Monday, July 29, 2013

The Outing of Jesus (John 2:4)

Jesus replied, “Mother, what does that have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.”
John 2:4

Jesus' First Miracle at a Wedding in Cana, by He Qi
The coming out process, if nothing else, is an interesting dance. Sometimes the steps are intricate and follow strictly established norms. Sometimes the steps are improvisational, leaving us stretched and pulled. 
I confess that I have not finessed coming out. At times I’m blunt, “hey, I’m gay” when all that was asked for was some butter. Other times my timing is wrong, “really, you’re gay and you’re just now telling me?” Then there are times when other straight folk proceed to inform me of the plight of gay people. This last example is a hazard of being in a mixed-orientation-marriage (see Nonconfirming Relationships) and, as a result, not giving off the standard gay signals.
Then there are the times when I weigh if the effort is worth it. Subtly and not-so-subtly people change when they find out your queer. We know that every time we come out, we risk rejection. 
Jesus is wrestling with his timing for coming out. For sure he is not coming out as gay. I know there are those who want to turn Jesus into a literal queer Christ. While there is nothing wrong with such explorations, and they do have their place, in all honesty we cannot accurately make that argument based upon the present material available to us. Even if we throw in speculation about the “disciple whom Jesus loved,” homo-social relations which peppered antiquity, cannot be turned, after the fact, into the contemporary understanding of homosexual relations.
However, make no mistake Jesus is being outed by his mother. Jesus has a secret, and by the plot of John's gospel, he has shared his truth of being God’s Word (see Jn. 1:1-18) with only a small group. Jesus knows that once his truth is out people will change how they relate to him. Jesus also knows that in speaking his truth, he risks rejection. 
We can understand Jesus’ reluctance to out himself. The wedding that he is at is not home turf for him. The crowd is mixed with people he knows and strangers that he does not know. This is neither the place nor the time. Jesus weighs the situation and decides the risk is too great. 
His mother, Mary, however, doesn’t have need of a reluctant Jesus. In short order she outs her son! Mary's focus is on something larger than Jesus’ own comfort zone. There is a friend on whom this wedding will bring shame for he is without the provisions to ensure his guests wellbeing. 
Jesus doesn’t seem to care, but Mary does. 
Coming out is a sacred process by which we create ripples which move through the lives of our friends and families. However, being outed is an act of existential terror by which our most intimate self-understanding is ripped from us. Yet, Mary may provide a critical lesson for us: sometimes the circumstances in which we find ourselves are more pressing than our comfort zones. As we weigh the cost, as we weigh safety, as we weigh risks, we must not lose sight of the larger affects our coming out may have, for the distant shore where the ripples finally play out is often unknown to us. Mary was able to grasp the ripple effect of her son. 
May we view our lives through Mary’s eyes and also cast our glances to the far ripples reaching the distant shores. 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Erotic Divine (Song of Songs 7:3-7

Even your feet are lovely, dancing in their sandals, like a ruler’s daughter.
   Your graceful legs are precious jewels, worked by the greatest craftsman of all .
Ah, and your navel is a chalice that I will drink sweetened wine from!
   Your belly is golden, like wheat, and scented of lilies.
Your breasts are the twin fawns of a gazelle,
   and you neck graceful as David’s ivory Tower.                
But your eyes! Looking into them is like looking into those pools of Heshbon, outside the gates of Beth Rabbim.
   And your nose is a delicate as those towers in Lebanon that face out toward Damascus.
Mount Carmel itself is no more elegant than you head,
   with its hair, weaving a tapestry that would ensnare the proudest man.
Oh, my pretty one, what a delight you are to look on, with all of your love-charms!
Song of Songs 7:3-7

Image found at:

This is the voice of the Lover. This is he/she who our audacious sister has sought after. This is the one who the Daughters of Jerusalem cheered for. This is the one who the Guards were jealous of.

It is with the Lover that I find myself at odds with most modern commentators on the Song – whether conservative, moderate, or liberal. Modern interpreters, in order to counter abuse of this biblical book, have removed God as the subject, the Lover. On the one hand I applaud this move and the rediscovery of human eroticism as a gift celebrated in scripture.

On the other hand there are passages which, once God is removed as the subject, make no sense through the lens of human relations. Two key passages for me are 2:8-13 which portray a creation event, and 3:6-11 which allude to Israel’s sojourn in the wilderness and the construction of the Jerusalem Temple (also see 1:5 which mentions the curtains in the Temple).

Due to these references I personally read the Song on two levels. One level is about the love between a human beloved and a human lover. The other level is about the human beloved and the Divine Lover. I have found this second level a hard sale in today’s culture. While earlier christians and jews had no problem locating the erotic in the Divine, contemporary believers – even queers – find this a stumbling block. Instead of raising up eros as God’s primary movement toward us, we have raised up a rather sanitary agape love.

Agape love has become understood as God’s objective, non-judgmental love for us. Notice how sterile God is. Objective – God is removed from us, at a distance, not involved. Non-judgmental – there is no passion, no desire, just a neutral type of love exerting its influence much as gravity exerts its influence regardless of the consequences. We moderns like this God – distant and a bit cold, yes, but at least this God will not challenge us or confront us. This God is very predictable and we like the predictable.

Now imagine, if the erotic, the great burning and wholly unpredictable energies of embodied love and lust mark God’s actions toward us. A Divine Lover is impulsive, playing coy, here one day and the object of our searching the next. A Divine Lover is volatile embracing us with complete acceptance, yet holding us to strict standards. A Divine Lover is fickle, picky, nitpicky, and fussy much like the leather Jesus above. Little wonder we moderns have raised agape over eros to construct a slightly safer – though less inspiring – God.

Yet, the ultimate risk of locating the erotic in the heart of the Divine is that God can be acted on by creation. Agape keeps God safely removed from creaturely influence. Eros has lovers shaping one another in the midst of the relationship. The crux of being in love is that “Neither lover constructs the other without being affected themselves – without becoming part of the story or entering the picture"(J. Cheryl Exum, Song of Songs, A Commentary). Here’s the God who dances with us, who makes for us the nuptial bed, who consummates a relationship with us, leaving us pregnant with possibilities even as we have left our lover wanting more. This is the Lover of the Song – the great Erotic Divine. Let us be thankful.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Detractors (Song of Songs 3:1a, 2-4; 5:6b-7)

Oh, the nights are long in my empty bed…
I can’t sleep with this fire; I’ll get up and go walking,
   out through the streets to the square, looking for the one I adore.
Ah, but I went looking, and found no one.
The sentries found me, though.
I wanted to ask them, Have you seen him, the one I love?”
But no sooner did I pass by them, than I found him at last, the one I hungered for. (3:1a, 2-4)

Oh, how my heart had risen to the sound of his voice –
   I looked, and cried out in the night, but he was not there –
     I heard no answer anywhere.
Thus the sentries, making their rounds, found me wandering in the city.
They beat me and mocked me and stripped me of my cloak.
Laughing, they sent me on my way – oh, they are braves ones,
  Those guardians of the walls! (5:6b-7)
Song of Songs

Westboro Baptist "Church" Picket

We have been there. Among those who jeer at us due to our erotic attractions. At first, as here in the Song of Songs, it may be a mild fascination with the lengths Eros drives us for passionate connection. Later, having found the connection our detractors appear to be a bit more jealous and in their resentful suspicions become aggressive and physically violent toward us as plays out in the Song.

Detractors have always been an odd group to me: particularly those wrapped in religious zeal. Recently I reconnected with a childhood friend. As I do in these instances I came out to him. I admit I was a little shocked by his vitriolic response: “I just can’t believe u have turned against the Bible and the almighty God himself…”

If I can use my friend as a window upon the phenomenon of detractors, he understands sexuality as a behavior. A behavior which I have chosen. Here’s the rub for those of us that self-identify as queer. We are not acting on a choice. I did not wake up one morning and think, “You know what, I have a great marriage to a wonderful woman and together we have a fun and loving family. Oh hell, let me throw it all away and cause horrible pain because this day I choose penis instead of vagina.” We do, of course, choose how we relate to our lovers in intimate settings, as do straight persons, but we do not choose who we are attracted to, as neither do straight persons.

Our detractors want to understand queer attraction as “behavior” on the same level as choosing between white or wheat bread at the supermarket. It is a sign of how little they reflect upon their own sexuality. Certainly if they did then they would understand that rarely, if ever, have they made choices in their own sexual attraction.

The Sentries of Jerusalem represent those who do not/cannot honor the audacious woman of the Song of Songs. Their aggressiveness in the second encounter clearly shows they fear the woman’s drive for passionate connection. And like us, the woman suffers for their ignorance.