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Blog of the Grateful Bear

ramblings of a freelance panentheist {"all things are in God, and God is in all things"} . . . musings on Emergent spirituality, powerlifting, LGBTQueer issues, contemplative prayer, mysticism, cats, music, healing, and more. I like my coffee and my existentialism dark-roasted.

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Location: Marietta, Georgia, United States

I'm an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), in private practice in Marietta, Georgia. My writings on queer spirituality have been published in Whosoever and several other magazines. I live in a house-in-the-woods (Bear's Hermitage) in Marietta with Leonidas (Lenny) and Guy, Mighty Warrior Cats, and way too many books.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Queer Theology: Outside the Box

The Anarchist Reverend has issued a Call for a Queer Theology Synchroblog on August 11th: “On that day I want people to blog about what queer theology means to them. I want you to share your story of how reading the Bible queerly has changed your life. I want you to talk about how your sexuality or your gender identify has brought you deeper into relationship with God.”

This post is my response to that call. In some ways, I feel like I’ve been answering that call for the past 11 years. From 2000 to 2006 I was a regular contributor to (and I’m still a supporter of) Whosoever, the online magazine for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender Christians. I’ve told a lot of my story in articles on that site, beginning with this one: Journey of Faith, Journey of Acceptance. I’ve also told my story in articles, essays, and poetry for White Crane Journal, Visionary (Gay Spirit Visions), RFD (Radical Faerie Digest), and the Gay and Lesbian Review.

But in thinking about the Anarchist Reverend’s call, I wondered what, to me, the greatest gift of queer theology might be. I think it’s this: our ability to do theology and embrace spirituality “outside the box.” For many of us, this has been a necessity, not a voluntary option, when we’ve been forced outside the boxes of our own faith tradition. Many of us have been forced out by being wounded or rejected by religion, while some of us have simply recognized that our experiences – our reality – doesn’t square with the theology we’ve been taught by our tradition. As I wrote in my article Journey of Faith, Journey of Acceptance: “I began to wonder if a theology that didn’t square with reality was a theology worth having at all.”

Some of us have responded to being forced “outside the box” by leaving organized religion altogether, and I certainly can’t fault or judge my queer brothers and sisters who have chosen to do that. Some of us have found ways to reclaim our religious traditions. Others of us have found ways to reclaim what was good about our religious tradition, while incorporating elements and practices from other traditions into our personal spirituality. After all, if we’ve already been forced “outside the box,” why limit ourselves to just one particular theological box? In struggling to free ourselves from a toxic “either/or” religion, many of us have moved on to a “both/and” spirituality. I've had friends over the years who have described themselves as Christian Buddhist, or Jewfi (Jewish Sufi), or Budeo-Pagan, or “ambispiritual,” or “panspiritual.” One of my best friends describes himself as an animistic Radical Faerie Sufi Pagan Christian.

As an Emergent Episcopalian who is also a student of Sufism as a devotional path, I can relate. I think it’s healthy to explore prayers, practices, and perspectives beyond one’s own tradition. I am not Pagan or Wiccan, but many of my friends and loved ones are, and my own spirituality has been deeply enriched by my connections with them and by my occasional participation in their rituals. I am not Buddhist, but I have learned much from attending Buddhist meditation classes and services. And the writings of the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hahn have had a profound impact on me – especially his wonderful and profound book, Living Buddha, Living Christ.

I have read articles criticizing this “cafeteria approach” to spirituality. Those who use the cafeteria metaphor are usually purists (or fundamentalists) who look down their noses at those of us whose experiences don’t easily fit into just one religion. The reality is that many of us who are queer have woven together our own individualized spiritualities from bits and pieces of different traditions – whatever works for us and connects us to the Divine.

As Karen Armstrong said in Tricycle: The Buddhist Review (Summer 2003), “The new pluralism is already a fact of life. It is not that we are going to create a giant ‘World Religion,’ but rather that people turn quite naturally for nourishment to more than one tradition. More Christians than Jews read Martin Buber, for example, and Jews read Paul Tillich and Harvey Cox. People call themselves Christian or Jewish Buddhists. And this cross-fertilization could revitalize sagging traditions and infuse them with new life.”

That ability to cross-fertilize, to weave together a vibrant spirituality that revitalizes us personally and maybe even revitalizes the traditions themselves – that, I think, is one of the greatest theological gifts of those of us who are queer, or of anyone else who has been forced “outside the box” of any religious tradition.

To read what others have written as part of the Queer Theology Synchroblog, click here.

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Blogger anarchist reverend said...

This is wonderful. Thanks so much for participating. Great to hear your voice and perspective.

2:33 AM, August 10, 2011  
Blogger Jeannee said...

My dear friend, this is a superb piece of writing! I especially like: "After all, if we’ve already been forced “outside the box,” why limit ourselves to just one particular theological box? "

I can talk forever about my own sense of God outside the box, but please allow me instead to tell you one about my late, beloved Dad ...

Now, Dad was a cradle Catholic who had only been in Protestant churches maybe half a dozen times in his life, if that. The first time he developed cancer (and he still had all his mental facilities) I had a pagan friend who conducted a healing circle for him in the woods on a moonlit night and they prayed over a rock - which was then given to me, to give to him. Oh, boy! Now how could I even begin to explain this?!!... Well, ok ... I took a deep breath and told him Joe Friday, just the facts, style... as I was speaking, he was peering intently at this rock. "Jean," he said, in a hushed voice, "you said they prayed over this rock for me? Do you see this here - there's a hole in the top - tell you what I'm going to do - hold on!" and he ran and got a chain. And he wore it the entire time he was undergoing treatment, and when medical people would ask, he would tell them, "A bunch of women, I think they believe in a Goddess, see, they prayed for me and over this rock, so I would heal!" Now there were people who tried to tell him this was evil, of the devil - but don't tell that to Artie Waseck!!!!!!!! "It was prayer - that's what counts, doll!"

And that is where I get it from <3

5:00 AM, August 10, 2011  
Anonymous Brian Gerald Murphy said...

Insightful post. I think my favorite part was "I wondered what, to me, the greatest gift of queer theology might be. I think it’s this: our ability to do theology and embrace spirituality 'outside the box.'"

We do have a gift: something that the powers-that-be tried to make a punishment turns out to be a blessing; I do think that this "outside the box" queer theology might just end up saving the church.

9:58 AM, August 10, 2011  
Blogger Charles Kinnaird said...

Great post! I like the cafeteria approach as well. I think many are being pushed out of the box these days. I left the traditional boundaries for other reasons and have found great joy in searching other faith traditions. We can find a wealth of wisdom and faith in so many places. I tend to take a Christian/Buddhist stance (some days it’s Christian/Taoist, other days it’s Christian/Hindu).

One of my favorite sayings from The Gospel of Thomas:
His disciples said to Him, "When will the Kingdom come?"
[Jesus said,] "It will not come by waiting for it. It will not be a matter of saying 'Here it is' or 'There it is.' Rather, the Kingdom of the Father is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it." (113)

These are great times to be living and exploring the Kingdom! We can find wisdom from so many venues.

4:29 PM, August 10, 2011  
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10:17 AM, August 16, 2011  

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