Thursday, December 27, 2012

Sexually Transmitted Disturbance (Mark 4:26-29)

Jesus said further, “The reign of God is like this: a sower scatters seed on the ground, then goes to bed at night and gets up day after day. Through it all the seed sprouts and grows without the sower knowing how it happens. The soil produces a crop by itself – first the blade, then the ear, and finally the ripe wheat in the ear. When the crop is ready the sower wields the sickle, for the time is ripe for the harvest.”               
                Mark 4:26-29

Faggot by Jessicuhh Sophia
Of all the parables we have encountered this one may be the most accessible to sexual minorities. The image of a seed sprouting and growing mirrors for many a queer person their sense of being different. Our straight friends have never had to give thought to the dynamics of coming-to-terms then coming-out. Rarely has their sexual feelings been questioned, or shamed, or held in contempt. If anything their heterosexuality has been an unconscious key to their acceptance by family, friends, and co-workers. Rarely does being straight cause a disturbance.

Queer folks on the other hand, have had to come to terms with how our being different can cause a disturbance to either ourselves or to others, sometimes both. At first it may be just the seed of the thought that we are not like others. Some can articulate this feeling of “otherness” quickly. For some the thought remains nascent and ambiguous.

This seed/feeling begins to take shape. We realize that our sense of “otherness” begins to define how people relate to us. The artist Sophia writes this about her photo: "I had this idea with paint and I wanted to write Faggot on him, nothing to do with him actually being gay, he just offered to do a shoot with me. I do have an idea of painting CUNT on a girl, maybe BITCH too, REDNECK on a white person, NIGGER on a black person. And just have the photos lined up next to each other. Just how society paints descriptions on people, and also how those same people believe those descriptions." Little wonder that Sophia also provided the title for this post.

In the midst of lables and roles fears of acceptance or rejection, of love or hate, of communion or loneliness stir. In this mix as the sprout now takes on the form of a plant self-identity emerges. I am gay. I am lesbian. I am transgender. I am queer. I am asexual. I am intersex. I am bisexual. I am straight, but not narrow. I am these things by my internal compass, but am I also these things due to society's labels? This is the distrubance to ourselves.

When our little seed of a feeling bear's a harvest, we might call our fruit love, or acceptance, or dignity, or community, or congruence, or understanding. I would use the word Pride. We become proud and take joy in being “other” and celebrate our otherness as a gift from the Hand of Life.

According to Jesus this is what the empire of the Sacred is like – a seed, a nascent impression or feeling. We usually don’t experience empires built out of such inconsequential things. Empires are forged by armies and egotistical minds. But not so with the empire of the Sacred, it is organic like a seed. It takes time to sprout. It lives to bear a harvest. This empire does not exist to serve itself. This empire exists to feed the hungry.

As queer people we have been known to hunger for a morsel of peace in the midst of our sexually transmitted disturbance. God’s empire is for us, indeed for anyone left out and left behind by the empires of sexual conformity and conditional love.

“Like a seed,” Jesus intones at the beginning of several of his parables. Small. Humble. Like the unassuming sense that somehow we are different. The kingdom of God and the discernment of being queer, both prepare us to be ripe for the harvest, so that others will not hunger.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Fabulously Queer-Tinged Light (Mark 4:21-22 // Matthew 5:14-1; Luke 8:16; 11:33-35)

A Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to one and all!

(Jesus) also said to the crowd, “Would you bring in a lamp and put it under a bushel basket or hide it under the bed? Surely you’d put it on a lamptstand! Things are hidden only to be revealed at a later time. They are made secret only to be brought out into the open.”          
                Mark 4:21-22 (Matthew 5:14-15; Luke 8:16; 11:33-35)
"This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.” I have no memory of learning this song. I only have memories of singing it. Even now, these many years removed from my childhood and after a whole lifetime of living this song has the power to move me to actions – or to tears – depending upon the setting.

Light is not meant for hiding, it is meant for shinning as any fabulous person can tell you. The Gospel according to Mark binds the theme of light to the issue of private and public knowledge: what is hidden will be revealed; what is secret will be shared.

This sentiment echoes dynamics in the coming out process. To let our light shine is to claim and live publically our self-identity. This is one reason the closet is an unhealthy place, for in the closet darkness seeks to smother our light. Too many queer lights have been doused by the shadow of public hate and private self-recrimination. As the famed drag queen Ru Paul is fond of asking, “If you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else?”

Part of our light is self-love. Not self-egotism, but the kind of self-acceptance which allows us to claim our God-given identity with joy and pride. Only with this self-valuing can we dare set our fabulously queer-tinged light on a lampstand.

My father was a Southern Baptist minister. I learned early on that the cardinal rule was not to embarrass the family. I also learned pretty fast that the cardinal sin was to engage in behavior which certainly did embarrass the family. My spark of self-acceptance was for a long time eclipsed by the hegemony of prim and proper heterosexual propriety. Anything less would bring public humiliation upon the family.

By way of the greatest irony of this gay boy’s life, God fanned the embers of acceptance of deep love through a young woman. Later on she would become my wife (or as she sees it, I became her husband) and continued to love the light in me even when it threatened our relationship. (For more on my marriage see the post Nonconforming Relationships).

It was barely a glowing ember which survived what I playfully call my “blissfully ignorant years.” I give thanks that they were ignorant or the ember may not have survived at all. I am more thankful for the breath of the Spirit blowing through my wife and sparking the light of love and self-appreciation within me.

All persons have this light, but bigotry and discrimination have made it hard for a number of people to claim their light with any assurance and confidence. More so our need to hear this ancient invitation from the Christ to set our light on the lampstand of the world, and to “let it shine, let it shine, let it shine!”

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On the Path to a Sex-Positive God (Mark 2:21-22 // Matthew 5:36-38; Luke 9:16-17)

Prayers and hugs to those affected by the school shooting in Connecticut. When senseless violence takes the lives of children, our grief is all the deeper.
“No one sews a patch of unshrunken cloth on an old cloak. Otherwise, the patch pulls away from it – the new from the old – and the tear gets worse. Similarly, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If one does, the wine will burst the skins, and both wine and skins will be lost. No, new wine is poured into new wieskins.”            
                Mark 2:21-22 (Matthew 5:36-38; Luke 9:16-17)
Jesus and Lord Rama by Alex Donis
for an insightful article on this art work see
Queer spirituality suffers much under a sexual monolithic orthodoxy (which only existed in theory but rarely in practice). We have and still continue to fight hard against this idea of sexual conformity. This notion binds us to an impoverished understanding of human sexuality, which in turn is tied to a rigid obedience to even dustier notions of the Sacred. As sexual minorities, one of our greatest spiritual tasks centers around freeing ourselves from injurious beliefs which keep us chained to Victorian prudence and its accompanying hierarchy of male over female, European over indigenous cultures, and straight over queer.

Our efforts to break the chains of a sex-negative God has itself been raised as a sign of our undisciplined and heretical thinking. According to our detractors we delude ourselves when we break the bindings of sexual conformity. Our attempts at liberation are but delusional ways to participate in sexual perversity. For me this is akin to the southern white slave owner who, following the U. S. Civil War,  warns his former slaves that freedom will be the death of them. All the while the former slave owner turns a convenient blind eye to the unmarked graves on the back of the property.

The thrust of these twin parables actively encourage us to overthrow the bondage and slavery of tyrannical religion. The context of Mark’s gospel has Jesus uttering these sayings in defense of his lack of attention to the tradition of fasting. Like the Jesus movement from which this gospel arose, queer spirituality and allegiance to a sex-positive God is a fresh path into the Sacred demanding appropriate new forms of expression and honor. Donis' image reminds us that the One who created all things sexual is not shamed by sensual expression.

I think it is important that we note the foolish backward nature of the actions in these parables. We do not ruin a bolt of new cloth by cutting a piece off in order to patch a worn out cloak. Rather, we would make a new cloak from the bolt and save the old to cut pieces off as patches. Similarly we would not put fermenting wine into dried, cracked animal skins.

Yet in some ways this is what religious people seek to do. Instead of celebrating and joining in the new reality God is working to bring about, we piecemeal it onto the old reality. We have come to believe that worn out and dried up is to be prized while the new and supple are to be feared. Letting go of the harmful that keeps us bound can be a difficult step. What if we offend the Sacred? What if we get it wrong? What if Donis' art is more blasphemous than it is a window on the Divine?

The new has the propensity to come in the guise of the mysterious and giddy, looking more profane than sublime as is evident in the work of Donis. These parables warn us not to compromise the new and unfamiliar for the old and customary.

To push the parables a little further we must acknowledge that the newer does have continuity with the older. The new cloth is spun of wool sheared from sheep which contributed wool to earlier cloaks. The vineyard from which the new wine flows produced an earlier batch of wine that first filled the now cracked wineskins.

This same continuity is found within us as well. The lesbian biblical scholar Mona West reminds us that our past, our hurts and joys, our failures and accomplishments, our experience on life’s journey “is a source of revelation and can be trusted to point us to the Divine.” Queer spirituality, congruent with our experience, leads us to play at the feet of the sex-positive God. 

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Queer on Queer Hate (Matthew 25:31-33)

“At the appointed time the Promised One will come in glory, escorted by all the angels of heaven, and will sit upon the royal throne, with all the nations assembled below. Then the Promised One will separate them from one another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. The sheep will be place on the right hand, the goats on the left…                                                                                    
                Matthew 25:31-33
Self Hatred Is So Gay
Thus begins a favorite passage from my halcyon days as a social activist in college. The parable has everything a budding activist needs: a portrait of Jesus as the reigning sovereign; humanity divided by how we care for the most vulnerable among us; and – the coup-de-grace – the teaching that the Sacred is found in the marginalized, the poor, the outcast. Yes, this parable fueled my actions to care for the least of these, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. Those were some great days. My heart is still warmed by the memories of my friends and our adventures in counterculture attitudes and actions.

As expected, college gave way to seminary. In the class on parables I chose this one to investigate. At that time my budding scriptural interpretation skills (do they ever fruit?) was anchored in “Cannonical Criticism” – situating a passage in the larger flow of themes within the individual biblical book it is located, and then situating that theme within the broader flow of the entire bible (or cannon).

I found that the term “least of these” is used in Matthew to speak not of the marginalized of society, but rather to speak of the disciples and followers of Jesus (see the parallel passage in Matthew 10). Now this intrigued me – why would the emergent church self-identify as hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, and imprisoned? The reason was that being a christian in those days often put you at odds with your family and society.

There exists a mirroring between the estrangement of queers from family and society and the estrangement of the emergent church. Like queers today, the early followers of Jesus turned to one another for support, acceptance, and safety when society and family only offered shame, derision, and illegality. What divides (a very Matthean theme) the sheep from the goats is a failure of an oppressed and despised group to take care of their own.

We queers are guilty of such shunning. Within our attitudes and actions is as rigid a hierarchy as exist among the most pressing settings of patriarchy. Fems and flames need not respond, bears carved out their own space, and the aging gay male body is anathema. Lesbians can be more concerned about who has suffered more, bisexuals are deemed “fench setters,” transgenders and intersexuals are oddities of nature, and the asexual is a prude.

If we cannot bless and love each other in the queer community, then why should we look to the straight community to bless and accept us? We queers must learn to love one another without the barriers that keep us segregated in our subculture "ghettos." We are good at understanding how discrimination against one person due to sexual orientation, sexual expression, or gender non-conformity is discrimination against all queers everywhere. We are not so good at understanding how our personal prejudice against various persons and groups within queerdom diminishes the community as a whole. The sheep recognized they are in it together, the goats only recognized themselves.

We are now at the core of this parable. In having compassion on our own we find we have entertained Christ unaware. The empire of God comes disguised in the garb of the weak, lonely, and destitute queer sister/brother we might be tempted to turn away from due to our prejudice.