Thursday, August 29, 2013

Self-Narratives (John 5:5-6)

One person there had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus, who knew this person had been sick for a long time said, "Do you want to be healed?"
John 5:5-6

Self Portrait - Vexed by Liz Canning
As the lame man lay beside the pool of healing - yet helpless to get into the pool - so am I caged by my own self-narrative. I cannot go anywhere my narrative does not allow. This is not necessarily a lament, after all, I have a life's investment in my self-narrative. I want people to know it. I want to be known by it.

The story I tell myself about myself helps to create who I am in this world. Simply put, we are who we say we are. Like a blanket of protection, I snuggle deep within my self-narrative. Any challenges to our self-narratives are often difficult for us to grasp. When other's tell us something different from what we tell ourselves it throws us out of sorts. Those who have taken part in an intervention on either side, know how difficult the conversations around self-narratives are.

Jesus' questioning the lame man is such a challenge. The man's narrative is "Thirty-eight years and still lame." He is a victim of the capriciousness of life. Before he is a person, he is a cripple. Before he is a child of the universe, he is a child of bad luck.

Gender and sexual diverse persons are suspect to victim narratives. Depending upon our particular journey we may experience ourselves as children of fear before we are children of courage; as children of disgrace before we are children of God. When derogatory epitaphs as faggot, dyke, tranny, freak are aimed at us we know ourselves as children of scorn before we know ourselves as children of love.

It is easy to self-identify as victim. Easy to wrap the sufferer's blanket around us for whatever comfort it grants.

Jesus speaks to us: "Do you want to be healed?" Do we want to be identified as something other than shame? Wouldn't we rather be called beautiful instead of repugnant? Wonderful instead of disgusting? Awesome instead of filthy?

Do we want to be healed?

This simple question reminds us that while detractors will continue to make us the targets of slander and anger, we do not have to be victimized. We do not have to agree with the labels used against us. We do not have to assess our expression of love through the filters of hetero-centric hate.

Do I want to be healed? Yes I do! And with this "yes" I must let go of the bitterness, the wounds, the frustrations, and the disappointments, that while a part of my story, do not need to define the core theme of my narrative. Even though queer, we are children of the cosmos, not some accident of poor genetics. Even though queer, we are children of God, not sinners doomed to judgment. Even though wounded, ours is the gift of wholeness and affirmation.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Do We Need an Alpha Male God? (John 4:48)

Jesus replied, "unless you people see signs and wonders, you won't believe."
 John 4:48
Hunky Brokeback Mountain Jesus
for a great article on "Hunky Jesus" please see Kittredge Cherry
What miracle do I need to experience before I believe? What will convince me that God exists? What tangible manifestation can give expression of intangible reality? On the reverse, why does God seem to be more hidden than revealed? Is faith always a struggle for clarity?

This thing called faith is a bit fuzzy for me. It waxes and wanes. More fluid than substance, faith is the stream I can never step into twice. The flowing water of faith changes by the time my second foot gets planted in the stream. What is "God" to me one day is but only an image or mythic expression the next.

The rather stringent parental god of my youth gave way to the Ground of Being in my early adulthood. Now the ground of being melts away as the God of emergent horizon captures my religious imagination and calls me to worship. I know the spiritual quest I am on  searches out the thin places where the vail is removed and God is comprehended. I also know that there are other quests where the need for certainty is not as prominent, and I honor those other quests as well.

For les-gay-bi-trans-queer-intersex-asex persons the ability to experience God is hampered by the supposed heterosexuality of God. Unconsciously in the dominant monotheisms it is assumed that as we approach God we approach an older white (or middle eastern) heterosexual male. Even for those who are not as concrete in their imaging of God, the tacit thought still abides that God's self-expression is from the capacity of a straight alpha male.

It has been assumed that those who are not older, or male, or heterosexual need this God's presence mediated to us. No wonder gender and sexual diverse persons have difficulty accessing God. Not only is God's sexuality removed from us, but the assumed form of mediation has been used, still is used, to hound us.

I have made more than one person angry because of explorations into what is deemed blasphemous images of God such as a BDSM-slave Christ, a sex-positive God, a lesbian-expressive Holy Spirit. None of these images, have particularly produced faith in those offended by them, for they do not confirm to the culturally valid image of a fag-hating God, or a least a God who hates the same things I hate.

I wonder if Jesus' critique of needing signs and wonders for belief is apropos to the need by the dominate culture to enforce its image of God. Can we paraphrase Jesus as "unless you people see only the culturally approved God, you will not believe"? If we can paraphrase Jesus in this manner, then what are the implications for those who, in honesty, must answer "yes"?

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Being the Other (John 4:9-10)

The Samaritan woman replied, “You’re a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” – since Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans.  Jesus answered, “If only you recognized God’s gift, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him for a drink instead, and he would have given you living water.”                                                                                                                                                                                                            
                                                                                                                                                                                                   John 4:9-10
Bad Bad Boy by Tommi Toija
Samaritans/Jews, Romans/Barbarians, Europeans/Turks, Colonizers/Native Peoples – history is full of divisions. Of course we have our own experience of the Gay/Straight divide. I call this division the “big assumption.” We just assume that it is proper and is to be honored.

In the encounter of John 4 is a Samaritan female rebuffing the advances of a Jewish male; maintaining the divide over something as simple as a request for water. This divide is deep, for a long and tortuous history between the two ethnicities is at work here. 

There may also be another ancient divide in play, the divide between a prostitute and her John. That the woman is by herself at the well is unusual and may be a sign that she is ostracized by “proper” society. That she is at the well by herself talking to a man who is by himself certainly raises eyebrows. Her rebuff may hide a more provocative business request. The ancient divide between a sex worker and her customer seems to simmer below the innuendos and retorts.

Jesus is not concerned for such rifts. His concern is for reconciliation. He invites the woman to consider the price of reunion. The woman will need to let go of her narrative. Even in this longer passage the woman wrestles with giving up her claim on that which gives her identity: her sense of heritage, her claim to respectability, her sense of God. The woman will need to relinquish her truth and allow it to enter into deeper understanding by another.

It strikes me that to resolves the present animosity in some quarters between queer and straight folks, we need to observe the model between the Samaritan woman and Jesus. What does it mean for the heteroarchial complex to relinquish its claim to the heritage as the dominant sexual paradigm? What does it mean for queer people to set aside our sense of victimization for a narrative of overcoming?

Part of the US Civil Rights movement had a component which understood that true equality also meant liberating “white society” from its own blinders. White America is just as much trapped in the racial conundrum as is African Americans. Where the Civil Rights movement genuinely triumphs is in the liberation of all, and just not a few.

If we who are queer are going to change society in an authentic and sustainable way, we must reach out and work toward reconciliation with straight folks. If we don’t we will always be the “other.”

As we see in this exchange between the Samaritan woman and Jesus, reconciliation is hard work. We must set aside the very things that identify us as “us” and them as “them,” so a new identity of “we” may emerge. This, Jesus reminds us, is the long sought drink of living water.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Nicodemus Comes Out (John 3:3)

Jesus gave Nicodemus this answer: “The truth of the matter is, unless one is born from above (or ‘anew,’ or ‘again’), one cannot see the kindom of God.”
                                                                                                                                                                                                         John 3:3

Untitled photo by Zanele Muholi

In the church of my youth the encounter between Jesus and this Pharisee and Sanhedrin member – Nicodemus – was given as proof that to be authentically spiritual you needed to be “born again.” Born-Again christianity is the prevailing expression of faith in Christ in the USA, giving “American christianity” an emphasis on conversion from sin and sinful behavior to salvation and its attending compliant behavior of church morality. It is the expectation of born-again christianity that in our experience of conversion, we queer people will choose to be straight, which fits church morality. Salvation for faggots and dykes is a reorientation to all attitudes heterosexual.

Yet it is intriguing that in the very story from which born-again christians take their name, there is no mention of sin and salvation. Rather, Jesus speaks of birth and rebirthing. The image played upon is not one of reorientation, but of emerging and coming out. Nicodemus and Jesus did not discuss correct versus incorrect behavior. Nicodemus and Jesus discussed a fuller and richer birth into life: “… unless one is born from above” is the Johannine Jesus way of saying that if we want to live life to the fullest we need to be enfolded in the Sacred so that the Sacred may emerge through our lives.

Nicodemus, trapped in the expectations of his fellow religious leaders, needs to name and claim the burgeoning reality taking shape within him – here the dawning of God’s realm. He wrestles with how to live the life seeking expression through him. Queer folks should recognize at once, that what Nicodemus is wrestling with is the coming out process.

The story tells us that Nicodemus came to Jesus “by night.” It could as easily said that Nicodemus met Jesus in the closet, for the reality which once contoured Nicodemus’ life are giving way to a new heaven and a new earth that will mark him as different. This dynamic parallels the process of queer boys and girls and adults to allow innate dynamics to shape our lives and mark us as “different.”

In this process we find Jesus present as midwife, welcoming Nicodemus out of the closet and blessing Nicodemus’ expression of the burgeoning reality within. 

As we ponder this process, whether we call it “birth” or “coming out,” the biblical language becomes cryptic. The process is the work of the Spirit. Yet, we cannot pin the Spirit down for she is like the wind. Where the wind comes from we don’t know. Where the wind goes we don’t know. All we can be certain of is the effect of the wind: waving grass, swaying trees, cool breezes. 

So it is with the Spirit. We can only speak of her effect on our lives as she emboldens us to move from our closets as her out and proud children.