Thursday, July 24, 2008
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
I have always loved Joseph, and dare I confess, in part for his taste in clothes.
When I reached my teens, my father decided that it was time to let me make some of my own choices. He called up his friend Horace Beard, who ran a fine clothing store, and told him to expect me to show up without him and without my mother. He would pay for anything I bought up to a specific limit. When I arrived, an enterprising salesman recognized me as an easy mark for some items that were not moving, and in particular I loved a silk leisure shirt that looked like leopard skin. It was gorgeous and had buttons made out of bone, each slightly different in shape. I also bought a pair of expensive trousers that had no belt loops, but a draw string. They were the only trousers in the store like that.
My parents were excited when I arrived home with my purchases. My father was livid when I took them out of the bags. It was not clear whether he was angrier with Mr. Beard for letting it happen or with me for having such obviously "sissy taste!" as he put it, but since I was nearby and powerless, he took his rage out on me, and took out a bit on mother as well, possibly because he was taught in a college psychology class to blame on the mother any sign of sissiness in a boy. "Mother's boy" was the phrase the bullies used at my schoolyard.
In primary class at the Baptist Sunday School I had wondered whether Joseph's brothers were embarrassed about his cloak of many colors. I was not at all impressed with their reason for sparing his life -- not out of pity on him, much less out of any respect for him, but out of fear that they might have heaven to pay if they murdered him.
This is not the end of the story, of course. The lectionary leaves us with a cliff-hanger. For now, forget what you know about how the colorful sissy fares in Egypt. He's one smart guy.
Have you ever been in a small boat in a big storm? I have, and while it was scary, it was even more: intimidating.
I am not macho, nor have I ever pretended to be. I was taught that the world belongs to macho football heroes, whether or not they use what they have between the ears. I was also taught contradictory myths about fairies: 1) that we are so light and frovilous and inconsequential that we are like fuzz on a dandelion. Poof! And we can be blown away; and yet 2) we are so powerful and malevolent that even the toughest young man is no match for us if we set our eyes and our mind to seduce him.
Too much of my adolescence I wasted trying to find myself in either of these myths, with no adult around capable of confirming my suspicion that I was neither.
Dad and I reached a fine compromise when we went camping and fishing each weekend from the end of school in May to the beginning of school in the fall. While I was an adept fly-fisher, I got no pleasure out of being able to put a fly within 3 inches of where I knew the fish were most likely to snap it. Dad worked the fly rod; I maneuvered the small boat into the most promises nooks and crannies.
Out of college and a long time from our fishing excursions, I rented a small boat on a big lake on a hot day in Texas and brought back fine memories of the many days Dad and I were close in such settings. In the middle of the lake, the water began to churn, and the shore to which I was headed to return the boat, was dark with ominous overhanging clouds I knew that I did not have enough gas to go to the safer shore and then still get back to my car. I decided to make it for the darker shore. The rains hit with such vengeance that I could not see either shore. Water began to enter the boat as it rose and dipped in the tall waves.
45 years later I cannot remember a single detail of arriving at my destination, though obviously I did. I do remember my surprise at the power of the wind and the water. Most of all, I remember my vulnerability.
I keep up with 7,321 anniversaries and birthdays, including anniversaries of ordination to priesthood. Mother was head teller at the bank when she was pregnant with me, and this is a delightful way to live into the fullness of my DNA.
The subject line of my message on the anniversary of one's ordination often is, "A Pedicure to Celebrate the Anniversary of Your Ordination." Once a colleague in the House of Deputies replied, "Why are you offering me a pedicure? I don't get them. The sub-text seemed to be "And I don't appreciate email from you." It probably would not have helped one whit to point out that I was alluding, as does St. Paul in today's reading, to Isaiah 52:7. If you have beautiful feet, it makes sense to respect them, to give them a pedicure. Those who have news genuinely good to tell, have beautiful feet. Go figure.
Be figurative! It's fun! I've never had a pedicure myself. If I did have one, I would want my nails polished deep lavender. But that's not the point.
God gave us imagination but it atrophies if we don't use it.
Those who are embarrassed by miracles would probably rather stay home and read a good book today. Walk on water? Puleeze? And show off doing it? Really! No doubt it makes sense that one who controls all that is, could certainly control the weather. But does God need to do it in the fashion of a magician? Have we lost all sense of wonder at the magic God put into creation itself? How did my boat get to the dark shore?
Even more embarrassed today might be those offended by St. Paul's exclusive claims made for Christianity.
After lunch with the American Anglican Council, I ran into Bishop Bill Swing outside the convention center in Minneapolis in 2003 -- or was it outside the convention center in Denver in 2000? Bishop Swing asked me how things were going.
"I have some good news and some bad news," I replied.
"Give me the good news first," he answered.
"It will not be a long time before conservatives give up on scapegoating lesbians and gays," I asserted. "Privately some of them tell me, 'Louie, you're going to "win" on this one, but not on my watch. My own children are no great lovers of lesbians and gays, but they're embarrassed by the energy I put into the battle. "Their place in society is a done deal. They've always been around. The only change now is that they're more honest. Why do you want to make yourself and our family look like a bunch of bigots?" they ask me. We go on and on about it, but the future is theirs, and they will make your life easier, Louie.'"
"That is good news," Bishop Swing replied, "well at least of a kind. But what's the bad news?" he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
"You are next," I replied.
"Yes. 'Jesus is lord. Jesus is Lord. JESUS IS LORD,'" I said with pronounced crescendo.
"But I believe Jesus is Lord," Bishop Swing replied defensively.
"With your United Religions Initiative you speak respectfully of Buddha, or Allah, of......" I teased. Saint says, "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
"But I do, and I will be," the bishop replied.
I do too, and I will be too. So will be my friends in Jesus' other folds that we're not supposed to talk about.
As a loincloth clings to a man, so I intend that my people cling
to me. It is Yaweh who speaks. --Jeremiah 13:11
Psalm 17: 1-7, 16
Eavesdrop on this prayer:
Despite a great many prayers to You we are
continually losing our wars. Tomorrow we shall
again be fighting a battle that is truly great. With
all our might we need Your help and that is why I
must tell You something: This battle tomorrow is
going to be a serious affair. There will be no place
for children. Therefore I must ask You not to send
Your Son to help us. Come Yourself.
This is the prayer of Koq, leader of the Griquas tribe, before a battle with the Afrikaners in 1876. Because we come from a different culture, we might enjoy Koq's different assumptions about Jesus as God's son. Koq's prayer tells us more about himself than about God. So do our own prayers oven reveal much about ourselves.
Try this exercise. Begin with the assumption that the church is being attacked and needs to be defended. That's not hard to assume given our current serious divisions. Assume also that we cannot be safe on our own but need help. Again, that's a reasonable assumption. Next, indicate how would you fill in the blank in this prayer to ask God to defend us:
Let your __________, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help.....
a) Let your power and might, cleanse and defend...
b) Let your righteousness and judgment, cleanse and defend...
c) Let your honor and glory, cleanse and defend...
d) Let your gentleness and kindness, cleanse and defend...
e) Let your greatness, cleanse and defend...
This is today's Collect. The answer is "none of the above." The collect does not assume our defense will come in the thunder and lightning power of God, nor in God's absolute holiness, nor in God's gentleness.... but in God's "continual mercy."
The writer of the collect wants us, like Koq, to consider the enormity of what we face and also to consider, unlike Koq, that our security lies not in God's power but in God's mercy. Note the writer assumes that we need not only to be defended but also to be cleansed.
In today's culture the word mercy does not have much currency, even in the church. How often has "mercy" been the focus in our current divisions? Has the relatively wealthy and powerful Episcopal Church asked the other 37 provinces to have mercy on us? Have the powerful primates of those provinces spoken to us with any hint of a disposition to be merciful, even before we know we have the need and even before we have the humility to ask? Has the Archbishop of Canterbury behaved with any mercy before Geoffrey John or +Gene Robinson?
Jesus mocked those who pray loudly in public telling God how much better they are than other people. Jesus praised the despised tax collector who alone quietly muttered to God, "Have mercy on me, a sinner."
Have those in the Communion struck a better bargain? Have we in the Episcopal Church?
The good news: God's "property is always to have mercy" (BCP 337).
Portia stresses in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice: The quality of mercy is not strained.
Bishop Akinola, have mercy.
Bishop Orombi, have mercy.
Bishop Rowan, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.
Mercy, mercy! Mercy me.
The Psalm and the Epistle
The psalmist assures God, "I am not lying."
Paul assures those to whom he is writing in Rome, "I am speaking the truth in Christ -- I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit."
If all hearts are open to God, if no secrets are hidden from God, what's the point of assuring God, "I am not lying"?
Why does Paul say "the truth in Christ" instead of just "I am speaking the truth"? Does the truth become something else, gain a higher status, have a different standard of proof, when it becomes "the truth in Christ"?
If you were on the witness stand in a murder trial, would you have more or less credibility if you were to say, "Your honor, I speak the truth in Christ: I saw the defendant stab the priest in front of the confessional"?
St. Paul is not known for brevity, yet today's epistle must be the shortest selection from him in the lectionary. The whole passage runs only 106 words in 3 sentences plus the "Amen." It is less than half the length of Paul's longest sentence in the bible (255 words: Ephesians 1:3-14).
In this short passage, the great missionary to the Gentiles, the one some Jews accused of destroying the unity of Judaism, tells Gentile converts of his great concern for the Jews. The Jews have cut themselves off from Christ, he stresses, not "I have cut myself off from them."
Great is his agony that other Jews are not accepting Christ. "For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people"
In our current divisions, each side says, "You caused it. You have left the true faith, namely Anglicanism as we understand it."
Is not Anglicanism large enough to embrace contrary understandings of what it is? It has done so from the beginning up until now.
Almost all of the first Christians were Jews. By the end of the first century, few were. Was that Judaism's loss or gain? Was that Christianity's loss or gain.
As a sophomore at Baylor 53 years ago, I hit rock bottom, with deep depression that lasted weeks at a time. I did not find adulthood easy to enter. I had lost my faith. I saw myself as simply conditioned (today we would say "socially constructed") to be a Baptist studying for ministry. In no way had I exercised the free will we Baptist proclaimed as one of our chief distinctives. I had not been exposed to Buddhism, Taoism, Communism, Islam, Hinduism..... by informed practitioners of them. I offered only the feeble substitute of having gone to services occasionally at the Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches in my small Alabama hometown.
But much deeper: I was disturbed that strong same-sex longings were not going away or even abating as I fervently asked God to make happen. The longings became even more intense the more I tried to suppress them. Prayer was not working.
One afternoon when I was almost suicidal, Jim Pippen, my dearest friend dropped by. He was another ministerial student and close prayer mate. I had long ago confessed to him my same-sex longings. He had not fled but had even more closely valued me for trusting him. He listened to me for a long time, and then we prayed. In his prayer he told Jesus that he grieved at my great distress and asked, if it were possible, for God to take my distress and put it upon him.
Obviously Jim could not replicate the causes of my distress, so he could not assume my depression, but in a way that 53 years later I still consider quite profound, the suicidal parts of my depression lifted. This straight friend loved me, loved me enough to want to take on my pain so that I would not have to endure it.
Of course Paul cannot in his own person enact the sacrificial atonement he understood Christ to have performed.
In their empathy, my friend Jim Pippen and St. Paul acquired a new understanding of their own entitlements that was quite a revelation to them. Jim understood heterosexual privilege protected him from my particular vulnerability. Paul understood, as he had not before, that the Law, the great staple of Judaism, was not going to get anyone into heaven; only grace will.
Theologian Norman Pittenger was a great admirer of Troy Perry, the founder of the Metropolitan Community Church, an international ministry that from the beginning intentionally welcomed lbgt persons. When Norman spoke at the first convention of Integrity (in Chicago at St. James Cathedral, summer of 1975), Norman told me, "Louie, God has raised up Troy Perry, as he did the prophet Isaiah, to be a witness to the establishment's un-love."
Troy did not wait until the established churches fully welcomed lgbts. Others told him, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." LGBTs are not welcome here; let them try another parish in another town.....
"No," Troy Perry said, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat."
"The established church has but five loaves and two fish."
And Troy said, "Bring them here to me." Then he invited the lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgendered to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, Troy looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to those for whom the established church offered so little. The MCC gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Queer! for Christ's Sake
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Psalm 105:1-11, 45b
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
First things first: the Genesis revelations.
Jacob is drawn to Rachel because of her beauty, but the first thing he does on his nuptial night is to turn out the lights, all of them, not keeping lit even a solitary candle; and thus he doesn’t even notice that Laban slipped his older daughter Leah in as his bride instead.
It’s one thing to be veiled before your new husband in public at the wedding, but in the bedroom shouldn’t he want to see your face? What kind of sex is that? The text says that Jacob had liked Leah’s eyes but was hotter for Rachel‘s beauty. To what end? So that he could get the one of his choice and “know” her with his eyes closed?
Laban must have slept well the night of the wedding, and the next night too, when he succeeded in tricking seven more years of hard labor out of Jacob -- all in the service of Jacob’s libido. Fourteen years of hard labor to get the woman he wants into his tent, and then not look at her!
Notice poor Leah: “[Jacob] completed her week.” That’s it. One week of entitlement, and then her younger sister takes over.
I take it we’re supposed to rejoice that Leah is now safe as the property of a powerful male.
Not much passes for love in these relationships: lust and money.
I suppose we could see it as pay-back time for the way that last Sunday Jacob tricked his elder twin Esau to take a bowl of soup in exchange for his rights and privileges as the first born of the twins. Even at birth Jacob yanked the heel of Esau coming out ahead of him from the womb. And later Jacob wrestles the angel of the Lord all night long to claim a blessing. Laban the trickster is no serious match for his son-in-law.
There’s a hint of the trickster in Jesus’ DNA evidenced in today’s gospel: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.”
Note the character did not get permission to dig around in the field. When he found something, he did not ask the owner whether he had lost or hidden anything there. He did not say to a constable, “Officer, I found something here; will you help me locate its owner?"
No. Instead it’s “finders keepers, losers weepers.” But more so. He does not just walk away with the treasure. He buries it. Leaves and then buys the field so he can claim ownership of the hidden item -- entitlement which he was not willing to acknowledge for the one who already owned the field.
Jacob had every reason to think he had a clear understanding with Laban before he worked the first seven years: "I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel." It was only after the work and after Laban tricked him to marry Leah that Laban pulls the rule out of his sleeve to "justify" his action: “This is not done in our country-- giving the younger before the firstborn.”
Unstated, of course, is that Laban recognizes a horny young man when he sees one, and shrewdly uses biology to his economic advantage.
Where is Don Wildmon when we really need him? Family values? Greed and deception, or as Big Daddy says over 30 times in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, “mendacity!”
And we’re supposed to get all worked up about the Bishop of New Hampshire because he actually loves somebody with his eyes open!!
Don’t you love the bible’s honesty with the details of its heroes? Several hundred years later, in Psalm 105 which we read today, verse:10 shows that Jacob turned out a winner rather than a loser: he’s in the line-up of the major patriarchs, in praise for God’s covenant.
"Which he established as a statute for Jacob, an everlasting covenant for Israel, Saying, 'To you will I give the land of Canaan to be your allotted inheritance'"
Again, property! The same property so much in dispute that in 2008 it drives the Arabs and Jews to the brink of nuclear war
Jacob had to win: each of his twelve sons becomes the named patriach of a different tribe of Israel. That's quite a sexual accomplishment.
And if I had more time:
The Romans passage deserves a sermon all by itself. 8:28 was my mother’s favorite verse in the bible and she said it (or muttered it as kind of Baptist rosary) several times a day, especially on troubled days.
Priests in my diocese (Newark) often are asked to do funerals for PWAs whose families are members of congregations that won’t do funerals for PWAs. When the friends of the deceased person show up, often there are many who have not been near a congregation for much of their life, fearing the condemnation and sometimes even the mockery they would face.
One such came up after the service to ask, “Father, did you write that passage you read?”
“Which one?” the priest replied.
“The one about nothing being able to separate any of us from the love of God, not powers, not…. that one.”
We in the church hold life giving truth for which many outside the Church are spiritually dying, but they will never hear that truth if we don’t love them enough to let God tell them through our lips, “I love you.”
I’d like to get a congregation to brainstorm about ways that might successflly complete Jesus’ trope in the terms of our time: “The kingdom of heaven is like……” Since we don’t have kingdoms in America (appearances sometimes to the contrary notwithstanding, G and GW), how might we make the same point in terms of realms we do experience here?
“The presidency of heaven is like…”?! Yipes, I certainly hope not.
- “The realm of God”? Safe, but not very inspired.
- “The Queandom of Heaven”, yes! but…
My Anglican Pages: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/rel.html
My Natter/Blog: http://andromeda.rutgers.edu/~lcrew/natter/
Unlike the preacher, I am free to do my work in bits and pieces. I jot notes. I ask questions. I share experiences that relate to the texts and inform my queer angle on them.
I come up with more questions than answers. That is what has always brought me to the texts, even when at age 6 in 1942 I taught a Sunday School class to kids ages 4-5 in a mill village where our Baptist Church had a mission.
Here as there, I am often struck by the contrasts, real or imagined, between my life, the lives of those in the texts, and the lives of those for whom I write.
My ancestor had the audacity to question the rabbi who came to her well. I too have a bucket. With it I hope to draw the living water He told her about, but I'll need your help, and the help of the Holy Spirit.
Welcome. Thank you for dropping by. Sit for a spell. --Louie/Quean Lutibelle