One day, a farmer went out sowing seed. Some of the seed landed on a footpath, where birds came and ate it up. Some of the seed fell on rocky ground, where there was little soil. This seed sprouted at once since the soil had no depth, but the sun rose and scorched it, it withered away for lack of roots. Again, some of it landed on good soil, and yielded a crop thirty, sixty, even a hundred time what was sown.
-Matthew 13:3b-9 (Mark 4:3-8; Luke 8:5-18)
It can be hard for queer folk to here this simple parable of seeds and soil. Typically we are cast as the inhospitable ground with the kingdom (or better empire) of God rejecting us or being choked out by the weeds of our “queerness.” The conformist tradition makes it clear that the realm of the Sacred is hetro-centric and only straight people enjoy the bounty of this terrain.
However, such understanding of the kingdom has missed what it is all about. Today we have smoothed out and made palatable to people of democracies the radical notion of God’s realm. The translation above drops the idea of kingdom all together and substitute the notion of a “kin”-dom, a place where we gather because of kinship ties and common ground. Jesus was much more radical. In the face of the Roman occupation and of stubborn religious hegemony Jesus declared the Empire of God – a bulwark of justice and liberation amidst the injustice and oppression of his time.
There is cause for rejoicing here. You may, for a time, have to suffer the distress of many trials. But this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears.
-1 Peter 1:6-8
The christian community was on the ropes. A suspect group within a larger social matrix, the majority of which thought of christians as “those people.” Here is a parallel with the queer experience as marginalized, suspect, and outside the mainstream. In a ironic twist of history (or is it the hand of God at play?) contemporary queers know better the experience of the early church then do the many christians who raise their voice against us. At what point did the persecuted become the persecutors? The answer is always when power corrupts.
The thought and attitude expressed in this text has caused me much frustration. For a number of years I understood the metaphor of refining gold and suffering persecution as a poor excuse for submitting to torment and affliction. I tended to resonate with Dada’s understanding as portrayed above – bigotry contorts and mangles the lives of good people. The present suicide rate among queer teens is a tenacious witness to the crushing effects of bigotry.
Over the years though I’ve come to find this metaphor strangely wise.
What does a new world order look like? Certainly it is more than the present vision of Pax Americana, which is anything but peaceful.
For Zephaniah a fresh start to the earth is “pure” or unified speech. Proverbs reminded us of the power of words to shape reality (see the post “Slurs”). Zephaniah reminds us that words fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and form an image. Unified speech presumes clarity of communications where the thoughts and emotions inside us are articulated so that others may experience and understand our point of view – so that others can comprehend our piece of the jigsaw in the larger picture. Unified speech also suggests that others can do the same so we may understand their self-ariculation.
Admittedly, this is an odd vision of a new world order. Odd, unless we understand the old world order it replaces – garbled speech and the inability to communicate or to comprehend. Garbled speech removes safety from the forum of conversation. As is demonstrated in Helena M. Langley’s piece – angry words layer, weigh down, and crowd out.
Then God showed me Yehoshua the high priest standing before the Angel of Adonai, with the satan standing at the Angel’s right hand, harassing Yehoshua about various things. And the Angel of Adonai said to the satan, “May Adonai silence you, Satan! May Adonai, who chose Jerusalem, silence you. Isn’t Yehoshua a stick snatched from the fire?”
Standing before the Angel, Yehoshua’s clothes were covered in excrement. The Angel said to the attendants, “Help him take off those filthy clothes.”
Addressing Yehoshua, the Angel said, “I have taken away your guilt, and I will clothe you in splendid priestly robes!” Then, to the attendants, “- and put a clean turban on his head!” They dressed Yehoshua as instructed them, as the Angel of Adonai stood nearby.
Clichéd are court scenes before the Holy and Righteous Judge of the living and the dead. Such rhetoric and images as the painting by Stefen Lochner are used to scare and to scar queer people. A tactic which has been around for as long as homosexual, bisexual, and transgender dynamics have been condemned in the name of the of Holy and Righteous Judge of the living and the dead.
Joshua (Hebrew – Yehoshua) standing before the Sacred with the adversary (the satan) standing at his side leveling accusation after accusation is a dynamic well known to us. In an ironic twist religious traditions are the modern Satan, accusing us of wickedness and painting dark pictures of the queer “lifestyle.” Like Joshua we stand in the heavenly tribunal with rags made filthy by the overwhelming onslaught of slander flung at us.
God said to Jonah, “What gives you the right to be upset about the castor oil plant?”
He replied, “I have every right to be angry, to the point of death!”
Adonai replied, “You feel sorrow because of the castor oil plant that cost you no labor, that you did not make grow, that sprouted in a night, and that perished in a night. Is it not right, then, for me to feel sorrow for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, to say nothing of all the animals?”
The ability to protest is an existential leap into self-being. Culture is accustomed to pronouncing its judgments and investing in the building of legal and social controls to buttress the so called self-evident truths of the status quo. To raise a protest in such times is to invite the slings and arrows of an angry society. Yet, it is also to establish a self beyond the repressive forces of rank-and-file thinking. It is the movement from life with the herd into the authentic life of the self as defined from the inside out.
The voice of protest is the arrow strung on the tension of injustice, released to fly against the battlement of indifference. This solitary arrow finding its mark creates the chink by which the edifice of prejudice is weakened and falls under the weight of its own pretenses.
The voice of protest in the book of Jonah is the voice of the Sacred. The object of the protest is the Divine’s own prophet.
Amaziah the priest of Bethel then sent this message to Jeroboam ruler of Israel: “Amos is plotting against you in the midst of the House of Israel. The country can no longer tolerate what he keeps saying. For this is what he says, ‘Jeroboam will die by the sword, and Israel is going into exile from its land.’”
Amaziah told Amos, “Go away, seer! Go back to the land of Judah. Earn your bread there. Do your prophesying there. We want no more prophesying in Bethel. This is the royal sanctuary, the national Temple!”
The clashing of authority with free thinkers is as old as religious expression. Here we come across the prophet Amos being reproved by Amaziah the high priest of the royal chapel at Bethel.
Amaziah wants Amos to go away and to take with him his obstinate witness against the king and nobles of Israel. Apparently Amos is oppressing the power structure with his dreary call for justice.
Amos’ reply to Amaziah is incredibly subversive. The complaint is that Amos has flaunted or peacocked his alternative prophetic views at the center of propriety – the king’s chapel. Amos simply replies that he is not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet (the product of a prophetic school), but rather a simple tree dresser.
How true this is of queer folk. We are not straight people “acting out.” Nor are we the product of a gay agenda that has brained washed us. Simply, we are persons blessed by God with a different desire and way of responding to the God-given call of the erotic.
My sisters and brothers, if you should wander from the truth and another should bring you back, remember that whoever turns sinners from the error of their ways saves them from death and cancels a multitude of sins.
James is a tough book to read. It enjoys its present position toward the end of the Greek Scriptures due to the great reformer Martin Luther who considered it a “right strawy epistle.” Although in Luther’s defense, it appears he missed the major emphasis of this book: faith formation as the key element in communal living.
I can also commensurate with James – it takes hard, hard work to build the beautiful community. That is the community where justice and righteousness or harmony and balance mark all relationships.
James (in theory the brother of Jesus and leader of the church in Jerusalem) is interested in the question of power. Particularly the question of how power plays out in a community of equality. James exhorts us to be stringent in the disciplines of the faith. These disciplines call on us to relinquish our hold on control, turn to those in need, and let go of carefully crafted priorities so they may be replaced by priorities of the crucified and resurrected One.