Thursday, August 30, 2012

Cleansed by the Fires of Bigotry (1 Peter 1:6-8)

There is cause for rejoicing here. You may, for a time, have to suffer the distress of many trials. But this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears.                               
                   1 Peter 1:6-8

Bigotry's Blood by Emmanuel Dada
The christian community was on the ropes. A suspect group within a larger social matrix, the majority of which thought of christians as “those people.” Here is a parallel with the queer experience as marginalized, suspect, and outside the mainstream. In a ironic twist of history (or is it the hand of God at play?) contemporary queers know better the experience of the early church then do the many christians who raise their voice against us. At what point did the persecuted become the persecutors? The answer is always when power corrupts.

The thought and attitude expressed in this text has caused me much frustration. For a number of years I understood the metaphor of refining gold and suffering persecution as a poor excuse for submitting to torment and affliction. I tended to resonate with Dada's understanding as portrayed above - bigotry contorts and mangles the lives of good people. The present suicide rate among queer teens is a tenacious witness to the crushing effects of bigotry.

Over the years though I've come to find this metaphor strangely wise. It really isn’t offered up as an excuse or even an explanation. The sacred texts are much to mature to offer clichéd hope in the face of anger and hate. Instead the text seeks to help us understand what end affects of such afflictions are – mainly soulful formation. We who are smeared and cursed are shaped by these experiences. We can easily name the negative twisting and bending of the soul that takes place, a bit harder to claim, as 1 Peter does, is the positive affects of the twisting and bending.

Heteronormativity gives power and privileges to straight people due solely to their sexual orientation. It reacts negatively to notions of being inclusive to a diversity of sexual expression. Since this attitude can see no good in those who are non-heterosexual it fosters an understanding of queer people as defective, or to use a churchy word as “sinners.” Little wonder souls have been broken under this task master.

1 Peter gives us an insight into resisting and claiming our identity in the face of “normative” behavior set by a dominate heterosexists society. By suggesting that oppression can refine the soul, the text is saying that the gold deep within us shall be manifested, that our lives, while marginalized are not marginal.

The text moves on to describe, in biblical terms, what the refined gold is: the love of a society structured by justice, balance, harmony, and other such community building dynamics. As 1 Peter hints, if any such society is to emerge it will do so on the hard work and compassion of those who are now being cleansed in the fires of bigotry.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Doublespeak (Zephaniah 3:9)

Then I will restore pure lips to all peoples,
                   that they may invoke Adonai by name
                   and serve God with one accord.
Zephaniah 3:9

Angry Words 2 by Helena M. Langley

What does a new world order look like? Certainly it is more than the present vision of Pax Americana, which is anything but peaceful.

For Zephaniah a fresh start to the earth is “pure” or unified speech. Proverbs reminded us of the power of words to shape reality (see the post “Slurs”). Zephaniah reminds us that words fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and form an image. Unified speech presumes clarity of communications where the thoughts and emotions inside us are articulated so that others may experience and understand our point of view – so that others can comprehend our piece of the jigsaw in the larger picture. Unified speech also suggests that others can do the same so we may understand their self-articulation.

Admittedly, this is an odd vision of a new world order. Odd, unless we understand the old world order it replaces - garbled speech and the inability to communicate or to comprehend. Garbled speech removes safety from the forum of conversation. As is demonstrated in Helena M. Langley's piece - angry words layer, weigh down, and crowd out. The term doublespeak, which alludes to the excessive blurring use of words so that the hearer no longer recognizes their meaning, may best describe a world in which we continue to talk past one another.

Queer people talk about "love" while our detractors talk about "perversion." Queer people talk about "marriage" while our detractors talk about "erosion." Queer people talk about "diversity" while our detractors talk about "pollution." You get the picture.

In our time with the proliferation of mass media words are cheap. Words that mean nothing are even cheaper. The present climate of the exchange of ideas has been greatly poisoned and polarized by the easy use of heated words spoken from a place far from the heart of God. In the volley of verbal warfare the security to articulate and to listen has long been a casualty. Indeed an inability to communicate is its own kind of hell.
In this passage it is the praise of God which becomes the cause of meaningful speech. How calmer the present climate would be if the purpose of our speech was to acclaim the Holy instead of criticizing each other. How more genuine our words are when the Sacred in me recognizes and communicates to the Sacred in you. How much more listening would be undertaken to speech that is integrated and safe?

Being on the receiving and giving end of cutting comments I look forward to the day when speech is pure once again. The day when in unity speech is aimed in praise of the One who made us loud and quiet, noble and proud, straight and queer.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Judged (Zachariah 3:1-5)

Then God showed me Yehoshua the high priest standing before the Angel of Adonai, with the satan standing at the Angel’s right hand, harassing Yehoshua about various things. And the Angel of Adonai said to the satan, “May Adonai silence you, Satan! May Adonai, who chose Jerusalem, silence you. Isn’t Yehoshua a stick snatched from the fire?”
                Standing before the Angel, Yehoshua’s clothes were covered in excrement. The Angel said to the attendants, “Help him take off those filthy clothes.”
                Addressing Yehoshua, the Angel said, “I have taken away your guilt, and I will clothe you in splendid priestly robes!” Then, to the attendants, “- and put a clean turban on his head!” They dressed Yehoshua as instructed them, as the Angel of Adonai stood nearby.
Zechariah 3:1-5

The Last Judgment by Stefen Lochner (15th Century)
Clichéd are court scenes before the Holy and Righteous Judge of the living and the dead.  Such rhetoric and images as the painting by Stefen Lochner are used to scare and to scar queer people. A tactic which has been around for as long as homosexual, bisexual, and transgender dynamics have been condemned in the name of the of Holy and Righteous Judge of the living and the dead.

Joshua (Hebrew – Yehoshua) standing before the Sacred with the adversary (the satan) standing at his side leveling accusation after accusation is a dynamic well known to us. In an ironic twist religious traditions are the modern Satan, accusing us of wickedness and painting dark pictures of the queer “lifestyle.” Like Joshua we stand in the heavenly tribunal with rags made filthy by the overwhelming onslaught of slander flung at us.

Joshua, a high priest returning from exile, was a controversial figure. According to their detractors Joshua and his kind were considered sorceresses, offspring of adulterers and whores, burned with lust, sought child sacrifice, and abandoned by God (Isaiah 57:1-8, also see 57:9-13, 58:1-5, 59:1-15, 65:1-7, 66:3-4). It is hard not to hear an echo of the modern religious persecution of queer folk in these descriptions.

Figuratively Joshua has been put on trial and Satan (Hebrew – accuser or adversary) is just another prophet of God in this scene (only later in tradition does Satan become the devil). The actions of the judge in this trial are suspect for the judge finds in favor of Joshua and against the adversary. 

Did the judge not hear the testimony of the prophet/adversary? I suppose when you are the Holy and Righteous One you may need to ignore your own prophet from time to time. “May Adonai silence you, Satan!” is as strong a Holy “shut your face” we find anywhere in the scriptures. In an unexpected turn those who brought Joshua to trial are those rebuked and Joshua is adorned with fresh festal apparel – a sign of the true life within.

Where the adversary knows only fault finding, the Sacred knows forgiveness. To quote one of my favorite scriptural interpreters, Elizabeth Achtemeir, on this passage, “Hell is where a person receives what he deserves, but heaven is where he is forgiven.”

God has given us a great gift. The next time we find ourselves persecuted, we will know the truth.  The Holy will clothe us in joy, for the Holy seeks solidarity with us.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Shalom Y’all (2 Thessalonians 3:16)

Now may the God of peace give you peace at all times and in every circumstance. God be with you all!                                                                                               
                   2 Thessalonians 3:16

"Aesthetic Aphrodisiacs - Tribute to Geroge Barbier and Art Deco/Nouveau"
by Jennifer Jigour @

I love the phrase “God of peace.” It reminds me that the Sacred is not bitter or angry. Peace here is more than the absence of war and hostility. Such an understanding is really a definition of tolerance. Peace in both the Hebrew and Greek scriptures has always been more. It is about being whole and complete – the presence of well-being. Jennifer Jigour's painting gives expression to how sexaul peace - here two women sharing a tender moment - aids in completing our souls.

The scriptural citation is the opening line of a short prayer in which peace is petitioned from the God of peace. The writer of the letter was thinking in terms of a wellness that goes beyond our circumstances. In this prayer peace is not what happens outside of us, but rather, the harmony and balance we carry inside us even in the midst of external chaos. 

In my college days I happened to be in Europe at the height of the hawkish years of the Reagan administration. One of the persons I encountered there was an active member of the European peace movement. She explained their philosophy: “You cannot have peace in the world until there is peace in your nation. You cannot have peace in your nation until there is peace in your city. You cannot have peace in your city until there is peace in your neighborhood. You cannot have peace in your neighborhood until there is peace in your family. You cannot have peace in your family until there is peace in you.”

As a spiritual person I would add, you cannot have peace in yourself until you are at peace with the Sacred. The well-being we carry in us, at its roots, is born out of the experience that all creation - even that which is created queer - rests in the bosom of the Ineffable.

Peace as well-being is something that tends to elude large number of queer persons. In the midst of societal turmoil and personal confusion the only thing we really know is chaos and its’ attending dislocation and dread. Peace can be as far from our experience as Pluto is from the sun.

The scriptures gently remind us that the God of peace is in the habit of granting peace. That while this peace does not remove us from the fray, it does supply well-being in the midst of the pandemonium. Shalom y'all!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Protest (Jonah 4:9-11)

God said to Jonah, “What gives you the right to be upset about the castor oil plant?”
                He replied, “I have every right to be angry, to the point of death!”
                Adonai replied, “You feel sorrow because of the castor oil plant that cost you no labor, that you did not make grow, that sprouted in a night, and that perished in a night. Is it not right, then, for me to feel sorrow for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?”
Jonah 4:9-11

San Diego Gay Protest Sign

The ability to protest is an existential leap into self-being. Culture is accustomed to pronouncing its judgments and investing in the building of legal and social controls to buttress the so called self-evident truths of the status quo. To raise a protest in such times is to invite the slings and arrows of an angry society. Yet, it is also to establish a self beyond the repressive forces of rank-and-file thinking. It is the movement from life with the herd into the authentic life of the self as defined from the inside out.

The voice of protest is the arrow strung on the tension of injustice, released to fly against the battlement of indifference. This solitary arrow finding its mark creates the chink by which the edifice of prejudice is weakened and falls under the weight of its own pretenses.

The voice of protest in the book of Jonah is the voice of the Sacred. The object of the protest is the Divine’s own prophet.

Jonah does not care for Nineveh the capitol of Assyria. As a riving leviathan Assyria swallowed up nations and people in a blood lust of brutal atrocities for the sake of empire building. All her neighbors formed the opinion that Assyria and her great murderous heart, Nineveh, deserved nothing less than cruelty. Praise to those who brought her down and let her blood.

The Sacred was of a different opinion.

The contrast here is not between God and Assyria. The contrast is between God and Jonah. God calls Jonah to self-individuation. But, Jonah is unable to emerge from the status quo.

We queers also need to heed the call of the Sacred to individuation. It is our divine call to raise the protest. We must assert the message that God is not satisfied with things as they are. We must sound the alarm that God’s concern is for all the peoples of the earth. We must share the empowering news that the Holy One of Israel is not stymied by people of faith. We must object when religion is perverted for the domination of persons. We must, as God does, protest.