Sunday, June 23, 2019

Mad Love

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Mad Love
Luke 8.26-40

I was away at a week of church camp, the Assemblies of God, summer camp that my family would allow me to attend for a week each summer. It happened towards the end of worship, a girl around my age started shrieking, and what looked to be losing control of her body. All of our eyes watched as her small frame appeared to be involuntarily shaken, cries escaping her mouth. Middle School youth move in large groups anyways. Seeing this, you might have thought someone announced T-Swift was outside.

Most of us youth worried for her safety, though the adults began to ask for us to return to our rooms. As we moved towards the exit, the pastors and staff circled around her, trying to safely contain this outburst.All of us wondered what was happening to her as we walked to our rooms.

The next day the staff explained that she was possessed by a demon, and they needed to clear the room for an exorcism so that the demon wouldn’t enter into anyone else. Admittedly, because of this incident I spent the rest of that summer believing that a demon was going to possess me.

This story sounds skeptical to us present day folks, almost as impossible as the story we heard read from Luke, the story of the demon-possessed man that Jesus releases from his tormented state.

Many people have tried to come to terms with things, especially about one another, that we do not understand. Disability and mental illnesses have through history been likened to demonic possessions. Queer sexualities and trans-gender folx have been called demonic. Alcoholism and addictions have been addressed as folx struggling with their personal demons. And for many, demons are just that, spirits that take hold of us. Today, we should strongly take issue with anyone calling our disability, sexuality, gender, or addition demonic.

And the gospel writers were trying to make sense of this mad world. What all these invocations of demon possession seem to suggest, however, is that beyond the physical and even the personal, there are forces at work in the world, and affecting us that we cannot quite quantify.

Where is love in the body? What color is the soul? Can we inject grace into our blood? What smell does hate have? What tests can we run to screen our bodies for sexism or racism? In the end, however we understand these mysteries, there are evidently good spirits at work in our world and there are also demons. There will always be a need to put words to that special grace that drives some to bring life through impossible conditions and which drive others to commit unspeakable acts of violence.

With honest reflection, some of us come to accept this. What will happen if we accept “them” into our community-- whoever the group being identified as “them” is? It’s hard to trust folks we have previously mistrusted or blocked out of our lives. What if they betray us? What if they do things differently than us?

But this is the liberation that Jesus proclaims at the start of his ministry of setting the captive free, and recovery of sight of the blind. Jesus declares liberation is for each and every one of us.

Many of us might be frustrated with the response of the townspeople, demanding Jesus leave them. When the oppressed are made free, fear is an odd response in the midst of this miraculous moment. And the scripture describes that the man can’t keep quiet, liberation is bursting from him.

Why would we ever want to hush or demand the silence of folx who have experienced liberation and good news? Have you ever heard: “I wouldn't go around telling people you’re in therapy.” “I really respect this LGBT person, she’s not in your face about it.” “I don’t like those people but I like him, he is one of the good ones.” “Back in the day, people didn’t make as much of a fuss about labels as they do today.” “Oh, I just can’t learn all these new PC terms. I can’t keep track. I won’t do it.” “Why do those people keep coming around? Can’t we just ask them to leave?” “What if they become dangerous?”

Oppressed folx do not have to make themselves worthy to the dominant group by conforming, and we never have to make others small in order to make ourselves important.

Are we among those living within the tombs? Are we among the towns-people in the scripture, begging for Jesus to leave them? Folx who witness Jesus’ miracle, seeing the demon possessed man freed, who now have the opportunity to be a part of the restoration of relationship, to live and be community together.

The question in the end, is do we really want Jesus. If we want Jesus, well Jesus tends to come with all the sorts of people who we may have cut out of our lives.
May each of us be found by this mad and liberating love. 

Sunday, June 2, 2019

Pay It No Mind

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"Pay it No Mind"

Marsha P. Johnson was a woman set apart. Her own community regarded her both as a saint and as an outcast. While she has begun to be remembered as one of the founders of the gay rights movement, one of the first to resist in the Stonewall Riots, and a co-founder of one of the first transgender rights groups, in New York during the 1960’s and 70’s there were many members of the trans and gay community who did not want anything to do with her. Unlike some of the trans women and drag queens who lived in the Village, Marsha’s poverty and homelessness made it hard for her to afford high quality clothing or make-up. Instead, this black trans woman with chronic mental illness would accept free donations and buy resale clothes from the thrift store. As a result, trans women, drag queens, and gay men would cross the street to avoid her because they felt that her way of dress and behavior was an embarrassment. She was even within the LGBTQ community considered by some unclean.

At the same time, Marsha was revered. A friend recalled seeing her sleeping under tables in the flower district. When they asked the shop owners if they should tell her to leave, they said, “no, she is holy.” These flower shop owners came to know and adore Marsha. They would give her extra flowers with which she would create these hair pieces and hats that would crown her face like a floral halo. And they were not the only ones who called Marsha a holy woman. Members of the community in the 1960s and 70s recall how people would meet her from all around, people visiting New York from other countries, and how she would attract people with her friendliness, generosity, and good spirit. Over time, people began referring to her as Saint Marsha. And this is all before her rise to prominence one night when police were harassing the LGBT community at the Stonewall Inn and Marsha was one of the first to riot in resistance. After this she would join with Sylvia Rivera to form STAR, one of the first trans rights organizations. Yet before this and throughout her life, Marsha was called a saint not just because of her activism but because of what might be more accurately called her ministry.

Marsha says she married Jesus when she was 16 years old. Jesus was the only man she could trust, she told interviewers. Jesus never laughed at her, she said. Jesus took her very seriously. Marsha was a mystic as well as an activist, performer, and community leader. She lived with mental illness as well but told people, “just because I am crazy, doesn’t make me wrong.” Despite or because of her eccentricities, literally a woman who lived outside the center of the community, she was considered a woman set apart. She was known for being holy, for being compassionate and generous. She was known for being brave and yearning for justice. She had next to nothing but gave everything for her community and her faith.

May we come to see the saints God has called from among the outcasts and the unclean. May we be guided by the spirit and the love of holy women like Marsha P. Johnson. May we likewise welcome the stranger, give generously, wear flowers in our hair, and when we find ourselves harassed by unfair systems of oppression, may we know when to stand, may we be brave enough to resist, and may we pay no mind to a world that would shame us for who we are. May we find hope, find life, find love, and find pride among God’s most unlikely of saints.