Why I Won’t Turn My Profile Red (It’s not why you think)

As the Supreme Court is set to hear another marriage equality case that could change things for the millions of LGBT Americans living in states without same-gender legal marriage, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) is summoning supporters to flood social media with profile pictures filtered with a red equal sign. This gesture is meant to show solidarity and support for the moving tide towards equal access and protection under the law–in popular parlance, it’s a way of showing you’re standing “on the right side of history.”

But our-stories are deeply complex. Truth, justice, and equality aren’t realities that get told objectively in the fiction genre we call history. I, along with many others, am deeply indebted to HRC for many of the LGBTIQ legal victories of the last few years. And, HRC doesn’t have the best reputation with all LGBTIQ people. Like many organizations and movements, there’s a tendency to domesticate and whitewash LGBTIQ lives in order to make them palatable enough to the USAmericans with political privilege and control, so that some victories can be won.

The problem with this strategy is that it inevitably ends up saying that LGBTIQ lives and marriages are good, okay, and acceptable, because they are just like “your” heteronormative lives and marriages (this of course turns the conversation into an appeal to the power of straight people, because it is now framed as being addressed to a “you” that is other and in power). But the reality is that all heterosexual marriages are different. And so are marriages between people of the same gender. All our lives are different, and that’s a good thing. “We” don’t deserve the same legal protections under the law because we are just like “you.” If “we” were just like “you,” we would already have the same legal protections under the law.

We (all persons) deserve the same rights and protections under the law, because we are all persons. Amazingly, this is the very argument many political conservatives want to make about the unborn, but not about the incarcerated or immigrants.

So, since we are all persons, I’m simply making my profile picture one of me and my boyfriend, enjoying our lives as people. Because I think that’s the real message that “we” hope “you” will all get.

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I realize, that living in a state that was one of the first (to ban and then later) to legalize same gender marriage, I have a whole lot of privilege that my dear friends and loved ones in other states do not have. I stand is solidarity with them as many of them turn their profiles red, in hopes that their lives will be shown the dignity, respect, and legal rights and privileges they deserve in a nation that is purported to treat persons equally under the law.

And, I stand in solidarity with all persons as a human being–with people who’s bodies and lives have been called illegal under the law, with people who’s skin color, or language, or economic status, or way of being queer doesn’t seem palatable enough to be made the poster children for equality. Homogenization of people to all be like those who hold power is never equality. Equality is when we are all queerly beautiful and can be treated with equity, dignity, and respect by those who are just as queerly beautiful in other ways.

I want equality under the law in USAmerica for all persons, and I want common human protections for all persons regardless of the lines of nation-states. Just as I want economic stability and provision–not just for me and mine, but for all persons–the human ones, not the global corporations built to provide for a few stock holders, while exploiting all the workers in their supply chains.

I’m not turning my profile red, because I believe that every human deserves to be seen and loved for who they are–no filters, no vying for places of power in order to write ourselves onto the “right side of history.” We don’t get there by declaring it so. We get there by living faithfully as persons who respect and love all persons.

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Take Me to Church: Finding Space in Grief for the Life I Have Been Given [QCT 23]

A few weeks ago a friend sent me a link to the music video to the Hozier song, “Take Me to Church.” I still haven’t forgiven her.

Artistically, it’s delicious. Anyone haunted by anthemic spiritual music should get chills the first time Hozier-Byrne riffs a phrase of amens. And his decidedly provocative lyrics call for an embodied theology that takes the human condition as seriously as the incarnation makes it out to be. Really good stuff.

Enter the video. [Trigger Warning: Disturbing Violence]

It’s a stark visual exploration of experience of finding love and belonging amidst a culture that demands secrecy, isolation, and fear through intimidation and violence that is too frequently enshrined in religious values.

That’s a very clinical way of saying it wrecked me in a way that was too close for comfort.


Next, enter the Lebron James commercial featuring the song, that aired while I watched the last Seahawks game.

“I’ve got to look up that song,” said my friend. To which I replied, “I have a link to it somewhere. It’s amazing, but the video is REALLY disturbing.” Truthfully, I couldn’t remember anything about the content of the video. I’d pressed it out of my mind, but the music had brought back my strong reaction, and all I knew was that it had been a source of disruption.

Then I watched the video again.

I’ve written a good deal about grief in my process of coming out, in wrestling to find my voice in the church, and in taking my place at the Christian table. But this song, with it’s arresting melody and hookline dug into me in a different kind of way.


I started this fall with a pilgrimage of sorts, walking for four days, by myself, along a section of the Pacific Crest Trail. It was my first solo backpacking excursion, and I decided to walk as a way of exploring and unpacking the grief that I’ve found as the landscape upon which my life of faith has unfolded and found me flourishing.

It’s a strange thing to describe–walking as prayer; grief as a journey into a bodied experience; locating faith in wilderness. And this is a true gift: when the world offers up strange moments where our lives open up to us with clarity, if not with ease.

In the mirror of mountains and rivers, of deserts and oceans, we catch glimpses of how our spiritual and psychological selves are not disconnected from our human experience of being creaturely selves who are a part of a whole world that is, itself, subject to devastation and repair.

If there is any redemption worth pursuing, it must be in body; it must deal with the messiness of breakdown, lovemaking, aging, injury, hunger & thirst, interdependence, isolation, and deep connection to the earth. And this is something of what “Take Me to Church” is all about.

It’s about asking the deep questions of God, our religions, our communities, and the world–questions about belonging. Is there room in your cosmology for my body–my human experience? Is God found in places where our bodies open up to one another to offer shared love and mutuality or in places governed by fear of transgression that overflow into acts of violence in word and deed?

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I’ve lost so much life trying to protect myself from people and communities that were supposed to be protecting me–supposed to be offering a space where I could be a member of the community, growing into the flourishing life of God’s work and play in the world.

And there is much to grieve. On my third day of hiking I crossed three mountainsides of skeletal trunks of fir trees, bleached white with decades under relentless sun and wind, following a fire. The ground was hot and dry; rocks exposed by erosion that raked away millennia of forest soil.

I wept as I touched the desiccated bodies of the unburied dead, still lingering across the hillside. Each excoriated tree, a hollow memory of billions of needles synthesizing sunlight and carbon into a massive gathering of life that offered life, now lost. And though these mountains will recover, it will not be in my lifetime–not by the measures of soil inches or canopy, raised 200 feet towards sky.

But there are Doug Firs, as old as I am, and three feet tall.

Though small, they, along with marmots, lichen, and songbirds, are feeding on the nourishment wrought from grief, to offer back a way towards another iteration of thriving forest. And this, too, leaves me weeping.

The grief is real and the life is real. They aren’t exactly linear or causal in relationship, but the reality is that they hang together in a history that is not the way I would like to have seen it unfold. Loss and life do not cancel each other out in some cosmic equation.

In the narrative of Christianity, resurrected bodies carry wounds. And hope born out of grief is always marked by body’s memory work of facing death–which is another way of saying, life that is pulled through the abandonment of death, while gaunt and trembling, is a holy force, not to be trifled with.


As I have wondered about the space opened up in me through my brief time in the wilderness, I am realizing the recognition that I need the reflection of the landscape to speak back to me the unspeakable spaces that live within my body, where I have struggled to draw nutrients for my life of faith out of a soil eroded of capacity to feed me what I needed to thrive.

One myth that the song “Take Me to Church” challenges, is that God is encapsulated in the thunder, earthquake, and whirlwind of churches that espouse a theology in which God is at war with human peculiarity. Instead, it insists that God is present with us, in our bodies and our bedrooms, moving towards us in all the failings and flowering of our humanity.

In my own life, I’ve encountered a God who is gracious enough to weep with me after the wildfires of well-meaning people who have employed theologies to try to strip away the parts of me they deemed unfit in the ecology of God’s community. This is not to say that the church has been devoid of goodness for me as a gay man. It is just that the goodness has come primarily as a counter-narrative of redemption within a broader landscape of devastation.

Rather than attempting to weave gold from straw, or overhaul the entire system to try to make do, the slow trek towards life begins (from my perspective), with attunement to the acres of grief inside of me and feeling the space opened up by loss of what should have been present. It is in these spaces, these gaps of abandonment, where life is pulled out of us through our bodies for the life of the world.

I do not yet know what these words mean. But I know that I am in the slow work of growing a forest. Or perhaps of simply witnessing the forest being grown in the space that grief is reclaiming from narratives of death and violence that I have experienced in the church. And this kind of space feels capable, at last, of offering room for me, in my body, to be welcomed into the sacred communion of the giver of life.

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This is the 23rd post in the series “Queering The Christian Table.” Feel free to browse through older posts or start at the beginning by clicking the tab at the top of the page

So, You Want to Come Out: The Most Important Step You’re Going to Take

Contrary to what it sounds like, coming out is not a one-time event. No one wakes up, realizes they’ve been living in a closet that is far too dark, lonely, and small, and then just pops open the door and sashays out, once and for all.

Oh, that it were as simple as setting up your phone camera on a shelf for your video of the moment you tell your mother that you’ve always known you were a lesbian.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love a good coming-out video as much as the next person. I’ve cried through dozens of them through the years. And my hunch is that the reasons we make these videos are similar to the reasons we watch them. For folks who have lived much of our lives in closets constructed of fear and shame, there is hope in seeing the faces of people with the courage and vulnerability to declare that they are human beings worthy of love and acceptance.

The closet constructed by persistent heteronormativity and homophobia in society works to erase LGBTIQ faces from history, family, schools, workplaces, leadership, faith communities, and public life. Coming out disrupts these norms, making our faces visible. And the courage to be seen, by ourselves and those around us, is fundamentally about reclaiming our right to have faces.


If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the non-conforming gender performance, hairstyle, body language, makeup, or clothing of someone who identifies in some way as LGBTIQ, you should know this: It’s not about you!

As people, our bodies and lives do not exist to make other people comfortable. The closet metaphor works for me, because closets are places where people keep sweaters–objects that can be wrapped around one’s own body to insulate from what feels uncomfortable in the world. But LGBTIQ folks are not sweaters.

So, coming out is, at it’s core, a way of claiming proof of our existence in the world.

This is why we march in parades, phone-bank for civil rights, volunteer for HIV-AIDS relief organizations, fight racism, misogyny and other kinds of oppression, dress in drag, perform burlesque, make youtube videos, lead in religious communities, join GSAs, and build robust and welcoming families of choice. We live full, complex lives that celebrate our gender and sexual orientation as a wonderful part of who we are, and namely, we get to be seen for who we are in community.


The most important step in this coming out process is always the same. I know that’s a big claim, but hear me out.

It’s the same step that you will have to take to come out to yourself, to your friends and family, at your workplace, on the bus, at school, in your church, mosque, temple, or synagogue. In fact, you’ll have to take this step inside of yourself every single step along your journey of coming out of the closet and living courageously in the world.

The most important step is having the courage to believe that you deserve to be seen and loved.

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If you’ve lived in the closet this long, you know something about fear and the courage it takes to survive. You’re already a hero in my book, for finding the resources within yourself to seek some measure of safety in order to make it in a world that says you do not exist.

Coming out is difficult, and you should do it in your own time, when you are ready for it. But know this: you are worthy of being seen and loved and you already have the immense courage it takes to take this step, and the one after that, and the one after that.


Right now, you may not feel like you have that courage. And that’s okay. I know that you exist in the world. I am proud of you for even thinking about this step of coming out.

Sometimes, when we’ve lived our lives behind the door that society holds shut to conceal our existence, we begin to believe the lie that we don’t deserve to live and be seen–to be loved for who we are. And it’s nearly impossible to start loving ourselves in this situation.

To get there, I want you to stand in front of a mirror and look at your face. Say, “You are beautiful. You are loved. I love you. You are welcome in this world.” I know, it’s going to seem hokey the first 300 times that you do this, but you need to hear this–from yourself.

But really, we don’t start loving ourselves out of nowhere. We are social creatures and our personhood is developed in relationship. This is why, to keep growing, you’re going to need to come out at some point. If there’s one person that you are out to who is supportive, talk to them. Let that relationship remind you that you have a face; that you are worthy of love and respect as a person in this world.

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And if you don’t have anyone that you are out to, know this: I love you. You are beautiful. And you are welcome in this world. I will hold onto those words for you until you are able to look at yourself and say them with confidence and sincerity. If you’re in (or near) Seattle, get in touch–we’ll get coffee. If you’re farther away, same thing (we’ll just need to Skype).

Just know that you are not alone. You are no one’s sweater. You exist; you have a face; you are loved and deserve to be loved for who you are.

Happy Coming-Out Day. Today, and every day that you decide you are worth living for.

You are worth living for.

QCT 22: Holiness and Sexuality: a Law or a Blessing?

“There are many ways to perish, or to flourish.”

-Mary Oliver

photo (1) A brief backstory:

I grew up in the Deep South, and with my grandparents, played in the river made famous by the eponymous funk sound of Muscle Shoals.

A few miles from my childhood home, my friends and I would climb the freestanding monolith in Georgia, recalled in Dr. King’s speech–a rock once a sacred site for Native Americans, then a gathering place for the klan, and, by the time of my childhood, carved up with visages of confederate soldiers, brought to life nightly with a laser show and fireworks coordinated to the strains of the battle hymn of the republic.

I went to school in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, learning to drive my roommate’s stick-shift in strip-mall parking lots and on winding river roads.   And in these places, I learned to read the Bible and sing gospel songs.

My family was a part of the Assemblies of God –a denomination of churches that, on the whole, are fairly conversant with broader evangelicalism. However, we were in the southeast, and with the rotation of people through the various churches in each town, there’s a long history of influence from the Wesleyan Holiness strains of Pentecostalism which developed in the late 1800s from lower Appalachia to Florida, that filtered over into the churches of my youth.

Now, I didn’t go churches that forbade makeup and jewelry, but some of them had in decades past, and I knew folks who did worship in such places.

And no, we didn’t handle snakes–though I did get my undergrad at a university in the one denomination to ever officially endorse the practice (albeit, only for a short period). 

And yes, I have actually been in a snake handling service (but that’s another story).

So, one of the hot debates in a lot of these Pentecostal churches was whether or not sanctification happened with salvation, as a part of baptism in the Holy Spirit, or as a distinct third event. For the uninitiated, sanctification is a word that literally means to be set apart. Another way of thinking of it is, to be made holy.

There was even a sub-debate over whether or not sanctification was ongoing or complete (meaning once it happened you no longer sin). Thankfully, whether from intellectual honesty or the legacy of charlatan evangelists throughout the 70s and 80s, most folks had abandoned the notion of complete sanctification by the time I joined the conversation.


Why have I given this backstory? Because it’s the doorway through which I entered a conversation that gets thrown down most any time Christians of different stripes try to sit down at the same table.

What to do–if anything–with the thing called sin? Or, framed in the positive, what is holiness and why does it matter?


For those Christians who put weight on the usefulness of scripture for understanding what God is up to and what that has to do with us, this sin/holiness question is complex.

In philosophical terms, there’s the issue that’s known as the Euthyphro Dilemma–a Greek question that goes like this: is a thing virtuous/good because the gods say so or do the gods say so because they recognize the thing to be virtuous/good in its own right?

Early monotheists altered the question to a singular God. And I like to remember it through the lyrics from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella–“do I love you because you’re wonderful, or are you wonderful because I love you?”

What does this have to do with bickering Christians? Well, it comes down to what shapes our thinking as we read the Bible–that fantastic collection of fragments of ancient texts, spanning thousands of years and dozens of cultures, that we confess as essential to how we understand the narrative of God’s relationship to the world and humans in particular.

So, when we read these stories we see people interacting with God, and we see the category of something called sin (connected to evil) which is sometimes seen in opposition to righteousness/justice and sometimes seen in opposition to holiness/purity and sometimes seen in opposition to healthy relationship (with God, other people, and land & animals).

And when we read about sin, we can generally agree that it is portrayed as a bad thing. Where the Euthyphro Dilemma comes into play is in this question: are the ways of living proscribed in the Bible good because God says so or does God say so, because they are inherently good? The opposite question also applies–are things labeled sin bad because God says so, or are they inherently evil and God just points that out?

Why does this question matter? Well if something is good or bad because God says so, then God is preserved as God, the source of everything–but we run the risk of a capricious deity, and we have to always wonder if we are in favor or not. But if a particular thing has inherent goodness or evil and God is just pointing that out, then God is subject to a greater governing principle and thus, not God.

Pro tip: this is why they call it a dilemma.

And this is where Biblical theologians annoy the philosophers in the room by deferring to a literary answer. We look to the narrative and ask if the dilemma we’ve created seems to be the narrative point of the text or not.

That is to say, what claims does the story make about the character and actions of God in relationship to this whole good vs. evil — holiness/righteousness/relationship vs. sin thing anyway? What do God’s actions reveal about the nature of God’s character and relationship with humanity, and what does that tell us about how God might be interacting with us around good and evil?


Now, there are lots of people who believe that the Bible tells us precisely how to live; that it clearly and definitively spells out what is sin and what is holiness.

In order to live and navigate our contemporary world and whatever culture they live in, these folks have to make some judgments and abstractions–otherwise they would simply remain neutral about modern birth control, stock market regulations, race relations, masturbation, genetic engineering, water boarding, and about a bajillion other things the Bible doesn’t even come close to mentioning.

And even though the Bible was written in a variety of completely different cultures in vastly different time periods than our own, there’s enough narrative data along with a rich legacy of interpretation, that we can make inferences about the character of God and the general shape of what makes good or evil.

But, the real question is whether or not we are doing this work 1) consciously and honestly, 2) unconsciously, thinking we are just reading the Bible and doing what it says, or 3) we are following someone else (usually our churches, authors, pastors, and media personalities) who says that they know what is right or wrong on either the first or second basis.

No matter which of the three ways we are doing this work, we are doing it within our own particular languages, cultural systems of meaning making, personal biases, and communities. I guess it’s obvious that I distinctly favor at least attempting option 1 (being honest about how we are doing this) rather than insisting on “a plain view of the text,” which I see as tantamount to the Olympics of self-deception.


And right smack in the middle of this conversation is where the conversation about LGBTIQ sexualities lands in the church.

We’re talking about culturally defined categories and identity politics that involve relationships and sex acts. And we’re trying to navigate these contemporary issues using a play book of text ranging in age from 1800 to 6000ish years old.

And so, we have to be honest and say that no one “just reads what the Bible has to say on the matter.” photo (2) The fact is, there is no singular Bible to read.

We all read translations that are compilations of thousands of fragments selected by highly skilled humans on committees (selected by biased publishing houses) making decisions about which fragments to go with, and how to convey ideas behind words that they know have multiple possible meanings.

The word homosexual didn’t emerge in English until the last 200 years, and it didn’t show up in English Bibles as a means of translating a few different untranslatable concepts until even later. There are many books written about the few verses into which we read the word homosexual in some contemporary English Bibles. Anyone who wants to make a claim condemning to hell (or endangering lives and/or limiting the civil rights of) a few hundred million people on the basis of six-ten verses should probably do some research first.

What is clear is that these verses talk about sexual acts and relationships between humans who were considered the same gender in whatever cultural understanding surrounded those things in their ancient contexts. These relationships and actions, as they were understood in their own time were certainly at least as different from modern western ideas about LGBTIQ sexualities, as contemporary sexualities among people of same genders in various cultures around the world are understood today.

That said, I think that these few verses, along with long church histories prohibiting same-sex activities and relationships in many cultural expressions rightly justifies the need to seriously ask the question: what is good and what is evil when it comes to contemporary LGBTIQ sexualities?

Rather than running from the question my conservative Christian siblings ask, I am moving towards it with them. I actually want to intensify it by taking it back to the question of holiness–when it comes to any expression of human sexuality, what do the character and actions of God, revealed in the person of Jesus and written about in scripture, tell us about what is good and what is evil?

Rather than a heinous conflict tearing apart churches and families, I want a rigorous con-frontation–I want us to sit down and face with one another the deeper question, the question that pulls us back into the whole arc of the Biblical texts and points us back towards the person of God.



So, I come back to the narrative of holiness from my childhood.

I grew up in a context that communicated about holiness, largely in terms of sanctification–of being “called out” and “set apart” for God. What was less clear to me was the answer to the follow up question: set apart, to what end?

The doctrine of sanctification/holiness–of living free from sin–seemed to have two main goals–1) getting into heaven and out of hell and 2) holiness brings glory to God.

Under point one, God is captain of team holy and sin is kryptonite. God can’t stand sin because it makes God super mad, or sad, or jealous and God literally cannot keep himself from either annihilating us or punishing us for eternity for sinning.

This view can also lead to some of the creepiest atonement theology options out there. So in this one, God seems to be held hostage by sin, only capable of one option, destroying the ones he loves. Penal substitution theory steps in here to suggest that God does come up with the solution of killing Jesus so he doesn’t have to kill us, but most adherents say he still will kill us if we don’t practice holiness, because, darn it, sin is just so powerful that God can’t take it.

Okay, so you know what I think of that option–it’s resolved the Euthyphro dilemma by saying God is subject to a higher principle–thus not God.

Under point two, where holiness brings glory to God, the Euthyphro dilemma could go either way, but tends toward a capricious God who calls certain things good, tells us to do them, we do them, and God goes on a power trip.

Here’s the snag with both of these problematic understandings of holiness: they aren’t baseless. An argument can be made for each based on Biblical texts.

The question remains, what do these interpretations say about the character of God in relationship to humans and does it make coherent sense of the bigger arc of biblical narratives and particularly the gospel stories.


Another way of tacking into this wind would be to go back to those churches I talked about before. What’s going on there, that holiness could be defined in hairstyles and handling snakes?

Well these high-walled communities are defining who is in and who is out based on practices rooted in the biblical texts. Their definition of holiness is different in degrees but not in direction from the ones explored above.

Where glorifying God (and/or staying out of hell) is defined by pleasing God through appropriately holy behaviors, it matters very much which side of the line you stand on. If you do the right things (whether it’s on your own or the result of God’s work in your life) you are in. If you do the wrong things, you burn (or in more gracious theologies, God annihilates you, or, even better, God’s not happy with you, but shows grace anyway, because, ya know–Jesus).

As I’ve intoned before, this view holds God hostage to sin. God’s holiness is either like the ark in Raiders of the Lost Ark, furious over sin, or God is a cosmic bubble-boy who must be protected from the weakest of all contagions.

If holiness is defined by what it is not–defined merely in terms of being called out or set apart from something–it ontologically requires the presence of evil in the world. This doesn’t appear to hold up to the narratives we have.

The very first story mentioning sin in scripture is immediately followed by God coming to look for and commune with the people who sinned, with God providing a way for them to live and be cared for in the midst of the fallout of the consequences for their actions.

The creation narrative is a theological text making a claim about who God is in relationship to people who do things that aren’t good. The story tells so little about the nature of good and evil, but tells much about the character of God.

If holiness is rooted in the nature of God, what does it say about what is holy when God moves toward and provides for those who have done what is wrong?


image What follows is my attempt to show how I am trying to make sense of the question of sin/holiness in the narratives of Christian scriptures.

The Pentateuch invites us to follow the stories of a people that grow out of God’s covenant with Abraham–a covenant to constitute a tribe of people who would become a blessing to every people group on the planet.

It’s a narrative that begins right after the origin story of the flood and the Tower of Babel–a story that can be read as God cursing humans for avarice or as God responding to avarice by blessing humans with diversity of cultures to increase their differences and develop contexts for greater interdependence. And there are ways we can follow the arc of the Pentateuch and reimagine what holiness might look like, had the people taken God’s covenant with Abraham seriously.

The holiness codes and the sacrificial system of law come after the people refuse God’s invitation to meet with all of them on the mountain–instead sending Moses in their place. Their elaborate legal system for bringing about holiness reads like a sectarian response to the ten words offered by God on the mountain–ten words traditionally understood as being about loving God and loving neighbor.

Should we assume their theology was always sound, and trust their versions of history, claiming God ordained the massacre of children so that they could take their land? Or could we not also read that God was faithful to them in spite of their bloody ethnocentrism and genocide?

And shouldn’t we interpret the holiness codes through the reforms of the prophets who said God detested the sacrificial system and found it worthless–instead desiring hospitality for the poor, disenfranchised, and immigrants?

And, at last, what do we make of a God who comes to live with sinful humans? It certainly seems like Jesus can stand to be in our presence, not only without annihilating us, but with genuine love, kindness, friendship, and blessing.

Again, there seems to be something in the character of God, where God moves towards those on the wrong side of the Bible’s own holiness codes. This gets repeated at Pentecost when God’s Spirit begins the relentless movement of blessing towards all nations. Mirroring the blessing of confusion originating at Babel, there is a further blessing of every nation when the good news of Jesus–God with us–is heard in every particular language.

Of course, this move by God threw the early church into chaos about how the law applied to those outside the law; those hellions from Romans 1 with their categorical sexual immorality–the Gentiles.

So what does all this say about God’s holiness? Is holiness actually less about policing our borders and more about moving past our own boundaries to bless those not like us with love? What seems apparent is that God’s holiness, when played out in our lives, looks like the fruit of the Spirit–that laundry list of relational categories that lead to blessing others rather than separating ourselves from them.

God’s holiness appears to be transgressive, offending our definitions of holiness.

Instead of being a pure sample that must be preserved, holiness as blessing acts like yeast, inoculating everything it touches. Holiness makes holy; calls things that are not as though they were; steps into places where people need connection and offers fullness of relationship. Holiness is not proscribed by a code, it is recognized by it’s fruit.

In this accounting for the texts, we don’t resolve the Euthyphro Dilemma. Instead, we two step with it. We say that the stories we hold sacred tell us that, far from being capricious, God is relentless, moving towards those who do wrong, forgiving and making holy through a relationship of blessing.

So, what is holy is what is made holy by the faithfulness of God’s love for those who do wrong. Or, like one biblical writer said, God credits us with righteousness.

In some sense, we might imagine God getting fed up and saying, “I wish I knew how to quit you.” But apparently, God has a thing for all creation and moves towards us with love–offering holiness that makes holy in relationship.


So what does this tell us Christians who are tied up in knots over gay sex?

I think we need to pay attention to how we have been shaped by our culture. We call weapons peacemakers. We are more offended by being called racist than we are by our own racism. We use politeness to deliver discrimination. We blame victims for the crimes perpetrated against them. We treat abominably those we accuse of abominations.

In short, our imagination of holiness appears to be shaped by our own impulse to be viewed as blameless.

While we use the Bible to justify our stance on holiness, we need to renew a biblical understanding of holiness rooted in what the narratives tell us about the character of God–as revealed in Jesus–as a movement towards us of blessing.

When we catch on to what the Holy Spirit is up to, we might realize that holiness is not about us getting it right to please God, but that it is God’s pleasure to bless us with relationship. In this paradigm holiness is measured in fruit, not compliance.

This shifts the conversation.

For those who view gay sex as sin, their work is not to be separate, but to offer the blessing of holiness through loving relationality. The requirement of holiness is to join the activity of the Holy Spirit, to transgress our notions of holiness in order to bless and make holy–to be evident through increased love. In this view, God’s grace and holiness are sacrament–those gifts that make sacred– freely given in relationship through Jesus.

And the work for LGBTIQ Christians and their allies is the same–to bear fruit in keeping with repentance–to grow in our capacity to move towards otherness in relational posture of blessing.

If, indeed, God is like Jesus–moving towards us where we are trapped in the competitive, zero sum game, where we demand death to preserve the purity of our system, then holiness is not about separation, but about blessing that is offered in relationship to those we see as wrong.

Jesus’ parable of the yeast is genius because it speaks to the viral spread of holiness-suggesting that holiness is not diluted or polluted, nor does it displace what it encounters–instead, holiness works with whatever it encounters and finds a way to bless and name goodness–this is the movement of a creator towards their creation.

In this interpretation, we are faced (both turned towards and given faces) by a prodigal God who is consistent in character, bringing provision and feasting with those who are on the wrong side of holiness codes. This God’s project is to bless, making good and complete until all things are brought into completion, reconciliation with God and made holy.

Jonah Hill’s Apology and Open Carry

This week, social media has been a veritable cesspool of unsavory. So much so, that I have yearned for the drivel of catdogbaby videos and insta-filtered, cell-phone selfies of vague acquaintances and their latest foam art.

Among so many other things, on Monday, we were treated to news of cele-bro-ty, Jonah Hill’s weekend use of homophobic language aimed at a stalker/tabloid photographer who had been harassing Hill. And, by Tuesday morning, we were treated to a full-on, Tonight Show apology.


Here’s the thing: I’m more than happy to receive Hill’s apology. As far as public apologies go, his is way up there. He takes responsibility, seems contrite, and while explaining the context of his wrongdoing, he doesn’t seem to be justifying his actions. He even goes so far as to name that his intent makes no difference because of the impact of his words.

Great stuff. Pharrell and his publicist might want to take tips here (I’m referencing that star’s recent collusion in cultural appropriation with the racist-euro-fashion-magazine-industrial-complex, followed his non-apology/justification).

But here’s the thing, I can’t accept Hill’s apology for everyone. But what I can do is the thing that I know how to do–to pull up a seat and talk about what more may be going on here in our society at large that creates the conditions in which a person would say the things he said.


Before we get there, I should probably make note of the other half of my title: Open Carry. So far as I know, Jonah Hill hasn’t been involved in any way with open carry. And to some, there may not be an obvious connection between homophobic language and extremist interpretations of the second amendment used to justify bad behavior.

For any who don’t know, there are those who use the guise of confusing a “a well armed militia” with “individual license to carry loaded assault rifles in the baby aisle at Target,” to justify what should legitimately be called an “act of domestic terrorism”–that is, carrying a loaded assault rifle in the baby aisle at Target.

So where’s the connection? Well, I’ll get back to that. But to get there, let’s unpack what was happening with Jonah Hill’s comment to the photographer.


According to reports, after being harassed, Hill retorted to his harasser: “suck my dick, you f****t.”

Hill has since made several versions of his same, fairly well put together apology. Namely, he apologizes to LGBTQ persons for use of the f word, and he says that people being harassed by others should not lash out in harmful ways like he did.

I believe Hill when he says that he has always stood for LGBTQ rights, and loves and respects the LGBTQ people in his life. I believe he is actually sorry.

Frankly, I don’t have the time or energy for second guessing decent apologies, and when it comes to motives, if we’re going to be offended by impact instead of intent, then I feel the responsibility to receive apologies on the same grounds (though, to be clear, our perception of intent ALWAYS frames and shapes how something impacts us).

I also believe that there is much more wrong with the situation than what got covered in Hill’s apology (or in the coverage of Hill’s offense and apology).


First, there’s the un-addressed obvious–the opening phrase preceding Hill’s slur. Or, as I like to put it: you say “suck my dick” like it’s a bad thing.

Actually, this is really all we need to unpack the situation further. The use of the f word seems to be getting all the attention, but like other slurs, it bears absolutely no weight without all the cultural baggage of oppressive treatment that goes along with the word. In language studies, we might talk about the de-notative meaning of a word (in this case, the f word is associated with gay men) and the co-notative meaning associated with a word (in this case, all the reasons we feel like it’s a bad thing rather than a compliment when this word is used to describe gay men).

We can also talk about illocutionary force–that is, no one who reads the story of Hill’s comments has had to pause and wonder if Jonah Hill actually wanted, in that moment,  to drop trou’ and have the photographer perform oral sex on him. Though we know that millions of gay and straight couples engage, for pleasure and intimacy, in this very sex act on a daily basis, we don’t assume that’s what Hill wanted.

No, we get that, instead of being a pushy request for sex, the command, “suck my dick” is really intended as a threat against the photographer. It’s a way of borrowing words from a culturally understood vocabulary and using them to make another point that the hearer seems to be missing. In this case, the photographer wouldn’t leave Hill alone, so he used strong words that are backed by cultural violence to respond forcefully to what felt like a boundary violation–in other words, Hill felt angry and his words were meant to indicate that the photographer needed to back off and leave him alone.

That these words work in our society to communicate such an idea is a problem.


We are told so much about our culture when the phrase “suck my dick” is associated with power, dominance, and control, rather than with a male bodied person’s vulnerable request for sexual intimacy with someone else.

And here, we see clearly where the oppression of LGBTIQ persons and the oppression of women intersect in a culture so shaped by a dynamic of domination/violence paired with a paranoid insecurity that must be defended at all costs (see where I’m going here?).

Our tendency to use references to sex acts in a violent way speaks to what some have called our “rape culture”–that is, the normalization of sexual violence against women (as well as children, LGBTIQ persons, people of color, those with disabilities, etc.) that allows males to operate out of presumptive domination and ownership of other people’s bodies.

This shows up not just in violent language, but in blaming women and female bodies for the violence that men do against them “because she wanted it.” It’s the “gay panic” defense when homophobic people are violent “because I thought he was coming on to me.” It’s the failure of police to pursuit the violent sexual assailants of transgender women until videos of the event, which happened on a public subway, are made viral online (and it’s the failure of bystanders to protect the women involved).

This is our “sickness unto death”–our cultural loss of human personhood–and our despair of healthy interpersonal relationship that leads to the masculine defense of power.


But the truth is, we are vulnerable. And to open ourselves up to be seen as vulnerable means to open ourselves up both to harm AND to desirable relationship with each other.

Misogyny and homophobia are symptoms–like open carry–of our insecurity about being vulnerable, finite human beings. People who are at peace with their own vulnerability and who make a practice of treating all people with equal dignity and respect, do not carry assault rifles in the baby aisle at Target. Or at Sonic drive-ins. Or at church.

Jonah Hill reached for misogynist/homophobic language because he, like all of us, is shaped by a culture that has told him it is not okay to be vulnerable as a man. He reached for the tool that we have all collectively honed for just such a defense. His apology is not enough, because the problem is bigger than his use of the tool he was handed.

The problem is our problem. We use hateful, harmful language because we are afraid–afraid of being hated and harmed–afraid of losing our precarious grip on a small bit of control. This same fearfulness drives us to protect our borders, to arm ourselves with guns and oppressive immigration policies, and inaccessible healthcare systems (because someone else getting care will slow my access to care), to regressive drug incarceration laws.

All these things are symptoms of a disease that we need to heal from. And to heal from it, we have to stop defending and start grieving–grieving so that we can move far enough into the mess that we can begin to untangle it and grieving so that we can recover our desire for the intimacy of real relationships that honor all persons so that we all emerge, less bound by our impulse to be driven to violence by our fear.

 

QCT 21: Empty Chairs at Empty Tables

This post is a part of the series entitled Queering the Christian Table. You can learn about the series and read earlier posts by clicking the tab at the top of the page.


I’ve begun to wonder about the topic of Christian unity. I wonder if there’s any hope for a common table. It’s a bizarre notion that seems to take up a large portion of the attention of the New Testament. I wonder about it when I hear about things like the World Vision Debacle-palooza that was last week.

I also wonder about it when I pass the large number of independent Pentecostal and Bible churches that crowd random corners in my neighborhood of West Seattle. I wonder about the people who worship there–places that feel so familiar when I pass them, that I can almost hear the syncopated drumbeat matched with the on-beat clapping of the white, Pentecostal churches of my childhood.

I wonder about people in the scandal-ensconced mega-church just down the road from me. I wonder about the Anglican Mission in America churches as I make my way to my progressive Anglo-Catholic Episcopal church.

I wonder, because each week when we circle the table, my congregation offers thanks and confesses, “You have made us one with all your people, in heaven and on earth.” And I want so desperately for that to be true.


“There’s a grief that can’t be spoken.

There’s a pain goes on and on.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Now my friends are dead and gone.”

Weeks like last week make me feel painfully stuck.

So, when, as I was looking for a good karaoke song, I came across this old favorite from Les Miserables, I listened to it about a dozen times trying to understand what it was articulating about how I feel in this particular moment.

“From the table in the corner

They could see the world reborn

And they rose with voices ringing

And I can hear them now!

The very words that they had sung

Became their last communion

On this lonely barricade at dawn.”

While the “culture wars” often feel like the invention of television, radio, and internet news outlets seeking content to fill space in order to drive traffic and generate marketing revenue, there are weeks like last week when there are real casualties of all this fighting.

When 10,000 plus people are willing to abandon not only financial support of children in poverty, but ostensibly some sort of relationship with those children and care for those particular children’s well-being over what is likely at most a potential few dozen LGBTQ folks’ ability to earn a paycheck supporting the system that is supposed to be helping those kids, I am indeed left with “a grief that can’t be spoken.”

I don’t want anyone, on the right or left to use my existence as an excuse to inflict more harm.

And that’s where it hits me hardest. It’s really easy to think that I am the source of this divide. As a Gay Christian, when I pull up a chair at the table and somebody else pushes their chair away (or 10,000 people simultaneously push their chairs away), it’s difficult to not believe that there is something wrong with me. And even when I can manage to hang on to the reality that they are making their own choices, in this moment, it’s hard to look at the 10,000 children who are impacted and not just play the numbers game and say, well, if my not being at this table will keep others from doing harm to these kids, then maybe I should just throw myself under the bus.

And yet, I believe in the power of the gospel to welcome everyone to the table–and that has to mean that there is room for me here too. That’s a really hard thing to hold on to when there are so many on all sides of this issue who are dismantling the table to turn it into a barricade.


I never quite understand when I see others abstain from taking communion.

I know that they have deep convictions and personal reasons and I respect those and I am very willing to hear their stories and give them all the space they need. But I cannot afford to pass up on a place at the table–it is far too precious a thing for me. You see, I was told all my life that I was unworthy to be at the table–not just in the way that we all need grace, but in the way that my very presence at the table was damnable; that the act of my eating and drinking at God’s table was illegitimate.

But something happened–something that I can only explain as good news. I realized that Jesus was present at my table. That I did not have to come to God’s table, but that God came to mine. The message of the gospel does not begin and end with Jesus dying for our sins. It begins with Jesus coming to live as a human and be involved in our lives and it ends with Jesus, after we violently rejected him, coming back to life and asking us to live with love and generous compassion, offering our voices in witness to God’s kingdom unfolding like the leaves of an ever expanding table into every corner of the world.

And as someone whose experience of the table has often been that God has prepared it for me in the presence of my enemies, I lay claim to that hospitality of God with all the wild abandonment I can muster. I go to the table because I, and people like me, have been barred from the table and I need to hear that I am welcome in the world. Yet, when I come to the table and my presence becomes the excuse for others to leave the offering of God’s unconditional hospitality, I find myself wrestling with a sort of survivor guilt.

“Oh my friends, my friends forgive me

That I live and you are gone.

There’s a grief that can’t be spoken

There’s a pain goes on and on.”

 


And in this space, as I sit down at the table and hear the deafening screech of thousands of chairs pulling away, because I love the church and seek for the unity of the church so that we can get on with loving the entire world as we were comissioned to do, I am tempted to walk away.

There are many others who have done this–and for such good reason. Some LGBTIQ folks have found ways to God’s table by going to churches that accept us fully and celebrate our place at the table and, in so doing, often break communion with others in the Christian faith, in their denominations, and sometimes in families and local communities.

Some have navigated the tension by staying in the closet and remaining in churches that would reject them if they were honest.

Some have come out in such church communities, but have chosen to remain celibate or try to do something to change their orientation in order to become acceptable to their community and that church’s definition of God’s design.

Some have internalized the message that they are not welcome and have left the church entirely.

Some believe they are welcomed by God, but see that their faith community has too small a conception of God’s grace, and in order to allow that community to grow at its own pace, have left that community out of broken-hearted compassion.

Some have come out to their churches and families and been disowned.

Some have so internalized the lie told to them by the sound of the screeching chairs of rejection, that they have seen no other route than to take their own lives.

I believe that God weeps with all of us, on every side of these tables, wondering when we will remember the first message of the gospel–that God loves us enough to want to come and live with us; that God comes to our tables, wherever they are, turning them into God’s own table and it is our gift to offer seats to everyone we come in contact with.

“Oh my friends, my friends, don’t ask me

What your sacrifice was for.

Empty chairs at empty tables

Where my friends will sing no more.”

There is no need for further sacrifices. The violence we do to one another in the name of protecting God, the Bible, Christianity, marriage, whatever–it’s rooted in the same violence that drove us to kill Jesus. But the scandal of the Christian faith is rooted in the implausibility of the resurrection. God accepted our violence and the death we offered and replied first with silence, and solidarity with human suffering, and then with resurrection, offering forgiving hospitality that promises to transform the world.

Other Christians don’t need to crucify LGBTIQ people in order to come to God’s table. We already crucified Jesus and we don’t need to go down that road anymore. And LGBTIQ people don’t need to sacrifice ourselves by accepting the violence of a church that can’t accept the love of God for every person in the world–Jesus already did that.

So what are we to do?

We return to the table. We accept the grace we need. And we offer prayers of lament for those who push away. Right now, that’s the best that I can manage. I cannot make others realize that there is grace here. I cannot make anyone feel the love of God that is opening up the world as a place of welcome.

The words of this song ring so true for me in this moment, because these folks in the church who are pushing away LGBTIQ folks are not my enemies. They are beloved children of God. And I hate to see any of us throw our lives away on barricades, trying to protect a God who needs no protection–a God who moves with hospitality through death in order to welcome us into ever expanding life.

 

Thank God for Sex

If you haven’t made your way through the internets and over to the site thankgodforsex.org, allow me to offer this plug.

Dr. Tina Schermer Sellers and a team of great folks have been putting together a bunch of resources addressing issues of sexuality, gender, and shame that have emerged from what’s come to be called the purity culture of Evangelical Christianity in USAmerica. However, the resources and stories you’ll find on the website speak not only to shame from this particular context but from a wide variety of contexts. Whether you or someone you love has experienced shaming messages about gender or sexuality from church, school, family, or culture (pro-tip, it’s always all of the above), you should check out the site sometime.

Also, while you are there, you can listen to the audio from a couple of panels that I was on. The first one (where you can hear me talk about the Bible and gay porn) was about religious sexual shame, and the second (where you can hear me talk about atonement theology and masturbation) was about singleness. Both can be found by clicking here.

While you are there you can watch interview videos of folks telling their stories of the messages they received about sex, sexuality, and gender, and how they are engaging grace and goodness to live into authentic, healthy sexuality.

 

I did one of these videos as well. You can watch it below and you can see the videos of others by clicking here.

I’d encourage you to share thankgodforsex.org as a resource for those who might find it helpful.

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I’m available for conversations related to any of my work that appears on this blog. If you’re interested in sharing a story or getting together for a cup of coffee in person or via skype, let me know. 

I’m also available to speak in forums, churches, classrooms, and conferences about my experiences and theological approach to conversations about LGBTIQ persons in the Christian church. 

You can contact me directly by sending a message in the form below. If you want to make a public comment on this post, scroll on down to the box at the bottom of the page that says “Leave a Reply.”