CELEBRATE PRIDE: Transforming Taboos and Recognizing Tapus – Celebrating Our Sexuality!

Happy Pride everyone! For those of us who are queer survivors of the church’s long history of persecution, these are indeed glorious days! For centuries, the church has had a problem with sexuality, sexualities of all descriptions, whether gay, or straight, bisexual, transgender, two-spirited, or gender fluid, sexualities of all types were a problem for the church! Somehow over the years, the church lost its way when it comes to the miracles which are our bodies. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. Sex is a blessing, a wonderous gift from our CREATOR! And yet somehow the church failed for so very long to be grateful for the blessings of sex, sexuality, gender-diversity, and celebrating the joys of being queer, they became taboo in the church. No sex please we’re christian! Sex was distorted by the church into something perverse. The church became incapable of even discussing sexual diversity, let along celebrating with pride, those who are queer.

Our very existence in the church was taboo. There’s an interesting thing about that word taboo – you see the word didn’t come into the English language until the 18th century when Captain Cook brought it back with him from New Zealand. Our word “taboo” comes from the Maori, “tapu” which actually means sacred, holy, to be revered, handed down with reverence, and somehow over the decades this beautiful Maori word for sacred and holy was changed, as language is often changed. This word was changed into a perverse word which means unspeakable or worse yet untouchable. A taboo is something to be hidden away, ignored, denied, or destroyed. In my lifetime, I have been taught by the church to condemn homosexuality, which for me meant learning to despise who I am, so much so, that I chose to hide who I am. Today, I am proud of who I am.

I am also grateful for the blessing of being a proud same-gender-loving, queer pastor. We’ve come a long way in a few decades. Pride celebrations give us an opportunity to remember where we have been, look at where we are and to discover hope for the future, for journey that we are on; this journey of equality and inclusion. Which we hope will become a reality for more and more of our LGBTQI2s+ sisters and brothers all over creation.

One of the things that we wanted to do this morning was to reflect a little bit on where we’ve been and then explore some of the places we might like to go. So, I was wondering if the members of the Worship Team would be willing to share with me some of their experiences with queer folk and so I invited them to join me this morning. We’re just going to have a conversation and invite you to eavesdrop on our conversation about where we have been. So, if someone is willing to start by giving us a little clue into some of your experiences with LGBTQ folk.

OK to start. I was nursing at Toronto General in the late 70s early 80s. I’d grown up in England and really not come across any openly gay people. So, coming to Toronto was was quite an experience for me. But one day we were going into a patient who was HIV positive and the doctor dressed up in gowns and gloves and so did I. I think we had to take blood. And so, we went in very carefully, very aware of what we touched and what we didn’t charge, very aware of the needle and recapping it. And then the patient’s partner came in. No gown. No gloves. He came in and he massaged the patient’s feet. I was so struck by y the love, the pure selfless love with which he demonstrated he cared about his partner. And I thought, boy some marriages could do with a little bit more of this. Plus, the fact that I am not very keen on peoples’ feet. So to massage  someone else’s feet is way up there for me. I’ve never forgotten the love and to me that’s really all that matters between people.

Well, Jane I have to agree with you on the love. Certainly 50 years ago, I had barely heard the words gay or lesbian and I had never given the concept much thought. And then one night I was at my brother’s house, with my sister, and we had supper together , and he came out to us. Now you have to understand I had the greatest brother in the world. I was ten years older than him, so we actually became friends and got to know each other as adults. But the kindness and the compassion and the love that he had for everyone. He was so inclusive. When he came out I said to him, “OK I can support your choice.” Oy vey! Little did I know choice does not part of the equation. So I had a lot of learning to do. And he took me and taught me and I just learned so very, very much form him.  He was fortunate enough to marry when the government finally allowed that. And the other really wonderful part of that, was that is partner had a son. And he, that the family time with his partner and his son where just wonderful to him.  During the 80s and 90s he accompanied and lost a number of friends to HIV aids. But he was always there for them. I learned a lot from him. He was the greatest.

I also have a story from the early days. My husband was in the floral industry for over 20 years and beginning before we were even married. And so, that really automatically meant that we had many friends and acquaintances and co-workers in the industry, who were gay. And it certainly was a place of acceptance there and I have to say we learned more about unconditional love and acceptance than from many other traditional couples, heterosexual couples who we knew particularly in the church family elsewhere. As things developed, we attended a convention in the States connected with the floral events, and we took our kids with us and we stayed with a gay couple on the way down and had interactions and get togethers with many other gay people and couples, while we were down there. And upon returning, another couple not close friends but again someone in the church family, questioned us when we told them about our trip, questioned us about whether we were concerned about the influence on our children. And we said absolutely not. But we didn’t pursue it any further. We did not want to ruffle the feathers. Instead we chose then and in future days just to keep talking about our other friends and how wonderful they were and the experiences that we had with them. And by that method hoping that they would begin to think and possibly change their own minds.

Marney I like the way that you used the term traditional family. I think my growing up was fairly conservative community Church, traditional family. The community was pretty white. almost exclusively white, so to see someone else that was a different colour, let alone question whether they had a different type of family system was very unfamiliar for me. I’ve been working in healthcare for quite a number of years and certainly met people of all stripes, colours, sexual orientations within that. And I struggled to try and find a story out of that without risking sharing any personal information about patients that I’ve seen. So, I’m going to take a slightly different look at it. I’m going to look at it from my experience within the church itself. I think I told the story before, that I was the typical young man following God’s call, right. But I was the only young man in my class. So we looked at the diversity in that women and men, and young and old, a good indication that the church was moving forward with better inclusion. But boy did we have a long way to go. So, I’m grateful, really grateful to have been in the church in the last 25 years that has struggled with this inclusion. I remember some very heated assemblies, were we were  engaged in some pretty nasty family fights over some of these assemblies, as we discerned who we were, and who was in, and who was out, and we’ve made some pretty substantial gains toward a fuller understanding of God’s grace that does not exclude. But certainly as a church, when I say church I mean national, regional, organization, but congregations as well, we still have quite a distance to go. It was not only the church that was growing. I was doing an incredible amount of growing and continue to grow in understanding God’s grace that does not exclude.

I went through my music degree and in the music world or have long been people of different sexual orientations. So I was introduced early on to beautiful people that I have no problem seeing God in them. I had no problem seeing full spectrum of human experience, irrespective of their sexuality. And also encountered less commonly people would identify as bisexual. And that’s the interesting part for me now, is that more and more people I meet are indicating that they’re not 100% one or the other, that there is a fluidity that is gaining legitimacy.  I used to be that the gays were mad at the people who weren’t fully gay because they were betraying their true nature. But I don’t think that’s the story. I think there’s more variety than we’ve been led to believe, and society seems to be finally open letting people be. And people loving is such a powerful thing. And that’s what determines my take on everything. If it allows them to express more that needs to be encouraged and enabled and not hampered in any ways or form.

We’ve certainly come a long way from seeing any conversation in the church about our sexuality as taboo to beginning to take those first steps of being inclusive of the diversity of sexuality’s. And even celebrating sexuality and our bodies in the church. So, we’ve certainly come along way. We do have a long way to go as we as we learn from one another what it means to be fully human.

What does it mean to be fully human? Those of us who aspire to follow Jesus, we have this sacred story which will be read in churches all over the world this week. It is the story of a woman whose humanity, particularly the female attributes of her humanity cast her beyond inclusion in society. As the story goes this unnamed woman, fell prey to her society’s fears. Fears and taboos go hand in hand, and the only way I know of overcoming fears and taboos is LOVE. The healing power of LOVE is the way in which LOVE draws us into intimacy. Taboos cannot survive intimacy. The unnamed woman in our story walked up to Jesus and she touched the hem of his garment. This woman would have been oppressed by the social norms of her day; so much so that we could say that she herself was a living, walking, touching, taboo. Our Jewish ancestors believed that blood contains the sacred power of new life. We are only now beginning to discover that our Jewish foremothers were accustomed to setting themselves apart during their periods. This was a sacred time for women, a time to forgo their regular chores and hardships, a time to contemplate the sacredness of life. It was as our Maori friends would say a tapu – a sacred time. Sadly, like the word tapu itself, it didn’t take long four our ancestors to take something sacred and turn it into a taboo. What was once liberating became oppressive as our ancestors began to fear the power of blood. This unnamed woman would have been required to stay away and if she did encounter people, the law required her to shout out a warning:  Unclean! Unclean! Unclean.”

In the desert heat, I expect that the smell alone would have alerted Jesus to the reality that the person who touched him was indeed a bleeding woman. When the woman fell at Jesus’ feet she was trembling with fear, she told Jesus everything and Jesus responded not by calling her out as a “bleeding woman” but by calling her “Daughter”.

Daughter. No longer an outcast but a Daughter.  A member of the family. Kin. A Child.  Beloved. In my sacred imagination, I like to imagine that the anonymous-gospel-storytellers told this story in a kind of male-muddled order. To hear them tell it the woman was healed before she told her story. I believe that the woman was made whole after Jesus listened to the woman and heard her tell her own story. Frightened and trembling the unnamed woman fell at Jesus’ feet and told him the whole truth of who she was.

“My Daughter,” Jesus said, “My Daughter, your faith has made you whole; go in peace”. No longer taboo, this beloved Daughter is seen in the full glory of her humanity, a tapu, sacred, holy, divine, a beloved child of the ONE who is LOVE, the transformative power of Creation to heal and make whole.

So today, let us celebrate this LOVE which has which has brought those of us who are queer all the way from being taboo in the church to being celebrated, with PRIDE as tapu, sacred, holy, beloved, daughters, sons, genderfluid, queer, loving beings. May the LOVE which is the DIVINE MYSTERY breathe in, with, through, and beyond each and every one of us, beLOVed children of the HOLY ONE. Happy Pride everyone!  Happy Pride.  

Blessing:      

Remember you are tapu.

Beloved children of the HOLY ONE.

May LOVE continue to breathe in, with, through, and beyond

each and every one of you beloved Tapus

for you are sacred, holy, beautifully and wonderfully made,

children of the ONE who is

BEYOND THE BEYOND AND BEYOND THAT ALSO,

OUR LOVER Beloved and LOVE itself. Amen.

View the full Pride Worship Celebration below

CLICK HERE to DOWNLOAD the Order of Service

PrideFest sermon – Rid Me of God

IMG_2298Once again, Holy Cross will the honour of hosting York Region’s Pride Fest worship. Last year’s service took place the wake of the tragedy in Orlando, and so we did our best to be both sanctuary and celebration. You can read the sermon below. Join us this Sunday for PrideFest Worship!

Listen to the sermon here

I have a vague memory of wandering into a large sandpit. Four or five children were playing in the dirt with Tonka toys. I couldn’t have been more than five years old. I was enthralled by this big yellow grader. A kid younger than me, was using the grader to make roads so that these big yellow Tonka dump-trucks could make their way to a small kid-made hill, where another kid had a big Tonka machine that I would later learn was a front-end-loader.  This kid was moving the earth. I knew then and there that these boys were having way more fun than the little girls pushing dolls in toy strollers. I wanted a Tonka toy!

The outrage created by such a harmless desire is writ large in my memories. I learned from a very young age not to express my desires. The fear of expressing myself kept me locked inside of myself. The first time I nearly managed to free myself happened in a gay-bar in Vancouver. Now of course, I didn’t go a gay-bar because I was gay. I went to a gay-bar because my friend John is Gay and he’d never been able to must up the courage to go to a gay-bar. So, I went to a gay-bar to support my friend. The name of the club was “Faces” and I was scared to death that my face might be recognized and someone might get the wrong idea about me. I mean, heaven-forbid someone might think that I am gay. I loved Faces. I hated the music—it was the Disco era. But the atmosphere. Guys I knew, just being themselves. People dancing. Lots of freedom. And no fear.  I danced with women. I danced with men. They didn’t care if I was straight or gay. They only really cared if I was smiling. They cared about my happiness and they cared about my safety. That club was a sanctuary. Unless you’ve ever had to be careful about who you love, unless you’ve ever had to refrain from holding your lover’s hand because you are afraid, not of what people might think, but what people might do, unless you’ve ever lived in fear because of who you are and who you desire, or who you love, it is difficult to understand the sanctuary of the clubs. Gay-bars, gay-clubs, are sanctuaries. Safe havens. Sanctuary from the fears of a hostile world. Safe from oppression or persecution. Sanctuaries where Gay, Lesbian, Bi-sexual, Transgender, Questioning people can freely be who they are created to be. Sacred places.

Long before I knew who I was gay, the queer community that I met in the clubs, embraced me with the kind of welcome I never experienced in the sanctuaries of any church. The violation of the sanctity of Pulse in Orlando is an attack on a community of people who thought that they were safe. Tragically, 103 people were shot. 49 murdered, 53 wounded, 6 of the wounded are in critical condition fighting for their lives.  We’ve all heard the horror stories of young people enjoying the sanctity of the Pulse club, only to have their lives shattered by hails of bullets. Barely did we have time to grieve before the pundits began haggling over what label to apply to the perpetrator of such carnage. Hate-crime or terrorism, homophobe or repressed homo-sexual, mental illness or radical jihadist, any way you slice this unholy mess, the dead and wounded paid with their blood and their lives for the world’s inability to move beyond our tribal instincts.

The rhetoric has penetrated our tears. As we grieve, we are assaulted with words and images that move us to despair the reality that even as homophobia wanes Islamophobia is on the rise. In the midst of our grieving, the lunatic running for the highest office on the planet, as he rants about visions of what might have been if only Pulse patrons had taken advantage of their second amendment rights and pulled out guns of their own and fired back at their deranged assailant. Describing his vision of carnage as and I quote, “a beautiful thing”, it is difficult to distinguish his words from the ravings of the evangelical nut-jobs who have the audacity to voice their own brand of hate-speech as they insist that these horrendous deaths may indeed be a blessing; because Lord knows that such lives are an abomination.

Just when the stench of such rhetoric becomes unbearable we are reminded of the gunman’s father who suggests that his son should have left the punishment of gays to God. If only, one religious nut-job could cancel out the other. But they cannot. The distinction between deranged religious ravings and hate-speech has all but disappeared. And just when you think the pundits have done their worst, the reality that one persecuted minority is being asked to take up the task of persecuting another persecuted community, as the victims of homophobia are encouraged to practice Islamophobia.

Rid me of the idiots who forget that neither the Bible nor the Qur’an is free from hate-speech. Yes, Islam has prevented interpretations that encourage hatred and murder, but so does the bible. When it comes to hating the members of LGBTQ communities Jews, Christians, and Muslims have a great deal to answer for. When we shake our heads as religious fanatics quote the Quran we must not forget that we too have our fanatics. We must not forget to put the fanatics into context.

In 2015, a Pew Research poll found that 42 percent of Muslim Americans supported same-sex marriage, compared with 55 percent for the overall population. To put this in context, in the U.S. Muslim support for gay marriage today is roughly equivalent to the level of support expressed by the total population as recently as 2010. Islamophobia clouds our vision of our Muslim sisters and brothers who are struggling to move beyond the constraints of our history. We can encourage our sisters and brothers or we can give into our fears and embrace policies and practices that will wall us of, separate and divide us. Sadly, the politics of division and hatred sells and so the media is drawn, toward politicians who are all too willing to cater to our darkest fears and religious mouth-pieces that give voice to our worst selves.

As hatred begets hatred, our tears well up and I find myself haunted by the images of God created by Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions that have given birth to doctrines that have demonized, stigmatized, ostracized, and inspired hatred, violence, and the slaughter of LGBTQ people for centuries. My heart aches so much so that in the words of the sixteenth century Christian mystic, Meister Eckhart: “I pray God, rid me of God.”

Our images of the ONE who IS the Source of All That IS must change. That angry, manipulative, vengeful, violent, super-natural, God up there in the sky is not the Sacred Reality that we experience as LOVE. “God is LOVE.” Even the three monotheistic religions that have shaped the Western world share this insight. God IS LOVE. Almost every religion shares a version of the great commandment to LOVE our neighbours as we love ourselves. So prevalent is this religious edict that it known the world over by the religious and non-religious as “the Golden Rule.” God is LOVE. The one of whom we are all made is LOVE. We live and move and have our being in LOVE. And still the influence of that old Sky God continues to haunt us as we stumble around in this latest nightmare. The LOVE that we call God is Beyond our ability to capture with words or images. This LOVE that we call God lives and breathes in, with, through, and beyond us. That old sky-god is at its best just an educational tool to help us begin to understand that we are part of something so much bigger than ourselves. At his, and I do mean his, worst that old sky-god is nothing more than an idol whose worship leaves us isolated in our various tribes — calling upon the power of our idol to ensure the safety and supremacy of our tribe and let all the other tribes be damned.

I pray God, rid me of God. Let me move beyond images and ideas that fall short of the LOVE that called us into being.   As we learn more and more about what it means to be human, as we understand and express our humanity in new and diverse ways, it is time for us to look toward the source of our humanity in ways that honour all of who we are. Can the Creator of all this really be as small and petty as we have been lead to believe by those who cannot even begin to deal with the reality of all this? Our images of our Creator have been severely limited by what we once thought it meant to be human. Our ideas about God have been severely limited by what we once thought was true about the universe. As we move beyond simplistic notions of what it means to be human, can we not also move beyond simplistic notions about the Creator of all that IS.

No religion can continue to claim that it has the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. The word religion literally means, reconnection. Religion by definition is about the very things that reconnect us. How can something that is supposed to be about our connections to that which is so much more than we are, together with our connections to one another and our connections to creation, have locked us in to such separation from ourselves?

What if we began to take seriously our human urges for connection; to explore our desire to connect with something bigger than ourselves, to explore our connections as human beings, connections to our Creator, connections to one another, connections to creation herself? I pray God, rid me of God.  Rid me of images of god that fail to express the LOVE that IS God. Rid me of images of god that are too small, too petty, too tribal, too violent, too judgmental, to infantile, to encompass the reality of the LOVE that IS God. Rid me of the jealous god of our ancestors. Rid me of the old man up there in heaven who likes nothing better than to listen to my pleas for mercy. Rid me of the bearded bloke who sits upon the thrown of judgement. Rid me of the vengeful, nightmarish Father who is portrayed as demanding a blood-sacrifice. Rid me of God. So that I might begin to discover the ONE in whom we live and move and have our being. The ONE generations of Jews, Christians, Muslims and a whole host of other religious peoples, together with people who claim no religion have experienced as the LOVE that lies at the very heart of reality. This ONE that we call God, who is beyond, the beyond and beyond that also.

Let us discover anew, this LOVE that we call God, so that we can fall in love all over again, with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind; and for the love of God, please don’t leave our minds out of this equation. Let us fall in love with this LOVE that we call god, so that we can discover our all over again how to love ourselves and begin to love our neighbours in the same way. Let us begin to create images of this LOVE that we call God that will provide sanctuary for all the beautifully diverse expressions of humanity, so that the dancing and celebration over what it means to be human can begin again. Let all our words about the God create images of God in which all God’s children can find sanctuary, knowing that they are beautiful expressions of their Creator, created by LOVE for love. Let our images of God empower us to be LOVE in the world. Amen.