Thursday, February 28, 2013

Giver? Taker? (Luke 12:42-48)

Jesus said “It’s a faithful and farsighted steward that the owner leaves to supervise the staff and give them their rations at the proper time. Happy the steward whom the owner, upon returning, finds busy! The truth is, the owner will put the steward in charge of the entire estate. But let’s say the steward thinks, ‘The owner is slow in returning’ and begins to abuse the other staff members, eating and drinking and getting drunk. When the owner returns unexpectedly, the steward will be punished severely and ranked among those undeserving of trust.
                “The staff members who knew the owner’s wishes but didn’t work to fulfill them will get a severe punishment, whereas the one who didn’t know them – even though deserving of a severe punishment – will get off with a milder correction. From those who have been given much, much will be required; from those who have been entrusted much, much more will be asked.
Luke 12:42-48

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility by C. Kirk

This parable can be succinctly summed as: with power comes responsibility. The parable like the image of Mickey Mouse proves a bit non-conforming. The Mickey above in his tighty-whities, smoking a cigar, and positioning his right hand as a gun does not confirm to the the cuddly cartoon of our childhood. So too does this parable challenge our notion of power.

Jesus sets us up with one of his frequently used plot devices – an absentee master/land owner. In this case the land owner appoints a steward, head of the house, to watch over the rest of the staff. And, as we have encountered in other parables, Jesus draws a contrast between the trustworthy steward and the non-trustworthy steward. Then the anticipated conclusion: “go and be like the good steward.”
We should assume that the parable ends here, but it doesn’t for the conclusion thrusts us back into the heart of the matter. We are left to ask, what makes the trustful steward good? What makes the non-trustworthy steward bad?
Here it gets a bit personal for “good” and “bad” are subjective assessments. As queer people we are often deemed “bad” for no other reason than another person’s subjective perception of good and bad. As I write this a colleague – a lesbian minister – received an anonymous letter which opens with “Isn’t it hilarious how shrill, neurotic, hate-filled lesbians always end up in the churches, in jobs requiring no ambition, drive, or talent?” The letter concludes, “What a laughable pitiable excuse for a woman, and human being, you are.”
Who’s to say my colleague is good or bad? Who’s to say the letter writer is good or bad? By my own subjective reasoning I would say the minster is good and the letter writer bad. I know my brother, by his own subjective reasoning would reverse my decision.
The parable simplifies things for us – good or bad may by assessed by how we wield power. Do we use power responsibly or do we use it irresponsibly? Responsible use of power brings wellbeing not only to the steward, but also to the staff. Irresponsible use of power brings harm to the steward personally and to the wider staff.
By categorizing power into responsible and irresponsible uses, sacred writ reminds us that power has a social dimension. Our power is always exercised in relations to someone or something else.
Queers have power – even if we don’t feel it. Nobody fears the powerless and there are a lot of people out there who fear us. This fear is heightened because our power, though not limited to, is certainly tied into sexual energy. Which brings us back to the parable at hand – do we use our power responsibly to extend justice and love to those we are in relations with, or do we us our power irresponsibly and cause harm?
When we examine the actions of the two stewards I think we can associate responsible power with being a “giver.” In contrast irresponsible power can be associated with being a “taker.” Taking exploits. Giving contributes. As queer people we often live in the fires of the exploited. We can forget that there is another way to exercise power. Not power-over which takes, but power-with, and for, and on-behalf-of which gives.
I am reminded of a quote by the late Viktor Frankl which speaks to responsible power: “Being human always points, and is directed, to something or someone other than oneself – be it a meaning to fulfill or another human being to encounter. The more on forgets himself (and herself) – by giving himself (or herself) to a cause to serve or another person to love – the more human he (or she) is.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Prepare for the Haters (Luke 12:39-40 // Matthew 24:43)

(Jesus said) “Understand this: no homeowner who knew when a thief was coming would have let the thief break in! So be on  guard – the Promised One will come when least expected .”
Luke 12:39-40 (Matthew 24:43)

Hate Crime Against The Queer... In The Future by Petrus-Emm

When I engage this parable I hear Jesus of Nazareth saying, “Look there are people in this world who will think nothing of hurting you. Take precautions so they don’t succeed.” This is the same advice I give to my children who are a bit na├»ve when it comes to understanding ulterior motives: “Be aware, be prepared.”

This is good advice for queer people as well. As acceptance of sexual and gender minorities and our allies grows wider, opposition by our detractors and the rhetoric of hate also grows sharper. The last vestiges of irrational anger and abhorrence will never fully accept us as full an expression of human experience as is heterosexuality and binary gender differentiation. We need to acknowledge this reality and prepare accordingly.
The work by the Portio Rican artist Petrus-Emm reminds us of the disfiguring and dehumanizing aspects of hate. By adding "In the Future" to the title of the work he also reminds us that hopes for a queer utopia of total acceptance is more fictional than real. That’s the wisdom of this “parable of crisis”: prepare appropriately against those who would do you harm.
What is appropriate is, of course, up to you to discern. For some appropriate preparation is self-understanding and holding it safe. For some appropriate preparation is public expression of internal realities. For some the family becomes an important anchor, while others need to seek out friendship circles and families-of-choice. We need to undertake the arduous work of discerning what sustains us when the haters are on the move.
Petrus-Emm's motivation for the featured piece comes not from hate that arises in straight circles, but from hate that arises in the queer community. "I've seen how the gay community destroys itself with envy and hatred to each other. There is discriminatory behavior even between gays, adding more and more labels to name different lifestyles... " The artist is taking appropriate action against the envy and hatred within our community by addressing it in a very public manner.
The lesson is still applicable - be prepared. Detractors are located in all facets of life. Choose ahead of time how you wish to encounter them.
Now, those reading this blog who are also lovers of Christ no doubt noticed that I’ve not mentioned the Christological slant of this parable, “The Promised One will come when least expected.” I have not mentioned this slant since it appears to be an addition to the parable by the writer of the gospel. My intention is to encounter the parable as it might have been engaged by its first hearers.
Still, there is wisdom in this slant, albeit, not the “keep your eye on the sky for Jesus’ return.” The wisdom behind this slant lies in the wrestling of the community of faith to appropriate the teachings of one generation (Jesus will return immediately) into the experience of a later generation (we’ll still waiting for Jesus).
Queers of faith wrestle with the fruit of millennia of hetero-centric interpretation of the bible and sin that are not favorable to us. It is up to us to help our communities of faith to wrestle with previous understandings that are no longer helpful or healing – whether it be anti-queer texts, or other distorted interpretations of the bible.
The wisdom of the parable is to be prepared for haters. The wisdom of the slant is that sometimes these haters come in the guise of the teachings and understandings of a previous generation.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Master-Slave Equality (Luke 12:35-38 // Matthew 24:42, Mark 13:33-37)

(Jesus said) “Be dressed and ready, and keep your lamps lit. Be like the household staff awaiting the owner’s return from a wedding, so that when the owner arrives and knocks, you’ll open the door without delay. It will go well with those staff members whom the owner finds wide awake upon returning. I tell you the absolute truth, the owner will put on an apron, seat them at table and proceed to wait on them. Should the owner happen to come at midnight, or before sunrise, and find them prepared, it will go well with them.”
Luke 12:35-38 (Matthew 24:42, Mark 13:33-37)
The plot of this parable rides on a crisis: the homeowner has been delayed from returning from a wedding feast. Albeit, it’s not a major crisis by today’s standard, yet the servants are still up in arms. Will we be awake when the owner returns to let him in the house? An urgent question in the days before locks and keys. So joyful is the homeowner on finding the staff on duty that the owner refigures the power structure and serves the staff at meal.

In the context of Luke the parable is a warning to followers of Jesus to be prepared for the end times. However, if we remove this Lukan layer of end-time context we are left with a parable that speaks of the crisis of delay, the decision to be prepared, and the reward for proper preparation.
Equality has long been delayed for sexual minorities. This delay tries and tests our best patients. Each gain, while rightfully celebrated, seems to come at an achingly slow speed. How long will justice tarry? How long are we willing to anxiously watch the door for its arrival?
The urgency of the crisis is heightened by the actions of the doorkeeper. Will we be at our post ready to open the door “without delay?” When equality arrives will it find me prepared to grant it entrance, or will it find me unprepared and attributing further to its delay?
The reward – a refiguring of the power structure – provides an amazing conclusion to this parable. In the original Greek the relationship between “homeowner” and “staff” is in reality a relationship between “master” and “slave.” The reconstituted relationship flips the roles between these two individuals. Taking the untitled picture above as our guide the master of the house dons the dog collar and chain while the house slave stands above and over him as the one excerting power - that is "calling the shots" - of the relationship.
I cannot help but think of the insights gained from those who practice kink – especially the master/daddy-slave/boy relationship. Though not a kink practitioner myself, I understand that as played out in the world of kink it is the “slave” who chooses the “master,” just as in our parable the owner chooses who his master will be.
In this simple refiguring of power-in-relationship we find that power-over has been reconfigured to power-with. By choosing her or his master the slave/submissive/boy is placing trust in the master/active/daddy to guide them through a kink session where power and being dominated become a place of safety and self-exploration.
The homeowner chooses the doorkeeper as master because the doorkeeper has already earned trust by not abandoning the post even though the hour was late and no one expected the doorkeeper to hang around.
We now circle back to the thorny issue of our preparedness as doorkeepers for equality. Will it find us prepared, and in being prepared, trust us to be its master? Or will it find us slackened in our watch, causing it further delay, and move past us?
This choice is ours. Not the government’s. Not the church’s. Not society’s. Ours.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (Luke 12:16-21)

Jesus then told them a parable in these words: “There was a rich farmer who had a good harvest.
                “’What will I do?’ the farmer mused. ‘I have no place to store my harvest. I know! I’ll pull down my grain bins and build larger ones. All grain and goods will go there. Then I’ll say to myself: You have blessings in reserve for many years to come. Relax! Eat, drink and be merry!”
                “But God said to the farmer, ‘You fool! This very night your soul will be required of you. To whom will all your accumulated wealth go?’
                “This is the way it works with people who accumulate riches for themselves, but are not rich in God.”
Luke 12:16-21

by Raphael Perez
“Eat, drink and be merry” is a slogan used by many people over the ages. Queer folk have no exclusive claim to it, yet we tend to wear it on our sleeves as a proud badge of resistance to an uptight society. As a protest against a sex-negative church (or temple, or mosque, or other expression), Jesus might approve. “Eat, drink and be merry” is helpful and life affirming when confronting attitudes of deprivation, rejection, and fear of pleasure. As in Perez's painting queer folks celebrate their hearts desires and the celebration itself becomes a strategy for resisting those who would constrict our hearts.

The use of the slogan in this parable though is not an act of resistance. It is not spoken from the underbelly of life. Rather, it is spoken by one who has enough and then some: “Tear down what’s too small and build bigger!” In today’s lingo this farmer is part of the 1%. He has and has more. Now after all his hard work, securing his life, he can “Relax! Eat, drink and be merry.” This slogan on the lips of the farmer smacks of one disconnected from the broader community.
“This very night,” the parable goes, “your soul will be required of you.”
Typically we understand this ominous aside as meaning the farmer will die. The Greek word here is psyche. The farmer has lost something in his inner being as he sets undisturbed, believing his wealth has brought security when all along decisions concerning his wealth has cost him his wellbeing.
“Eat, drink and be merry” when spoken by those in power reeks of arrogance, ignorance, and hubris. The farmer has lost his soul/psyche and believes he is living life.
Here queer guidance informs our sisters and brothers who believe security comes from conspicuous possessions. “Eat, drink and be merry” when used as a strategy of resistance helps us to celebrate life even when others work to deny us life. “Eat, drink and be merry” helps us find security in our network of friends and family who join us in our merrymaking. “Eat, drink and be merry” when used as a strategy of resistance helps us to understand that the Lord of the dance joins us in our little jigs of joy in the face of sorrow.
The farmer who lost his psyche can never know the true import of what it means to “eat, drink and be merry.” For him it means to “relax” in his position of dominance. For us it means to resist what is dominant. To live a fulfilled life in the presence of all our detractors who want us to be miserable.
When we resist we share our wealth with all – queer and straight alike – who are derided. For the wealth we share is eating, drinking, and merrymaking in the midst of circumstances which seek to deny us this very hope.