Jesus presented another parable to the crowds: “The kindom of heaven is like the mustard seed which a farmer sowed in a field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it grows it is the biggest shrub of all – it becomes a tree so that the birds of the air come to perch in its branches.”
Jesus offered them still another parable: “The kindom of heaven is like the yeast a baker took and mixed in with three measures of flour until it was leavened all through.”
Mathew 13: 31-33 (Mark 4:30-32, Luke 13:18-21)
It is almost cliché to note that these two parables are about “humble beginnings.” It is cliché until we take a look at what “humble” refers to: insignificant and rag-tag. That is, out of dismissible events and people grow God’s great Empire.
For example, few observers would have suspected that a hole-in-the-wall tranny-bar would become the match to light the modern Gay Rights Movement in the United States. Yet the name Stonewall is now known the world over. In its wake queer sexuality is seen less and less as a predilection and more and more as a life-affirming path.
McCoy-Snell’s painting reminds us that the greatness of a person or even a movement is often masked by the circumstances of their conception and birth.
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.
Sharp words cut like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18, James 3:1-12
This proverb is a reversal of the old childhood mantra: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words…” Well, supposedly words will never hurt us, but they do. Not only the slurs flung our way, but the very words that jumble in us as in the word-art above. Those discerning their orientation – lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning persons – are especially vulnerable to sharp words, receiving their thrust deep into the psyche.
The queer community for a number of years has been reclaiming words. In a very healthy way we have taken the swords meant to hack us and turned them into shields of honor. “Faggot,” “queer,” “gay,” “homo,” “sissy,” “butch,” “dyke” and others are now internalized as points of pride instead of points of shame.
The lesbian biblical scholar Mona West states it succinctly: “Oppressed peoples over the years have understood the power and importance of choosing their own words to name themselves rather than allowing the dominant culture to assign negative meaning to certain words that are used to demonize a group of people. Words are powerful tools used to describe experience and shape reality” (from the article Queer Spirituality).