Thursday, May 23, 2013

Do It Anyway! (Luke 19:12-13, 15b-22, 24)

Jesus said, “A member of the nobility went to a faraway country to become its ruler for a time. Before leaving, the noble summoned ten overseers and gave them each ten minas – about three years’ wages – and said to them, ‘Invest this until I return…’
            (Upon return) “The noble sent for the overseers to whom the money had been given, to learn what profit each had made. The first came and said, ‘The sum you gave me was doubled for you.’ ‘Well done,’ the noble replied. ‘You showed yourself capable in a small matter. For that you can govern ten cities.’ The second came and said, ‘Your investment has netted half again as much.’ The noble said, ‘Then you’ll govern five cities.’ The third came in and said, ‘Here’s your money; I hid it for safekeeping. You see I was afraid of you because you are notoriously exacting. You withdraw what you never deposited. You reap what you never sowed.’
            “The noble replied, ‘You worthless lout!...’ The noble said to those standing around, ‘Take the money from this one and give it to the one who had the ten minas.’”
Luke 19:12-13, 15b-22, 24

Sappho and Erinna in a Garden at Mytilene by Simeon Solomon
As a child I cringed at this parable. I knew that given the same circumstances I would do just as overseer number three did. Hide the money and not risk losing it. Of course, at that time I thought the overseers had been put into a double bind. Damned if I don’t grow the money. Damned if I diminish the account.

This double bind was more of a projection of my home dynamics than how the parable actually reads. My mother, from time to time, liked putting me into circumstances that no matter what I did, gave her a chance to belittle me. So, yes, I would have done just as overseer number three did. Hide it and live in fear of the consequences. 

So went my projection. The parable itself gives no hint that the overseers were in a double bind. In fact the parable quite clearly states the issue is investing and taking risks. It teaches us to take risks for that is the better valor to playing it safe.

This puts me in mind of The Paradoxical Commandments developed by Kent Keith. Among them are:  People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered. Love them anyway. If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives. Do good anyway. If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies. Succeed anyway. Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable. Be honest and frank anyway. The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds. Think big anyway. What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight. Build anyway. Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth. Give the world the best you have anyway (Finding Personal Meaning in a Crazy World).

As queer people of faith we live in the paradox of being condemned in the name of the God we serve. Let us take the risk and serve anyway.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Slamming It with the Sinners (Luke 18:10-13)

            (Jesus said) “Two people went up to the Temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed like this: ‘I give you thanks, O God, that I’m not like others – greedy, crooked, adulterous – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on everything I earn.’
                “The other one, however, kept a distance, not even daring to look up to heaven. In real humility, all the tax collector said was, ‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’”
Luke 18:10-13
(WARNING not a gay-friendly site)
All the others knew what they were doing. They knew the correct words. They knew what to expect. They fit in. They belonged.

With great certainty he knew he didn’t belong. The whispers creeping around alerted him to his orphan status and the open confrontations confirmed he was an outcast. Hell, he didn’t even know the proper position for prayer, little less the correct words to intone. This place was for those who kept proper lives and could say and do the proper things the Temple (or church, or mosque, or coven, or friendship circle) called for.

He was intentional in his purpose of coming, but now that he was here, he felt a bit of a bumbling wanderer. Was he a moth drawn to light? Was he a thief come to steal a blessing? He used to know who he was. Here he questioned. If was as if his heart rebelled against all the labels attached to him: both invited and uninvited. And it was as if the great Heart of the Universe also rebelled against his self-understanding. All he knew for sure was that he didn’t belong. Yet here he was.

“Sinners” have always been the cherished of the “religious.” We do need others to measure ourselves against. “I give you thank, O God, that I’m not like others – greedy, crooked, adulterous – or even like this one.” I confess that as a religious person it is an easy measurement of how “good” I’m doing when compared to how “bad” sinners are doing.

But, I am on the wrong side of this equation. After all, I have been labeled a sinner. It’s appeared on my Facebook page, and of course in various comments on this blog. I have heard it from strangers. I have heard it from “friends.” I have heard it from family. Why am I, as well as other queers and allies sinners? The answer is that we make an easy measurement so that the religious can feel good about themselves.

This is where Jesus has aligned the two characters of this parable: one measuring himself against the other; the other measuring himself against God.

In my opinion this parable is straightforward making a rather clear point. But alas, I have been proven wrong. I used a paraphrase of this parable once with a friend who I went through college and seminary with, even was a roommate with. I replaced the Pharisee with a minister and the tax collector with a drug addict. The Temple was replaced with bedrooms.

My friend, who is an astute, capable, and compassionate minister in the denomination of my youth, responded: “It wasn’t a sincere conversion.” To be honest I was stunned. My friend is not one to make light of spiritual experiences. Given the heat of our conversation I suspect he read more into the paraphrase than I meant.

Yet, even with giving my friend the benefit of the doubt, the religious measurement still raises its head. “I fast twice a week. I pay tithes on everything I earn. My conversion was sincere.” It is an easy temptation for those of us who are religious. It is condemnation for those of us who are sinners. We don’t fast. We don’t tithe. We don’t have sex with the right people.

Eventually our hearts and the Great Heart rebels against the label of “sexual sinner,” and all labels assumed within it. The rebellion will disorient us, especially if we internalized this label as our own identity. However, this disorientation is necessary so that we may be reoriented and come to know ourselves as God know us: beloved and accepted.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Visceral Self-Respect (Luke 18:2-5)

(Jesus said) “Once there was a judge in a certain city who feared no one – not even God. A woman in that city who had been widowed kept coming to the judge and saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’ For a time the judge refused, but finally the judge thought, ‘I care little for God or people, but this woman won’t leave me alone. I’d better give her the protection she seeks, or she’ll keep coming and wear me out.’”

The woman in this parable fascinates me. She has grown herself large and loud so as not to be invisible to the powers-that-be. By praising her actions, Jesus ennobles the impulse for survival when others would limit her desire. Not only does this widow need to fend off an unnamed opponent, but she also has to become visible, real, and obvious to the judge presiding over her case.

At this time in antiquity the widow would have had limited options for redress after her husband’s death. Any property could be taken by a son, or lacking a son, the closes male relative. The scales of justice were already tipped against her and she draws a judge who neither gave thought for God’s moral directives, nor for human opinions.

The widow had a choice. She could give up, acquiesce, and simply throw her hands up. Or, she could grow large and loud, digging deep inside for the fortitude to sway the scales of justice to her favor: no doubt, a herculean task in the face of hostile attitudes.

Those of us who find ourselves under the queer umbrella wish it was made of steel as we face hostile attitudes from time to time; for example, the conversations flying around Jason Collins recent coming out while staying in as a professional basketball player. These public conversations remind us that while laws are changing, attitudes have yet to catch up.

The widow fascinates me for her actions betray a radical freedom out of which she lives. While society was telling her to sit down and pipe down, she lived free of those imposed restrictions. I highly suspect her freedom was born out of the wholeness belonging to the arduous tasks of self-discovery, self-growth, as well as self-risk.

Our widow now becomes a model for all of us who have ever been told we don’t measure up. If she can give of herself it is because she appropriately loves herself. In viewing her scene before the hostile judge we begin to understand that self-giving without self-affirmation is meaningless.

The widow is our clarion call not to abandon the self, but to love the self as God loves us – deeply, abidingly, infinitely. How can we love others when we don’t love ourselves? How can we transform society when we are ashamed of ourselves? How can we bring peace, it we are not at peace within ourselves?

Self-consciousness, self-awareness, self-affirmation produce the kind of action we see in the widow. Becoming visible Becoming large. Becoming loud. There are those who would have us remain weak queer girls and boys, trembling in embarrassment of what resides deep within our self-identity markers and our libidinal drives.

The widow calls us forth by calling us to ourselves. Attending to the self (or the soul to use a churchy word) by loving and affirming the self sets us free from predetermined limits, hierarchal roles, patriarchal patterns, and internal guilt. The chains of psychological slavery have been broken and we are subservient no more. Experiencing wholeness we grow until the judge in our lives can no longer ignore us and must grant us some justice.

In the last parable we dealt with (A Self-less Self Love) the issue was humility and keeping the ego in check. In this parable the issue is aggrandizement so we are not invisible to others. Appropriately loving the self is not egotism, rather it is honoring and healing, especially among those who have been taught they are not worthy of love.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Self-less Self Love (Luke 17:7-10)

(Jesus said) “If one of you had hired help plowing a field or herding sheep, and they came in from the fields, would you say to them, ‘Come and sit at my table?’ Wouldn’t you say instead, ‘Prepare my supper. Put on your apron and wait on me while I eat and drink. You can eat and drink afterward’? would you be grateful to the workers who were just doing their job? It’s the same with you who hear me. When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are simple workers. We have done no more than our duty.’ ”
                Luke 17:7-10
No. 6 by E. Rodriguez
This is a singular humble slave. I know the translation above blunts the relationship by transforming the slave into a plural of hired hands. Yet the Greek is unequivocal, this story is about a master/slave-owner and his slave/owned. Personally, this is a difficult parable. Unlike the parable where the master exchanged power with the slave (Master/Daddy-Slave/Boy Equality), this parable does not challenge the structures of thought or actions about how we treat others. The narrative is clear: slaves are slaves and masters are masters, end of the story.

Richard Swanson notes that rituals around power structures offend us when they are called “master and slave.” He then points out that we have very little problem with rituals of subservience. “Workers of all sorts, at all levels, learn the rituals of submission. If the boss tells you to clean the compressors, you clean the compressors. If the boss tells you to scrape the waxy build up off the corners of the floor with a paring knife, you get on your hands and knees and do it.” Swanson concludes, “So maybe we understand the rituals at the heart of this scene better than we pretend to understand them” (Provoking the Gospel of Luke).

In the power structure of heteronormativity it is no guess as to who the master is and who the slave is. The tension, struggle, and anger of the early Queer Rights Movement were centered upon destabilizing the given power structure. That early effort represents the core of biblical justice – the undermining of power constructs which oppress, subjugate, and bring about harm to people and creation.

Our parable is now even odder for bolstering the status quo. Unless, that is, we take this parable at a personal level – that of our ego. The natural tendency of our ego is to expand and aggrandize. The parable, in contrast, resists, restricts, and constrains self-aggrandizement. It reminds us that no matter who our master is – for example one’s commitment to the Queer Rights Movement – once we have served our master, all we have done is our job. No room for boasting, no merit for reward.

At the level of the ego there is no differentiation between straight and gay. The ego – no matter its sexual orientation – seeks the same end: to be noticed, to be acknowledged, to be “seen” as the drawing by Rodriquez indicates. Most of the efforts of the ego are harmless and can help us in resisting invisibility (Acting Up). Yet, the ego given complete reign without healthy parameters, leads to aggrandizement. The situation of thinking and believing only what matters to me is what really matters.

Queers are not immune to the folly of self-aggrandizement, and the self-serving narcissism which travels in its wake. If we cannot exaggerate our accomplishments, then we elaborate our “drama.” I know I have fallen into the fraudulent trap of thinking “no one’s been through it like me.” Such sophism and fallacy not only hurt those I relate too, but in the end impoverish my own self identity.

When I allow the parable to speak to the level of my own ego, it reminds me, that while my doing and being is important, it is also just what I am suppose to be about. In a world of seven billion people it certainly is not less than me being me, and it is just as certain not more than me being me: which in the end allows you to be you.