Category: Bible

Intersecting Identities — Queer Theology and the Ethiopian Eunuch

Deborah:  poet, prophet, warrior. From Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible

I am very excited to contribute yet again to the annual Queer Theology Sychroblog. This year’s theme is Identity.

Diversity in the Bible

As someone who has spent a lot of time reading and studying the Bible, I can appreciate the diversity it presents. For one it is not a single book. The Bible is a collection of books ranging in number depending if you read a Jewish, Catholic, or Protestant bible. The writings range in type: letters, historical accounts, poetry, law, prophecy, even erotica.

The settings of these writings are diverse–Africa, the Middle East, Europe–as are the languages in which they were written. The writers and people who appear in the texts are also diverse. And gender in the Bible is diverse. There are not simply male and female characters. For instance, there are angels, who although are sometimes presented as male, are also described as not really having a gender.

So Many Eunuchs

Ebed Melech, an Ethiopian eunuch rescues the prophetJeremiah

Then there are the eunuchs of the Bible–so many eunuchs. We must remember that in ancient times, eunuchs stood out. They typically had their testicles removed before puberty, sometimes with their consent, but usually not. As a result, they did not develop secondary sex characteristics that come during puberty. They retained high voices. They did not develop the body hair or the facial hair like men of their time. They looked and sounded different from the men and women around them.

Eunuchs could not produce offspring. While some did partner, most did not. They were often single and childless unless they adopted. In a world where everyone seemed to be part of a family unit of some sort, they stood out as loners.

As an actor, I have taken time to explore the story of the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8. This is not the only Ethiopian eunuch in scripture. I have written about eunuchs before and spoken about the Ethiopian Eunuch, Ebed Melech, who appears in Jeremiah 38,39 (see video below.)

The Multiple Identities of an Ethiopian Eunuch

Many eunuchs were castrated before puberty–they retained high voices and did not develop the facial hair, body hair, and muscle that come with testosterone. They were sexual and gender minorities.

What is extraordinary about the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 is that the author of Acts goes out of the way to signal to the reader the many intersecting identities of this one person. In fact, besides Jesus himself, no other character in the Christian Bible is so fully described.

Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, that is, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury, who had come to Jerusalem to worship, and was returning home. Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. (Acts 8:27b-28)

To someone of the time hearing this description, they are struck with diverse identities in one person. The Ethiopian Eunuch is:

  • a foreigner
  • an African
  • a eunuch
  • a rich person
  • employed at a royal court
  • literate (most people in those days did not read including most of Jesus’ disciples)
  • a person of faith

Embodying the Text

As an actor, I have often stood, imagining the Temple in Jerusalem with the crush of people, the many courtyards and fountains, the buzz of activity. It was a highly gendered space. Men and young men to one side, and women and children on the other. There was an area designated for foreigners and for gentiles. Embodying as much as I can of the Ethiopian Eunuch, I stand looking at the different designated areas. I see all the families. I wonder, “Where do I go?” I also wonder how I might feel being in a space where family is so central; for me as a eunuch that is just not in the cards.

On the return trip home to Ethiopia, this surgically altered, gender variant, rich civil servant who is a person of faith reads aloud from a scroll of the Prophet Isaiah. Likely it is an expensive scroll. Probably written in Hebrew. No doubt this eunuch is a polyglot, able to converse in Ethiopian, Greek, Hebrew, and who knows what else. The eunuch reads aloud because that is how people typically read in the ancient world.

The Eunuch reads a very particular passage that comes from Isaiah 53.

Attending white Evangelical churches much of my life, whenever this passage was preached, and it was preached often, the minister either pointed to Jesus or to the Apostle Phillip. Never to the eunuch. For most ministers I heard, the passage served as a delivery system to remind Christians that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. They take a Hebrew Bible passage and import Jesus into it saying this is a prophecy about Jesus. That reading of it, or like Phillip, we too should go around and share the good news.

One Text, Multiple Readings

There are multiple ways of reading this text, but to me the most interesting is to consider it from the perspective of the eunuch. Likely as a child this one was taken from home and parents. This one was physically held down, likely without giving consent, and was operated on. Through a painful procedure with the real risk of infection and more pain, testicles were removed.

This one grew up but never went through puberty. As boys matured and changed, this one did not change in the same ways. This one was assigned a position in a royal court. This one could not start a family. This one was both respected and mocked, sometimes at the same time because of an elevated status in the palace and what was seen as a social deformity. This one may well have felt isolated, rejected, and even experienced physical challenges and disabilities because of the lack of testosterone in the system.

Who IS the Prophet Speaking About?

This one then is puzzling over a passage of scripture about a man of sorrow acquainted with grief. This one is curious about the identity of the person being described. This one asks question, “Is the prophet speaking of himself or of someone else?”

Reading he passage through the eyes of this eunuch, I wonder what this one sees and feels. Does this one look at the text and see a mirror, someone similar, and feels drawn and validated? This one reads:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, but he opened not his mouth; he was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and was as a sheep silent before her shearers, and he opened not his mouth.

He was taken from oppression and from judgment; and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living…

In my imaginations about this Ethiopian Eunuch I feel the weight of these words. Some translations say, “Justice was denied him.” It speaks of his humiliation. It asks, “Who can speak of his offspring?”

On that chariot ride we have no idea if this unnamed eunuch and Phillip continued reading and came to what has since been labelled Isaiah chapter 56. But if they did, they would have read an extraordinary promise from God to both foreigners and eunuchs.

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”

For thus says the Lord,

“To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:3-5)

Art by Mila and Jayna Ponder

Radical Inclusion

There is a great deal we do not know about this Ethiopian Eunuch and will never know. This one appears as the first baptism of the early church and is often credited with being the founder of the church in Ethiopia. What is most telling to me is that an early disciple of Jesus felt compelled by the Spirit to sit and talk and build community with this person who is so radically different in every way from Phillip. This is not simply a “queer” Bible character, but like many people, this one possesses in one body a host of socio-economic, political, national, ethnic, sexual, and gender identities.

I often tell audiences that ultimately I am not interested in the identities of the people in the Bible way back then. Rather I am concerned about our multiple identities today and how they intersect with varying degrees of access to power, privilege, and justice. I consider how in some spaces people can feel they must check something at the door in order to enter. I urge myself and others to consider the challenges and the rewards of fostering spaces where people can bring their whole selves.

Transfigurations–the film


Many Christians have questions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues and the Bible. We may think we heard everything there is about these issues. Hidden right before my eyes, I have discovered people in the Bible whose stories might surprise you.

Official Trailer Transfigurations-Transgressing Gender in the Bible from Peterson Thomas Toscano on Vimeo.

(Many thanks to Dr. Janet Everhart for her dissertation: Hidden Eunuchs in the Hebrew Bible: uncovering an alternate gender.)

Meet Ebed Melech, a gender variant savior

Check out the other people who contributed to the Synchroblog 2017

“THE RECURRING QUESTION or Very Random Thoughts on the Theme of Identity”by Neil Ellis

“Who Am I?” by Brandon L. Beck

The Queer Virtue Take On Identity (video) by Rev. Liz Edman

“Identity.” by Laura Jesson

“Would I be considered a Gay Apostle” (video) by TheKSource

“Identity Politics Is How I Survive” by Fr. Shannon Kearns

“Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid” by Fr. Rick Lopez

On The Changing Of Your Name by River Cook Needham

 

The Bible, the Law, and LGBTQ people

This is a special weekend in Pennsylvania. All over the commonwealth people of faith are standing up to affirm their belief that fairness and equality should be the norm for all people, including transgender, bisexual, lesbian, gay, and queer people. While some states have been limiting and downright slashing the rights of LGBTQ people, Pennsylvania lawmakers seek to increase rights through the PA Fairness Act.

IMG_3978The bill is gaining bipartisan support as it seeks to extend protections to LGBTQ people. According to Senator Larry Farnese’s blog,

The legislation (Senate Bill 974 and House Bill 1510) would update Pennsylvania’s current nondiscrimination law – originally written in 1955 – to ensure that all citizens regardless of race, color, religion, ancestry, age, sex, national origin, disability and now – sexual orientation, gender identity and expression – can participate in and contribute to the state’s economy.

It is currently legal in Pennsylvania to fire someone and deny them housing or business services solely on the basis of the person being gay or transgender.

IMG_3974Equality Pennsylvania has been working hard to get this bill passed, and this weekend has organized the effort to have people of faith voice their support along with messages of faith that support LGBTQ equality and liberty. They asked me if I would do a video on the topic.

As a Bible scholar, I hate it when some people use the Bible as the moral authority to deny people rights. It is one thing if someone is opposed to LGBTQ advancement and visibility in the world, but to do so insisting that scripture sanctions discrimination is an inappropriate use of the text.

Similarly I do not believe we need permission from the Bible to treat our neighbors, loved ones, co-workers, and employees with dignity and respect. In my video I stress that in making our secular laws, we need to keep the Bible out of it (even as I quote well-known universally accepted wisdom that appears in it!)

The Bible & Passing Laws that Affect LGBTQ People

Did you give the world some love today?

Friends School of Portland Meeting Room

Friends School of Portland Meeting Room

I have been invited to preach the sermon at St. James’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford, CT on Sunday (8 am & 9:30 am) While we Quakers are better known for our skills conducting silent worship, I am pleased to report I have a message that is forming.

One of the texts for Sunday is Acts 9:36-43. It’s about the death and resurrection of Tabitha, aka Dorcas. It is a passage about women, widows in particular, and the loving care of bodies.

Displaying the Disciple’s Deeds

Dorcas, a disciple of the early church, famously did good words in Joppa and helped the poor. She gets sick and dies, and through it all her friends care for her through the illness and wash her body after her death, as was the custom. These women then dispatch two men to bring the Apostle Peter to the upper room where Dorcas’ body is laid out.

Peter arrives and these women show Peter some of the handiwork of the beloved deceased disciple. Think of this as the exact opposite of airing someone’s dirty laundry. This is a visual display of goodness.

“All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.”

IMG_3953

2016 Transgender Day of Awareness and Lobbying at State Capitol in Maine.

I love this detail–displaying the robes and other clothing Dorcas made. I imagine the women earlier that day washing Dorcas’ body–taking each hand, each finger, hands and fingers that did good and created useful things, perhaps even beautiful things.

It gets me thinking about legacy and what we leave behind. There are many issues in the world worthy of our attention and good work. Three that stand out for me are racial justice, LGBTQ equality, and climate action.

What are we leaving behind?

160214 Doris 1969 från PlumsThis gets me thinking of loved one who have made an impact in my own life, the legacy they have given me of love, freedom, affirmation, and physical, practical support. These days I feel a lot of gratitude as I think about the multiplying factor of receiving and giving all these essential things.

This gets me singing an old song by the Swedish pop singer, Doris. With her hit Did you give the world some love today, Baby? Doris makes a warm, slightly grizzled, throaty appeal:

Oh your heart is always full of love babe
And you gave me lots of love today babe
Will you also keep the world in mind
Tell me what you did for all mankind
To give the world some love today babe

A Biblical Approach to Climate Change (part 2 of 3) Blaspheming the Holy Spirit?

Last week we looked at the concept for Stewardship in regards to religious/faithful responses to climate change. I raised the question: Are we stewards of the earth or parasites of the planet? And if parasites, could we act as beneficial ones? What do you think?

IMG_3403

Windmill in Illinois from Amtak. Photo by Peterson Toscano

Carrying on with this Bible theme, I sat down with Rev Dr Leah Schade, a Lutheran pastor and the author of the new book: Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit. I asked her for any Bible stories that we can look at through a climate lens. She SHOCKED me with an interpretation of a passage that has scared the snot out of me for decades.

Over at the Climate Stew blog I wrote:

When I was a tender young Christian in a Pentecostal Church in New York City, the absolute most terrifying passage in the Bible was one that warned us we could commit a sin that was so bad, it was unforgivable. As a Christian struggling with homosexuality at the time, I assumed the worst iniquity of them all had to do with gay stuff. And while my pastors insisted that my gayness was a major problem for them, they pointed to another more deadly sin: Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit.

After hearing repeated sermons about this spiritual threat, my fellow believers and I got it into our heads that we had somehow committed this sin. After frightening the snot out of us, Pastor Willy (that was his name) had to talk us down and assure us that there was no way we could have committed this sin. Confusing. He told us it was a really dangerous sin. It was hard to explain, and hard to commit, but once you did, you could not be forgiven.

Fortunately Leah calmed me down and provided a beautiful and moving reading of this text. The segment is about 12 minutes long and includes some lovely music by Chenard Walcker. Settle back and have a listen to a weird but wonderful climate change Bible lesson.

Rev. Dr Leah Schade speaks about blaspheming the Holy Sprit

presenter

Rev Dr Leah Schade and her new book!

Peterson sits down with Climate Stew crew member, Leah Schade and asks, “What does the Bible say about Climate Change?” They have a lively conversation where the pastor unpacks a controversial passage in the Gospels, a line by Jesus about an unforgivable sin.

Leah has published a new book: Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit

You can read her sermon here: I am Ruah: a sermon on climate disruption preached from the perspective of the Holy Spirit

Video of Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade “I am Ruah”

Coming up next: Part 3 Joseph and the Amazing Climate Adaptation Plan!

 

Featured image: Angels (Dust) by Greg Parma Smith taken by Peterson Toscano at MOMA PS1

A Biblical Approach to Climate Change (part 1 of 3) Stewardship

Every since I got caught up in the world of climate action, I have been curious about how theologians and ministers have approached the topic from a Biblical perspective. So many people look to the Bible for guidance and comfort, so no wonder they may seek out messages that can apply to our current climate crisis.

The first and most prominent message I heard over and over seeks to refocus the way we look at the earth. Instead of something to conquer and subdue, our role can be that of stewards of the planet. It is a lovely thought and definitely better than the Man shall have dominion over all creation approach. Still it felt tepid to me.

Recently I heard a Franciscan priest in Arizona talk about this concept of stewardship. His critique of it and his broader view of the world, stimulated my thinking and helped me better understand my discomfort around the whole stewardship model. Here is audio of Fr. Joe Schwab from the Franciscan Renewal Center followed by my own commentary. (Transcript below. Hope you like the music by Romo, Raúl Díaz Palomar, and Derlei)

In the next part I speak with a Lutheran pastor about the unpardonable sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit and what on earth that might have to do with climate change.

Transcript

As part of my epic tour of the the American Southwest earlier this fall, I attended a climate change rally in Phoenix Arizona. The organizers, mostly faith-based groups, focused on the moral imperatives to act to address climate change. I recorded most of the speakers, and in future episodes will share some of what they had to say. But for this episode I have for you the public comments of Father Joe Schwab of the Franciscan Renewal Center, which you can visit at thecasa.org.

Father Joe Schwab

Father Joe Schwab

I admit that when the priest approached the microphone wearing his flowing brown Franciscan robe, similar to the one my childhood parish priest wore, I did not expect too much. At best I thought I would hear the same old talking points about how we are required to be good stewards of the planet. Instead Father Joe surprised me with his twist on the stewardship message. I’ll play you what I recorded and then share the thoughts it dislodged in my head the following day in Quaker meeting.

Here is some of Fr. Joe’s message:
Inspired by Pope Francis, the Franciscan Renewal Center decided to amplify his call for decisive action at the United Nations Paris Climate Talks in December. To this end, we invited a variety of organization to join together to speak with one voice on the moral imperative that we act NOW to address global climate change. For Franciscans and Franciscan- hearted people this is not a new focus. We have been dedicated for the last 800 years to understanding St. Francis’ call to be brothers and sister to all of creation. St. Francis saw himself in a kinship relationship with the rest of creation. This kinship relationship is like the workings of a family. He did not see himself as something separate, like a steward standing outside the created world striving to guard it. Rather he saw himself on the inside, one of the created world and protecting it as he would protect his own mother, sister or brother. This stance of St. Francis created a different relationship with the rest of the world, a more humble one. As in a family, he saw his relationship with the rest of the world as being mutual, with each being having something to offer and each having something to learn.

IMG_2536Response:
I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word, Steward, no concrete image comes to mind. Well, other than Stewie from the Family Guy. I can’t think of a person I know who is a steward.. A friend of mine for a time was the warden of the Friends Meeting in Oxford England. In America we would call that person a Caretaker or a Super or Manager of Buildings and Grounds. But I don’t anyone who is a steward.

Steward is an archaic word like covenant and kinship. These old timey words have a formal weight to them but do not resonate like the words barista, guidance counselor, or caretaker. A caretaker is in charge of things and land. But when we are talking about being stewards of the earth we know that also includes looking after many living things, animals and people. Some words that might apply then are Caregiver or the British term, Carer, for someone who assists a person with medical needs. We also have the word attendant and assistant.

All these terms though I find problematic when talking about climate change and the earth. There is a distance, an othering about them. I care for you. You need me. But is that really the relationship we have to the natural world and the atmosphere?

I am not a touchy feeling granola new age environmentalist, but even I can see that there is an interconnectedness. When I breath out, I release a little bit of carbon dioxide and a lot of nitrogen. The carbon dioxide is in turn absorbed by plants and ultimately gets transformed and released as oxygen.

I am not a distant other caring for a needy planet. Rather I am part of a system, one that I need for food, air, and life.

Gretchen in eco-drag

Gretchen in eco-drag

If I were to be cynical about it though, the actual relationship I see that humans have with the planet is parasitical. A parasite is an organism that lives in or on another organism (its host) and benefits by deriving nutrients at the host’s expense. We have a negative connotation to the word parasite. It can be used as an insult in an argument, “I tell you Leonard, I can’t take any more. You are sucking the life out of you. You are an emotional and financial parasite!”

My husband is writing a novel that includes a character that is a tape worm, so over meals and before going to sleep, I have heard a far too much about parasites. Now there are actually good parasite, beneficial parasites. Researchers have begun to point out that many intestinal parasites actually help us.. These microbes swimming in our guts might be responsible for activating our immune system and staving off problems caused by intestinal inflammation. There is a give and take with these parasites in our systems. We benefit each other.

While it doesn’t sound terribly appealing, I believe that instead of seeing ourselves as stewards of the earth, we should think about how we can be downright neighborly beneficial parasites on this planet.

parasiteThe reality is we need the earth far more than it needs us. As we alter the chemistry of the atmosphere and harm multiple species, ultimately the earth will move on and reorganize itself to the new conditions it faces. It will adapt. If need be, it will do so without out, ejecting us from the system.

While I do not see us as stewards or caretakers or caregivers brought in to manage and save a sick planet and eco-system, I do think we have our part in undoing the damage that we have done, well as much as we can. If like St. Francis preached, the natural world and all in it is family to us, sisters, brothers, and others, kin, we can right the relationship where we have been cruel, selfish, or thoughtless. We can take our part.

As St. Francis said, Keep a clear eye toward life’s end. Do not forget your purpose and destiny as God’s creature. What you are in God’s sight is what you are and nothing more. Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take nothing that you have received…but only what you have given; a full heart enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.

Transgressing Gender in the Bible — Full Lecture

Back in 2013 I gave a 90-minute lecture at Vanderbilt Divinity School as part of the Human Rights Campaign Summer Institute. For those people interested in seeing Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, here is one stop to hear most of the stories I present. In addition I perform a rare scene from Doin’ Time in the Homo No Mo Halfway House where I talk about Lazarus coming out of the tomb and the work of the disciples. You will also see a scene from The Re-Education of George W. Bush–No President Left Behind! in which I talk about the story of Sodom in Genesis.

Then I share Transfigurations. We look at Deborah, Joesph, several eunuchs, and characters in the Gospels.

The audience was made up of LGBTQ people who were part of that summer’s institute. According to the HRC site:

The Human Rights Campaign Foundation LGBT Mentorship program for Religious and Theological Study seeks to encourage and promote the dialogue on LGBT issues and religion in seminaries and, by extension, in our congregations and communities by investing in the next generation of LGBTQ and allied scholars.

So if you are interested in LGBTQ theology or know someone who is, here is my scholarship (with comedy and theater) for you.

Theology as Survival — Broderick Greer speaking truth

Perhaps the greatest joys I get from traveling around as a performance artist and Bible scholar is that I get to meet amazing, thoughtful, interesting, fun, and beautiful people. I think it was back in 2008 when I first met Broderick Greer when he was an undergrad student at a small Christian college in Tennessee. Then over the next few years it seemed everywhere I went Broderick popped up with a bowtie, smile, and hug.

If you do not follow Broderick on Twitter, I strongly recommend you do. His tweets are insightful, prophetic, hilarious, and searing.

Broderick Greer at the GCN Conference 2016

Broderick Greer at the GCN Conference 2016

According to the bio on his site:

A 2015 graduate of Virginia Theological Seminary, the Rev. Broderick Greer is Curate at Grace-St. Luke’s Episcopal Church. At Grace-St. Luke’s, Broderick coordinates ministry to people in their 20s and 30s, preaches and leads worship, oversees the parochial school chapel, and directs City of Soul, a new Episcopal Service Corps (young adult service year) program. He offers lectures and facilitates conversations at the intersection of social media, American history, queer theory, black theology, human rights, and racial justice. His work has appeared in The GuardianReligion News Serviceand The Huffington Post.

In addition to writing, Broderick is speaking at more and more LGBTQ friendly Christian events and Justice gatherings around the country. Last week he gave a absolutely brilliant talk at the Gay Christian Network Conference. Drawing on his personal life’s journey, he connected with the mostly white audience on a range of issues that I imagine both comforted and challenged those listening in the room and on the live stream.

He begins by sharing a little of himself and expertly brings the audience in close.

I am Broderick Lee Greer, a child of God, baptized in Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church on November 1, 1998 and since that time I have sought to be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ. I tell you this because I ended up being “baptized” three times after this November 1, 1998. I tell you this because while some try to “pray away the gay” I – in dramatic fashion – attempted to “wash away the gay”. I tell you this because I survived – and am surviving – the strain of being subject to white heterosexist patriarchal theology.

I tell you this because I have a hunch, given that you’re here, that you’re a survivor as well.

hqdefaultI will not quote much more because I think you should read the whole talk as he connects Bible narratives to queer issues to Black Lives Matter and police violence.

Towards the end of the talk Broderick references the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8, a story that in most white Evangelical circles gets stripped of race, ethnicity, and gender differences as the focus gets turned on Phillip the Apostle or Jesus the Savior. But Broderick rightly puts the focus squarely on the Black African sexual and gender minority character in the text tying together the strands of the themes he has been weaving throughout his talk:

And how can the eunuch not see himself in this passage? How can he not read his own experience of castration, sexual otherness, marginalization along with this text? Which may be why he ends up asking in verse 34, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Besides learning that the eunuch is polite, we learn that he is inquisitive, even curious about where her fits in God’s economy. He is doing theology as survival. Is this about me? Am I the one being led like a sheep to the slaughter? Am I the one being denied justice?

Read Broderick Greer’s Theology as Survival. Share it with your friends, pastors, fellow survivors, oppressors, and whoever you think needs a concentrated shot of truth and justice.

The Weirdest Story Ever Told–The Afterbirth of Jesus!

As a Bible scholar, I like to look at a story from new perspectives. I love telling the story of Esther from the vantage point of one of the 12 eunuchs listed in the narrative. When I talk about Joseph in Genesis, I slip into Esau, his gruff, butch uncle to add some new understanding of the tale (see video below.) This past summer at the New England Yearly Meeting of Quakers as part of my Bible Half Hour Series I shocked (and hope delighted) the audience with a new telling of the story of Jesus with the addition of a new character–The Placenta of Christ.

New England Yearly Meeting 2015

New England Yearly Meeting 2015

Yes it sounds weird. To some it may even sound inappropriate. But what starts out as a bizarre twist quickly becomes a serious theological affair that helps me look at issues like dualism, political and social apartheid, and police violence. Later this year with the help of a friend, Joey Hartman-Dow, I will release an illustrated story, The Amazing Adventures of the Afterbirth of Jesus. If you want to know when it is available, signup for my newsletter.



But if you want to hear the story for yourself, have a listen!

Breaking out of the crypt — LGBTQ friendly Bible Stories

IMG_1073This past summer I had the honor giving a series of Bible talks at New England Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers.) These Friends know me as a quirky queer Quaker who dips into the Bible with comic readings that hopefully lead to thoughtful conclusions. Standing in front of a room of people who have been so instrumental in my life–as a person of faith, as a queer person of faith, and as a queer person of faith with a leading to talk to the public–I felt free to be vulnerable.

One of the talks I gave wove together narratives from the Gospels about tombs–Jesus’ resurrection, Lazarus’ deliverance from the tomb, and the provocative story of that man who lived among the tombs. Mary and Martha play key parts in my storytelling as I look at the subversion of gender roles in the Bible. But perhaps the most meaningful part for me was when I talked about coming out as a form of resurrection. Much like Lazarus, I needed to be unwrapped.

IMG_1071In telling my own story, I reflect back on my days at a Pentecostal Holiness Church I attended in NYC and the powerful minister who revealed to me that he too struggled with desires for other men.

I am happy to share this talk with you. The original is found at the New England Yearly Meeting site. Below is the same talk on SoundCloud. I am glad I got to quote from John Henson’s excellent book: Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures.

featured image: The 71 steps by David Nash at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park taken Sept 2015 by Peterson Toscano

Taking Matters into my own Hands — Queer Theology

IMG_2924

A view of the river near my house

The lovely folks at the Student Christian Movement in the United Kingdom asked me to contribute to their Faith in Action Theology page with an overview of Queer Theology. Having sat in the presence of brilliant scholars like Ken Stone, Virginia Mollenkott, Patrick Cheng, Lynn Huber, Jennifer Bird, Dale Martin, John Henson, and a bunch of other smarty pants theologians, I struggled at first to write the piece.

Yes, I do queer theology, but on stage in a performative role. I regard myself as a scholar, but not in the traditional sense. In the end I found my way forward by looking at my own history and what I needed to get out of my Biblically Induced Coma.

I begin the essay:

After spending nearly 20 years in churches that preached a Bible message which insisted I must become straight and masculine in order to please God, I had to take matters into my own hands and discover for myself meaning from the scriptures.

I consider Queer Theology as falling into two distinct types—defensive theology and affirming theology. It is easy to get caught up in the first. When people use the Bible to attack us and malign us, then we feel we must defend ourselves. Opponents of LGBTQ people typically draw from a handful of no more than six short passages taken out of context in order to condemn us. Much Queer Theology has been designed to counteract these arguments.

Then I go on to explain the two types and give video examples. You can read it all here. Ruth at the Student Christian Movement also asked me to provide a list of resources. While it is not exhaustive, I listed books that have helped me the most. How many of these have you read? What would you add to the list?

My Queer Theology Resources

  • Omnigender: a trans-religious approach by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott
  • Coming Out Spiritually by Christian De La Huerta
  • Sex and the Single Savior by Dale B. Martin
  • Bible Trouble—Queer Readings at the Boundaries of Biblical Scholarship edited by Teresa J Hornsby and Ken Stone
  • A Minority of One, a journey with Friends by Harvey Gillman
  • Good As New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures by John Henson
  • To the Tune of a Welcoming God by David R. Weiss
  • The Bible—A Biography by Karen Armstrong
  • Balancing on the Mechitza—Transgender in Jewish Community edited by Noach Dzmura
  • Permission Granted: Take the Bible into Your Own Hands by Jennifer Grace Bird
  • An Introduction to Queer Theology: Radical Love by Patrick Cheng
  • Indecent Theology by Marcella Althaus-Reid
  • Que(e)Rying Religion: A Critical Anthology edited by Gary D. Comstock and Susan E Honking
  • The Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman
  • Beyond Belief: The Secret Gospel of Thomas by Elaine Pagels
  • Queer Theology website
IMG_2916

Another view of the Susquehanna River