Pride–Jonathan and David

I preached this sermon on Pride Sunday June 24, 2012 at theSt. James Presbyterian Church, Harlem NYC

Scriptures used:   Job 38:1-11, 1 Samuel 17:57-18:6, 18:14-16, Mark 4:35-41

A love hidden in plain view

The covenant between Jonathan and David

“It’s A Question Of Soul Love”

On this day, dearest Lord, open our hearts when they

might be closed.  Be with us as we explore your word

together, discern what it means for us today—in our lives,

in our interactions, in our ministries.  Let your word

to us be heard on this day our trusted strength, and the one

who redeems.  Amen

 

“You sho’ is ugly!”  Who can forget that iconic line blurted out by the character of Shug to describe Celie in “The Color Purple”?  Celie, who up until this point in both the book and the movie, has no idea that there is a life that she can call her own.  Celie, teenage mother abused by her father.  Her children have been taken away from her as well as her beloved sister, Nettie.  Celie, whose life is no more than tending house, working in the garden, taking care of someone else’s children, and being used by a man when the urge suits him.  And then Shug comes along.  The women form a bond that becomes a saving grace for each of them.  For the first time in their lives they have found a love that doesn’t expect anything back from them, it just is.  Celie learns how to smile.  Shug learns how important it is to have someone who will, ‘scratch out your head when it’s ailing’.

“The Color Purple” is one of those movies and books that we as a Black community, claim as our own.  There have been plenty of backyard barbecues, that when that last rib is stripped clean and folks are just sitting around full as a tick, from out of nowhere someone will shout out a quote from the movie, “till you do right by me”, “I looked up and saw you Miss Celie and I knowd there is a God”, “see Daddy, sinners got soul too”.  The next thing you know everybody at the barbecue is practically acting out the entire film, songs and all.  I love times like those.

But for as much as we claim the culture of that movie, there is one thing we rarely talk about.  We rarely talk about the relationship between Celie and Shug Avery as Alice Walker wrote about it in her book.  It’s hinted at in the movie with a kiss, a song dedication “Celie’s Blues”, and the quiet way everybody ends up on Celie’s porch at the end of the movie.  But Walker is quite plain; these two women are partners in the romantic sense.  If they were here today, they might be marching down 5th Avenue in the Pride Parade or perhaps Shug would have headlined at Harlem Pride yesterday.

I’m not up here in this pulpit to preach to you about sexuality.  No, Saint James is a Presbyterian Welcome church.*

Ostensibly we need not constantly revisit the topic, right?  No, I don’t want to talk about the privacy of folks’ intimate relationships.  Steven Spielberg sidestepped around Celie and Shug’s relationship because he knew that the American public of 198 wasn’t ready for that aspect of Walker’s characterization.  But you see it’s not a matter of sex.  It’s a question of soul love.

Celie and Shug’s love is kind of love that heals a wounded soul and allows it to flourish.  That’s the basis of their love.  Spielberg does bring that aspect of their love to the screen and quite beautifully.

Some may think I’m up here talking about this simply because it’s Pride Sunday.  Others may think it’s because we are a Presbyterian Welcome church, dedicated to full inclusion of LGBT or SGL persons in the life of the church.  Some of you may be sitting in your seats assuming that I must be gay if I’m bringing this up.  I’m up here talking about this soul love because our lectionary text brought this to my heart.  If you remember in our text from 1st Samuel verse 18:3 says, “Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul”.  Since the Middle Ages there has been a debate over the nature of the relationship between David and Jonathan.  Some will say it’s just an old time version of what today we call a bromance.  This definition from Urban Dictionary.com seems to fit David and Jonathan to a tee, “Bromance: The intense love shared between heterosexual males. A form of male bonding and usually invisible to the naked eye. This bond is normally only shared between two males that have a deeper understanding of each other, in a way no woman could ever realize.”

Without going into the philosophical history of these platonic relationships, it seems there needs to be some phenomenon to describe how and why two people of the same gender can have genuine affection for one another without it being “weird”.

But David and Jonathan’s love is something genuine from which we can all learn.  Just before our passage today, David has killed Goliath and is being heralded for his victory.  Let it be known that his victory over Goliath is not just a military victory it is a spiritual victory as well.  David the shepherd has reminded the armies of Israel that they are agents of the Lord, that their fear of this giant is no more than a lack of faith.  It is this honesty, this loyalty to God and to Israel, this valor in forthrightness to which Jonathan is attracted.  He and David immediately become great friends, establishing a covenant with one another.  As time goes on in 1st Samuel their relationship deepens and grows, and upon Jonathan’s death David laments, “I am greatly distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.”  But I step out of the fray of the debate as to what these passages means in describing the relationship for our political purposes.  I want to know just what is it God would have hear today.

And then I read a Jewish commentary on these passages, a Midrash; it hit me like a thunderbolt.  This example of love between Jonathan and David, whether on the down low or just an extreme case of bromance, teaches us how to love purely and of God.  The Midrash is from Avot 5:15 and reads “Whenever love depends on some selfish end, when the end passes away, the love passes away; but if it does not depend on some selfish end, it will never pass away.  Which love depended on a selfish end?  This was the love of Amnon and Tamar.  And which did not depend on a selfish end?  This was the love of David and Jonathan.”

And so this is the question of soul love I ask today, does your love depend on a selfish end?  Can you love without wondering, “what’s in it for me?” That is a question that David and Jonathan teach us to ask ourselves everyday of our lives.  I am here to confess that in the writing of this sermon, many times have come to mind where I have love for selfish ends, sometimes not really knowing it consciously.  And I must say, yes that love has passed away, painfully so.

Our Presbyterian Church is still divided over issues of full inclusion in the church.  Does our church’s love depend on selfish ends?  Is the fight because we want the church to be made in our image instead of God’s?  Is that why the men of the church fought so hard over thirty years ago to keep women out of the pulpit, keep women from being ordained?  Well, as we are reminded in Job today no one knows the mind of God.  I would like to pose God’s question to Job to the church during any hurtful time of argument when everybody thinks they are right, maybe even at General Assembly later this summer.  I’d like to ask on God’s behalf, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?  Tell me if you have understanding.”

Or maybe we are more like the disciples on that storm tossed ship in Mark.  We get to hang with Jesus on the regular.  He may even choose us over the crowd.  Is this tightness we have with Christ our selfish end for loving him?  Do you sing Jesus loves me because you have come to know him?  Or do you sing Jesus loves me knowing that he does so in spite of you?  Learning how to be tight with Christ is a lifelong learning project.  Because every time we think we got this Jesus thing down we might find ourselves in doubt, sadness, or fear.  And Jesus will say to us as he did on that ship, “Why are you afraid?  Have you still no faith?”  And you will be filled with great awe and say to each other.  “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”

It’s a question of soul love, my brothers and sisters.  Can you love without depending on selfish ends?  This question is not meant to denigrate us.  It is a question that is meant to help us be closer to Christ, purer in our love for Christ, more faithful servants for the building of God’s kingdom.

Before you start to answer that question, “Can you love without depending on selfish ends?” let me help you out.  The answer is…not completely.  We cannot, are not able to, will not be able to.  But here’s the best part.  We aren’t expected to.  We can only strive towards the prize of the high calling.  And when we falter, when we examine ourselves and see our own selfish ends, when we are honest and realize that we have pointedly asked the question what’s in it for me, that’s when we are covered by God’s Amazing Grace.

For you see Jonathan and David’s love may have pointed us to a better way of loving, one where we love without depending on selfish ends, there is another…There is another lover, today…There is a lover named Jesus.   That lover named Jesus, Jesus loves us as his own soul.  Jesus loves us so much that he died on the cross for our sins.  Just as Jonathan stripped of his robe for David, so Jesus was stripped of his robe for us.  Jonathan gave his armor to David making his flesh vulnerable.  Jesus took 39 lashes, a crown of thorns, nails in his feet, in his hands and a piercing in his side…Jesus took that just for us.  Jonathan gave David his sword, his bow and his belt.  Jesus took off his crown of glory and has made sure that there are enough crowns minted for us, for when we get to glory.  Jesus did all this with no thought of gain.  Jesus had it all and gave it up for us.  Jesus paid it all, church.  Jesus loves us as his own soul, without selfish ends.  And that is why the love of Jesus will never, I say it will never pass away.

Let us strive to love that kind of soul love we’ve been talking about today.  Let us love without expecting anything in return, without selfish ends.  If you have ever held a newborn child you know that kind of love I’m talking about.  You look down at that sweet babe in your arms and your soul loves and all you want to do is whatever it takes to make that child safe and happy.  If you have ever sang a song of praise then you know the kind of love I’m talking about.  As your voice comes up and out your soul loves.  All you want to do is sing till the power of the Lord comes down.  If you cook then you know the kind of love I’m talking about.  As you watch the people around the table enjoying your food your soul loves.  That’s why they call it soul food, folks.  Your soul sends your love through your offerings of food and people are nourished in all kinds of ways.

And if you can just close your eyes and remember the first time, the very first time your realized that Jesus loves you just because of who you are…If you can remember that feeling in your stomach, remember how your heart raced, remember how you could help but smile, remember how those tears fell onto your cheeks, remember how safe you felt, remember how you didn’t care who saw you crying or smiling, if you can remember those things…that’s soul love.  That’s when you know your not just loved for your body, or for who you are as mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, son, daughter, teacher, lawyer, doctor, lover, partner, husband, wife.  But you know that your soul, your very soul is loved and that love will never pass away.

Hold onto that.  Hold on tight.  For holding on to that feeling, knowing that Jesus loves you so completely that you can feel it in your soul there is nothing in this world that can ever really harm you…even death has no sting and grave will have no victory.  That’s the mystery of God that was spoken to Job, that’s the mysterious power of Jesus that even the wind and sea obey him.

This is your legacy as a child of God.  Love without selfish ends and the love you find will never pass away.  You see it’s not just a question of which kind of love you need to have—brotherly or sisterly love, agape love, platonic love or whatever kind of love you can imagine.  To love a holy and righteous kind of love…it’s a question of Soul Love.

 

*Presbyterian Welcome is NYC Presbytery based organization that works for the full inclusion of LGBTQ/SGL persons in the life of the Presbyterian Church USA.

Myriad…

There is so much going on that it is actually very difficult for me to find a subject on which to comment.

I’ll take a bit of personal privilege just to say a bit about my own personal struggle/growth/decisions as of late.  As an African American male, I have been working through my own self-identification within the plethora of initials that are LGBTQI-SGL.  Many members of my community of color self-identify as Same Gender Loving.  I think this choice of letters as a point of reference for my gender expression and sexuality has sparked some serious thought for me.

Most importantly, it has forced me to think about all of the work that I have done in this movement in a new way.  Unsurprising to many, I have viscerally felt the issues and concerns of “Queer” persons of color as being subsumed into the the larger movement that is mostly addressing the issues of persons of European descent.  I have discerned that I must find a way to actually deal with this so that, at least for myself, the voice of persons of color stands on its own equally but not placed under the umbrella of what is supposed to be the LGBTQI movement.

I will think on this more as I process…

But this voice and self-identification issue is a solid shift in my world view and my place within.

Same Sex Marriage–It’s Good For You…Who Knew?

(The above is a rhetorical question!)

You may wonder what prompted me to post a piece I had written in 2008 in 2012 (my previous post “An Answer to…Why Do They Want To Marry?”).  It’s not because I like to hear myself, but a friend of mine sent me a message today about an interesting study which I am attaching below.

Same-Sex Marriage Laws Reduce Doctor Visits and Health Care Costs for Gay Men

Mailman School Main Feature Graphic *

Gay men lead healthier, less stress-filled lives when states offer legal protections to same-sex couples, according to a new study examining the effects of the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. The study, “Effect of Same-Sex Marriage Laws on Health Care Use and Expenditures in Sexual Minority Men: A Quasi-Natural Experiment,” is online in the American Journal of Public Health.

“Our results suggest that removing barriers to marriage improves the health of gay and bisexual men,” said Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, PhD, lead author of the study and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholar at the Mailman School. It also saves money in healthcare costs.

In the 12 months following the 2003 legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, gay and bisexual men had a significant decrease in medical care visits, mental healthcare visits, and mental healthcare costs, compared with the 12 months before the law change. This amounted to a 13% reduction in healthcare visits and a 14% reduction in healthcare costs. These health effects were similar for partnered and single gay men.

Among HIV-positive men, there was no reduction in HIV-related visits, suggesting that those in need of HIV/AIDS care continued to seek needed healthcare services.

For the study, researchers surveyed 1,211 patients from a large, community-based health clinic in Massachusetts that focuses on serving sexual minorities. Examining the clinic’s billing records in the wake of the approval of Massachusetts’ same-sex marriage law, researchers found a reduction in hypertension, depression, and adjustment disorders—all conditions associated with stress.

“These findings suggest that marriage equality may produce broad public health benefits by reducing the occurrence of stress-related health conditions in gay and bisexual men,” Dr. Hatzenbuehler said.

Previous studies have documented that excluding lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals from marriage has a stressful impact on this population. Dr. Hatzenbuehler’s study is the first study to examine whether same-sex marriage policies influence healthcare use and healthcare expenditures among sexual minorities. Lesbians were not included in the survey due to insufficient sample size among the patients who visit the clinic.

“This research makes important contributions to a growing body of evidence on the social, economic, and health benefits of marriage equality,” Dr. Hatzenbuehler said.

The research  was supported by the Fenway Institute, the Eunice Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health and Society Scholars program.*

* The research findings presented here are those of the researcher and are not necessarily the views of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

December 15, 2011

What occurred to me was that the post “An Answer To…” was trying to address the macrosociological element addressed by this very study in healthcare.  In the largest sense, whether persons who love each other of mixed, same sex, gender presentations or identities decide to get married.  On a macro scale the freedom to make choices is better for all.  That’s what all the isms take away, a freedom to choose the elements of the components of one’s identity.  We are all composites of so many things that to deny any one of us a right to be who our very being directs us to be is simply…lest I judge.  For I too must continually work on catching myself judging, moralizing, placing my expectations on persons/cultures/presentations of humanity.

This is becoming a bit too esoteric and that will make it rife for criticism, but I am working this out myself as well and claim no hold on “having the right answer”.

I just know that we are given expectations by society, family, friends, culture, etc. and the realization of those expectations are crucial markers or rites of passage.  The issue of same sex marriage has just brought this very subconscious pressure I have put on myself to the fore to be examined.  And I have found that, while I am not in a relationship, the freedom to choose whether or not I marry has lifted a huge burden off of me.  I can dream of a nuclear and extended family that fits my dream; the dream of a thirteen year old boy holding hands with his mate–ringed and having said I do, after having heard the words in front of family and friends, “You may kiss your love…”

And just as Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has issued its disclaimer so do I…

*The male centric focus of this study and its exclusion of women and other gender representations is strictly that of the researcher and its funding source and is not necessarily the lens through which Derrick McQueen operates.

An answer to…”Why Do They Want To Marry”

Friends, I suddenly realized that I have been referring to a post that I previously wrote on gay marriage that was not posted in “hear now in the body”. Here is that original post in its entirety from 2008. This helps set the foundation for the work I have been doing in regards to gay marriage ever since:

To clarifiy–
The entry below is in response to a heterosexual friend of mine truly trying to understand why the defeat of Prop 8 in CA drew such notice. He asked in all sincerity, “Why do they want to be married?” He mentioned that even he wasn’t so sure if this marriage thing, esp. via the church was truly a valid idea. Especially since most Prostestant churches reject marriage as a sacrament (the only two being communion and baptism.).  After an initial conversation, these thoughts ensued.  Peace

Answer to “Why do they want to marry?” 11/21/08

As I said, just wanted to pass along a few thoughts about this marriage thing.
I think the very real need to be “married” goes beyond the concept of  ”equal rights under the law or from another perspective forcing same sex marriages on a society that might not be ready for it” (his words). Your question was why do some feel they want or even need this so badly? Dealing with the politics and church political ramifications of it are very real but I feel they are a smoke screen for the real discussion as to “why?”

I can tell you that in realizing and/or coming into one’s “orientation” there is a struggle no matter who you are. It is a psychological process that isolates and one cannot imagine that anyone else has ever gone through what you are going through at that moment. Things to face are rejection of friends and family-either lovingly or violently (lovingly=”we understand and love you but what did we do wrong, we will never have grandkids, our lives are forever changed now, etc.” while violently=how could you do this to us, if you can live the right way get out, why did God have this abomination come from me, that is a disgusting, depraved community and deserve whatever it gives you, etc”.)

Despite the ultimate reactions, the truth of the matter is that the training and ideals of family (mostly heteronormative ideals) are ingrained into LGBTQ folk just as they are into hetero folk. We’ve all been groomed to find partnership in life, become family with that person and that the final true public/spiritual testament to that love is to be married in the eyes of God and a company assembled. Heterosexuals have a choice of whether or not this is necessary for their lives. Heteros have the privilege (damn Union word slipped out, a liberal seminary inside joke) of whether or not to be married, whether or whether or not to have children, etc. The point is that the common starting point for us all is that ideal ingrained into us from childhood-marriage.

LGBTQ life at least in regards to these proscribed ideals, is full of personal loss. Identity has to be reformed and all of those cultural/religious aspirations either must be given up or somehow redefined to match the identity that has been shaped for you with the identity that has been shaped by you in no small part by your sexual affinity. It is here where I think the question “why marriage” can be answered. It seems to me that identity is, especially once we realize that we have some say in our own identity formation, something we cling to for dear psychological and spiritual life. The less we have to shed from those core years of identity formation the more secure we are in growing into our own person. Our choices become clearer because our foundation stronger.

In LGBTQ identity formation, those building blocks that are cultural, familial, and societal are the hardest to reframe because our input on their importance in our lives has been so limited. It is like the game Jenga-trying to build an identity while with each round of life you realize the pieces of your identity that culture and society takes away is from your foundation. You can still grow and be strong and find where the new pieces fit but you are forever aware of the precarious nature of your identity because those foundational pieces like marriage, civil rights, human rights-all the things we grow up expecting– are slowly being removed because of your sexual affinity/orientation. It’s not even that it is a malicious thing. It’s just the way things are set up. I think marriage represents much of this foundational identity formation. Now that there is even the remotest of possibilities of putting this foundational piece of identity formation (marriage) back in place, people are reclaiming the piece.

Of course, there is the issue of whether or not these social constructs cause more damage than good. But at this stage of the game it doesn’t matter, that debate will go on much ad infinitum. The fact is that these constructs are in place and until equality exists the place of conversation is not a level playing field. Strangely enough it seems to me the fight for marriage equality is more of a fight for a place of privilege from which one can choose whether or not to marry. That’s my personal opinion, but it seems to me a perverse use of luxury. But then again, isn’t so much of what we fight for a perverse pursuit of luxury?
Posted by D’Rock’s House

LOST IN TRUTH…

I just read this wonderful story about a woman who met a man that she fell in love with while his soul led him to the same conclusion.  To put it in her own words which is the title of her post (link below), “It Happened to Me:  I Told My Boyfriend I Was Born a Boy.”  About ten years ago, I would have read this story with a lack of understanding of how this story of love is like so many others; or even stories of love that can go so wrong.

I am a single same gender loving man, with no partner.  But I so identify with this post.  My first reaction to it is visceral.  How powerful is it to be found when you are lost in your own truth.  Lost because no one wishes to search for you; lost because you have been hurt too many times when you have tried to venture out; lost because you have come to expect people to run the other way when they hear your truth.

This small reflection could very easily turn into the sadness of unrequited love but it runs much deeper than that.  I think the idea of the church as an unrequited lover for members of the LGBTQ community is a valid one.  I think of the first dates of showing some vulnerability thinking, “maybe this time this church won’t run from me when they know my trust” only to have it happen again, and again, and again…but each time we return it gets a bit harder to tell our truth because we are in love with the community that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit calls us to be a part of.  How disorienting to leave those first, second, third and even fourth dates only to hear that you don’t matter, that you don’t fit the profile the church is looking for.  How disorienting to find that the church can actually reject you just like an intended paramour.  It is enough to make you wonder is it God that is rejecting me as well.

And so you get lost in your own truth while in plain view of the rest of the world, wondering how much of you to actually let people get to know.  But then I run across a story like this one and it hits me that the church can reject you for not fitting its profile; for it too is flawed because it is guided by human intentions.  But your truth is connected to the Divine.  I feel that God wants me to bask in my truth not get lost in it.  I feel that God wants me and my truth to shine forth in the purity of light that is its ultimate potential.  I feel that the churches rejection is not God’s intention.  And so I am here, welcomed, scarred but healed because I now have a roadmap for my truth and never have to be lost in it again…so long as I keep my truth and my love in the loving arms of the one who has loved me from the beginning.

But don’t be fooled by the reality either, there is much work to do.  The SGL/LGBTQ community has work to do in loving us who are in the church as we press forward to ram the doors open.  We need the love of community too.  So let us figure this out together.  See my truth…don’t runaway from it.  I don’t want to be lost, I want to be on the journey with all my brothers and sisters in this big old human family.  Optimistic?  Yes.  But workable?  Also, yes.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janet-mock/transgender-coming-out_b_1146414.html