Tag Archives: queer

Playing in the closet of Scripture

I have been thinking lately about my habit of writing what I sometimes refer to as “fanfic” for the bible – imaginative retellings of bible events or parables where I add feminist or queer concerns into the mix. Of course they are not “right” (as in objective, factual or historically likely) but I feel it is a valid way to “speak back” to our friend, Scripture, who frankly sometimes seems to drunk-text us odd things at inopportune moments and therefore is not the sort of friend we ought to blindly follow.

I think about how as a little teen-aged undergrad back in the 90s, when I started the Heretics Society (I was one of the founding members and possibly the most loud and irritating one…at times more than likely the only member) it seemed so funny to make jokes about, for example “the disciple Jesus loved” as if to put homosexuality in the same sentence as “Jesus” was hilarious and daring. And then later…a lot later came queer theory and suddenly you couldn’t just blindly accept the “common sense” that Jesus was heterosexual and celibate because anything else is BAD. But that idea of the queerness within God and within salvation history is in the closet- anything that would unsettle church-goers exists in a vast closet of all the unspoken things in scripture, or the hints (such as Wisdom being so clearly female in the old testament and then embodied as male in the new…God’s own trans experience).

I learned happily that there is a really old tradition of people elaborating on what the text actually says with imaginative pieces of what might have happened and homiletic stories. I began to do my own creative writing and re-interpreting of the dark places around scripture (the unspoken things, the possibilities lurking in the shadows) and initially I worried a lot about getting it “right” and trying to find some sort of “truth” (this was before I read Foucault and all those post-structuralists and I only had my gut feeling beginning to tell me that any “truth” is always partial, partisan and constructed.

Because if we are going to re-imagine a liberative possibility sometimes I am torn between rejecting the (unbiblical) idea of Mary’s virginity to give her and the lovely-seeming Joseph a healthy, happy relationship of equals with sensuous joyfulness together; or on the other hand upholding her “virginity” as an anti-patriarchal possibility (endorsed by God) where a woman can be a mother without being penetrated by a male and without her primary relationship being with a male- also where people can co-parent without being sexually connected. The first celebrates the rightness and beauty of human love expressed in a bodily way and the second reifies all the families that don’t fit the heterosexual matrix in some ways and also honors non-biological parents.

Another example goes back to how we interpret “the disciple Jesus loved”. I have seen the disciple assumed to be the “beloved” disciple in an erotic sense or in a non-erotic sense. They are carefully not named which to me implies that Scripture itself wants us to try out various possibilities and finally put ourselves in the story. But sometimes people like to assume the “beloved disciple” was Mary Magdalene- the advantage of which is it puts a woman back in the centre of the story, always in the action and words and thinking of the gospel…the disadvantage of which is that in most interpretations she is then seen as just the “love interest” for the real hero Jesus. Then other people do run with the idea of the “beloved” disciple being John (as we were told as kids) or theorise it is Lazarus (for example)…this can then be read in a homoerotic way which breaks down the presumed homophobia of the text (and needs to be done) but then again all the characters are male (let’s face it, the bible barely passes the Bechdel test). But then the traditionally non-erotic interpretations of “the one Jesus loved” also to me are interesting. So many asexual and demisexual people find themselves marginalised in a world were sex and love are read as synonyms. So many faithful and committed relationships (between friends, between mentors and students, between the people we parent or look up to for no biological reason and ourselves) are not made visible or celebrated in any way because they fit outside that old heterosexual matrix more so than simple homo-normative dyads. When I say I “love” my best friend (who I have celebrated, nurtured, been nurtured by and quarrelled with for 30 years now) people assume I want to sleep with her unless I add “like a sister”, so I like Jesus having all these love relationships (lots of them if you read the text carefully) that may or may not have to do with sex but quite likely not in all cases.

I am talking about sex more than I intended to, probably because the idea of “closet” gives us ways of being that redefine and challenge simple rules about sexuality. But “closet” to me is also synonymous with “wardrobe” a word that calls to mind two images that I find very helpful in my attempt to relate to scripture.

Firstly (here is my amateur theatre experience coming through) there is the idea of “wardrobe” as the place where all the costumes are. I think it can mean just boring old fashion, but to me I prefer costumes so I like to think that my imagination invites me into the closet/wardrobe of scripture to play among glittering ballgowns and shining chain-mail and unicorn onesies and fairy-wings and wicked witch long noses and goodness knows what other fantastical creations that might not always be practical in the real world, and the glitter of which may well be paint, the iron of which may well be plastic. We find meaning in theatre not by some sort of narrow claim to “truth” and “accuracy” in what happens on the stage (and anyone who has ever spent much time in theatre knows that the dramas in the dressing rooms and wings are usually even more compelling than someone’s latest interpretation of a well-known story). We find meaning in theatre through the way we rub up against people (Why am I in the audience? For whom or with whom did I come to see the show? What is my role on the stage…or behind the scenes? Who makes this worthwhile for me and who challenges me and the way I fulfil my role? Who is the performance ultimately for? Whose role in it is most important? What do we do when we disagree with the director? How do I write up my critical piece gently?). The meaning of theatre is not in assuming that the armor or makeup is REAL it is in recognising that the people and humanness is the real and energising part of it.

So when I rummage through the wardrobe department (closet) of scripture and find some outlandish possibilities in there, I am performing to find my humanness and to evoke the humanness in anyone who chooses to collaborate, or receive (passively or critically) my performance. Scripture like an aging drag-queen at times may be pathetic or grotesque but then rallies and is magnificent one more time after all…ever in the limelight and never silenced or still.

The other image I play with when I think “wardrobe” (I bet everyone has leapt to it already) is the idea of Narnia. Scripture’s closet/wardrobe is more than a row of coats and the wooden back; it is row, after row, after row of costumes which slowly become trees, and a whole world of possibility, threat, and temptation.

I lay awake thinking of the temptations in Narnia. I first thought I suffer from the temptation of Lucy- to lose myself in Narnia/scripture and make it my escapist haven from the real world so that fauns/metaphors and suchlike are more real to me than ordinary old things like doing the dishes or paying my bills. But then people who criticise a feminist, queer, or ecological reading of scripture suffer from the temptation of Edmund, especially when they go along with the idea of exploring the text to some degree and turn around and stab people in the back. This all seemed clearer at 3am, and I hope the thought comes back because it was detailed and meant something then. I will come back to this some time (I hope).

Susan is a complicated character, certainly with temptations but she is portrayed by CS Lewis in such a misogynist way that I would want to spend more than a couple of sentences on her (I don’t think all things femme are automatically to be dismissed and trivialised). But the temptation of Peter (portrayed very sympathetically by Lewis) is the temptation to rule and lead and always “know better” than the others, for all that he magnificently apologises to Lucy when proven wrong (which the actual church ought to learn from) he then blames and ostracises Edmund thus contributing to the betrayal. The temptation of Peter is to ignore how toxic and dangerous hierarchies are (even when the person at the top is well-meaning and caring). Instead imagine if the Peters of the world and church listened to the Lucys and acknowledged the flow of power that led Edmund to want to ingratiate himself with Peter at the cost of Lucy. To come back to my point about entering into scripture’s wardrobe (and the worlds behind what we know in there) we need to stop controlling how other people experience the wardrobe/phantasy that is faith, although we can debate respectfully to try to reach understanding.

I enjoy a good theatre experience. I love to enter into a fantasy world and suspend disbelief in order to reach deeper meanings. I don’t think any of that is disloyal to the idea of faith (for me faith means not a place I can stay or a set of rigid beliefs constraining or reassuring me but the wild-chase in pursuit of Wisdom and a lot of scraped knees and bumped elbows as I trip and clamber along the way).

Why are we subjective beings after all? Why did God give us capacity (and overwhelming desire) to weave and reweave stories?

Noone can light their queer light while trapped under a bushel

So this week I wasn’t planning on engaging with the readings because I am moving on to working through some liturgy thoughts (and I can still see my path there). But these readings made me think of all the ways that women and queer people (yes I am both) get forced to hide our light under a bushel basket and I wanted to sit with the good sense of the first reading and then break into joy with the gospel that God’s will for me is to be a light for others not just a private, secret and ashamed light.

And next week I will preach of course so it might take me longer to begin my deconstruction of the mass. But this week I was lucky enough to get caught at a beach party that became very small because of the rain and then to have fragrant pine trees dip silvery drops onto me in the warm air as I walked the path back to my car leaving others (who didn’t have church the next morning) to see out the sunset without me. And I reflected on warm aqua and silvery wash of waters on my summer-browned skin and of the many bare feet dancing in the sand, the earlier rays of sun and watching small people greet grandparents with sticky cuddles (and grandma surreptitiously put down the book she’d been deep in). I thought of the blessing of people enjoying the spring rolls I had made, and running through the rain sharing a tarpaulin with my friend who I have known since high-school days. I thought of trumpet music and fourteen year olds who think for themselves and free peaches from a lady who just didn’t want to see them wasted and a forgiving bottle-shop employee (it wasn’t my story but it involved broken glass).

I felt love and joy in that day and I went apart to reflect on all the ways I get to hang out with God during the week and walk with God and bring God into my social life and work and how much better I do that as a feminist and an “out” lesbian than I ever did as a repressed, earnest and fearful “believer”. And I tore out some pages from my work journal, because I had nothing else and wrote the following which felt like part love-letter part something else:

It is not idolatry to have struggled with who and what I am. It is not narcissism to finally joyfully say “thank you” for the miracle of my being “like this”. It is not sin to have loved a woman, and to still know myself through that love, and to love my God through the memory of that love.

Queer things (Hopkins’ “fickled, freckled, who knows how” Pied Beauty) are just the things that human arrogance has not yet plumbed the depths of after all (so that some “straight people are queer in that sense too). She mothers-forth whose beauty is past change. Praise her. (Apologies Mr Hopkins but I had to try it on for size).

Humans have found lots of very good things “queer”: 

Platypuses

Rainbows

Evolution

Other planets

The curved earth holding us close vs the flatness of patriarchy.

What is never queer is certainty, monochrome knowing, unchanging alwayses and objective truths that can never change even if they wanted to. Slave truths (poor things) forced into the matrix of our fears.

God are you queer? They say you can’t change, shift or grow. Can;t learn things. Couldn’t you if the time was right?

But if you are as unmoving as a thrice-crowned boulder in the midst of all the confusion and teeming of life, the one fixed spot. If you know all and achieve all in the blink of a rational eye….if….don’t you just cry and die from boredom? What is relationship in that frightening place where change and the unpredictable cannot be? I am female, I fluctuate and bleed- I bring forth life and the milk to feed it too. I want to throw my arms around all creation and kiss the depths of the sea. I want to lie peacefully caressed by the starlight, by the music or by a human lover.

What is it that you want God, if you do not long or need or discover?

Before I knew me I didn’t dance; before I loved me I could not breathe. You made me to love for reasons other than breeding. And maybe you do move after all because when I came to you and defiantly told you that I would dare to love what I was…

you laughed…

because you’d loved me first of course!

 

Free Will

This is the third part of a work of fiction (bible fan-fic) Original. Here are part one and part two. It’s best to read them in order. This is where the story gets messier (but wait until you see part 4, that is even more so). 

And so we came into Terra Nullius, the empty land, the land that had belonged to noone. I see you frown my love, and prepare to reprove me but I am not speaking an objective truth for all time, just recounting how it was for us; for Adam and Adam’s helpmate.

Something about the confrontation had broken Adam, and I had to be strong for either of us to survive. I was full of pity and a kind of guilt and felt tender toward him for a long while and tried to give him attentive listening and care as he “worked” to name every mountain range and map each river and I only did the mundane things like grow vegetables and erect a makeshift roof over our heads. He’d come home and murmur the names of the places, the animals and the birds he’d named in the evening and I would stroke his sweaty brow and heat his food and let him creep between my thighs (which were now hardened to it) for comfort.

My bleeding seemed to have stopped. Indistinctly within myself I head a sound. Was it the voice of God? What did it have to do with my bleeding, or non-bleeding? I felt a heat of mysterious possibility and danger and I forgot to resent the narrowness of my life with this pitiful man.

As you rightly reprove me, earlier I too had objected to calling our new home “Terra Nullius” I struggled to understand Adam’s feeling of loss and emptiness, he kept saying he felt the loss of his wings, that he had been cut off from “real life” and now lived in a meaningless prison of flesh. In paradise when he named all the creatures, his contemptuous term for the ones who couldn’t fly was “terrestrial” but now we were terrestrial also. I had never flown so I didn’t feel the loss the way he did.

Adam swore oaths, he was obsessed with finding a way to appease Go and regain his celestial status. He had a mania to “prove himself”. I thought of the smallness of God that I thought I had seen and wondered about all the striving and proving. But I had my own concerns, my body was becoming round like the full moon and my ankles had swelled up so that walking was difficult at times. Adam looked at me with disgust and decided that while he was out “working” I was sitting idly at home eating more than my fair share. He tried to hide and enclose food so that I couldn’t have it, but this presented a challenge for him since my work was gardening and harvesting and cooking. He had enjoyed my body more before the monthly bleeding had stopped, before I had heard the voice of God which brought me out from the shadow of having belonged to him.

I felt now that I belonged to some mysterious power that I held within my own flesh and in my heart. I struggled to understand how this could be possible in the hideous deformity of my flesh but the thrum of it was undeniable, there was power there. I feel your discomfort at my words darling, do not object to them. Let me kiss you to silence for now and later when I have told the story you will have ample time to protest every facet that was wrong in my thinking. But you have already healed so much.

You already know some of this story, you saw it written all through me. You remember how hungry and worn I had grown from having to eat only in secret. How he started beating me again, for even less reason than formerly. I needed to protect the small fire of possibility deep within me, so afraid as I was, I ran away. Remember?

I had made it as far as the lake, and had found a cave for shelter. I knew I shopuld gather firewood against the approaching cold and danger of night but I was dizzy with exhaustion and pain. My feet were sore and my stomach cramped with hunger and there seemed to be too many steps between me and any sort of rest or sustenance. Hating myself for it I burst into tears, and began to curse the absent God.

“Why did you make me?” I stormed at the divine deafness, “There is noone in the whole earth like me. I am so tired and weak and alone.” I wasn’t looking, I didn’t see who approached.

“You’re not Adam.” you said, surprise in that rich honey-dark voice of yours. When I looked up you were in the light, outlined by the setting sun so that at first I thought it was shadow only that made you look so dark. Your skin I later saw was beautiful- like earth, like the eyes of God – your nakedness surprising after the time we had spent “civilized” by Adam’s fear of God into wearing heavy clothing.

My eyes even then, drank in the sight of you- deformed like me. “Woman!” I exclaimed in wonder that somehow you contrived to look beautiful not ill-shapen.

“What is ‘woman’?” You asked, and I couldn’t stop looking at the curve of your hip, the rounded breasts, the hairless chin.

“Woman means not looking like Adam. Not chosen.” I tried to explain, but even so a voice inside me asked how I could say I wasn’t ‘chosen’ when Adam needed me so much more than I needed him.

“A person?” you asked, you seemed honestly puzzled.

“Not a man. Not important.” I tripped over my words and could not make you understand. You seemed to think you and I were both “person”.

“God made me.” you said slowly, “She said I am important.”

“God’s not ‘she’!” I said horrified

“Who said?”

“But Adam…” I paused. Adam knew everything but I considered what he knew. I thought about his “truth” that the serpent was evil and we would kill it, his “Truth” that we’d needed to hide from God’s judgement even if hiding meant eternal suffering.

“Did God say you are important?” I asked shyly. My whole skin burned with the belief that you could well be. You came up close, your eyes serious. I was afraid but wanted to be brave so you wouldn’t back away.

“You need food and rest.” You told me and somehow contrived the magic of both food and rest without me having to do it all. You stroked my hair and held my hand and told me off when I tried to help. You said I was safe and you wouldn’t let anything attack me.

You were strong and brown and wise and beautiful and I wasn’t alone.

I wanted you more than the food and rest I so sorely needed but you promised to be there when I woke and you smiled at me as though I had pleased you though I had done nothing and it was you who had attended to my every need.

“I will serve you,” I said, grateful beyond expressing- humbled by the way you had responded to my need, but you laughed.

“You need rest,” you said, and your lips brushed my temple briefly. I didn’t know then that it was called a “kiss” but I hoped you had done it on purpose. You must have seen my hope, because your eyes said “yes” and so I knew when I woke that I could also run my lips over you, to return the kiss and to ask for more of them. You gave me everything I asked except permission to be less than you.

Lazarus “comes out”: a rainbow connection

When my mum died I couldn’t bear the Lazarus story and I ran out of church when they read it a few Sundays after and I didn’t come back for a few weeks. I growled at God through angry tears about the injustice and stupidity of holding this story up to taunt those of us who mourn just as much as Mary and Martha (and perhaps Jesus) but don’t get the magical happy ending of our loved one coming back to life. I can’t say I have made much progress in understanding this story since that day a decade ago. I have heard so many pious readings about Jesus’ power and the need for faith and all that jazz. To me it is a painful story to consider when my mother (and now my brother) are never coming out of their respective caves.

Why does Jesus cry in the story? If Jesus’ connection to God and unswerving faith hold so much power, why does he need to grieve? I’ve heard pious (and unconvincing) arguments about that too! I will attempt to look beyond the magical to the metaphor of “coming out” and being “unbound” to go free…which then makes it a story about the living that we love not the dead.

For example, could we read Jesus’ tears here as being for a beloved but judged gay son who gets entombed in family and social expectations? A lesbian daughter who ought not get married but dies to her true God-given identity (or is intentionally thwarted by some families). A person who is entombed within a gender they cannot own, bound into an unhealthy reification of a body they did not choose to express themselves by.

How will this metaphor help me to gain something from the story? What happens when I think of Lazarus as gay or trans (or in some way socially unacceptable) and “his” good and caring sisters cry because they have lost their beloved brother to this lifestyle (many Christian families feel that way, equating the queer identity with hellfire). Jesus is invited into the intimacy of their grief and fear and when he sees the repression of his friend he is moved to tears. All this unnecessary suffering!

Jesus gets judged for not having tried harder to befriend Lazarus and help “him” have a strong male role model and turn out straight, Lazarus is seen as feminized because he has been left to be with just sisters. These sorts of clichés are demeaning and insulting to everybody involved. When communities (often churches) portion out blame for an individual’s queer identity, families rip themselves apart with unacknowledgable guilt and are blocked from loving and celebrating what is.

Jesus tells them to remove the stone, to get rid of the blockage from the truth of the situation. Martha quite rightly is alarmed about publically allowing the taint of this family shame to fuel the rumour and gossip mill. She equates the family secret to a festering smell that is in her community rightly bottled up. Jesus tells her off, tells off all the families that do not have enough faith in God to accept their own child, their own brother, their own kin. If we had faith we would be inclusive and brave and supportive and allow God to act in people.

He invites Lazarus to “come out” (yes those were the words that prompted this reflection). Lazarus tentatively takes the first steps to be “out” among his own family and friends. Jesus demands that they “unbind him”. Jesus is not calling the families of queer folk to acceptance/tolerance only but to full and enthusiastic inclusion. Lazarus must be unbound to follow his heart and bring his boyfriend to meet the folks. He must be unbound for a fullness of life and love in God and his family must see this happen instead of burying his true identity and mourning him as if he were dead.

Feast begins soon and I thank God for my late in life call to “come out” and to become “unbound”. I acknowledge my family who came to quickly see and understand the reality and non-negotiable quality of this part of my identity. With Jesus I cry with my whole heart for those whose families bury them, attempt to repress, change or deny them and their partners. Unbind your rainbow loved ones and let them go free!

Gentleness born from Wisdom

Written in a tearing hurry by one who has a lot to do…

 

A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels.” Really I feel I am being mocked in this reading and I can’t help cross referencing it to Virginia Woolf’s Angel in the House. Like Woolf, if there was ever such a phantom, an “angel in the house” or a “capable wife” in my psyche (and of course there was) reproving, blaming, scolding me for my many deficits then I killed her off in self-defence.

So why not ignore this reading and look at one of the possibly less offensive others? Because as long as “the church” uphold this sort of a reading as sacred, and Godly and proclaims it from churches or endorses it being proclaimed, then it is naïve to pretend that this is not part of our tradition. To shut our eyes from the ugliness and misogyny of the church is to remain in that place of privilege, related to those who are colour-blind and refusing to believe that racism still exists, “tolerant” and refusing to allow queer people to be seen or heard, we are the church but we take no responsibility for the parts of tradition we don’t like.

Instead we need to criticise these at all times, to wrestle with any text of terror or trivialisation that could be mobilised against us even if we are too wrapped in cotton wool to feel the abuse. But there are more interesting readings to focus on so I just remind you that a “capable wife…husband…partner” is not a commodity and that rejoicing in your comfortable house or comfortable car or comfortable and efficient wife is a bit sick. This is not a milk cow we are discussing!

Pfft….I move on.

The psalm tells me I will be “happy” if I refuse the path of the wicked. So I will try to remember not to commodify people in the dehumanising way of the first reading as I look at James’ advice for good living. The symptom of a Wisdom filled life here seems to be “gentleness”. I like the idea of having a “gentleness born of Wisdom” after the way I have been pursuing Wisdom and trying to respond to her week after week through reading after reading I like the thought of birthing with her a child, gentleness.

It seems to me (reading between the) that the key to a good life is not over-focusing on things you can’t have (like perhaps the paragon wife of the first reading) but settling down in your own lowly little life with wisdom and bringing gentleness to birth for the purpose of transforming all your works (and relationships?) to peace and justice.

“Peace” does not mean continuing to allow people to oppress us; and certainly doesn’t mean silence where others are being oppressed. It means weeding out motivations such as greed, envy, boastfulness, falseness and turning again and again to beloved Wisdom only allowing deep love for her to motivate us (and I don’t pretend to be at that ideal state at this point in my life; assuming a human is even capable of loving so perfectly).

How would we ask “rightly” for what our heart desires?

I won’t agree to the idea of “submitting” I don’t see Wisdom as asking for that; maybe for a playful yielding where we have been stubborn and neglectful of Her. But we needs must draw near to her, to cultivate that gentleness that will spring from within us and wear Her face.

The gospel frightens me again foreshadowing the extreme consequences of true commitment to God. The kingdom of this world does not love those who overthrow it…the rich want to keep their privilege and radical justice is always seen as fomenting rebellion. But here Jesus is not necessarily asking us to step into his shoes and be the one who suffers and dies, only to let go of ambitions for “greatness” and to turn back to gentleness. To behold the child (Jesus has a theme of focussing on the littlest and the least) and to “welcome” the child. I have heard persuasive preachers argue that the child in this story would have been a street thief, not a nice well-brought up, polite child at all. It is whatever is vulnerable and not nurtured- the refugee child, the single-mother’s child, the silenced child.

Jesus, behaving maternally, asking us to treasure and be gentle with his little beloveds. Jesus, Wisdom, begetting gentleness within us.

Who needs that impossible poster-wife of the first reading when we have Wisdom? She invited us in and gave us wine some weeks ago. Then she called us back and called us to account for our unfaithful ways. Now she offers closeness, and wants to beget gentleness- gentleness the great healer, gentleness the transformer of worlds, gentleness the tenderness of humanity turned toward wisdom. When this world makes us despair, then we are in danger of miscarrying that gentleness, or of suffocating her by giving her too limited a sphere.

Surrounded by the love and strength of Wisdom who is a co-parent and a midwife and a refuge, humanity can learn to nurture deep within itself gentleness, to grow it, to set it free. Thus through the relentless love of Wisdom, gentleness acquires both human and divine features, blended in staggering beauty. Now there is a higher purpose for drawing near to Wisdom, for following our yearning hearts and our deepest desire.

Defending the sacraMENts vs the weaker sex and others- warning: contains boasting

For anyone who wants this week’s readings in their entirety, please look here. I zoomed in on a tiny verse this week inspired by another (smarter) person’s facebook rant.

“My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.

Boasting of my weakness. That is actually exactly what I do every week when I dare to post a blog on the readings. I am trumpeting before anyone who cares to read my failures to live, speak and perform in a way that would have resulted in me being ordained, that would have rubber stamped me to lead the people of God. But my “weakness” and “failure” of which I boast go deeper still. Being born female in the church is still a very big failing. Sometimes I feel baptism should acknowledge this reality, there should be some words about “only a girl, what a disappointment” somewhere in this liturgy welcoming the child and endorsing membership of the people of God, to reflect the lived reality of the community we call the church.

Of course people would be up in arms over such sexist and offensive language, but the insidious idea behind it IS embedded in every so-called liturgy (or nearly every). That level of misogyny is commonplace and I think keeping it invisible only makes it harder to fight against. So let’s be honest. As a church we really don’t like girls (except as wives and mothers).

The most popular imagery of baptism (that of rebirth) in itself contains a deeply deficit view of femaleness. Right when we are celebrating something that is uniquely female (giving birth) we have to reject this giving birth process as dirty- connected to earth, the body and therefore chaos and sin and we need to “rebirth” in a more masculine place presided by a still usually male priest, with a very masculine set of words and practices to correct the sinfulness of the birthing performed by the mother and give the child a chance to be allied to heaven, the spirit, order and grace. Women of course are necessary to produce the raw ingredients for these perfected spiritual post-sacramental beings.

When I gave birth to my youngest child, I squatted there screaming and growling like everyone else does and I thought to myself (there is water here, God is with me this is baptism. His real birth is also his baptism) while I also sweated and bled and gritted my teeth in the pain and the glory of it. We were a team- the midwife, the child’s father, the child (beautiful little God-bound soul) himself and I and we were engaged in a great and powerful struggle for life, for triumph so why not also against sin and despair? As the child left my body, slid out to make his own way in the world and into individual relationship with God now unmediated by me I cried out in triumph and I thought of Jesus’ words “It is complete”. Even though noone was crucified, noone died in this joyful moment.

It helped that I had read other people’s ideas comparing Jesus’ work of suffering and struggle with the idea of giving birth- giving life and blood to another-take in nutrition from my umbilical cord, take and eat from my body and blood when you take in breastmilk. Take and eat. In theory my child was as yet un-baptised and as yet too young to receive holy communion. I deliberately put him on the breast every week as soon as I had received communion. Any sacrament that applied to me applied also to my children. This argument will probably not seem strange to most parents. To love is always to be sacrament. It would be good if church recognised this already sacramentality of the family and celebrated it rather than trying to correct it with the “better birth” and the “only real” food.

So weakness equated with femaleness, bodiliness, earthliness is something to brag about. God does not transform our weakness into some sort of patriarchal hardness, despite all the imperial imagery around many of the readings, songs and prayers at church that call to mind the Christian life as crusade rather than as breastfeeding, as holding close, as claiming kinship.

Weakness is always part of any “othering” discourse; it is the sort of language used around people who “lose the struggle” against themselves and return to gay lifestyles, relationships or ways of being. Gay and lesbian churchgoers are supposed to closet themselves firmly in Christian respectability. I did this. I married. I bred. I wasn’t very good at the sort of “good behavior” that was required. Something in me kept yearning and questioning and had to be constantly put down and repressed (repressed so soundly that I would not even become aware of it). I had to find less dangerous ‘sins” and adventures to distract myself with to avoid confronting the truth of what I was.

I did not listen to this week’s reading, I spoke a lot about grace but I did not really trust it. God’s grace was not sufficient for me to leave the safety of what I had been taught and to boast about my weakness. I am weak. I am unacceptable. I am queer. Instead I was dishonest and blocked my “weakness” from being part of God’s power in me and I missed some crucial turning-points in my life, in the career that wasn’t. But God doesn’t call us to give us a comfortable life and a successful career. God gives us nothing except grace. Is grace the persistent and sometimes irritating voice that still pokes and prods at me to remain in God somehow?

Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

But since I was little this reading has been a stumbling-block to me. I don’t want weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities. Perhaps I ought to want to bear all that to prove my deep and radical love for Christ. As the offspring told us “the more you suffer, the more it shows you really care, right, yeah”. But I don’t care in that way, if I am being persecuted, abused or belittled in a relationship or because of a relationship I seek to leave it. I don’t find my strength in being trivialised, silenced or judged.

As a gay person therefore, as a woman, I have lacked the courage to bear all the insults (usually disguised as the “proper” language of the liturgy) the feeling of having to choose between believing in all “that” or believing in myself (in a very basic way), the self-persecutions I have been tricked into, the calamities of self-hatred. This weakness never made me strong and I fell and fell and fell away from being ordained, away from church, away from everyone I knew, almost into death (by suicide).

ALMOST. That word. Why didn’t I kill myself? There is no safe way to answer that. If God somehow saved or helped me then it begs the question why not all the others? Why not my very dear friend who did die of rejection and suicide? But no. I was never “content” with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions or calamities.

And now we have the whole question of marriage equality, and once again the church is coming out to “defend the sacraments”. And once again the sanctity that is being defended is a sanctity that reeks of power and privilege, not a sanctity that reeks of manger straw, and fishing boats, and the cross. And all the wise things that could be said on the topic have already been said. All the hypocrisies have already been pointed out. All I can do is add my voice to the more articulate in some way. And I do it with a sigh of exasperation that once again – like birthing and ordination/vocation, once again the church has taken something that is sacramental (in this case human sexuality) and turned it into a bunch of rules and exclusions.

And I say at the end of the day I don’t even need to keep looking for the (obvious) holes in their logic. The fact that the church wants to keep a stranglehold over a sacrament so that most people won’t be special enough to qualify for it already has my suspicious feminist spidey-senses tingling.

Like the boys who build a cubby house for the express purpose of putting a sign on it saying “no girls” and “no pansies” they have built themselves a church. But for those left outside- perhaps God’s grace will be sufficient after all!

Say it isn’t so!!!!

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Last week I dutifully did the lectionary readings noting with joy and excitement that the visitation was coming up. You know, the visitation? Possibly the only story in the bible that passes the Bechdel test?

I once did a queer reading and I was going to dig it up for this…

Now I look again at the lectionary and see that alst week the visitation was alternate readings. Last week when i didn;t particularily enjoy the readings I was set!

I am going to go home tonight and sleep on whether it is time to ignore the lectionary and just have fun with a queer reading!