There are moments we never forget. These moments meet and transform us. I am the product of such a moment.
I was a young man with much assumed knowledge and even more conviction about who and what God was. I believed that the Bible spoke clearly and our task was to respond clearly. The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary was not a place for doubt. We were expected to be prophets of certainty and I was. The game ran out when my Southern Baptist mentor and pastor called to tell me that he was dying. I drove fast to see him. Through it all, I somehow believed that God would save him. When I arrived to his bedside, my cherished mentor and pastor pulled me close and told me, “I’m gay and I always have been.” The words startled and dislodged me. I have been changing ever since. No matter how far I travel, there will always be a piece of me that stayed behind in that bedroom. I will never get over the change in God and me that I met in that moment. I will spend my life thinking back to that bedroom and pondering what it means to live into the fullness of the gift of salvation that was given to me there.
We are a people of memories. In hopes of finding and providing something better, we work to make meaning of memories. My dear Southern Baptist pastor and mentor lived in a closeted hell. Through his revelation, my friend and pastor brought me out of mine. I now base my work in theology and activism around the idea that people matter. I cling to such an idea based on a memory of mine from the beginning.
Eden is important for a variety of reasons, but perhaps not the ones that you think. I don’t really care whether there was an actual physical place called the Garden of Eden. I am not concerned with whether or not Adam and Eve were real people. I am primarily interested in the idea of Eden, because I believe that there was a time when things were right.
The real God that we seek tonight is beyond the God our imaginations, descriptions and normative faculties can construct. God is queer. I often speak of God as the Queer. No matter how hard we try to normatize God, God will forever remain queer. We are created in the image of such a God. We were created to be queer. When we live into what we are created by God to be, we live into the queer that we were created by God to be. I believe all was queer in Eden. I remember.
The serpent tempted one of the first persons with a promise that eating of a tree would make someone like God. The problem with such thinking is that the person was tempted to believe that God is located outside of the person to begin with. The person took the bait and denied the Queer within. The first sin was making the mistake of locating God somewhere besides the Queer that is within. I don’t believe that we should have any Gods before the God who is the Queer. When we left Eden, we left behind who we truly are and who God truly is within us. Theology is about finding a way back.
Jesus comes to show us the way. We are stuck in our closets of normativity. We have the door shut and the bolt latched. Jesus knocks. Will we move beyond our fear and dare to follow the one who can show us the way to our true self? Will we have the courage to live into the Queer? Behold, Jesus stands at the door and knocks…
I am an activist because anyone becomes an activist when they seek to live into the Queer that is within. You cannot be queer in this life and not work for love and justice. There are many people who come out with regards to their sexuality and gender, yet never leave the closet of conformity to the normativities of others. We have to be different in order to make a difference. Jesus shows us what difference looks like.
Jesus crosses strict boundaries and this makes him queer. Crossing the boundary of race and gender, Jesus finds the woman at the well. Crossing over boundaries of sickness and disability, Jesus meets the blind and lame. Crossing over the boundaries of class and privilege, Jesus meets Nicodemus, Matthew and others. Jesus was a boundary crosser. Queer activism is about daring to cross boundaries and blurring together the world we once knew.
Jesus crossed the boundary of death and created life. I tell people all the time, there is nothing queerer in this life than being alive when people think you are supposed to be dead. We are called from the depths of our queerness to raise the dead to life. People are dying under the weight of injustice. Women are being brutalized. Children are starving. Civil rights are being denied. Immigrants have nowhere to lay their heads. War rages around the world. The list goes on and on. What do we do about it? From nation to nation, we all stand up and declare in unison, “At least that ain’t not us!” Queerness is embracing something more than just being happy to exist. Queerness is remembering that a world devoid of injustice was where we started. Do you remember?