Sometimes they just won’t see

He came to his hometown and began to teach the people in their synagogue, so that they were astounded and said, “Where did this man get this wisdom and these deeds of power? Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?” And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor except in their own country and in their own house.” And he did not do many deeds of power there, because of their unbelief.

Matthew 13:54-58

You know, aside from the whole “Child of God preaching in a synagogue” thing, this is really a pretty common story. I bet a lot of you have lived it.

You’ve probably left home, and somewhere in the process of growing up you learned more about who you really are, and who you really want to be. You live your reality. Maybe, after being treated like a boy all your life, you’ve started living as something that’s decidedly “not-a-man” (not that I’m inserting my own story here… nope… not at all). Or maybe, shaking off the pressures of compulsory heterosexuality, you’ve started dating people of the gender(s) to whom you’re really attracted.

Maybe, though, you’re still at home. Still closeted about something you feel gnawing, trying to get out. And maybe you’ve reached out online and found others who are like you. Who understand you and see you for who you are in a way that the people nearest you don’t or won’t.

However it’s played out in your life, you’ve found something true about yourself. Something powerful and bright that’s inextricably a part of your being. You’ve found your truth and you’re living it. And a lot of times, when that happens, you find your own deeds of power. You find out you have a strength you didn’t know before. You find out that you’re whole. You shine your light all around you. Cracks start to form in the depression that’s bound you. No, it doesn’t always happen. But when it does, it sure feels like a deed of power.

And then you go home. And then you log off. And then you’re hit upside the head with the expectations of people who knew you before. People who knew you when your light was hidden even to you. “You can’t be like that!” they say. “What do you mean you’re gay? No, this is just a phase. I remember your boyfriends.” And it feels like they’re all holding so tightly to the idea of you that they’d constructed that it’s impossible for them to embrace the real you that’s before them. They insist you can’t be a girl, because you loved playing with Tonka trucks when you were a kid. They tell you this isn’t how God made you.

And maybe you feel your own deeds of power start to falter. Maybe you feel your light start to flicker.

But this is how God made you. This is how God is continually making you. This is how you’re continually being made new by the one who has loved you with an everlasting love.

Jesus had great wisdom, and he preached it. Jesus had great power, and did great things. But people clung too tightly to the idea they had of him. They clung to what they expected a carpenter’s kid to be. “He can’t talk like this! Where does he get off parading around here like he’s so smart. No, I know his family. He’s not what he thinks he is.”

And the people nearest him couldn’t see the person who was right before them. They couldn’t see the light shining and the truth he was living. And it hurt him. And he couldn’t make them see. He knew how it is to feel invisible. To feel rejected and misunderstood by the people he’d known the longest.

But his light kept being his light. His truth kept being his truth.

Ain’t that just the queerest thing?

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.

Sermon for the First Sunday of Lent

I’ve been invited to be a part of an online sermon series, and my first day to preach was today. Below is what I was led to write.


26 February 2012: Year B, First Sunday in Lent.

Genesis 9:8-17, Psalm 25:1-10, 1 Peter 3:18-22, and Mark 1:9-15


Turning. Turning toward something. Turning away from something. Changing direction. Reorienting. Our readings today speak of turning.

In the first, one of the most terrifying episodes in the Bible has come to an end and even God wishes to turn from that. The one who is love turns away from destruction and toward love. Toward life.

What does it mean that God turned, changed direction, reoriented?

We see it again in today’s Gospel reading, Jesus, after his baptism, a very public ceremony, turns away from the crowds, from his family and his people, He turns away so that he can turn back toward them renewed. He turns away from temptation so that he can turn toward his ministry.

The Psalmist asks God for help turning. “Make me to know your ways,” he says. “Teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth, and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all day long.” Turn me toward you, Lord. Take me out of my busy life. Teach me patience as I wait for you.

And the author of 1 Peter talks to us of our own turning, our baptism, “an appeal to God for a good conscience,” echoing the earlier cry of the Psalmist.

Here at the beginning of Lent we bring our attention to our own turning. We may be turning away from our evening cocktails, or from spending too much time online, but in these turns our goal is ultimately to turn ourselves toward God. Often in saying “O my God, in you I trust” we have to remind ourselves to turn away from the places where we often put our trust, places that do not deserve it.

On Ash Wednesday we heard the words “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” This reminder of our own mortality, and of our oneness with all that surrounds us, opens our entry into Lent, into our turning. Looking at this precious and brief time we are given forces us to take note of our own direction, to be deliberate in that toward which we are oriented.

Perhaps you are called to turn away from clothing yourself in the products of worker abuse. Perhaps you are called to a clearer mind, turning away from alcohol or other substances. Perhaps you are called to turn toward God in regular prayer. Perhaps you are called to turn toward God in service. Perhaps you are called to fasting and self-denial, to turning away from yourself and toward the other, often-forgotten children of God. Perhaps you are called not to turn away from yourself in self-denial, but to turn toward the self that you or others have forgotten to love, toward remembering that you are made in the image of God, that you are holy and that the dust from which you came was stardust.

Whatever the call may be, God is calling to you. God is asking you to turn, as God has shown you God’s own turning.

Lent is a time for turning, but I cannot tell you how to turn. I can only tell you that God’s call is to love. You must listen to God’s call, to how God is calling you to love.

O God, in this season which begins with an embrace of our own mortality, an acknowledgement and observation of the brevity of the time in which this pile of dust is animated by your holy breath, we put our trust in you. Help us to walk the paths to which you call us with steadfast love and faithfulness. Help us, O Lord, in everything that we do, to turn toward Love.

The Wilds

CHAOS NEVER DIED. Primordial uncarved block, sole worshipful monster, inert & spontaneous, more ultraviolet than any mythology (like the shadows before Babylon), the original undifferentiated oneness-of-being still radiates serene as the black pennants of Assassins, random & perpetually intoxicated.T.A.Z. by Hakim Bey

I’ve been slowly, slowly working my way through Catherine Keller’s The Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming. Keller takes on the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo, the belief that God created the world from nothing. Working from Genesis 1:1-2 she explores tohu va bohu, formlessness, and tehom, the deep.

When in the beginning Elohim created heaven and earth, the earth was tohu va bohu, darkness was upon the face of tehom, and the ruach elohim vibrating upon the face of the waters…

In Genesis 1, there was something out of which God created. There was a formless void, a deep, and God moved over it. God called out, and from the tehom things arose.

God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.

God didn’t create from nothing. God called creation from wildness. God didn’t tame the deep, God spoke to her. God called creation from the tehom and called it good, just as God called Abraham out of Abram, and called a great leader from the stuttering fugitive Moses. Creation is an act of transformation, of call and response. The tehom, like Moses and Abraham, responds to God’s call. The ruach elohim gives life to the deep as it did to Adam.

“The original undifferentiated oneness-of-being still radiates.” Its disappearance in the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo leads to fear of the void, the wild. The drive to control the uncontrolled and tame the untamed has driven Western civilization so that we cannot even call out to creation as God called out to the deep. We have to control it, divide it, systematize it. We have to find everything that reminds us of the tehom from which we came and force its chaos into pattern.

But God calls from the wild. God calls the younger son over the elder, the shepherd boy to succeed the king. God calls the homeless peasant in an occupied land to institute his Kingdom against an Empire, a Kingdom that shies away from control and dominion, and instead sees the lowly as great. A Kingdom that inverts and subverts everything we know about control.

God calls into the deep and toward the deep. God moves in the wild.

At Pentecost we again see the ruach elohim.

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit.

Experienced as a “violent wind” and “tongues, as of fire,” God’s own wildness in the Holy Spirit moved among the apostles as it had on the face of the deep. The Holy Spirit, the ruach elohim, calls into and toward wildness because the wildness reflects and responds to God. The Spirit herself is Wild!

Where the Apostles experienced the Holy Spirit as a violent wind and fire, some early Celtic Christians experienced her as a wild goose. Why?

Wild geese are, well, wild. That is, untamed, uncontrolled. They make a lot of noise, and have a habit of biting those who try to contain or capture them. That has been the Christian experience of the Holy Spirit through two thousand years. Time and again when theology and God have appeared to be firmly in the control of hierarchies and religious establishment, the Spirit of God has broken free – and has often bitten those who tried to prevent it happening.
source

Or perhaps,

[W]ild geese aren’t controllable. You can’t restrain a wild goose and bend it to your will. They’re raucous and loud. Unlike the sweet and calming cooing of a dove, a goose’s honk is strong, challenging, strident and unnerving – and just a bit scary.
In much the same way the Spirit of God can be, demanding and unsettling. Think about the story of Pentecost, and the impression the disciples made on the crowd. People thought they were drunk and disorderly!Its one thing for a gentle dove to descend peacefully on Jesus – it’s something all together different when the Spirit descends like a wild, noisy goose!
source

To follow the calling of the Spirit is to risk venturing into the wild, to live outside of one’s own control. It is seeing the sacredness of the untamed.

It was this that I had in mind today when I read Wendell Berry‘s echoing of Matthew 6:25-34, “The Peace of Wild Places” this morning.

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

There is grace in the wild, if we can only let go enough to experience it. I pray that in experiencing that wild grace we each hear our own call.

Making Room

I mentioned this on Twitter, but I think it bears further exploration. More and more my expression of my faith and my politics (Christianity and Anarchism) is in gracious hospitality. I’m not always good at it (either the grace, the hospitality or both), but making space for others seems to be the most true way that my beliefs take shape.

Even from the start of Jesus’ narrative, making space is important. No one made space for his parents just before his birth, so they made space for him where they could find it. I often seem to reference Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” when talking about my ideal of working in the world, and I’m going to do so again. In it he sings “There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

We live in an inhospitable world. We live in a world of rigidity, of yours and mine, of control and institution. But in that world, there are always little places where the control is broken. Those are the cracks. When Mary and Joseph and whoever else may have been involved go and find a feed trough for the kid, they’re moving in those cracks. Maybe making new ones, holding old ones open or even making existing cracks bigger. They’re making space.

In my world making space means several things. One is the conventional idea of hospitality. I offer physical space to people. They have a place to stay, food to eat, etc. Even that, though, is bigger than it sounds. Making room for people means making sure that they have a place in which they feel comfortable being themselves. It’s only with actually doing that for people that it’s become so important for me. Being in my home is, I hope, a place where people can relax into themselves, not have to be on guard, and feel safe. Especially emotionally. I’ve done that more over the last year or so than I ever have before. I didn’t realize how nourishing it is to me until I started doing it. But whatever I may do to offer, I get back the joy of having real connections with other people, and knowing that I facilitated their connections with others. Hospitality is not a cross to bear. It’s a joy that I share with people. More of our political, ethical and religious practices need to come from joy.

But there’s something more than opening my home in making room for others. It means cultivating an openness to and grace when dealing with other points of view. This part is harder for me, but no less important. Making room for people in the conversation is as important as making physical space for them. Being open to receiving others is at the heart of hospitality. It is non-authoritarian at its root, as I’m not even imposing my reality on them. That’s a lot harder than cooking supper. But the source is still joy, as making room for others in the conversation is where you find those cracks that allow you to really commune with another.

When Jesus said “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me” he wasn’t speaking in metaphor. The people we open ourselves to are not acting as substitutes for God. It’s in those real, true connections that are only found in gracious opening that you experience God directly. That’s how the light gets in.

Going beyond opening my home and being open to the other, even when there are significant differences, there is the creation of the space to do this work. The blogs, books and conferences of the emerging church are doing this. I think Kink for All is doing this. And what I’m trying to do right now in starting a poly meetup is doing this. I have a need, and I think others have a need as well, to find connections over this common point, to offer and receive support. In creating a space for this, I am acting out my hospitality.

So, other than the non-imposition of worldview, what has this to do with anarchism? Making space is direct action. It is not relying on any power structure or institution to meet people’s needs. It’s saying “I see this need. I will meet it.” It is also mutual aid. The more we make room for each other, the more we offer to each other, the more we thrive without the need for coercion and force.

I’ve been worrying lately about how on earth I can live my faith and live my politics in a world in which I have material wealth (comparatively) and am privileged by society because of my race, gender and education. And everywhere I looked I found joylessness and asceticism as the solution. I found anger and self-hate over being born into a sin filled world. Kate Bornstein wrote in the preface to Pomosexuals, “it’s too scary to look at without some promise of laughter at the end of the read, some playfulness as a reward to all the painful self-inquisition.” That’s how a felt as I looked for ways to bring my beliefs into practice. All I found were indictments of myself for being born in a fucked up world, and no one seemed to want to work from the joy of existence to fix it.

It came to being in church yesterday, hearing a sermon with so much focus on sin, and being confronted with the sheer absurdity of letting a 4000 year old moral code dictate my ethics. I wasn’t there to hear about adultery, I was there looking for God. And then it came time for communion, and I prayed, “Please, just give me something physical, something tangible in the body and blood.” At this church trays are passed with the bread and “wine” and as I reached to pull the small cup from the tray I found it stuck. This is the second time recently that this has happened. I felt frustrated and thwarted in my search for that tangible connection, but just as the woman with the tray started to whisper “Try another one,” I gave the cup a slight twist and it broke free. As I pulled it toward me Elizabeth whispered, “You always seem to find the stuck ones.”

I laughed. It made sense. I don’t have to break down an oppressive world. I just need to make sure I make enough cracks to keep people from getting stuck in that oppression and hopelessness. I tried not to laugh as the bread dissolved on my tongue. When I want a tangible reminder of God, I only have to make room for that of Her in the people around me. If God is the light, I just need to keep living in the cracks, and inviting others into them. That is disregard for authoritarianism. That is faith in Christ. That is hospitality.