts our “forbidden” love is a love of deeds. Queer love stands in the face of hatred. Queer love teaches in the presence of ignorance. Queer love leads in the journey to liberation.

If there is a special “role” for the christian queer in the contemporary church, or queers of other faiths, this may be it. Who better to rekindle the flame of active love in an aging and increasingly unfeeling institution? Who better to quicken the spirit of inclusivity? Who better to buttress the ramparts to the onslaught of injustice? Who better to name the sins committed against the fringe and the weak?

Personally I confess that I have not left my faith institution – the Church – because I feel there is a vital place for me not only as a queer minister, but for queers in general. While I do not believe we are God’s last hope, I do believe we are a hope of God to reclaim the vision of Christ that all may come to know the infinite love of the Sacred.

But in order to fulfill this role we queers must not lose sight of what love is. Being loved is not being welcomed into the rank of the ordained. Being loved is not finding a place at the table so long denied us. Being loved is not taking up the power others would give us whether in small of great amounts.

Love, as sacred scripture reminds us, is turning to those still in need. Love is taking stock of our lives and sharing our blessings with others. Love understands that the greatest gift is to give our lives in the service of others: if Christ is our model, giving our lives in the service of those who hate us.

Power is deceptive, especially when we think we wield it justly for the sake of others. But power is not love. As Shadblot demonstrates in his painting, love alone is truth. Love alone prevails.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

When God Snaps (Obadiah vv. 1c-4)

Thus says Adonai concerning Edom:
                I will diminish you among the nations.
                   You will be utterly despised.
                Your arrogant heart has lead you astray,
                   you who live in mountain clefts,
                whose home is in the heights,
                   you say in your heart,
                   “Who is able to bring me down to the ground?”
                Though you soared like the eagle,
                   and built your nest among the stars,
                I will fling you down again –
                   it is Adonai who speaks
Obadiah vv. 1c-4

“The Revenge” bronze and patina 27x35x34 inches
Cedric Loth @

Vengeful snapping is a sweet and tasty morsel in the mouth of those starved for equality. Here is a passage that speaks to God’s anger and God’s resolution to snap at Edom. “Though you soared like the eagle … I will fling you down…”

Edom must have done something heinous to bring the wrath of the Lord God Almighty upon her head. Yet, when we probe the other verses of this book it becomes clear that Edom’s great offense is what she did not do. While Judah her neighbor was being pillaged by Babylon, Edom stood by silent and inactive.

In defense of Edom I am not sure what she could have done against the military might of Babylon. No doubt she would have round up like Judah, plundered and exiled. No one dare brook the influence of Babylon. Yet, the Sacred is not concerned with whether or not Edom would have succeeded. The concern is that during a time which called for solidarity and mutual support, Edom chickened out. This did not go unnoticed by God and now revenge – that sweet tasty morsel – will be savored.

There are those who seek such revenge for our own humiliation. Being laughed and jeered at while family, friends, religion, and law silently stand by tends to leave us wanting to savor the sweet taste of a flurried snap. Who would not jump at the chance to repay those who added to our misery? Yes, revenge upon all those cruel and repulsive people would be a sweet and tasty morsel.

Such revenge as noted in the sculpture "The Revenge" though causes us just as much trouble as the person we seek revenge upon. While the fisherman certainly gets his comeuppance, the life of the swordfish is forever changed, possibly costing the fish its own life as well. And such revenge is empty and hollow. Justice – the recognition that we are all equals – is not served by a shallow snapping or a simple letting of anger and rage. Although there is a place for such venting, if those oppressed are ever to enjoy a voice among equals.

Obadiah speaks of God’s vengeance – not ours. Obadiah gives me hope. God sees my humiliation, hears’ my cry, and in a timing beyond my understanding, acts in just vengeance so that integrity is served.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Idol of Heteronormativity (Daniel 3:16-18)

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego replied to Nebuchadnezzar, “Great Ruler, we do not need to defend ourselves before you. If you throw us into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to overcome the blaze and rescue us from your hand. But even if God does not rescue us, we want you to know, Great Ruler, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you set up.”
Daniel 3:16-18

"Captian Moroni"
 illustration from the Book of Mormon
I consider myself steeped in the long and rich spiritual traditions of judeo-christianity. Yet, I freely admit that the god concepts that inform my relationship to the Sacred are different. Straight god images have only served to block access to the Holy as they are often used as instruments of spiritual bullying.

My image of the Sacred does not fear sex and sensuality. The Holy does not consider it shameful to express a love that cries out to be celebrated. This sense of God and what God is about in creation, needless to say, gets me in trouble.

In one incident it was suggested that I should be immediately fired – not because I’m gay, but because I publicly joked about being a gay man married to a straight woman. On another occasion I was vehemently told that I was setting “the cause” back because a retreat team I was a part of named our event “QueerSpirit.”

The unspoken notion present in these incidents is that the Sacred desires and needs these criticisms delivered to an upstart queer minister; delivered by those invested in heteronormative concerns. Nothing I said or did on these occasions would have raised an eyebrow had the issue been safely wrapped in the straight worldview.

The problem is that I am not straight and I do not care to worship a god who is straight. For that matter I do not care to worship a god who is queer. I prefer to worship the God of all humanity and all creation. For me to worship any lesser god would be an act of idolatry.

In this passage, idols are seen as the bane of uniformed people. Idols served the purpose of picturing the gods, preserving confidence in these gods, and supplying supernatural means for blessing as well as means to avoid disasters. The idol of heterosexuality, as captured so wonderfully in the illustration from the Book of Mormon, certainly provides for all of these amenities in the face of contemporary sexual anxiety. Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego the idol which enamors society simply does not move me to worship.

My views most certainly place me among the heretics. Agreeing with these three heroes of faith, whether or not the one true God rescues me, I will not bow down. I cannot worship something less, no matter how straight acting it is.