Thursday, January 31, 2013

Animosity and Persistence (Luke 11:5-8)

Jesus said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, a neighbor, and you go to your neighbor at midnight and say, ‘Lend me three loaves of bread, because friends of mine on a journey have come to me, and I have nothing to set before them.
                “Then your neighbor says, ‘Leave me alone. The door is already locked and the children and I are in bed. I can’t get up to look after your needs.’ I tell you, though your neighbor will not get up to give you the bread out of friendship, your persistence will make your neighbor get up and give you as much as you need.”
Luke 11:5-8

Being Lost by Chen Yang
Picture your BFF and name the reasons this person is your best friend forever. Among the reasons I’m sure are things like “always there,” “helps me out,” “supportive no matter the situation,” “gets me,” “doesn’t judge me,” etc. But now you need to ask a favor of this friend, a favor which will inconvenience your BFF. Yet, due to circumstances beyond your control you must ask for this favor. Hey, if you can’t turn to your friend, then who else can you turn to?

Unfortunately the inconvenience proves too weighty for the relationship. The situation invites animosity into the relationship. Your BFF is angry that you would presume such a thing of her or him. You are angry as your BFF proves to be no closer than an acquaintance with who you speak only about the weather and nothing else. You are a zero. The relationship which supported and nurtured you in the past now leaves you out in the cold night, banging on a bared door.
The sculpturer Chen Yang catches this animosity in Being Lost. While the human figures are physically close - on top of each other, even in each other erogenous zones - they are emotionally distant. Realtiy (represented by the restraining black perameter) has introduced animosity into the relationships of the figures. What should be a strong bonding experience dwindles to frustration.
Those who for one reason or another have been abandoned by their families or friends feel this parable from the inside: that sinking feeling that we are no longer welcome; the frightful realization that the relationship is based on convenience instead of love; the stark reality that the door is shut against us due to our culture's general animosity toward that which  is not heterosexual.
Let me quickly note that not all queer folk face expulsion from family and friends. Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and straight friends add comfort, support, and love to our lives. “Allies” is what we call them. They are the Sacred’s open doors.
As I've written of before, during the period of my initial coming out I was careful about which doors I tested. After all, I was about to find out how good – or not good – my friends were. At the beginning I sent out letters to friends who lived at a distance. Partly to say “here’s what you need to know.” Partly to allow the friendship to dissolve if need be. I admit those were tender weeks wondering how these relationships would prove themselves.

I still remember receiving the first letter in reply, the trepidation with which I opened it, all my insecurities rushing forward. Without needing to look at that letter I can recall the very last sentence “You have a friend in me.” Looking back I’m not sure why I would doubt this relationship. In that exposed moment my heart leapt for joy.
Of course I still have family and friends for whom my homosexuality is a point of animosity. Here the wisdom of Jesus becomes urgent. “Keep knocking.” Where the door won’t be opened by friendship it will be opened by persistence.
Since those days I have taken an active part in terminating relationships due to the “gay thing.”  At those times I felt that I could not hear the words “sinner” or “dumb” again. So I ended the relationships. I am not proud of these actions. They were undertaken more out of a sense of hurt than mutual understanding. In the end they were selfish acts on my part. Now I wonder who is knocking on the doors of my former friends, persistent in the cause of breaking through their animosity.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Good Homophobe (Luke 10:30-37)

Jesus replied, “There was a traveler going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, who fell prey to robbers. The traveler was beaten, stripped naked, and left half-dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road; the priest saw the traveler lying beside the road, but passed by on the other side. Likewise there was a Levite who came the same way; this one, too, saw the afflicted traveler and passed by on the other side.
                “But a Samaritan, who was taking the same road, also came upon the traveler and, filled with compassion, approached the traveler and dressed the wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then the Samaritan put the wounded person on a donkey, went straight to an inn and there took care of the injured one. The next day the Samaritan took out two silver pieces and gave them to the innkeeper with the request, ‘Look after this person, and if there is any further expense, I’ll repay you on the way back.’
                “Which of these three, in your opinion, was the neighbor to the traveler who fell in with the robbers?
                The answer came, “The one who showed compassion.”
                Jesus replied, “Then go and do the same
Luke 10:30-37

She Became Frightened and Stopped Listening by Kelli Vance

It is rather easy to map the Parable of the Good Samaritan on today’s dynamics. Les-bi-gay-trans-intersex-asexual-queer are among the ambushed and beaten. As vulnerable and half-dead outsiders, some parts of the religious community walk by us, indicating only contempt. Yes, this is a rather easy mapping – it's also an erroneous mapping.
The outsider – if we are to map queer folk as outside the mainstream – is the Samaritan who proves the hero. The person in the ditch is Jewish, a member of the inside clique, left to die by other members of the same inside clique.
As outsiders we might want to map the parable this way: There was a great convention of traditional-family advocates. A man begins to make his way to this convention, but on the journey is carjacked, beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Now it just so happens that the powerful woman sponsoring the convention is traveling the same route, comes upon the beaten man, and passes him by. So too, the convention’s keynoter comes across the man and leaves him there. Finally, a drag queen on her way to protest the convention finds the unfortunate soul laying unconscious in the gutter. She calls her friends and together they take the man to her place and nourish him back to health without asking for anything in return.
This mapping feels nice for we are not the victim but the hero! The mapping is comfortable and celebrates the compassion of the outsider; our queer compassion. Yet this mapping, too, is not quite right. It ignores the context of Jesus speaking to and prodding the “inside crowd.” 
To map this parable appropriately we need to hear Jesus speaking to us as part of this inside group. Much like Vance's paintings - which mix sexual and agressive energies - are from the "inside." Giving us a glimpse into the harsh reality of how like may mistreat like.
Imagine Jesus draped in a rainbow tunic setting in a gay bar telling this story:  "There was a lesbian traveling alone when she was attacked and beaten. Badly wounded she was left beside the road to die. Another lesbian going to Lilith Fair happened upon the scene, but passed by. After awhile a gay man going to Pride – this attack obviously happened in June – also passed by. Ultimately a queer-basher happened upon the half-dead lesbian. He stopped, attended her wounds, toke her to a hospital, and paid her medical bills."
Jesus levels his gaze at us and asks, "Who has offered acceptance and support?" We answer "The one who showed compassion." Jesus then offers us a simple challenge, "Go and do the same."
Sacred wisdom has put us in a bind. Compassion is not a commodity solely limited to our group. We must be humble and open enough to see it in our “haters.”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Reconciled to God (Luke 7:40-43)

In answer to the Pharisee’s thoughts Jesus said, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
                “Tell me, Teacher,” (Simon) said.
                “Two people owed money to a creditor. One owed the creditor the equivalent of two years’ wages; the other, two months’ wages. Both were unable to pay, so the creditor wrote off both debts. Which of them was more grateful to the money-lender?”
                Simon answered, “I suppose the one who owed more.”
                Jesus said, “You are right.”
Luke 7:40-43

Foot Fetish by Joe Ded
This parable arises out of a teachable moment. Jesus is at supper with Simon, a religious leader. During their evening together a woman “with a low reputation” (a sex worker?) washed Jesus feet with oil, tears, and kisses, and dried his feet with her hair. All of you with a foot fetish understand that this was a highly charged erotic act. Ded's portrait betrays the sensuality of the supple foot. No sex may have occurred but intimate sensuality was shared. Understandably Simon was upset.

If we are to honestly engage this text we must wonder with Simon just what Jesus was grateful for. I know some consider it a heresy to suggest that Jesus may have had an erotic response to the foot bath. Unfortunately the church has done a pretty good job of divesting the embodied Christ of his flesh, and therefore, his sexuality. That is except to hurriedly confirm Jesus as the “straight savior.” The church has been vigorous to maintain a heterosexual – though asexual – Christ.
In answer to Simon’s and our unspoken thought, Jesus relates this parable of gratitude, forgiveness, and love.
The parable assumes a simple truth: our sense of gratitude and love is proportionate to our sense of debt. I love my wife. I love her with all my being in part because she has forgiven me when for me to ask for forgiveness would have been an affront to her. Our mixed-orientation-marriage still hangs in there due in some measure to a love born out of forgiveness and gratitude.
The debtor forgiven the larger debt has a keener understanding of the “price” of forgiveness. We delude ourselves if we believe forgiveness does not cost us. It does. Forgiveness does not necessarily cost the forgiven, although gratitude should be forthcoming. Forgiveness cost the one extending it. In our parable forgiveness cost the money-lender economic security. For Jesus, the incident cost him his reputation (see v. 49). For my wife, forgiveness cost her some self-perception around her own sense of respect and marriage security.
As queer people of faith we are also called to forgive. I know that for me I am reluctant to pay the price. The bullying of les-bi-gay-trans-intersex-asexual people has left too many of us damaged, broken, and dead. What on earth could I possibly gain with the price of forgiving our haters?
This is where I need to be sensitive to the other assumption of this parable: forgiveness brings about reconciliation. At the end of this episode when Jesus says to the woman “Go in peace,” he is saying she is reconciled to God and can know God as fully as he himself knows God. When my wife and I forgive each other we are restored to a mutually supportive relationship.
If queers and straights are ever to be reconciled we need to take notice of what both sides will be giving up. Queers will need to give up our sense of persecution; straights will need to relinquish their superior judgment. Both sides will need to walk away from a sense of self-righteousness, and, in imitation of the Sacred, play footsy with each other.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Hold or Fold? (Luke 6:46-49 // Matthew 7:24-27)

(Jesus replied) “Why do you call out, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi,’ but don’t put into practice what I teach you? Those who come to me and hear my words and put them into practice – I’ll show you who they’re like: they are like the person who, in building a house, dug deeply and laid the foundation on a rock. When a flood arose, the torrent rushed against the house, but failed to shake it because of its solid foundation. On the other hand, anyone who has heard my words, but has not put them into practice, is like the person who built a house on sand, without any foundation. When the torrent rushed upon it, the house immediately collapsed and was completely destroyed.
Luke 6:46-49 (Matthew 7:24-27)

The Strange Couple by Claudio Bindella

With this opening parable of Luke’s gospel we encounter a Yoda-like Jesus: “Hmm, on rock strong house stands. On sand, house collapse.” The assumption is that we are building a house – or a life – and the only question is whether or not to build on a firm or shaky foundation. Queer or straight this is an abiding issue for all, what have we anchored our lives too? Will it hold or will it fold? The difference is whether or not we can withstand the vagaries of life.
It is easy, and true, to say that queers are born into a sea of vagaries. As Bindella's painting hints there are times when we are strong in our identity as the figure on the right indicates with his smoking and ripping shirt. And there are times when we are not as strong in our indentity as the figure on the left suggests while covering up and pensively bitting his fist.
It is also just as true to say that straight people are born into the same sea. It is the sea of life and no one group can claim priority to it.
To switch images back to the house, the assumption is that we are all building. This metaphor entails a previous, more basic assumption – we are all incomplete and imperfect, as well as industrious and noble. Hence the emphasis on the foundation – will it hold, or will it fold?
In the context of the parable the solid foundation is receiving and practicing what Jesus taught. Yet, before queers can appropriate the teaching of faith (christian or otherwise) we must deal with the issue of anti-queer attitudes perpetrated by people of faith. The pernicious and tenacious voices of faith against queer equality continue to be an obstacle in many cultures. These voices confuse the once-spoken God with the still-speaking God and wish to understand human psychology from the point of view of ancient cultures without the benefit of contemporary wisdom.
I’m not saying we cannot learn from these cultures – certainly we can and must. However, to hide ourselves in a relative and culturally contextual “truth” by declaring it to be “eternal” harms the human spirit which strives to transcend the limitation and tyranny of the past. To cling to attitudes which intentionally shame others is to participate in existential violation of the soul/self. To be authentic we must be empowered to break the chains that a previous generation forged, especially if those chains are dressed up as religious and eternal truths. To do anything less is to be inauthentic in our living.
The difference between inauthentic and authentic living is the difference between a house built on sand and a house built on stone. We live in a house built on sand when our authentic self lies buried underneath false personas buttressed by thoughts of some Edenic past. We live in a house built on rock when acting out of our true selves and engaging society to bring out its potential for a just and loving care of all its citizens.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Kill the Queers (Mark 12:1-11 // Matthew 21:33-34; Luke 20:9-18)

Once again Jesus began to address (the religious leaders) in parables: “A farmer planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug out a vat and erected a tower. Then the farmer leased it to tenants and went on a journey.
                “In due time the farmer sent a subordinate to the tenants to obtain from them, the owner’s share of the produce from the vineyard. But they seized the subordinate, who, after a beating, was sent off empty-handed. Then the owner sent them a second subordinate. So too with many others: some they beat, others they killed.
                “There was one more to send – the farmer’s own beloved child. ‘They will respect my heir,’ thought the farmer. But the tenants said to one another, ‘Here is the one who will inherit everything. Come, let us kill the heir, and the inheritance will be ours.’ Then they seized and killed the heir and dragged the body outside the vineyard.
                “What do you suppose will happen? The farmer will come and destroy those tenants and turn the vineyard over to others! Are you not familiar with this passage of scripture:
                                ‘The stone rejected by the builders
                                                  has become the cornerstone of the building.
                                This is Our God’s doing,
                                                  and it is marvelous in our eyes.’”
                Mark 12:1-11 (Matthew 21:33-34; Luke 20:9-18)

Metropolitan Gay Love by Antonino La Vela  
I have never cared for this parable mainly because it is almost always treated like an allegory instead of a parable. The farmer is God, the vineyard is Israel – or at least the faith of Israel, the tenants are the Jewish faith leaders, the subordinates are the prophets, the beloved son is Jesus, and the new (and rightful?) tenants are the emerging christians. I do not like this allegorical interpretation for it has led to much harm done to Jews and the faith of Judaism due to its insinuation that violent anti-Semitism in the name of God is beneficial.

For sure Mark positioned this parable to prepare us for the violence Jesus experienced at the end of his life. As such, the parable fulfills its purpose to help us understand how the one rejected by society becomes the cornerstone of a new faith expression.

It is here at the juncture of rejection/acceptance that the parable intersects with queer reality. Like the tenants, society believes that by its violent rejection “queerness” will disappear. Is this not the motivation behind recent calls for queer concentration camps and government death squads? Kill the queer and we need not be bothered with this pesky thing called diversity, tolerance, and support.

Human sexuality is fluid not fixed. Like the vineyard it “is” but cannot be claimed as anyone’s dominion save for the individual (the farmer) to whom it belongs. Other’s may seek to control human sexuality – even destroy it – but ultimately only the individual can bestow his or her sexuality onto the world. La Vela’s work gives expression to the large and expansive world of gay male sexuality which is only one part of human sexuality. Yet within this rich and textured environment how one expresses their sensuality and their “gayness” is up to the individual within the community.

It is worth noting that this is the last parable to appear in the Gospel according to Mark. (The so called “parable” of the fig tree – Mark 13:28-29 with parallels in both Matthew and Luke – is a prophetic action with an allegorical application and not in my mind a proper parable.) As the final parable it points us back to the opening parable of new cloth/old cloth and new wine/old wineskins contrast in Mark 2:21-22. In these opening parables the question was raised can new forms of spiritual expression be contained by old religious sensibilities?

In its violence the farmer/tenant parable may be giving us the insight that the old passes away only after violent struggles, as Marxists schemes are want to suggest. Yet, while the violence may capture our attention the emphasis is on the farmer staying loyal to the vineyard. An insight that speaks to me about remaining true to myself as I express my sexuality within the larger community of family, friends, and work, as well as for me to be true to my sexual orientation even when others would have me deny it. After all, it is the rejected stone that becomes the conerstone for the whole building.