A series of essays in the Episcopal Church
SAINT ANDREW’S EPISCOPAL CHURCH
100 NORTH PALMWAY LAKE WORTH, FLORIDA
Feast of The Transfiguration (August 6, 2005) Canon Richard T. Nolan
GAY LIFE TRANSFIGURED: WHAT WOULD IT LOOK LIKE?
During the past half century, people in my age bracket have witnessed enormous transformations in public understandings of human diversity. For many, this shift has been all too slow; for many others, the changes are frightening and misguided. Within this period in the United States, the Civil Rights movement came to the fore. The Supreme Court upheld interracial marriage. A great deal of employment discrimination has been curtailed. Women have made significant gains personally and vocationally; in the Episcopal Church, women have been admitted to all Orders of ministry. And, more!
For gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, these decades in our nation’s history have included the 1969 Stonewall Revolution, which resulted in many, effective organizations committed to work for the civil rights of sexual minorities. After much research, the American Psychiatric Association purged homosexuality from its list of disorders. The Supreme Court struck down laws that criminalized homosexual behavior. Civil Unions have been legalized in two states, same-sex marriage in one. Domestic partners are recognized in a number of work-places and regions. The Pew Research Center recently looked at current public opinion on civil unions and gay marriage and discovered that 53 percent said they support civil unions for gay people, while 36 percent said they favor gay marriage -- a slight increase from a year ago. What's more, openly gay women and men participate in the life of the Episcopal Church more than ever, and an openly partnered, gay man was consecrated as a Bishop to serve in New Hampshire.
I mention these few matters, because at the present time it can appear that while some other nations are progressing further, the United States is on the brink of reversing, or at least halting, the pursuit of justice for all. Content with their lot and power, “preservers” seem to want desperately to retain the status quo or, better yet, achieve a turnaround of a half-century’s transformation of human rights.
Lest we forget, however, during this fifty-year evolution, right through the present day, untold injustices have been, and are, heaped upon multitudes of innocent citizens in our country, and in some nations sexual minorities are brutalized freely and even imprisoned or executed. Adolescent suicide is too frequent.
If gay men and women are to continue this journey toward justice, what is envisioned? What do we want? To put it briefly, we yearn for justice for everyone. We insist on no more, nor any less, than citizens’ full rights and responsibilities. We want to continue to transform inequality for some people to equality for all. We envision for everyone gathered here tonight an equal sharing of this nation’s citizenship – which is not now the case.
The life of Christ is a proclamation about transformation, of conversion, of radical change in people’s lives - inwardly and outwardly. Today’s Feast of the Transfiguration is celebrated with an account written in the poetic imagery of faith. This story of Christ’s Transfiguration conveys to us that the disciples at some momentous point began to perceive their friend and rabbi as extraordinary. As if a veil had been lifted from their eyes, Jesus was seen anew, transfigured in Light brighter and more illuminating than the traditional Law and the Prophets. In radiant glory Jesus was strikingly authenticated for his followers as God’s Messiah.
Although we do not understand what happened to Jesus, or whether this was an allegory or event, we do know what took place within his disciples! As time went on, they began to understand their Lord differently. In him, God's Word, the Creator’s purpose for all humanity, was made concrete for everyone to observe and incorporate in their lives. About to go to Jerusalem and face intense suffering, Jesus was filled with radiant power to undertake his difficult ministry.
As Jesus was transfigured, so are the hearts, minds, and activities of his faithful disciples in every generation. For us, life is neither forlorn darkness nor religious giddiness. Rather, fulfilled living flows from the New Covenant that integrates joyful celebrations with understandable sadness, realistic hopefulness with the power to cope with adversity. Beholding the Light of Christ does not magically solve all problems of justice; however, Christian disciples are strengthened to bear their crosses, to grow into Christ's glorious likeness, and to persevere in establishing love and justice.
What has this to do with gay people? Not only is Christ’s Gospel concerned with a just society, but also matters of the heart and spirit – the “internals” of all individual lives.
“I’m queer. That’s who I am!” proclaimed Brian, a 30ish character on cable television’s series “Queer As Folk.” For most of the series, the several primary characters have been portrayed as men and women who accept their most fundamental personal identity in terms of their sexual orientation. Each has a slightly different version of what “I am gay” means. In any case, Brian and his friends are most at home in their “gay community” – the culture in which they feel accepted and generally out of harm's way. Similar characterizations are found among the programs available on the new gay Logo TV channel. A prominent Episcopal cleric observed, “Every culture has its own norm, its own rituals for claiming identity. For a gay man, going to gay bars and baths may be a way of discovering who he is. For the first time he feels free; there’s no place else where he can go to affirm his identity.”1
As viewers of Queer As Folk and Logo might expect, the negative portrayals of Christians stem from the sanctimonious hatred they have experienced all too frequently – even from their own relatives. Fortunately, from time to time, a character will ask bewilderedly how such animosity fits with the religion of Jesus Christ. That observation distinguishes between mean-spirited, willfully ignorant Christians and the Good News of Christ. The Queer As Folk writers realize that the self-righteous slogan “hate the sin; love the sinner” is a poor cover-up for genuine, personal, irrational abhorrence. At any rate, Brian and his friends realize that their sexual orientation in itself is not immoral.
It is tempting to call attention to the insufficiencies among “gay communities” – the affectations, the many unsatisfying relationships, the problems of physical and emotional well-being, the imprisoning stereotypes, and so on. However, aren’t such deficiencies also found among all communities, all cultures, indeed, all religious associations? If one were to analyze the “straight community,” parallel imperfections can easily be highlighted. Clearly, all human communities, all religious associations, all cultures, all nations, are in need of transformation.
I am convinced that transformation par excellence is symbolized by the Transfiguration of Christ. In a way, the Transfiguration is like a composite of the entire Gospel. As did the disciples, others are invited to open their eyes, their hearts, and their minds to behold Jesus as God’s glorious Exemplar, as the embodiment of the Creator’s intentions for all humanity, as the prototype “child of God.”
Imagine if gay life were touched by the Transfiguration! Social justice would continue to be pursued vigorously. Additionally, however, Brian’s inward spirit that proclaims “I’m queer. That’s who I am!” would be transformed into a biblical “I’m a unique ‘child of God.’ That’s who I am!” Authenticity would replace affectations; mutual caring would replace unsatisfying relationships; healthy living would reduce problems of physical and emotional well-being; and, a liberated diversity of individuals would replace imprisoning stereotypes. Furthermore, intrinsic self-worth and self-acceptance as a unique child of God would replace unwarranted shame, guilt and self-loathing. Gay communities would be, in the words of the today’s Collect, “delivered from the disquietude of this world.” They would become oases of people with equal regard, able to strategize and agree to differ wisely as they labor for fairness in the laws of the land.
I know that I am dreaming! Nonetheless, all of us here tonight, can choose to be illumined by the Word of God that is able to transform society and deliver each of us from hardness of heart and spirit. As Christians, we are called to be who we truly are – with an identity that transcends, and gives a context for, our individual personality traits. Each of us can be effectively nurtured as unique children of God by way of recurring corporate worship and private prayer. At least, our lives and fellowship can be an oasis of mutual affection-in-the-making. In this place, you and I may perceive ourselves symbolically as coming to “the holy mount” to receive the Word of the Lord written in our hearts and minds. Here we will always find Jesus proclaimed as God’s Son, his Chosen, and draw near to listen to his life-changing words and ministry. In these encounters we may be graced with the abiding gifts of faith, hope, and love; and, by this love, we are continually fed and changed. No longer identified chiefly by sexual orientations, we all can acknowledge and celebrate our differences. No longer separate from one another, isolated by our individuality, we see the glory of the Lord, when we truly recognize that we “are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” Such would be a Transfiguration of gay life – or at least of those diverse folks who gather here!
1 The Rev. Dr. James Fenhagen as quoted in Soul Mates: More Than Partners [p. 42, 2004] www.nolan-pingpank.com
COLLECT OF THE DAY
O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with you, O Father, and you, O Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
About eight days after Jesus had foretold his death and resurrection, Jesus took with him Peter and John and James, and went up on the mountain to pray. And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish at Jerusalem. Now Peter and his companions were weighed down with sleep; but since they had stayed awake, they saw his glory and the two men who stood with him. Just as they were leaving him, Peter said to Jesus, "Master, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah"--not knowing what he said. While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, "This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!" When the voice had spoken, Jesus was found alone. And they kept silent and in those days told no one any of the things they had seen.
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