A Radical Reading of Galatians 3:25:29

Galatians 3:25-29

25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. 27 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.

I have seen the assertion that the identities so important in identity politics are subsumed by our identity in Christ. Someone is not a Jew, they are a child of God who is Jewish. Someone is not a slave, they are a child of God who is in bondage. Someone is not a woman, they are a child of God who is female. Someone is not black, they are a child of God who is of African descent. Someone is not gay, they are a child of God who is attracted to the same gender.

In the Kingdom of God, the ways in which we divide ourselves are overridden because we are in Christ who unites us.

But telling someone “there is no longer Jew nor Greek” does not lift the Roman boot sandal from the necks of the oppressed. Saying “there is no longer slave nor free” does nothing to change the fact that “Abraham’s offspring” is still held in the violence of slavery. Saying “there is no longer male nor female” does not erase the ways in which women are oppressed, othered and systematically devalued. Telling each of these “I don’t give credence to this class division” means that you don’t take seriously the ways in which the members of each class are oppressed.

Likewise, “There is no longer gay nor straight, there is no longer trans nor cis” doesn’t erase the experiences of the queer person whose life is at risk for simply being who they are. They cannot simply say “I’m not gay, I belong to Christ” and suddenly have the reality of their oppression disappeared.

The tendency amongst some to say that in Christ we move past our (previous) identities creates room to erase the experience of the oppressed and hides the need to work on the racism, sexism, heterosexism, transphobia that is at the root of the exclusion of many from having a voice in the Body of Christ. When straight, cis, white men appeal to “There is no longer,” then they run the risk of furthering violence against those who still are.

Paul can be read here as preaching the other side of Jesus’ first recorded sermon in Luke 4:18-19. Walter Brueggemann writes in The Prophetic Imagination (p. 84):

In Luke 4:18-19 he announces that a new age was beginning, but that announcement carries within it a harsh criticism of all those powers and agents of the present order. His message was to the poor, but others kept them poor and benefitted from their poverty. He addressed the captives (which means bonded slaves), but others surely wanted that arrangement unchanged. He named the oppressed, but there are never oppressed without oppressors.

His ministry carried out the threat implicit in these two fundamental announcements. The ministry of Jesus is, of course, criticism that leads to radical dismantling.

If he came to “let the oppressed go free” then he has also come to oppose the oppressor. If Jesus is setting the tone of his entire ministry by speaking to the oppressed, then Paul is speaking to those in the oppressing classes of their participation in the Kingdom of God. Paul is removing the ability of the oppressors to other the oppressed.

The voice of Paul here must be directed at the oppressor, not the oppressed. He must be saying to the men that they can no longer exclude and other women. He must be saying to the slave owner that the category of slave cannot exist in Christ, for if he is speaking to the oppressed, then he is simply allowing for the erasure of their oppression in the eyes of their oppressors. When straight or cis people say “I don’t see you as gay, I see you as my sister. I don’t see you as trans, I see you as my brother,” they don’t do anything to stand with the oppressed, rather they erase the oppressed, saying “The way you fit into my framework is more important than your lived experience.” If Paul is telling the slave “You are no longer a slave,” and not addressing the reality that this offspring of Abraham is held as property of another human, then Paul is not preaching a gospel of freedom for the oppressed, but a perverted gospel that ignores cries for freedom.

My Genderqueer Manifesto

The very first thing I want you to notice is that this is titled My Genderqueer Manifesto. It’s not The Genderqueer Manifesto nor even A Genderqueer Manifesto. This one is mine and no one else’s. Just like my gender(s). And like my gender, I reserve the right to modify it on a whim, to update it to reflect new knowledge, and for it to be completely nonsensical to those outside of my head. Modifications, updates, and other changes may (and likely will) be made without this document ever being updated.

I am genderqueer.

In that big QUILTBAG in which so many of us hang out, you can find me in the Q and the G. G for genderqueer. Q for queer. But not Q for questioning. I’m not questioning. I am the question. My life, my identity, my practices are a big fucking question mark, and I love it that way.

So what’s it mean when I say I’m genderqueer?

  • It means sure, I’m a guy. Except when I’m not.
  • It means sometimes I’m a girl too.
  • It means sometimes I’m neither, or both, or something else entirely.
  • It means I’m rarely a man, and even less often a woman.
  • It means that when I fix a car or build something that I don’t feel manly or like I’m living up to the gender that is assigned to me. It means I’m really more of a tomboy in those moments.
  • It means that I’m not crossdressing when you see me in skirts and makeup. I’m not wearing women’s clothes. I’m wearing my clothes, thank you very much.
  • It means you can refer to me as “he.” Or “she.” Or “ze.” Or any other personal pronoun you prefer. They’ll all be right enough, and I don’t mind any of them. Well, except maybe “it.”
  • It means that my beard is pretty and girly, at least when I want it to be.

So what does it not mean when I say that I’m genderqueer?

  • It does not mean that I want to start taking hormones or have my body surgically modified. Some genderqueer people do. That’s cool. It’s not for me.
  • It does not mean that I’m under any obligation to make my identity apparent to others. Most days I’ll be in slacks or jeans and a button down. You’ll likely not actively notice anything about my gender.
  • It does not have any bearing on my sexual orientation. I’m mostly attracted to women, and also to other genderqueer folks. I’m sometimes attracted to guys. None of that has anything to do with my gender identity nor with my gender expression. I’m just omnomsexual.1
  • It does not mean that I feel I was born in the wrong body. I fit my body perfectly. I am my body. My gender and my body are inseparable, but that doesn’t mean that I let others assignation of gender to my body limit me.

I notice that my expression of gender varies along with where I am on the extraversion/introversion spectrum. The more extraverted I am, the more stereotypically feminine I am likely to appear. The more introverted I am, the more stereotypically guy my appearance will be.

Usually.

But no matter my expression, I am always genderqueer.

Even when you can’t see my queerness, it is there. It is who I am. It is how I am. Forget that if you prefer. My queerness is not your responsibility, and it does not need your recognition. But forget it at the risk of failing to see and understand me.

Queer is a territory of tension, defined against the dominant narrative of white-hetero-monogamous-patriarchy, but also by an affinity with all who are marginalized, otherized and oppressed. Queer is the abnormal, the strange, the dangerous. Queer involves our sexuality and our gender, but so much more. It is our desire and fantasies and more still. Queer is the cohesion of everything in conflict with the heterosexual capitalist world. Queer is a total rejection of the regime of the Normal.

Toward The Queerest Insurrection

I refuse to let myself be managed and policed and limited by narrow, binary gender. I am both/and/neither/nor. I am “Yes, ma’am,” “Yes, sir,” and “I don’t know what to call you.”

I am a walking, talking, living, breathing question mark exploding every binary that tries to catch me.


1) Omnomsexual. adj. Involving, related to, or characterized by a sexual propensity for people who are nommy; of or involving sexual activity with a person or people who are nommy, or between individuals who are nommy.

Things I’ve been reading, early November edition

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these, so this is going to be long. There’s lots of good stuff here, though, on a number of topics.

An Outlaw’s Theology

I lose my voice! I lose it because my witness and story are not heard. All my life, it is my voice that conveys my story. Deep from within me, it is my distinct, personal, intimate power of expression. Upon it ride the images and imaginations of my spiritual beliefs, all my hopes and dreams, all facts and truths as I know them and as they live through me. I am baffled, because now I have no voice.

This is not hyperbole. I am not speaking allegorically. I intend no metaphor. One moment I turn to you, my juror, and weave my life story into and throughout yours. About the atrocities of the Vietnam War and the crimes of our government, I speak clearly. My voice is passionate. I expose the sufferings of innocents: skin burning alive with napalm. My voice is truthful: classmates, friends, cousin, and kin, my whole generation, lied to and betrayed by elected officials. My voice is hopeful: “Pacem in Terris,” Peace on earth declares my spiritual leader, Pope John XXIII, and so I declare “Peace!” My voice is confessional: I am just one guy–reaching out in despair, frustration, anger, almost hopeless, but then not–with gritty hope I act as best I can. When the leaders no longer listen, then words are not enough. The draft raid is my way of speaking, “Peace!”


Ears of Stone

It was quite acceptable to talk “politics.” There was at least a nascent sense that the war was intolerable, granted the American system and its “normal” workings. One gained this small leverage. But the fact that the war might be inconsistent with the words and example of Christ, that killing others was repugnant to the letter and spirit of the Sermon on the Mount–this was too much: it turned living ears to stone.


Breaking of the Bridesmaids: a parable for patience, justice and Occupy protests

I begin this way only because our understanding of this text has become so ingrained that it is difficult to think of the story in any way other than a cautionary, apocalyptic tale about the return of Jesus.


Can I worship to this song? Poetics and Process

Being a theologian who loves music can be tricky in the current worship culture. I find myself thinking “can I sing this song with integrity?”

I take worship pretty seriously so I just don’t have the luxury to ‘turn my brain off’ or ‘turn a blind eye’ to the content of the songs that we sing as a congregation. I can’t do what some of my peers do and say with a shrug “these are simply the songs that we sing and that is just the way it is – don’t get too worked up about it or put too much thought into it.” It’s just not possible with my personality and passions.


Women’s boxing split as governing body suggests skirts

During last year’s World Championships, the Amateur International Boxing Association (AIBA) presented competitors with skirts, rather than the usual shorts, which it wanted to “phase in for international competitions”.

AIBA asked boxers to trial the skirts, which they said would allow spectators to distinguish them from men, but at last week’s European Championships in Rotterdam only two nations – Poland and Romania – had taken on the alternative outfits.

Poland Boxing actually took it a step further and made it compulsory for their boxers to wear skirts, saying they are more “elegant”.

“By wearing skirts, in my opinion, it gives a good impression, a womanly impression,” Poland coach Leszek Piotrowski told BBC Sport. “Wearing shorts is not a good way for women boxers to dress.


Lost Boys: New child-sex-trafficking research demolishes the stereotype of the underage sex worker

Most astonishing to the researchers was the demographic profile teased out by the study. Published by the U.S. Department of Justice in September 2008, Curtis and Dank’s findings thoroughly obliterated the long-held core assumptions about underage prostitution:

  • Nearly half the kids — about 45 percent — were boys.
  • Only 10 percent were involved with a “market facilitator” (e.g., a pimp).
  • About 45 percent got into the “business” through friends.
  • More than 90 percent were U.S.- born (56 percent were New York City natives).
  • On average, they started hooking at age 15.
  • Most of them serviced men — preferably white and wealthy.
  • Most deals were struck on the street.
  • Almost 70 percent of the kids said they’d sought assistance at a youth-service agency at least once.
  • Nearly all of the youths — 95 percent — said they exchanged sex for money because it was the surest way to support themselves.

In other words, the typical kid who is commercially exploited for sex in New York City is not a tween girl, has not been sold into sexual slavery, and is not held captive by a pimp.

Nearly all the boys and girls involved in the city’s sex trade are going it alone.


In which some guys do not want to kill stuff at mens’ ministry

I’ve always avoided men’s ministry. I find it almost impossible to believe I share common ancestry with the guys who are into mixed martial arts and anything else that involves beating the hell out of another human being. Tying MMA into a sermon is as incompatible with Christianity as comparing following Jesus with soldiers attacking an enemy combatant.

Men’s ministry lacks metaphors and activities for guys like me. I was the last guy picked for anything involving sports. I opted for the tiny barbells at the gym. It took me years to forgive my college roommate for tackling me “just for the fun of it.” I’m not an aggressive guy. If you’re the kind of guy wondering, “Could I take this guy?” The answer most certainly is: yes.

When we moved to a new home in Columbus, OH this month, one of my first purchases was a bunch of pansies for the front porch. I also spend my evenings hanging in the living room with my wife and our house rabbits. I feel like that says quite enough about me.

My penchant for pansies aside, I generally find that I exist in a separate universe from the “men’s ministry” dudes who use fighting, military, wrestling, and weight-lifting metaphors for the Christian walk or plan events around aggressive activities.


Do not resent, do not react, keep inner stillness

When I was in seminary I had the great blessing of becoming the spiritual son of a Greek bishop, Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. He ended his life as the bishop of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese. It was he who taught me the Jesus Prayer. The whole spiritual vision of Bishop Kallistos had three very simple points.

  • Do not resent.
  • Do not react.
  • Keep inner stillness.

These three spiritual principles, or disciplines, are really a summation of the Philokalia, the collection of Orthodox Christian spiritual wisdom. And they are disciplines every single one of us can practice, no matter where we are in life – whether we’re in the monastery or in school; whether we’re housewives or retired; whether we’ve got a job or we’ve got little kids to run after. If we can hold on to and exercise these three principles, we will be able to go deeper and deeper in our spiritual life.


A Sense of Owingness

I can think of myself as an empty container of freedom, as a sovereign who exists prior to my entanglements with others, but this is a paltry and ghost-like self. The person who matters is the one who is son, father, husband, cousin, son-in-law, friend, and each of those roles limits my ability to do just whatever I want, whenever. As son, I owe piety; as husband, I owe fidelity; as father, I owe gentle instruction; as friend, I owe loyalty. Consequently, I am what I am in virtue of the responsibilities I bear. Insofar as I matter as a person, I am constituted not by sovereignty, but by what I owe. And only by knowing what I owe to others do I know who I am and what I’m for; ignorance of owing is to be devoid of a self.

If this is true, then the ability to cultivate a sense of owingness is to become a real human being, a free human being. But almost every bit of our cultural life is stacked against our developing this sense, and so we are deaf and dumb about what matters most.


Writing for “that chick blog” on Gender and the Gospel

And so it was to a community wrestling with what it looked like to enact the Great Commission and bring the Gospel message to both Jew and Gentile that Paul wrote these revolutionary words.

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28)

This is not of course to suggest some sort of Gnostic erasing of gender or ethnicity. But for Paul it was central to the very message of the Gospel that the people of God now includes Jew and Gentile, and male and female, on equal footing.

So then part of faithfully proclaiming that Gospel is proclaiming to the people of God that gender, social class, and ethnicity do not define who God can use and how he can use them.


“What Is Process Theology” by Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki (pdf)

Well, some nuts are hard to crack, but try this: Process theologies are relational ways of thinking about the dynamism of life and faith. Process-relational theologians integrate implications of a thoroughly interdependent universe into how we live and express our faith. We are convinced that everything is dynamically interconnected; that everything matters; that everything has an effect. Such insights can be adapted to many faith traditions, but this particular booklet applies them to Christian faith.


#1 King Jesus Gospel Question

Our responsibility is not to persuade, or to convince, or to defend. Our responsibility is to be a “witness.”


Why Men Should Not Be Pastors

8. Their physical build indicates that men are more suited to tasks such as chopping down trees and wrestling mountain lions. It would be “unnatural” for them to do other forms of work.

6. Men are too emotional to be priests or pastors. This is easily demonstrated by their conduct at football games and watching basketball tournaments.


This is the face of obesity

This is the face of obesity.

I am 5’7” and I weigh 235 pounds. This puts me well into the obese category. I’d need to lose another 40 pounds to be classified as “overweight” by standard BMI calculations.

This picture was taken after I had just spent five hours hiking a rugged 8 miles around Lake Vesuvius in southeastern Ohio.


I’m Religious, Not Spiritual
While I’m not Orthodox enough to hold to everything the author writes, his understanding of the holiness of the body is amazing.

Thus, if we will be like Jesus, we must fully inhabit our bodies and not descend to some Gnostic pretense that we are above our bodies, fallen though they are. Our bodies are not–as is too often and too regrettably preached at Christian funerals–mere containers housing our spirits, which are “set free” at our death to be with God. No, we are our bodies, our bodies house the Holy Spirit and are therefore themselves holy.


Some things I’ve been reading

I lieu of sharing my own thoughts, here are some other people’s writings that have impacted me lately.

Awkward from Carl McColman.

Jesus Walking On The Water: A Sermon Sarcastic and Serious from Nadia Bolz-Weber

Reading Revolution: 14 Marvelous Modern Libraries

Just Another Woman at Michfest from Alice Kalafarski

A Prayer for Humility by William Barclay

Greenbelt Sermon from Nadia Bolz-Weber

Worshipping God Through Our Sorrow from Caleb Wilde

Encountering The Monster That I Am from Peter Rollins

The Trash of the World: Paul And Universalism from Peter Rollins

“What We Need Is Here” by Wendell Berry

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Gents – Re-/de-gendering “Gentleman”

The word “gentleman” has always held positive associations for me. It is associated, in my mind, with having a strong sense of self tempered by humility and with treating people respectfully. At its best, it represents a set of ideals that I strive for. Yet there are problematic aspects of the word that make it not the best fit for what I’d hope to communicate with its use. The biggest of those is its gendered nature. The ideals I think of as gentlemanly are most certainly not gender specific. I know female-bodied and woman-identified people who embody them wonderfully. The constant pairing of “gentleman” with “lady” leads to more complications. The rules of gentlemanly behavior often treat women as fragile and helpless or as objects to be obtained or molded. If I could discard the gendering I could find more comfort with the concept, and so I began to look for non-gendered words that are analogous to “gentleman.”

When I asked my friends and acquaintances for words that carried the same connotations as “gentleman” but were gender-neutral or gender-inclusive, I received a lot of suggestions, including gentlefolk, gentlebeing, mensch, comrade, dandy, sophisticate. I found them either clumsy, or not carrying the same associations for me. Finally I thought of something so simple that I felt embarrassed that I hadn’t seen it before. There already exists a wonderful abbreviation of the word “gentleman” that removes the unnecessary and exclusionary gendering. “Gent” can be applied to people of all genders.

In this series of writings I hope to look at what it was of the ideal of “gentleman” that spoke to me and from that build an analogous concept around the “gent” that is inclusive of all genders, informed by feminism and queered from the original. I only ask that you forgive my exclusion of the phrase “for me” from the rest of my writing on the topic. I speak only of the ways that I attempt to embody and modify the gentleman archetype, and do not wish to prescribe the behavior of others, nor to define for them what being a gent would be in their particular circumstances.

Please indulge me as I look backward to find the traditions to adapt and carry forward. If being a gent is an inclusive retelling of gentlemanly ideals, then from what do we draw gently1 ideals?

I’m aware that for many, the word “gentleman” is associated with social class, the gentlemen being those whose wealth can separate them from the vulgar masses. Indeed, it entered the English lexicon in the late thirteenth century as a term for a man of noble birth. I do sympathize with such a reading of the word, but it has not been my experience.

Within a hundred years of the word’s appearance, Chaucer’s characters were describing the word in a subversive way, contrary to it’s earlier definition. “The Wife of Bath’s Tale” includes:

But, for ye speken of swich gentillesse
As is descended out of old richesse,
That therfore sholden ye be gentil men,
Swich arrogance is nat worth an hen.
Looke who that is moost vertuous alway,
Pryvee and apert, and moost entendeth ay
To do the gentil dedes that he kan;
Taak hym for the grettest gentil man.
Crist wole we clayme of hym oure gentillesse,
Nat of oure eldres for hire old richesse.

That is, “You say you should be called gentlemen because of your ancestry, but such arrogance is worth nothing. Look to who is always virtuous, who intends in all circumstances to do what noble deeds he can. That person is the greatest gentleman. Christ would have us claim our gentility from Him, not from the riches of our elders.” It’s this understanding of the word that carried into my youth. Growing up poor in a rural area, being a gentleman was about one’s behavior toward others, not about money, land or belongings. It was not laden with a sense of superiority, but a sense of offering oneself. Indeed, there were more gentlemen, as I understood it, amongst the lower classes around me than I ever experienced among the middle and upper classes. It was not a marker of inequality, but a marker of equality. All had the ability to be a gentleman, or not, dependent on how they acted toward those around them.

Perhaps my roots in the southern U.S. have added to that idea of a gentleman being defined by what one does, not one’s station in life. Whatever one’s opinion of Robert E. Lee, his Definition of a Gentleman also speaks to this understanding of the concept.

The forbearing use of power does not only form a touchstone, but the manner in which an individual enjoys certain advantages over others is a test of a true gentleman.

The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly–the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.

The gentleman does not needlessly and unnecessarily remind an offender of a wrong he may have committed against him. He cannot only forgive, he can forget; and he strives for that nobleness of self and mildness of character which impart sufficient strength to let the past be but the past. A true man of honor feels humbled himself when he cannot help humbling others.

I propose that these passages2 are the starting place of moving from “gentleman” to “gent.” The very core of being a gent is having a respect for others as individuals of equal worth, and treating them in a way that shows that respect.

Treating people with gently1 respect can be a feminist act that cuts away at the gentleman/lady duality that made me uncomfortable with the gentleman concept. Opening a door for someone is a kind gesture, regardless of their gender. Opening a door for someone because of their gender gives the impression that they are in a different class, are less capable, or are something to be attained by means of preferential treatment. Giving such an impression (indeed, holding such opinions) is disrespectful in that it casts the other person as less than an equal. Gently behavior is holding a door open for someone because you wish to be kind. Any other motivation is an insult, even if the person receiving the action is unaware.

I feel that the requirements of a gent go a step further, however. Holding a door open isn’t enough. In the etiquette of opening doors, as with all actions, a gent not only acts from a desire to be kind to others, but makes room to accept the kindnesses of others. Often, when walking through two sets of doors, my partner will open one for me, and I will open the next for her. When traveling by car, the person driving will unlock the passenger side door, and the passenger will reach across to unlock the driver side door. Being a gent means making room for others to behave as gents as well. This means not only happily giving, but graciously receiving the kindnesses and signs of respect offered by others. It also means doing these things without expectation or attachment to desired results. Some will not return respect in kind. To a gent, this is inconsequential.

How else can acting as a gent be feminist act? Let us adopt Lee’s definition as an inspiration, and see how it may translate into contemporary understandings.

The power which the strong have over the weak, the employer over the employed, the educated over the unlettered, the experienced over the confiding, even the clever over the silly–the forbearing or inoffensive use of all this power or authority, or a total abstinence from it when the case admits it, will show the gentleman in a plain light.

We can read the “power” of which Lee wrote as related, if not identical, to privilege. Should a gent be in a situation of having privilege that others do not have, be it through the actions of the gent, a matter of circumstance, or from the structure and expectations of society, the gent will behave in such a way that the privilege and any potential power differential is acted upon minimally. Ideally it would not be acted upon at all. In our current world it’s easy for us to add to Lee’s list “the privilege that white people have over people of color, men over women, cisgender over transgender.” This is nothing if not the best approach I’ve ever read to beginning to manage one’s privilege.

A gent will be aware of privilege, and do what they can to refrain from acting on it. Furthermore, as none of us are perfect, when we do act on our privilege, our response is to be humbled, recognizing that using our station is a failure in respecting others as individuals and as people of equal worth. And from that humility a gent will hopefully come away with a greater understanding of privilege and strive to hold more to their ideals next time.

It is my hope that I have communicated here some of the ways in which I am trying to adapt the old ideals of the gentleman, as I understand them, into a modified set of ideals open to all. In my introduction I spoke of the two ideas that are forming the basis of this exploration. In this writing I covered one of them, that of treating people respectfully. Next I hope to unpack more of what I mean by “having a strong sense of self tempered by humility.” I shall relish any comments readers may have on what I’ve written here, or any thoughts that may be related to the topic at hand.

Care for some further reading before the next installment? Here are a few other pages on gentlemen that may have material to inspire gents. What of what they present applies to you? What doesn’t?

Are gentlemen a dying breed?
Today’s Gentleman


1: I use “gently” here not meaning “in a gentle fashion,” but as the corollary of “gentlemanly.” Should anyone have suggestions for a less clumsy adjective, please do share them.

2: Thanks go to the editors at Wikipedia for giving me these passages as a starting point.