Thursday, March 28, 2013

Holy Thursday Others

On Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday as its also known we commemorate Jesus washing the feet of his disciples shortly before he was crucified. Jesus washing the feet of the disciples during their last Passover supper and some of their conversation is recorded in the Gospels as also the institution of the Lord's Supper communion we still celebrate today (Mark 14.22-25) and the foretelling of Judas' betrayal. In fact, Jesus directly said to Judas, "Do quickly what you are going to do" referring to his betrayal (John 13.18-30, NRSV). In Matthew 26.25, Judas who betrayed him, asked, "Surely not I, Rabbi? He replied, " You have said so." I do wonder what both were thinking and feeling as Jesus washed Judas' feet. Jesus had been open and offered Judas love but he rejected it.

In A Front-Porch Ecclesiology, Steve Lindsley, a pastor at First Presbyterian Church at Mount Airy (NC), notes that lack of open dialogue is becoming more and more prevalent in our society. In the 1900s the front porch "was quite literally the doorstep to the community and beyond. The front porch was how people communicated: face-to-face, direct and relaxed dialogue." This is in direct contrast to how Steve grew up in the 70s in Raleigh. The front porch moved to the back as people wanted to come home, after a long day at work, "to separation and seclusion." Steve likens this to the PC(USA)."We sit on our “back porches,” avoiding circumstances that might bring us in contact with those who think and feel differently than we do. We prefer seclusion and separation over true discourse and exchange." He offers three suggestions for how to operate out of a front-porch ecclesiology: We’d stop demonizing “the other.” We'd hear the valid points the other side has. We'd work toward understanding and compromise.

I am making no parallels here between Judas and any other person or group today but Holy Thursday does seem to be a good time to think about the "others," especially the "homosexual problem" that many among us wish would just go away from our politics and our religion. [Incidentally, the correct term I learned, recently,  is LGBTQIA for Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Questioning or Queer, Intersex, and Asexual or Ally - to get caught up, read the NY Times article on Generation LGBTQIA published January 9 of this year.] Sadly, far too often, homosexuality inspires fear, condemnation and disgust. It does not even inspire the kind of passing compassion most people sometimes feel for the poor. I must admit, though, that a lot of evangelicals are tired of hearing about the problem of the poor too! The Bible to many of them is crystal clear about the sin of homosexuality and they want to distance themselves from it. They fear that if they don't speak out against it, it may spread among us, invoke God's wrath, and in the long run separate not only us from God but our future generations as well.

I wondered what the Bible says about "others," including the concept of heteronormativity? There are different categories of "others," I discovered. Differences between us range across a wide spectrum and include sexuality, gender, ethnicity, culture, religion, nationality, and personal preferences. For example, the affirmation by Paul of everybody being one on Christ, women and slaves included, in Galatians 3.28 was at odds with the prevailing cultural practices of Jews and Greeks; a Greek thanksgiving of the same time variously attributed to Socrates, Thales and Plato and a famous Jewish prayer thanking God for being born quite the opposite, man, not woman, Greek or Jew as the case may be, not a barbarian or heathen, and free, not a slave. In one important matter, however, there is no difference. We're all sinners: "I am of the flesh, sold into slavery under sin" the Apostle Paul, bemoans. "I do not understand my own actions.. I can will what is right but I cannot do it... Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me...I delight in the law of God in my inmost being... with my mind I am a slave to the law of God but with my flesh, I am a slave to the law of sin." (Romans 7. 14-25, NRSV).  The good news though is that we're forgiven and set free by Jesus Christ: "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus...but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law - and indeed it cannot, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit since the Spirit of God dwells in you." (Romans 8: 1-9).

What does the Spirit tell us about "others" especially with regard to heteronormativity?

Here's a definition of heteronormativity, if you like me, are new to the term. A huge body of research is available on this topic and so I share briefly. Very simply, heteronormativity assumes that heterosexuality is natural, normal, and right. In Judeo-Christian traditions it stems from the biblical belief that God created male and female (Genesis 1). Other cultures are not so binary. For example, in India and parts of South Asia, there's long been awareness of a third gender such as the hijras (hermaphrodites - intersex). Hijras hold an ambiguous place in India as they live separately in their own communities and not with mainstream society. They are both respected, more out of superstitious fear than true respect, and ridiculed, invited to sing at weddings and other religious ceremonies but also often used as comic relief in Bollywood movies. Easily identifiable, they face social stigma and live in poverty.

Related References:

Hijra (South Asia). Wikipedia.

Hoda, Ayesha. The Third Gender. South Asia Global Affairs, 2007.

Khan, Shivananda and Jolly Susie. Institute of Development Studies. Sex, Gender, and Development. Challenging Heteronormativity. This has a bunch of quotes about the role of heteronormativity in development (poverty of women, women with AIDS, etc.)

Schulman, Michael. Generation LGBTQIA New York Times, 9 January 2013.

Tobia, Jacob. LGBTQIA: A Beginner's Guide to the Great Alphabet Soup of Queer Identity. March 2013.

Young, Jasmine and others (Wheaton College). Refuge Becomes an Official Group for Students Questioning their Gender Identity or Sexual Orientation.

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