Saturday, July 16, 2016

Taming God (Exodus 3:13-14)

In the context of the issue of devotional captivity, God declares freedom to express the Divine Self as God chooses, leaving us with a sense of non-conforming. Which, once you think about it, is a transgressive act against any thought of capturing the Divine Essence. 
     Then Moses asked God, "If I go to the Israelites and say to them: The God of your fathers (and mothers) has sent me to you, and they ask me, 'What is His name?' what should I tell them?"
     God replied to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: I AM has sent me to you." 
Exodus 3:13-14

Can God be snared by our devotions? 

Can God be trapped by our ideology, wrapped up as it is in spiritual garb?

Can God be worshipped only when we have tamed the wild lion and ensured divine acquiescence to our agenda?

Can God be bought with our praise and turned into an idol of devotion without fear of any demands in return?

If God must be snared, trapped, tamed, and bought what does this say about us?

Zenil's painting Ofrenda ("offering in English) confuses me. I am drawn to the intimacy of the composition with our ability to touch and love on Jesus. However is this a willing Jesus? Is he adored because he is a captive? Is he adored because he too has been marginalized and chained up? What exactly is the nature of this relationship? 

Zenil is a gay Mexican artist known for tweaking the religious iconography of Mexican culture to speak to the disenfranchisement of queer men in a macho society. Zenil writes, "I have always felt marginalized in my life and have experienced a great sense of solitude. In my art I've tried to effect a communication between members of society and myself."

I take great comfort in the idea that Christ has been marginalized as sexual and gender minorities have been marginalized. Still I wonder, do I only worship God because the divine too is marginalized? Is my intimate devotion based upon the notion that She (or He) is one of us? If this is true has God not become ensnared in my devotion - the eternally marginalized and hated? Is God destined by my devotion to the Ostracized Divine to spend eternity in ropes and chains?

The same can be said of those whose worship of God is tethered to heteronormative ideologies and leanings. These folks would see Zenil's work as blasphemy and declare any talk of an "Ostracized Divine" as heresy. 

In the context of the issue of devotional captivity, God declares freedom to express the Divine Self as God chooses, leaving us with a sense of non-conforming. Which, once you think about it, is a transgressive act against any thought of capturing the Divine Essence. 

This transgressive act of Holy Freedom resists "institutionalized systems of morality and social respectability," according to the pseudonymous writer Profane Joy, "opening pathways that had been blocked, and doing so in order to establish new territories of critical devotion for non-normative desires and bodies."

I am humbled in the realization that God is not trapped within the yearnings and needs of my queer devotion. For my devotion can also shutdown and block new territories for those who need non-normative pathways to the Divine.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The Unlovable Divine (Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23)

In this primal divine scream God becomes the unforgiveable, God becomes the unlovable, God becomes the unacceptable.      

     "Completely illusory!" says Qoheleth
     "Completely illusory! Everything is just an illusion!"

     I, Qoheleth, was a ruler of Israel in Jerusalem. I saw it was my duty - aided by Wisdom - to determine all that is accomplished under the sun. What a heavy task God has laid upon us! So now I've see all the works that have been down under the sun, and let me tell you: Everything is an illusion, like chasing the wind.

     I have come to abhor all my labor under the sun, the fruits of which I now must pass on to my successor. Will this person be wise or foolish? Regardless, my successor will be in charge of all mighty things I created under the sun. This too is illusory. For I, a person who has worked wisely, skillfully, and successfully, must leave it to someone who has not so much as lifted a finger - more illusion, another miscarriage of justice. Why do I gain from all my sweat and struggle under the sun? What about the daily struggles, the strain of official duties, the anxiety in the dead of night? This too is illusory.
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23

Welcome to the world of Ecclesiastes whose author, Qoheleth, gets the award for the most depressing biblical book. Nonetheless though, her insights into the human predicament are keen and stands out in scriptures for her bravery to fix our gaze on the absurdities of life. I keep saying her, for the word Qoheleth, often translated as "the Preacher," is a feminine noun. I take that to mean we are hearing a female voice.

The insights of Qoheleth can be summed up in two words: LIFE SUCKS.

For Qoheleth there is a tediousness to daily living. In face of the onslaught of recalcitrant and intractable powers Qoheleth feels she is existing on the edge of absurdity. Life is a predator dealing out indiscriminate and undeserved sorrow. All life sucks. And according to Qoheleth the reason it sucks is because we carry around in our heads pictures of what life should be like - nostalgic and romantic illusions that, in the end, have nothing to do with reality. 

Partnerships and families that don’t stack up to the illusion in our heads. Work situations that don’t match the picture in our heads. Friendships that don’t measure up to the yard stick in our heads. Health needs that bang against the life-maps in our heads. School settings that don’t live out the scenarios in our heads. Qoheleth says it is vanity to think that life should ever measure up, for life, once stripped of its illusions, sucks! 

This is often difficult for me as a progressive christian to understand. Where I would say the foundational reality of life is that we are children of God, Qoheleth argues that the foundational reality of life is that we are children of sorrow. From her point of view life is an experience to be endured. She tells us she made it her life goal to find out how things got accomplished but it was like chasing the wind. She tells us that she worked hard to leave a legacy for her family, yet the family has no appreciation for the wisdom and skill involved. Her hope that there would be gain from her sweat and struggle was misplaced, an illusion in her head.

Certainly sexual and gender transgressive people can understand Qoheleth's desperation. Porter's photograph from 1971 could be almost any city today some 45 years later. For all our protesting and all our "gains," society only tolerates us at best; hunts us down at worst. 

From a queer perspective we find God doesn’t offer us a way out, but rather God offers us companionship in the midst of life’s absurdities. Wrote the Methodist theologian, Paul Jones,  “As we scream over the way things are for us, so God screams over the way things are for God.” In this primal divine scream God becomes the unforgiveable, God becomes the unlovable, God becomes the unacceptable. 

Whatever it is that is the seldom-acknowledged “un” of our life, which our illusions help hide from us, that “un” God becomes. In becoming our “un” God also becomes a true participant in our sorrow. From a christian perspective we acknowledge that Christ stretches out upon the cross of the world’s absurdity with us and in this act of solidarity our lives are named as holy, sacred, worthy - even as we scream at the banality of it all.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Hate is Hate is Hate is Hate is Hate (Proverbs 10:12)

"This exercise to claim that I am more hated than you, is itself a product of disgust, revulsion, and blame." 

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers all wrongs.
                                                          Proverbs 10:12

It has been three weeks since the shootings in Orlando. For all our promises that, "We are Orlando," most of us have moved on. After all it was Pride Month and the victims would have wanted us to celebrate Juneteenth with even more vigor in their memory. The pundits have the bombing of the Istanbul airport and the hostages in Bangladesh to kick around. The unfortunate truth is that the Pulse Nightclub was just one more act of hate in a sea of hate. We were outraged for the moment and the moment passed.

In my last post I referenced a friend who invited me into conversation about sin. In the end he did reply - once. I guess his Orlando Vigil did the trick of relieving him of any association with the thought that his anti-gay preaching might have something to do with the rise of hate against queer people. Clearly, he wasn't going to enter a conversation that might remove the thin rusted tin of that facade. 

We're still seeking to figure out the motivation of the shooter. Was he homophobic? Did he seek to go out a notorious ISIS agent after his life had amounted to one failure after another? Was it revenge for being rejected in his own search for gay partners? It may take years to untangle the shooters' motive. Of course by then no one will really care. Which is a shame, I think there is much to learn here if we but have the courage to keep our gaze on the rage and carnage.

Hate, at least in US culture, is relational. We just don't hate in general (the French apparently have an expression which allow for unfocused hate). But in the US our hate is directed at someone or something. To hate assumes a relationship. A relationship in which we act aggressively toward another with destructive thoughts. The object of our hate brings disgust into our lives and we act on our revulsion and seek to remove from our lives the person we blame for the disgust. Of course in order to remove a person we must first see them as something less than human or at least less than worthy of our good will. This is the particular dynamic hate allows.

Which brings me to my point: hate is hate is hate is hate is hate! In situations such as the Orlando shootings there is a tendency toward ranking who is hated the most. Several posts of my Face Book feed took up the cry that the worst massacre in US history was not the Pulse Nightclub but rather Wounded Knee. Another thread compared the relative privilege of white queer people to the continuing vulnerability of African Americans. 

This exercise to claim that I am more hated than you, is itself a product of the system of disgust, revulsion, and blame. All such thinking does is to invite us to perpetuate the cycle of thoughts and emotions that hate feeds off of. Better is that we come to understand networks of thinking patterns and attitudes which allow for hate to flourish and capture all in their nets of "us versus them."

The proverb has it right, hate does stir up conflict to such a tumult of chaos and ugliness that we can even hate ourselves. Love, however, covers wrongs. That is love does not react to others with disgust but with empathy and compassion. Love refuses to dehumanize in order that I may justify my actions. Love allows me to understand that the better path in life is to welcome instead of exclude.