Tag Archives: God

Erotic Pride Before God (Psalm 134)


Come and bless Adonai,
                                all you who serve Our God,
                                ministering by night in God’s house!
                Lift up your hands in the sanctuary,
                                and bless Adonai!
                May you be blessed from Zion
                                by the One who made heaven and earth!
Psalm 134
 
During Pride month I ponder the place of queer people in the congregation of God worshipers. In the face of traditional and ongoing discrimination by religious bodies I can scarcely believe that this invitation to come and bless and to be blessed is for me. If I come will the door be open? If I bless will hearts be receptive? As one who is among those cast out and silenced, how shall I respond to this invitation?
There is an intrinsic fear among the various spiritual expressions toward queer folk. It is the fear that tans-les-bi-gay-intersex-asexuals transgress the purity of the congregation. We who seek out forbidden pleasure are polluted by our sexual “proclivities.” Our impure presence reflects upon others casting our “shame” beyond ourselves and onto all we associate with. As those in ancient times, we are made to feel that we should shout “Unclean! Unclean!” giving time for the clean to flee unscathed.

People like us are rarely granted entrance to the assembly of the Sacred. Our presence may contaminate and make profane that which is holy. Often we find the door to the divine barred.
-continue reading at The Bible in Drag
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GenderQueer Liberation Theology: An Exploration

The intersections between race, gender, and sexuality are fraught with luminosity. It is the spaces created by these intersections that offer a prophetic voice of wisdom and new way of existence. Being black or white, male or female, and straight or gay is simply too finite for a world of infinite complexities. God created us to be multi-faceted and multi-dimensional. The human experience is dense. Liberation theology is placing God in dialogue through the vantage point of marginalized oppressed groups. Marginalized voices stemming from race, gender, and other socio-political locations have an opportunity of visibility through liberation theology. This idea of visibility is particularly important to my identity as a GenderQueer[1] person. In an effort to begin to interpret Christianity from the lens of GenderQueer embodiment this particular experience visible. This has been an eight month investigation of what it means for a GenderQueer person to reclaim traditional interpretations of theological insights via praxis; for it is the GenderQueer, multi-cultural, and pansexual[2]embodiments that are closely aligned to a vision of God physically manifested on Earth. This is the ultimate triad of creation and embodiment, and the theological dialogue is vastly rich at these intersections. The depth and scope of this article is the deconstruction of the performance and social construction of the gender binary. I am largely focusing on the theological praxis embodiment of the GenderQueer experience of which sexuality and race are peripheral informants of this work. Through the lens of GenderQueer identification, the acknowledgment of the power of gender in its social construction and performance thereof allows us to move beyond the gender binary, which creates a seat at the table for GenderQueer bodies.

-taken from “Seraphim Delight”

(http://thetomboyeffect.wordpress.com/2012/06/13/gqlt/).

which describes itself in the sidebar as

AN EXPLORATION IN GENDERQUEER LIBERATION THEOLOGY

GenderQueer – A person who identifies as neither male nor female. GQ individuals might identify outside of all trational gender binaries entirely.
Liberation Theology – A mode of interpreting the Divine from within an oppressed group.
Questions? Me too. Stay tuned.
*All genders, sexualities, identities, and people validated here.

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God loves LGBTs says ‬Catholic Filipino author

New book by Raymond Alikpala says ‘being gay is a special grace from God’

Coming to terms with one’s self is not easy for homosexuals in a society where gender is limited to either male or female.

Raymond Alikpala, 46, a lawyer and formerly a seminarian, knows very well the anguish of living in the shadows having done so in the first 38 years of his life.

“I came out because I was tired of hiding who I really am. I wanted to be able to finally live my life honestly and proudly. I stopped caring about what others would think should they find out I  ambakla (gay),” says Alikpala.

He shares his story of growing up a devout Catholic and harboring the secret of his homosexuality in a book “Of God and Men” to be launched June 16, 2012 at  3  p.m. at  Bestsellers Bookstore,  4th Level, Robinson’s Galleria, Pasig City.

Alikpala said a number of his friends encouraged him to write his story “as catharsis for my years in the closet.” He felt however that “it was much more than that.”

Perhaps because of his years in the seminary, Alikpala’s objective in writing the book is more evangelical. “To spread the good news that God loves bakla, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders and transsexuals as much as She loves all Her other children.”

Yahoo News, Philippines

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Christians and LGBTQ Equality: There Is No Middle Ground

In response to my post “‘It’s no sin to be gay.’ See how easy that is, Andrew Marin?” folks have made the point that Andrew’s work is valuable, because he is “building bridges” — because he is, as one reader put it, “creating stepping stones from one end of the spectrum to the other.” They appreciate Marin establishing a neutral, non-judgmental, values-free middle ground where parties on either side of the gay-Christian debate can meet to together discuss and explore the issue.

The problem, though, is that when it comes to the issue of LGBT equality, there is no such thing as a values-free middle ground. There can’t be, because that is a moral issue. And that means it’s about a very definite right and wrong.

And it’s a moral issue of no small consequence. There couldn’t possibly be more at stake. The people on one side of this debate — the majority, which wields all the power — are claiming that, in the eyes of God, those on the other side are less than human.

No matter how strenuously he or she might deny it, the fact is that any Christian who does not forthrightly and unambiguously assert that there is nothing whatsoever inherently immoral about same-sex relationships has chosen a side in this conflict. To a starving man, the person who can’t decide if they want to share their food is no better than the person who refuses to (emphasis added).

– more at John Shore, Huffington Post

 

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"The church, like Jesus, should say ‘yes’ to new things": Gumbleton

I think it is most appropriate today to begin our reflection on the Scriptures by focusing especially on the first lesson, where Isaiah is trying to reassure people that God is about to do something new, if only they have the courage to respond to what God is doing. We should remember that these are people who have been driven out of their own city and land. Jerusalem was destroyed and the temple was left in flames. They had to go off into exile, and were in exile for 80-some years. By now, they had become accustomed to the way things are.

Isaiah is preaching to them that it is time to go back and have your place again, and live where God gave you the land to be yours, but they were hesitant. They’d gotten used to the way things were. That’s when Isaiah said, “Do not dwell on the past.” They were thinking back to the time when Moses had led them out of Egypt, freed them from slavery and established the Jewish law. They were trying to hang onto that.

God said, “Look, I’m doing new things. Now it springs forth. Do you not see?” Further on, He said, “I have formed this people for myself. They will proclaim My praise. Neither have you satisfied Me with the fat of your sacrifices. Instead, you would burden Me with your sins and wearied Me with your offenses. I am the one who blocks out your offenses for My own sake. I remember your sins no more.” God is saying to them, “There is a new opportunity now. Let go of the past. Be ready to follow where God is leading you now.”

via National Catholic Reporter.

(Extract from a homily by Bishop Thomas Gumbleton for the 7th Sunday of Ordinary Time . And to that “Amen, we say, Amen”)

Seventh Sunday in Ordinary Time

Isaiah 43:18-19, 21-22, 24b-25

Psalms 41:2-3, 4-5, 13-14

2 Corinthians 1:18-22

Mark 2:1-12

Full text of the readings

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Candace Chellew-Hodge, on a “Dangerous Vision of God”.

Growing up as the daughter of a Baptist minister, Candace Chellew-Hodge had a deep love of God and commitment to the Christian faith. She was also a lesbian, for which she encountered extensive bullying, as school – and in Church. Finding that her attraction to females meant that the God she loved did not, after all, love her, she tried to kill herself. Thankfully, she survived the attempt, and went on first, to found the online Christian magazine, “Whosoever”, to study theology, and then to enter ministry. She has also written an LGBT Christian survival guide, “Bulletproof Faith“.

At Religion Dispatches, she has a piece up (“God, Rid Me of God“), reflecting from her personal experience on the rash of teen suicides by American queer youth, and especially that of  19-year-old Eric James Borges. These are a result, she argues, of a “dangerous vision of God”.

Borges had the best support around as a volunteer for The Trevor Project (the org that works to prevent LGBT suicide). He even did his own It Gets Better video. But I fear it was finally the religious condemnation that led this beautiful young man to take his own life. Everyone under the sun can tell you it gets better, but the bottom line is this: If you believe God will send you to hell for who you love, there will be nothing anyone can say to convince you that it gets better—since God never changes, right?

I have seen too many in my community struggle with God—and the image of the bullying God they have been given by their churches and their families. This image of God as a loving destroyer, whose acceptance is conditioned on your strict adherence to “His” rules, has ruined too many lives. What needs to change is not the LGBT child, but this horrible and terribly wrong image of God as a holy bully that is being purveyed by religious institutions and believers.

The trouble is, though, this image of God has worked very well for those in power. Despite growing support for LGBT people in the polls, this issue still has enough of an “ick factor” to make those who talk about the “sin” of homosexuality (and transgenderism!) look like they are the true moral paragons. In fact, GOP presidential hopeful Rick Santorum’s wife feels secure enough to take up the victim role, accusing LGBT people of “vilifying” her husband—even calling it, without a hint of irony, “backyard bullying.”

Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, responded to Mrs. Santorum: “You love your husband—I get that. You love your faith—fine by me. But when you pretend that hate is love, that lies are truth, and that victims are oppressors, you have become inane.”

Not just inane, but dangerous. It is exactly this vision of God as “backyard bully” that puts LGBT youth on the path to suicide, and it must stop.

read the full reflection at Religion Dispatches 

It should be fundamental to Christian faith that God’s love is unconditional. In my high school RE classes, I was taught that “God is love” is almost a definition of love, for which I was made to underline or highlight in my bible, write out in my exercise book, and memorize for examinations, countless verses that demonstrated that claim (along with many others, such as “God is truth”, “God is light”, “God is mercy”, “God is justice”, and so on. But never, ever, “God is hate”.

Yesterday’s Gospel concerned the story of Jesus and the man possessed of an “unclean spirit”, and how at Jesus’ command, the spirit left, and the man was cured. Far too often, misguided Christians use this story as motivation to “exorcise” the demon of homosexuality from young people in their care, just as the parents of Eric James Borges did. They are wrong. It is not our God-given orientation that is demon in need of exorcism, but homophobia (including our own internalized homophobia), and the dangerous vision of God, that sees God’s love as selective.

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Coming out as Grace: Patrick Chen, on the "Out Christ"

In the second instalment of his long essay on Christology, sin and grace at “Jesus in Love Blog”, the theologian Patrick Chen discusses Christ’s incarnation as God “coming out” to the world. This is an idea I first came across in Chris Glaser’s “Coming out As Sacrament“, and which Chen takes as his starting point:

The Out Christ arises out of the reality that God reveals Godself most fully in the person of Jesus Christ.  In other words, God “comes out of the closet” in the person of Jesus Christ; it is only through the incarnation, ministry, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we understand the true nature of God (for example, God’s solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed).  Indeed, the notion of the Out Christ as the revelation of God is supported by Jesus Christ’s description in the Fourth Gospel as the logos or Word of God. 

Chris Glaser, the gay theologian and Metropolitan Community Church minister, has written about the Out Christ in his book Coming Out as Sacrament.  In that book, Glaser describes Jesus Christ as nothing less than God’s very own coming out to humanity:  “The story of the New Testament is that God comes out of the closet of heaven and out of the religious system of time to reveal Godself in the person of Jesus the Christ.”

“Sermon on the Mount” (from Ecce Homo) by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

In Chen’s thinking, this model see Christ’s coming out as including coming out in solidarity with the marginalized and oppressed, and leads us to the concept of sin as the closet:

Not only does the closet prevent a person from truly connecting with others, but it has a corrosive effect on the self-esteem and well-being to the extent that she is constantly forced to keep her life a secret to others.

(This view of the closet as sinful because it restricts proper relationships with others is similar to the argument of the Jewish lesbian Judith Plaskow, who sees coming out as a religious obligation, for precisely the same reasons).

The continuing theme throughout Chen’s series is a Christological model of sin and grace, seen from an LGBT perspective. It is not enough to discuss sin without similarly considering grace which leads us out of it. From this perspective, the grace that redeems us from the sin of the closet is the courage given to us to come out.

 By contrast, grace in the context of the Out Christ can be understood as the courage to come out of the closet, or sharing one’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity with others.  For LGBT people, the process of coming out can be understood as grace, or a unmerited gift, on the part of God.  There is no one correct pattern or single path to coming out.  Some people come out very early in life; others wait until much later.  For some people it is a slow and private process.  For others, it is a fast and public announcement.

  Regardless of how one ultimately comes out, the act of coming out reflects the very nature of a God who is also constantly coming out and revealing Godself to us in the Out Christ.  Coming out is a gift that is accompanied by other gifts such as self-love, the love for others, and the overcoming of shame and internalized homophobia.  The grace of coming out is not something that can be “willed” or “earned”; it can only happen as an act of grace from God.

Read the full post at Jesus in Love blog, where you can also follow the full series:

1) Erotic Christ (sin as exploitation; grace as mutuality)
2) Out Christ (sin as the closet; grace as coming out)
3) Liberator Christ (sin as apathy; grace as activism)
4) Transgressive Christ (sin as conformity; grace as deviance)
5) Hybrid Christ – not yet published (as of Dec 10th)

Cheng, theology professor at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA, adapted the series for the Jesus in Love Blog based on his essay in the new book “Sexuality and the Sacred: Sources for Theological Reflection,” edited by Marvin M. Ellison and Kelly Brown Douglas



The picture for this post is the one used by Kittredge Cherry, who says of it:

The photo for this post, “Sermon on the Mount,” was taken in a famous cruising park in Stockholm with LGBT people from local leather clubs as models. “It was fantastic to walk with ‘Jesus’ to the photo spot. People were looking and a little shocked,” recalls photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin in my book “Art That Dares.”

 .

Recommended Books:

Related articles
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DC Bishop’s Christian Case for Gay Marriage.

In the ongoing brouhaha in DC over the forthcoming recognition of same gender marriages, with the rather odd position of the Catholic archdiocese that this will somehow force them to either become ineligible for the city’s contracts, or to compromise on their religious principles, it is great to see one bishop arguing from Christian principles and history that the archdiocese is, quite simply, dead wrong. The bishop in question is of the Episcopal  Diocese of Washington DC, John Bryson Chane (pictured below), who has a powerful commentary in the Washington Post.
Bishop John Chane of Washington
Here are some extracts, followed by my commentary:

A Christian Case for Same-Sex Marriage

Most media coverage of the D.C. Council’s steps toward civil marriage equality for same-sex couples has followed a worn-out script that gives the role of speaking for God to clergy who are opposed to equality. As the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington, I would say respectfully to my fellow Christians that people who deny others the blessings they claim for themselves should not assume they speak for the Almighty.

(Hear, hear!)

And to journalists I would offer a short history of changing Christian understandings of the institution of marriage.

Christians have always argued about marriage. Jesus criticized the Mosaic law on divorce, saying “What God has joined together let no man separate.” But we don’t see clergy demanding that the city council make divorce illegal.

(The inconsistency, and differential treatment of gay and other noncomforming Catholics, is breathtaking)

Some conservative Christian leaders claim that their understanding of marriage is central to Christian teaching. How do they square that claim with the Apostle Paul’s teaching that marriage is an inferior state, one reserved for people who are not able to stay singly celibate and resist the temptation to fornication?
As historian Stephanie Coontz points out, the church did not bless marriages until the third century, or define marriage as a sacrament until 1215. The church embraced many of the assumptions of the patriarchal culture, in which women and marriageable children were assets to be controlled and exploited to the advantage of the man who headed their household.
To see just how far this understanding has changed, note alongside the statement that “the church did not bless marriages until the third century, or define marriage as a sacrament until 1215”, John Boswell’s observation (in Same – sex Inions in Pre-Modern Europe) that for many centuries during this same period, the only people for whom it was required to consecrate their marriage in church, were the priests.

The theology of marriage was heavily influenced by economic and legal considerations; it emphasized procreation, and spoke only secondarily of the “mutual consolation of the spouses.”
In the 19th and 20th centuries, however, the relationship of the spouses assumed new importance, as the church came to understand that marriage was a profoundly spiritual relationship in which partners experienced, through mutual affection and self-sacrifice, the unconditional love of God.

“In the 19th and 20th centuries”. That is the full extent of the time that our modern understanding of the institution of marriage has been dominant!  So-called “traditional” marriage is a modern invention.

The Episcopal Church’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer puts it this way: “We believe that the union of husband and wife, in heart, body and mind, is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and, when it is God’s will, for the procreation of children and their nurture in the knowledge and love of the Lord.”
Our evolving understanding of what marriage is leads, of necessity, to a re-examination of who it is for. Most Christian denominations no longer teach that all sex acts must be open to the possibility of procreation, and therefore contraception is permitted. Nor do they hold that infertility precludes marriage. The church has deepened its understanding of the way in which faithful couples experience and embody the love of the creator for creation. In so doing, it has put itself in a position to consider whether same-sex couples should be allowed to marry.
Theologically, therefore, Christian support for same-sex marriage is not a dramatic break with tradition, but a recognition that the church’s understanding of marriage has changed dramatically over 2,000 years.
I have been addressing the sound theological foundation for a new religious understanding of marriage, because it disturbs me greatly to see opposition to marriage for same-sex couples portrayed as the only genuinely religious or Christian position. I am somewhat awed by the breadth of religious belief and life experience reflected among more than 200 clergy colleagues who are publicly supporting marriage equality in D.C. But it’s important to emphasize that the actions taken by the D.C. Council do not address the religious meaning of marriage at all. The proposed legislation would not force any congregation to change its religious teachings or bless any couple. Our current laws do not force any denomination to offer religious blessing to second marriages, yet those marriages, like interfaith marriages, are equal in the sight of the law even though some churches do not consider them religiously valid.
Existing laws require religious organizations that receive public funding to extend the same benefits to gay employees as to straight ones. In many instances, that includes health care for spouses. This has led some religious leaders, who believe same-sex marriage to be sinful, to threaten to get out of the social service business. I respect these individuals’ right to their convictions, but I do not follow their logic. The Catholic Church, for instance, teaches that remarriage without an annulment is sinful, yet it has not campaigned against extending health benefits to such couples. Additionally, several Catholic dioceses in states that permit same-sex marriage have found a way to accommodate themselves to such laws.
D.C.’s proposed marriage equality law explicitly protects the religious liberty of those who believe that God’s love can be reflected in the loving commitment between two people of the same sex and of those who do not find God there. This is as it should be in a society so deeply rooted in the principles of religious freedom and equality under the law.

And Amen to that.

I love what professor Christine Gudorf, a lay theologian and an internationally known scholar teaching at The International University in Miami, calls a “bracing walk in history” to make sense of the contradictions and nonsense often encountered in modern discussion of religion, especially Catholic religion. Far too much of what passes for “comment” simply amounts to tired repetition of  old mantras about blind obedience to the “authoritative” teaching of Holy Mother Church, with the associated assumptions that this has been fixed and unchanging over 200 years.   Any tour through history, even just a cursory stroll, shows how obviously false that assumption is.  Teaching has constantly changed, has seldom been uniform, has often been wrong, and will surely continue to change, just as it is in fact constantly changing imperceptibly under our nose right now. These changes have affected not only our understanding of marriage and sexuality, but also of the nature of authority itself, on teh importance, power and role of the papacy, on priestly celibacy, on the role of the laity, on lay access to Scripture and theology, and to the well – known examples of usury, slavery, the subjugation of women, and to the findings of science.  as I noted when I first wrote encountered and wrote about Professor Gudof’s useful phrase, this change through history has affected even the subject of abortion, on which the church position today appears so clear and solid. Just as teaching has evolved steadily over the centuries, we should expect that it will continue to evolve over the years to come.

One of the ways in which this process of change comes about, is through ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit, by reflection on the reality we see around us, by reading the signs of the times, and by taking account of the findings of modern science and new scholarship. We should note therefore the strong research evidence that much of the less savoury aspects of the popular stereotype of the so-called “gay life-style” are a result of social stigma and the impossibility of socially recognised unions. Modern evidence from Netherlands, where full marriage has been available for some years, is that same sex partnerships have become more stable and more faithful since then. Boswell also notes that in the classical world where gay marriage was legal and gay partnerships commonplace, that many people believed that such partnerships were more faithful and deeper in affection than conventional, opposite gender marriages. The conclusion is obvious. In addition to the theological points raised by Bishop Chane, there is a simple, practical one. To reduce the unsavoury “gay lifestyle”, work for gay marriage.

(Read the full commentary at the Wild Reed, , where I first saw it reported,  or at the  Washington Post. )

See also:

Recommended Books:

Bray, Alan: The Friend

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"And Grace Will Lead Me Home": A Conservative, Evangelical, Theological Case for Gay Marriage

There are, thankfully, many sources available today which can counter and debunk the infamous clobber texts which have for so long been used abused in the course of bigotry and exclusion. There are also an increasing number of progressive theologians who have thoughtfully addressed considered matters from an LGBT or queer perspective, and developed a growing body of gay and lesbian, or queer, theology. What we do not often see is sympathetic theology from a conservative evangelical straight ally.
I was delighted therefore. to come across a recent paper by Dr Mark, Achtemeier, who describes himself as can “out, self-affirming, practicing conservative evangelical”, in which he tells of the process of theological enquiry which led him to reverse his longstanding opposition to LGBT inclusion, and instead to argue in favour of same –sex marriage and ordination. Addressing the Covenant Network of Presbyterians on November 5 2009, Dr Achtermeier begins cautiously:
I have every confidence in the ability of my colleagues to address this discussion with genuine wisdom and deep insight. For myself I confess the topic makes me nervous. The reason is this: if you had told me just eight or nine years ago that on this date I would be standing before this group, speaking out in favor of marriage and ordination for lesbian and gay Christians, I would have declared you out of your mind.
But here I am, and here you are. And all I can say is that because of this experience I have learned never to make confident predictions about any situation in which God is involved.

This point about God’s own involvement is crucial. A further key point, one which we as gay men, lesbian and trans people of faith would do well to a ponder carefully, was that the transition began when he started to speak with gay and lesbian Christians themselves, and came to see how false were the stereotypes and assumptions that he had previously taken for granted. God, he says, “had other plans” than his earlier equanimity, and led him to serious conversation and friendship with some gay Christians. Getting to know them, talking to them, showed how deeply his earlier assumptions had come out of reading only the authors he already agreed with, and was based on the popular stereotypes of gay people. Talking to these people, he says, was a surprising and unsettling experience, because he discovered that entirely against his preconceptions, he found that these people shared a deep Christian faith similar to his own, who were willing to engage with him in frank and conversation in spite of their knowledge of his own deep opposition. He then found how his earlier “comfortable settled convictions started to crack”.
These false assumptions were:
  • Homosexuality is a destructive addiction – which means that talk of “justice” , “rights”, or “compassion” are meaningless.
  • Homosexuals are self-indulgent, putting their own self-gratification above all else
Instead, he found what is well known to us, and to any one who has looked at the research evidence. A same sex orientation is deep-seated in our make-up, not amenable to “change”, and that the people he was talking with were “devoted Christian believers, filled with grace and a loving concern for the downtrodden…and deeply engaged in spiritual discipline”: typical Christians, in fact, just like him. He was also surprised to find that they resembled him in another important respect – their lifelong commitments to partners.
One of the religious arguments against “homosexuals” is that such “acts” are said to lead us away from God. Talking to real people showed Achtemeier how by focussing instead on the relationships, he discovered that these were leading people not away from God, but to Him – in exactly the same way that he believed his own marriage drew him closer to God.
However, he also faces the fact, uncomfortable for evangelicals with a strict respect for Scripture, that he is, or may be, putting experience ahead of scripture. Struggling with this, he remembered a story from Augustine, who quotes from I John 2:6, that we should “walk in the way of the Lord” – and then refers to the celebrated passage in which the Lord walked on water. Quite clearly, it is not possible to accept every text precisely literally. He then concludes that what he is doing, in reflecting on his experience, is not putting above Scripture, but using it to interpret Scripture.
Looking again at Scripture, he found a powerful Scriptural basis to argue in favour of marriage equality. In Genesis 2, God says “It is not God for man to be alone. I will give him a companion to help him.”
This leads him to an extended discussion of the standard Calvinist theology against celibacy. (This is based on the idea from Paul that although celibacy is an ideal for those who are able to practice it, most people are unable to. To protect weaker men (which means most of us) from the sins that this inability will lead to, Paul encourages marriage). He recognises from his own life that living singly, before marriage, He realises that many of the stereotypes he has acquired of gay people are based on single people, deprived of the opportunity of marriage.
This is an excellent, thought-provoking article, which deserves to be read in full (do so here), especially by other conservative evangelicals. However, they are unlikely to be reading “Queering the Church”, so I will restrict my comment to its significance for queer Christians – and especially my cp-religionists in the Catholic Church.
First, note the importance of conversation. Dr Achtermerier’s conversion would not have begun without the dialogue with gay Christians who were willing to engage with him in full frank and friendly conversation, even though they knew (to start with) that he was strongly opposed, on firm religious grounds, to everything they stood for. Yet they persevered, and in this case, won a valuable ally. (I am quite sure that not every conversation results in a conversion. There will be many disappointments. The perseverance in the face of other setbacks is what makes the achievement of Dr Achtermeier’s friends especially notable.)
To get these conversations going, the “welcoming and affirming” programme now found in several denominations (such as the Presbyterian Moe Light churches) are invaluable.
In the Catholic church, opportunities for such interaction with Catholic decision makers are limited – Catholic bishops are not renowned for their skills a the “listening church” they proclaim themselves to be. However, there are opportunities to talk one to one with ordinary Catholics in conventional congregations, and with local parish priests. Mark Jordan “The Silence of Sodom” warns against the futility of trying to argue rationally with the institutional Church, and he is right. But it is certainly possible to talk rationally with ordinary Catholics, and often with the local priest as well,
This is why dedicated, explicitly queer congregations such as London’s Soho Masses are not enough. There have enormous value, as moral and emotional support for those who are just beginning to face the facts of their situation in the institutional Church, as support and spiritual sustenance for those of us who have moved on to advance the struggle by other means, and for their symbolic value. But they do nothing to change the perceptions of ordinary Catholics, in ordinary congregations. For that, we also need people to participate in local parishes, to become visible, and to engage in frank conversations with their new co-parishioners.
Secondly, note that we are not alone in this. Early in his address, Fr Achetemeier refers to God’s role in moving his ideas along “God had other ideas”). As Catholics, we tend to be less aware of this than the Protestants, but it is an important point. Fr John McNeill has repeatedly reminded us that the Holy Spirit has a way of turning te most unpromising circumstance to her advantage, and my be doing now, with the abundant evidence of clerical failings all around us. He is right.
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My Homoerotic Retreat: Six days that changed my life.

(In offering the story below, I do so with some trepidation.  I know that many readers will be sceptical or cautious, may even find it ridiculous. I myself, given my particular background in faith and religious temperament, would have been made distinctly uncomfortable if any of my friends had asked me to take such a story seriously. Still, I think it is time to share it.  I leave you to decide for yourself:  was this a genuine mystical experience, as my eminently well qualified spiritual directors believed?  Or was I just suffering from some kind of spiritual delusions of grandeur?  Make up your own mind.)

During Advent of 2002, I underwent a 6 day directed retreat which turned out to be the most extraordinary spiritual, even mystical, experience of my life, which in certain key respects fundamentally changed my outlook on faith.

Background & Context

As the experience really was remarkable, sounding like an account that I myself would previously have dismissed as ramblings from the sentimental / superstitious wing of Catholicism, I want to begin by setting out my prior religious / spiritual background, as well as the context in which I began my retreat.  This will provide both context and contrast for what followed.

After drifting away from the church during my twenties as a married man, I later came out as a gay man.  Ironically, it was only after setting up in a committed long gay relationship that I was moved to return to the church.  The parish I then joined was led by Jesuit priests, and in time I began to explore the Ignatian approach to spirituality, by way of increasingly heavy involvement in the CLC – “Christian Life Community”.  In spite of this involvement, I did not see myself as particularly “religious” (a word I detest), nor “spiritual”, with all its connotations of “piety” and mysticism.  I simply knew that I enjoyed profound satisfaction in setting aside time for quiet reflection on my life.  My take on all matters of faith was primarily cerebral. (I was distinctly uncomfortable with the more ostentatious displays of images and relics, of novenas and special prayers “guaranteed” to bring results, or of mystical voices and apparitions.)  I did, however, find value in the Jesuit emphasis on balancing the promptings of head and heart, and on the value of paying attention to experience.  I became of convinced of the truth that Prayer is not just about speaking to God asking for favours, but also of attempting to listen.  I knew that by proper attention to the discernment of spirits within, one could, with care and imperfectly, hear the voice of the Lord speaking directly to us.

The context for this retreat was that after a long period of careful discernment, my partner and I had taken the important decision to leave South Africa, the only country I had ever known, to take up teaching posts in the UK – a country which I had never even visited. This was to be my final Christmas in South Africa, and the decision lay heavy on my mind.  I was also reoccupied with the nature of my gay relationship.  I had repeatedly considered the issue of homosexuality in prayer and under spiritual direction, and was comfortable that there was nothing immoral or reprehensible in our relationship.  Still, I was just a little bothered by the possibility that perhaps after all, I was fooling myself, making excuses and rationalising away some inner doubt.  So I was looking for final reassurance on two key questions in my life:  the decision to emigrate, and my status as a sexually active gay man in the church.

monstrance

The Retreat Experience

The setting for the retreat, which had been set up by our CLC team, was a Franciscan house and retreat centre on the banks of South Africa’s Vaal River. On arrival the first evening, we had a very simple liturgy, and were allocated to one of the two directors, with first appointments set for the morning.  During the first meeting with my director, I shared some of my preoccupations, and was advised to reflect among other readings, on the Song of Songs, and on the passage of Moses and the burning bush.

I knew of course that the Song of Songs was written as a love poem, wit the lover serving as a metaphor for god, but had never really looked at it closely before.  Approaching it afresh, I was struck by the clear eroticism, and also by how easily it could be read as two male lovers. (I later found that it may well have been written with that plain intent, but did not then know that). This reading, as homoerotic love poetry, was in case the way I read it, and found myself intensely moved and frankly aroused.

Later, I went out of doors under the shade of the riverbank trees, enjoying their cool and protection from the December African sun. I turned now to the story of the burning bush, which I had encountered before as a graphic illustration of how the Lord, in certain circumstances, speaks to us directly.   After reading and reflecting on the text a few times, I set aside my bible, and looked up at a bright blue sky through the dappled shade of the foliage.   Quite specifically and consciously I put a direct request to the Lord:  “Speak to me, Lord”, I said.  I am convinced that for the next 5 days, he did, in the most direct and unsettling terms.

I did not immediately realise what was happening, but later realised that I was gradually being drawn into an increasingly intense relationship with the human person of Jesus Christ, something that had previously always seemed remote and inaccessible from my faith experience.  During the Eucharistic adoration that ended the first day’s formal programme, I became totally absorbed in every second of the experience, fully involved and rapt from start to finish, with never a moment’s loss of concentration, nor any discomfort from my position sitting cross-legged on the floor for the full hour.  I was also completely self-aware of the intensity of the experience, so conscious of the intensity, far exceeding anything I had previously known, that I would not have been surprised to find myself levitating.  At the end of the exposition, I found myself in agony that my precious time of intimacy had ended.  I followed the group who removed the Sacrament to its place in the chapel, and then stayed behind for a couple more hours totally lost in the presence in front of the tabernacle.

So it continued for the rest of the retreat:  every morning I was up early, and into the chapel for an hour before the 8:00 Mass which began the formal programme, at intervals during the day, and for a long period before going to bed. During these times, was quite literally not just in conversation with Jesus Christ as a friend, but with Him as a lover, and with Mary during frequent rosaries as the mother of my boyfriend.

The intensity continued to increase. On the following day, I remembered the well-known image of the “Bride of Christ”, an image that was clearly inappropriate to me as a man.  But thinking in terms of gay marriage, I imagined myself as the “groom of Christ”, which took my moments of intimacy with my “lover” to an entirely new level:  ever more intense, and frankly erotic. By extraordinary synchronicity, the following morning I was in a disused room of the retreat house, where I came across some old magazines that had once been art of the library.  Among these were some copies of a journal of spirituality. Picking one up at random and glancing at the contents, the first title I saw was something like “The Groom of Christ:  a Reflection for Men.”  This turned out to be a variation on the old metaphor, but from a male perspective. Recognising that most men would have difficulty imagining themselves as brides, the writer proposed instead turning the image on its head, imagining Christ as the bride. This seemed to me equally implausible, and I was grateful that as a gay man, I had not needed to make this distortion of gender to benefit from what is a perfectly good and powerful meditation just as it is.

I deliberately pass over the impact of direct reflection on the Passion, which came later, and move immediately to the sequel.

I remember one morning leaving my room with the clear intention of going to visit “my pal, my lover” Jesus in the chapel.  But while my definite intention was to turn left, my body was pulled right.  I knew I was being deliberately pulled aside, and tried to argue.  “I’m going to meet you in the chapel”, I said. The answer was clear:  “But I want you this way.”  There was clearly no point in arguing, so indeed I turned right, not knowing where I was headed.  This turned out to be the monastery’s private graveyard, leading to further deep reflection, in that Advent season, on life and death. But then I was pulled on further, to a large open field.  Around the perimeter were erected a series of almost life sized wooden crosses (about 8 feet high), each with a caption for a station of the cross.

Stations of the Cross

As I approached the first station, I was suddenly filled with powerful, uncontrollable emotion and fell to my knees, sobbing out loud. (This was out in the open, and in full public view not just of the retreat centre, but also of anybody passing in the street alongside.  I paid no attention)  It took quite some time before I could regain enough composure just to get back on my feet and move on – to the next station, where once again, entirely outside my control, the full emotional spectacle was played out once again.  And again, and again, over the full 14 stations.

After an experience so intense, so outside the experience of one previously so reserved in religious matters, as sceptical and cautious about the demonstrative, almost superstitious Latin / Mediterranean brand of Catholicism, where cold I go next?  In fact, the only way was to ease out of it.  I had of course been reporting on my increasingly intense experiences daily to my retreat director, who now advised me to ease off.  A day earlier than normal, she started to lead me through some gentler meditations to ease me gradually back to a point where I could re-enter the real world outside.  So the last two days were largely filled with riverside nature walks, and meditations through art, including a simple painting of a monstrance, as I remembered it so vividly from the Eucharistic adoration. .

In my final debriefing with my retreat director, she warned that would I had experienced had been unusually intense, even mystical, and would need to rounded off with my regular spiritual director, a senior Jesuit priest.

The Aftermath

When I did meet up with Fr Mike, I was fully expecting him to agree that the experience should be taken seriously.  I was not prepared though, for quite how seriously he took it.   He too described it as “mystical”, and said that encounters of such intensity were “blessings, rarely bestowed on just a few.”  He thought long and hard, and continued by saying that in his experience, where such encounters were given, it was usually in preparation for exceptionally difficult times ahead, a way of storing up spiritual strength as sustenance for the dry periods to come.  Thinking of my pending emigration, I laughed, and said that I well knew the years ahead would be tough.  “No”, came the response, I mean really tough.

So it proved.  Within weeks of arriving in the UK, my partner of nearly 20 years concluded he had made mistake in coming, and soon returned to South Africa.  I in turn was even more convinced that I needed to be here – that indeed, in Ignatian terms, I had been “sent” on mission, and so I stayed.  So began several years of serious difficulty, including emotional trauma, financial and professional difficulties, uncertainty over my immigration status, and recurrent bouts of depression, some of which remain problems to this day, 6 years later. Throughout all of this, at all the darkest times, I do exactly as Fr Mike anticipated:  I look back on that retreat on the riverbank, once again drawing on spiritual reserves to carry me through.

It would be good to say that I have remained in some kind of exalted, mystical or advanced spiritual plane – but it would also be completely untrue.  Indeed, removed from the firm structure of my closely bonded CLC group, my conscious practice of deliberate prayer and spiritual practice has moved somewhat behind where it used to be back in Johannesburg, and needs to be deliberately revived.

Two things, though, I have taken away from away from the retreat with unshakeable conviction. First, given the context of the start to the retreat, with a specific question about sexuality and some clearly homoerotic reflections, I have never since entertained even a moment’s doubt about the validity of a gay sexual life in faith.  Second, after I was given such a strong preparation for the difficulties around my emigration, I am more convinced than ever that the move was chosen for me as mission.  Indeed, I am firmly convinced that the specific reason why I was called here was to live openly as gay and as Catholic, and to help others to do the same.

Why He should have called me in particular, is completely beyond my understanding.  I claim absolutely no special training in these matters, no great wisdom and certainly no holiness.  But He moves as we know in mysterious ways, and sometimes chooses the most unlikely people to do His work.

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