Thursday, September 26, 2013

Taboo Crossing (John 13:2-5)

        The Devil had already convinced Judas Iscariot, begot of Simon, to betray Jesus. So during supper, Jesus - knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God - rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin to wash the disciples' feet, and dry them with a towel that was around his waist. 
John 13:2-5

Clothes are removed. Water is poured. A solitary figure, dressed only in a towel kneels before a basin, inviting feet to be cleansed.

Charles Fillmore has a wonderful quote about feet: "The feet are the most willing and patient servants of the body. They go all the day at the bidding of the mind..." The feet are a rather busy pair, they have to be-in-step, and sometimes we even have to step-it-up. We might be accused of dragging-our-feet, or even of dancing-with-two-left-feet. But if we work hard we might get our foot-in-the door and even go toe-to-toe. For sure we don't want to be under-foot, or worse, shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot. Certainly our feet have carried us in marches, parades, and other places of public and private displays of queer love.

With so much riding on our feet, it's a wonder we don't honor them more.

Bathing feet was an expectation in arid, dessert lands. The homeowner, typically male, was expected to provide guests with foot washings, typically done by a servant or a wife. Which means that in the act of hospitality there was a practice of rigid patriarchal structure. This structure both welcomed and confined. The guest is welcomed, the foot-washer is confined to a demeaning role.

By taking on the role of the foot-washer, Jesus both welcomes his guests (the disciples) and offends them at the same time. Just beyond the verses cited, Peter argues with Jesus over this taboo-crossing act. In the context of John's Gospel, the action is a living parable underlying the servant nature of binding oneself as a disciple to Jesus.

Beyond the immediate context, the actions speak of the courage and rightness to cross rigid boundaries which divide people into above and below, master and slave, male and female. By this simple action Jesus throws into confusion the structure of society. Splho captures this fracturing and displacement in his cubist rendition of the scene. Jesus' transgression of the norm cast the "society" (the composition of the painting) into strong angels "cutting" at the society, as it were.

Here, for us queers, is a marvelous affirmation of our transgression of the rigid taboos which keep us in the submissive role - "below," "slave," and "female" (with female understood through the lens of patriarchy). Here also is an example to the heterosexual community that taking on the submissive role does not diminish us as a human, but rather expands our spirits.

Which, in a way, brings us back to John's context. How shall we witness this act Church? Have we so thrown our lot in with the "above," "master," and "male" that we no longer recognize in this act our own "masters" directions to us? Are we so concerned with being at the top of the power structure that we cannot follow our Savior into the diminutive role of foot-washer?

However these questions might be answered, we religious queers and allies once again find ourselves reminding the Church of what it has long forgotten: when we trespass upon sacred taboos, and chip away rigid gender and social roles, God celebrates with us.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Unbinding (John 11:43-44)

      Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!"
     And Lazarus came out of the tomb, still bound hand and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus told the crowd, "untie him and let him go free"
John 11:43-44

Lazarus Come Out, by Larry Farris

Like Mary and Martha - Lazarus' sisters - the queer community knows death. Sisters and brothers beaten, jailed, killed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. It's enough to handle these external threats to life, but we also have to handle the internal threats. Self-loathing, born of internalized heteronormative attitudes, erupts within many souls of our community as suicide. The statistics speak for themselves. Within the general US population the suicide attempt rate is 1.6%. Heterosexual teen suicide attempt rate is 4%. LGB teen suicide attempt rate is 20%. Transsexual suicide attempt rate is 41% (source CDC). Then there is, of course, disease, with the great plague of our times - AIDS - having swept away many friends and loved ones. Yes the queer community is accustomed to death.

To add to our sorrow are the metaphorical deaths we receive in our psyche. The rejection which comes from public detractors, the fear shown by some of our own families, the "friends" who keep reminding us that we are in the "wrong." We react in a variety of ways. Unfortunately among them are self-hatred, alcohol and substance abuse, and other self-negating behavior that stops short of suicide yet, is just as life denying.

Like Martha and Mary we shed our tears for the great loss of life and love from our community.

We discover in this story that the Divine is not satisfied with death and decay and moves to establish life and joy. In christian terms we call this resurrection. Queer folk, like Lazarus, also know resurrection. Every time we come out, every time we "represent," we participate in resurrection. For a good article on the dynamics of Lazarus' raising and coming out see: The Raising of Lazarus and the Gay Experience of Coming Out, over at The Wild Reed.

What interest me here is that which follows the raising of Lazarus. He comes out of the tomb, yet still wrapped in the trappings of death. The process is not complete until Jesus directs the crowd to unbind the wrappings. It invites us to ponder the recent straight community's "tomb breaking" by which it is letting go of the death dealing anti-gay attitudes of the past. It seems to me that we who are queer should be about unbinding the straight community, which is also caught up in the deadly legacy of the heteronormative.

The command is for all of us to emerge from what entombs us. The invitation is to assist our neighbors in being unbound from death's heritage.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Fugue on Sexuality (John 9:1-2)

As Jesus walked along, he saw someone who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, "Rabbi, was it this individual's sin that caused him the blindness or that of the parents?"                   John 9:1-2
"Who sinned?" is the religious way of asking, "Who's fault is this?" We like to know where blame lies. Once we figured out who to blame, then we know who to shame. Our passage asks who bears shame for this man's blindness - him or his parents? Obviously, the disciples did not live in a world in which blindness "happens" as a contingency of simply being alive.

Similarly we find ourselves emerging from a worldview in which gender and sexual diversity have been considered a "fault" of some short. Who sinned that this girl is queer? What happened that this boy is transgender? Today we mask this question as scientific research. Did the individual have a childhood trauma? Did something happen in vitro? The continuing search for an "answer" to the queer "question" assumes a hetero-centric predisposition that gender and sexual diversity is not a given in life, but something abnormal to it, and therefore "caused."

Let me note here that some in the queer community have suffered trauma. I am not looking to belittle or pass off these experiences. I just wish to point out that the search for a "cause" for homosexuality unmasks the heteronormative bias against sexual diverstity.When was the last time you heard about a search for the cause of heterosexuality? We inhabit a world in which heterosexuality simply is. It is hard to locate scientific papers, religious treaties, psychological case studies into the rise of heterosexuality. Most such works exist to underscore heterosexuality's distinctiveness in the face of all things queer.

I much prefer the insights of Susan Halcomb Craig, a bisexual minister. For her sexuality is the given and all expressions, even heterosexuality, are variations. Sexuality is much like a musical fugue, she writes, where the main theme is enunciated then transformed into musical phrasing repeated in variations of the interweaving voices. Likewise, Human sexuality is the main theme and lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex, asexual, gay, and even heterosexual voices are but the various interweaving expressions of this one theme. ("Bisexuality: Variations on a Theme" in Body and Soul: Rethinking Sexuality as Justice-Love)

Who sinned that we are queer?

"And Jesus answered, 'It wasn't because of anyones' sin - not this person's, nor the parents'. Rather, it was to let God's work shine forth in this person.'" (vs. 3)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Casting Stones at Ourselves (John 7:6a-8)

Jesus simply bent down and started tracing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in their questioning, Jesus straightened up and said to them, "Let the person among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her." Then he bent down again and wrote on the ground.

Christ Writes in the Dust by Clive Hicks-Jenkins
The couple was caught in the act of adultery. This must be understood, or what follows will not be wonderful. The couple was caught in mid act. He was humping. She was grunting. He was disappointing a wife and children. She was flaunting her sexuality.

The crowd catches the unfortunately indiscreet couple. The man, it seems, stepped out of the picture rather quickly. The sexualized woman caught in the midst of an erotic moan, is brought before Jesus for condemnation.

We - gender and sexually diverse people - stand with the woman, our sister. Confused. Frustrated. Anxious. Angry. The target of religious ridicule and humiliation we are trotted out so that others may feel good about themselves; trotted out so that righteousness may be reinforced. While we may not have been caught - as queers we're more apt to parade our sexuality - we are still trotted out as a modern sign of what happens when a society fails to honor God. 

It seems that Jesus would have something to say here. Something to add to the crowds growing frenzy of piety and religious anger. We have in her - in us - the very throbbing of rebellion against God by those who cannot, or choose not to curtail their sexuality. "This one has been caught in the act. Join us, Jesus, in her public demise. Call us to cast our stones. Look we already have them in hand!"

Now, it is comforting to understand the crowd as "them," those aligned against us. But that would violate the intention of the text. The crowd is also you and I. The passage calls us to ponder our own righteous anger and the stones in our own hands. The harshest critique of this blog came from a fellow queer. Someone who did not want that type of behavior, from those type of men and women, associated with their own expression of queerness. 

It would be nice to say that all judgmental attitudes belong to "them." However, we must own - I must own - my personal participation in the crowd. Which is why Jesus' scribbling on the ground  frustrates me. "Come on Jesus, this one has been caught in the very act of gay bashing. Let's tosh a few stones as the right is on our side, and right makes might!"

Jesus scribbles on, refusing to become a part of the uproar and flurry. Even as sex juices are running down the girls legs, Jesus refuses to become a part of the crowd. I am stumped. I want the Sacred to join me in my anger.  I want to be blessed in my attitude of judgement. I want to be sanctioned to throw my stone.

Jesus has just taken all that away, and left me with the stark reality that even though a part of the crowd, I am her. Taking Hicks-Jenkins portrait as a cue, it means the stones hidden behind the men's backs, the rope placed around the woman's neck are stones I hide from myself, rope I attach to myself. A haunting reminder that until our detractors are also liberated from the binding and tortures of homophobia, we will always be caught up in a crowd, angry at an "other."

So - do we throw the first stone? Jesus never denies that it is our right. Or do we recognize in "them" the same faults that exist in us and work for wholeness of the full human community?