Today, after having shared experiences with some other queer Christians last night who have a more or less critical relationship with the church, I want to hold in my mind an ideal of being “relentlessly gay”. I won’t get into the debate about whether I am gay by nature or choice. I will say that I shouldn’t have to prove I have “no choice” that whether or not I control my identity I would “choose” this as being an authentic and healthy way for me to be before God (compared to the dysfunctional heterosexual identity I tried to choose for myself). Am I made this way? Called to be this way? Did I choose this?
The part I can declare is you won’t change me by disapproving. You might see me as relentlessly gay or relentlessly feminist or relentlessly left-wing or relentlessly a nerd. Each of us is called to live relentlessly as ourselves before God, living reflexively in terms of our responsibility of care to other people and to the planet but not apologising for the flavour of being that is me. And in all seriousness I want to connect my relentless gay identity to my identity as a person of God, because the church as much as any other human institution oppresses and trivialises and destroys God’s people and particularly God’s rainbow people.
With that ideal in mind I now turn to the readings the lectionary holds for us this week (one of the versions). And I start with a reading I could read in purely historical way and look at the horrible violence and militaristic way of being in it, and shudder as I do at so many readings in the collection we treat as sacred, the bible. But I can’t help seeing something different in the story of David and Goliath. It’s one of those myths of hope against all odds, a fairytale where the underdog triumphs through skill, courage and being the good guy.
It’s a story I would like to consider casting neoliberalism as Goliath, or casting patriarchy as Goliath- or capitalism, fundamentalism, the ruling class, whoever and whatever oppresses and overcomes us and tells us that we are weak and barefoot. I watch David refuse the armor, the trappings of the system within which the odds are stacked so against him and he is already nothing more than a casualty of war. I watch him turn to his king and say “No. I am relentlessly David the shepherd” and I don’t look ahead to when he, himself is the corrupt wielder of power.
I was encouraged as a child to read this story as a lesson on why we should believe in God who is more powerful than everything and everybody and who can make all things possible. It’s an attractive story, it captures your imagination. The little guy finally defeats the big guy. All praise the Lord. I am not completely walking away from that interpretation…except… I know that it does not always work out that way in the real world. You can be the little guy full of integrity and walking with God and you can come up against an oppressive Goliath who is beating his chest and roaring “turn back the boats, turn back the boats” and maybe wants you to “Tone down” your gayness too, and you can’t always find a safe and effective way to fire your sling at that real life 21st century Goliath.
So I take the hope from this reading with caution. It seems to be encouraging courage in resistance, to take me back to that Magnificat utopian vision of the tables of power being turned. I sit with that, and read on…
Militaristic language aside, the Psalm continues the utopian vision. It is a call to God to view the injustice and to smite the wicked. I know that as nice Christians we are meant to endure all things and forgive everything and love everyone…but when I see the oppression levelled against single mothers, or refugees, or young people; when I see the earth itself torn to shreds in the name of nothing more than greed (and the good of a small minority) then I also cry out for a cleansing round of smitings. “Let the nations know that they are only human,” God. Let our government tremble with fear at what their arrogance is doing. Let us all be forced to turn to a more compassionate, just and sustainable way of being.
But if I use this as a sort of catharsis of my feeling of fear and powerlessness and then leave it all to God while I enjoy a takeaway coffee from a disposable cup made by 4 year olds in another country where’s the good of that? The call to God does not get us off the hook waiting for an anointed David. We are David, we are the ones God has given vocation and agency to. There will be no social change without our participation and struggle. The questions are still more than the answers, and I have stopped being relentlessly gay (if gay also means carefree or happy).
Behind the guilt-trip of the second reading is a fairly accurate portrayal of struggle. Much is to be endured. Many hardships are to be faced. And relentlessly, in this reading the writer (Paul or one of his imitators) claims to have been relentlessly Paul, to have been relentlessly characterised “by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God;”. How does it speak to us, longing for justice if “now is the acceptable time” and the day of salvation? We are not called it seems to wait on God’s salvific action, or to look outside ourselves for a David or a Paul.
Who are we called by God? Who do we become in the struggle for justice? How do we make this the day of salvation? I can only hope the final reading holds the key…
The reading begins promisingly for a “relentlessly gay” reader with Jesus crossing to the other side. How much of queer identity (or even the choice to be a queer ally) is about crossing and recrossing boundaries, separations, binarisms to become part of a new terrain an otherness and the other side. The reading does not claim that Jesus bats for the side he crosses to but somehow his crossing causes controversy, he may be treading where he (the pure son of God), some would think ought not to go.
If I am going to read in this way, zooming in on symbols and connecting them to modern experiences, then I also need to look at the boats that are crossing. Jesus is in a boat on stormy waters. His friends are perishing from the dangers of the crossing. Where in a modern context might we find a story like that?
Jesus in this reading is a boat person, a daring crosser “to the other side” (and consider how often in art he appears almost as a cross dresser) and there is a storm which within the narrative is just a natural thing of waves and wind, but might represent all sorts of storms that the church starts up when Jesus keeps company that is not white, middle-class, hetero-sexual or led by the correctly rubber-stamped men. He is in the struggle, he is on the struggle, he manages to sleep but the struggle goes on.
Are we like Jesus asleep in the boat?
How wonderful if we like Jesus on waking could stretch out our hands and still the tempest of controversy and hate-mongering and xenophobic discourse. But we can still it’s power at least to define us and limit who we may be. If we are not Jesus, not the apostles but the boat itself what then? We are caught in storms that threaten to capsize us (of anxiety, of broken relationships, undeserved criticism, powerlessness) and we toss and turn and the light of the world that is in us as followers of Christ (or if you like because of baptism) isn’t doing a hell of a lot against the hopelessness. And we need to wake the Jesus inside and say “make the storm shut up” and all our self-doubts and our self-hate, our fatalism and need for escapism, our addictive behaviours and excuses for inaction will be still.
And we will relentlessly bear that sleeping, living light to the “other side”. And we will endure all things and we will overcome the arrogance of nations and rulers and slay Goliath.
Relentlessly the people of God, people of hope, agents of change.