The Adversarial Theologian Strikes Again

Friday, 10 August 2018

Really, I should have known better. A friend posted a suggestion to refrain from using gender binary language for a month. When one of their friends challenged this, saying they don’t care about gender, just “be human,” I had the feeling that person might be a problem if I were to get involved in this post. I should have just liked my friend’s post and went about my merry way.

Instead, I commented about using gender-neutral pronouns for G’D in my sermon on August 5th. As I expected, the other commenter asked why I would do that. I offered a theological reason, and the commenter literally blasphemed (“J’sus Chr;st!”) and took me to task for preaching.

And yet, I must thank my friend or their thread. The other commenter’s diatribe came at a point when I was once again wondering if I should just throw it all away and give up on ordained Christian ministry.

The other commenter’s comments rekindled the flame of my Christian ministry. And if I can’t be ordained by any Christian body, then I will found my own Christian order and ordain myself.

I rather like the sound of Constance Antinoë Magdalene McEntee, Pontifex Maxima.

The Baffling Case of Faith and Works

Sunday, 5 August 2018

I
think I was in fifth grade when I first learned that names had
meanings. This idea fascinated me, and I decided to look mine up. My
birth name was David, and the definition I found of that name was
“beloved.” Years later as an adult, but still before my gender
transition, I was in church listening to a sermon―it might even
have been about the same reading as today―when the preacher offered
another possible definition of David: lover boy.  

Today’s
readings from Second Samuel (11:26 – 12:13a) and Psalm 51 (1-13)
are related, and they’re related to beloved King David being a
lover boy.

During
my short time at seminary, I got to be part of the worship play
Stories
Seldom Told

by one of my mentors, the late Rev. Lizann Bassham―may she dance
barefoot forever with the Cloud of Witnesses! It was a very casually
set play, designed to be read dramatically by the performers rather
than acted out. This play is a feminist retelling of several stories
in the Bible, stories told from the points of view of women who are
regarded as minor characters. One of those stories was that of
Bathsheba. In her story, she describes how it simply wasn’t
possible for her to refuse King David’s advances. The concept of
consent was irrelevant. David was  king, second only to GoD and
chosen by GoD themself! It simply wasn’t possible for her, or
anybody, to deny him.

King
David was overthrown by Bathsheba’s beauty, to paraphrase the
prophet Leonard Cohen (1984). In last week’s reading from Second
Samuel (11:1-15),  David has Bathsheba brought to him. He has sex
with her, getting her pregnant, and then panics. The text said David
“lay with” Bathsheba. But as we know she wouldn’t have been
able to truly grant consent due to the power difference, it’s more
accurate to say David raped Bathsheba. He then tries to get Uriah,
Bathsheba’s husband, to go home. But since Uriah had prepared
himself―body,
mind, and spirit―for
battle, he would not go home even to have sex with his own wife as he
felt it would be improper for him to do so while there was still
fighting to be done for GoD and king (McKenzie, 2010, p. 450). David
realizes he won’t be able to pretend Uriah is the father of the
child he got on Bathsheba, so he contrives to have the man killed in
battle. A dead husband would never be able to tell how he hadn’t
sired Bathsheba’s child. David making Bathsheba one of his wives
also helps hide this rape. The prophet Nathan isn’t fooled by the
David’s treachery, and calls the king out by cleverly telling him
parable of a powerful man who takes advantage of a marginalized man.
David is incensed, saying the powerful man should be destroyed. Then
the prophet tells his king, “Thou art the man” (McKenzie, 2010,
p. 451). This revelation shakes David to his core, inspiring “the
baffled king [to compose]” (Cohen, 1984) Psalm 51, begging to be
forgiven and praising GoD’s compassion (Clifford, 2010, p. 815).

Pulling
meaning out of these first two readings didn’t seem that hard to
me. The message seemed fairly clear, and seems reminiscent that
lesson they drilled into us in high school literature classes:
absolute power corrupts absolutely. These readings certainly show
that David abused his power as king. There was no one person on Earth
who was more powerful than he. GoD themself had granted David the
power to rule. But David abused this power, actually condemning Uriah
to death in an effort to hide that he raped and impregnated
Bathsheba. But there’s something else to be found in these
readings. That is, even those chosen by GoD are still human,
fallible, and prone to being seized by vice. That even those who seem
to have GoD’s favor will still do things that would need to be
forgiven (Clifford,
2010, p. 815). Another way to word the high school lesson power’s
ability to corrupt is to be vigilant against power’s corrupting
influences, and to be prepared to call out our beloveds if they seem
to go too far.

When
have we acted like the “baffled king” (Cohen, 1984) and lover boy
David, abusing our power and acting selfishly, then causing harm in
an effort to hide what we’d done? When have we expected too much of
somebody because of the position they held, holding them to
improbable standards for the power they wield? When have we acted
like Nathan, and “[stood] up to our friends” (Rowling, 1998, p.
221), to quote Professor Albus Dumbledore?

Shifting
from Second Samuel and Psalms to the epistle, when have we been
unaware of the power we ourselves have? When have we been uncertain
how to use our power, especially trying to combine our power with the
power of others?

The
Oxford Annotated Bible

calls today’s selection from Ephesians (4:1-16) “Appeal for unity
amid diversity” (Berenson 2010, p. 2057). My initial reaction was
to think, “Yeah, sounds like Paul, alright. We mustn’t be too
individual!” Researching the text, I learned there’s quite a bit
of debate regarding who really wrote The Letter to the Ephesians, and
I found compelling arguments both for and against Paul as the author
(Cohick, 2010, p. 15; Coogan, 2010, p. 1973). This letter, the
commentaries suggested, is somewhat unlike the letters that are known
to have been written by Paul. It’s possible this letter was written
by somebody else in Paul’s name, perhaps even one of his disciples
(Coogan, 2010, p. 1973). I have the tendency to be wary of Paul. He
and I don’t always agree, and knowing that the authorship of
Ephesians is in question means … Actually, I’m not really sure
what it means to me.

But
also in my research, I found that it wasn’t so much that the author
was speaking out against diversity, but admonishing the Ephesians to
harness that diversity to a single unified purpose. So, my fears
about the author being opposed to diversity was unfounded. I’d
jumped to an erroneous conclusion.

The
first three verses of Ephesians 4, to me, seem unlike some of Paul’s
other letters. Here, the author seems to be saying faith alone isn’t
good enough. We have to do the work, too. The text seems to suggest
that orthopraxy―correct
behavior―will
lead to orthodoxy―correct belief. Those first three verses seem
more in line with The Letter of James, chapter two verse 17:

“So
faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

That
verse in James, plus the three before it,
seem
to directly contradict what Paul says in The Letter to the Romans
(3:28), that it is by “faith apart from works” that we are saved
(Cargal 2010, p. 2119). The idea that faith without works is a
problem ties into the readings from Second Samuel and Psalms. David’s
“works” regarding Bathsheba and Uriah betrayed his faith. David
had faith in the GoD he professed to serve, but his actions weren’t
in line with this faith. The prophet Nathan pointed this out,
prompting David to compose Psalm 51 as a song of shame.

And
the very start of Ephesians chapter 4 is interesting, too. The author
calls themself a “prisoner in the Lord” rather than identifying
themself as an apostle. The author also suggests we should all be
bound together in this faith, sharing being prisoners in Christ
(Cohick 2010, p. 111). It’s an alarming analogy for those who look
to Christ for liberation, but one that doesn’t seem so out of
character for the scriptures. Inverting earthly power structures, as
baffling as it seems, runs all throughout the Bible.

When
have we been like the church in Ephesus, having to be reminded that
while our individual gifts might seem insufficient to the tasks at
hand that together with others we can do great things?

Today’s
Gospel reading (John 6:24-35), like Second Samuel and Psalm 51, seems
fairly straight forward and easy to follow. Some of our multitudes
from last week (John 6:1-21) want to know where Jesus went. But,
we’re told these multitudes weren’t his true followers. They just
wanted to be fed. They challenge Jesus, going so far as to ask him
for signs proving he is who he says he is. They referenced Moses and
the manna from heaven. Jesus responds by interpreting Exodus to be a
prophecy about himself (Neyrey 2010, p 1892). It’s as if Jesus is
establishing
a form of apostolic succession
for himself even as he’s establishing scriptural fulfillment.

In
today’s Gospel, the crowd is demanding works so that they might
have faith in Jesus. Jesus rebukes them, saying they must do the work
of believing to demonstrate their faith. This seems almost at odds
with the reading from Ephesians and might leave us baffled,
wondering: “Well, which is it? Are we justified by believing or are
we justified by working?” Maybe it’s both. To me, at least part
of the message seems to be clear. We need to be there for those who
need us, and we need to do be there for those who need us regardless
of the doctrine of justification.

When
have we been like the multitudes, challenging others to prove their
worth to us rather than taking them at their word? How have we
reacted when others challenge our identities?

My
first name is no longer David and my middle name is no longer
William. I am Constance Anne. When I chose those names in January
2011 and looked them up, I found that Constance means “steadfast”
and Anne means “grace.” At that time I thought it was a prophetic
choice as I would need the steadfast grace of GoD to get through
gender transition with my psyche intact. But now, I see how it’s so
much more than that. Our works might sometimes or even most of the
time seem baffling when compared to our faith. And yet, GoD is there
for us anyway, offering grace in that steadfast way.

_____________

Sources

Berenson,
Jennifer K. “The Letter of Paul to the Ephesians.” In The
New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition with
Apocrypha
,
edited by Michael D. Coogan, pp. 2052-60. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2010.

Cargal,
Timothy B. “The Letter of James.” In The
New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition with
Apocrypha
,
edited by Michael D. Coogan, pp. 2119-25. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2010.

Cohen,
Leonard. “Hallelujah.” From Various
Positions

(sound recording). New York: Columbia Records, 1984.

Cohick,
Lynn H. Ephesians:
a New Covenant Commentary
.
Cascade Books. Eugene, Or. 2010.

Coogan,
Matthew D. “Introduction to the Letters/Epistles in the New
Testament.” In The
New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition with
Apocrypha
,
edited by Michael D. Coogan, pp. 1973-74. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2010.

Matthews,
Christopher R. “The
Acts of the Apostless.” In The
New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition with
Apocrypha
,
edited by Michael D. Coogan, pp. 1919-71. New York: Oxford University
Press, 2010.

Neyrey,
Jerome H. “The
Gospel According to John.” In The
New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Edition with
Apocrypha
,
edited by Michael D. Coogan, pp. 1879-1917. New York: Oxford
University Press, 2010.

Rowling,
J. K. Harry
Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

London: Pottermore (Barnes and Noble Nook digital edition), 2012.

Integrity versus Purity

There’s been a lot of talk about Trans-Exclusive Radical Feminists in Paganism lately, and this was a topic of discussion in my coven recently. Why would people decide who’s worthy to worship in a group based on the genitals they were born with? The idea seems so strange. The vicar at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church touched on this in her sermon today. The ritual purity that Jesus so often preached against is very similar to what trans/gender-diverse Pagans work against today. This, in turn, reminded me of something mentioned by last week’s preacher at Good Shepherd: that Jesus’ so-called miracles of healing might have been him simply touching the untouchables of his society.

A lot of Jesus work included inverting ideas of power and purity. I feel that we, in the Pagan world, should do the same. Integrity is greater than purity.

Amen, and Blessed be.

Judas Quincy Priest!

Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), a major public transit system where I live, has seen three murders in the past five days. BART police only admitted to the public the first two after the third took place. I used to take BART on a daily basis, and my nerves were always rattled. I never knew when a transphobic rant would turn violent. My sexual assault on a crowded evening commute train was a source of entertainment for the men and women in the train car near me.

News of these murders, including the third that happened at a station I used to rely on, have left me both grieving and enraged. I’ll be going to through various ritualized prayers tonight, including prayers to my lord Antinoüs and His Infernal Majesty.

As of the time of this post, the suspect in the most recent murder has been arrested. I still haven’t heard about the other murders.

In the Names of the Gods, why can’t people just live their lives without fear of some random person slashing their throats on a commuter train?