The Bible In Drag: Naming (John 20:15-16)

       He asked her, “Why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?”

(Mary of Magdala) supposed it was the gardner, so she said, “Please, if you’re the one who carried Jesus away, tell me where you’ve laid the body and I will take it away.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary!”

She turned to him and said, “Rabboni!”

(John 20:15-16)

The Bible In Drag - Queering Scripture

The Resurrection of Christ: Mary Magdalene Meets the Supreme Court Plaintiffs of DOMA and Proposition 8 by Mary Button

Her heart was already broken. Her life already disrupted. What little peace remained to her was in taking care of the dead body. Yet even that little comfort had been stolen. All that was left was turmoil, tears, and bitterness.

The dynamics surrounding Mary Magdalene richly mirror dynamics felt by so many in the queer community. The frustration, the disappointment, the turmoil, the tears all express the experience of queer folk in the face of patronizing heteronormative attitudes. We seek a little peace, but even in the early dawn we are hounded by the cries lifted up against us.

– continue reading at The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.October 30, 2013

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The Bible In Drag: “Meaning Making” (John 18:37-38a)

Pilate Said, “So you’re a King?

Jesus replied, “You say I’m a King. I was born and came into the world for one purpose – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who seeks the truth hears my voice.”

“Truth? What is truth?” asked Pilate.

John 18:37-38a

debate-peter-heydeck

This is an interesting exchange between Jesus and the Roman Procurator of Palestine during the trial which will send Jesus to the cross. The Gospel of John gathers up several of it’s threads here. Jesus is from outside this world and has come into it. Jesus bears witness to God (referred to in this passage as “the truth”), and every who responds to Jesus is in fact responding to God.

But when I read this interchange as a queer person, other themes seem to rush forward, especially Pilate’s question, “What is truth?” No longer do we perceive truth to be eternal as the writer of John did. Now days truth is much more contextualized as an understanding which arises within a particular social location and is open up to critique by the experience of those who live in other settings. I wrestle with this more fully in my exploration of the “truth” of Jesus as Christ in the post entitled A Queer-Centric Christology.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.October 16, 2013

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The Bible In Drag: “Continuing to Overcome” (John18: 8,10)

“I told you that I am he,” Jesus said.”And since I am the one you want, let these others go.” … Then Simon Peter drew a sword and slashed off the right ear of Malchus, the high priest’s slave. But Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup of suffering the Father has given me?”

John 18:8,10

The Bible In Drag - Queering Scripture

Gay Jesus kiss: “Corpus Christi” play behind the scenes

His breathing is rapid. His arms unsteady as the adrenaline ebbs from his muscles. Blood splattered the ground. By violence he intended to stop the inevitable course of events. Yet instead of being a hero, he became the object of a teachable moment.

As a person of the christian faith, this scene of the arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane resonates deeply within, as events portrayed here bring us ever closer to the passion of Jesus. As a gay person I also see other dynamics at play as Peter wields his sword as a crazed and fearful individual. His back is up against the proverbial wall. The betrayer and the soldiers have arrived to drag Jesus off. Peter’s life, his world view, his understanding of how reality is structured is threatened to be extinguished. So he acts. He acts out of love, or fear, or desperation, or a combination. He acts by lashing out. This arrest cannot go forward. This cohort of sinister intentions must be stopped. But they cannot be stopped and Peter must humble himself in the face of history’s movement.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture. October 4, 2013

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The Bible In Drag: “Taboo Crossing” (John 13:2-5)

The Devil had already convinced Judas Iscariot, begot of Simon, to betray Jesus. So during supper, Jesus – knowing that God had put all things into his own hands, and that he had come from God and was returning to God – rose from the table, took off his clothes and wrapped a towel around his waist. He then poured water into a basin to wash the disciples’ feet, and dry them with a towel that was around his waist.

John 13:2-5

 

“Jesus Washing the Feet of His Disciples” by Michal Splho

Clothes are removed. Water is poured. A solitary figure, dressed only in a towel kneels before a basin, inviting feet to be cleansed.

Charles Fillmore has a wonderful quote about feet: “The feet are the most willing and patient servants of the body. They go all the day at the bidding of the mind…” The feet are a rather busy pair, they have to be-in-step, and sometimes we even have to step-it-up. We might be accused of dragging-our-feet, or even of dancing-with-two-left-feet. But if we work hard we might get our foot-in-the door and even go toe-to-toe. For sure we don’t want to be under-foot, or worse, shoot-ourselves-in-the-foot. Certainly our feet have carried us in marches, parades, and other places of public and private displays of queer love.

With so much riding on our feet, it’s a wonder we don’t honor them more.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture.September 26, 2013

The Bible In Drag “Unbinding” (John 11:43-44)

Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

And Lazarus came out of the tomb, still bound hand and foot with linen strips, his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus told the crowd, “untie him and let him go free”

John 11:43-44

The Bible In Drag - Queering Scripture

Lazarus Come Out, by Larry Farris

Like Mary and Martha – Lazarus’ sisters – the queer community knows death. Sisters and brothers beaten, jailed, killed because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. It’s enough to handle these external threats to life, but we also have to handle the internal threats. Self-loathing, born of internalized heteronormative attitudes, erupts within many souls of our community as suicide. The statistics speak for themselves. Within the general US population the suicide attempt rate is 1.6%. Heterosexual teen suicide attempt rate is 4%. LGB teen suicide attempt rate is 20%. Transsexual suicide attempt rate is 41% (source CDC). Then there is, of course, disease, with the great plague of our times – AIDS – having swept away many friends and loved ones. Yes the queer community is accustomed to death.

To add to our sorrow are the metaphorical deaths we receive in our psyche. The rejection which comes from public detractors, the fear shown by some of our own families, the “friends” who keep reminding us that we are in the “wrong.” We react in a variety of ways. Unfortunately among them are self-hatred, alcohol and substance abuse, and other self-negating behavior that stops short of suicide yet, is just as life denying.

Like Martha and Mary we shed our tears for the great loss of life and love from our community.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering ScriptureSeptember 19, 2013

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The Bible In Drag: “Fugue on Sexuality” (John 9:1-2)

As Jesus walked along, he saw someone who had been blind from birth. The disciples asked Jesus, “Rabbi, was it this individual’s sin that caused him the blindness or that of the parents?”

John 9:1-2

The Bible In Drag - Queering Scripture

http://www.jesusmafa.com

“Who sinned?” is the religious way of asking, “Who’s fault is this?” We like to know where blame lies. Once we figured out who to blame, then we know who to shame. Our passage asks who bears shame for this man’s blindness – him or his parents? Obviously, the disciples did not live in a world in which blindness “happens” as a contingency of simply being alive.

Similarly we find ourselves emerging from a worldview in which gender and sexual diversity have been considered a “fault” of some short. Who sinned that this girl is queer? What happened that this boy is transgender? Today we mask this question as scientific research. Did the individual have a childhood trauma? Did something happen in vitro? The continuing search for an “answer” to the queer “question” assumes a hetero-centric predisposition that gender and sexual diversity is not a given in life, but something abnormal to it, and therefore “caused.”

Let me note here that some in the queer community have suffered trauma. I am not looking to belittle or pass off these experiences. I just wish to point out that the search for a “cause” for homosexuality unmasks the heteronormative bias against sexual diverstity.When was the last time you heard about a search for the cause of heterosexuality? We inhabit a world in which heterosexuality simply is. It is hard to locate scientific papers, religious treaties, psychological case studies into the rise of heterosexuality. Most such works exist to underscore heterosexuality’s distinctiveness in the face of all things queer.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering ScriptureSeptember 12, 2013

The Bible In Drag: “Stoning Ourselves” (John 7:6a-8)

Jesus simply bent down and started tracing on the ground with his finger. When they persisted in their questioning, Jesus straightened up and said to them, “Let the person among you who is without sin throw the first stone at her.” Then he bent down again and wrote on the ground.

John 7: 6a-8

The Bible In Drag - Queering Scripture

Christ Writes in the Dust by Clive Hicks-Jenkins

The couple was caught in the act of adultery. This must be understood, or what follows will not be wonderful. The couple was caught in mid act. He was humping. She was grunting. He was disappointing a wife and children. She was flaunting her sexuality.

The crowd catches the unfortunately indiscreet couple. The man, it seems, stepped out of the picture rather quickly. The sexualized woman caught in the midst of an erotic moan, is brought before Jesus for condemnation.

-continue reading at The Bible In Drag – Queering ScriptureSeptember 5, 2013

The Bible In Drag: “Self-Narratives” (John 5:5-6)

One person there had been sick for thirty-eight years. Jesus, who knew this person had been sick for a long time said, “Do you want to be healed?”

John 5:5-6

The Bible In Drag - Queering Scripture

Self Portrait – Vexed by Liz Canning

As the lame man lay beside the pool of healing – yet helpless to get into the pool – so am I caged by my own self-narrative. I cannot go anywhere my narrative does not allow. This is not necessarily a lament, after all, I have a life’s investment in my self-narrative. I want people to know it. I want to be known by it.

via The Bible In Drag – Queering ScriptureAugust 29, 2013

The Bible In Drag – Queering Scripture

Jesus gave Nicodemus this answer: “The truth of the matter is, unless one is born from above (or ‘anew,’ or ‘again’), one cannot see the kingdom of God.”

John 3:3

Untitled photo by Zanele Muholi

In the church of my youth the encounter between Jesus and this Pharisee and Sanhedrin member – Nicodemus – was given as proof that to be authentically spiritual you needed to be “born again.” Born-Again christianity is the prevailing expression of faith in Christ in the USA, giving “American christianity” an emphasis on conversion from sin and sinful behavior to salvation and its attending compliant behavior of church morality. It is the expectation of born-again christianity that in our experience of conversion, we queer people will choose to be straight, which fits church morality. Salvation for faggots and dykes is a reorientation to all attitudes heterosexual.

– continue reading at  The Bible In Drag – Queering ScriptureAugust 6, 2013

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Lazarus, The Man Jesus Loved.

This morning’s Gospel tells the story of Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead, a familiar tale – too familiar, perhaps, as it contains much that should inspire us as queer Christians, but which we can easily overlook in its over – familiarity.

The Household of Martha and Mary.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.  (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair). (John  11: 1- 2)
These verses remind us of the nature of the household of Martha, Mary and Lazarus – three unmarried people living together in one house. What we easily overlook in the twenty-first century, is how very odd, even transgressive, this would have been to the Jews of Jesus’ day. There was overwhelming pressure on all, women and men alike, to marry and produce children. For women, there was scarcely any choice in the matter: their lives were governed by their menfolk before marriage (either fathers or brothers), and their husbands after. It is true that after a man’s death, his brother was expected to take over the care and control of his widow(s), but this scarcely seems to fit what we know of this household. Lazarus is not married himself, and there is nothing anywhere in the text to suggest that he is in command of the household – quite the reverse. In this household, it is the women who run things.
Martha Mary and Lazarus
Although they are described as siblings, several scholars have noted that this could well have been a euphemism, hiding a lesbian relationship between the women, and masking the true status of the single man living with them. Whatever the precise details of the relationships, this is undoubtedly a queer (i.e. unconventional) household, which we should bear in mind as we consider the particular relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, the focus of the story.

“The Man Jesus Loves”

So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick. (John  11: 3).

The story is located in John’s Gospel, which is notable for its several references to the “beloved disciple”. Robert Goss notes that there is disagreement among scholars as to the precise identity of this person:

Scholars have long disputed whether the Beloved Disciple is John son of Zebedee, Thomas the Twin, Mary Magdalene, Lazarus, or a symbol of the community. For some queer writers, the evidence points to Lazarus (Williams, Wilson, Goss). Jennings does not rule out the possibility of Lazarus, but maintains that the evidence is inconclusive. Elizabeth Stuart understands that the Beloved Disciple to be representing perfect intimacy with Jesus.
Whoever the unspecified “beloved disciple ” is though, this verse is explicit that if it is not Lazarus, then he can also be so described. The next question of particular interest for gay Christians could be, “What is the nature of this love? Is it intimate, or simply platonic?”
I cannot think of the raising of Lazarus without recalling a remarkably similar story in the non-canonical fragment known as Mark II, said to have been quoted in an epistle of Clement of Alexandria. This also tells of the raising of a young man (unidentified) from the dead. If this young man is indeed Lazarus, and if there is any basis in fact for the story, then the relationship is anything but platonic. This description of what happened next is about as explicit as it gets, without becoming x-rated:
“And they come into Bethany. And a certain woman whose brother had died was there. And, coming, she prostrated herself before Jesus and says to him, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me.’ But the disciples rebuked her. And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightway a great cry was heard from the tomb. And going near, Jesus rolled away the stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand and raised him, seizing his hand. But the youth, looking upon him, loved him and began to beseech him that he might be with him. And going out of the tomb, they came into the house of the youth, for he was rich. And after six days Jesus told him what to do, and in the evening the youth comes to him, wearing a linen cloth over his naked body. And he remained with him that night, for Jesus taught him the mystery of the Kingdom of God. And thence, arising, he returned to the other side of the Jordan.” (emphasis added)
The Secret Gospel is non-canonical. We cannot evaluate its authenticity, but before dismissing it out of hand, we should also consider its similarity in referring to a naked young man wearing only a linen cloth, to the curious story in the canonical Gospel of Mark.
So, it is possible to read the passage as referring to an erotic relationship between Jesus and Lazarus, but even if we do not, there is an important message for us in the description of Lazarus as the one whom Jesus loved.  For if it refers only to a platonic intimacy, then that can be said to apply also to all of humanity. It is fundamental to the Christian faith that God loves all his creatures (including us queer creatures), and we known from the writers on spirituality, and also (if we are fortunate) from personal experience, that it is possible for us, 200 years later, also to develop through prayer a personal, deep relationship with him. We too, can experience what it is to be “the man Jesus loves”.

Defying the Persecutors

So when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days, and then he said to his disciples, “Let us go back to Judea.”
“But Rabbi,” they said, “a short while ago the Jews there tried to stone you, and yet you are going back?
It is easy to forget that in this passage, Jesus was not simply returning to the friends he had left behind.  This episode occurs just a short while before the Passion. As the disciples knew, in returning to Judea, he was returning to those who wanted him out of the way, placing himself (and his associates) at substantial risk.  As queer Christians, we are often persecuted by those in control of the churches, but this is not a reason for us to stay away.
It is not just we who have experienced death inside the church. By silencing or driving away some of its members, the Church itself has experienced a form of death. It is incumbent upon us too, to go where we are needed. This includes entering right into the belly of the beast, the institutional church, and restoring it to full, inclusive life.

The Resurrection and the Life

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. (v 25, 26)
Jesus’ promise of resurrection and life, so central to Christian faith, obviously refers to the resurrection after death – but also to more. It is also a promise of a fullness of life here on earth. Individually and collectively, gay men, lesbians and transmen and transwomen often feel that they have suffered a psychic death in the Church, ignored, silenced, and written out of the approved Church histories. However, by focussing our attention on Christ and the Gospels rather than on the man-made and disordered Vatican doctrines, we too can find a fullness of life that the Church attempts to deny us, a genuine human flourishing that is the real point of the concept of “natural law”.

“Come Out”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”
Many commentators have noted the resonance of these words for modern gay men and lesbians. The modern sense, of coming out publicly in open acknowledgement of our sexual orientation, is obviously not what Jesus’ words mean, in any literal sense. However, there is nevertheless a powerful image here that is indeed applicable. In coming out of the tomb, Lazarus is emerging from darkness and death to light and life – and as metaphor, this is precisely how so many of us experience coming out. (For those of us who have come out to friends and family, but not in Church, the process is incomplete. Coming out in Church can represent a further stage in this process of moving from death to life, from darkness to life).
Most interpretations of this as a message about coming out do so with a focus on Lazarus and its obvious connections to gay men. Robert Goss quotes Mona West, who offers an interpretation from a lesbian perspective, by focussing on Martha, and her coming out as a disciple of Jesus:
She (Martha) is invited to move beyond a mere confession of faith and to accept the radical fullness of Jesus’ grace. Her conversation with him thus not only forms the theological heart of the story; it is also at the theological heart of the coming out process for Christian lesbians and gay men.
Conclusion
I am left with three overriding commands that I take away from the story of Lazarus, and Jesus’ renowned raising of him from death. Recognizing that like Lazarus, we are all beloved disciples of Jesus, we must follow Martha in accepting and reciprocating that love and grace. Doing so will give us the strength and courage to come out publicly even in the Church, and to face down those who oppose us in the name of misguided religion. This will contribute to our own healing and resurrection in a fuller life – but will also contribute new life to the Church itself.



Books:

Guest, Deryn et al (eds): The Queer Bible Commentary
Jennings, Theodore: the man jesus loved

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