Thursday, March 28, 2013

Easter’s Grand Rainbow Diversity (1 Corinthians 15:55

“Death is swallowed up in victory. Death, where is you victory? Death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55

New Gay Christ by Aka Gรด

On Easter weekend queer christians celebrate life overcoming death, light overcoming shadows, love overcoming hate. I also revel in the variety of expectancy with which the resurrection of Christ is embraced among the queer community’s mixture of needs and hopes.

I rejoice with those, who upon finding the Temple curtain torn, experience Christ as our Revealer who tore the veil between this temporal world and eternity, and makes it possible to transcend the separation between us and God. Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, “Earth’s crammed with heaven / And every common bush afire with God / But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.” I celebrate you queers who run barefoot with Christ.

I take delight with those, who upon finding the tomb empty, experience Christ as our Liberator who breaks our chains, calling the queer community into the struggle against hostile powers. Allan Boesak of South Africa stated, “God will ask, ‘Where are your wounds?’ And we will say, ‘We have no wounds.’ And God will say, ‘Was nothing worth fighting for?’” I celebrate you les-bi-gay-questioning-intersex-asexual folk who are renewed in your commitment to fight for equality whether in familial and friendship relations or in the broader society.

I cheer with those, who upon finding renewed life, experience Christ as our Model who shows us the path to wholeness.  Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “What lies behind us, and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us.” I celebrate you queer sisters and brothers who are discovering that what lies within is infinitely treasured by God.

I share gladness with all sexual minorities who have been told they are perversions of God’s design, yet upon discerning that God’s love is unconditional, experience Christ as our Savior, who redeems us from sin of hetroarchy and justifies us through queer faith. I think of the mantra of my own denomination, the United Church of Christ, “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” I celebrate you queer youth and adults who having been lost, are now found.

I appreciate the faith of those parts of the world-wide queer tribe which are in situations of suffering that cannot be changed, but only endured. Your faith recognizes Christ as the Suffering Servant who walks through the valley of shadows with us. Your faith reminds us that God is Emmanuel who stretches out upon the cross of the world. I think of the personal communications of my acquaintance Sandy Eastman, “I know sometimes my life feels frantic and I feel like I’m at my wit’s end, but I also know that is where God lives.” I celebrate that we queers are not alone during the bittersweet moments of life.

Easter has a grand diversity among queer believers which we revel in as it meets our numerous needs and enkindles our countless hopes.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Stamina (Luke 14:28-33)

(Jesus said)  “If you are going to build a tower, wouldn’t you first sit down and calculate the outlay to see if you have enough money to complete the project? You’d do that for fear of laying the foundation and then not being able to complete the work – because anyone who saw it would jeer at you and say, ‘You started a building and couldn’t finish it.’ Or if the leaders of one country were going to declare whether, with an army of ten thousand, they could win against an enemy coming against them with twenty thousand? If they couldn’t, they’d send a delegation while the enemy is still at a distance, asking for terms of peace.
                “So count the cost. You can’t be my disciple if you don’t say goodbye to all of your possessions.”
Luke 14:28-33

Stamina by Leslie Rhoades

“Think it through.” “It,” in the context of the Gospel According to Luke, is the cost of following Jesus. At this stage in the gospel we are being prepared for the question of whether or not we can follow Jesus into rejection, humiliation, and death.

It seems to me a portion of the world-wide queer community lives with these dynamics on a daily bases. Our sisters and brothers in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East still await the recognition of rights hard won in Europe, parts of the Americas, and Australia. We may do well to flip the question and ask, “Is Christ willing to join us in our rejection, humiliation, and death at the hands of the church of which Christ is the head?” As I have explored in other posts (Jesus Died A Queer's Death, Queer-Centric Christology) I believe the answer is yes.
Yet, I digress. The question in the parable is not about Christ, but whether or not we have thought it through. Have we weighed the pros and cons? Do we understand the risks? The dangers? The thrills?
Jesus seems to have had issues with enthusiasts – seeds that sprout and die, people who call him good but don’t listen, and those who start excited but waver. This is not to imply that enthusiasm should be shunned. The fire which lights excitement about life, and energizes us for living large should be fed and stoked regularly.
At the same time we should be peering forward as far as our imagination will allow. We should be discerning the question – what does this entail? Can I live with the difficulties that will arise?
Some “closet” dynamics may be raised here. I believe the decision to be in or out of the closet is a very personal issue. One group cannot point its finger at the other and say “you are wrong.” Some good queer folk have discerned they cannot live with the consequences of coming out. Other, just as good queer folk, have discerned they cannot live with the consequences of staying in. Being in or out of the closet is not a rivalry, it is a discernment of the cost of being a sexual minority in a particular location.
The reward of foresight is stamina or stick-to-itness. I love the look on the woman's face in Rhoades figure, set and determined against the wind? the future? the obstacles? she faces. You know she will remain strong and whole. There is great intregrity in her face.
I admit that as a child of the microwave generation I rarely think past the next three to five minutes. Yet stick-to-itness, rather in my principals, for a cause, or with friends and family builds the ability to be trusted, the ability to honor and hold secure the vulnerability of another person.
Count the cost. Discern. Be prepared. Offer stick-to-itness – stamina – to those with whom you throw in your lot. Now that’s sexy.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Queer Pride/Queer Humility (Luke 14:7-11)

Jesus went on to address a parable to the guests, noticing how they were trying to get a place of honor at the table.
                “When you’re invited to a wedding party, don’t sit in the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished has been invited. Otherwise the hosts might come and say to you, ‘Make room for this person,’ and you would have to proceed shamefacedly to the lowest place. What you should do is go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host approach you they’ll say, ‘My friend, come up higher.’ This will win you the esteem of the other guests. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.
Luke 14:7-11

Pride by Jeff Ball
This is a parable of reversal. “The exalted will be humble and the humble will be exalted.” It fits with Jesus’ emphasis that the meek will inherit the earth and the last shall be first. Here we encounter the quintessential Jesus of the first three gospels. A Jesus on the margin of society calling the disenfranchised to be comfortable in our humility for in God's heart we are exalted and first.

I embrace the “insignificant Jesus” and applaud the synoptic gospels ability to keep him on society’s margins. Any attempt to make Jesus the center of power or even the center of history is a violation of the homeless and wandering messiah of first century Palestine. When we fail to recognize that Jesus lived on the margins we fail to recognize Jesus at all. I celebrate the disenfranchised Christ who loved and laughed and suffered as all disenfranchised people do.
The black liberation theologian James Cone was correct when he famously concluded that “Jesus is black.” Cone validated this connection as a way of involving the life and work of Jesus in the marginalized populations of African-Americans. In this same vane we might also declare that Jesus is “queer” in that he faced the same rejection and prejudice from a fearful society as we face.
While I rejoice in a Christ who speaks not from the center but from the margins, I must confess there is a part of this parable that I find a little too meek. Waiting for someone else to invite me to a place of honor seems to give this “someone else” a lot of power over me. Queer Pride has taught me not to relinquish such power to others as if the best I can ever hope for is the leftovers from the straight table. Pride has taught me how to claim my seat at the table of humanity without apology or self-reproach. I encounter the striking photograph by Jeff Ball as Pride rightfully asserting itself not to shock but to give texture and depth to what detractors may perceive as a washed-out or washed-up life.
In my Queer Pride, I wrestle with this parable. Why should I give up my seat because “someone else” simply says I should? Why can’t the feast’s hosts move if they are that disturbed by my presence? Why must I yield to some contrived heterosexual system of honor? It is at this point that the parable wrestles back.
Humility – particularly as Jesus deals with it – has nothing to do with self-effacing and self-condescending attitudes. Rather, for Jesus humility has to do with owning your greatness and knowing when to yield that greatness. Ball's photograph hints of great erotic energy and passion but is not pornographic for the energy yields so we may enjoy an encounter with the subject as a person and not a thing.
For those of the christian faith, in the metaphor of a high understanding of Jesus, humility is knowing you’re the Second Person of the Trinity, through whom and for whom creation exists, yet yielding to be disenfranchised and marginalized to the point of execution. For me this is the great mystery of our faith: God’s risk in self-negation without a guarantee of receiving the self back. It is a testament to uber humility.
We begin to understand this parable is not just about place settings at a party. This parable is a strong comment on culture and society where the marginalized have value and greatness in abundance along with an appropriate sense of humility. Pride and humility are not adversaries in competition for our allegiance. They are attitudes which help us to own ourselves while allowing others to own themselves.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

What to do with Homophobic Friends (Luke 13:6-9)

Jesus told this parable: “There was a fig tree growing in a vineyard. The owner came out looking for fruit on it, but didn’t find any. The owner said to the vine dresser, ‘Look here! For three years now I’ve come out in search of fruit on this fig tree and have found none. Cut it down. Why should it clutter up the ground?’
                “In reply, the vine dresser said, ‘Please leave it one more year while I hoe around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine; if not, then let it be cut down.’”
Luke 13:6-9
Personally speaking here is a parable which I love to hate. It’s not the parable per se that I hate. It’s the traditional interpretation of the parable I hate. Anti-Semitism, conscious or unconscious, has equated Israel with the fig tree. The church in some quarters has used this mapping with other passages to bolster deviant and pathetic claims of the Sacred’s anger and detest toward all things Jewish.

This ugly interpretation uses the following allegorical mapping: Fig Tree = Israel; Owner = God; Gardner = the prophets or Jesus; Cut Down = God’s judgment. This mapping speaks to no one except dull anti-Semites and obnoxious neo-nazis. Once we remove this inadequate allegorical mapping and encounter the parable in itself we are left with content that speaks to the heart of a peculiar queer dynamic – what do we do with our homophobic and anti-queer friends?
The crisis of the parable is the fruitless tree. By agricultural standards and religious practice of the day any fruit appearing on the tree during its first three years is not for human consumption. When the owner says he’s been expecting fruit for three years and there’s been none the implication is that the fig tree has been barren for six years. That is to say that this is not a spur of the moment decision to cut the tree down, and that the relationship between the owner and the tree has not lived up to its expectations.
As queer folks we have learned to monitor our relationships as to who is supportive and who is not. My thirtieth high school reunion was a few years back. In preparation a large number of us reconnected on Facebook. Since then I have “unfriended” some folks as their anti-gay attitudes proved negative and life-denying for me. In this case I acted as the owner and sought to terminate the relationships.
From this vantage point the parable speaks to me from the view of the gardener (vine dresser in the translation above). The gardener tells me to be patient, to tend to hurtful relationships, that my own actions and attitudes can bolster the relationship. The gardener tells me that if I’ve invested years in the friendship then one more year will not hurt me any further.  It may see the relationship succeed. And there is the wisdom that says, don’t go forever in a barren friendship. If it doesn’t produce fruit at some point, move on to better trees.
As people of diverse sexual expressions we have often been placed in the role of the tree. Friendships and familial relations terminated not by us but by others. There is no denying that this is a painful dynamic in the lives of many people. The rejection can feel like an axe laying us low. Since the only person I have control over is myself, I cannot prevent rejection by others. I can though, look to my roots and determine where I want to sink them.
From this vantage the owner speaks to us, telling us to find beautiful gardens with rich soil to plant ourselves in. Let us not waste our time seeking to plant ourselves in the wrong place. Some gardens, while initially lovely, don’t have appropriate soil. Other gardens, while more plane, allow for deep abiding roots.
There are time when we as queer or allies find ourselves mediating between the “queer community” and the “straight community.” Even as a religious leader in a denomination that has been formally open and affirming of LGBTQIA people since 1985 I still find myself interfacing with congregations and individuals who are dissenters from this official posture. Seeking to mediate beyond the stereotypes, the voice of the tree speaks to me about place, space, and figuring out how to make it work. The tree invites me to play the gardener, tilling ground and applying fertilizer.
This parable speaks to me about commitment to relationships when the relationship is in trouble. With rich voices it raises wisdom and insights about continuing or terminating, about roles and expectations, about commitment and responsibility. As one commentator noted this is a parable where “mercy is in conversation with judgment.”
May this same conversation be alive in us as we live in relations to friends, families, and lovers.