Monday, October 06, 2008

Bible Class Journal

This is my sermon on Amos. Amos was read in Bible class, and this does amount to my thoughts on that reading.

Remember Jeffrey Wigand? He:

- Was head of R&D for America's third largest tobacco company.

- Went on 60 minutes one day and laid out the truth about his company.

- Manipulating the amount of nicotine in cigarettes to increase the likelihood of addiction.

- Exposed the culture of secret-keeping and corruption.

- Ruined a decades-long party for his company.

- Went on 60 minutes and laid out the truth about his company... that they'd been manipulating the amount of nicotine in cigarettes in order to increase the likelihood of addiction.

- In so doing, exposed a culture of secret-keeping and corruption, and ruined a decades-long party of for his company.

- Was harassed, threatened, and finally fired.

I bring up Jeffrey Wigand because he's a good example of what is technically called a party-pooper.

- Every now and then they come along, right?

- People who speak their conscience and live with the consequences, and in the process, ruin the party for everyone else.

==================================

Have you ever felt called to ruin the party?

Have you ever been in one of those situations where everyone's having a good time because of a consensus they've built that doesn't include you?

- Maybe you've been the Republican in a room full of Democrats.
- The unknown transsexual in a room full of people that don't know it.
- The unknown foreigner in a room full of Americans.
- The fat person enduring stupid jokes.
- The only black in the office full of whites.
- The alcoholic at the company party.
- The vegetarian at the BBQ.

You know it would be easier to keep quiet. You know they have their consensus and their methods to enforce that consensus....

- They're going to call you a drama queen.

- They're gonna call you a bitch.

- They're gonna say that you always make everything about you.

- They're gonna say that you're moralistic and preachy. You take things too seriously. You don't take things seriously enough. You're too militant. You're too sensitive. You're too INsensitive. You're just too much!

As queer people, this kind of thing happens to us all the time. We always presented with these little quandaries--these chances to remind people, hey: "Not everybody is like you, and not everybody agrees with you."

[STORY OF THE BOYS AT THE POOL]
- Condo complex
- High school boys
- Started arguing about the rules and who was cheating
- Started calling each other fags.
- What was I supposed to do? I didn't know these kids.

- I know they weren't REALLY calling each other homosexuals. They weren't saying "You have sex with other men and are therefore to be the object of my scorn." They were using Fag as a general term of derision. But does that make it better or worse?

- I know I could say: "Hey. I'm gay and don't appreciate that language out here." Would that have taught them a lesson about language and assumption and privilege, or would it have just taught them that there's this creepy bearded gay guy that hangs out at the pool?

I call it the Queer dilemma...

- Not Queer as in LGBT
- Queer as in anyone who finds themselves in a minority of thought, opinion, or assumption, like Jeffrey Wigand did....like the Old Testament prophet Amos did.
- "Do I speak up? Or do I let it pass? Do I just laugh along? Or do I toss a baby ruth in the punch bowl?"



The story of Amos is the story of how a man with the Queer dilemma figured out WHEN to speak up, WHETHER to speak up, and HOW to speak up. Maybe we can learn a little something from Amos's story:

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- First, as you might expect from a guy named Amos, he's from the South.

- The Southern Kingdom of Israel.

- Israel divided by Civil War into two Kingdoms, Judah and Israel.

- WE call them the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, but THEY considered them two completely different countries.

- Amos:

- From the Southern Kingdom.

- Got a nice job, probably owns some sheep and some sycamore trees.

- Starts having these visions. In the visions

- Northern Kingdom is wiped out by a power from the North.

- As Amos recounts the story, these visions just keep coming.

- Amos KNOWS he's supposed to go preach a warning to the North, but he rationalizes with God. He says:

"Oh Yahweh forgive, I beg you! How can Jacob stand? He is so small!"


You see what Amos is doing: He's is arguing with Yahweh to get out of having to go. And it's working! Each time, Yahweh relents!

This is a little bit like Jonah last week, where Rev. Terri notes that God changed God's mind after Jonah preached in Ninevah.

- Bible is full of stories of unquestioning obedience, and churches love to call attention to that long tradition...

- Abraham bringing Isaac to be sacrificed...
- Mary saying "Let It Be"...
- We even pray "thy will be done" at every service.

- Bible an equally long tradition in these same texts of people questioning God.

When I read them:

I see Jacob in the desert, wrestling with God.
I see Sara at her tent, laughing at God.
I see Moses saying, "God, you've got the wrong guy for this job."
I see Job, angrily questioning God's very goodness.
I see Jesus, in the Garden, pleading with God...let this cup pass from me.

And -- despite what they told you in Sunday School - NEVER in these cases does God send down thunderbolts to smite them down for their questioning. .

Sometimes God gets angry, but not SMITING angry.

- God argues.
- God fights.
- God persuades.
- God is persuaded.
- Sometimes, God relents.

All throughout this book, God says "ARGUE with me". "GRAPPLE with me." "PERSUADE me." "BE IN RELATIONSHIP with me". JUST. DON'T. TURN AWAY. FROM ME.

I affirm the right and the responsibility to argue with God.

I believe God wants me to be every bit as stubborn, as blockheaded, as human as I am. God only asks that I don't turn away--that I keep searching and questioning and grappling, persuading God and being persuaded by God.

Amos doesn't run out and start preaching after his first vision. He wrestles with it. He anguishes over it.

When does Amos speak up? He speaks up when HIS OWN EXPERIENCE of the divine finally demands it. His schedule for speaking up is between him and God.

- Coming out Day.
===================

So here goes Amos, up to the Northern Kingdom to preach his message.

Scholars speculate that Amos went up to city of Bethel, during their big annual party called the Feast of the Tabernacles.

Tabernacle is just a fancy Bible word for Tent, and the feast is just a big harvest festival.

Think of it like Oktoberfest, but with wine instead of beer. What I'm saying is, it really is a festival. It's a party. It's supposed to be fun.

This Feast of the Tabernacles was the party Amos was called to ruin with his message. And his message was this:

"You wealthy of Israel are sitting here gorging on meat and wine while your poor are starving. Because of the way you treat your widows and orphans, God is going to send a war against you. The kingdom will fall and the wealthy among you will be exiled forever."

================================================
[Why this was a different message for Bethel]
This was a very different message for the people of Bethel. See, Bethel was the religious capital of the Northern Kingdom, but it wasn't Jerusalem. Jerusalem was in the SOUTHERN Kingdom. And the long tradition was that worship could ONLY be conducted in Jersualem.

So people in Bethel had endured many a prophet telling them their sin was having a temple in Bethel. But Amos's message was COMPLETELY UNCONCERNED with ALL of that stuff.

In a time when most prophets were preaching about when, where, and how to perform worship, Amos tossed all of that aside and said "Israel, your sacrifices are SICKENING to God because of how. you. treat. the. poor."

Amos didn't shlep all the way up to Bethel to speak up about little rules and regulations. Amos spoke up because what he had to say was about PEOPLE, not rules.
===============================
[Uppity person from France]
You ever been at a party and there was someone there from, say, France, or someplace, holding court about how terrible America is and how bad things are here and how much better it is in France?

Doesn't it just bug ya? Even if you might otherwise agree.

So you can imagine how this foreigner Amos went over with the priests in Bethel.

The priest in the story, Amaziah, confronts Amos...

I love the way he does this. He says:

"Oh, seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, earn your bread there, and prophesy there."

To which Amos replies:

"I am no prophet, nor a prophet's son; but I am a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees, and God took me from following the flock."

I get the sense that neither of them really wants to be having this conversation.

The priest is saying: "Listen, you can preach if you want. Just... go back and do it in your own country. We don't want any trouble. The people are trying to have a good time, here."

And Amos says: "Are you kidding me? You think I really want to be here? I'm not even a prophet! Back home, I have a REAL job!"

Amos is saying "Look! I'm not doing this to advance my career or to get into the Bible! I'm here because my conscience demands it! I'm here because I can't let you all die without a fair warning!"

Amos spoke up because this was about more than Amos.

When we're drawn into that inevitable Queer Dilemma of WHETHER to speak, we can think of Amos. Is this important, or does it just offend my sensibilities? Is this about people or just about rules? Is it a teaching moment or just a pointless conflict? Is this bigger than me?

Is there somebody who will benefit from my words and who will suffer for my silence?

Somewhere outside of Little Rock right now there's a young girl, maybe 14 or 15. For her, church let out a few hours ago. The message this Sunday: "God Hates Fags".

She's got feelings she doesn't want and doesn't understand. There's no one she can tell. The TV says it can be cool to be a lesbian if you're a rock star. But she's no rock star. And those people on TV look nothing like her.

She's prayed and prayed for these feelings to go away, but they only get more intense. She'll go to hell if she kills herself. But she'll go to hell if she's a lesbian, too. She can't imagine living her whole life that way. She sees no way out.

====================

There are so many like that. So many who grow up into self-destruction and self-hatred if they live to grow up at all....

But how to reach them.... how to speak past the years of church doctrine...the laws on top of laws...the chattering on the TV...

We have a lot to learn from ol' Amos.

He had a hostile audience. A king on on side, and a priest on the other.

But Amos said "I'm not a prophet". I didn't come here to talk "doctrine" or to talk "politics".

I came here to tell you what happened to ME. I'm here to tell you what *I* saw.

Oh, if that little girl outside little rock could only hear what happened to ME...

If she could hear

- ow God plucked me from a toxic family in the nick of time and put me among friends.

If she could hear how God stayed with me through years of anger and self-destruction, through violence and poverty and heartbreak.

If she could hear how God gave me a partner and a best friend. A family.

If she could hear how God brought me through years of slow stubborn halting reconciliation and dropped me at the door of Peninsula MCC where I found myself home.

If she could hear what happened to YOU.

And to YOU.

And to YOU.

Seventy times seventy times over....

Then maybe she would come to know what we know from the evidence of our OWN lives....

...and what no King,

no Priest,

no Professor,

no Politician,

no Parent,

no Power,

no Principality,

no BODY

can EVER make us forget:

God Hate Fags? Nono.

God LOVES a fag!

=================

Now let me return for a moment to where I started: Jeffrey Wigand. Poor old Mr. Wigand's life as he knew it ended on the day he spoke out against his company. His marriage, his friendships, his job all crumbled.

Speaking out has its consequences. And they are serious, and they are irreversible.

We don't know what happened to Amos, but we know his book his short.

Oh, but there's strength in numbers. You see Ol' Amos may look like some rugged individualist in this story, but the truth is, Amos worked within a community. Someone Jeffrey Wigand was alone, but we're not. We can share our stories with one another. We can love one another. We can protect one another.

And when one of us faces the Queer Dilemma, as a minority even within our own community, we can can have empathy and respect. We can practice listening as well as speaking out. And we can all be stronger for it.

Amen.

 

 

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