|Pen and Ink Reflections||
There was once a monk who, whenever he passed a mirror, would look into it, wink, and say: ‘so, you old rogue, who are you today, and what are you up to?’ It is a lovely example of what, at its best, today’s queer theology asks. It is at the heart of what Mark Jordan was saying in our contemporary reading today (‘In Search of Queer Theology Lost’). In a striking manner, it also helps lead us into this week’s great Gospel story of the Transfiguration and its meaning(s) for us. For the monk, queer theology, and our Gospel, each challenge us to deeper, more refreshing, ways of living and understanding life and faith. Each disturbs settled identities. Each offers us fresh insight into God: into divine Love and Be-ing, which can never be confined to any one identity, time or place. As one of my favourite memes has it, ‘God is always transitioning’ – or at least, our understanding of God. As, and when, we grasp that, we also share in transfiguring Love…
Today’s Gospel reading (John 12.1-8) brings the song Bread and Roses (and see below) to my mind. This, for me, highlights two key aspects of the anointing of Jesus, and, particularly, the challenges presented by two central figures, Mary and Judas. There are several other significant features. Yet the tension between Judas and Mary is pivotal. For, in the early Jesus movement, this story is revelatory of struggles of identity, of power and gender, of politics and economics, as well as faith and spirituality. All that can hardly be summed up simply in the phrase ‘Bread and Roses’. Nonetheless there are undoubtedly vital feminist aspects, and the themes of ‘bread and roses’ – or body and soul - are highly pertinent…
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...