One Gay Man’s Response to Gender Essentialism in Paganism

A couple days ago, Teo Bishop started a conversation about gender essentialism in Wicca over on his blog, Bishop in the Grove.  Inspired by a comment on a Huffington Post article he had posted about his transgender child, he posed the following question on his Facebook page:

“I wonder how my Wiccan friends might respond to the idea that the Lord and Lady gave us our form, or that a trans person transitioning is the greatest insult to them.”

There were many great responses to this question, including this blog post from my friend Spanish Moss who points out that polarity, sex and gender “are not the same as taught within Traditional Wicca. Yes, our praxis expresses the duality of two Deities along the lines of the sexes; however, the core of the matter is the mystery of the creation of life derives from sex.”  I also appreciated Rev. Kirk Thomaas’ comment on Teo’s post that the gods “didn’t make us look like Them, They make Themselves look like us, for us.”

As a gay man, a man who loves men, and someone interested in trans equality issues, this is something I have thought about quite a bit in how it plays out in my own personal spirituality.  This post isn’t going to be a fully fleshed out theology of gender and the Craft, but these are some of the thoughts I’ve had mulling around in my head for several years now.

Is Wicca Heterosexist?

I know that some Queer Pagans have been turned off to Wicca and gone in search of other Pagan paths that they feel better reflect their experiences as LGBT people because they feel that the God and Goddess of Wicca express a heterosexist experience.  In all fairness, there might be some validity to this opinion.  After all, there is a real history of homophobia within Traditionalist Wicca.  I’m currently reading Michael LLoyd’s Bull of Heaven, a biography of Minoan Brotherhood founder Eddie Buczynski.  In the late 60’s and early 70’s when Eddie was first becoming interested in Wicca, he had a tough time finding a coven to train him because there simply was a bias toward heterosexuality.  In my experience, homophobia within Wiccan communities seems to be a thing of the past.  I’ve never personally experienced any kind of homophobia in the Wiccan communities I have been a a part of in the last 10 years, and I know many LGBT people who are practicing Wiccans and feel welcome in their communities.  But past homophobia is a reality whether we like or not, and apart from any actual homophobia, some just don’t like the Male/Female pairing of the gods.  A central theme to the myth cycle of the Wiccan year is all about the very heterosexual courtship/pairing/coupling of the God and Goddess, and let’s face it, the insertion of a penis into a vagina (whether symbolic or not) is an essential part of almost every Wiccan ritual I’ve experienced.  There are lots of reasons why a Queer Pagan might not feel an affinity with Traditionalist Wicca.

Reconciling Wicca to the Queer Experience

So why are there still lots of LGBT folks who practice Traditionalist Wicca and find it a fulfilling spiritual path?  I can’t speak for everyone, but here are a few of   the ways that I reconcile my experience as a man who loves men with the apparent heterosexism of Wicca.

First, as my friend Spanish Moss has said in his post, polarity, sex and gender in Traditionalist Wicca are not all the same thing.  It’s not necessarily about the gods being male and female and literally having sex and procreating and this is what it’s all about.   A male god and a female goddess are metaphors for polarities that are expressed as masculine and feminine and the creation that takes place when those two things are united.  It’s not so much about male and female as it is about light and dark, expansion and reception, and a myriad of other polarities.  Also, these are polarities that exist within myself.  We all embody both the masculine and feminine within ourselves.  The courtship of the Lord and the Lady is something that also happens internally, and that’s true for me as a gay men, as it’s true for someone who is heterosexual.  Focusing on just the outward expression of gender and the physical sex act misses the point, in my opinion.

But let’s look at just the outward expression of gender and the physical sex act for a moment.  Wicca celebrates the cycle of the natural world, and the reality is that much of the natural world exists and continues to exist because a male and a female come together in sexual union and bring forth life.  It’s a completely natural process and I don’t have any issues acknowledging this process or celebrating it as divine.  It’s the process that brought me into manifestation, after all.  And it’s the process that most of the world experiences and resonates with.  And so yeah, as a man who loves men, I celebrate heterosexuality.  Men and women having sex is still something beautiful and magical.

It’s just not the entirety of my experience.  So in addition to (not in replacement of) celebrating the union of Lord and Lady, I look to other expressions of the Divine that match up more with my personal experience as a gay man.  One of the first ways that I did this as I was exploring Paganism was to play with the Oak King/Holly King mythology.  What if we played with that myth and reimagined the Kings as lovers?  Creating new myths or reinterpreting old myths through our own windows of understanding is a valid way to bring in queer experiences.  Even apart from reimagining myths, there are plenty of gods and goddesses who already have queer aspects to their mythology.  Our Lord is a horned god after all, and the horned gods of history were not picky about who they got lusty with.  Who’s to say the Lord wasn’t out having some fun with some hot guys on the side?

Wanting to experience the Divine in a way that resonates with my experience as a gay man is also one of the things that drew me to the Ekklesia Antinoou and devotion to Antinous.  Antinous and Hadrian had a homoerotic, loving relationship.  While I would never put Antinous in a box and shrink him down to just being a “gay god,” certainly the homoerotic nature of his relationship with Hadrian is something I can relate to.  My desire to experience the Divine in a way that resonates with my experience as a gay man is also one of the things I find appealing about the Unnamed Path.  While I’m not an initiate of that path, I do appreciate that the their gods are men who love men.  Their gods are just like me.

Also, as I pointed out in my previous post, it’s not like we have to limit ourselves in regards to the gods we interact with.  One of “perks” of being a Pagan or polytheist is that we have many gods and goddesses to form a relationship with.  There are the Lord and Lady of Wicca, Antinous and Hadrian, The Dark God and Light God of the Unnamed Path, and many other gods from many other pantheons who can all be a part of my spiritual path and my spiritual life.

So here’s to worshiping the Divine in the many forms that the Divine takes in the world: God, Goddess, Male/Female pairs, Male/Male pairs, and everything in between and in addition to this.  Let’s celebrate all of it as holy!

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Filed under Antinous, Paganism, Polytheism, Queer Spirituality, Transgender Issues, Wicca

Why Not Ganymede?

I had an interesting conversation last night.  For the first time in my experience, someone confronted me on my devotion to Antinous.  The basis of the argument was this: “Why Antinous?  There was nothing really special about Antinous in life.  He’s only a god now because he was the Emperor’s boy toy.  Why not just worship Ganymede or some other god that has homoerotic elements?  Worshipping Antinous is like worshipping a pop idol.”

Never mind that I answered this question with a couple reasons why I personally resonate with devotion to Antinous and what it means to me.  Also, never mind that the person posing this challenge had incorrect information on the history of Antinous and his historical cultic practice, and had no idea what my own spiritual practice looks like.  He wasn’t really looking for answers anyway.  He was asking me questions so that he could provide his own answers and let me know why he thinks devotion to Antinous is ridiculous.

Setting aside whether or not this person’s attitude and challenge to me was rude or not, what really struck me as odd about his questions was that he seemed to be very black or white in his thinking and made a couple assumptions about my personal spirituality.  They’re assumptions based on the type of exclusive spirituality that many people in the United States might practice, but I don’t think are valid when talking about the spiritual experiences of those in the Ekklesia Antinoou, as well as other modern Pagan paths that I participate in.  It’s those assumptions that I want to look at.

The first assumption is that my devotion to Antinous is coming from a “better than” paradigm.  This person was working under the assumption that I am devoted to Antinous because I somehow think that  being devoted to Antinous is superior to worshiping Ganymede, or Dionysos, or Pan, or whichever other god might be available for me to devote myself to.  He kept asking me, “Well, why Antinous?  Why not Ganymede? Why not this other god?”  As if I should justify my devotion as being better than worshiping other deities.  I think this assumption comes from the way that some of the monotheistic faiths push their belief system on others and insist that theirs is the best religion of all.  Jesus is better than any other god!  Christianity is the only true religion!   This is the right way and that’s the wrong way!  The person who was challenging me wasn’t happy with my answers because I wasn’t giving him reasons that Antinous is better than any other god.  The reality is that I don’t think that Antinous is better.  Devotion to Antinous is not more right than being devoted to some other god or following some other spiritual path.  This isn’t a celestial wrestling match where “My god can beat your god!”  There are many valid spiritual paths out there and many wonderful gods someone could potentially be devoted to.  None of them are better.  They’re just all different.  I’m devoted to Antinous because I resonate with him, and through regular practice I have developed a personal relationship with him.  So if you’re looking for me to justify my faith to you, that’s not going to happen.  It doesn’t need to resonate with you.  It resonates with me, and that’s just fine.

The other assumption that my friend was making is that it either has to be Antinous or nothing.  “Why not Ganymede or Dionysos?”  Well, yes, why not?  Why not Antinous AND Ganymede AND Dionysos AND Osiris AND Thor AND Lugh AND a myriad of other gods and goddesses.  While my core theology is not polytheistic (I’m a nondualist and panentheistic at heart), I would say that in practice, I’m a polytheist.  One of the great things about polytheism is that it gets to be “yes/and” not “either/or”.  It’s not like I have to choose Antinous over these other deities.  On the contrary.  It’s a god party!  So asking me, “Why not Ganymede?” ends up seeming a little silly because he’s at the party too, as are many others.

I’ve often said that religion is like language.  It gives us a vocabulary to speak about something which ultimately can’t be described.  I like to say that I am fluent in few different languages.  The language I learned growing up was Christianity and I still speak it well.  I’m also fluent in Neopaganism and some of it’s sub-dialects.  I can ask where the bathroom is in Buddhism.  But to ask, “Why Antinous?” is kind of like asking, “Why Russian?”  Well, why not Russian?  Why not some other language? The reality is that Russian isn’t better or worse than other languages.  You might choose to learn it for a variety of different reasons, some practical and some personal.  You could also choose to learn several different languages.  Why limit yourself in a diverse world?  I am doing the same in my devotion to Antinous.  Antinous is simply one “language” I speak to communicate with that which is Divine.  But I know a few different languages, and they all resonate with me on one level or another.

So, indeed.  Why not Ganymede?  Invite him to the party too!

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Z Budapest, Antinous, and a Gnostic walk into a bar…

No clue what the punchline to the subject of this post might be, but it seemed fitting since I have a little bit to share on each of those topics.

 Z Budapest and Pantheacon

A final few words (at least from me) on the discussion surrounding transgender inclusiveness at Pantheacon:

I did mention this in my last post when I spoke about keeping perspective, but I’d like to reiterate the point and join P. Sufenas Virius Lupus and in saying that “PantheaCon 2012 was great from start to finish, and a ton of really wonderful stuff came out of it. And when I say ‘great,’ that doesn’t mean that it was without some pain, discomfort, or annoyance at various points, but the positive aspects far outweigh and overshadow anything negative.  Z Budapest’s “genetic women only” ritual and the action organized in response to it by T. Thorn Coyle was held on Sunday night.  The rest of the convention was filled with many fantastic workshops, rituals, parties, gatherings, and connections with new and old friends.  Truth be told, I even found my participation in the action for trans inclusiveness to be very meaningful and worthwhile, but when seen in the context of Pantheacon as a whole, it was only one part of my experience.

The issue of transgender inclusiveness is an important issue, however, and I understand why this discussion has come to dominate the blogs and Facebook comments after the convention.  I’m not sure that I have much more to say than what I have already said.  Therefore, I’ll let others do the talking for me!  There are a couple other posts that are worth reading/hearing.

  • I highly recommend the latest podcast from Hyperion of The Unnamed Path.  In it, he sums up the events that have taken place and gives us his take on things.  I have to say, I agree with 100% of what he says in this podcast.  He’s managed to boil the issues down to their core elements and has managed to do so while showing compassion to all involved and without demonizing one side or the other.  Thank you, Hyperion, for being a voice for inclusion and for a reasoned response!

 Antinous

As an initiate into the Antinoan Mysteries and a devotee of Antinous, I found this news that P. Sufenas Virius Lupus has shared over on the Aedicula Antinoi blog to be pretty damn exciting: Polydeukion now has a dedicated oracular medium!

(More on my devotion to Antinous, as well as other aspects of my personal spirituality, can be found in my blog post Spirituality Squared.)

Polydeukion may not be familiar to many people.   Lupus says quite a bit about him in this post.  I think of him as one of the figures involved with, and surrounding Antinous, part of an “Antinoan pantheon,” so to speak.  A dedicated oracle for Polydeukion is fantastic news.

According to Lupus:

A certain gentleman I know rather well has come forward and will be acting as the Oracle of Polydeukion until further notice. The gentleman is called Stephanopotamos, and will be doing an oracular session with Polydeukion for semi-public consumption every three months, starting this year on Polydeukion’s festival of March 9th, and then on the 9th of June, September, and December ad infinitum (!?!). I fully support, endorse, and recommend this oracle, and he will be my “go-to” oracle for Antinous-related and Ekklesía Antínoou-related matters from here on out. In addition to the regular three-months-apart sessions, the oracle will also be available for private consultations with those who wish to seek them.

Khaire Polydeukion!

Gnosticism and Leap Year

The Rose Cross Community of the Apostolic Johannite Church is one of the gnostic/esoteric communities that I frequently take part in.  They are hosting a Special Leap Year Eucharist tomorrow evening.  In the description for the event it says, “This will be a celebration of the Johannite Congregational Eucharist, to celebrate a day which only exists every 4 years. Align your spirit and will with the energies of the next four through this uplifting ritual.

This sounds very cool, and I plan to attend, but it also got me thinking about Leap Year and the day of February 29th itself:

  • Does February 29th have any special energy that is different than all the other days?
  • If so, what kind of energy is it?
  • What kind of magic and intentions would be appropriate for this day?
  • Are you planning to do or observe anything differently tomorrow?
  • Or is this just another day and my musing are mental masturbation?

I’d love to hear some thoughts and ideas on this.  Feel free to comment.

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Transgender Inclusivity at Pantheacon

Nothing like a little controversy to get me blogging again.  I’m not sure if this is my .02 cents, but here’s my handful of glitter, for what it’s worth.

There is currently a discussion (some might call it a debate) going on across the blogosphere about the issue of gender and inclusivity at Pantheacon.  This discussion has been going on for a while, but has been brought to the forefront by events during last year’s and this year’s convention.  I was present as Sister Krissy Fiction at some of the events being discussed that took place during the convention this past weekend.  I’ve been processing for several days since then, and have some thoughts I’d like to share, in no particular order:

 Action vs. Protest

On Saturday of the convention, I read a tweet from T. Thorn Coyle that said, ” Gender queers&trans allies: I will sit in silent meditation outside San Martin at 8:45pm Sun. All bodies=sacred. Pass it on.”  I immediately knew that Krissy would join the meditation.  I was not present at the previous year’s convention, but I did read Z Budapest’s previous comments on the issue.  While I have deep respect for Budapest’s role as an elder in the Pagan community and the work that she’s done that has benefitted all of us, male and female alike, I can’t let the comment, “Women are born not made by men on operating tables,” go without providing a more inclusive view.

Most of the comments I’ve been reading elsewhere have been calling our silent meditation a “protest.”  I suppose, on one level it is.  There’s no real way around that.  However, I’ve been using the word “action” instead, because, for my part, I was not there just to say, “You’re wrong.  I’m opposed to this.”  That’s a protest.  I sat in silent meditation to bring awareness to an issue: Transwomen are women.  Transmen are men.  They face exclusion on a regular basis.  Being excluded from a ritual described as for “genetic women” only is just one example.  I took part in the action not just to be opposed to Z Budapest or Dianic Witches, but to sit WITH my trans brothers and sisters.

Perception

Our perceptions color our experiences.  I am constantly amazed at how so many people can be in the same location at the same time and experience the same event, but have vastly different perceptions of that experience.  I was present outside Z Budapest’s ritual space on Sunday evening, along with many others, and experienced the same events as many others did.  Yet I read recaps and comments online and I realize that my perceptions are vastly different from the perceptions of some others.  I have read comments on blog posts that state that those of us sitting in silent meditation were taking pictures of those in line for the ritual.  I’ve read that we were not silent.  I’ve read that we made threats.  One person who joined the silent meditation spoke with me afterwards and stated that he was offended that Hyperion and other gay men (representatives of the Unamed Path) stood in opposition to us.  I read somewhere else that CAYA Coven walked in and stood in opposition to Z Budapest.  None of these match my own perceptions of what I experienced.   My perceptions are that T. Thorn Coyle and those of us who joined her gathered in respect and silence.  I felt those gathered for the Dianic ritual were also respectful.  Z. Budapest made an awkward, passionate statement.  I disagree with some of her perceptions and comments but felt she was respectful.  My perception was that those with CAYA Coven and the gay men from the Unamed Path were there to hold space and were not standing opposed to anyone.  The entire experience was moving and I am proud that we were able to come together as a community with some strong disagreements and do so peacefully.  Those are MY perceptions.

 Self-Identification vs. Stigmatic Guilt

      One of the big discussions taking place is if there should be any kind of “_________ only” rituals or workshops at Pantheacon at all.  Pantheacon is public space and where the modern Pagan community comes together specifically as a community.  Some feel that all rituals and workshops should be open to everyone. Period.  Personally, I have no issue with women only, men only, men who love men only, etc.  It can be powerful and necessary to explore specific mysteries that are unique to specific groups and demographics.  In private space, groups can be as exclusive or specific as they want to be.

My personal opinion is that at wider community events like Pantheacon, that individuals should be given the power to self-identify.  Sure, indicate that a ritual or workshop is intended for gay men, or women, or whathaveyou.  Let individuals decide for themselves if that description applies to them.  By labeling individuals and deciding for them how they should identify themselves, we rob them of power and impose stigmatic guilt on them.  I believe this to be the core issue.  At one point, Z Budapest told those of us gathered together in silent meditation, “I don’t hate you,” and “I support the trans community.”  I believe she is sincere in these words.  I don’t think she does hate any trans people, and I think that she sees herself as supportive of the community.  However, the bottom line is that she does not believe that trans women are real women.  All discussion breaks down at this point.  Stigmatic guilt is guilt and shame that has been placed on us by outside sources, whether it comes from the government, family, society, or representatives of spiritual traditions.  Declaring that trans women are not real women, robs them of the power of self-identification and places stigmatic guilt on them.  As a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence, I took a public vow to promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.  That means that you are not defined by the labels that others place on you.  You are loved and worth loving just the way you are.  Period.  No exceptions.  I will use every chance I can to remind you of this.  This is why I support the right of individuals to self-identify and support a policy that reflects this at Pantheacon.

Perspective

Perspective is a good thing.  We tend to focus on the negative.  There are lots of heated words and emotions surrounding this issue, and reading all the stuff out there on the blogosphere it’s easy to get the impression that this last Pantheacon was all about drama, conflict, and disagreement.  Some have even called for a boycott of Pantheacon until these issues have been resolved.  I don’t support a boycott.  I think that defeats the purpose of Pantheacon.  If we can’t hash this shit out when we come together as a wider community, then where the hell are we supposed to do it?  These conversations are bound to be messy and difficult.  Change, and talking about change, is hard.  Pantheacon should be a safe place to explore these issues, and I believe that Pantheacon 2012 DID provide a safe place to explore these issues.  But let’s keep things in perspective.  My experience at Pantheacon was one of inclusion, community, and growth.  There were many queer-focused rituals and workshops, and many rituals that I participated in that were inclusive of all sexual orientations, gender identities, and bodies.  Walking around the hotel as Krissy I was constantly greeted with warm hellos and hugs.  I always felt welcome, and had experiences in workshops and rituals that were transformational.  The ongoing discussion regarding gender and inclusivity, while an important discussion, was only one aspect of my convention experience.  I will return to Pantheacon next year to experience all the positives that come with the convention experience, as well as to continue to engage in the difficult conversations.

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Late to the Party – New Year, New You

 

I’m a little late to this party.  But what fun would a party be without a few grand entrances once the music has started?  In this case, the party started a few weeks ago.  That just means I’m really fashionably late.

Early in December, the Charmed… I’m Sure blog posted this call to an “experiment in magical, radical, transformation”:

So, you’re supposed to be, like, magicians, occultists, witches in the woods and the kitchen and on the soccer field, right?  Workers of wonder.  Dream weavers.  People who get shit done.  Isn’t this the year to make your own luck?  You’re feeling especially awful with the nights that never end and run over by the holidaze and you can’t drink joie forever before needing a meeting.  So now’s the fucking time.  Don’t wait until that stupid glitter ball drops and you’re already making drunk and/or sentimental mistakes, start now.  Start now when it’s hardest.  Start now when you feel so weighed down with emotions better left to glittery and not so glittery vampires and when you feel like you could sleep forever.  Now is the time you need to wake up.  Get up, get up!  Don’t miss this moment.  Create magics great and small, mundane and mystical.  Find everything you’ve been looking for, mysteries revealed in every form of divination and song and when you fuck it up, when you are too tired to try, bring each other up from bloodied knees to get back up smiling.  You are all made of stars and you have stardust in your veins.  Do something about it.

Can I get a hell yeah?!

A few of my friends picked up the call.  Both Michael Sebastian Lux and Msgr. Scott Rassbach posted their replies to the challenge.  Now it’s my turn.

Actually, my work on this has already started.  On Sunday evening, January 1st, I did a ritual for the Festival of Janus, calling on Janus, Antinous in his lunar aspect, and Helios/Sol.  As the Roman god of doorways, beginnings and endings, and the past and the future, Janus is the perfect god to work with on New Year’s Day.  As part of the ritual, I worked with Antinous as the moon to determine and meditate on the things in my life that I wanted to leave behind in the past.  I particularly meditated on the things that would keep me from becoming fully mature as an individual.

I also worked with Helios as the sun to determine and meditate on the things in my life that I want to bring into manifestation in 2012.  These are more than just resolutions, more than just goals.  This is about working will.  This is about transformation.  This is about magic!

What I share here are the intentions that I am going to be putting energy into during the coming months.  This is where I will be working my will.  This is where I get down and dirty and “do something about it.”

The Physical

  • I intend to inhabit a healthier body by the end of the 2012.  This does not translate into a weight loss goal.  I’m a bear.  I’m happy being a bear.  I have a tummy, and I get plenty of attention with a tummy, thank you.  However, a little over a year ago I had surgery on a torn quadriceps tendon.  My right knee/leg is still healing.   I intend to help that healing along, and bring a healthier body along with it.

The Emotional

  • I intend to build and nurture intimate relationships with those whom I can share my spirituality and participate in magical practice with.  I did a similar ritual last year to the one that I just did a few days ago.  In that ritual I asked for a sexual and romantic partner to come into my life that I could share my magical practice with.  That request was fulfilled… although not quite in the way I expected.  I thought of asking for the same thing this year, but I realized that I didn’t need to ask for what I already have.  I do however, need to build and nurture what already exists, while still being open to new things that may come.  Oh, yeah, and I also asked for more sex, because, you know, who doesn’t want more of that?

The Spiritual

  • I intend to help build and nurture the Gnostic and Antinoan spiritual communities in Portland.  The Gnostics already have a presence here in Portland.  Queen of Heaven Gnostic Church has been established for ages.  I’d love to see Queen of Heaven continue to grow, but my main focus of energy with the Gnostics will be in assisting Msgr. Scott Rossbach in the establishment and growth of Rose Cross Community AJC.  As far as the Antinoan community goes, The Ekklesia Antinoou does not currently have a presence in Portland.  I intend to change that.


Other Goals 

  • To enter into a discernment process to determine if I wish to pursue ordination in one of the spiritual traditions I am a part of.
  • To consistently update this blog 3 times a week and develop my skills as a spiritual writer.

There you have it.  Only 4 days into the new year and it’s a new dawn, a new day, a new me, and I’m feeling good.  No, really.  I’m feeling good.  2012 is the year to get shit done.  I’ll be using this space over the next few days to get caught up on the New Year, New You challenge.  After that?  Who knows.  I’m made of stars and have stardust in my veins.  Now that the party has started I’m ready to get out on the dance floor and live the dance.  Let’s party.

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Promulgate This! The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Gospel of Radical Inclusion

In my previous post I outlined 4 different components of my personal spiritual path.  One of those components was identified as being a Sister of Perpetual Indulgence.  I noted that even though the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is not a religious organization, that I experience being a Sister as part of my spiritual path.  Last week, I received a short notice request to be the guest speaker at a local church.  The invitation was to preach in full habit as a Sister Krissy Fiction.  This then, is the sermon I delivered on Sunday, November 6th at the evening Elevation service for the Metropolitan Community Church of Portland.

The MCC is a Christian church, and the sermon I shared is within the Christian paradigm.  I have to admit, it’s been a couple of years since I have intentionally worked within that specific paradigm, and it was interesting, considering that in the sermon I talk about struggling with the label “Christian” and I no longer use that label as a descriptor of my spiritual path.  I originally wrote the sermon when I was serving as a Youth and Family Minister at a United Church of Christ denomination after I read Stealing Jesus by Bruce Bawer.  His depiction and interpretation of the parable of the Good Samaritan really opened it up for me.  I retooled the sermon for this occasion and included the mission of the Sisters in it.  So despite these little qualifications, it was a fun experience and I’m still proud of the sermon.

Promulgate This! The Parable of the Good Samaritan and the Gospel of Radical Inclusion

 Have I burst into flames yet?

You are, after all, hosting official heretics.  The story goes that the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence have actually been declared heretics by the Pope himself, but whether that is history or legend is hard to tell, as is true with much of our colorful history.  One thing I do know is that Bill O’Reilly doesn’t like us, and that’s official enough to be considered a heretic in my mind.

In reality, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is not a religious organization.  We are a modern day order of queer nuns who are striving to serve, educate, and heal our communities.  Many times we do this through promotion of safer sex practices.  We do fund raising for HIV/AIDS service organizations.  And sometimes we try to raise people’s level of consciousness also.  There is no requirement as far as belief goes to join.  We have members who are very spiritual and we have members who are very NOT spiritual.  Some Sisters are true atheists.  Some consider themselves spiritual in a general way, but not in any specific way.  Some consider themselves Pagan.  Some consider themselves Buddhist or Hindu or what have you.  And yes, some do consider themselves to be Christians.

For myself, my spiritual label has been something I have struggled with.  Although, that has not always been the case.  Let me share with you a little bit about my background.  I’m now 40 years old.  Yes, it’s true, clown makeup does wonders for your skin.  I came out as gay when I was 18.  At the same time I was getting interested in church and spirituality.  I started attending a conservative Christian denomination.  There was immediate conflict between what I perceived as two different sides of me… and over the course of a year or so, the conservative Christian side won out.  I started to believe that homosexuality was a sin and became involved in the Ex-Gay movement.  Blah blah blah, I’m sure you all know the drill, right?  So I got more and more involved in my church, and over time I decided I wanted to go into ministry.  That’s exactly what I did.  I went back to school in Minnesota to train as a minister in my denomination’s ministry training school.  After graduation I was assigned as a Youth and Family Minister at a congregation in San Antonio, TX.  After that, I was assigned to work with youth at our mission in Dourados, Brazil.  And during this whole time I was doing the ex-gay thing.  I even got married to a woman.  And I did not struggle with my identity as a Christian.  In fact, I knew I was a Christian and everyone else was getting it wrong.

But I *was* struggling with who I was as a sexual person… which eventually did lead to a crisis of faith… which lead to me leaving my wife, leaving the church I was in and relocating to Oregon.  And so here I was.  I didn’t throw away my spirituality, however.  I eventually moved into a more progressive form of Christianity and got back into ministry.  I served as an openly gay youth and family minister at a United Church of Christ congregation in Beaverton.  I was serving in a CHRISTIAN church.  You would think I wouldn’t struggle with that label, would you?  But I did struggle.

I’m going to tell a quick story that illustrates that struggle and then I want to hear from some of you.

 Who here remembers when the move The Passion of the Christ came out?  It received a lot of attention from conservative and Evangelical Christians at the time.  I decided I wanted to go see what all the fuss about.  The movie came out on Good Friday, and so before the movie I went to a church service.  It turned out to be a very moving church service.  I recall that it had a big impact on me and that I left the service feeling… CONNECTED and part of the Christian community.

After the service, I walked out of the church and back into the real world. I got in my car and headed over to the movie theater.  Standing in line, I had a very different experience than I had just had in the church.

As I stood in line, I was immediately aware that there were other Christians there also. In fact, many churches had strongly encouraged all of their members to go see the movie. Waiting there for the movie to begin, I overheard snippets of conversations, people talking about their faith, and I realized that many of the people around me experienced their Christianity in a very different way than I do. In fact, an older woman standing next to me saw that I was reading a book. It was a book that I was reading for one of my classes at Marylhurst, with something vaguely religious in the title. She smiled at me, nodded approvingly and asked, “Oh, so you are a Christian?” She said it more like a statement than a question. I didn’t hesitate in my reply: “No, actually. I’m not.”

My reply didn’t seem to register with her. She simply continued smiling and turned back to talk to the people she had come to see the movie with. I watched the film, but on my drive home I thought about what happened. Why had I answered her question that way? Was I a modern-day Peter, denying Jesus in the face of persecution? The woman certainly posed no threat to me. Hadn’t I just come from an experience where I felt a deep affirmation as a follower of Christ? How could I go from one extreme to the other in one single evening?

But really, I know why I answered that woman in line the way I had. I knew that I was not a Christian in the way that she probably understood what it means to be a Christian. I knew that, even though I belong to a Christian church, and identify as a follower of Christ, I probably did not fit inside her box labeled “Christianity.”

Have you ever felt that struggle?  Have you been embarrassed to state what your spiritual preferences are? [Allow time to share]

Part of the problem is our use of language. There are so many words that are just loaded with assumed meanings and history of meanings. Sin. Salvation. Bible. God. Even Jesus. And Yes, Christian. All of these are words that convey meanings to us. To some of us, they are words that have been used to injure and hurt. Sin is a biggie. How many of us have had that word pointed at us as if it were a weapon? Even the words salvation and Jesus can be used to hurt when they are used in a way that leads to exclusion and oppression.

The word Christian, in today’s society has almost come to be synonymous with conservative, evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity. How many times have you read an article in the newspaper or in a magazine that refers to “Christians” but after reading it you think, “That’s not the kind of Christian I am!” What the author of that article was really talking about was conservative Christians.

The religious right have defined the word in a specific way: To be a Christian you need to believe a certain way. You need to give intellectual assent to a certain set of formulated propositions. Primary among these is that the Bible is completely infallible and without any error. Following from that you must believe that God created the world in six literal days. Adam and Eve were literal historical people. There was a real worldwide flood. The virgin birth is historical fact. Jesus lived a perfect life and the depiction of his actions in the Gospels are true historical facts down to every single detail. And there are, of course, more. If you give intellectual assent to these facts, then you are a Christian, saved and bound for heaven. If you do not, then you are not a Christian, destined for an eternity of pain and torment in hell. So much for God is love. This is what the word Christian has come to mean for many people. It has been swiped out from underneath us and ignores the spiritual experience of many in this church and other mainline protestant churches.

So I move through this life sometimes feeling like a follower of Christ, but seldom feeling like a Chrisitian.

I find comfort in the story of the Good Samaritan. It is one my favorite stories from the Bible. The story goes like this: One time a lawyer came up to Jesus and asked, “What can I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus, who was always a  good counselor, asked him a question in return. “What do you think?” The lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus said, “You do this and you shall live. You do this and you will live eternally.” The lawyer, being a little defensive, asked Jesus to clarify: “Well, who is my neighbor? What do you mean, neighbor?” Jesus looked at the young man and said, “Let me tell you a story. There once was a man walking down a road…”  And Jesus tells the well known story.

What Jesus talks about in this parable is a road, and he tells us which road it is – it’s the one between Jerusalem and Jericho, two cities in the heart of Judea. On that road, a man is beaten by robbers and left half-dead on the roadside. Since the temple was in Jerusalem and since many religious leaders lived in Jericho, it’s not surprising that the first two passersby are Jewish religious leaders, a priest and a Levite. Both ignore the dying man. But a Samaritan – a native of Samaria, whose people were despised by the Jews of Jesus’ day – comes along the road, sees the man dying, binds up his wounds, takes him to an inn, cares for him, and pays for his lodging.

Which of these people, Jesus asks, proved himself a neighbor to the man? The lawyer gives the obvious answer: the Samaritan.

But the parable is so familiar and has been told so many times that I think that it has lost much of the impact of its original telling. For us today, a Good Samaritan is someone who does a good deed. In fact, there are hospitals all over the country named after the Good Samaritan, bringing home the point that one of the messages of this story is that we should be reaching out to those in need. Our neighbor is the person who is hurting.

That certainly is one of the messages of the story. It is not the only message of the story. The beauty of the parables that Jesus told is that they often work on so many different levels. They are detailed, deep, profound, and they often have several truths buried deep inside them.

One of the most comforting truths found in this story would also have been one of the most shocking to Jesus’ listeners. Perhaps the only way to really convey how shocking this story really was would be to retell it from a modern perspective. [Acted out charades style by volunteers from congregation] So, imagine if you will, a woman traveling on Interstate 5 between Portland and Seattle. She gets a flat tire on her car, so pulling to the side of the freeway she stops and flags someone down to help her. Only, instead of help, she gets robbed, beaten, and left for dead on the side of the road. The first person to pass by is a fundamentalist preacher. He sees her body, but assumes that she is dead. “She must have been a horrible sinner,” he thinks, “For God to punish her this way.” He hurries home and writes a powerful sermon about the wrath of God and the danger of sin. The second person to pass by is an Evangelical pastor. He sees her body and wonders if she had accepted Jesus Christ as her personal Lord and Savior before she was attacked. He rushes back to his church and organizes a big evangelism event to bring the Gospel message to freeway rest stops, so that people will have an opportunity to ask Jesus into their hearts before anything bad happens to them.  The third person to pass by is a Moslem. The Moslem pulls over, calls 911, goes to the Hospital with her, and spends the night with her until her family shows up and he is sure she is okay.

Jesus’ question would be this: Which of the three acted as you would expect a Christian to act?

The shocking answer: The Moslem was a better Christian than the Christians in the story were.

Actually, today’s Moslems and the Samaritan in Jesus’ story might have much in common. Both come from a foreign land where the customs are misunderstood and looked at with suspicion. Both were feared and hated by those in religious power at the time. Both are the last person that most people then, and people now, would expect Jesus to hold up as an example of what it looks like to please God.

There are many truths told in this parable. Most sermons will dutifully, and rightly, point out that one of the truths of this story is that the message of Jesus crosses all national and racial borders.  We too should to reach out beyond national and racial borders. Recasting Jesus’ story in the south during the Civil Rights Movement might have the Samaritan as Rosa Parks.

But there is another truth in the story that I think is even more radical than the message of racial and national equality. In fact the story was so radical it might even go beyond casting the Samaritan as a Moslem, as I did. We could recast the Samaritan as a gay man or lesbian. Or even better yet, a Wiccan or modern-day Goddess worshipper. Someone who would be seen as anti-establishment and totally out of favor with the religious powers-that-be.

The shocking, radical truth of the Good Samaritan is that the one who is considered outside of God’s kingdom is the model of what it means to live a Christlike life.

If the Samaritan could be lifted out of Jesus’ story and set down among us today as an actual living person, practicing the same virtues that he does in the story and the same syncretist faith that an ancient Samaritan would have practiced, many of today’s Christians who claim to accept this story as a lesson in what Christianity means would insist that despite his virtues, this man’s failure to confess Christ as his lord and savior condemns him to hell.

Yet the very point of this story is that in the only sense of the word that would have mattered to Jesus, the Samaritan is a Christian. He is that model of what it means to live a Christlike life. He hasn’t been baptized. He doesn’t go to church. He doesn’t believe the right doctrine, and nowhere in the story does Jesus ever say he converts or imply that he should. What the Samaritan does is simply this: He loves his neighbor – and he recognizes that a neighbor is not just somebody who lives next door, or looks like him, or shares his beliefs and prejudices.

This is an incredible truth. It gives me hope, and it gives hope to others like me. Other outcasts. Others whose spirituality defies easy descriptions. Others who are living spirituality outside the box. The truth is that God’s box is always bigger than the boxes others make for us or that we make for ourselves.

 In fact, this is really what the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence is all about.  As part of our vows as Sisters we vow to “promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt.”  Big words there.  I’m going to break it down in reverse order.  Stigmatic guilt.  What the hell is that?  Who here has been stigmatized?  Give me some examples… [wait for response] So stigmatic guilt is the labels that have been placed on us.  You’re a fag.  You’re a dyke.  You’re a tranny.  Even heterosexuals get it.  You’re too sexually promiscuous.  You’re a whore.  You’re a loser who will never amount to anything!  But what does expiate mean?  Anyone know?  [Response] To repair.  One of the main ways the Sisters do this is through humor, irreverence.  Many people have been hurt by organized religion.  Far from mocking religion, by bringing humor into the situation and allowing to people laugh at and with the Church, we allow them to heal from those hurts.  How about promulgate?  Who knows what that means?  [Response] It means to announce.  So we are announcing universal joy.  Within the Christian framework that might be announcing agape love, unconditional love.

So putting it all together, our message is this: You are not defined by the labels that other people have placed on you.  You are loved and worth loving, just the way you are.  No exceptions.  Period. Exclamation point.  And we are here to remind you of that as often as we can.

Our mission, and one of the key messages of the story of the Good Samaritan is a challenge to practice radical inclusion.  And you know, before we all get too smug, this is not as easy as it seems.  I know that many of us are part of a minority that has been particularly excluded.  It’s easy for us to sit here and say, “Yeah!  Include me you jerks!”  But it goes both ways. Conservative and liberal, Democrat and Republican are just more labels.  For some of us in this room, the shocking truth of this parable would challenge us to reach out and help the Fred Phelps and Maggie Gallaghers of this world.  It would challenge us to stop shouting at each other and build bridges. They won’t listen?  They won’t change their mind?  Even more of a reason that the burden is on us.  Anyone can reach out to someone who is grateful and gracious. Profound teaching comes when we can reach out to those we dislike, and even hate, or hold resentment towards.  Just something to think about.

How has this church has reached to practice radical inclusion?  What are areas for growth?  As a church?  Personally? [Conversation with the congregation]

I invite you to be a Samaritan. I invite you outside the box with me. I take joy knowing that many of us are already there. I look forward to exploring together as a community – both as the LGBT community and a spiritual community – to “go and do likewise” following the model of the Samaritan. I rejoice that God’s love is big enough, deep enough, and wide enough, to include all of us.

Amen. A-women. A-transexuals too.  A-whatever.  Can I get a hell yeah!?

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Belly Up!

Wouldn’t you know it? Right after I decide to start a blog and discipline myself to post on a regular basis, my computer goes belly up. Right now, the only access I have to get online is at work (with a supervisor peeking over my shoulder), or on my phone (big thumbs, little keys). Neither option is ideal. I do have a new (old) computer coming, however, which I should have up by this weekend. So look for posts to start back up next week.

In the meantime, what topics would you like to see me discuss here?

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