The Very Queer Christmas Story.

This post first appeared in December 2013

christmas-nativity-painting

queer (kwîr)
adj. queer·er, queer·est
1. Deviating from the expected or normal; strange: a queer situation.
2. Odd or unconventional, as in behavior; eccentric. See Synonyms at strange.
3. Of a questionable nature or character; suspicious.
4. Slang Fake; counterfeit.
5. Feeling slightly ill; queasy.
6. Offensive Slang Homosexual.
7. Usage Problem Of or relating to lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, or transgendered people.
n.
1. Offensive Slang Used as a disparaging term for a homosexual person.
2. Usage Problem A lesbian, gay male, bisexual, or transgendered person.
tr.v. queered, queer·ing, queers Slang
1. To ruin or thwart: “might try to queer the Games with anything from troop movements . . . to a bomb attack” (Newsweek).
2. To put (someone) in a bad position.

Last week, I got caught up in a thread on Facebook regarding the religious liberty supposedly being withheld from Phil Robertson . I was really struck how a few, some even being pastors, had such am odd sense of how inappropriate Robertson’s comments were. They seemed perfectly happy to defend him, when in reality Christian theology and Jesus himself would demand the exact opposite. Funny for me too, thinking of this happening in the week prior to when we celebrate Christmas and the birth of the Christian Savior.

Christmas is truly a queer holiday when you stop and think about it. Everything about it is peculiar, odd and out of the ordinary. These things ought to lead a Christian to be even more humbled, but doesn’t seem to work that way. Some seem so self-assured and even cocky- as if they have all of the answers. For me the holiday and the religious significance comes from the opposite. The queerness of Christmas is that it calls us to take everything we are so sure about and turn it upside down, and consider the possibility that there is something totally outside our realm of understanding to see and grasp. But so often, this Christmas story is taken as if it is so well known. Nothing new in it, nothing unexpected, and to me that is such a shame. The real power of the holiday is lost to these people.

There truly is no historical basis for the Christmas Story. No records of a census, or an inn with no rooms or even the birth of a baby. No record of wise men’s travels, angels or any other aspect of the tale. We know that it could not have happened in December too. And yet, in spite of this lack of supporting material, we as a whole culture treat it as fact. I don’t mean to question that either. No real point. In fact the value of the holiday comes from the fact that believers believe, regardless. But there is so much more to this holiday when we start to grasp how queer it really is.

We can’t easily see the world through the eyes of women and men in the actual days in which Jesus was supposedly born, but what if we tried? In some ways it would share similarities to our own time. Imagine for a brief moment what Mary must have faced, as others found she was pregnant and unmarried. How alone and isolated she may have been. How misunderstood, how ashamed she may have felt. All of those people would have felt so assured of their condemnation of her- they had their own religious texts to prove and judge her with. Imagine Joseph who had spent his whole life believing how things were supposed to go, and here, he finds himself becoming betrothed to a woman already with child. How queer! How out of the ordinary to be sure. Joseph, Mary and baby were perhaps the first non-traditional family. Even without joking that Jesus had two daddies, you have to see this as odd. All of the people around Joseph and Mary would have.

Imagine Mary, whose experience was unlike pretty much every other woman she knew. How might she have felt and what did she do to hold onto what she knew in her heart was real for her? It isn’t hard to sort out what Jewish Law says about pregnancy outside of marriage. Isn’t it conceivable that she would have experienced comments and disdain similar to what Robertson expressed about homosexuals? He used scripture, just as Hebrew scripture would have been used against her, yes? Yet, today we praise her for knowing in her heart was was real for her and her destiny. Even as some criticize gays and lesbians for speaking their truth.

At the heart of the Christmas Story is the essence of how God creates and places God’s Self (AKA Love) into the midst of the human experience. It doesn’t happen based on the status quo, nor by some way recognized by the masses. It happens in the most amazing, and unexplainable ways. It happens in queer ways.

Our failure today, to even pause of contemplate the birth in real time is a symptom of the failure of Christianity, and why most humans are so lost. Indeed why most Christians act in ways that are so utterly unchristian. Stop and think about it for a minute. Consider everything that Jesus’ ministry and journey was all about, and what are the good Christians hyper about? Poverty, inequality, lack of human dignity- none of these even raise an eyebrow, but mention allowing two persons who love each other to get married, and the whole world is now crumbling for some Christians.

The other aspect of the Christmas Story which is so queer is that it is a fully manufactured piece of fiction. Even if there was a Mary, Joseph and virgin birth. It couldn’t have happened in December for example. That the story is manufactured doesn’t make it less real or less meaningful, but it ought to remind us that so many of our judgements about what should and shouldn’t be are also manufactured. They are constructions too, and we as a whole choose which constructs we will accept and which we will not. We can even grasp the need for construction if we stop and consider how impossible it would be to place into simple words the magnificence of God’s injection into humans’ lives. Where we ought to be in such utter awe, we treat it as a simple children’s tale. If we really believe that God can do such things, we would all need to be beside ourselves with fear and trembling.

Almost no one would have believed Mary, Joseph and those who were witness to whatever miracle  happened. But a few would have. A few had enough Faith to recognize what was possible outside of the status quo.

If the power of that miracle is to continue to change the world, then today, we have to be willing to let go of our fears, expectations and judgements and have Faith in what might be possible. We must be willing to grasp and embrace the queerness of the Christmas Story.

Boswell, History, and Women

bible_womanThere was one element of the preface I didn’t mention in my previous post because it deserves commentary of its own. Even Boswell devotes less than 100 words even though it is really a huge deal. He puts it this way;

History was written by men about men, and where women are mentioned, it is generally peripherally.

In a big way therefore, any discussion about the Bible and homosexuality, isn’t really about Sexual Orientation or homosexuality in general, but rather it is about the Bible and male gender roles and how male sexual expression aligns with gender role expectations. It is a true statement: there is nothing in the Bible about Sexual Orientation, just as there is nothing in the Bible about dinosaurs, the Ice Age, the plethora of galaxies out there I n the Universe, or even that a Universe exists. But again, Boswell’s purpose is History, and the history of attitudes from the beginning of the Christian Era to the fourteenth century.

It is not a part of his book, but the degree to which intolerance of homosexuality is really just the intolerance towards gay male behavior is or ought to be a primary argument against anyone who claims that the Bible is against homosexuality or claims that religious intolerance is the reason for social intolerance.

I have some thoughts about what this means and how we respond because of it, and that will most likely come out as we move through the book.

This past is part of a series on Boswell’s text.Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality.

Boswell, History, and Theology: the preface.

John BoswellSo often, the preface isn’t all that important, and it is easy to skip ahead to where the actual book begins and start reading, but in the case of Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century,” that would be a mistake. The premise laid out within his preface is crucially important to grasp , and so I want to devote this first post to those four and a half pages. This is important, and if we don’t come to terms with what this means, we won’t really be able to put the rest of the book to much use. For this post, I used Boswell’s original paperbound book, copyright 1980.

History and the role of the historian

One of the most important statements made by Boswell within this entire book begins the preface:

“No matter how much historians and their readers may wish to avoid contaminating their understanding of the past with the values of the present, they can not ignore the fact that both writer and reader are inevitably affectedly the assumptions and beliefs of the age(s) in which they write and read.”

We don’t tend to think of that however, either while writing or as a reader. History, we tell ourselves, is a set of facts and so they are what they are, no matter who is telling them, when and for what reason, right?  Not according to Boswell: both the writer and the reader carry all sorts of stuff to the text- to the history- and considering what these things may be is essential to understanding the text and history. To some, this may seem obvious, but in a huge way it isn’t and leads to false ideas, or is intentionally overlooked, again leading to false ideas. Why is this important? He writes:

“If religious texts are widely supposed to have been the origin of a medieval prejudice, their role in determining the attitude in question must be carefully understood.”

Today, the morality of homosexuality is the issue, and too much of the dialogue revolves around the question, ‘are religious ideas the basis for discrimination against homosexuality and gay and lesbian people.’ Boswell doesn’t set out to argue the morality of homosexuality, rather his goal is to illuminate ideas about homosexuality in the period from the beginning of Christianity until the fourteenth century, not to speak either for or against them.

History is not theology

Two points are at the center of his work in this book:

  1. To display that what may have seemed to be the source of antipathy  in the past, often was not;
  2. To clarify the differences between ancient objections to homosexuality and modern objections.

Now many readers, and I include myself in that group when I first read this book, simply want Boswell to tell us that theologians have had it wrong all along and the Bible isn’t negative about gay and lesbian people. But we aren’t going to get that from Boswell or this book if that is what we are looking for. We will get something far more important if we are open to it and willing to do the work for it. Because the argument, “The Bible is this or isn’t this” is a useless argument because we will never come to any final outcome: we will simply spin our wheels, and at the same time allow those who claim the Bible is anti-gay to have more power than they deserve.  When we begin to demystify the Bible and the history of it- the historical reasons it is what it is, then the text itself loses all of that magic mojo that the opponents of the LGBTQ movement try to use against us.

People object to or support the full acceptance of gay, lesbian, bi, trans, and queer people. They may use the Bible as a weapon to support their position of opposition, but it only has as much power as we allow it. One of the strongest arguments that the anti-gay people use, is that culture, and especially Christian culture has always felt this way about gay people, but is this really true? Or are oppositions that exist now a modern thing, not well supported by the past.

Methodology and the reader

Before we dig into the meat of the book, just a word about methodology. Boswell heavily footnotes his text: what are we as readers to take from that, or how are we to read that? It almost becomes two texts: the book itself, and the footnotes. Unlike some books where the footnotes are only citations supporting where claims or ideas come from, in this text, they go a bit beyond that. Sometimes they are small forays into a tangential discussion. For example, in the Introduction, footnote #2 is a wildly interesting aside about social tolerance, intolerance and acceptance. My personal suggestion is to read the text at least twice. The first time through, ignore the footnotes. Then, read through the footnotes and refer back to the text where each is cited as you go. And lastly, sometimes it will be helpful re-read portions of the text itself after considering the footnote.

Lastly, my suggestion is to do what I’m doing here to a degree, and make notes as you read. Jot down phrases, words, or short sentences that summarize what you are reading. Do it, as you read- don’t wait to get to the end of a chapter to jot some things down.The idea isn’t to merely spend the time to get from page 1 to page whatever. Rather it is to end up with a new appreciation, awareness or understanding from that time spent. This doesn’t have to be like school. No one is going to test you. But you will leave the experience happier and perhaps smarter.

Biblical Connellsville

2 Political Junkies is one of my favorite blogs, and today, there is a fine post there about the Ten Commandments Monument in Connellsville, and the court case about it. In a nut shell- there is this big monument outside of a school which is a monument to the Ten Commandments. Now, in court, the lawyer for the school distyrict is arguing that it isn’t at all an endorsement of religion or even about religion. Dave, begs to differ:

I am not sure, however, how a monument that begins with the text:the Ten CommandmentsI AM the LORD thy God.I Thou shalt have no other gods before me.II Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain.III Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.Is anything but an endorsement of religion and a promotion of religious faith.

While I agree basically, and totally get Dave’s point, I think he is really missing the point. The fight isn’t really over religion, but rather it is about maintaining the status quo and the deeply embedded yet undiscussed place of religion within our so-called secular culture. The school district isn’t fighting this because they believe in the supremecy of a judeo-christian belief system. Nope. They are fighting this because they don’t want to hve to confront the place of religious control in what we generally call secular or civil society.  This may be a nuanced point, but I think it is an important one.

It isn’t religion and religious ides per se, but rather, it is the unspoken, accepted control Religion exerts in areas of our life we think of as not-church-related.

The idea of an American Theocracy isn’t new, even if the Far Right Religious Conservatives seem to be at it with a new found vigor in their war on woman and gays. The foundation of an American Theocracy have been around for quite a while, and as this case shows, not everyone wants to come to terms with it.

I often think those who wish to promote religion in this way, really aren’t big on promoting the specifics of the religion. Like, really- how is it they can support the death penalty at the same time as following the commandment that one shall not kill? Or the most abused commandment is that one about false witness….

What these folks are big on, is promoting a hierarchical power structure where a few hold judgement over the rest. This notion, what the ten commandments represent as a portratyal of a power structure is their goal, not the specifics of the religious text itself.

What’s interesting, is looking at what the attorney is saying, and then comparing that to what the residents of Connellsville are saying. The attorney knows this is a problem, and the school will loose the lawsuit unless he can reframe the issue. The residents‘ comments are uniquivocal- the Ten Commandments are something that they should live by. (See note above.)

Check out the blog. Dave (and Maria) are always brilliant.

via 2 Political Junkies.

Here’s a video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q42nGp-FEqU

 

Some thoughts on some thoughts on gay marriage

Tom Holmes, a pastor writes some great commentary in the linked post below, and I encourage everyone to read it. But there are a few points I want to draw attention to. As I read his thoughts, I am struck by what seems like a path be respectful and fair to various viewpoints on the issue of homosexuality. I applaud the effort, but in doing so, a few things get missed that deserve mention.

Now many people relieve the tension between the two by dismissing one side or the other. That is to say, the Bible has this one wrong or they affirm their belief that the authority of the Bible always trumps our limited experience.What I want to encourage you to do is to find some way to tolerate living in the tension. For those who condemn homosexual behavior on the basis of Scripture, talk to – no, better yet listen to – the stories of at least five LGBTs. Hear how they struggled to come to terms with a sexual orientation they never wanted. Better yet, find a healthy same-sex couple which is raising kids and see if you can observe anything except mainstream child-raising behavior.

The Bible vs Homosexuality

Holme’s comments suggests that there are two options when it comes to Biblical teachings about homosexuality: either one accepts the “authority of the Bible,” or one believes “experience trumps Scripture and the church.” I would contend that there is another option that Holmes misses. Too often Scripture is treated as if it is words and meaning that have been set in stone and the meaning is crystal clear, and this just isn’t so, especially when it comes to relating to gay people today. He believes that “what little the bible does say… is all negative.” I personally don’t agree with that at all. Just look at the story of Jonathan and David or that of Ruth and Naomi. In neither case are the story characters identified as “gay” but that doesn’t negate how these are powerful stories of same-sex love, commitment, and devotion. And these qualities are exactly what make the gay people and the gay couples Holmes speaks about what they are. In my opinion, the Bible is as pro same-sex love as it is pro opposite-sex love. In fact, some scholars believe that Jesus himself blessed a gay couple.

Given that we are talking about Christianity, I’ll limit my review of the negative stuff to the New Testament where we find one passage in Romans that appears to be highly condemning of gay people or homosexuality. But the reality is that what we read as “homosexual” in modern English texts is not a direct translation from the original Greek. There is no one single word for homosexual in Greek, and the translation of two distinct Greek terms into one English term is inaccurate and not applicable to what today, we mean when we talk about gay and lesbian people. Yet Holmes like many, treat the modern English as if it is exactly what was written thousands of years ago in now-dead languages.

We know so much about the historical path that has led to what today we call the Bible. We know that there are stories in it that could not have happened as written, and there is text that today we totally ignore, such as Paul’s commentary on women speaking in church. Yet, when it comes to homosexuality, for some reason there seems to be no room for interpretation or correction. Here, Holmes fails the very same-sex couples that he encourages other pastors to meet and get to know.

(no such thing as) Gay Marriage

I am really disappointed that Holmes titles his post, and places the perspective on gay marriage and on homosexuality. First, there is no such thing as gay marriage as if it were different than other marriage. Same-sex couples seek the civil rights that a civil marriage license provides to opposite sex couples. Thats all, and why most times the more appropriate way to talk about it is to call it Marriage Equality. With marriage equality, same-sex couples simply wish to be treated equal by the civil government, which issues marriage licenses. In this regard, it really doesn’t matter what religious leaders or lay persons think, nor does marriage equality mean that churches must accept same-sex couples. It is nice when they do, and there are denominations and congregations very open and welcoming to gay, lesbian, bi, and trans persons.

Second, Holmes post teats homosexuality as if it is a thing. Much like some pastors talk about “the homosexual lifestyle.” This is fallacious.

Many years ago, Copernicus discovered and have the courage to say that the Sun doesn’t revolve around the Earth- an idea thought at the time to be anti-Biblical. Indeed, the Church forced Galileo to retract his truth and he lived under house arrest until hits death. Today’s dispute over sexual orientation may someday appear quite similar, as we learn more about complex biology and the true nature of orientation, attraction, and behavior. It took the Church 350 years to realize that Galileo had it right. Let’s hope that it doesn’t take the Religious that long to come to terms with accepting that sexual orientation is fluid and ranges from exclusively heterosexual, to exclusively homosexual, and the entire spectrum is normal and natural and a part of Creation.

 

 

 

via Some thoughts on gay marriage.

Stop worrying about my salvation, and mind your own business.

The issue of Homosexuality and the Bible will remain front and center for a while, as we move through a new phase of the growth of human thought. Christianity may be on its last breath or it may evolve. Only time will tell, but it is changing, or must change, just as it did when the world was believed to be flat, or when the industrial revolution changed things, or any number of other points throughout History.

That said, until any transformation is complete, can I just ask that you crazy Christians to stop worrying about my salvation? I am quite capable as an adult to make my own moral choices, and I don’t need you trying to control me, my life, or my relationships. If you think I’m going to hell because, I’m gay, that’s fine. Believe what you want. But past that, leave me alone! You aren’t going to be there, burning with me, so what is it to you?

I remember as far back as Grade School, being given a book by my Father’s father, about the Pilgrims and their trip to the new world. It detailed, in a youth book way, their flight from England to flee Religious persecution, and their trip to the New World. This notion of Religious Freedom has stuck with me ever since, and I am committed to it as a guiding principle, just as our Constitution is committed to it. But I am also a thinking person, who has studied much when it comes to Religion, History, Christianity, and Theology. I was raised within a Methodist household where rational thought informs all else in theological ideas.

The reality is that Christian theology isn’t that cookie-cutter clear, and if the topic is Hell, it is even a bit muddier. That said, if you want to be hung up on going to Heaven or Hell, that is your business, but I’ll appreciate you stepping out of my business. I’m not so worried about Hell, because theologically, it just doesn’t add up, so whenever I end up standing before the Creator, I’m just not worried, and you don’t need to be worried for me. Really. And if I’m wrong, well, I’ll take responsibility for that.

Imagine how much good in the world you could do, if you just stopped trying to control the lives of other people and really started to be Christ-like. If you brought people to your Faith by attraction rather than coercion. I am a huge fan of Faith! I am however, with the theologian, Søren Kierkegaard, and doubt that you really know much about what Faith is, or just how hard it is to walk a path of Faith. It is easier, I’m sure to think you have all of the answers and need to force them onto others.

I know part of your reply. It is all about the kids, right? You have to squash my freedoms because what if the kids see, and what if they are led astray? This too is theologically unsound thinking. If the God of Love that you praise so loudly is all that, the kids have nothing to worry about. The power of love will always be greater than anything that falls outside of natural for a person. If a young person is gay, or lesbian, or bisexual, or trans, none of your efforts will really stop them. Not really. They will either just hate themselves or they will come to recognize your control and rhetoric as hateful. If you honestly think that God’s love isn’t strong enough then you don’t have much Faith, and you need to stop worrying about my Salvation, and worry about your own.

Just as when people of Faith had to come to grips with the fact that the world was not flat, and the sun didn’t move around the Earth, today, you must come to grips with the fact that Biology is far more complex than you once thought. People are truly created and have different sexual orientations. There have always been non-straight people, throughout History, and our social and cultural constructions today allow gay people to be exactly as they are. This is, I believe, seeing the whole of Creation through new eyes, and in ways that good for humanity.

So, please just stop and ask yourself what you really want. Do you want to be people of Faith or do you want to try to control everyone else? You will have some power to control, but the consequence of that is also pushing many people away from Faith. Your call: be a loving community of Faith or push people away. Either way, stop worrying about my Salvation. I’m OK, and I know what I can expect come judgement day, and I have nothing to worry about. And if we are both standing there, I’m going t turn to you and say, “I told you do.”

When churches teach hate.

This story is quite remarkable and sad at the same time.

Gay Couple Assaulted — At Church

Jerry Pittman, Jr., and his boyfriend, Dustin Lee, were attacked when they tried to go to church at Grace Fellowship in Fruitland, Tennessee:
I went over to take the keys out of the ignition and all the sudden I hear someone say ‘sick’em,’” said Gibson County resident, Jerry Pittman Jr.

 

Pittman said the attacked was prompted by the pastor of the church, Jerry Pittman, his father. “My uncle and two other deacons came over to the car per my dad’s request. My uncle smash me in the door as the other deacon knocked my boyfriend back so he couldn’t help me, punching him in his face and his chest. The other deacon came and hit me through my car window in my back,” said Pittman. He said bystanders did not offer assistance. He said the deacon yelled derogatory homosexual slurs, even after officers arrived. He said the officers never intervened to stop the deacons from yelling the slurs.

 

Back in graduate school, I rtead a bvook about snake handling churches that has stuck with me over these past 14 years. David Covinton’s book, Salvation on Sand Mountian tells the amazing story of this practice of Faith, but the above story brings it to mind for another reason. You see, Covington got involved with snake handling after following the trail of a pastor accused of trying to murder his wife with snake bites.  He wasn’t a very righteous pastor really if I remember the story. He was having an affair and this was a way to get rid of his wife, so he forced her to stick her hand into a rattler’s cage. But she didn’t die.

When individuals use their sense of entitlement as evidence that their actions do not have to be aligned with their supposed calling, it is always a bad sign.

The link has more details as well as video.

 

Can Fags Doom Nation?

 

There is a photo on my other blog, of one of the Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) crazies and their signs. I look at it everyday, and it got me thinking about the notion of “Nation” and if it is applicable in any way today. Most any of the Far Right anti-gay Christian Bible thumpers are caught up in the Old Testament using Leviticus mostly to support their self-righteous judgementalism. The WBC stuff comes from the Old Testament too. This is fairly insane given that it misses the whole point for the coming of The Christ, and how the death and resurrection fit into the whole of God’s plan. But that is the subject of another blog post. Here I want to think about this notion of “nation.”

Nation, in the Old Testament sense of the term is best represented by the Hebrew Nation which had 12 tribes. These tribes grow from a family lineage and have a somewhat geographic meaning in that each tribe was settled in one area or another, but the blood lineage is far more important than the geographic organization of the tribes. Nations in this sense means that everyone is alike because to some degree they are related, and most Importantly, all members of the nation are of the same Faith.

That doesn’t sound anything like a modern understanding of a nation where the boundaries are decided along geographic lines, made up of people of many lineages and bloodlines, and where, at least in the sense of our nation, are of no one Faith but represent many Faiths or no faith at all.

It can be argued that God has never destroyed any nation, even in the Old Testament because of sexual orientation. But we can clearly see where God expected all to worship only Him. From the Old Testament perspective, therefore, if anything would doom our nation, it would have more to do with the acceptance and respect for all Faiths including respect for no faith at all.

There is a connection between sexual orientation and the concept of lineage that is worth mentioning. Those who play the Queer Hater card, most always are referring to gay men exclusively when they talk about homosexuality. It is as if lesbians don’t exist or matter. This is because the family linkage of a father to his heirs/ children is all that matters. Even Jacob, the father of the the 12 tribes had 2 wives and 2 concubines who produced these 12 sons and a daughter. Not 13 tribes mind you, but 12 for the 12 sons.

This is an aside, but how about that: 2 wives and 2 concubines! What does that say about the institution of marriage that must never be redefined?

We have nothing in today’s contemporary world that allows us to apply an Old Testament concept of nation in any way that truly make sense. Any attempt to do so, is an attempt to turn back civilization to a time before science, some 3000 or so years ago. Those who wish to do so, are really more interested in perpetuating a culture where women are meaningless except as receptacles for carrying babies, and men and sons are all that matter. How appealing is that?

Website Changes

QLATB.com is moving!

That means that there may be some downtime when the site is not available, however it will return soon. Everything will remain the same from a user’s perspective, but the site will be on a faster server with better bandwidth, so the readers experience should be improved.

Apologies for any inconvenience this may cause, but in the end it will be worth it.