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The Terds had me back! Back in November I appeared on the raucous Inglorious Pasterds podcast to talk about climate change as a faith issue and an LGBTQ issue. This time we talk Transfigurations, the movie. After watching it, the hosts and guest hosts cracked open a wide ranging conversation about gender roles both ancient and modern. We also went off-topic in the most delicious and disturbing ways. But that is half the fun of the show.
If you have never heard this podcast, know that it is hilarious. The jokes come fast. The references are sharp. It goes from sublime philosophical references to the most banal pop culture and poop humor. It’s great fun. They describe their podcast this way: Three former pastors from the midwest talking about spirituality, news & all the things.
In addition to regular hosts, Michael Baysinger and Matt Polley, guest hosts Joshua M Casey and Laura Beth Taylor kept the conversation flowing. Laura Beth is the author of Shattering Masks, Affirming my Identity. Transitional my Faith, and continually cracked me up with perfectly timed one-liners. Being transgender, she deepened the conversation about gender–roles, stereotypes, and identity.
If you want a good time while taking in a conversation about gender and the Bible, check out Ep 105 of Inglorious Pasterds.
Today I am working on an essay for a British religious education publication. They asked me to explain my view of Joseph in Genesis as gender non-conforming, and how I suggest religious education instructors teach it to their students.
For me unearthing gender and sexual minorities in the Bible is essential work. These overlooked characters remind me of the many people marginalized in the world today.
Of course some people chose to fly under the radar for good reason. In some places it is perilous to be open about being LGBTQ. Just last month police raided the Queer Kampala Film Festival where my Transfigurations movie along with many others was supposed to screen. I heard reports that no one was injured or arrested. They got out just in time, but this is not the first time LGBTQ people in Uganda have been targeted by authorities.
I am still editing my piece on Joseph and why I think it is important to bring out of the shadows gender outlaws in the bible. I have been mulling over one line I wrote:
We live with mysteries inside of us we come to understand over time, and if we are willing, we sometimes share these with others.
As I reflect over 2017, I have been sitting with some of the mysteries inside of me. I wrote a memoir that sits in my documents; I am not sure if I am ready or willing to release it into the wild. Perhaps I am waiting to better understand myself. It is also true that some things are too precious to share publicly.
One goal for 2018 is to screen the performance version of the Transfigurations movie at festivals in North America and beyond. This is different from the version that most people have seen. I will release this version under the title, Transfigurations–Gender Outlaws in the Bible. Description:
A disciple on a pilgrimage spends the night with strangers and tells stories of gender and sexual minorities in the Bibles. As the narrator reveals the many gender non-conforming Bible characters, this one has to decide if a more personal disclosure brings death or life?
In the performance I never appear as myself. I don’t explain my interpretations. Instead it is the story of an unnamed disciple. Woven into the narrative are quotes from the Gospel of Thomas.
It is an interesting Gospel for what is familiar to many of us–sayings that appear in Mark and Matthew–and what is so different. Many of these sayings have to do with identity. Like this one:
Jesus said to them, “When you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the inner, and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter [the kingdom].”
The main character quotes from Thomas’ gospel and these sayings serve a thread to the performance version of the film.
Most people will see the lecture version, which makes no reference to Thomas’ gospel. I imagine this is the version that will be most helpful to Christians trying better understand gender and sexual minorities in the Bible. The performance version though is more artistic with a dramatic ending.
As I write this, I am also considering a theme for the year. My friend, the writer Shirley McMillan (who has a new book out, The Unknowns, which I highly recommend) tells me that she sets a theme for the year which serves as an affirmation of sorts.
I have been thinking of what that might be for me. One thought I am toying with is: Remember Who You Are.
Yeah, working on that…
I sit down for an interview with Chrystal Cheatham, host of Lord Have Mercy podcast. Oh we cover a lot of ground–queer theology, race, privilege, wild Bible births, how everything is connected. I don’t know but she brings out the best in me.
We spoke so long that she is going to present the interview in two parts.
If you are a gay Christian and you want a better understand of how to approach the Bible and get beyond the clobber passages, have a listen. Also, check out Chrystal’s site. She has articles and is creating a new special Bible app designed just for LGBTQ Christians. You might even want to submit an article or content to her site or the app.
Peterson Toscano is hilarious and poignant and our in-the-meantime-guest as Alba and Crystal craft an entire season of podcasts that don’t skimp on the awkward, tense and cringe worthy truths about God, Sex and the Bible. Peterson is one of Crystal’s favorite performers and a true trailblazer who has been handling top tier discussions on sex and the bible long before this podcast.
I have long been fascinated by the story of Joseph in the Book of Genesis. A very moving tale, I see a big wonderful thread of gender non-conforming behavior by Joseph and his father, Isaac/Israel.
I include Joseph in my Transfigurations play and have shared my gender outlaw version of the story in many venues. Back in 2012 I shared it with Quakers in New England
Over at the Climate Stew site we are always looking at new angles to help unpack the climate crisis. Our roving commentator, Marvin Bloom, has a new video in which he considers the story of Joseph in Genesis. It has so many twists and turns–intrigue, betrayal, miracles, migrants, and a massive drought.
In a large, blended family, Joseph is the favored younger son. This gets him into trouble with his older brother, especially after he had been lording it over them. They get rid of him by shipping him off to Egypt as a slave.
There he also find favor and trouble which lands him in jail. But due to his ability to interpret dreams, he is hauled out of prison and dragged before Pharaoh. He interprets Pharaoh’s troubling dreams and predicts temporary, regional climate change. He then offers an adaptation plan to help address the crisis and feed the people.
Everything turns out just as Joseph predicted, and the people have enough food to eat. Ah, but was there a major flaw in Joseph’s plan? Marvin thinks so, and feels we can learn something important from it.
As we consider the ways to respond to our climate crisis, it helps to look at an ancient story about what they get right and what they got wrong. In trying to do good we may open up the door to injustice and oppression. Well, I’ll let Marvin speak for himself.
After questioning the idea of being Stewards of the Earth, and concluding that perhaps we are more like parasites and taking a new view of the passage about blaspheming the Holy Spirit, we end our three part series with the story of Joseph in Genesis.
One can easily read the book of Genesis with an eye towards water. So many wells. So many conflicts over wells. Then there are the droughts. The book is loaded with climate migrants escaping famine in search of greener pastures.
In my own Bible scholarship, I spend time on Joseph in Genesis, highlighting the gender differences between his father Jacob/Israel and his uncle Esau. If you have seen my performance lecture, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, you know how I explore Joseph’s gender differences both in what he wears and how he acts. If you haven’t seen it, here is a video from a presentation I did at Friends General Conference in 2012.
There also is a climate connection with Joseph. As Neil Grungras pointed out to me, he predicts climate change and devises a plan to adapt. During each the 7 years of amazing crops, he stores 5% of the bumper crop. Then during the 7 very lean, dry, famine years, there is food for the people. Ah, but as Fr. Joao Gwann Xerri, who I met in Malta years ago, suggested, Joseph’s plan was effective but unjust. In order to get the food from pharaoh it cost the people dearly.
First Joseph gave out grain if the people paid for it with the money they had. When they ran out of money, he took all their livestock. Still the famine raged on. If they wanted food from Pharaoh’s emergency manager, they needed to pay for it. The people begged for relief.
Why should we and our land perish before your very eyes? Take us and our land in exchange for food, and we will become Pharaoh’s slaves and our land his property; only give us seed, that we may survive and not perish, and that our land may not turn into a waste.”
So Joseph acquired all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh. Each of the Egyptians sold his field, since the famine weighed heavily upon them. Thus the land passed over to Pharaoh, and the people were reduced to slavery, from one end of Egypt’s territory to the other. Genesis 47:19-21
Breaking this story down for us is my favorite character, Marvin Bloom. Listen to his telling of this important story. I think there might be a lesson for us today. (transcript below)
Hi, This is Marvin, Marvin Bloom, and this is your moment with Marvin
Have you ever seen the musical, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. I like the book version better, in the book of Genesis, in the Bible. It has more details and less singing.
So Joseph is one of the youngest kids in a large blended family. His father Jacob, who changes his name to Israel has at least four sexual partners, I mean wives, I mean I don’t understand that lifestyle at all. Anyway there is a lot of tension in the family about inheritance rights; who’s gonna get all the stuff?
Since Joesph is the favorite son, and a bit of a brat, his brothers get rid of him. They ship him off to Egypt where he becomes a slave. He then gets in trouble, does jail time and ultimately becomes 2nd in command of the whole kingdom. And then he saves his family from starvation.
And that is the part that is interesting to me—the climate part of it. You see Pharaoh was having weird dreams. They hauled Joseph out of prison to interpret them. It was his thing. He said there would be 7 years of amazing weather with huge harvests. Then he warned of 7 years afterwards of horrible drought, famine, and potential starvation. He predicted temporary climate change AND he came up with an adaptation plan.
He suggested that Pharaoh grow as much grain as possible and stash it away in storage for a rainy day, well, many days with no rain. Then when the people are hungry and needy, there is food for them. And it was a successful plan. Thefamine hit and Pharaoh had mountains of food to feed a starving nation.
It was an effective plan, but it was not a just plan. It wasn’t fair. There is no such thing as a free lunch. In order to get Pharaoh’s grain, people had to sell everything they had and give it to the ruler. This turned Pharaoh into the ultimate 1% leading to oppression and slavery.
So what lesson do I get from this? In coming up with solutions to address the physical needs of people in a time of climate change, we need to calculate how the plan affects people’s right. Because climate change is a human rights issue.
This is Marvin and this has been your moment with Marvin.
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.
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!
In thinking about the theme of Sex and Bodies for the annual Queer Theology synchroblog, I’ve been thinking about a moment in my childhood when my sisters and I, in the backseat of the family car, got into big trouble for playing what turned out to be an adult game.
I was maybe 10 years old, my sister Dina was 12, and Maria would have been about 7. We were returning from a day trip to New York City. My dad, Pete Toscano drove, and my mom, Anita Toscano, sat in the passenger seat smoking Lucky Strike cigarettes and reading. She was a constant reader, everything from trashy romance novels to literary non-fiction. When she read, the book formed a force-field around her that virtually nothing could penetrate. And we three kids in the backseat played our little game.
We used a pack of Necco Wafers, these were disc-like chalky candies in weird flavors like licorice and clove. They came in a round pack about the size of a roll of quarters. In our game one person was the giver and the other the receiver. The giver took a single Necco wafer, turned to the receiver and said, “The Body of Christ, broken for you.” Then with the wafer on the tip of the tongue, the receiver responded–“Amen.” The Body of Christ Broken for You. Amen.
What an odd expression–The Body of Christ broken for you. I mean when a body is broken that’s not typically a good thing, not something to celebrate. Like when I was a kid and Dr. Cornelius, my favorite Planet of the Apes Action Figure broke in my hands while I was playing at my grandmother’s house. I gasped as Dr. Cornelius’ head fell off and rolled under the couch, his limbs dangled by rubber bands, and I was left holding his disconnected torso. I was inconsolable. On the phone my mother tried to comfort me, “We’ll get you another one.” I’m sure she did, but not all broken bodies get replacement parts or a reboot.
Often a broken body represents pain, tragedy–like the brokenness that comes from an accident, illness, or abuse. The body may heal up, but is left with scars; a disability can last a lifetime. Sometimes a broken body leads to death. Some could say that we are right now living on top of the largest broken body of them all–our planet. After years of exploitation, abuse, and relentless polluting, our earth is weakened, changing, and failing right before our eyes.
Recently on my podcast I reflected on the popular modern theological notion that in relation to the planet and the life on it, we are to be Stewards. Some eco-minded theologians charge us with the tasks to be the caretakers of the land and caregivers to the living things on it. A lofty place for one of millions of species on the planet.
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.
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 talking tape worm, one that possesses the body of a young boy in hopes of manipulating the boy in order to save the world. (Strangely enough I am working on an illustrated story about a talking holy placenta.) Over meals and before going to sleep, I have heard a far too much about parasites. Now there are actually good parasites, 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 large body we call home.
But let’s return to the backseat of that Ford station wagon, that time capsule of my childhood memory. Playing our little game, my sisters and I went through pack after pack of Necco Wafers–The Body of Christ broken for you–Amen. The Body of Christ Body for you. Over and over until we got so obnoxious, we pierced the smoky protective seal that formed around my mother as she enjoyed her book. She snuffed out her cigarette, threw the paperback to the floor of the car, spun around to face the backseat and barked at us, “Knock it off already for Christ’s sake!” But we couldn’t. We were addicted to our little game, like we can get addicted to so many of the games we play in life. As it grew darker outside, we huddled in the backseat whispering to each other. The Body of Christ Broken for you–Amen.
You can hear an audio version of this essay:
You can read more submissions in the Synchroblog series:
Over on Facebook I have been hearing about a wave of ugliness coming from people reacting to Caitlyn Jenner. A lot of the derision is from some Christian folks. While I am not terribly surprised by this–I had been an Evangelical Fundamentalist anti-LGBTQ Christian myself for many years, even as I tried to suppress my rabid gayness–I am amazed at how ignorant people can be about the scripture they profess to follow.
For instance. Do you know about the the first baptism in the fledgling church as recorded in Acts chapter 8? The writer of Acts went out of the way to point out that this first baptism was of a Black, African, surgically-altered, gender-variant, wealthy, literate, civil servant who is a person of faith. To the poorer, illiterate, non-eunuch early church folks, this Ethiopian Eunuch is the ultimate outsider. Yet this is the first baptism.
Of course a eunuch did not usually get to choose to be a eunuch. This identity was forced on them against their will often when they were quite young. What stands out though is not only that they are part of so many Bible stories (and there are many eunuch stories in the Bible) but these sexual and gender minorities are essential to the Bible stories in which they appear. For Christians trying to wrap their heads around gender issues, especially when someone doesn’t fit neatly into traditional boxes, eunuch stories might be a way to open up to new ideas.
People react to difference and change in lots of ways. Some people are shocked when they see someone embrace a different identity. And I totally understand some of the pushback when it comes to Caitlyn Jenner. There are the Kardashians of course and the industry they created promoting themselves along with the parallel cultural pastime that sprung up where people in the media, social media, and over brunch roundly mock the Kardashians. It is a dysfunctional relationship that it seems no one really wants to quit.
So with the Kardashian reality TV machine there are people crowing, “But Bruce Jenner coming out as a woman is just a publicity stunt.” Well duh, she has a show she is promoting. There is publicity of course. We are talking about Hollywood, TV, and Vanity Fair here. Yes this is a well-orchestrated media sustained media event. But it is not a just a stunt to come out as a woman after decades of being known as one of America’s greatest male athletes. Anyone who listens to Jenner for two minutes can hear her sincerity. She has found her voice at last after years of shifting around in the shadows of reality TV.
I completely understand the important critique leveled by some trans people about Jenner’s public coming out, rightly pointing out that most females who transition from male do not have the power, prestige, privilege, and money that Caitlyn has to aid in transition and acceptance in society. This is an essential and healthy argument led by people with transgender experiences. The criticism that I find questionable and inappropriate is by people who are not transgender and who use religion to justify being mean and thoughtless with their words.
Before Christians start jumping on a predictable and tiresome bandwagon of no, No, NO–Caitlyn Jenner is wrong (or worse), I suggest they take a look at one of the Bible’s most celebrated heroes. Dig into the story, look at the original language, and discover Joseph in the book of Genesis. There is more to this story than you may know. Like with most of us today, Joseph has a gender story. You will find that this version of the story of Joseph is completely supported by the Bible. To those who have ears to hear, let them hear.