Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary

Historically, October 7th was the feast of Saints Sergius and Bacchus – and so of particular relevance to same – sex lovers, and to all gay or lesbian Christians. In the modern Catholic lectionary, however, it is celebrated as the “Memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary”.

rainbow rosary

The lectionary readings for today’s Mass (which do not refer directly to the rosary), have much fruitful material for queer reflection. Continue reading

Queering Genesis: "Male and Female (And Others) He Created Them"

The first, most obvious, feature of Genesis 1 & 2 has to be that it is a celebration of God’s creation – all of it. Before we get to the “male and female” bit, let’s consider the rest.
On the first day, “God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness night.”
Light and dark, separation
Does this imply that there is nothing in between? Of course not. There is twilight, there is gloaming. Night can be well lit by a full moon, day can be dull and cloudy. But still, there is night and day, darkness and light – which do not deny the existence of intermediate states. Continue reading

Coming Out as a Religious Obligation: Micah and Justice.

When I was reading some biographical notes recently about the Argentinian theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid, I was interested to note that she began her career working for the church among the poor of Buenos Aires, applying the techniques of liberation theology to the “option for the poor”. Later, she applied those same techniques in slum communities in Scotland, before starting to apply the same techniques to the situation of the equally marginalized communities within the church itself, its sexual minorities.

I have never been engaged full time in this work, not worked directly with the poor, but in South Africa I did get involved as a volunteer in some of the activities of the Catholic Church Justice & Peace Commission, and attended several meetings and training workshops on the subject. A standard Scripture verse to open those meetings was the well-known words of the prophet Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God

-Micah 6:8

I clearly remember one major workshop at which these words were elaborated as a paradigm for the very concept of justice, as as set of three related relationships: relationships with God, relationships with others, and relationship with oneself.

The Jewish lesbian Rebeccah Alpert expands on this idea in her contribution to  Robert Goss’s “Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible“, and emphasises an implication to this injunction that I believe is a key to resolving the difficult choices facing us as lesbian, gay or trans people of faith – the importance of coming out.

To make this point, Alpert begins with the last of Micah’s exhortations, and elaborates on their meaning in Hebrew tradition – a meaning that has relevance also for people of other faith traditions. This phrase, “walk modestly with God” (hatznea lechet im eloha) Alpert interprets as about the way a person sees her place in the world:

Walking with God is a metaphor for the way each person approaches her own life. It is a way to conceptualize one’s innermost feelings and thoughts. …. To see oneself walking with God requires a vision of God as the most important value in life, that which is with the individual always and everywhere. … We can only walk with God if we know and accept who we are. Walking with God begins with self-acceptance and requires that we tell ourselves the truth about ourselves. This stance describes coming out, declaring oneself as lesbian, as a necessary prerequisite to walking with God.

Walking with God requires self-acceptance, and this in turn requires coming out. Initially this is in private, to oneself, but this is not enough. Coming out privately, she says, should be followed by coming out to friends and family, and ultimately also to the wider world. This may bring personal hardship, she admits, but will also bring wider benefits to the LGBT faith community as a whole – it is politically important. But this not the only reason for doing so. Coming out i public, she argues, is implicit in the same part of Micah’s injunction.

“Hatznea lechet” also requires us to be honest people: honest with ourselves about our sexuality and honest with others in our lives. Coming out publicly keeps us from having to lie  – to doctors whom we sometimes do not visit because we do not wish to tak about our sex lives, to coworkers to whom we omit pronouns when referring to our partners, to acquaintances who want to introduce us to men. The lies we tell may be small ones, but they inhibit our ability to live openly and lead us into patterns of lying incompatible with walking with God. And they draw nonlesbians into our lie as well, requiring them often to deny what they see.

This obligation to being publicly honest about oneself is a personal obligation, which does not require the outing of others. However, it is important also to meet up with others in collectively out communities, such as the gay and lesbian Jewish Congregation Beth Simchat Torah (CBST), and its counterparts in other faiths. These congregations and their relationships with wider faith communities raise difficult questions, but they are important as public witnesses to a collective honesty.

Coming out then, privately, publicly and collectively, is a religious obligation implied by the requirement to “walk with God”. It is also a pre-condition for the fulfilment of the rest o Micah’s three-part injunction:

It is only those who come to self-acceptance, including a sense that they are loved by God and by the Jewish community, who can begin to work towards creating  a world of love and justice.

The second part of the injunction is to “love well” (ahavat hesed), or forming right relationships with friends, family and community. She observes that this is often difficult for Jewish lesbians, who are faced with strong expectations and pressures from family and community to make a conventional marriage and raise  a traditional family  – but sound relationships must be formed nevertheless, and can only be done in honesty. How else can one deal, for instance, with issues like invitations to weddings or other family celebrations?

None of us lives in isolation. We all need community, to share in our joys – and for support during our trials. This is especially important at times of bereavement, when our faith communities are particularly important. We cannot provide proper support to others in their time of need, nor receive it in ours, if we have not established these relationships in honesty.

…… ahavat hesed requires hard work. In order to love well, we must take our responsibilities to others seriously and give careful consideration to the contribution we want to make that will enable the Jewish and lesbian communities to thrive. And in order ultimately to love well within the Jewish community, we must receive ahavat hesed from the community in return.

And so, after discussing the commitments to walking humbly with God, and to loving well, Alpert turns to the first part of the verse from Micah, the commitment to justice, asot mishpat. These three though, while treated separately, are not independent of each other but interconnected.

We cannot make a choice between accepting ourselves, caring for our circle of loved one, and doing justice in the world. These efforts must be woven into our framework.

We cannot begin to envision such a world (i.e., a world of justice)unless we have created the possibilities within ourselves and our community to work towards this plan. We begin with the idea that to walk with with decency with God is measured by our self-acceptance and willingness to be visible. This is the beginning of justice. For only if we speak out about who we are, can we create the opportunity for justice for ourselves.

But this alone is insufficient: love is also a prerequisite to justice. In relation to justice ahavat hesed means respect not only for those that we love particularly but for all humanity.

The search for justice is double-edged: we must seek justice for ourselves – but must also work together with others, to seek justice for those suffering other kinds of oppression.

**********************************

Alpert’s reflection is quite explicitly from the perspective of a Jewish female, but I found no difficulty or sense of it being inappropriate in applying it equally to my situation as a gay man. I first began to prepare the above summary of it several weeks ago, and have been intermittently reflecting on it ever since, without quite getting to setting it out in full. I have been spurred into doing it now, because several other topics that I have been struggling with recently, including the question of a response to the problem of gaybullycides, and the question faced by gay Catholics in particular: to stay fully inside the Church, to form gay worshipping ghettos, to leave completely – or (as recommended by Dignity) to return and vigorously challenge the status quo, seem clearer to me when I think of Alpert’s reflection on coming out as an obligation imposed by Micah:

Do justice, love well, and walk modestly with God.

Related articles

The Gospels’ Queer Values.

Jesus & Family

The opponents of gay same-sex marriage and of the “gay lifestyle” (whatever that is), like to claim that their opposition is rooted in traditional family values, “as found in the Bible.”   This claim is so completely spurious, is is remarkable how seldom it is challenged.  Just a little thought and reflection shows not only how the Gospel values have little to d with modern Western conceptions of the “traditional” family, but they are so far removed from it, that the real values espoused can certainly be described as “queer”, if not quite as specifically gay.  In reaching this conclusion, I have been reading and reflecting on the social context of the ‘family’ as experienced in Jewish society and the broader social environment, at Jesus’ own ‘family’ in childhood and maturity,  at His actions, and at His words.

The Jewish Family.

It is important to recognise that traditional Jewish society did indeed place enormous importance on the idea of family, both in the narrow sense of the immediate biological family, and in the broader sense of the ethnic Jewish community.
This was so important that on the one hand, everyone was expected to marry and produce l, and on the other, that those outside the narrow ethnic group were regarded as inferior, even unclean.  The  detailed dietary and other regulations well -known from the Old Testament were part of an elaborate legal structure to maintain the ‘purity’ of the Jewish nation. The Jewish family, however, was very different from our modern conception, deeply patriarchal, and with uneven treatment of men and women. Women were were expected to show rigorous sexual fidelity totheir husbands, and thought of as the ‘property’ of their men.

In the broader social environment, the Jewish state in Jesus’ day was under Roman military occupation.  Like the Greek society of the time, the Romans too had a deeply patriarchal society, and one in which there was not the modern distinction between ‘homosexual’ and ‘heterosexual’ activities.  Distinctions were drawn rather, on the social class of one’s sexual partners, and male citizens would routinely have sex not only with their wives, but also with other lovers, prostitutes and slaves of either gender.

Jesus’ Families.

My reflections on this theme were initially prompted by a posting on “Nihil Obstat” for the feast of the Holy Family, in which she pointed out how very atypical for the time was the Lord’s own childhood family, so often quoted as a model for all Catholic families.

But our childhood families are not the only ones we live with.  More important as we grow older are those adult families we make for ourselves, usually by forming couples in marriage or out of it, and with or without children.  As LGBT people we are also very conscious of how often we may remain single, but still form looser groups of friendship, who may in a real sense become our ‘families’ of a different sort.

So what were the adult ‘families’ that Jesus made for himself?

First, and famously, He did not marry.  This alone is remarkable, given the expectation in Jewish society of marriage and procreation.  So, what were His other relationships – what informal ‘families’ did He form?  We get the answer to this easily enough by looking at the Last Supper.  The Jewish Sabbath meal, and most especially that of Passover, are the occasions above all when Jewish people get together as families.  It si significant then that the Lord spent his own Passover meal – which we know as the ‘Last Supper’, with the 12 apostles:  these were the people we must take to represent His closest family.  Who were these men?  If they ever had wives and families of their own, they had been set aside to spend the rest of their lives with Jesus.

Think about it:  on the most solemn holy day of the Jewish calendar, when it was customary for all Jewish people to share a ritual meal with their closest family, Jesus and the apostles spent the evening as a group of single men.  Does this not sound remarkably like a modern group of urban gay men spending our equivalent family festivals sharing meals together, away from biological families?

Single people know, of course, that the concept of “family” can be fluid. In addition to our closest, most intimate circle, there are often others who might be very close, almost family, but not quite in our innermost circle. Who represented this ‘almost family’ circle to Jesus Christ?  The most obvious candidates to me are the household of Mary, Martha and Lazarus, with whom He had an obviously close and special relationship.  What was the nature of this household?  Once again, very far from the expected “traditional” family.  The two women are described as ‘sisters’ and come across to me as the stronger, more vividly drawn characters:  Lazarus is famed more for his death and rescue from it, than for anything in his life.  Even at face value, this is an unusual household:  Jewish women would typically have been married off at an early age, not still living as adults with their brother.  Where such households did exist, it would normally be the brother, as the only male, who would be expected to dominate the household and be the focus of attention.  For a clearer understanding of the household, it is worth remembering that the word ‘sister’s may have been used euphemistically: it is at least possible that Mary and Martha were a lesbian couple, living with a gay friend as lodger.

So: in His families of choice, the Lord spent His time either with a band of single men, or with a household of two single women  (possibly a lesbian couple), and yet another unmarried man. Even in the broader social circle, I am not aware of any instance where He is reported as spending time with a a conventional married couple with children.  Thus far, in examining the Lord in His own family context, we have found not an endorsement, but a repudiation, of the traditional family.

I still need to show that this repudiation of the traditional family is continued in His words and actions.  That I will do later in a  follow-up post.

 

Was Jesus Gay? Mark, and the "Naked Young Man".

Discussion of the question “Was Jesus gay?” usually revolves around the references in the Gospel of John, to “The disciple Jesus loved.” These are well known, and have been widely discussed, here at QTC and elsewhere.  My reservations about these references are that they all come from the author of John’s Gospel, talking about himself as writer. I would be more easily convinced by the argument if there were corroborating evidence from the other Gospels:  if Matthew, or Luke, or Mark, also made the same references to one specific disciple who was “loved” in a way the others were not, andsimlarly noted how he rested his head on Jesus’ breast, or in his lap, and appeared to have inside information on Jesus thoughts and intentions – as John does.
Theodore Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved“, might just have some such corroborating evidence, from the Gospel of Mark, and from infuriatingly fragmentary evidence from what just might be a lost,  more extended version of that Gospel: something known as the “Secret Gospel” of Mark. In the first part of the book, Jennings offer an extensive examination of the evidence from John’s Gospel, and concludes that yes, the evidence is clear: there was indeed an unusually intimate relationship between Jesus and the author of that Gospel (whom he does not believe was in fact John). But then he continues, to look for further evidence from the other Gospels.
In Mark, he first draws our attention to a well-known passage which is seldom remarked on for homoerotic associations – the story of the “rich young man”, drawing attention to the words of the text,:
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said….
Alone, this these words are not particularly remarkable, except that elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is not said to “love” specific individuals outside of the “beloved disciple” of John’s Gospel. It becomes more interesting though, when read together with some other lines from Mark .  Jennings first discusses the curious matter of the “neaniskos“, or “naked young man”, in Jesus company in the Garden of Gethsemane:
And they all forsook him and fled.
And a youth (“neaniskos”) accompanied him, clothed in a linen cloth (“sindona”) over his nudity (“gumnos”).  And they seized him.  And he, leaving his linen cloth, fled nude (“gymnos”).
(Mark 14: 50 -52)
Who is this youth? What is he doing there? Why has he stayed behind, “accompanying” Jesus, after all the others have fled (at least until he is seized, and then flees, naked). Why is he so lightly clothed, that his garment can fall away so easily (the “sindoma” was not properly an item of clothing at all, but just a loose linen sheet)? And why use a word, “gymnos”  for nudity, which is strongly  associated with the homoeroticism of the Greek gymnasium – where young men exercised naked, and older men came to admire them?
But the most intriguing passage of all is found not in the standard Gospel of Mark, but in the so-called “Secret Mark”, supposedly found by Morton Smith in an eighteenth century copy of a previously unknown letter of Clement of Alexandria, found in 1958.  The authenticity is disputed,  but some scholars accept that it authentic, and is taken from an earlier, longer version of Mark’s Gospel than the one we use today.  I’m not going to get into the details of the origin or significance of this fragment  – see Jennings for that – but here is the bit that intrigues:
And they came 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 upon me.”..But the disciples rebuked her.  And Jesus, being angered, went off with her into the garden where the tomb was, and straightaway a great cry was heard from the tomb.  And going near Jesus rolled away a stone from the door of the tomb. And straightaway, going in where the youth was, he stretched forth his hand nad 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, and he was rich.  And and after six days Jesus told him what he wast 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 then, arising, he returned to the other side of Jordan.
This passage has two literary connection to the two earlier passages from canonical Mark: the verb used here for he youth “looking at “Jesus is the same (“emblepein“) as that  that used to describe Jesus when he “looked at” (and “loved”) the rich young man;  and here again, he is described as wearing just a linen cloth over his naked body.  (This is not on being raised from the dead, when such a cloth would have been expected, abut when he came to Jesus six days later.

Now, be honest:  if a young man came to you, “in the evening”, wearing “nothing but a linen cloth over his naked body”, what do you suppose he was after?  And if he came not to you, but to another man, and then stayed the night, what do you suppose your conclusion would be in the morning?
The fragment known as Secret Mark may not be authentic – but then, it may.  If so, the implications and connections to the other two passages, and to John are at least intriguing.  Is this the same rich young man who turned down the invitation to sell all and follow the Lord?  is he the same young man in a linen cloth who stayed with him after all others had fled? Is he, indeed, the “beloved disciple?”