One of my more mischievous hobbies during the pandemic over the past few days has been getting sucked into the culture wars between evangelicals and queer Christians that have heated up on Twitter. As shouldn’t be surprising, I’m 99.9% on the queer Christian side of the debate. At the same time, I’m good friends with at least one prominent evangelical with whom I’ve been texting, and I love him and I agree with several concerns he expressed. I think every participant in this debate (or more accurately, mutual trolling) would name the topic differently, but I would distill it to a simple question: can we have a queer, erotic God?
I understand that question is probably offensive in itself to many evangelicals. But it’s worth interrogating why it’s offensive. Which means wondering if it’s offensive in the same way that Jesus was offensive to the Bible teachers of his day who had him killed. I think we need to contemplate each of those adjectives queer and erotic and their implications beyond just having a surface-level, scriptural proof-text war.
The word queerness is not solely or even primarily about the physical acts of bodily affection that queer people use to express care and delight for each other. Queerness refers to an innate trangressiveness that is both innocent and outrageous at the same time. When I’m leading a group counseling session and I gasp with hyperbolic joy like a melodramatic middle school girl every time one of our clients has a breakthrough, I’m being queer. I’m talking and acting in ways that would get me bullied in high school because of the paranoid homophobia among adolescent young men in the nineties. Being queer is when you’re outrageously glamorous in defiance of the bullies who made you paranoid about walking like a penguin in middle school (true story).
Of course, I have a very specific kind of queerness as a newly out bisexual and pretty effeminate man who is both bursting with flamboyancy and safely established in a heteronormative marriage. The queerness that makes transgender black women the vanguard of every social justice march in New Orleans has a ferocity that can only come through triumphing over years of physical and psychological abuse. Queerness especially combined with racial difference is a condition of continual crucifixion by cisheteronormative society.
You noticed I said the word crucifixion. Perhaps you’re used to thinking about the cross as only a transaction between God the Father and Son, an abstraction that preachers wax eloquent about in 2000 page tomes, not a torture device that was excruciatingly physically painful to a member of the Triune God. It’s because the cross was excruciatingly painful that I’m allowed to make analogies between what Jesus experienced on the cross and the growing-up experience of someone like New Orleans drag queen bounce legend Big Freedia. Big Freedia’s art is beautiful because of her resilience after going through hell.
The same is true of every queer person. They have carried crosses they didn’t ask for. Many of them prayed for decades for God to pluck the queer thorn from their flesh and he said, no, my grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in your weakness. And notice that God didn’t say a thing about sin in that Bible verse.
What he talked about was giving power to people who are being hurt: in this particular case, it was Paul himself, but since we are invited by our tradition to seek personal spiritual meaning in every Bible verse as something God-breathed and useful for our contextual teaching and disciple-making, this verse is about God giving power to all of us when we feel weak. And that’s what God has done with queer people. He’s made them into the definitive artists of our world.
To be queer is to create out of agony. And that’s where I think I have a case for saying that we have a queer God. Because God is ALWAYS IN AGONY. Queer people are extra (not always, but I’m marvelously, obscenely, ridiculously extra!!!). And God is SUPER extra (it’s a generation Z slang word for being flamboyantly theatrical). That’s the thing the Platonists seem to have wrong about God (in my limited, perhaps flawed understanding): the idea that somehow God has to be beyond feeling because otherwise God would be too changey to be eternal. God feels VOLCANICALLY. The Bible is very clear on that. God is a DIVA. God is infinitely fierce with passion in a way that I think would be best represented among the identities of our world today by a black transgender woman.
Picture that scene in Leviticus 10 when Aaron’s two sons get barbecued instantaneously by God for striking their matches at the wrong time in their ordination ceremony. What do you think God was saying? BITCH I TOLD YOU TO WAIT!!! Or when Uzzah in 2 Samuel 6 reaches out and tries to keep the Ark of the Covenant from falling of the wagon, God says, GET YOUR MOTHERF***ING HANDS OFF OF ME!!! and strikes him dead. God wasn’t just shouting. She slayed people all the way dead with her ferocity.
At Stonewall, the transgender black woman who threw the first brick had to throw a brick to make the police violence against her stop. In the same way, God had to draw blood at first early on in God’s relationship with Israel if God wanted to have any chance of shaping us into a family that could one day be safe enough to love each other with the full intimacy and authenticity we deserve.
Walter Benjamin famously made the point that every street mob is an expression of divine violence. Absolutely. Whether rocks themselves cry out or anarchist punks throw molotov cocktails, whenever God’s beautiful created order is being violated by something like a globally hegemonic profit-driven system designed for billionaires to exploit, someone (probably an adolescent) will act out the palpable collective anxiety until whatever bad blood in the air has been cleared whether it’s through a gory animal sacrifice or emotionally focused therapy session.
What if it’s the case that we have been the same family all this time being resurrected over and over to play different characters in the epic story of humanity that may one day culminate in an age that could be called the wedding feast where everyone lives in peace as the prophet Isaiah imagined and all the swords are actually turned into plowshares for the gardens where everyone is sharing everything they grow with each other and the planet simply becomes Eden again? That may be a very out there thing to say for a Christian, but there’s a very weird intuition that’s been building around that for me and it’s of course a way of telling the story more than one Eastern religion tells about our world.
Sorry if you’re offended by my crude language or anything else, but seriously if we cast God as the queerest of queer diva of divas in those two biblical scenes of Leviticus 10 and 2 Samuel 6, the most ignoble depictions of divine wrath in scripture that had always deeply embarrassed me, they suddenly make sense and God’s wrath seems like it could plausibly look righteous in the eyes of pretty much everyone I know, most of whom are people entirely outside of Christianity altogether.
R.C. Sproul defines the holiness of God’s character starting with these two scenes in his seminal work The Holiness Of God, which was one of several works that shaped evangelicalism definitively in our age, especially among the neo-Calvinist wing of the movement. Sproul’s impression of God’s holiness as a sort of nihilistic, opaque terror against the most minute disobedience has coincided with similar depictions of God that have created a whole church nation of white-knuckled, secretly anxious people who have almost been immunized against experiencing the mercy and freedom that’s supposed to be the point. Thankfully God breaks through the problematic theology in earnest praise music that can’t help but offer grace and, sure, many evangelical megachurch pastors are genuinely loving people who exude Christ.
But given this terrifying diva of a God that R.C. Sproul found in the Bible which I refused to accept for so many years, what happens if all we do is change the image of God in our heads from the grandfatherly, impeccably dressed, spotless, dispassionate white imperial general white people have always imagined to a belligerent black transgender sex worker who says to the Israelites you will do these 613 mitzvot now or I will send locusts to destroy your crops and keep the sky from raining for several years?
God’s wrath is only monstrous when we cast God as a dispassionate general who coolly and methodically tortures humans in hell forever as punishment for getting a little dirt on his uniform collar with a finite sin that is only infinitely punished because God is infinitely imperial. If God is an outrageous diva who says and does whatever the fuck she wants to, then a generation of people in a world that gave up on Christianity might say wow, I respect that, and they might actually come closer to hear about living in a way that builds authentic, vulnerable community through covenants and shared ceremonies.
Do you realize that’s what the Bible is actually? It’s poetry that is trying to teach us how to live in authentic, vulnerable community together where we make covenants we honor (even if they’re under constant renegotiation) and deal with all of our emotions through shared ceremonies where we rejoice, mourn, rant, heal, forgive, and restore whenever something needs to be addressed to get the community into the place of completeness that’s called shalom.
For another example, what happens if we change our unacknowledged default image of God as a dispassionate (and thus, if he’s wrathful, fascist) white emperor to imagining God as a Latina bisexual single mom who has been cleaning up all of our mess as the janitor of the universe for all these years so that when she sees us fighting again, she says, “Niñas! Quieres la chancla?!!!” and takes off her sandal to throw it at us and cause another earthquake like the 8.2 that happened in the age of King Uzziah?
If God is a Latina bisexual single mom with enormous hoop earrings, I’m going to say, “Yes ma’am,” when she tells me what she needs me to do to be a good pastor instead of saying, “That aloof old fart who never smiles doesn’t understand us at all.” If God really has to have the sensibilities of an emotionally repressed, intellectually stodgy old white man for the whole theological system to work, then he has no more sovereignty in our world because white men have zero credibility left after five hundred years of ruining everything.
God is more sovereign as a diva who really could actually lacerate us with her razor sharp nails in the street (not as a stereotype of any particular racial or sexual identity but as a better visualization of divine wrath against sinful injustice than the anemically unemotional one bequeathed by the Platonist distortion of Christianity).
So whether what I’ve written is convincing or not, I am personally convinced that a queer diva personification of God could do a much better job of being the central character in our Christian religious story than a God who has been falsely cast without anyone’s open acknowledgment ever as a wealthy northern European (obviously straight and cisgender) grandfather.
I had a mostly Dutch grandfather and a mostly French grandfather. Both were rich and got that way because they hustled really hard and made some incredible sacrifices after which they helped a lot of people through philanthropy and writing a definitive medical school textbook. They were both wonderful men who commanded respect in very different ways. But here’s why I don’t think it’s good to make them my mental image for God.
Because God gets rejected by us ALL THE TIME. God is completely disrespected by us ALL THE TIME. When God speaks, we rarely listen. God has to send dozens of texts to us which we LEAVE ON READ. So God is not really anything like the white grandfather with the billion dollar mansion whom you hang up on your friend for when he’s on the other line because he’s sending another check soon.
Only a perennially rejected human can really represent how God wants us to see what she experiences all the time. Isaiah 53, hello? “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity, and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account.” That’s not just the form Jesus takes in order to condescend himself to the lowliest human when he actually relates a lot better to the experience of the well-tanned lawyers in the pews at the suburban DC megachurch. That’s the form Jesus takes because that’s what God’s experience is like in relation to us.
How we make God feel when we reject God is the feeling that Jesus had in his chest when every muscle in his body was spasming on the cross. That’s what it feels like to text billions of people every day and get very few responses and then have people who didn’t answer your texts stand up in stadiums to tell the world things you never told them to say and receive standing ovations as your chief spokespeople in the world.
God feels that tightness that makes it hard to breathe, very much like what people are feeling right now with the COVID virus (which does not mean that God sent it). A God with feelings who shatters ceramic flower pots on my head when I’m being a dick because she’s madly in love with me makes sense to me. The God who was writing all the poetry TO ME that I thought I was writing about girls who rejected me makes sense to me and utterly ravages my heart.
Jesus told me this a few years ago. He said a song I wrote where I said, “I’m shooting arrows at your garden walls,” was about how he feels every time he tries to reach us. “I am the one who whispers in the cold: that mournful whine so easy to ignore, that noise of not quite knocking at your door, hand on the latch, not daring to take hold.”
He wants to sow his seeds in us (let’s take a minute to acknowledge that THAT’S LITERALLY SEXUAL and it’s HIS PARABLE in Mark 4, not mine). If he feels like I did when I wrote my song, then he spends a lot of time “face-first in the snow, a gardener collapsed; he who could not sow.” This is especially true of his relationship to those of us who have him completely figured out, whether we’re insufferably woke or orthodox.
Every gardener knows that soil that is completely impacted by roots is going to become like concrete and it’s going to be very hard for any nutrients to get in. If your main goal is to explain God perfectly, then a major challenge for you is going to be getting your intellectualism and sense of ego investment in your own interpretations out of the way enough to actually feel God’s heart, which your “Bible teaching” can actually immunize you against. You need broken soil more than you need perfect words. Just like the psalmist writes: “A broken and despised spirit you will not despise.”
How many of you have been praying the prayer of the Bible teacher (that’s what teachers of the law and Pharisees were) when he went to the church at the same time as the closeted gay pastor? “Thank you, Lord, that I’m right. And in case you forgot, these are the things I believe that prove me right. And I know the most important belief is to know that nothing I do will get me into heaven so I can deprioritize all the passages in the Bible where you tell me to do things to serve the poor and needy and show tangible mercy to other people.”
How many of you have prayed the prayer of the closeted gay pastor? “Lord, I am so lonely. And Brian just glows with your spiritual fruit. I want to be able to touch his body to make him feel physically savored by me and accepted by you. And I know what my church claims about your word. But the account of idolatrous debauchery in Romans 1 doesn’t seem analogous to my situation. And it’s really confusing when you say I love you each time I ask you if it’s okay or not.”
Which of those prayers sounds more like the tax collector and which one sounds more like the Bible teacher in Jesus’ parable? Which of them sounds more humble and like someone who is desperate enough for mercy and self-aware enough about his sin that he will leave the temple feeling some sense of God’s generous grace oozing into his heart (even if you evangelicals are right and he’s actually wrong about God’s will)?
Because the point of that parable and all of Jesus’ parables for that matter is that mercy is the goal, not correctness. Correct doctrine is whatever we need to believe to become merciful because God desires mercy, not sacrifice. God wants our hearts, not our minds. Thank you European enlightenment for the 500 year detour, but it’s time to return to the universe where the beautiful is just as important as the true and the good.
And holiness is most fundamentally beauty, which is not just sometimes, but often erotic. God would be the hottest webcam girl on the Internet, but would somehow do her sexual performance in a way that was utterly glorifying and dignified and not at all tied up in addiction, exploitation, or recklessness (which sure, some of you will argue precludes entirely the possibility of being a webcam girl).
Maybe God would look like Beyonce or Shakira performing Super Bowl halftime shows in which the camera operators do not zero in on their crotches crudely but find a frame that simply says you are a goddess and we adore every muscle in your body and every coquettish flutter that it makes.
Watching God dance for us would be too much; we would all have heart attacks, which is why God only let Moses see his back (which of course raises the question of whether it was his bare back, one of the thoughts I toss around in my mind as I gaze at my gorgeous black Jesus on the icon wall in front of me). Eros itself is not bad. Porn is bad when it’s dehumanizing and to the degree that it’s dehumanizing.
Can we at least agree on that very generally even if we disagree whether that means all or almost no porn is bad? If you want, you can say that any expression of sex outside of a very specific form of heterosexual marital reproductive coitus is dehumanizing, but if you’re going to do that, accept the challenge of explaining in your own words why it’s dehumanizing without just saying, “That’s self-evident” or “Here are scriptural proof-texts.” If you can’t explain in your own words why only patriarchal gender complementarity is God’s perfect design for human flourishing, then you haven’t interpreted the Bible well enough to be a Bible teacher yet.
If porn is bad, it’s not because women are vile temptresses who need to be covered up in extra large sweatshirts over their swimsuits whenever there’s a pool party. It’s not because the one cross men are given to bear in life is having a penis that hardens unpredictably and seems to compel violent behavior that men can’t stop themselves from doing. These are truthful if harsh summaries of the insinuations about sexuality that were tossed around in the youth groups of my fellow ex-evangelical queer Christians, based on their testimonies.
It’s critically important to name that the same patriarchy that self-flagellates around sexual moral prudishness creates the conditions for pornography. I would not be surprised if more evangelical Christian men used porn as a percentage than secular men, because we are raised in a culture of intense shame.
As Paul warned us in Romans 7 (“I did not covet until I was told not to!”), the fetishization of the taboo of sexual impurity to a fevered pitch (as a self-justification of white purity, which is a whole other essay) is what has created the overwhelming temptation to break the taboo and the whole obsessive compulsive cycle of repenting and going back to our sin in agony.
Since I’m throwing out outrageous speculative assertions, here’s another one: what if the shame experienced by (whatever percentage of) white evangelical Christian men over their porn use is a primary factor in their emphatic stance against queer sexuality? If you’re reading this with enraged blood vessels about to burst in your forehead and you’re a white evangelical man, ask yourself when was the last time you STRUGGLED.
I’ve struggled during the pandemic. It seemed like what I had to do to sleep. And to be honest, I am trying to manipulate every possible chemical reaction in my body to get it to stop shitting blood, which could result in sepsis in the not too distant future and my sons not having a father to guide them through high school. I’ve been wrong plenty of times in my spiritual intuitions from God before, but I seem to be hearing a lot of mercy from him right now on this particular knot in my shoelaces that he still needs to get untangled.
This morning, my wife kissed me for the first time in a month and I sobbed in her arms for about two solid minutes. She was worried she could possibly get me sick if she was a carrier of COVID since I’m immuno-compromised as an ulcerative colitis sufferer so the only other time we’ve kissed or really even physically touched in the last two months was when she took me to the emergency room the day after Easter because I had a panic attack involving some basic symptoms of COVID after I hyperventilated while writing an incredibly intense love poem about God.
The first time we make love again will feel like heaven to me, and I will never again think of it as a dopamine fix where I use her body to deal with my anxiety. I will think of it as a gardener thinks about a flower he needs to water and touch just right to show her love and watch her sparkle. I am so incredibly delirious at the thought of what it will mean to express bodily affection towards her when it finally happens.
Paul told me that marriage expresses the mystery of God’s love for the church. When I am thinking about my wife the way a gardener (or honey bee) thinks of a flower, I am loving her not just erotically but with the full force of agape, storge, and philos too (read C.S. Lewis’s Four Loves to understand more).
To do that (if I could ever actually do it) would mean to surge with care for every aspect of her and delight in every aspect of her. It would mean being tenaciously committed to letting nothing I say cause her to wilt in the slightest. It would mean wishing for her to be completely opened and set free by how I treat her whether it’s in the bed or through my tone in all the conversations we need to have about the house we need to buy now in Virginia.
Only if I can move with the delicacy of a honey bee licking nectar in all of my words and deeds is it possible to facilitate her experience of a surge of joy in her heart that manifests itself in sex as orgasm but is actually the same feeling as deep curiosity, intense religious devotion, and a lot of other spiritual phenomena.
In other words, it’s orgasmic to love God just like it’s orgasmic to have a life partner whom you want to kiss and caress and treasure the same way that bees treat flowers when they fly into their petals to find nectar. If we have an erotic relationship with God even if it’s chastely expressed in Chris Tomlin worship lyrics, then our relationships with humans will not involve the distortion of expecting them to be gods and goddesses who love us perfectly.
Rather, we can understand in all our relationships that the love we give and receive is being transmitted through us by God like a sort of emotional telegraphic system that is analogous to blood vessels carrying nutrients throughout the human body, which is why the blood of Christ is such an apt sacrament combined with the body of Christ in the central sacred act of Eucharist the Christian church is built around. We are all part of God, as branches are part of a vine, but none of us is the autonomous source of our own divinity, which is the delusion the Adam and Eve story describes.
So in other words, rather than describing an individual imperial general who looks like a marble Caesar statue in Rome, God can actually be the word used for a giant family that encompasses all of humanity in which we are incorporated in varying degrees of belonging according to how well we are tuned into God’s love. God is represented to us in Christianity as three, which is a perfect number for describing love, because it’s polyamorous (to say something that seems like gratuitous provocation but is an apt and valid metaphor too).
God’s love is nothing like an isolating binary love that sucks two people out of a community and into a nuclear silo townhouse where they try to raise their kids in complete isolation from supportive communities. The heteronormative nuclear family experiment of the last sixty years has created much heartache and disaster in Western countries. Our divorce rates cannot be blamed on Hollywood and sexual revolutions; there is real, unbearable stress involved in self-isolating into nuclear family silos.
And no time has our misery been made more obvious than right now during the pandemic when in our mad dash to homeschool our children, we see that we have in all other times secretly outsourced the raising of our children to their teachers for most of their waking moments and that’s the only way we’ve been able to make this very odd, atrophied family structure work.
God’s love is derived in a relationship between three persons that is the constantly interpenetrating dance of perichoresis, as the Church Fathers termed it, in which there’s somehow perfect delight and care between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit without any semblance of jealousy, fear, or shame. God is a dance party where love is showered everywhere like a Gwar concert in the late 90’s and we’re simply invited to enter into that party and receive the care and delight that God has in infinite supply.
But it’s also true that heaven is a party nobody has time for. Most Christians aren’t interested in receiving God’s care and delight if it doesn’t involve straining themselves to prove that they are utterly distinct from and better than the secular humanists. God wants to give us an Eden filled with gifts and we want a plantation where we can compete for rewards.
I’m not saying that all of us need to live in communes where everyone has sex with everyone, but we should be living in communes, or neighborhoods where people actually know each other and deliberately design common space into their lives where gardening and recreation can be shared activities. Within the authentic communities we could build together, we would need covenants and ceremonies to govern our life together. That’s what Torah was written to provide for ancient Israel and what Paul’s letters sought to provide for the early church.
Basically, covenants set boundaries for how people will relate together in a way that allows everyone to belong completely and be absolutely safe. Ceremonies provide space for rejoicing, mourning, cursing, blessing, getting hype, and catapulting art into the world. Ceremony is the word used for worship by many native peoples of the world whose beautiful, rich cultures were savaged by Christian evangelism. That’s an objectively true statement whether or not you think that Christian evangelism was overall a good thing, and the truth is devastating enough that I have wondered whether the church is a crashed imperial star destroyer that does not need to fly again.
I’m still going to attend a United Methodist church when we move. I’m still going to be a United Methodist elder on extension assignment into counseling (unless my sharing this testimony generates a clergy trial that defrocks me :-)). But my primary spiritual leadership activity is going to be creating worship dance experiences for non-religious spiritual people where we sing to the divine in a way that allows people to imagine her as a black transgender divine mother if that’s helpful even though God’s depiction as a collective affinity group of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is still primary for me. The worship experience I’ve piloted for the past two years is called Release because it’s a space to shake out the tears and anxieties from the crosses we’ve carried each week and receive the delight that God radiates on those who love her so that we can be resurrected.
If we understand that God is the network of love that includes all of us, then we realize we’ve been singing praise songs all this time, including all the tracks on the first gangsta rap album Straight Outta Compton that helped me survive middle school as an autistic child who was sexually abused by his conservative evangelical Sunday school teacher. To praise God is to praise the resilience of young black men growing up in Compton who were thrown to the ground by cops for no reason and wrote a song that said fuck the police as a way of taking their lives back.
Ice Cube is now a barber (on screen at least) who has kids (I think) and has gotten a little chubby (or maybe he’s just super thick). When I hear him talk on TV, I realize he’s always been a very savvy intellectual and political thinker even if he was every bit as cocky as I was at age 19. And Ice Cube is endearingly beautiful in a way that represents an important side of God well. Marilyn Manson also represents a side of God. So does Madonna. And of course Beyonce. Even mediocre, abusive old white patriarchs represent a side of God. They may not represent him well, but we all are images of God with varying degrees of glow.
What Paul writes in 2 Corithians 3:17-18 about authentic community has become the core image for the kind of community I want to create: “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom and all of us with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to the next.”
We see the glory of God when we see each other with unveiled faces. God hates sin because it veils our faces; it makes us inauthentic since we have to hide things (of course, the corrollary of this is to define sin as anything that makes us inauthentic, whether it’s hooking up with a guy whose name you don’t know after snorting a line of coke with him or thinking judgmental thoughts about your neighbor in the next pew during the sermon).
When we sin, we can’t see God in each other’s eyes. But if we can live without deceit or anxiety or resentment or kleptomania or ravenous lust or especially shame, then we will be able to see every single other person glowing with divine energy and we will become a human family together where everyone belongs and everyone is safe.
When everyone is unveiled in vulnerable authenticity (metaphorically speaking if their cultural tradition sees a physical veil as empowerment and safety), then the collective glory of God we see in each other will become so overwhelming that we will all start writing amazing poetry and falling desperately in love with each other while finding dignified ways of expressing that love which respect the covenantal boundaries and lifelong commitments we have made (in whatever form they take) so our children can grow up with a stable network of adult figures in their lives.
I wonder how much better our lives would be if people made covenants with their neighborhoods or chosen family networks that were as strong as the marriage covenants we make. That’s what church was supposed to create, and it failed because church became a hypervigilant masquerade ball where everyone was busy proving that they were orthodox and standing courageously against other peoples’ sins.
Church needs to be a place where any couple could sit down with any other couple and say, “We haven’t been having sex because I’ve got trauma issues and now my spouse is addicted to porn. Do you have experience with this? Can you walk with us and support us as we try to get our love life back?” This could only happen within a theological framework in which we recognize the reality that sin is complicated and blame is never straightforward and easy to divide justly.
People who are more orthodox than me have consistently counseled me to see Christ in others and be Christ to others. It doesn’t cheapen Christ for me to see him even in a person who is stereotyped in all but one major media outlet as the most wretchedly dysfunctional adolescent man-child in the world who desperately wants people to appreciate him, which is a need I relate to very intensely. The need to be acclaimed seems to be planted in every child in our country at least in the age of rock and roll and at least when you’re white and wealthy enough to care about being famous.
This is represented in Christian extra-biblical lore by the myth of Lucifer, the angel who couldn’t stand that he wasn’t the one who got to write songs for all the nebulae and thus fell from heaven to became God’s relentless saboteur and cynical accuser. Just because I used the word myth in connection with Lucifer doesn’t mean that I don’t believe the being Lucifer who is called the diabolos (Greek, the instigator) and satan (Hebrew, the hater) isn’t basically everywhere ESPECIALLY ON TWITTER.
Satan is the one stirring us up into frenzies of suspicion and rage against each other, whether it has to do with scandalous Jesus memes/jokes/speculations being circulated by feisty queer Christians or men carrying phallic instruments of death into state legislature buildings to which even moderate conservatives respond by trying to control the narrative, saying it’s not really that abnormal for that to happen in our country and this is nothing at all like the origins of the German Third Reich.
Satan is the one who makes us wag our fingers at the kids who had their spring break sex drug orgy in the middle of a pandemic anyway. Satan is the one who makes us flip off the nanny liberal governors who will not allow a single business to open until the risk level has dropped to zero. Satan is the accuser.
Jesus on the other hand is the advocate. Jesus is the one who says I want you to try your best to understand everyone and see everyone completely. Jesus is the one who says here’s an aesthetic challenge that will make you more beautiful and more useful to me: meditate for a moment on how hard it would be to be Donald Trump right now.
Donald Trump has made some big mistakes (that seem to me like the sorts of blunders that might happen if unsympathetic gotcha reporters shoved microphones into the face of my South Texas grandpa who was my best friend despite being racist and homophobic). Jesus wants me to love Trump and see him trying to do his best in the most insane situation any modern president has faced even though a fierce combination of Trump’s presumable resentment, shame, and entitlement cause him to make petty decisions that are incredibly harmful to people I love.
Jesus plants the most outrageous ideas in my head like making me wonder with infuriatingly naive autism if I could just write a biography about Donald Trump that would finally depict him sympathetically enough to overcome the insults of all the snobs in Manhattan who have snickered behind his back his entire life, would that heal him of his narcissism and would he then release his tax returns and start joyfully liquidating 95% of his assets giving not just paper towels but actual useful reparations to people in Puerto Rico and poor black communities all over the South?
What would happen if Donald Trump suddenly shared beauty and love in outrageously sincere ways? What kind of repercussions would that have for Satan’s dominion in our world? Those are the dangerous thoughts that come from a queer God who is restless to find something to love about each of us, not just in an agape sense of generic omnidirectional good will but in the erotic sense of a gardener who touches each of our flowers perfectly as only a trusted lover can in an environment utterly free of exploitation, coercion, or toxic social script performance.
I always forget that people don’t read all the words they skim (or even 10% of them) with any kind of cognitive clarity, because I never do that especially when my amygdala is throbbing and I feel like I’m walking through the secret lair of the enemy of God. So if you’re from the evangelical side of things and you’ve seen words in here that make you want to dunk on me and drag me all over the Internet, that’s fine. You’ve already done the same thing many times throughout history.
I actually believe that I am being written through right now. And I believe that God is a despised creator who is always being crucified by his own art. And also that God is currently fulfilling the promise he made through Paul when he said, “God has chosen the despised ones and those who are not in our world to bring to nothing the things that are” (1 Corinthians 1:28). The existence of strange and different people who refuse to hide in the shadows anymore is causing our church to have the epic meltdown it needs to have in order to die and be resurrected.
God has cast a legion of demons from the church into a herd of pigs who are racing to the lake of fire to throw themselves in. Everyone is showing their true colors right now. Every fruit is being made plain, which is the mantra God has given me to pray for eight years. It is the force of this exorcism which has been taking place for at least the past decade that will allow us to find ourselves fully awake amidst the tombs and back in our right minds.
I believe the second coming of Christ will not be a single “son of man” but a hidden family collectively embodying the lamb of God who rise up as sons and daughters who prophesy with visions that give us the imagination to live more beautifully. I am only one of the seven trumpets (I’m sure there are way more than seven), not the one whose glory will soon be revealed in full, possibly in an individually resurrected Jesus with nail holes in his hands. For now, I have been seeing the hidden family emerge around me in lots of places, not just among the radical queer folks, but also among the orthodox evangelicals who surprise me with their mercy that shows they get it even if we disagree.
Judge the trees before you according to their fruits, as we were told to do by our messiah. If a tree exhibits defensiveness, fear, shame, and hatred, don’t trust it. If a tree exhibit sincerity, humility, and joy, then that tree shows signs of a stronger connection to the vine of living water, though it doesn’t make it infallible. Judge my words here according to the same standard you were given by our savior. I know that I am wrong in may places here because I will always be flesh intermingled with spirit.
If you disagree strongly with me, then instead of just dragging me on the internet, let’s have a conversation where we interpret the Bible together. I’m only going to do that if you enter into it with an open spirit; if you know absolutely that you’re right, then there’s nothing for us to discuss. The other thing I would set as a condition for conversation is that you engage my words specifically rather than just lobbing boilerplate generic arguments copy and pasted from your evangelical apologetics manual. Help me see why my words are wrong. That’s what Jesus said when the servant of the high priest slapped him before he was crucified for blasphemy.
I am not Jesus, but I REALLY want to be like him which is how he really wants me to be also. You need to understand that I believe I’m supposed to emulate a man who in Luke 7:36-50 let a possible sex worker give him an erotic foot massage when he was a guest of honor in a conservative Bible teacher’s home and when the Bible teacher scowled at him, he humiliated the bible teacher publicly by saying that this woman’s use of an aspect of her taboo art was a better expression of hospitality than the host of the party had shown him. Can you imagine a “one-shot kill” to the ego more devastating than Simon the Bible Teacher received in first century Palestinian culture? No wonder the Bible teachers crucified Jesus.
And then this same Jesus stood up for the wealthy sorority girl who recklessly smashed a bottle of incredibly expensive perfume (probably because she was completely wasted) and dumped it all over his body instead of selling the bottle and giving money to the poor like every good liberal would! No wonder Judas, the disciple’s treasurer, said I’m done Jesus; I’m ratting you out.
Whether or not Jesus was erotically involved at some level with the disciple “whom he [is said to have] loved” in John’s gospel, he did cuddle physically with him at the last supper in a way that was uncomfortable enough for NIV translators that they translated it out of the story. If you’re editing the actual text of the Bible and removing words which Revelation forbids us from doing, you need to ask whether you can actually claim to be aligned with the word of God. I’m pretty confident that Jesus was sexually celibate, given his cultural context because otherwise his message would not have been received well in a first century Hellenistic Jewish context where sexual purity was an important cultural marker that allowed Jews to maintain their identity and resist assimilation and dissolution in Roman imperial culture.
What I am not sure about is whether Jesus and Paul would tell us today that the ideal Christian disciple should not actually marry but remain single and celibate which both of them do in the Bible. In a culture where women were still very subjugated and treated like property, Jesus and Paul both represent an incredibly relatively “progressive” view of gender and sexuality (if it’s even meaningful to use the word progressive anachronistically like that).
I understand as someone who is dipping my toe into the water of holotropic breathing and kundalini yoga that the tantric energy of orgasm can be awakened by means that do not involve naked physical intimacy with other human bodies. Celibacy is not impossible. But it’s a gift given to some (not because their sexual difference makes it too complicated to proclaim the Bible’s authority and support them experiencing the radical belonging of feeling their body savored by another, but because they are specifically called to be mystics in a uniquely powerful way).
One interesting recent development has been the way that more and more kids in generation Z today are identifying as asexual, which involves a spectrum like autism and is perhaps the most marginalized queer identity since it makes you difficult to understand for every other queer constituency. I wonder if some of the aromantic and asexual people I know are called to offer unique spiritual leadership as people who could perhaps (?) experience erotic energy (which they might call something different) in a way that doesn’t have to involve shared bodily intimacy (whether they identify with the label “celibate” or not).
And I believe that celibate Christian saints throughout history like St. John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila have had incredibly orgasmic experiences in their relationship with God, which is what all asceticism seeks to create: the context for richly embodied experiences of spiritual ecstasy, or glory, we could say — that’s all orgasm is. It’s delight, which is God’s continual state and the experience he wants us to have every time we close our eyes when we’re singing about him and every time we our bodies shudder in the arms of a trusted lover in an act God uses to showers each of us with love.
The cross itself is erotic in the sense that agony is erotic. When we have agonizing, ecstatic spiritual experiences like the desert fathers who wrestled with demons (which I’ve done at least once in 2012), it’s terrifying and exhilarating in a way that’s at least somewhat analogous to two sixteen year olds having premarital sex in their parents’ basement for the first time.
Yes, that’s perhaps a gratuitiously provocative analogy, but there’s enough of an analogy there that “erotic” can at least be a valid adjective to describe divine transcendental encounters. And when erotic energy happens in connection with the creator of the universe, it’s infinitely more hot than the banal drunken experience I had when I lost my virginity my senior year of college and definitely way more life-giving than the way I misogynistically treated the girl like shit when we kept awkwardly hooking up for a month after that.
God is hot for us. And the fact that we are too prude to be hot for God is hurtful to God (at least I think). All I’m really saying with those words is that God’s love for us is incredibly intense. It need not involve any physical action that creates shame or a boundary violation. If the God you imagine needs to be an old white imperial general because it’s too much for God to be your middle school girlfriend, then eroticism is an unhelpful metaphor for you and that’s absolutely okay with me.
But if I imagine God to be the one who cuddles me even when I’m being manically autistic, and who tickles me deeply in ways that make me shoot seeds of love everywhere, that doesn’t make me want to do things that harm myself or other people out of shame, addiction, or rebellion. That doesn’t make me want to blaspheme and dishonor the sacred poetry of God’s scripture. It doesn’t even give me a need to physically masturbate because my inner smile is already glowing fully when I meditate upon that thought, which makes me want to give all my remaining assets to the poor and run off to the hills to join a Jesus commune where I could simply weed and wash dishes for the rest of my life as a humble servant in the kingdom of God.
And I will do that one day, but only at the time and in whatever form will actually work for the angel God sent me to cherish as Jesus cherishes the church. And if her vision is different than mine, I will adapt until our flowers are entirely opened to each other so that we bask in our mutual acceptance regardless of how many times a week we share in bodily intimacy.
I had to transplant a tomatillo today because tomatillos I learned last year do not bear fruit unless they have another tomatillo plant nearby to cross-pollinate. Gardens need to be ordered in a specific way to work. That’s what God has always sought to establish with human community in our world. And I’m pretty sure that God is open to a variety of family forms that this ordering can take as long as children and vulnerable people are kept safe and outsiders are proactively given the mic more than insiders. What God wants is for each of us to experience belonging and safety. That is clear from the prophetic visions of God’s hope for our future in Isaiah 2, Joel 3, and Micah 4.
What God has set before us is a choice. We can have the mountain of the Lord where the nations stream to receive wisdom and put down their swords. Or we can have the day of the Lord where the people hide in the caves and ask the mountains to fall on them because Hobbes’s war of all against all has broken out. Since the way humanity learns is almost always the hard way, I’m pretty sure humanity is going to choose the future that looks more like the graphic apocalyptic terror of Revelation.
But God said something very curious to me in 2012. He said, “No one will resist my will,” after he had shown me the vision of the exorcism of the church being like Jesus’ exorcism of the Gerasene demoniac. And then he gave me a different image at a shamanic ceremony more recently. He said that he is a father untangling his children’s shoelaces and when they are untangled, his truth will be intuitive and the scales will fall from our eyes like they did for Saul of Tarsus.
We all need to face the possibility that Jesus is approaching us right now like he did to Saul on the Damascus Road, saying, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” Maybe the person I call anti-Christ in our culture whether it’s Donald Trump or a provocative queer pastor is actually Jesus saying, “Saul, why do you persecute me?” If you are open to this possibility, then the Holy Spirit could use this confrontation to reveal to you that you have been blind in some way, whether you’re a witchy ex-evangelical tarot card reader or straight-laced bible college sophomore who just finished a great class in apologetics and has already written 5000 words of your retort for this blog post.
When I was given a powerful indigenous medicine as part of my quest to find some sort of healing for my ulcerative colitis, I saw a vision of a giant eye booger that dissolved into (or out of?) me, and immediately I wondered if it was supposed to be tied to the scales that fell from Saul’s eyes when he become Paul the apostle of divine grace. I do feel a sense that what I have shared here is apostolic; it has seemed like someone from beyond me has given me at least some of these words expressed through my imperfect fleshly filter.
I have wished for this to somehow offer a faithful synthesis of what I have tried my best to learn from apostolic ancestors like Mary, Peter, Paul, James, more than one Ignatius, Augustine, the Cappadocians, the Desert Fathers, Francis and all his friars, Brother Lawrence, Julianne of Norwich, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Lev Tolstoy, Joan of Arc, Teresa of Avila, Dorothy Day, Emma Goldman, Lou Reed, Audrey Lorde, Tom Petty, and so many others who are more orthodox than I’ll ever be. And most of all from Jesus himself whom I still can’t distinguish individually in the various inspiring, healing things the divine seems to tell me.
I just wanted to write something that could somehow express a loving invitation to radically different groups of people who have experienced God’s presence and absence in ways that require hearing very different things to feel safe enough to receive and become divine mercy, which is actually the whole thing. Now I’m starting to ramble so I’ll just close by offering this final provocation. I believe that the loving energy of the Triune God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit could be depicted as a vagina through whom every human is invited to enter into a new birth where they can discover the absolutely best version of divinity that they have uniquely been given to cosplay as a human icon.
God is the flower whose seeds comprise the universe and whose love is the force that makes every single atom in the universe pregnant with glory. When we see how beautiful God is, then all our petty arguments will fall away like scales from our eyes and we will love in the ferocious way God loves (whether you want to call God the grandfather whose granddaughter can sit safely and innocently in his lap because she is the apple of his eye or call God the lover who passionately kisses every wound on your body until you are completely resurrected).
Whatever else is true, heaven happens when we lose our shame, accept our forgiveness, and love without expectation. And you are loved so much more deeply than you ever thought possible.