Thursday, April 25, 2013

Begging (Luke 16:19-20)

(Jesus said) "Once there was a rich person who dressed in purple and linen and feasted splendidly every day. At the gate of this person's estate lay a beggar named Lazarus, who was covered in sores."
Luke  16:19-20

Beggar and Child

As the parable continues both the rich person and the beggar die. Up until the point of death all is at it should be. The rich man rightly enjoys the luxury afforded by his hard earned wealth. Lazarus subsist as one fallen through society’s cracks. It is what happens after death that proves shocking. The rich person goes to Hades, or hell, while Lazarus is welcomed into the bosom of Sarah and Abraham, or heaven.

Today we wouldn’t give a second thought as to the fate of these two individuals. Back when the parable was first uttered their fates were scandalous. It was assumed that material wealth was a sign of God’s favor and blessing. It was also assumed that poverty was an indication of God’s judgment on a life characterized by sin.

The parable flies in the face of the prevailing folk wisdom and confronts a society about its prejudice toward those living in poverty, its uncritical eye toward the accumulation of wealth, and its assumptions about God’s favor and disfavor. Much like some in our time understand homosexuality as a mark of God’s disfavor. 

Through this parable we are invited to critique the folk wisdom which assumes all things heterosexual are favored by God, while all things homosexual and gender diverse are disfavored by God. This parable wrestles with the all too human tendency to project our bigotry onto God. To cast those we favor as loved by God, and those we disdain as hated by God. The parable has an astonishing power to resist our efforts to make our enemies into God’s enemies. 

While I embrace the strategy of social critique this parable uses, I am reminded of the wisdom I learned long ago: “If you read the bible and find yourself being vindicated, you have misread it.” Which tells me that if I read this parable with my own prejudice with homophobic people burning in hell while all gay people rest in the bosom of Sarah and Abraham, I have failed to hear its critique within my own life.

We are challenged with the question “Who begs at our gates?” It is a hard question to hear when you feel you’ve been the beggar. Les-bi-gay-trans-queer-inter-asexual folk – in my humble experience – are dogged by the blind eye we ourselves turn to the prejudice we participate in: our tendency to assume we know what others are thinking about us; the disdain and dismissal between queer people; the pejorative attitude of those who are out of the closet toward those who are in the closet. 

This parable is uncomfortable for it challenges us where we live in the house of the soul/self. Its question, though simple, is haunting: “Who begs at your gate?”

How shall we answer?

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Deviant (Luke 16:1-8)

            BY THE BOSTON MARATHON BOMBING             

   Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a wealthy landowner who, having received reports of a steward mismanaging the property, summoned the steward and said, ‘What’s this I hear about you? Give me an account of your service, for it’s about to come to an end.’ The steward thought, ‘What will I do next? My employer is going to fire me. I can’t dig ditches. I’m ashamed to go begging. I have it! Here’s a way to make sure that people will take me into their homes when I’m let go.’
                “So the steward called in each of the landowner’s debtors. The steward said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my employer?’ The debtors replied, ‘A hundred jars of oil.’ The steward said, ‘Take you invoice sit down quickly and make it fifty.’ To another the steward said, ‘How much do you owe?’ The answer came, ‘A hundred measures of wheat,’ and the steward said, ‘Take you invoice and make it eighty.’
                “Upon hearing this, the owner gave this devious worker credit for being enterprising! Why? Because the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind then are the children of light.”                                              
                Luke 16:1-8

The steward of this parable is queer. Not that we are given any indication of the steward’s sexual orientation. Rather the steward is queer for here is one preparing for the coming judgment and taking steps to secure a better future. This strikes me as a queer dynamic. At some point all queer people, and even our allies, must prepare for judgmental attitudes of cultures wearing herteronormative lenses. From behind such lenses we are often perceived as the steward in this parable – dishonest, selfish, ego-centric, and crafty as a fox.

It causes pain among prim and proper commentators to hear Jesus praising this steward. Yet, this is the genius of the parable – the one who should be condemned is instead condoned. What is being lifted up is the sheer shrewdness of the steward to prepare for the awaiting judgment of the landowner and in that preparation to secure a future beyond employment with the landowner.

As queer rights make significant gains, it is easy for us to think that our future and the future of the next generation of rainbow youth are secure. I think we need to pause and reflect on lessons learned from the Civil Rights movement of African-Americans. Voting rights were secured. Equal employment opportunities were secured. Open housing was secured. Marriage rights for bi-racial couples were secured. Yet, in the USA we’ve seen an onslaught against these so called securities. Unfortunately, while public policy worked to dismantle racism, private thoughts and inward attitudes nurtured and pursued bigotry with a vengeance.
It would do us well to acknowledge that while public policy is opening toward queer friendly attitudes, private thoughts and inward attitudes still harbor darker and less accepting beliefs.

At this juncture we need to pay attention to the actions of the steward who secured a future by becoming ingratiated to others. The steward didn’t chase after changing the public policy of the landowner. Instead the steward chased after the private thoughts and inward attitudes of business associates and colleagues. Ironically, this ingratiated the steward with the landowner as well.

No doubt we should work to change public policy. For the good of our generation and the next we must dismantle laws which criminalize and punish same-sex desire. And we must also win over the private thoughts and inward attitudes of our neighbors, our co-workers, our landlords, and so on. Ironically, we may also need to win over our fellow queers as we become jealous of the lying, cheating, and sheer shrewdness of each other as we seek to secure our futures.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are (Luke 15:8-10)

(Jesus said) “What householder, who has ten silver pieces and loses one, doesn’t light a lamp and sweep the house in a diligent search until she finds what she had lost? And when it is found, the householder calls in her friends and neighbors and says, ‘Rejoice with me! I’ve found the silver piece I lost!’ I tell you, there will be the same kind of joy before the angels of God over one repentant sinner.”
Luke 15:8-10

The Helpful Angels by gay artist Alfonso Ossorio

This is a parable is the middle of three dealing with things that are lost. It is preceded by the parable of the Lost Sheep (The Transgressive Shepherd) and followed by the parable of the Lost or Prodigal Son (Queer Prodigal). All three parables are given in response to the murmurings of religious leaders that Jesus “welcomes sinners and eats with them!” (Lk. 15:2)
For the murmuring religious people the notion of sinners as a class of humans included those who lead an immoral life. Think here in terms of adulterers, swindlers, gender and sexual minorities. As well as those who work in occupations perceived to involve immorality or dishonesty. In the time of Jesus this included tax collectors, peddlers, and shepherds among others.
With the responses of the three parables Jesus rejects the notion of “sinner” as a classification of a subset of human society. In rejecting this classification Jesus replaces it with the classification of people as “the lost.”
Before jumping to conclusion let us pay close attention to the parable. The emphasis is not on how the coin became lost. The emphasis is on the woman who, realizing the coin was missing, set about searching it out. When finding the coin she shared her joy with her friends.
Even though it is hard to admit, we should recognize that as queer people we are lost. Not in the religious sense as the term is pejoratively used, but in a broader social sense. While great strides to understanding are being made we still represent a question mark in the mind of many. We are lost to a society that stridently understands marriage through a binary gender lens. We are lost to those whose sexual energy is heteroly focused. We are lost to those who hold to a rigid and unbending interpretation of scripture. Yes, we queer people are lost within a straight society.
Like the woman, God is gravely concerned that we are lost. Like the woman, the Sacred gets busy searching us out. And like the woman, the Heart of the Universe celebrates lavishly over finding us. Not because being found changes us to prim and proper straight people, but because being found brings us home to God.
Finding does not change who we are. The coin – a drachma – remains a drachma. What finding does change is our location. We move from being unseen, unheard, unnoticed to being the central and sole concern of the Sacred.
We confess that as queers we are lost to some portions of society. We also recognize that with the Sacred we are found and the circumstance of great joy.