|Pen and Ink Reflections||
If I was to ask any group of Christians what titles for Jesus they knew and used most, what do you think they/we would come up with? Lord and Christ would probably be the first titles in the list, followed by others such as Saviour, Shepherd, Brother, Friend, Son of God, Son of Man and so on. The Way, the Truth and the Life, together with the Bread of Life, would also be likely to get an early look in. What about Gate, or the Gate, though? I reckon that would pretty low down the list, don’t you? Yet, Gate is a very important title for Jesus, and, arguably, a key title often honoured very much in the breach down the Christian centuries. For, let’s face it, Christians have spent an inordinate amount of time using Jesus as a means, a gate, to exclude and keep people out, or to stop one another going out, and, in the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading tonight, finding good pasture. We don’t even have to be members of the LGBTIQA+ community to know that such gatekeeping is so very much still alive and with us in both our world and its Churches. This is such a great shame, not simply because of the harm caused, but because, as John’s Jesus proclaims, the Gate of Christ is precisely created to open up our lives and world to deeper meaning and more loving relationships. One of the vital gifts of Queer theology and Queer Church spaces is therefore to share Jesus as the Gate to life in all its fullness, and for the followers of Jesus to become ever more alive signs of that holy abundance. That, at least, is at the heart of my reflections on this wonderful bible passage (John chapter 10, verses 7-10) which we just heard…
One of my favourite stories of transgender resistance to oppression comes from India. A group of hijra people were being harassed and humiliated. Of course, this was/is nothing new. Whilst hijra have their gender officially recognised on the Indian subcontinent, they are outcasts among outcasts, typically living on the margins, in the very poorest quarters, and they stir a range of reactions in others. Like all marginalised people, behind their own remarkable brave lives lies terrible and very real fear, and many sad stories: of the sex trade and exploitation, of cruel and/or dangerous castrations, of being cast out and shamed. In one community this shaming grew intolerable. Exclusion, humiliation and actual physical and sexual violence grew exponentially. What could the hijra do? The law, politicians, even religious leaders, did not care. They were actually deeply complicit. Then, after one particularly awful day, the hijra hatched a plan. In the early hours of the morning, after stripping off their undergarments, they would walk, en masse, to the houses of the worst abusers, rattling pots and pans, bells and whistles, and anything they could put their hands on, seeking to wake up the whole neighbourhood, and make the maximum impact. This they did, raising a mighty commotion. Then, they waited whilst the worst offenders, particularly the leading fathers of the community, opened their doors and windows, and came out to see what the terrible din was all about. Standing in line, shoulder to shoulder, the hijra together then took hold of the hems of their dresses, and, with an extraordinary shriek and song of pride, lifted them up, and displayed their genitalia, in all their glory. All those who watched on were taken aback, not only with shock, but with shame. For the hijra had turned the tables on them. The shame now rested on those who were rightly shameful. The powerless had, if only temporarily, transformed the powers that oppressed them, into tools of life and liberation...
Sometimes the message of Jesus is inflammatory – there are no two ways about it! Today Jesus expresses this very directly as he says, ‘I came to bring fire to the earth and how I wish it was already kindled!” Now this is not at all comfortable. Most of us prefer to avoid conflict and live life peaceably. We are much more at home with Jesus’s messages about love and peace and kindness, treating everyone with respect and seeking to welcome everyone. So, what are we to do with today’s story about how Jesus comes to bring division, even into the intimate unit of the family?...
an address in favour of blessings after civil ceremonies for other than traditional male and female couples
at the Synod of the Diocese of Brisbane, October 2018...
One of the most memorable, transforming, and ultimately deeply poignant sermons I ever heard was at theological college, over thirty years ago, when I was what we now call a formation student. The address was given by an American student who was with us for a short while. It was on the subject of Peter’s dream in the Acts of the Apostles and the remarkable turnaround in the early Church which we hear about in Acts chapter 15 today. Far from being remote events, my fellow student brought them alive in an intensely powerful way. This, you may understand, was during the last tumultuous days of controversy before the ordination of women in the Church of England and in the first real stirrings of pain and freedom among LGBTIQ+ people across the world. Yet, challenging though those things were, and still are some even today, they are nothing, my fellow student pointed out, to the radical transformation we find in these texts from Acts. For centuries, almost forever really, we, the Gentiles, with our characteristics and our lifestyles, lay outside full inclusion in the body of God’s community. Yet Paul, Peter, and even James, the bulwark of Jewish Christian foundations, came to welcome us as equals in the life of salvation. In contrast, how much lesser such a conversion is asked of us, said my fellow student. So can we, as Peter, as Church, embrace today those who also who, like the Gentiles long ago, not only come to us, but even flourish among us, against the odds, against our human-fashioned, provisional rules?...