Archive for May 2012

A recipe for more queer theology (or the shameless hat in hand post)

Every now and then I post something like this. It is always with one tablespoon shame and a teaspoon of hope. It’s with a handful of trepidation and some good old fashioned fear thrown in for good measure.

I read a lot, if you know me and hang out with me, then you know that I never have my book far of. I inhale literature, especially theological literature. I would get it as a drip feed straight into my veins where it possible. My kindle reader (and the kindle app on my iDevices are the closest thing). This is a costly habit. I have tried to get a few donations with the donate coffee button (paypal donations) to the right but sadly the steady donation flow of my dreams have turned out to be zero.

One of my blogger friends tells me how he gets in donations all the time, I wonder what he does differently but can’t see any difference except he is more widely read.

ENOUGH WHINING! TO THE POINT!

I have come to realise that i need among other fantastic books The Queer Bible Commentary from Amazon. I can’t really afford it, so I turn to you, my faithful reader. Do you like reading this blog? Would you support my further education? Would you gift the book to me, or give a small donation like a $10 Amazon gift card?

If gifted I promise to blog my way through it and any other books you send my way!  Send any gifts to patrik (AT) olterman DOT se) also if you are one of my followers on social media make sure as many people read this post as my series on Sex (I said it was shameless begging right).

Ps. here’s my Amazon Wish list.

Sex as a sacrament.

There was this praise song on my favorite worship album, it always bugged me. “Take me, I am yours”, the woman sang with such throaty passion that it sounded almost sexual, indecent.

I mentioned it once to a friend who told me, it’s just your perverted mind that hears it like that. I never broach the subject again. Today I realise that the song was expressing exactly what my perverted mind thought it did. Our longing is exactly that, to become one with god. We may over/spiritualise it and try to make that union into something spiritual, something less dirty, less visceral. The longing is still the same. I want the spirit of god to enter me, surround me saturate me. Why does it offend us so to talk about penetration, ecstatic joy, pleasure in connection with god.

If we return to the mystics we will find that this is exactly the language that comes back over and over again when they talk about the ecstatic union with god. And if we venture into the night and ask those the church normally consider lost, their reply will be the same. Sex is trancendent, the closest we will ever come to god.

This is why G.K. Chesterton wrote, every man who has ever knocked on the door of a brothel was searching for God.

Only if we can separate our sexuality from the stigma of sinfullness will we dare to believe such things, only then will we dare to hope. WE must become virginal in our approach to sexuality, but not virgins in respect to our genitals but in respect to our minds. We have been filled with so much words, words of condemnation, words of contempt, words of fear. This per/version of our sexuality have rendered us unable to actually experience the divine bound into our sexuality, the sacrament of sex.

If a sacrament is, as we state in the Salvation Army, an outward sign of an inward grace. Then sex must truly be a sacrament, we have of course tried to sanitise it and call it marriage. It is the marriage that makes two people into one, that symbolises the complete union of man and woman to a hybrid that is something more. But we all know that it is in the consummation of the marriage that this happens. Sex is the sacrament, sex is the blurring of the boundaries between two people, but sex also blurrs the sacred/secular divide (the one we imagine is there, but realy does not exist) because it let’s us experience if only for a moment something divine.

That is the thing isn’t it. Sex is such a divine thing but at the same time it is so worldly (in the evangelical sense of the word) it is flesh, it is carnal. Wouldn’t a divine act that is carnal be the definition of incarnation. A carnal sign of a divine reality, a sacrament.

And why would god desire any less of us than this total abandonment, this total union, where we become more than friends, lovers.

“Take me now, I am yours!”

 

Meeting an adulterous god

I don’t know how I never saw it; One of the tenets of classical biblicism is faithfulness, I mean I even have it tattooed on my body, inked onto my skin so as to never forget. It is a label given to me by the voice of god on top of a mountain in wales. I bucked and fought arguing that whatever I am, faithful is not one of them. I am an adulterer, I think I have been unfaithful in every relationship in my life including or maybe especially my relationship with god. And yet this god comes down and covers my transgression (my queerness) with unlimited, unconditional grace. I couldn’t believe it then and I still struggle to live believing god actually loves me: A deviant, a queer closeted theologian of little consequence.

I decided, at this, to become the name, to live worthy of this faithfulness god has shown me (I even tattooed the hebrew for faithful/loyal, aman, into the back of my neck as a lifelong reminder). However, the more I delve into the grace of this god I realise that gods response was more than just grace, more than just acceptance it was encouragement not to limit myself by a rigid regiment of blinkered existence but to love like godself without limits.

It was as if god reached down and said “neither do I condemn you, I am unfaithful too.”

Could it be?

Let’s for a moment take of our religious glasses and all the cookie cutter phrases we ave been indoctrinated with. Let’s for one moment read the biblical narrative with virgin eyes.

We have this idea, that god could not be unfaithful, partly because “the bible tells me so”, partly because we have this idea that when we say that god “is the same today, yesterday and all days” we think that it means unchangeable. No matter how much the bible narrative paints the picture of a god that changes gods mind and develops. I am the same all my life, I feel instinctively the same today as when I was sixteen, I am still Patrik Olterman, but I have changed to, and I thank god for that. I am not the same Patrik Olterman I was when I was sixteen. Neither is god the same god, I mean god is still god, has always been and will always be, but god also changes, grows in relation to me and everyone else.

God makes a covenant with Abram renaming him Abraham, father of many. God goes on time and time again promising the Abraham descendants fidelity. Yet here I am a gentile, a pagan made Christian, adopted into gods own family by the grace of god. “You will be my people, and I will be your god” the words echo out through time, then later in history, god is unhappy with the relationship and broadens the definition of the covenant. God makes a new covenant where every nation is invited. God has not only turned polyamourous but omniamourous.

Or, how about this. If we strain our senses and sharpen our vision we discern something impossible in the biblical narrative like a palimpsest overwritten with our sacred text, we think we see what we have come to call the holy trinity. The trinity is described as the community of god, a never ending dance where god is complete, satisfied in godself. Never alone, three in one but three non the less. God is love, we say quoting scripture, and use the trinity as proof of this undying, eternal love. But love is agape, fileo, and eros. We just can’t imagine the erotic love of the trinity, entwined, in an endless embrace penetrating each others essence. This perfect community, once balanced with the three sides of love, is our blue print for marriage, or rather for all human relation. Yet for god this perfect union is not enough. God crosses over the boundaries of the blessed trinity, reaches out and creates a world filled with life and passion. Then god chooses to emancipate the earthlings and, oh the undecency, love them with all the agape, fileo and eros that god can muster. God loves me unconditionally, on my level like a sibling, erotically with all gods passion. And then as if this queer transgression is not enough, god invites me to interact and be part of what Paul Young called this circle of submission. But it is of course not only me but every living being is loved in this way. The trinity gives up independence for interdependence and queerly blurrs out the bounadries between godself and creature, between creature and nature, between me and you.

The omniamourous god doesn’t hold back, doesn’t temper love with prudence but impregnates a teenage peasent girl (who is incidentally bethrothed with a man) to fully cross all boundaries so that we may know this god, this passionate love.

Not that there is anything wrong with loyalty or faithfulness. The question is what are we called to be faithful to? Are we to be faithful to a religious system, a new set of laws and doctrines or are we to be faithful to this radical outpouring of omniamourous love?

It’s not that I want to surgically remove my tattoo and replace it with a symbol of promiscuity, pluralism or omniamory. I realise instead that I want to be loyal to this love priority of radical love because sometimes we are even called or compelled by that radical love to be unfaithful and cross boundaries no-one else dares to cross.

 

The centrality of sexuality

Why is this such a big deal? Why does it matter? It should be a non issue! This is what both right wing and left wing, conservatives and liberals are saying all over the place. In churches people are taught that their sexuality, while important, is not essential. Sexuality does not define you, or who you are.

This reasoning is the basis for the “Love the sinner, hate the sin” theology that is so prevalent, it is also the basis for all pushes for chastity and purity vows etc. Your sexuality whatever it is is a non-issue, seek first the kingdom.

Even in non church environments where liberalism reigns the sigh of ‘I have had enough’ together with the statement “why are we even talking about this” in regards to LGBTQ issues (all well meaning of course, taking for granted the equal rights for all people). I agree, equal rights for all people should be a non-issue, it should be something we could take for granted but it is not. As long as LGBTQ people are discriminated against in subtle and not so subtle ways it is an issue of importance. I also disagree, because our sexuality is an issue of centrality it is so entwined with whom we are and whom we are created to be, it is a central part of our creaturliness and therefore can never be a disregarded or relegated to a peripheral discourse.

We are so saturated in hetero-normative, sterelised thinking that we cannot see how a heteronorm reading of the bible narrative marginalises not only LGBTQ persons but also our sexuality.

It all starts in genesis where we have cleaned up the grand creation narrative with a clinical zen like ex-nihilo, purgating all messy chaotic double entendre within the narrative. In true platonistic fashion we pretend that the fall has negated gods declaration of ‘very good’ and fall into a gnostic reading where the spiritual still is good but matter is less than or even downright evil.

We continue our discourse by spiritualising our OT readings so as to forget about sexuality or at least put all the evil sex in the hands of the others (the others often being the LGBTQ community) scapegoating the dirty and disturbing onto those perverted others, safely ignoring the beams lodged in our own orifices.

The Song of Songs is read as a safe poetic allegory but we do not delve to deep lest we disturb the unsettling notion of gods passionate eros for us as gods beloved.

We continue sterilising the gospels by making sure Mary is a virgin and stays a virgin (making her a mythical creature and not a flesh and blood human). We keep our blinkers on so we can ignore the disturbing images of the god-spirit sexually (forcefully?) impregnating a teenage peasant girl.

Jesus is in our reading portrayed male but chaste to keep this serene gnosticism intact to the end. The passion of the resurrection is left unspoken as Jesus rises as an eternal resurrection body (without sex) and ascending to the sexless marriage-less heaven where we deftly ignore all sexual marriage symbolism used to describe the coming kingdom.

So here’s the problem, we have neutered the biblical narrative making it a-sexual, like a eunuch (which ironically is also sexually deviant). Since this is how we read scripture this is how we see god an a-sexual deity and therefore it must be how we treat our sexuality. Either as something embarrassing that should not be or something that will at least perish when we are made holy.

We need to recover a queer god. A gay god is not good enough, as a gay god simply reaffirms the false homo-hetero dichotomy. A Jesus who marries Mary Magdalene reinforces the heteronormative narrative while a gay Jesus reinforces it by reinforcing the “negative” pole. A queer god is a god who is neither male nor female but trans-gendered (not as in transitioning from one to another but as one who transcends both without ever becoming less of either or fully other). We need to recover a queer god that creates with erotic pleasure and then sets us free to do the same. We need to recover a queer Christ, who is not secretly longing to tap Mary Magdalene or Lazarus but passionately, erotically loves them both (that is, he is sexually attracted to them). Whatever Jesus does with his sexuality (as in: does he act it out?) is here irrelevant, the fact that it is there and central to his actions, fuelling his passionate love for all humanity, omni-amourous.

We are sexual beings, our eros is part of whom we are, not all that we are, but a significant part. When we ignore it or sterilise it, or try to tame it, make it clean acceptable we suppress who we are and therefore who god created us to be. It is time as Marcella Althaus-reid writes in her ‘Indecent theology':

“Isn’t it time the Christian heterosexuals came out of their closets too?”

Let’s stop pretending that we are all the same, that our sexuality can be summarised with missionary vanilla sex. If we can allow the interpretative gap that Jesus leaves on these issues, the invitation to midrash, be a starting point for our continued discourse. Let’s stop pretending that this is not an important issue. Lets stop pretending that we can stop talking, wondering, experimenting, longing, masturbating, copulating and loving it!

 

How I became a queer theologian a desert journey

Last week my friend Samuel decided to reblog one of my posts on LGBTQ and the church. Promptly someone questioned if I really had written the piece as I had taught a very different gospel at said persons confirmation camp. I had to reply that I have been (am still) on a long theological pilgrimage.

Looking back I realise that it has been a long journey, not in a straight line but rather a rambling exodus in the christian desert of sexual mis/information.

When I was younger I had no opinions about sexuality. Sex was the mystical promised land of unending climactic pleasure. There was some testing the waters outside the boundaries of heteronorm conduct though I never wavered in my appreciation and attraction to the mythical female forms. I encountered gay men and lesbian women early as I lived at times in LGBTQ collectives with pink triangles painted on the walls and worn by the kind gentlemen who shared rooms in the oversized apartment. As I was not sexually active I did not understand what that meant or that it could be wrong.

It was not until I became a Christian in my late teens that I was told that certain sexualities where accepted by god (a man and a woman joined in holy matrimony) and all other sexualities (mine included) where tickets straight to a fiery lake with eternal torment on the side. I was taught to read the bible literally and would never have considered Christianity a real option had I not experienced pure authentic joy (in the small baptist church in Malmö) and the unconditional love of an older man (the token black man in the otherwise all white congregation i attended in the Ozarkian backwaters of the US bible belt) showcasing what a fathers love should really be like.

I was crushed to my knees by the awesome presence of the divine and repented my old ways. That is when I had to start reconciling my postmodern upbringing with the modern vestments of American churchianity. First I had to shed my love and fascination for science and replace it with a growing passion for the metaphysical secondly I had to reconcile the unconditional love I felt from god with the judgement of everyone not part of the church (the church being a very narrow description of people who believed exactly what I had been taught that the bible teaches).

This was hard work, it is not easy reconciling a loving god with eternal conscious torment. It lead to a lot of ‘closeting’ that is I had to hide the parts of me that where not compatible with this black and white world of conditional love and unconditional justice. I burnt and renounced my tarot cards, my roleplaying games and my Metallica albums. I listened only to approved Christian music and broke of with my girlfriend who was trying to lead me into sexual temptation by her very existence.

One day I was sitting at our local hangout when a punk girl my age came up to me and asked me if I thought she was going to hell if she died today. I asked her dutifully if she ‘believed in her heart’ and if she could ‘confess with her mouth’ that Jesus was lord. She said that she didn’t know what she believed and that she would confess no such thing. That settled it in my mind and I told her as much, she was going to hell unless she reconsidered. I remember walking out of there with confidence and feeling quite proud of myself the ‘little servant of the lord’ and an evangelist to boot. Hadn’t I in no uncertain terms explained that god was handing out a free bag of candy if she would just bow to his might, never mind the punch in the face that was the price of refusal. The next day I learned that she had killed herself that night. I think this was the first day of my real journey.

Surely Jesus would ave seen the need to be loved in this girls eyes and restored her self worth… Surely Jesus would have known what to say, how to love her. How to enter into her world, to penetrate her bubble and show how passionately relentlessly god loved her.

I still had many years of soul searching and theological wrestling with the doctrinal dragons of organised religion ahead of me before I could answer these questions in a way that would be actual good news. In the meantime I compartmentalised the problem with the ever so handy phrase “Love the sinner, hate the sin”. I represented a unholy, unholistic hermeneutic of separation between person and action as if we can be separated from what we do so easily.

I did peer training with “a world of difference institute” and CEJI two wonderful organisations working against antisemitism, bigotry and racism. I did so still asserting that god loves gay people, he just hate what they do. I honestly did not realise that what my friend Paul heard from me, the loving Christian, was god loves you but hates what you are. From my other fiends on the peer training course who where not Christians he got only love because he was just a lovely loving guy. To this day I wish I could find Paul and tell him how sorry I am.

Stumbling through life trying to find a way to be an honest Christian who will preach a message that rings true and can be considered good news to the poor and the not so poor, the normal and the weird, the straight and the queer.

So I came to college a raving fundamentalist who really wanted to believe the pre-formated cookie cutter christian platitudes I was spewing out.

Don’t get me wrong; I was an excellent speacher, I could motivate and capture young peoples hearts with a cunning accuracy. I could convert and convict, I got inspire and release. My prophetic gift kicked in just enough to scare the youth I spoke to enough to hang onto every word I spoke. If only I could have believed them as fully as they did. If only the beast in the closet could die and not cry out for release.

At college was where my ‘queering’ begun. As my understanding for bible history, hermeneutics and biblical exegesis grew I quickly lost grip of my fundamentalist ‘reality’. I honestly thought at times as I was loosing my faith.

“What do you mean Moses did not cross the red sea?”

It was well into the last quarter of the first year before I gave up pressing my old formulaic beliefs into academic language and capitulated to what my soul cried out for ‘a faith seeking understanding’ but doing so in the only way I known how to do anything ‘no holds barred’.

My first queer teacher (I am unsure how he would feel about the title but it is just as true) made this groundbreaking statement: Just because it didn’t happen, doesn’t mean it’s not true. That statement alone was worth the price of admission. It ‘queered’ my faith forever, in the same way that Jesus’ “You have heard it said …. But I say unto you ….” must have done for his followers. This together with the guidance of Brian McLaren (A new kind of Christian, the secret message of Jesus) and John Eldredge (Epic, Desire, Sacred Romance, Wild at heart) who taught me a narrative reading of scripture. A narrative framework to replace my rigid fundamentalism.

Still the question of sexuality was still in the closet. I tried to open the can at college but was not really encouraged to go there. So I did when I hit the ground at my first appointment. The first week on the appointment I was asked, hypothetically, if I would officiate a gay marriage. I had no answer, but at least this time I was mature, courageous enough to admit that I did not.

Many books, sermons and meetings with representatives of the LGBTQ community later, I am standing on a square literally around the corner from the restaurant where I met the punk girl all those years ago. I am watching a heated argument between a young american missionary standing with a six foot cross over his shoulder and a young punk rocker girl with pink hair and a nose ring. She is spewing sarcastic question at him like a spitfire and he is squirming under the pressure. He tries to be graceful. He says to her that god loves her and that she will get to heaven IF she will repent her actions. I feel a strange yet familiar tug in my heart and I intervene, literally, I step in between the two combatant and I try to intercede. God loves you I say to her. She blinks twice and says, sarcasm thick in her voice, “but …” But nothing, I say, “god loves you, no matter who you are, what you do and whom you love”. At first she gets angry accusing me of trying to steal the other guys convert, then she mellows and asks quietly, “do you really mean it?” Then hesitantly, “Would god love me even if I was born a man, I mean even if I am a man down here and woman up here” she gestures at her body parts. I re-emphasise, “god loves you just as you are right now, he loves every part of you both down there and up here” I say. She goes quiet for a while and I realise she is crying. “Thank you”, she says, “I did not know there where Christians like you. I don’t believe in god but maybe I could love a god like the one you know”.

It struck me then that this is why I am. My whole existence can be described with a purpose to this moment, to tell this girl that god loves her, her mess, her penis and breasts and all. and that is good news.

 

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