Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Naming (John 20:15-16)

       He asked her, "Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?"
      (Mary of Magdala) supposed it was the gardner, so she said, "Please, if you're the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you've laid the body and I will take it away."
      Jesus said to her, "Mary!"
      She turned to him and said, "Rabboni!" 
(John 20:15-16)

Her heart was already broken. Her life already disrupted. What little peace remained to her was in taking care of the dead body. Yet even that little comfort had been stolen. All that was left was turmoil, tears, and bitterness. 

The dynamics surrounding Mary Magdalene richly mirror dynamics felt by so many in the queer community. The frustration, the disappointment, the turmoil, the tears all express the experience of queer folk in the face of patronizing heteronormative attitudes. We seek a little peace, but even in the early dawn we are hounded by the cries lifted up against us.

Like Mary we are not sure where to turn. All we can grasp is that the world doesn't make sense, but we cannot grasp how to make sense, or who can make sense. We cling to what we expected, only to come up empty handed in the face of the unexpected.

In the midst of her turmoil, Jesus names Mary. The naming is more than just recognition. It is granting identity, it is speaking to the heart of the life and saying I know you intimitely for I know the very foundation of what makes you who you are. 

I confess that when I'm lost in turmoil all I really want is someone to call my name. Someone to hold my hand, someone to embrace me, that I may know I'm not losing my mind, or have been so overwhelmed that I've slipped into a dream life and lost touch with my real life.

Mary Button's rendering of the scene as solidarity with those in protest, renders the result of being named. Resolved is quickened and an understanding of "what to do next" is clarified. 

Button says of her painting: 
History has stigmatized Mary Magdalene, ignoring her deep inter truth in favor of reckless speculation about possible sexual relationships with Christ and John the Baptist…

It is only fitting that Mary Magdalene would accompany the women in this painting (Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer), who together challenged systematic discrimination agains LGBT people in our nation's highest court.

Mary Magdalene arrived at the tomb apprehensive, confused, and unsure of herself. Jesus names her, hands her back her identity and self-hood. So it is when LBGTQIA people receive their identity from the hand of the Sacred, we are made whole, loved, and empowered.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Meaning Making (John 18:37-38a)

       Pilate Said, "So you're a King?
       Jesus replied, "You say I'm a King. I was born and came into the world for one purpose - to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice."
       "Truth? What is truth?" asked Pilate.
John 18:37-38a

This is an interesting exchange between Jesus and the Roman Procurator of Palestine during the trial which will send Jesus to the cross. The Gospel of John gathers up several of it's threads here. Jesus is from outside this world and has come into it. Jesus bears witness to God (referred to in this passage as "the truth"), and every who responds to Jesus is in fact responding to God.

But when I read this interchange as a queer person, other themes seem to rush forward, especially Pilate's question, "What is truth?" No longer do we perceive truth to be eternal as the writer of John did. Now days truth is much more contextualized as an understanding which arises within a particular social location and is open up to critique by the experience of those who live in other settings. I wrestle with this more fully in my exploration of the "truth" of Jesus as Christ in the post entitled A Queer-Centric Christology.

What is of interest for me in this dialogue between "Rome" and "God," as John would have us see it, is their struggle to make meaning with each other. 

John, as all Gospels are want to do, makes Pilate an innocent bystander to the death of Jesus, even though execution by crucifixion was a Roman prerogative. Much like certain detractors want to paint themselves as innocent of queer bashing by pointing to the bible and the "queer-hating God" who they naively believe stands behind it. Of course our own experience is that we are "born this way." Or to be more theological - God creates us queer.

We and our detractors find ourselves like Jesus and Pilate, two opponents locked in debate. One speaks of truth, the other critiques the truth. My problem is that I don't know which is which. Is Jesus critiquing the truth of Rome? Is Pilate critiquing the truth of Jesus? Is it a mutual critique? Both of them are struggling with how to make meaning of this interaction from their own social context. Their failure to be in conversation and to move beyond debate will prove disastrous, costing an innocent victim his life. 

The same can be said for the present standoff between anti-gay factions and pro-gay dissenters. Already too many innocent people have lost their lives. Too many innocent families have been torn apart. Too many innocent communities have been disrupted. 

Meaning making is a communal act where we come together with our separate truths. Yet, instead of being in debate, we engage each other in deep listening. From this listening we begin to discern the wisdom of each other and, in that wisdom, allow a sense of what is true to organically emerge; always aware that this sense is at best partial and never fully complete. 

John's Gospel wants us to see Jesus as the truth. Yet, when I read this passage and see only debate, I sense a deeper invitation to enter into meaning making so that innocent ones do not wind up crucified.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Continuing to Overcome (John18:8,10)

        "I told you that I am he," Jesus said."And since I am the one you want, let these others go." ... Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest's slave. But Jesus said to Peter, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?"
John 18:8,10

His breathing is rapid. His arms unsteady as the adrenaline ebbs from his muscles. Blood splattered the ground. By violence he intended to stop the inevitable course of events. Yet instead of being a hero, he became the object of a teachable moment.

As a person of the christian faith, this scene of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane resonates deeply within, as events portrayed here bring us ever closer to the passion of Jesus. As a gay person I also see other dynamics at play as Peter wields his sword as a crazed and fearful individual. His back is up against the proverbial wall. The betrayer and the soldiers have arrived to drag Jesus off. Peter's life, his world view, his understanding of how reality is structured is threatened to be extinguished. So he acts. He acts out of love, or fear, or desperation, or a combination. He acts by lashing out. This arrest cannot go forward. This cohort of sinister intentions must be stopped. But they cannot be stopped and Peter must humble himself in the face of history's movement.

Peter reminds me of the anti-gay folks. History's current (at least for the moment) is moving toward marriage equality and full rights for gays and lesbians. We do face "Peters" with their drawn swords, and make no mistake they are out for blood. In these times of celebration let us not forget to steady ourselves for the violent lashing out of our detractors.

This is one of the reasons I believe we must bring our haters along with us. We must help those who have privilege and station to understand why, when those things are denied to some individuals, the wider community suffers. Peter is angry at Judas, at the Roman's, at the powers that be, but it's a slave's ear that gets cut off: Judas, the Roman's, and the powers that be escape unharmed. In our anger and in our frustrations we must not lose our civility and the appreciation that being in conversation is the most powerful tool we have.

Russia can be bombastic about it's anti-gay laws. The Olympic Committee can pander about like a pompous buffoon. Families can turn us out onto the street. Yet the inexorable march of gay rights moves forward one conversation at a time inviting people to examine their unconscious structure of sex and sexuality, or gender roles and assumed norms. 

I am no romantic, it takes hard, hard work for these conversations to shift dominate thinking patterns. It also takes a mutual willingness for those in dialogue to hear, respect, and revision reality together. But I think Jesus is right in pointing out that the alternative of blood splattered swords and earless slaves lessens all of us.