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

The Bible In Drag: “Do We Need an Alpha Male God?” (John 4:48)

Jesus replied, “unless you people see signs and wonders, you won’t believe.”

John 4:48

The Bible In Drag - Queering Scripture

Hunky Brokeback Mountain Jesus

(for a great article on “Hunky Jesus” please see Kittredge Cherry)

What miracle do I need to experience before I believe? What will convince me that God exists? What tangible manifestation can give expression of intangible reality? On the reverse, why does God seem to be more hidden than revealed? Is faith always a struggle for clarity?

-continue reading at  The Bible In Drag – Queering ScriptureAugust 22, 2013

The Bible In Drag: “Water Sports” (John 4:9-10)

The Samaritan woman replied, “You’re a Jew. How can you ask me, a Samaritan, for a drink?” – since Jews had nothing to do with Samaritans.  Jesus answered, “If only you recognized God’s gift, and who it is that is asking you for a drink, you would have asked him for a drink instead, and he would have given you living water.”

      John 4:9-10

The Bible In Drag - Queering Scripture

                                                                Bad Bad Boy by Tommi Toija

Samaritans/Jews, Romans/Barbarians, Europeans/Turks, Colonizers/Native Peoples – history is full of divisions. Of course we have our own experience of the Gay/Straight divide. I call this division the “big assumption.” We just assume that it is proper and is to be honored.

In the encounter of John 4 is a Samaritan female rebuffing the advances of a Jewish male; maintaining the divide over something as simple as a request for water. This divide is deep, for a long and tortuous history between the two ethnicities is at work here.

– continue reading at The Bible In Drag – Queering ScriptureAugust 14, 2013

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The Holy Spirit, “Leading Us To Recognize GLBT+ People” (Bishop Gene Robinson)

When Bishop Gene Robinson delivered the keynote address at More Light Presbyterians celebration dinner at 2012 General Assembly, he came under fierce attack in some quarters for some words about the value of MLP “sowing confusion” in the Presbyterian Church. This reaction was based on not only complete lack of understanding of what Robinson was getting at, but also and more seriously, a failure to see that the whole point of the Gospels is not as a defender of a traditional status quo, but as a transformative instrument, allowing the Holy Spirit to enter and transform our lives – and our societies.

In “Christ Transforming Culture” at More Light Presbyterians, there is an excerpt from Bishop Marc Handley Andrus explanation of why he and 28 other Episcopal bishops had submitted a friend of the court brief to the US Supreme Court in support of equal marriage – then continues with this extract from Bishop Robinson’s keynote address:

Jesus says this really astounding thing: “There is much that I would teach you. But you cannot bear it right now. So I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you into all truth” (John 16:12-13). Don’t for a minute think that God is done with you, and those who come after you. Does anyone doubt that we were led by the Holy Spirit to turn our backs on defending slavery using Scripture? Is it not the Holy Spirit that is leading us to a fuller understanding of the gifts, integrities and experiences of women? And I would say that the Holy Spirit is leading us to recognize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. We should see this as a sign of a living God. We don’t worship a God who stopped revealing God’s self at the end of the first century when the canon of scripture was closed.

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Reclaim the pulpit – with “living, laughing and loving beyond the norm”

A site I’ve been wanting to write about for weeks, and have sadly neglected, is “la lucha, ma pulpito“, run by delfin waldemar bautista. which I enjoy for its completely fresh, lively appearance and tone – and a delicious sense of humour.

delfin-bautista-sitting

 

 

There is solid learning and thought here – but also playful wit. For instance, take a look at the page for “Q-Sources”. Any scholarly treatment of scripture would use the phrase to refer to

a hypothetical collection of sayings of Jesus, assumed to be one of two written sources behind the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke. Q (short for the German Quelle, or “source”) is defined as the “common” material found in Matthew and Luke but not in their other written source, the Gospel of Mark. This ancient text was supposedly based on the Oral Tradition of the Early Church and contained logia or “sayings” of Jesus.

Wikipedoa

but here it refers to “Queer Resources for La Lucha” – and a healthy selection they are, including separate columns for each of  Gender Identity, Bisexuality, Queer and Trans Youth, Race and Ethnicity, Activism/Witness, Family and Faith/Liturgy. The listings do not yet have links to them, but that’s understandable for a relatively new site. Delfin writes that they will be added in time, “as the Spirit inspires”. Meanwhile, it should not be too difficult for anyone seriously interested, and equipped with moderate web search skills, to track down the links for themselves.

Individual bloggers do not feature on this Q – suorce page, which comprises only more formal websites groups and organizations.  Personal blogs appear elsewhere, on the front page, as a conventional blogroll – but again, with a different name. The word “la lucha” may be translated as “struggle”, 9r “fight”, and so individual  bloggers are described as “other luchadores in the faith“. I;m honoured to be included among those “luchadores” (fighters, combatants).

This sense of commitment to struggle, but also his scholarly credentials, are clear also from Bautista’s description of himself and his concerns:

a native of miami, and of cuban and salvadoran heritage. i am a social worker and queer theologian who is passionate about engaging the intersections of religion, sexuality, race/ethnicity, and justice—specifically around lgbtq issues. i have a master in divinity as well as a master of social work. as an activist scholar of faith, i am interested in creating spaces where individuals and communities are safe and challenged to explore identity, expression, gender, and orientation in their complexities.

But it’s by no means all serious. I’ve already described his whimsical use of the term “Q source”. This is also evident in the title (la lucha, ma pulpito) and strapline for the blog – which begin seriously, affirming his belief in the pulpit as a site of struggle – but balances it, by affirming also its commitment to play, in life, laughter and love.

a catholic lucha to redefine and reclaim the pulpit……… a queerly sacred space for living, laughing and loving beyond the norm

 For a taste of his actual writing in these two different veins, I offer the introduction to two of his recent posts. The first is a serious, thoughtful reflection (delivered as a sermon) on a familiar Bibilical verse, but with a thoughtfulness of interpretation that makes its relevance much richer than the familiar:

… many have argued that these words of Paul  reflect the makings of an emerging Christian tribe … who like us, were coming together in hopes of sorting out their identity as individuals and as a community in the midst of changes in government, religious and cultural persecution of their beliefs that differed from the norm, and infighting among their leaders over who could and couldn’t be a Christian.

However, rather than engaging this surface understanding, I want us to go deeper and query Paul’s idea and use of “or”, venturing that Paul was a theologian of la frontera. His message to the Galatians is that there is neither blank or blank, because they are a both/and people—a people who dwell in the borderland.  Like the Galatians, we too dwell in the borderland…we are individuals who embody both Greek and Jew, male and female, black and white … its a messy inner co-existance, but the early Christian communities were onto something profoundly radical…the refusal to limit people to one label and with that limitation impose a number of expectations that limit and stump.

In my journey of trying to make sense of GOD’s calling…I have often found inspiration in biblical figures who embodied intersecting identities…Individuals like Mary of Nazareth who was woman, prophet, disciple and mother…Paul, himself, who was Greek, Jew, Roman, soldier, follower of Christ, persecutor, persecuted…Like them, I too am a mosaic of identities…a person of the borderlands.  I am not one identity, though a label is often imposed on me by society, the church, and the media. I am limited to just being queer or a person of faith or Latino or a social worker, rather then having my whole self embraced, affirmed, and celebrated.

– continue reading at la frontiera – dwelling in the borderland

and in initially lighter vein, but (as always) leading to a serious point, we have this reflection, prompted by attending a Catholic infant baptism:

 I went to the baptism of a friend’s daughter today, part of me was happy to welcome this little girl into the holy dysfunction of the church–part of me wanted to get up and scream “run while you still can…or I guess in your case, crawl…I’ll join you.”   It is an ongoing love-hate relationship that some days is easier to embrace, some days you just want to give up–but you don’t because you know that Goddess is working Her magic (while hopefully laughing with you rather than at you).

– continue reading at finding umph in Catholic cicheness

“He Sent Me to Give the Good News to the Queers”

For today, the third Sunday of ordinary time, the Gospel reading is the story of the Jesus’ first time reading in the temple, in the passage from Isaiah, with the keynote words, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor”.

I have written before on this passage, and how I see this message, which effectively begins his public ministry, as central to my understanding of what Christianity is all about. By appallingly bad timing, today was also the day that the Catholic bishops of England and Wales chose to distribute postcards to all Massgoers, for them to complete and send to their Members of Parliament, expressing their opposition to the marriage equality proposals now before the British parliament. How this divisive postcard campaign, designed to continue and perpetuate discrimination and division under the law between same – sex and opposite – sex couples, is completely beyond me, can be squared with the plain message of today’s Gospel of liberation from all forms of oppression, or from the second reading from Corinthians on how we are all parts of one body, is completely beyond my comprehension.

These words, and those of the hymn “God’s Spirit is in my heart”, one of my favourites, had a particular resonance for me this morning, against the background of my recent personal decision to do precisely this: to spend a much greater portion of my time and energy in “proclaiming the good news” to the the oppressed – those in the LGBT community, so relentlessly (if unintentionally) oppressed by the institutional church, and some orthotoxic Catholics. In doing so, I am conscious of the enormous practical risks I will be taking, with minimal expectations of any form of reliable income to keep me alive, and unsure of precisely what or how I will do this. I was greatly strengthened by the words of the third and fourth verses that we sang as a recessional hymn:

Don’t carry a load in your pack, 
You don’t need two shirts on your back
A workman can earn his own keep, 
Can earn his own keep

Don’t worry what you have to say, 
Don’t worry because on that day 
God’s Spirit will speak in your heart, 
Will speak in your heart.

As luck would have it, it fell to me today to “proclaim the word” at my local Mass this morning, and to read the lessons and bidding prayers. I did so with conviction and passion – but reading into the words of the text what to me was a clear reading, probably NOT in concord with the bishops’ unfortunate and poorly timed message of division.

Here’s a post I published some time ago on the same text – but in a context outside of the Sunday Mass:

******

Last week, I joined the Soho Masses team of Eucharistic Ministers and Ministers of the Word for an afternoon of prayer and reflection on our roles. To help us through the process, we had the services of David, who is an experienced prayer guide, trained in the  methods of Ignatian spirituality. All those present agreed that the afternoon was profoundly helpful in bringing some perspective to their place in serving the Eucharist and the Word in Mass. For me, it also brought a new insight to my activities with the Queer Church, which I want to share with you today.

The text that we reflected on for the readers was the familiar scene in the Temple from Luke 4, in which Jesus reads from Isaiah.

torahreading

Continue reading

“Traditional Biblical Values” – Rev Susan Russell Sermon (Video)

In the Episcopal Church (and wider Anglican communion), the next to last Sunday of the year is known as “Bible Sunday”, with a collect that reads:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

At “An Inch at a time”, Rev Susan Russell has placed a video of the sermon she delivered on how to approach the bible sensibly – with respect, and also rationally, with a post titled “On taking the Bible too seriously to take it literally“. The her words are filled with abundant good sense. Watch, listen – and reflect.

And there’s a big problem, Stewart went on, with reducing “biblical values” to one or two social issues such as abortion and gay marriage, while ignoring issues such as poverty and immigration reform.

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The Gay Centurion

In Catholic tradition, Longinus is the name given to the Roman centurion at the crucifixion who pierced Christ’s side with his spear.  Some writers, like Paul Halsall of the LGBT Catholic Handbook, also identify him with the centurion who asked Jesus to heal his “beloved boy”, who was ill. It is this second person that I am interested in here.  In this persona, he is one of my personal favourites, as his story shows clearly how the Lord himself is completely not hostile to a clearly gay relationship, and also because we hear a clear reminder of this every time we attend Mass – if only we have ears to hear.

It may be that you do not recall any Gospel stories about a gay centurion and his male lover, but that is because cautious or prudish translators have softened the words of the text, and because the word “gay” is not really appropriate for the historical context. You are more likely to know as the story as the familiar one of the Roman centurion and his “servant” – But this is a poor translation. Matthew uses the word “doulos”, which means slave, not a mere servant.  Luke uses quite a different word, “pais”, which can mean servant boy – but more usually has the sense of a man’s younger male lover – or “boyfriend”.

Whichever of the two words or their senses was intended by the authors, the conclusions we should draw are the same. If “pais”  was intended here to indicate a lover, the conclusion is obvious.  If the intended meaning was either “slave ” or “servant” – the conclusion does not significantly change. To see this, let us consider the cultural context. For three centuries before Christ, the Jews had been under foreign military occupation, first by the Greeks (which is why demotic Greek had become lingua franca across the region, and was the language of the New Testament), then by Romans. These military overlords were about as well liked as any other military invaders anywhere – which is not at all.  The Jews hated them – but will have been quite familiar with Greek and Roman cultural (and sexual) practices.

First, consider the sense as “slave”. It is important to know that as a soldier on foreign service,, the centurion will not have been married: Roman soldiers on active service were not permitted to marry.  It is also important to know that for Romans, the crucial distinctions in sexuality were not about male or female, or about homosexuality or heterosexuality, but between higher or lower status.   Roman men would have expected to make sexual use of their slaves, especially if as here they were unmarried.  Far from home, this is likely to have been a sexual relationship, which could easily have developed also as an emotional one. And if the sense was not “slave”, but the softer “servant”, much the same conclusion follows. Roman citizens expected to take their sexual satisfaction from anyone of lower status  under their control – including the “freedmen”, or former slaves who had been released. In the words of the well known Roman aphorism:

“For a Roman citizen, to give sexual service is a disgrace; to a freedman, a duty; and to a slave, an obligation”.

So, if we are talking here about a male lover, a sexual relationship is obvious.  If it is a servant boy or a slave, it is entirely probable.  But even if this is purely an arrangement about domestic service,  the conclusion does not change:   All those present and hearing the Centurion’s request would have been familiar with Roman sexual practice. For the Jewish bystanders, as for Jesus himself, there will have been an assumption that a homoerotic sexual relationship was at least possible, even probable. But this did not in any way affect Jesus’s willingness to go tot he centurion’s house – even though this in itself would have horrified traditional Jews.

The lessons we draw from this story are two-fold:  one, that Christ was not one bit disturbed by this approach from a man for help in having his (probable) male lover healed, but instead was immediately ready to go to the couple’s home.  (This of course, is entirely consistent with the rest of the Gospels. It is totally characteristic of Christ that he should be happy to talk, eat or drink with anybody, including those that were shunned or resented by mainstream Jewish society.) All those who argue that we are not welcome in God’s house have completely misunderstood Scripture – as He would be completely comfortable in ours.

The second lesson is the standard one usually drawn from the story, of the importance of trust in God.   The Centurion after putting his request makes it clear that it is not necessary for Jesus to actually go to his home, for all he needs is God’s word, and his servant will be healed.  Faith in Jesus in God is enough to achieve healing. This is especially important to us as gay men, lesbians or other sexual minorities. Whatever the hostility we may experience at the hands of a hostile church, we know that God will not reject us.  Further, in turning to Him in our pain of rejection, we know we can find healing.

Where is the echo in the Mass?

Right at the key moment, immediately before the Communion

:”Lord, I am  not worthy to receive you.  Say but the word, and my soul shall be healed.”

This is an obvious echo of the words of the centurion, when Jesus was about to set off for his home:

“Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof.  just say the word, and my boy will be healed.”

Also see:

Jack Clark Robinson:  Jesus, the Centurion, and his Lover

Bible Abuse : The Centurion

Would Jesus Discriminate?:  Jesus Affirmed a Gay Couple

LGBT Catholic Handbook: Calendar of LGBT Sainsts

 

Related articles

 

 

 

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Faith vs Religion: Ecclesiolatry, Scribes and Pharisees.

There is an important distinction between “faith”, which refers to belief and a relationship with the divine, and “religion”, which refers primarily to the human structures which support it, with their rules, rituals, and clerical castes. They are obviously linked, interdependent, and ideally, support each other. There are grave dangers though, when we lose sight of the importance of balance, for example by exaggerating the importance of religious structures, over authentic faith itself.

In recent weeks, I have found two important passages on this theme, by two very different authors, that I have wanted to write about – but have struggled to make the time to add my own response. Instead, I simply share with you the passages, and leave you to ponder the import yourselves.

The first is by the Catholic theologian James Alison, taken from a recent post at his website “The Portal and the Half-Way House: Spacious imagination and aristocratic belonging “, in which he refers to the way in which some Catholics use “the Church” as a weapon with which to coerce others into their own way of thinking. In a striking turn of phrase, he describes this as “Ecclesiolatry” – a form of idolatry, with “the Church” used as an idol to replace God:

You will probably have heard many different ways of talking about what “the Church” is, many of them quite frightening (in just the same way that many ways of talking about the Bible are frightening). You get the impression that you are hearing a discourse about power, or a discourse emerging from ownership of “position”, or a justification and defense of traditional and historical prerogatives. It is not necessarily the clerical caste in the Church who talk in these ways, though we are particularly susceptible to it. Often enough lay people, politicians and others, will also wield “The Church” as a weapon in cultural wars in much the same way as others wield “The Bible”. Indeed typically, while the default Protestant error is “Bibliolatry” – making an idol of the Bible, – the default Catholic error is “Ecclesiolatry” – making an idol of the Church. The idol worship to which each of our groups is prone is slightly culturally different, even if the underlying pattern is the same.

When we worship an idol, our love, which is in principle a good thing, is trapped into grasping onto something made in our own image. This “something”, which we of course do not perceive as an idol, then becomes the repository for all the security and certainty which we idolaters need in order to survive in the world. We are unaware that the tighter we grasp it, the more insecure and uncertain we in fact become, and the more we empty the object which we idolize of any potential for truth and meaning. And of course because love is in principle a good thing, for us to get untangled from its distorted form is very painful. Nevertheless, against any tendency we might have to blame the idol for being an idol, it is really the pattern of desire in us, the grasping, that is the problem, not the object. For just as the Bible is not an act of communication that we can lay hold of, but the written monuments to an act of communication that takes hold of us, so the Church is not an object that we can grasp, but a sign of our being grasped and held; not something that any of us owns, but the first hints, difficult to perceive, of Another’s ownership of us.

-from  James Alison Website.

The second is by Toby Johnson, a writer and former Catholic seminarian, in his book “Gay Spirituality“, writing about  “Scribes and the Pharisees”. Note the impact of replacing the familiar, but antiquated words we commonly meet in bibles and Catholic lectionaries, with modern terms we can more easily understand:

The only people Jesus specifically condemned in any way were the “Scribes and the Pharisees.” And it is telling that Bible translations generally keep these words as antiquated terms instead of translating them into modern idiom. For “Scribes and Pharisees” translates directly to “Church officials and conservative religious leaders.”

As the word suggests, the Scribes were the temple bureaucrats and the lawyers who could read and write and who, therefore, kept the records and managed the business of the Temple. The Pharisees were members of a lay reform movement in Judaism that called for a return to the old ways–to the “fundamentals”–insisting on literal interpretation of the Torah. They believed in angels and supernatural interventions and were always preaching that the end of the world was imminent. 

All Jewish men dressed for prayer by strapping phylacteries (little wooden boxes containing the written text of the prayer Shema Israel) to their forehead and left arm in literal obedience to the text which said to keep these words as a sign for the hand and a pendant on the forehead, and by covering their heads with a prayer shawl with fringes, knotted to signify the 613 rules of the Mishnah (the oral tradition extrapolated out of the Ten Commandments).

The Pharisees were ostentatiously religious: they wore elaborate phylacteries with broad straps and oversized shawls with extra long fringe to demonstrate how obedient they were to the letter of the law. The Pharisees were clearly the predecessors of our modern day conservative evangelists and TV preachers who bemoan the present state of the world, predict that according to Bible prophecies the end of the world is nigh, and proclaim how saved they are. 

“Woe unto you,” Jesus said, “Church officials and conservative religious leaders, hypocrites. Because you close the gates of heaven to those who are going in, you won’t go in yourselves.”

(Matthew 23:13)

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“Wrestling with God”: the Challenge for Queer Christians.

“Wrestling with God”: the Challenge for Queer Christians. | Queering the Church: “Bart wrote:

For as far back as I can remember, a fair share of my thoughts revolved around either my relationship with God, or my sexuality. Needless to say, coming from a thoroughly Catholic background, and trying to make heads or tails of this “difference” that was to mark me as a gay man, the hard part was that of trying to reconcile the two sets of thoughts. Out of this struggle – and perhaps because I felt I was the outsider in every group or setting – I began to cultivate my relationship with God. More precisely, I started to seek to relate to God as a friend – friendship with Jesus. At times I even felt that beyond the elements of friendship it became more of a love-affair with Jesus. Whatever the case, like any other friendship, I noticed that essential elements such as love, respect, equality and sincerity are the building blocks of a personal relationship with this mysterious Other called God.”