04/10/17

The Queerest Week –Palm Sunday 2017

 

By Rev. Dr. Robert E. Shore-Goss

I have written queer theology for the last 27 years, and I now write about a period of 8 days, the queerest days that I can imagine. I am speaking from the moment that Jesus arrives in Jerusalem on a donkey to God’s resurrection of Jesus from the death.

Now let me dispel a notion: I am not writing about LGBTQI concerns, they are included but not the focus this morning. Queer theory and queer stories focus usually on LGBTQI concerns and inclusion in history, but I am speaking about God’s dream for life and humanity, and that dream is very queer. It is God’s unconditional grace and love for creation and all life.

Let me define queer for a moment. To “queer” is to interfere or disrupt. It is to transgress exclusive categories, notions, boundaries, and all boxes. I queer Christianity because it has remained exclusive, often violent and oppressive of someone or some life. Queering exclusiveness is to interfere and spoil exclusiveness and make it more inclusive.

My colleague and friend Rev. Dr. Patrick Cheng, understands queering as eliding dualism. Dualism is a destruction form of binary thinking used by dominant theologies, church leaders and politicians. It separates the world into male and female, culture and nature, the have and have-not, human and non-human, and so. For Patrick, God’s love is queer because it elides such thinking and behaviors. Dr. Justin Tanis comprehends queer as dawn or dusk, that liminal or ambiguous space between night and day. My deceased theologian and friend speaks of indecent and perverse. In Luke’s gospel, the Temple high priests bring a charge against Jesus before Pilate: “This man has perverted the nation.”

I have engaged with God’s Christ in Jesus of Nazareth. God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit have made me “queer” and more so over time. I describe myself as “a queer seeker of God and disciple of an even queerer God.” Jesus laid the foundations of ministry and message of the companionship of empowerment or kindom of God as a “topsy-turvy and upside-down kindom. He opens God’s table to everyone and upsets nearly every religious Jew of his time. Just listen to the parables of Jesus—the Good Samaritan, the prodigal son, the mustard seed, the baker woman who sneaks leaven into 50 pounds of flour, and so on. They provoke and disrupt religious exclusivism that reserves God’s grace and favor for the chosen “holy.”

My often quoted author, Diarmuid O’Murchu, calls the parables as “enlightened confusion.”

The story Jesus told them turned their world upside-down,
Bombarding every certainty they knew.
The boundaries were disrupted,
Their sacred creeds corrupted,
Every hope they had constructed,
Was questioned to the core!
By the story ended,
Stretching meaning so distended,
What they had known for long before.

O’Murchu speaks about Jesus’ parables. But what if we understand the gospel stories of Jesus as a parable about God? God is queering in the story of Jesus on a massive and unprecedented scale, not since the big bang. God has incarnated in a human being—such a queer and scandalous notion. God is queering and communicating a thoroughly queer and radically inclusive love. All are beloved—all humanity, all life, and all creation. No on is left behind or out.

Let me point out the queer highlights of this week:

For Jesus, God was a king unlike all kings and rulers. God’s rule was “queer,” meaning “not fitting in, strange, at odds with, out of place, disruptive, blasphemous, revolutionary, dangerous, outside the box, or my word “mischievous.” It is a topsy-turvy non-ruling but luring us through unconditional gift and love. God’s strategy is never coercive but always luring us through unconditional grace and love.

The Temple high priest and his colleagues brought Jesus before Pilate with the charges: “He perverted the nation.” Here “perverted” means inverting religious values, hierarchies, breaking all sorts of purity codes and religious laws for the sake of compassion. Jesus was always out of place; a peasant was meant to be quiet and subservient to the rulers of the Temple. Jesus spoke out compassion and was not afraid to break religious rules to extend God’s compassion.
Let’s examine today’s gospel a little more carefully. Unfortunately, the distribution of palms on Palm Sunday has become a spiritual blessing for us today. Many Christians tie up their palms into a bow and hang the palm crosses in their homes. And I am not opposed to anyone doing so if you determine to ask God to make you a bit queerer. But Palm Sunday has a deeper meaning than just the palms. Jesus rides on donkey into Jerusalem accompanied by a ragtag group of male and female disciples.

Jesus enters Jerusalem or to use biblical scholar Warren Carter’s phrase “making an Ass of Rome:” The conflict between Jesus and Pilate begins the day that Jesus enters in Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and praised as the “Son of David.”

Roman entrances into city were always triumphant. No red carpets, but soldiers trumpeting, followed by cadence war drums sounding the entrance of the conquering hero. In this case, it was Pilate who represented the triumphant Roman Empire and Emperor Tiberius. Days before Pilate rode on a war horse from the sea resort of Caesarea followed by marching his Roman legionnaires with standards, Pilate entered Jerusalem as conqueror and made it clear to the populace that the Rome was in charge of their city and their lives. They paraded and displayed extravagantly the power of Tiberius Caesar and Rome. It communicates Roman greatness and military power, reminding the crowds that they were conquered by the powerful Roman legions—the greatest power in the world blessed by the Gods. Augustine was the true Son of god Apollo, and the savior of the world.

But Jesus intends to literally make an ass of Pilate and Rome. He choreographs his own dramatic and symbolic entrance into Jerusalem. He queers some of the Roman ritual entry or rather mischievously reframes them as symbolic challenges. His entrance into Jerusalem reminds the Jews of their religious history in which God enters the holy city to serve, not dominate. He chooses an ass, not a war horse in which Pilate rode into the city. Matthew remembers the line from the prophet Zechariah: “Tell the daughter of Zion, your king is coming on an ass”(9:9). The rest of the verse states that your king comes triumphant and victorious, and humble riding an ass.

Jesus is recognized not as a king but more likely anti-king. He teaches humility, non-violence, compassion and love, forgiveness, and peace-making, empowerment through mutuality and service, not conquest and domination. God’s community is constituted by a new a kinship as children of God—not be wealth, prestige, gender, or ethnicity. It is constituted by God as Abba, our parent in love with all and equally. And God lives within us and in our midst.
Another example of this last week of Jesus’ life that reveals God’s queer activity among people as empowering mutual companionship is the Last Supper. Companionship is created when we share food together, and we eat with God in our midst. Companionship was based on exclusion but gathering together to eat with God and one another.

I want you to remember the video from Centering Prayer this morning, Eating Twinkies with God. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9N8OXkN0Rk It expresses the incarnational vision of the Last Supper and Jesus’ ministry of eating together with God and finding God present.

There is no question that for Jesus the Last Supper had to be open and inclusive. I cannot accept the readings of the Last Supper as an exclusive meal. It goes against the very queer nature of who Jesus was and who God is. People from the highways and byways were to be invited into the meals. It was populated with diversity: outcasts, prostitutes, abominable people, tax collectors, those folks that terrify Pharisees and Christians alike. He did not moralize, berate them how to change their lives, or threaten them that could not share the table if they did not change their ways.

In Christianity’s Dangerous Memory, Diarmuid O’Murchu describes Jesus’ parables, healings, and ministry. The description is equally applicable to his meals and his to Last Supper:

They defy the criteria of normalcy and stretch creative imagination toward subversive, revolutionary engagement. They threaten major disruption for a familiar manageable world, and lure the hearer (participant) into a risky enterprise, but one that has promise and hope inscribed in every fiber of the dangerous endeavor.

There were no hierarchies at table, no one in charge and in power. There were only those who voluntarily served others, gladly washed the feet of their companions, who assisted folks at table to heal from the years of religious abuse and oppression. And God was mischievously present through each other. Jesus encouraged them to dream a future with hope, with God with shared resources and the abundance of food created by the companions of the bread and the cup.
Jesus’ Last Supper, like all his meals, undid social ordinary patterns and hierarchical behaviors, introducing people into a new egalitarianism, an equality before one another and God. No Roman official like Pilate would ever serve food to another person, especially with a male lesser of status or serve even his wife. No religious Jew would invite men and women together at table, suspected impurity and sinfulness.

And then there is the radical service of Jesus at table that evening– washing the feet of his male and female disciples. This was the service of only household slaves or women. No free male would do such a washing service because it demeaned his masculinity and patriarchal authority. Jesus turns the social hierarchies inside out, breaking down the gender boundaries and social hierarchies. There is only table fellowship of mutual service and equals, revering those who were the socially least, and inviting the disciples to imitate Jesus in his act of foot-washing.

Finally, Jesus dies a cruel death inflicted by the powers of imperial domination and religious exclusivism, always an unholy marriage of violence. It is an ultimate queering of human expectation, God’s vulnerability and suffering on the cross. God understood vulnerability in the incarnated Christ on the cross, and God identified with the suffering Christ and the least and vulnerable humanity and life in history. We have no comprehension of the depths of God’s suffering for all suffering life, but we do have a window into the depth of God when Jesus told his disciples: “Be compassionate as Abba God is compassionate.” Abba God suffered and died with Christ out of compassion, for God has suffered with all suffering life and human life. God the Creator becomes vulnerable and experience suffering the incarnated Christ on the cross and the Holy Spirit that groans and suffers with all created life. This is the queerest notion of God in history—God who becomes vulnerable and experiencing suffering. God is with us in so many unimaginable ways.

But the queer God surprised all of us. God said “no” to such violence and cruelty, God proclaimed a “yes to unconditional love” on Easter Sunday. Next Sunday I will speak how the queer God queers death for resurrected life!

04/7/17

If God doesn’t make mistakes why are you transgender?

By Shannon T.L. Kearns

Every time I tell my story in front of a religious group the question comes up. I know it’s coming. I dread its coming. Because I still haven’t come up with a good answer.

What is the question?

“If God doesn’t make mistakes, then why are you transgender?”

Ooooof, right? I mean, where do you even start?

On the one hand, I kind of want to say, “Don’t know. Don’t care.” Mostly because the question never quite feels genuine. Or it feels like it’s a way to say that I am not really who I say I am. And listen, whatever your feelings about transgender people, we do actually exist. I am one of them.

So I tend to hem and haw a bit, trying to come up with something that will make sense and actually do what I believe justice.

Here’s the answer that I think doesn’t work (though I might have been guilty of giving it early in my transition): There are lots of things in the world that are bad: cancer, death, terminal illness, violence, war. The fact that those things exist isn’t a result of God making mistakes, it’s a result of the world being not as it should be.

Here’s why that answer no longer works for me: Cancer, death, violence, all of those things are unequivocally bad. There is no question that they are evil and terrible. So to equate being transgender with those evil things? It just turns my stomach. It makes being transgender a pathology. A liability. It makes it something to be eradicated. And there are enough people who are trying to eradicate transgender identity. We don’t need to throw fuel on that fire.

Another answer that seems slightly better but still leaves me unsettled is this: Well, there are a lot of things in the world that aren’t the ideal; they aren’t “God’s best” (to use an evangelical term). The reason it’s slightly better is that it acknowledges that being transgender is hard for a lot of people. It’s something we had to work hard to come to grips with. It adds stress and trauma into our lives. For some of us we do wish we weren’t trans (but that usually means we wish we were born with everyone knowing our actual gender). Again, though, this pathologizes being trans. It makes us seem like people to be pitied. It steals our agency. 

And it also erases this simple truth for me: I am a better person because I am transgender. I am a better man because I am transgender.
Had I been born a cisgender man I would have had a very different life. See, I was born into a fundamentalist evangelical household and church. I was born with a calling to ministry and an ability to lead. Had I been born a cisgender man those abilities would have been nurtured. I would have been given everything that I ever wanted probably without having to work very hard. I wouldn’t have had to question my faith or my place in the church. It would have been all laid out for me. It would have been easy.

But it’s been the hard that has taught me the most. It’s been the hard that has made me concerned with the outcast and the marginalized and brought me closer to the heart of Jesus and the Gospel. I have questioned my faith which means that it is mine. It’s not what was handed down to me, no it has been tried and tested. It has been strengthened. It has been made beautiful in the struggle.

My gender journey has taught me empathy and compassion. It’s opened my eyes to oppression and systemic injustice. Might I have learned all of that as a cisgender man? Maybe. But it’s unlikely.

So do I wish I had been born a cisgender man? Yes. And no. And yes. And no. 

Bottom line: This is who I am. And my faith is strong.

Does God make mistakes? Maybe God wanted me to be born a transgender man because God wanted me to learn all of the lessons I’ve learned and be exactly who I am. 

That is an answer I can live with.

Complete Article HERE!

10/6/16

‘Coming Out Day’ Still Celebrated at Catholic Colleges

By

men-kissing-in-church

A number of Catholic colleges and universities across the country are sponsoring or are allowing events on campus in the next week to mark “National Coming Out Day,” a day to celebrate “coming out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer (LGBTQ) or as an ally.” According to the LGBT activist group Human Rights Campaign, which actively works against the Catholic Church on issues of human sexuality, October 11 marks the 28th anniversary of the celebration.

“Coming out” refers to the phrase “coming out of the closet,” used to express when one publicly declares their attraction outober-events-georgetownto members of the same sex. These sexual attractions are referred to in our current culture in terms of “identities” that define an individual. “Coming Out Day” celebrations serve to lead persons to embrace and be proud of those “identities,” which are rooted in sexual attractions and lifestyles considered either disordered or immoral by the Church.

Same-sex attraction is not a sin, but is referred to as “disordered” and a “trial” for those experiencing those attractions in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Church does teach that same-sex sexual activity is a mortal sin, as is all sexual activity outside the confines of marriage, as understood by the Church.

Despite the mandate of Catholic institutions of higher education to teach and lead students to the truth in Christ, many Catholic colleges continue to support “Coming Out Day” celebrations while completely avoiding events to help students understand Church teaching on sexuality, chastity and gender.

“Events like ‘Coming Out Day’ run the risk of equating a person’s identity with his or her sexual attractions, which, although they form a significant part of a person’s experience, are only one factor in the whole complex reality of what it means to be a human being,” said Father Philip Bochanski, newly appointed executive director of Courage International, in an interview with The Cardinal Newman Society last year. “Promoting events that reduce a person’s identity to his or her sexual attractions betrays our Catholic faith in the dignity of the human person, and does a disservice to those it claims to defend.”

‘Coming Out’ at Georgetown

Georgetown University, America’s oldest Catholic college, is sponsoring a “Coming Out Day” celebration along with events during the entire month of October leading students to celebrate and embrace LGBTQ “identities.” Last year the Newman Society reported on the expansion of the university’s “OUTober” events to focus more on “transgender” students who wish to be recognized as a gender that differs from their biological sex. This year the focus is on “honoring our histories” according to the university’s LGBTQ Resource Center website.

“Coming Out Day” in Red Square, Georgetown’s “free speech” zone, kicks off the OUTober events on October 7. “Come join us on our annual Coming Out Day, featuring a door through which students ‘come out’ as proud LGBTQ Hoyas and Allies,” the event description reads. “Be sure to pick up and wear your ‘I AM’ t-shirt throughout the day to promote visibility and awareness.”

 

Georgetown’s “I AM” campaign encourages students and faculty to tell their personal stories of embracing their same-sex attraction and gender identity confusion. Georgetown’s LGBTQ Resource Center produced a series of videos with students, faculty and staff giving their testimonies.

The listed partners for the OUTober events include Georgetown’s Campus Ministry and Department of Theology. None of the event descriptions include mention of Catholic teaching on human sexuality and chastity.

In their 2006 guidelines on ministering to those with same-sex attraction, the U.S. bishops stated: “Love and truth go together. … The Church cannot support organizations or individuals whose work contradicts, is ambiguous about, or neglects her teaching on sexuality.” The document reaffirmed a 1986 letter to bishops issued by the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that stated: “[W]e wish to make it clear that departure from the Church’s teaching, or silence about it, in an effort to provide pastoral care is neither caring nor pastoral.”

Coming Out’ at Other Catholic Colleges

The student group PRIDE at the University of San Diego (USD) is scheduled to hold a “National Coming Out Day” celebration which aims to “encourage the USD community to ‘come out’ as LGBTQ and Ally and embrace our many identities.” Peter Marlow, associate vice president of university communications at USD, told the Newman Society that the event is not sponsored by the university and the university is committed to embodying the Church’s teachings on marriage and human sexuality. But the event is being promoted using university resources on the USD website.

Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., is celebrating “Coming Out Day” on October 11. The university’s LGBTQ+ Resource Center and the Center for Gender and Sexualities Studies developed a series of events to promote October as “LGBTQ+ History Month.”

The College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass., is holding a “Coming Out Coffee House” on October 20, described as “An open mic space for LGBTQIA individuals to tell their coming out stories.”

Sponsored by the Gender and Sexuality Center, “National Coming Out Day” will be celebrated at the University of San Francisco with “a quick interactive game” and an “interactive collaborative art piece.” “There are so many words to describe the different identities around gender and sexuality within ourselves, but are they enough? Do we even know all what all these words mean?” the event description reads.

The student club PRIDE at Fordham University’s Rose Hill campus is commemorating “LGBT History Month” with a “Coming Out Week.” A representative of the university’s Office of Multicultural Affairs told the Newman Society that events during the week will include an opportunity to speak at a coffee shop, a door through which people can “come out” as LGBT or as allies, and a trivia night.

Saint Mary’s College in Moraga, Calif., which embraces the label of “one of the most LGBT friendly Catholic campuses in the country,” held a “Coming Out Week LGBTQIA Bingo” on October 3.

Fr. Bochanski told the Newman Society last year that silence from Catholic colleges on the issues of chastity and sexual morality not only confuses students “but makes it more difficult for them to hear and live by the truth of the Gospel, which is that chastity sets a person free to love authentically.”

“Catholic institutions should defend the rights and dignity of those who experience same-sex attractions by promoting the whole teaching of the Church: that these brothers and sisters of ours ought to be welcomed with respect and compassion, and ought to receive every support we can give them to live virtuous, chaste lives,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

08/13/16

Is God Transgender?

By

whichever

In the 1970s a cousin of mine, Paula Grossman, became one of the first people in America to undergo sex-reassignment surgery. As Paul Monroe Grossman, Cousin Paula had been a beloved music teacher in New Jersey. She was fired after her surgery, and she subsequently lost her lawsuit for wrongful termination based on sex discrimination (though a court did rule that she could receive a disability pension). The story was all over the news back then; I’d like to think it would have ended differently today.

Forty years after the Supreme Court refused to hear Paula’s appeal in 1976, the transgender story is still unfolding. This month, a transgender high school student in Virginia lost the right to use the restroom of his choice when the Supreme Court temporarily blocked a lower court’s order. Still, for the first time it is possible to imagine a ruling from a fully seated Supreme Court to comprehensively outlaw discrimination against transgender people. There is real reason to be hopeful, even if social prejudices don’t disappear overnight.

I’m a rabbi, and so I’m particularly saddened whenever religious arguments are brought in to defend social prejudices — as they often are in the discussion about transgender rights. In fact, the Hebrew Bible, when read in its original language, offers a highly elastic view of gender. And I do mean highly elastic: In Genesis 3:12, Eve is referred to as “he.” In Genesis 9:21, after the flood, Noah repairs to “her” tent. Genesis 24:16 refers to Rebecca as a “young man.” And Genesis 1:27 refers to Adam as “them.”

Surprising, I know. And there are many other, even more vivid examples: In Esther 2:7, Mordecai is pictured as nursing his niece Esther. In a similar way, in Isaiah 49:23, the future kings of Israel are prophesied to be “nursing kings.”

Why would the Bible do this? These aren’t typos. In the ancient world, well-expressed gender fluidity was the mark of a civilized person. Such a person was considered more “godlike.” In Ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the gods were thought of as gender-fluid, and human beings were considered reflections of the gods. The Israelite ideal of the “nursing king” seems to have been based on a real person: a woman by the name of Hatshepsut who, after the death of her husband, Thutmose II, donned a false beard and ascended the throne to become one of Egypt’s greatest pharaohs.

The Israelites took the transgender trope from their surrounding cultures and wove it into their own sacred scripture. The four-Hebrew-letter name of God, which scholars refer to as the Tetragrammaton, YHWH, was probably not pronounced “Jehovah” or “Yahweh,” as some have guessed. The Israelite priests would have read the letters in reverse as Hu/Hi — in other words, the hidden name of God was Hebrew for “He/She.” Counter to everything we grew up believing, the God of Israel — the God of the three monotheistic, Abrahamic religions to which fully half the people on the planet today belong — was understood by its earliest worshipers to be a dual-gendered deity.

Scientists now tell us that gender identity, like sexual orientation, exists on a spectrum. Some of us are in greater or lesser alignment with the gender assigned to us at birth. Some of us are in alignment with both, or with neither. For others of us, alignment requires more of a process.

It may come as a surprise that scientists view gender as anything other than a simple binary. But thousands of years ago, as a review of ancient literature makes clear, that truth was known. In court challenges, administrative directives and popular culture, the issue is playing out in real time, before our eyes. But behind the unfolding legal drama lies the reality of human nature: the fact that gender is not, nor has it ever been, a matter of “either/or.”

Gender, as Cousin Paula might have put it, is more like music: Each of us has a key and a range with which we are most comfortable. Attuned to ourselves and to one another, we can find happiness and harmony.

Complete Article HERE!

08/3/16

Pope Francis says it’s ‘terrible‘ that children are taught they can choose their own gender

File under:  What We Have Here Is A Failure To Communicate

Pope Francis at the Vatican

By Julie Zauzmer

Speaking to a group of Polish bishops, Pope Francis delivered a harsh critique of teaching children they can choose their gender identity.

“Today, children are taught this at school: that everyone can choose their own sex,” Francis said last week, according to the Catholic Herald and other news organizations that read a Vatican transcript of the closed-door meeting. “God created man and woman; God created the world like this and we are doing the exact opposite.”

Teaching children that they can pick their gender, Francis said, is “terrible.”

DignityUSA, an organization for LGBT Catholics, issued a statement Wednesday saying that Francis’s words on gender identity “put lives at risk,” because they could encourage violence or bullying toward transgender youth in many countries.

“The pope is demonstrating a lamentable and dangerous ignorance of a subject that is literally a matter of life and death to some people,” the organization’s executive director, Marianne Duddy-Burke, said in the statement. “What many, including Pope Francis, do not yet understand is that people do not ‘choose’ their genders. A gender is assigned at birth, and some people discover that they were incorrectly classified. … It is interesting that until recently, the prevailing belief was that people chose their sexual orientation. Now, even the Catechism of the Catholic Church acknowledges that there are some people ‘who experience an exclusive or predominant sexual attraction toward persons of the same sex’ and that this is a ‘deep-seated’ reality. It seems that we will have to undergo the same kind of conversion in our thinking about gender.”

Early in his papacy, some in the LGBT community looked to Francis as a source of hope when he said about gay priests, “Who am I to judge?

Since then, however, many have seen their hopes dimmed for change in the Catholic Church’s policies on gender and sexuality. Some thought that Francis’s major paper on family issues, which was completed in April, would offer some movement on gay relationships; it did not.

“There are absolutely no grounds for considering homosexual unions to be in any way similar or even remotely analogous to God’s plan for marriage and family,” the document said instead.

 Complete Article HERE!