Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Queers on Pilgrimage (Deuteronomy 26:5-11)

Like each individual snowflake the path will be the one of our own making, yet our destiny is the same: full inclusion in the human experience of being loved and valued so we might express ourselves openly and without fear of retribution.

Then you will declare before Our God, "My ancestor was a wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien. There they became a nation great, strong and numerous. When the Egyptians mistreated and oppressed, who heard our cry and saw our affliction, our toil and our oppression? Our God brought us out of the Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs of wonders; Our God gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Therefore, I have brought now the first fruits of the products of the soil that you, O God, have given me." Then you must set them before Your God, and bow down before the Most High.
Deuteronomy 26:5-11

"Wondering Arameans were our ancestors," is both a claim of faithful remembrance and a claim of trust in the Sacred to guide us into the unknown. To say that our ancestors in the faith were wondering Arameans is to affirm that the journey of Abraham and Sarah is our journey too and their journey is continued today through you and me ever stretching, ever moving forward, ever responding to the nudges of the Holy.

Today we often take on journeys, or quests, or pilgrimages as a result of seeking and desiring. We seek something to complete us or we desire healing and that which provides is our destiny. However, Abraham and Sarah did not leave their dusty, cluttered souls-capes in order to "find." They started their quest because the Sacred called them to move on with their lives. God, we discover, walked beside them all the way of their journey.

Those of us who count ourselves among the sexual and gender diverse are also on a quest. And like the children of Abraham and Sarah, we too find that our journey is the present leg of a pilgrimage that is as old as humanity. What the queer pilgrimage has taught me is that while our destiny is the same, the path by which we get there is varied, hence the alphabet soup of initials: L G B T Q I A. 

Steve Maraboli speaks to the dynamic of destiny and paths in his book, Life, the Truth, and Being Free: "We have all heard that no two snowflakes are alike. Each snowflake takes the perfect form for the maximum efficiency and effectiveness for its journey. And while the universal force of gravity gives them a shared destination, the expansive space in the air gives each snowflake the opportunity to take their own path. They are on the same journey, but each takes a different path. Along this gravity-driven journey, some snowflakes collide and damage each other, some collide and join together, some are influenced by the wind ... there are so many transitions and changes that take place along the journey of the snowflake. But, no matter what the transition, the snowflake always finds itself perfectly shaped for its journey."

Like each individual snowflake the path will be the one of our own making, yet our destiny is the same: full inclusion in the human experience of being loved and valued so we might express ourselves openly and without fear of retribution.

The ending of the biblical passage points to the time of completion when we have made it to our journey's end and live within the full expectancy waiting for us. During this time our hearts and minds are to turn not to ideas of comeuppance or victory, but rather are to turn to the singular notion of humility. 

It is a humble act to acknowledge that we did not arrive by ourselves. Like slaves from Egypt, we arrive in our promised land because other's fought and marched, were jailed and even killed. We lift up this legacy, not to be ashamed, but rather to honor the journey and those who got us this far. 

The biblical passage also calls us to honor the Source of our being as one who walks with us until the pilgrimage is completed. This Source goes by various names in queer circles - some religious and some secular. It is important that we acknowledge that something both within and outside of us moved along the snowflake path with us bringing us to our final destiny.

Let us move one with courage born of the knowledge that we have been perfectly formed for "maximum efficiency and effectiveness" on our journey. Let us travel down the road in the expectancy that the promised land does await. And let us acknowledge with love and honor those who started the journey and got us this far.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Dished by God (Isaiah 49:14-16)

We who gather under the queer umbrella find ourselves, like Israel, questioning the validity of God's actions. 

     But Zion said, "Our God has abandoned me, Adonai has forgotten me."
     (Our God replied) "Does a woman forget her baby at the breast, or fail to cherish the child of her womb? Yet even if these forget I will never forget you. Look and see: I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are forever before me."

Israel is angry with God. Promises have been made. Promises which Israel feels have been broken. "God has abandoned us," they say shaking their fist in the face of the Sacred. "You have abandoned us and left us nothing more than a door-mate for others."

These strong words reflect deep seated angst concerning Israel's place in the world. They are vulnerable, disliked, and perceived as a worrying nuisance by her neighbors. Sounds familiar doesn't it? We who gather under the queer umbrella find ourselves, like Israel, questioning the validity of God's actions. Is this true gracious movement towards us, or are we being set up to take a bigger hit?

The queer person of faith often asks - if you hate gays then why did you make me this way? We are, just like everyone other human, an accident of our birth. Our country, our hair, our skin color, our sexual orientation are the chances of dice rolled without our blessing. We come vulnerable and alienated with only one promise - that life, or the God of life. is on our side. Yet, queer kids, queer teenagers, queer adults tend to find out it is not necessarily so. 

"We won't sale cakes to your kind." "Oh, that so gay!" "God hates fags." "Let's pass this law for 'religious freedom.'" Of course there is more hate masquerading as religious zeal and it leave us wondering why God abandoned us. It might be, that like Israel, we need to shake our fists and demand an accounting from the Holy. 

Maybe I should end my post here. At times we are not angry enough. The slurs and the taunts will keep coming and only our anger will be able to point our compass to true north. It is our anger which alerts us that life should be better. Our anger motivates us to march and to have pride and to stake our claim for dignity and respect.

God replies to Israel's anger - and to ours - with images that are both intimate and striking.  The first image is of childbirth and suckling a new born, "Yet even if these forget, I will never forget you." The image of the mothering God feeding us at the breast and singing soft lullabies in our ears speaks to God's tender intimacy. An intimacy which knows us through and through, and while holding us accountable, never reject us as suggested in the Black Madonna icon above.

The second image vibrates along a forgotten metaphor.  The phrase "to cut" brings to mind the stylus and clay tablet or chisel and stone monument. When an important promise was made the words were cut into stone - into that which last beyond our lifetimes. God's announcement that our names are cut into the diving being means our name - our own essence - is before God from everlasting to everlasting.

When we broaden the context of this passage and place it into the flow of the full book of Isaiah, especially the second half, we discover that God's promise is not necessarily to remove us from the accident of our birth. Rather God's promises to honor that we were born and to walk intimately with us on the trajectory the accident of our birth places us on. 

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Celebrating the Queer Affirming God (1 Peter 3:15)

Beloved of the Lover, who equips us to flourish, accept the offering of our queer living and loving.

But honor the Messiah as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
1 Peter 3:15 HCSB

What are the contours - the images, vocabulary, and metaphors - of the God who is queer affirming? How do queer people of faith "give reason for the hope" that is in us? What are the attributes of the God we worship? 

Mass Celebrating the Queer Affirming God

Kyrie (the nature of our relationship with God)
Our God, in which passion finds its beginning and its end, inspire us.
Jesus, lover of our souls, rouse us.
Our God whose erotic expression birthed creation, energize us. 

Gloria (praise for what God and Christ bring into our lives)
Glory to you, our God the source of life who is above, below, around, within.
May the earth be filled with your joy and acceptance of all people.
We praise your beauty. We glorify your creativity.
We give you thanks for your great passion;
Heart of the universe, source of life, the ribald God.
And to the lover of our souls, the beloved of God, Jesus our Christ.

Jesus our friend, wounded companion, joy of our hearts desiring:
You who enable our lives to flourish, inspire us.
You who empower our souls to shimmer as rainbows, hear us.
You who are intimate with the source of life, energize our own yearning.
For you are primal desire. You are the lover of our souls.

You, Jesus, are the passion which stirs our living and our loving
Along with the Holy Spirit, in the glory of God, whose erotic expression is the source of life.

Credo (why we stake our living and loving on God)
We give the purpose of our living and loving to you, Our God, source of life, eternal lover,
Who poured being into created reality, comprising the wild diversity of life. 

And we give the purpose of our living and loving to the lover of our souls, Jesus our Christ, joy of our desiring, beloved of the lover.
Born of the source of life as primal desire, beloved and lover, desire of desiring, true passion from true passion,
Erotic expression, not lustfulness, of one with the source of life.
Through Jesus all desire - longing and belonging - emerge and merge.
Who for our flourishing did take up creaturely life.
Enfleshed by the Holy Spirit of the socially subversive Mary:
And was made an embodied, gendered, sexual being. 
You, our Christ, suffered hate and rejection:
Your body, like many of your queer brothers and sisters, was beaten and tortured. 
You died and was buried.
On the third day you flourished anew by the consummation of God's searching heart.
Passion found desire and you, the beloved, was reunited with God, the lover. 
You lure creation with your longing for us, so that our living and loving may also flourish.
Your kin-ship knows no bounds.

And we give the purpose of our living and loving to the Holy Spirit, blesser and sustainer of our flourishing.
You are the erotic eruption of the passion shared between the Beloved and the Lover.
You, with God and Jesus, are glorified.
You come to full expression through prophets who queer culture and call into question our assumptions. 

And we give the purpose of our living and loving to the safe places and supportive communities
Where your desire for creation, O God, envelops us.
We confess one source of passion for the flourishing of life,
Even as we await the fullness of inclusion and life in a world honoring all expressions of love.

Sanctus (praising of God's actions)
Sacred, sacred, sacred is God,
Whose erotic passion fills the height and breath of the universe.
Hosanna in the highest.

Benedictus (praising of Jesus' actions)
Blest is Jesus, 
Who expresses inclusive love.
Hosanna in the highest.

Angus Dei (acknowledging the role of God through Christ in our lives)
Beloved of the Lover, who enables us to flourish, inspire us.
Beloved of the Lover, who empowers us to flourish, rouse us.
Beloved of the Lover, who equips us to flourish, accept the offering of our queer living and loving.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Jesus Comes Out, I Mean is Raised (Matthew 28:1-10)

Jesus comes out at his resurrection. He leaves behind the cold lifeless tomb/closet and emerges into the full morning light and embrace of God's love. 

     After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
     There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.
     The angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples; 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.' Now I have told you."
     So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them. "Greetings," he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.
Matthew 18:1-10 (HCSB)

Jesus comes out at his resurrection. He leaves behind the cold lifeless tomb/closet and emerges into the full morning light and embrace of God's love. 

A number of sexual and gender queer folk have lived with the consequences of the closet for too long. All kinds of terrible psychological, emotional, and spiritual things transpire in the tomb of heteronormativity. For those who self-identify as a sexual or gender minority fear, guilt, shame, and self-loathing can hold us back and keep us tightly sealed in the tomb of society's expectation. "Coming out, for most of us, is like an exorcism that releases us of the darkness we have lived in for years and caused us to believe awful things about ourselves. On the other side of the looking glass are freedom, light and life" (Anthony Venn-Brown, A Life of Unlearning - a journey to find the truth). 

Jesus emerging from the tomb gives us a glimpse of our own emergence. When Jesus is raised we refer to him as the Christ more so than in his life: a sign that the one who comes from the tomb is more fully himself. So it is, when queer folk emerge from the closet we become more fully who we have been all along. 

The story of Jesus can be read as a story of exploring self-identity and ultimately embracing the destiny wrapped in one's identity. For queer folks, this destiny includes the closet and coming out. Veen-Brown follows this thought, "Every single courageous act of coming out chips away at the curse of homophobia. Most importantly it's destroyed within yourself, and that act creates the potential for its destruction where it exists in friends, family and society." The double encounter by the women - first the angel, then Jesus - with the message to tell the disciples to go to Galilee underscores the tension between who we have been and who are becoming.

Resurrection also alerts us to the role of love in the coming out process. Technically speaking, Jesus did not "rise" from the tomb. In spite of the translations above, the Greek is always passive, Jesus "was raised" from the tomb. In the christian tradition the act of raising is connected to the love of God. In the story of Jesus, resurrection is the affirmation of the identity of Christ as the beloved of God, even when the world was saying Jesus was cursed of God. To claim and act on such love often leaves others fearful for they do not know what to do with the unabashed power of unfettered passion. 

Turning to Veen-Brown one more time: "The (same gender) love you are experiencing encourages you to face the reality that this is who you really are and also has the power to set you free. The richness, beauty and depths of love can only be fully experienced in a climate of complete openness, honesty and vulnerability. Love, the most powerful of human emotions, is calling you to freedom and wholeness."

I disagree with Veen-Brown in that love is more than a powerful human emotion. From a spiritual perspective, love is the very structure of creation, underlying the primal emergence of life - life from the tomb, life from the closet - to the promised freedom and wholeness of God's kin-dom.

In the resurrection, queer people take hope that the grave of heteronormativity is not the final destination wrapped up in our identity. The story of the resurrection helps us to claim our own journey set by the label of "faggot." We can say with certitude: On that day, when we came out of the closet with Christ, and fought the war of heteronormative expectations,  our "death" to these expectations gave way to our victory of experiencing healing and acceptance, and knowing we too are beloved.

Alleluia! We have been raised with Christ.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Jesus Died a Queer's Death (Mark 15:33-39)

This post is a rare repeat. It first appeared at Easter 2012. However, I felt the need to repost following two events of this week. One has been Kittredge Cherry (Jesus In Love Blog) and Douglas Blanchard (Facebook) enduring much rancorous criticism over their book The Passion of Christ: A Gay VisionThe second being the two states which voted to legalize prejudice against LGBTQIA folk in the name of "religious freedom." These events - occurring simultaneously during Holy Week - reminded me that people of sexual differentiation are indeed still being nailed to crosses of hate. 

 When noon came, darkness fell on the whole countryside and lasted until about three in the afternoon. At three, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "'Eloi, eloi, lamasabachthani!'" which means, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” A few bystanders who heard it remarked, “Listen! He is calling on Elijah!” Someone ran and soaked a sponge in sour wine and stuck it on a reed to make Jesus drink, saying, “Let’s see if Elijah comes to take him down.”
                Then Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary was torn in two from top to bottom. The centurion who stood guard over Jesus, seeing how he died, declared, “Clearly, this was God’s Own!”

Jesus died a queer’s death. Hate, ridicule, scorn, anger, humiliation, beatings – there is very little difference between these dynamics in the death of Jesus and in the lives and death of countless queer persons. 

As a minister I am accustomed to speaking of a “peaceful death” or a “troubled passing.” With Jesus, and others who died as objects of abuse, we must use the term “victim.” Here the death of Jesus intersects with the queer community. 

There’s a simple truth among queers – we are often at the mercy of heterosexual supremacy. Disempowered and marginalized we are the victims of an attitude and cultural posture which sees us as expendable. The Romans said of Jesus, “What’s one less Jew in the world?” Heteroarchy says of us “What’s one less fag in the world?”

This should be the end of the story – they the eternal oppressors and we the eternal victims. Yet, the death and resurrection of Jesus hints that this stalemate can be broken. Furthermore, it is the victim who has the power to break it. Only the victim can forgive the perpetuator of a crime. Society cannot forgive the perpetuator, the perpetuator cannot forgive him or herself, only the victim holds the power to forgive and to unlock a future that breaks the cycle of violence.

From the christian point of view, in Jesus, the Sacred became the victim of the anxiety and discontent of the world. In Jesus, the Sacred as victim forgave the world of this violent lashing out. 

I am not Jesus. It deeply hurts when I am belittled because I am gay. My own sense of desperation and wounded esteem arise to repay hurt with hurt. I am ready to fight and deliver punishment with all the ferocity I can muster. Forgiveness is not on my radar.

As a queer person of faith I wrestle with the invitation to repay evil with good. It is hard to forgive when society persist in condemning me. So, at the foot of the cross I wrestle…

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Queering Religion (Matthew 21:12-17)

If there is a model for us queer religious folk it is this Jesus: disrupting and creating, queering and inviting, acting up and "presencing" God's hope. 

     When Jesus entered the Temple, he drove out all those who were selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those selling doves. He said to them, "Scriptures says, 'My house is to be called a house of prayer,' but you make it a den of thieves!"
     Those who were blind or couldn't walk came to him in the Temple, and he healed them. When the (religious leaders) saw the wonderful things Jesus did, and heard the children shouting "Hosanna to the Heir to the House of David!" throughout the Temple area, they became indignant. 
    "Do you hear what the children are shouting?" they asked him.
    "Yes," Jesus replied. "Have you never read, 'From the mouths of children and nursing babies, you have brought forth praise'?" After leaving them, he went out to Bethany to spend the night.

Queering is an intentional disruption to the normal perception of reality. To queer is to act up and unmask hypocrisy and injustice. To say that Jesus queers religion is to say that Jesus purposefully disrupts the unexamined hypocritical and unjust use of religion to subjugate marginalized populations as "sinners."

"Jesus acted up when he saw something wrong. Nothing made him angrier than religious hypocrisy blocking the way to God. He got mad when religious leaders made people pay to attend worship. He said, you can't buy your way to heaven! Everyone gets God for free... Hypocrites! You're like fancy tombs, pretty on the outside, but full of death on the inside." (The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision text by Kittredge Cherry, art by Douglas Blanchard)

Jesus disrupts the oppression of religious systems. Notice in Blanchard's painting the gates being torn down due to Jesus acting up, freeing those held back by religious attitudes. In this protest Jesus liberates the people to claim their own relationship to God without the intervention of religious institutions. 

Our text doesn't stop here though, and neither should we. Queering doesn't only disrupt, queering also creates. The text immediately moves us to Jesus other act of queering. Traditionally it's called "Teaching in the Temple," but that is not really what Jesus is doing here. It is more like he is "Creating Community in the Temple." Those who were marginalized by the institution, who were barred by the gates, are now welcomed into the fullness of God's love and being. Jesus creates community among those and for those who had been shunned under the old order of things. Those classified as sinners are the very ones Jesus welcomes. In the language of the gospels, Jesus makes present the coming kin-dom of God. 

If there is a model for us queer religious folk it is this Jesus: disrupting and creating, queering and inviting, acting up and "presencing" God's hope. 

A cautious word of warning. These two acts of queering are held by many biblical and historical scholars to be the events which trigger the plot to execute Jesus as a prisoner of the state. Civil religion takes a very sour view of those who would queer her and hold her accountable for her hypocrisy and injustice. 

For all my wrestling, as a leader in a religious institution, I squirm uncomfortably at the feet of our queering Christ. Even though I serve in a very progressive expression of the faith, hypocrisy still sniffs at my heels. Which is why I need this acting up Jesus who queered and continues to queer religion until the gates I help build are torn down, those I seek to exclude are welcome, and God's kin-dom comes in its fullness.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Dazzled and Dumbfounded (Luke 9:28-36)

Are we then doomed to live out our narrative in prescribed roles handed us by the larger culture, adding neither novelty or substantive essence to our own being?  

    About eight days after these words, He took along Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray. As He was praying, the appearance of His face changed, and His clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly, two men were talking with him - Moses and Elijah. They appeared in glory and were speaking of His (exodus), which He was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.
     Peter and those with him were in deep sleep, and when the became fully awake, they saw (Jesus) glory and the two men who were standing with Him. As the two men were departing from Him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it's good for us to be here! Let us make three tabernacles: one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah" - no knowing what he said.
     While he was saying this, a cloud appeared and overshadowed them. They became afraid as they entered the cloud. Then a voice came from the cloud saying:
          This is My Son, the Chosen One;
          listen to Him!
After the voice had spoken, only Jesus was found. They kept silent, and in those days told no one what they had seen.
Luke 9:28-36 HCSB

You and I really don't need the scriptures to tell us of transfiguration. We have seen it in our friends. Every time a queer person comes out, transfiguration occurs. Every time a bully is stood up to, every time we honor our loving, every time we celebrate and take comfort in who we are at the core of our being transfiguration occurs. Our journey to be transformed ever more into who the Sacred intends us to be is the journey of metamorphosis from the exterior to the interior. Jesus is transfigured into the Christ when he finally touches the truth of his being and embraces all that Christhood will ask of him. It is not a fleeting burst of wonder which Jesus experiences upon the mountain. Rather it is a confirmation, deep within himself, that as he authentically lives who he is, he becomes more and more a beloved child of God.

There is, of course, a tension here. To claim more solidly our identity as queer, and live out who we are, is to play into society's need to compartmentalize and pigeon-hole. Jay Emerson Johnson explains this catch-22 of Western society: "Living in modern Western society means being identified and to occupy a particular cultural space based on that identity. Coming out as L, G, B, or T does not disrupt that identity-placement system. To the contrary it reinforces it by performing a different script, one that comes ready-made with its own social place to occupy, usually that of an 'outcast' or a 'rebel' or a theological 'dissident,' but also more recently as a lucrative 'market niche' for corporate advertisers." (Peculiar Faith: Queer Theology for Christian Witness)

Johnson's insight reminds us that even the act of coming out - a holy and sacred act for all who self-identify as queer - in the end fails to transcend the larger chains of culture. We come out of one bondage and enter into scripts which bind us to norming expectations for our identity. This dynamic chains all - women, children, black, Muslim, Christian, even white heterosexual males. Are we then doomed to live out our narrative in prescribed roles handed us by the larger culture, adding neither novelty or substantive essence to our own being? 

Looking at the transfiguration of Jesus we might offer, even if tentatively, a hopeful "no." Scripts for would-be christs abounded in the time of Jesus. The military hero, the political victor, the powerful figure who would subdue all detractors. So strong were these norming expectations that having failed to find at least one of these scripts in the actual life of Jesus, the writer of Revelation apparently pushed them onto a future, yet to come Christ (and we have been paying a theological price ever since).

What we witness on the mount with Peter, John, and Andrew is that in prayer and internal reflection, Jesus is drawn deeper and deeper into his being and his becoming. Moses and Elijah (both "scripts" from within the Jewish tradition) enter into conversation about Jesus' impending journey and what type of Christ he will be. 

As Jesus experienced in his depths, transfiguration and metamorphosis have the power to cut us loose from the prescribed cultural scripts. Such cutting and losing occurs at the nexus where our pain and struggle to be conflicts with the cultural scripts which seek to bind us. Paradoxically, metamorphosis occurs in the midst of our duplicity and imperfection and in the knots of our lives where we become uncomfortable with, kick against, and disrupt the norming expectations handed us. Realizing that scripts play the role of "keeping us secure" within cultural expectations, to be transfigured is to enter our heartache born out of the fear which threatens to undo us when we are finally free of societies' scripts (if we can ever be truly free).

This is Peter's mistake. He wants to freeze the experience at a level too shallow before the core of being and becoming is touched - before Jesus can integrate into his identity that to be beloved and chosen does not save him from humiliation and death but ironically leads to it. On the mount, Jesus undergoes a death to himself and the cultural scripts he might find comfortable. Later he will ultimately bear this death in his wounded and lifeless body, as did Gandhi, as did Martin Luther King, Jr. To refuse the norming expectations of society and grow in the norming expectation of divine love will invite violent rejection from those clinging to the cultural scripts.

At some level Peter understands what transfiguration calls for and fears the loss of the scripts by which he understands Jesus. Later Peter will make another attempt to reject Jesus' chosen narrative. It reminds us that friends are all to willing to hand us scripts that help them remain comfortable. In the face of both friend and foe the Sacred calls us deeper to the internal struggle to choose and write our own narratives. As we accomplish this, we might, and certainly those around us will be, dazzled and dumbfounded. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

More Than a One Night Stand (Mark 1:14-20)

Queer people of faith have been admonished to either leave behind or to mask our self-identity for fear of a sex-negative God.    

 After John (the baptizer) was arrested, Jesus went to Galilee, preaching the good news of God: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!"
     As (Jesus) was passing along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, Simon's brother. They were casting a net into the sea, since they were fishermen.
     "Follow Me," Jesus told them, "and I will make you fish for people!" Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. Going on a little father, He saw James the son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in their boat mending their nets. Immediately He called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed Him.
Mark  1:14-20

The Rev. Ron Verblaauw, newly ordained by the New Jersey Association, 
Central Atlantic Conference, United Church of Christ

Last week I participated in the ordination of the Rev. Ron Verblaauw, an openly gay man. To be honest, in my task-oriented way, my larger concerns were for the logistics of an ordination. It comes with the territory of my position in a "middle judicatory" or regional office. Politicians kiss babies, I shake hands of newly ordained and newly installed. So yes, I came to this with my perfunctory lenses on (sorry Ron). How long is the service? Is my title correct? Have we pleased the chair of the ordination committee? This last concern I seemed overly proficient at failing. 

It wasn't until a week later, as the Lectionary readings brought us to consider the call of the disciples by Jesus, did I stop to actually reflect on the momentous occasion:  a gay person of faith celebrating before God and the beloved community his positive response to the call of Jesus into christian ministry. Kin-dom come!

What I had approached as a "run of the mill" ritual was, in fact, far from it. Queer people have long been proclaimed the "abomination of desolation" by voices in the church. Meaning that as sexual and gender diverse people we are considered so far from God that our only hope for a significant relationship with the Sacred is to deny our core being and participate in lies and denials. 

Some sections of the church seem hell bent on whitewashing their followers. By denoting what is "sinful" and then asking that those portions of our lives be repressed and covered over, we learn how to hide the very thing that attracts God to us. Queer people of faith have been admonished to either leave behind or to mask our self-identity for fear of a sex-negative God. 

Jesus seems to have missed the later admonishment of the church. As he approaches the disciples he asks them to bring the very things they already are.  Jesus celebrates with deep gladness who Andrew and Simon, James and John are at the core of their being. They are not asked to suppress that they are fishermen, rather they are asked to embrace more fully the gift of their being. To allow this more holistic embrace to bring them to a higher level of service. 

The examples of these two sets of brothers shouldn't be taken lightly. To answer the call of the Spirit entails making available to God our vulnerabilities. I was ordained before discernment of my sexual orientation  As I came out, one of the ministers involved in my ordination began to question the viability of my call. The disciples remind me that the pull of the Sacred on our lives asks us to be brave enough to be comfortable with who we are. God's call to all of us is the call to courage as we remove our masks and share from our core identities. In this rooted sense, the primal call of the Sacred is from false lives to real lives. To answer our call means to hear ourselves named as beloved. 

In my tradition, the United Church of Christ, the depth of what call requires of us is belied by the simple answers requested: "I do with the help of God," "I will with the help of God," "I do and I will with the help of God." The emphasis here is not on the "I," but rather on "with the help of God." To plum our depths, to expose our deepest being takes courage. After all, any relationship which lasts contains such courage. Far from being a one night stand, God's call is for a rich and full lifetime and a life to come.

As Ron stood taking his vows, no doubt was left in my mind of his sincerity. He is one who has been to the depths, exposing all in validation that God's love is infinite. Not only do we discover God's compassion meeting our deepest need, but also we find God's compassion blessing the gift of our being.