Who Runs the World? – International Women’s Day

As a cis-gender, gay male who writes a bit about intersectional oppression, I tend to take something of a pragmatic approach to engaging the queer fluidity of gender within the reality of intersecting local and global social landscapes that have, throughout time, proven to devalue the personhood of those on the feminine end of the human spectrum.

That was a really long sentence to say, I feel committed to wrestling with how best to celebrate women today (or any day).

——-

Back in November I was flying from Seattle to Baltimore to attend the American Academy of Religion conference. On the plane, I was doing some long overdue personal life homework, reading bell hooks’ book feminism is for everyone.

I have to say, that while I live in Seattle, write this blog, and enjoy a certain amount of liberty to express my personal engagement of gender with ease, I am not without self-awareness on a day-to-day basis of how I come across as a gay man. I am aware that there are ways that I move, dress, inflect my voice, and present my body that transgress the expected norms of someone with my genitalia. In other words, I know how to work my male privilege and “butch it up” in order to be heard, safe, or granted access. And doing this comes at a cost to my humanity and the humanity of those whose bodies cannot access that male privilege.

So, when I boarded that plane in November–hell, when I packed my bags–I was making deliberate choices to embrace, as freely as I was able, the feminine parts of myself. Given the freedom of a week away from my workplace and normal routine, I felt less of a need to guard my behavior. All that is to say, I was looking pretty fabulous and allowing myself, in public, to move and act with the kind of freedom in my body that is often reserved for my time with close friends. This is something I’ve been actively working through and I had decided to use this time as practice for caring for myself through caring less how others perceive me (this also has a lot to do with my INFJ personality type which often leaves me more aware of external social dynamics than of my own inner world).

In the middle of all that, sitting on the plane, I took notice of the flight attendant noticing me. The attendant appeared to be about a decade older than me and, given their choice of uniform and engagement with social norms, I’m presuming they engage the world as a woman. As she pushed the drink cart down the aisle, she stopped it just behind me so that she was standing parallel to my right shoulder. I had pulled out the airline magazine to check the price of a whiskey, which I intended to mix with seltzer water and the peel of the organic blood orange I had in my bag (yup, I did that), which meant that the bell hooks book was lying on my seatback tray, the cover in clear view.

Glancing up, I saw the attendant look from the book to me and then, quite literally, bend halfway over and turn her head sideways to look more closely at the cover of the book. I really didn’t think much of the little interaction–I passed her my piece of plastic, she gave me my beverage, and the cart was pulled farther down the aisle. It wasn’t until an hour later that I really started thinking about what was happening.

photo (7)

The drink service was over and we were somewhere over the Midwest, when the attendant was walking briskly up the aisle. Without breaking stride, as if she were reaching into a row to turn off a light over a sleeping passenger, she slipped two small bottles out of her pocket and dropped them, without a word onto my tray and the tray of the man sitting next to me. Startled, we noticed that they were duplicates of our earlier drink orders. The stranger next to me shrugged and said, “okay.” And that’s when my mind kicked into high gear.

What was going on? Why did we, out of everyone on the plane, get free refills of our overpriced airline booze, delivered without a single word from this woman? I couldn’t help but fill in a narrative inside my head.

It started with questions–was it because of the book? Well, of course it was! But why? What experience had this woman had that led her to interact with me in this way? Was it that a person presenting as male was reading about feminism? Was it that a gay man seemed to give a shit enough about women to read a single book? She had no idea how I was engaging with what I read, for all she knew, I could have hated the book and been reading it as a requirement for some sort of class.

And what about the booze for the other guy? Did she assume we were together? Was he benefiting for being feminist-adjacent? Or was his simply placation booze–a sort of hush money for the hetero-man so he wouldn’t say anything protesting his neighbor’s free lunch?

I had no real way of answering these questions, but I settled on her gesture being somewhere on a spectrum of solidarity to gratitude–a metaphorical fist bump, meant to reinforce behavior that she saw as beneficial in the world. Who really knows what she was thinking/feeling?

——-

It took some time before I could explain in words just what I was feeling. Why was it that I felt both perplexed and annoyed by her kind gesture?

As I tried to explain it, weeks later, to a friend, “I don’t get a cookie just for being decent!” That my action was noteworthy at all fills me with a measure of grief. You see, I have a vested interest in the well-being of women in the world–not because I experience intersecting oppression because of masculine normativity; not because I have a mother, sister, and nieces that I want to see loved and celebrated and treated with every human dignity; but because every person is a person and deserves to be treated as such in society and community.

My celebration of women must play out in my day-to-day activities in the world–standing up to oppression, cultivating compassion and curiosity, and seeking diverse human flourishing–these things are acts of theo-political commitment; a joining with God in calling good every member of our global community. This commitment is a reassertion of my belief that governments and policies may grant privileges in the name of rights, but the right to be treated as full persons is a foregone conclusion given the very existence of our breathing bodies in this world.

——-

So how do I celebrate? Do I use words like “strong” and “fierce” to name the goodness of women–words that derive their power by their apparent unexpectedness given dominant perceptions of women? Do I use words like “beautiful” and “vulnerable” to describe myself and other masculine bodies in order to counteract the narrow definitions of masculinity that I believe reinforce misogyny? And can I find a way to celebrate the dignity and humanity of each person while acknowledging the particular and shared cultural experiences we each have of navigating gender and bodies that are different and similar to one another?

Yes. I do all these things–and more. I laugh and play and thank God for the goodness of the masculine and feminine in all of us–for all the gorgeous ways we engage these dynamics within and outside of ourselves, and for the ways that our bodies lead us into our engagement with the world. I do all this with the tenacious commitment to stand against oppression in any form, and so, I celebrate the women in my life; women whose bodies are faab*ulous and women whose bodies and ways of navigating gender contradict social expectations. I celebrate the feminine within myself and the masculine as well, and I seek to live in a way that allows me and everyone else to engage gender freely, as a means of bringing the gift of our own personhood into community in the world.
——-
*Female Assigned At Birth (a term noting our cultural tendency to enculturate and enforce strict gender norms on the basis of genitals from the time of birth)
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Microaggressions: What They Are and How We Deal

In the past I’ve written a bit about my experiences of microaggressions. I’ve decided to make a few videos talking about microaggressions and share them here. This first set of videos focuses on what experiencing a microaggression against you can feel like, the impacts, and how I work to care for myself during and after the situation.

In the future, I’ll be putting together videos about recognizing my own microaggressions against others (I touch on this in the second video down below) and how I try to address this in myself and systems/communities. I’m also hoping to do a couple of conversation videos with folks around how we experience and grow in relationship by working through microaggressions towards and from one another.

For now, here are the first three videos. I’d love to hear feedback from you if these are helpful, if you have your own resources that you want to share, and if you have questions you’d like me to respond to.

Peace.

 

If you find these videos helpful, feel free to pass them along as you see fit.

Queering the Christian Table Part 17: Nothing to See Here: Co-opting Jesus on Behalf of Intersecting Oppressions

To start reading at the beginning of the series, click here.

The facebook started blowing up a bit this week after mega-church pastor Mark Driscoll posted more of his standard, inflammatory claims about the person of Jesus. It was just the typical, Jesus is a macho-man drivel that we’ve all come to expect. No one is actually persuaded to change their view of Jesus by such statements. We all just affirm our own opinions of agreement or dissent and enjoy a moment or two of seething satisfaction at our own superiority to the folks on the other side of the argument.

So why do I feel compelled to mention it here? Why waste the space adding to another conversation of hot air between the right and left aisles of the church? Because I’m pissed, that’s why.

I haven’t spent a lot of time dredging blogs to see what everyone is saying, but I’m annoyed that of the things that have been posted by folks on the left, ranging from just-war theorists to radical Christian anarchist pacifists, all seem to be missing the point. For the most part the responses seem to pivot on Driscoll’s phrase, “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist,” with the general consensus being either “nuh-uh” or “so what if he was?” (See here for a modest sampling).

Of these two responses, I’ll take the second over the first, however, I hope we can stop ceding the terms of the conversation to Driscoll.

——-

Allow me state my case: I am a pacifist. I am a feminist. I am a gay man. When I read the words, “Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist,” I have a strong response. Namely, I’m infuriated that Jesus is getting dragged around in order to reify a system of privilege. The violence that pacifism seeks to work against is so much less about the acute violence of murder and war and is much more about the systemic oppression that allows for daily violence that culminates in events such as murder and war.

Can we step back and think critically for half a second?

Instead of arguing that Jesus opposes war, what if we simply examine the rhetoric in front of us. What if Christians on the left called Driscoll on his homophobic slur, addressing the issue of oppressive gender normativity that Driscoll is (and regularly practices) employing to essentially say that Jesus behaves like a privileged, white, western male?

The claim that Jesus wasn’t a pacifist only has any traction if we first grant the rest of Driscoll’s descriptors, namely that Jesus wasn’t a “pansy”–a homophobic and misogynistic phrase, meant to declare that Jesus was a powerful male character who behaves according to gender norms that parallel Driscoll’s own pageantry.

More, the kind of Jesus that Driscoll wants, and regularly charges the males  in his audiences to emulate is a stereotype of violent masculinity that can only be acceptably performed by wealthy white men. The kind of behavior Driscoll gets away with, and projects upon Jesus is only acceptable for (straight) white men. An African-American man behaving this way would immediately be charged as dangerous. A Latino emulating such a Jesus would be seen as a threat to USAmerican national security. An Asian-American man would be fetishized into a martial arts film. Any woman would be charged as violating all natural laws!

My point is, the problem is not the claim of Jesus as a war-monger, it’s the claim of Jesus as upholding a system of social privilege which elevates one group above all others. Incidentally, yes, this is a root of a lot of violence.

By accepting the use of the word “pansy” at the beginning of the conversation, Christian pacifists of all stripes are basically trying to cut down a tree by pruning the fruit.

——-

That’s why there’s really nothing to see here. We haven’t yet begun to change the conversation.

If we want to make a claim about Jesus’ stance on war and violence, then let’s stop trying to defend that Jesus “was not a pansy,” and dissect that this word is an oppressive slur designed to denigrate women and gay men by upholding an unhealthy masculinity as normative. Let’s act against the systemic violence happening in this very conversation and stand with those who are being oppressed by the premises employed in our very speech. This is where Christian pacifism begins, dismantling oppressive violence where it lives inside of us (also called repentance).

As a white, gay, Christian, male, feminist, I feel a lot going on inside of me when I hear the phrase, “Jesus is not a pansy.” The intersections of oppression within society, the church, and myself are laid across each other in a web that I am left to navigate. But I cannot navigate this web alone, because it does not simply live inside of me.

The use of the term “pansy” was a micro-aggression, and I call on (especially white/straight/male) Christian pacifists to deal with the roots of societal violence and aggression by learning to work against micro-aggressions–those daily systemic and insipid violences which happen against people of color, immigrants, women, children, persons who are LGBTIQ, people with physical and neurological disabilities and differences, non-English speakers, and other marginalized persons.

Repenting of violence begins with empathy; with teaching ourselves and our communities to see our participation in harming other people. Only when we become sensitized to our own participation in violence will we be able to put a halt to the fruit of such a violent society.

Of course, I’ll argue that Jesus was a pacifist, but first, I need to follow Jesus and stand on the side of those being oppressed in this very moment. Rather than arguing about how best to follow Jesus, why don’t we just start by trying to do it, by standing on the side of those who are being oppressed–and here I’m thinking particularly about the women, gay men, people of color, senior citizens, and children in Driscoll’s conversation–the people being told that Jesus is (good) like Driscoll and not (bad) like them.

And of course, I’m also standing up for myself and the other gay men (and others) who grew up in churches like Driscoll’s hearing the word “pansy” being wielded against us like a sword. I hope for the day when the first response from the church to such words is not the defense of a moral abstraction, but is to name and stand against particular oppression.

Queer Theology Synchroblog: Stop Trying to Be Like Jesus

The following post is part of the Queer Theology Synchroblog happening today. Click the link to see other bloggers’ posts on the theme “Queer Creation.” For my post, I’ve decided to write a letter to myself. You are, of course, invited to read my mail.

 

Dear Daniel,

Do us all a favor and stop trying to be like Jesus.

I know it’s a hard thing to hear, but really, just stop.

——-

The miracle of the incarnation is that God was fully God and fully human in the person of Jesus. And you are never going to be that.

You were never even meant to try it.

The whole notion of “being like Jesus” is royally flawed. The whole reason God came in the person of Jesus is that God wanted to be with us. If God just wanted a few billion copies of Jesus, God could do that with some divine miracle of Xerox. But that was never the point.

God doesn’t want you to be like Jesus.

The only way God wants you to resemble Jesus is that inasmuch as Jesus was particularly Jesus, God wants you to be you—God wants you to be different than Jesus.

——

This is a difficult truth. It is harder to receive than being told that you will go to hell because you are different than Jesus. Sometimes being accepted is hard to accept.

——

Speaking of queer things, it’s pretty queer of God to love and accept those who are different. It’s pretty peculiar to want friends enough to give them space to be entirely who they are apart from your own idea of who they should be.

It’s even queerer to open yourself up to be impacted by them and to grow to love whoever they become—as different from you as that may be.

If God wanted you to be “just like Jesus,” it would mean God re-absorbing you into God’s creative life. Instead, God wants to relate with you as a differentiated person so that we can enjoy one another in all of our particularities; God as generous lover and you as complex and unique person learning to be wooed by such generous love.

——

I know that it’s more comfortable believing in a God who wants to annihilate your particularity in order to make you more like his ideal child. It’s more comfortable because it’s familiar and it’s what you’ve been taught to expect and call “love.”

Well, guess what, kiddo? You’re in for a surprise. God is secure enough to take your radical difference. God is not afraid of you. God is not in danger of annihilation from your otherness—in fact God is celebrating all the queer ways that you are unfolding into the particular wholeness of your life. 

So get out there and play. You’re going to have to be pretty damn creative to surprise God, but when you do, there’s no one who will be clapping louder or scheming harder to see you go even further than you’ve gone so far.

You’re special because you are not special; you are particular because the particularity of Jesus means that God comes close to all of us no matter who or where we are. There is nothing in the universe queerer than love this secure, this complete, this unafraid of otherness. The only way you should be like Jesus is letting this love settle in you as you become more you and thus, more capable of loving in this way.

Queering the Christian Table Part 14: The Crushing Weight of Wielding Shame—A Gay Poet Responds to The Gospel Coalition

To start reading at the beginning of the series, click here.

[If you are short on time, I recommend just scrolling down to the poetry]

When Rachel Held Evans’ latest blog post showed up in my news feed, I figured something was astir. Reading her response to Pastor Thabiti Anyabwile’s post on The Gospel Coalition website, I was grateful for her responses and I was compelled to read Anyabwile’s original article.

I do not know Anyabwile (or Held Evans). I know nothing more of him than he might know of me by reading my words on this page. So what I am about to write is simply a reflection of what I observe as a broader theme within the Evangelical church that is expressed so pointedly in his post.

I won’t rehash the many other critiques of his post that Evans addresses and links to from her post. I simply want to spend a few moments with Anyabwile’s attempt at “obscene descriptions” of gay and lesbian sex. The following is the excerpt from the post that is meant to induce moral outrage:

We are talking about one man inserting the male organ used to create life into the part of another man used to excrete waste. We are talking about one man taking the penis of another man into his mouth, or engaging in penis-to-penis grinding.

We are talking about a woman using her mouth to stimilute the nipples, vulva, clitoris or vagina of another woman, or using her hand or other “toys” to simulate sexual intercourse.

We are talking about anilingus and other things I still cannot name or describe.

That sense of moral outrage you’re now likely feeling–either at the descriptions above or at me for writing them–that gut-wrenching, jaw-clenching, hand-over-your-mouth, “I feel dirty” moral outrage is the gag reflex. It’s what you quietly felt when you read “two men deep kissing” in the second paragraph. Your moral sensibilities have been provoked–and rightly so. That reflex triggered by an accurate description of homosexual behavior will be the beginning of the recovery of moral sense and sensibility when it comes to the so-called “gay marriage” debate.

Now, I just want to spend a moment telling you about my actual reactions to the above passage. Truthfully, I did, indeed, have my hand over my mouth. I nearly had to pick myself up off the floor I was shaking so hard with laughter.

Once I had recovered from my fit of giggles, I sighed a few times and began to feel deep compassion and sadness for the author and the Evangelical community out of which he offers this opinion. And isn’t laughter one of the more ready indicators of the presence of shame?

——

The crushing weight of wielding so much shame is a terrible burden to bear. It is the blade with no handle that destroys the hand that uses it against another.

——

I actually think that Anyabwile is right on this one point: it is high time that the Evangelical church spoke explicitly about sex and its role in Christian formation. I also appreciate his attempt to directly address the issue without resorting to euphemisms about the shapes of plugs and sockets. Coming from the Evangelical community, this took great courage on his part.

But the mechanistic descriptions of sex acts, and body parts disconnected from the emotional spiritual—even just full-bodied—realities of human sexuality reveals so much more about the Evangelical understanding of sex than it does about what actually happens when two men or two women engage in any form of sexual activity. That explicitly describing sex between any two consenting adults is intended to trigger my gag reflex, tells me so very much about the level of shame surrounding Evangelical understandings of sexuality.

If we are supposed to see the acts themselves as shameful (oral sex, anal sex, using sex toys), my guess is that there’s an enormous number of red-faced, straight, married, Evangelical couples who are squirming, because they’re (“not supposed to be”) doing many of the things that actually give them a lot of shared pleasure and intimacy. I’m also guessing there is a large number in the same demographic who are really frustrated because they feel constricted for not being able to fully explore their own bodies together.

——

But my hunch is that it’s not really about the sex. It’s about the gender.

——

This is less about the explicit details of what body parts are inserted where and how people are pleasuring each other. Instead, it is about the disruption of cultural norms that are anchored in a neo-platonic understanding of the forms—a worldview that’s been used to shame women (and men) for that heinous shortcoming of not being man (enough).

It’s less the sex and more the disruption of the gender hierarchy that is so gag-reflex-inducing. That’s precisely why Anyabwile feels upset by “two men deep kissing.” The gender hierarchy itself is built on shame—shaming both women and men about their bodies—objectifying and victimizing women and cutting men of from the vulnerability of their desire and need for relationship and replacing it with the (fear-of-rejection fueled) urge to power-over the person they desire sexually.

This is why Anyabwile’s description of gay and lesbian sex is not poetic or even clinical; this is why he doesn’t even imagine addressing transgender or intersex sexuality. A vivid description of two people of the same gender intimately expressing love with their bodies is just as damaging to the gender hierarchy as the boring ol’ argument about the over a thousand rights (privileges) associated with civil marriage being denied to these same couples.

An aesthetic, reverent, explicit description of LGBTIQ sex lives serves as a poignant reminder of the possibility for equality, mutuality, vulnerability, and holy growth of desire between any two consenting lovers. It has the potential to call out the vulnerability of all men and agency of all women in a way that leads to greater love and better sex for all couples (and just by the numbers, this will mostly help out the straight folks).

The thing that’s gag-inducing about Anyabwile’s description is that it is dehumanizing—it seeks to shame from a place of deep-seated shame, and thus it only succeeds in revealing the harmful system out of which it emerges.

——

For another way of engaging sexuality in a way that embraces humanity and Christ, I’d invite you to check out the blog http://trybestpractices.wordpress.com/. This blogger I do know, and I find the work he’s doing to be refreshingly Christian and humane.

——

For my own theological response, I’ve decided to post three poems.

Insofar as they are mine, they are poems about gay love and desire. Insofar as they are human, they are about lovers, bodies, intimacy, and mutuality.

This is my invitation to those who feel the crushing weight of wielding so much shame: join again in the goodness of the life you have been given.

——

The Forest Need Not Justify Its Existence

We lay here for once as if

our bodies matter

as much as clods of soil;

knots of bone and muscle curl, exhausted,

upon one another, waiting,

in asynchronous gasps,

to lapse into one amending heave.

Stillness grows us older, you

and me observing stealth of hair

moss across the backs and bends

of all our twisted limbs,

rooted through finitude

of kisses sweet and wild.

Here old stories thaw, plots

unraveling through gracious gaps

opened by the fibrous weave,

me, you, me—relaxing us into

the solidity of who we are becoming.

“Have you forgotten the myth of unbelonging?”

I question the heart between these ribs.

The answer (yours or mine?), a sure reply,

wealth of warmth flowing, skin on skin;

salted mouth plying under arm, over rib;

tongue slips quick through wet lips, twists

round areola as if to say

what leg splayed ’cross hip

and genitals, pressed

into generous thigh, have been

pulsing all along:

“With you,

I am always home because

our battles

are for our thriving and

our economy is song

and its rhythm is determined on

these instruments of peace

with which we practice

holding on.”

——

Back

“Churn butter backwards—into cream, into

thick clots scooped in glops back

into milk, warm and grassy on the tongue

or back

to udder, to cow, to

actual grass gradually sloshed back through

four stomachs and slime, past

cow lips into blades

of green to two parts sun and one

part soil—how far back could you

trace the journey of soil?

To rock, to crash of spatial bodies? Stars?

exploded elements in space?”

You

interrupt your scrape, scraping

of knife across toast and ask:

“Where is this going?”

“In! Into our mouths, our

bodies; butter and bread, the wheat,

the salt, the minerals—all

disassembled in our bowels, carried in

our blood, become

our source of cell and synapse.”

(I do know that this is not

what you were asking)

“How far? Can you trace the need

back into desire, to

throat-ached trembling? Back from

breakfast table to bed, piled legs like

eggs on a plate, scrambled in sheets and

pillows?

Back to your back, covered

in constellation of freckles and covered

in my kisses and arms

wrapped round your sides, my hands

pressed against your chest. My calf

nuzzles round your thigh and I

melt

like butter in your starlight.”

“How far back?”

your eyes

look up cross toast at me

and say:

“I can never take you back—

only forward.”

——

You know it was your turn to do the dishes.

I come home, hoping for nothing more than a bite to eat,

a quick kiss, but nothing more—I

do not have the time

for something more (even though I’d like it).

No, this is the one night,

set aside out of seven,

when I sit down,

break bread,

and prey upon the pages

like a ravenous pagan

frenetically parsing nouns into verbs,

words like: pretzel.

You know,

how you pretzel me into the

salt warm scent of your arms,

whiskering into my neck the things

you say you’d like to do to me

if only we had the time.

But I

do not have the time.

The watch my parents gave me stopped

working, or maybe I stopped

winding it, when they

stopped calling me when I stopped

pretending I could pretzel myself

into their approval.

And now I am walking through our front door,

and you know

it was your turn

to do the dishes.

I know that five out of seven nights you scrape

down sides of bowls and break eggs and

roast vegetable kindness that my body

takes in, as greedily and gratefully as I take in

you. You know

it was your turn to do the dishes and

all I wanted to do

was come in, eat a pretzel and write

all the wrongs of my day

into some semblance of poetry.

and even though, you know I’ll love you

if the plates stack high and mold grows

on scooped out rinds of winter squash

beside the full compost;

I will still put out

the trash on Wednesdays even if

we sleep on opposite sides of the bed.

And you will still put out

when I forget to do the laundry.

You know that this

was the one night I had

before the deadline and

you met me at the door with that shirtless grin, as if

there were ever any contest between you

and fifty pages of revision.

You know.

Yours is not the sideways glance

of a lover more interested in getting off than

getting old, and boring, and grey. No,

you look at me with laughing eyes that play

across my brow and

pretzel into my fiercest longings,

knotting me into the softest dough. And I

would drop my clothes, my

prose, my terse idealism

to wrap myself inside

the softness of your mouth, your

gentle-welcome whispered kisses

traveling down my tired body. And you know

it was your turn to do the dishes

and

you did them

anyway.

Queering the Christian Table Part 13: Locating (My Seat : Myself) at the Table

To start reading from the beginning of the series, click here.

Recently, while a group of us were weeding our garden, I mentioned to one of my neighbors that a weed is just a plant that grows where we don’t want it.

——

There are times when I have struggled to locate myself as a gay man within the Christian church. And by times, I mostly mean my whole life.

I have wrestled with my own body. I have joined others in calling my desires, and my very self, wounded and broken and, in the process, ended up with deep wounds. I have tried to wedge myself into performance of gendered cultural norms and heterosexual expectations in a way not dissimilar to Cinderella’s stepsisters cutting off their heels and toes in attempts to fit into the coveted glass slipper.

In this wrestling, I’ve had to face the question: “What if there just isn’t any room for me here?” It’s a legitimate concern in a world shaped the way that ours is. It’s a question that for many LGBTIQ people, has led them out of the church, and for some has led them to flee their homes and countries for their very lives.

——

And here the language of agri-culture helps me explore the dimensions of culture that lead to the kinds of normativities that leave people truly questioning our own legitimacy as human beings, members of society, and of the body of Christ.

See, agriculture; cultivation, is a method of preferential treatment and selection for desired characteristics. It’s a technology predicated on predictability. The problem with a tightly controlled, predictable agricultural system is that it can never account for the unpredictability of weather patterns. Selecting (or even genetically engineering) seeds against a fungus or pest may work for a while, but when the fungus reproduces thousands of times within a single growing season of a tomato, the rate of adaptation is always in favor of the wild over the agricultural. It’s allowing for multiple aberrant traits that ups the chances for future survival of a species.

Similarly, culture develops and shifts in ways that promote security—family structures, economic systems, gender norms, models of healthcare, educational systems, politics, language, state borders, racial group identifyers—all can function, in varying ways, as means of shaping persons in a way that maintains stability among a shared group. Stability may feel good, but it’s not the same thing as viability.

——

And perhaps this is why the story of forbidden love–love that crosses beyond prescribed sensibilities–is so compelling to us: it taps into the wildness of desire—the deep longing to be seen and known in the particularity of our personhood, understood in the matrix of our relationship to but not defined by our cultural identity markers.

——

In the Ancient Near Eastern world, the various cultures developed systems of ritual sacrifice that were meant to restore order and relationship between humans and the divine. These rituals were predicated on the notion that people generally did not fit into right relationship with God and must, through violent means, be made fit in order to maintain the desired order needed for these early societies to exist.

The God of the Bible shows up within this matrix and spends the vast majority of the Bible trying to approach people who are afraid of God. Later, when these people initiate ritual sacrifices, God goes to great length to tell the people that God despises these sacrifices and wants them to use their energy caring for the people that their society rejects as being outside the norms of their systems.

Finally, God becomes human, so as to approach us on our own terms—there really is no greater story of forbidden love: the holy God who becomes human to be with humans. And this too, is not accepted by society; by religion; by the cultivating forces of empire. That God offers blessing when there is no sacrifice is so offensive that Jesus must be killed and then his offensive love is normatized by interpreting his death as necessary sacrifice to uphold the cultural and religious norms of exclusivity.

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Through Jesus, God made the radical declaration of making the world sacred. Like a tailor custom fitting clothing to our human bodies instead of urging us to conform to the dimensions of manufactured clothing, God unwound the      concept of the garden until every thing in all creation was neither weed nor wheat, but all beloved creation, drawn close to God through Christ.

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It is human culture, rather than holiness that needs so much to be protected and maintained. Culture is maintained by the technology of predictability; of hierarchy; of normativity. Holiness is bestowed as an extension of love unto that which is beloved—that which seen for what it is, is welcomed into relationship with God who cannot be harmed or undone by any evil–not even death itself. Thus the words from heaven in Peter’s vision in Acts which led to recognition of God’s blessing on Gentiles as well as Jews: “Call no thing unclean that I have made holy.”

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At the liturgy that I attend at my Episcopal church, our community gathers around the table during Eucharist. For the last several months I have been having the imaginative vision of the table having wheels. In this vision, each week, as the people gather around the table, it begins to roll around to the edges of the circle, and each time it comes to someone who is on the far edge of the circle, the entire congregation shifts our positions so that we recenter around the table and those people who had been marginalized during the previous formation.

Of course the table never completely comes to a stop. Each time the community moves in response to the table, the table identifies who has been left on the edges of this new configuration and, moving again towards the edges, pushes us into another iteration of the dance. In the Episcopal liturgy, we ask the Spirit to allow the bread and wine at the table to be for us the Body and Blood of Jesus, so that we can be the body of Jesus in the world. I believe that this vision of the table is, in essence, about the presence of Christ leading us to move to the edges of what we call sacred and reclaim the whole of creation as holy; as God’s beloved.

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In this logic of the God who moves towards us, I never have to ask if I there is     room for me at the table, because the moment there is not room for me at the   table is the very moment in which God brings the table to meet me where I am   already located. When the congregation pushes me to the edge, the table finds me and Jesus calls me blessed.

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Grace this abundant is repulsive to the normative logic that governs the cultures and societies that have so shaped our religious understanding. It is as unpredictable and as adaptable as a blight, mold, virus, or fungus.

It is like abandoning the well weeded garden to collect a feast from among the fields of weeds. At its heart, this grace is not about making the weeds into cultured specimens. It’s about blessing the wild tenacity of the weeds that lets them thrive despite the herbicides, the cultivation, and the lack of irrigation.

It’s a reclamation of holiness as blessing and gift rather than categorical requirements for cultural conformity.

So what about Christian formation? Indeed! What does it mean to be formed like Jesus, who went around blessing those who didn’t meet the religious standards? What does it mean to follow the whole of Romans 12 and not just an “us vs. the world” understanding of verse 2? If we read that whole chapter, it becomes evident that the working definition of holiness is one of generosity, compassion, and movement towards others with grace rather than hostility.

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These days, I don’t wonder so much about whether or not there is room for me at the table. I’m learning to care a lot less about whether or not other folks believe there is room for me at the table. I know, in a deeply tangible way, that the table has found me—that the person of Jesus who is present in the celebration of the table, has already moved toward me and called me blessed.

Instead, I find myself joyfully munching on bread and wine and wondering where that wandering table is going to lead me next, and who God is going to declare as holy that will shock my own cultured sensibilities.

Queering the Christian Table Part 10: Seeing Thestrals–or Why I’m not Fighting for my Rights

To start reading from the beginning of the series, click here.

I‘ve been thinking about DOMA & Prop 8. I’ve been thinking about the Voting Rights Act and the sovereignty of First Nations. I’ve been thinking about Paula Deen, the 10 year anniversary of Lawrence vs. Texas, and the 40 year anniversary of the Upstairs Lounge Fire. I’ve been thinking about kids who grow up on Glee instead of the scene in Braveheart where the father nonchalantly throws his gay son out the window to his death. I’ve been thinking about segregated proms in 2013. 

Of course, when I say I’ve been thinking about these things, what I mean is that I have been feeling them. That tends to be the way I know things. It’s when I sit down to write that the knowledge I’ve tucked into various appendages of my body comes howling out onto the page and I begin to be able to think about what I have perceived.

Grief starts as a stab in my sacrum, then slowly spreads up my back, until tears form and I put together the pieces of how I felt uncomfortable at the Trans*Pride march and how that’s connected to my own fears of being rejected by my father, society, and the church for not fulfilling their expectations in my performance of masculine gender norms.

Oh, so that’s why I felt like shit! Thanks, body. I’m sorry I bought the lie of white, male culture that told me not to listen to you.

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Life is such a mixed bag.

Less than a year ago, I flew to Chicago for a friend’s wedding. I was pretty miserable. It was only a few months after my own divorce and subsequent coming out to my parents. This particular friend who was getting married is a person I trust to not look away from suffering. I was there out of my commitment to celebrate the goodness in others’ lives even when it brought up so much of my own aching.

During the ceremony I held another friend’s infant, who wanted nothing more than to jump incessantly on my lap the entire time. It was a much welcomed distraction. This little, bouncing person was oblivious to the couple’s joy or my dissociation. At the reception, I found myself drinking booze and avoiding the boisterous acquaintance from my table who kept urging me to go dance. I wondered silently to myself, “and just who am I supposed to go and dance with?”

I had to have been a fairly pitiful-looking guest, and as my friend expressed his gratitude that I had come all the way from Seattle, I couldn’t help but suspect he had seen me in my sorrow (he’s the kind of person who sees thestrals) and I felt exposed.

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Many folks in the LGBTIQ community have endured their share of suffering, both personal and collective. We have experiences of being rejected, oppressed, mistreated, feared, and shunned on the grounds of who we are in our own bodies–often by those who are closest to us. Moreover, we all have to combat the shame that has worked its way into our bodies and minds; we have to actively contradict a social system of privilege that tells us we are wrong. It’s not surprising that, by-and-large, we tend to see fierce realities of life when we have the courage and vulnerability to look at them. It’s also not surprising that many of us look away when we get the chance–but even so, our peripheral vision for suffering is pretty well honed.

So, when I read this gorgeous call to accountability by Mia McKenzie over at blackgirldangerous.org and then this piece by my friend Charity on her blog Bees, C’s & D’s (yes, you have to go read them now), then the feelings began to well within my body.

Finally, I was listening to a playlist this week that was created by my friend and liturgist, Hilary Ann Golden. The playlist was created for Lent 2012. The season of Lent is one in which the church practices repentance. In the midst of all I’ve been thinking about and feeling this week, these two songs came on back-to-back: Nina Simone’s I Wish I Knew How it Feels to be Free followed by Leonard Cohen’s Come Healing.

I think this is one of those crucial places where my Christian faith comes together radically with my experience of life in my own body as a cis-gendered male, white, able-bodied, USAmerican, gay person. I believe deeply in the good news that I’ve experienced personally, that death and resurrection are intertwined. This is the immense gift of the Christian gospel message, that God always moves towards human suffering in order to bring freedom.

Even though there are moments where celebration and suffering feel like they will eclipse one another, they are always both present. If we are bold enough to hold room in ourselves for our celebrating and our suffering, then we can move into wholeness that honors all of our stories.

If we can hold room for the suffering of others even as we celebrate, then we can ground ourselves in that place of honoring the personal and collective narratives of suffering and oppression, and continue moving toward justice with hope and determination.

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That feeling of exposure I had from being seen is like a sensitive tooth. It’s not always noticeable, but when something sweet or cold hits that nerve ending, it’s hell.

And now the metaphor breaks down. I know nothing about fixing sensitive teeth.

But I do know that when I am seen in my suffering–not seen for my suffering, but seen as a person in the midst of the experience of suffering–then I feel solidarity. The solidity of a community. Not a community that personally knows all of my experience, but a community that understands that they have a different experience than me, and yet, they see me and listen to me, and care enough for me to remain with me and work together for goodness.

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And this is why I am not fighting “for my rights.”

I believe that the rhetoric of “rights” is all too often a reward mechanism for compliant behavior within a system that is predicated on preserving privilege. Such a system is itself oppressive and I am committed to fighting to not merely end oppression, but to actively and continually grow in my understanding of the complexity of oppression and work to address it within myself and the world.

As a white, gay, middle-class, educated man, the temptation offered me by the privilege system in USAmerica is to try to pass as heterosexual. Failing that, the next best thing is to be “straight acting,” “masculine,” or “disarmingly funny gay.” If I absolutely insist on being in a relationship with another man, then there’s pressure to reflect the social and cultural norms of heterosexual relationships, which all too often are built around reinforcing white, male privilege.

The reality is, It doesn’t matter how much I contort my gayness to make the white, male-privileging culture more comfortable, I’m never going to get full access to that privilege, because the whole system is set up on a binary that privileges one group and excludes all others.

And the really heinous thing is that the ones sitting at the top of the ladder dispensing the privilege-candy are employing the folks on the next rung down to work themselves into a frenzy gorging on the toxic candy just to crap it all on the heads of the next group of folks who are fighting upwards for their “rights.” And let me tell you, the toxic candy doesn’t get any better the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th rung down.

I can spend my time clawing up the (in)human(e) privilege ladder trying to get to the top, or I can work together with the other people on the ground, to throw a fucking righteous celebration that honors our diverse goodness AND our deep pain from the harm of being stepped (and crapped) on.

———–

Thus, while I celebrate the “rights” that are granted, insomuch as they can be an effective way to combat the privilege of one group over others, I will not be pandered to, bought off, or accept rewards for reinforcing a system predicated on oppression.

We see this happening with marriage rights (in most ad campaigns about marriage equality, only straight couples have been featured, or very “presentable” gay or lesbian couples–usually lesbian because that’s less threatening to and more fetishized by straight, white males). We see it with churches who accept the privilege of tax exempt status in exchange for silence about oppressive government systems. We see it in the notion that we owe our loyalty to our military industrial complex (that preys on the underprivileged and subjects its members to great harm) that is responsible for atrocities on a global scale in exchange for supposed freedom (but primarily for corporate profits at the cost of USAmerican taxpayers’s money and less privileged human lives).

This dynamic closely resembles a fraternity system that hazes new members before granting them the privilege of membership and then employs these people to repeat the offence (of course this should come as no surprise since fraternities are the historic domain of white, wealthy, educated men and have functioned as social networks for maintaining insularity of power and privilege within both business and government).

This is not a condemnation of gays and lesbians celebrating the news about DOMA and Prop 8, it’s not a condemnation of churches for operating without funneling money to the state, and it’s not a condemnation of people who have served in the military or joined a frat.

It is a call to all of us to untangle ourselves from these systems of privilege which only exist through oppression of one another. And as we untangle ourselves and one another, there will be much to see, much to celebrate, and much that we must learn to grieve.

———–

I won’t accept cheap celebration. Resurrection only hangs out with actual death.

I have lived a life that has left me seeing thestrals and I’m committed to letting that insight lead me into solidarity with others who experience suffering through oppression–particularly when their oppression is linked to my privilege within our social system.

I’m committed to doing my work so as to avoid crapping on the people around me who, it turns out, tend to see me most clearly and love me for who I am.

This is why I went to the Trans*Pride march; why I keep working to understand, own, and dismantle my own racism and collusion with my white privilege; why I’m trying to understand and advocate around oppressive notions of what makes a “healthy” or “able” body or mind; why I’ll march with the Episcopal Church at Pride and talk to everyone I can about the commodification of the LGBTIQ community and of the Christian community by the infrastructures of privilege within our society.

This is my own act of repentance, this way of being is my life’s prayer.

Read part 11 here.