Beer Goggles and A Feminist Hermeneutic: Part I

by Gregory Stevens (BEA guest writer)

I wrote “A Religious Rape Culture” a year ago for BEA and it sparked some great conversation about feminism, sexuality and Christianity. As a gender studies student and a Christian, I find these two streams of thought most beautiful when in harmony with one another – and yet for many Christians, the two are best left very far apart. These next few blog posts are a glimpse at where I think the conversation can (and should) go…

I remember the first time I ever had a beer. I was 16 and at a bon fire with some of my friends, they were serving keg beer – two words I didn’t really understand, but either way I put my read solo cup under the tap and began my journey toward adulthood, errr kinda.

I had one sip and I hated every bit of it, it didn’t taste good, but that might have been because it was Natural Light. Either way, I remember getting buzzed very quickly. Things get fuzzy after that, but I specifically remember dancing with someone’s mom, you know, the responsible type mom who wanted to drink with her kids friends to “make sure they were safe.” I’m still not convinced that’s true, I mean, she hit on me more than my high school girl friends.

At some point, mid bump and grind with the mom, she screamed out, “I’VE GOT MY BEER GOGGLES ON! LETS RAGE!” Again, she was just a responsible parent making sure we stayed safe ;)

I laughed, kept dancing, and wondered, “What in the hell are Beer Goggles???”

As any good self-righteous high school student, I didn’t have it in me to ask what she was talking about. I was a first time drinker, but even the buzz didn’t make me blunt enough to admit my own ignorance to what beer goggles were. I went home that night, surprisingly safe (after the cops showed up), and went straight to Urban Dictionary and searched “Beer Goggles.” Here’s what came up, “Phenomenon in which one’s consumption of alcohol makes physically unattractive persons appear beautiful.”

Ahhh yes! Beer goggles…

With a few beers, the ways in which we interpret the world around us radically changes. —Warning: As any good preacher type does, I’m about to take this idea and stretch it as if Jesus said it —

It’s an interesting idea, beer goggles. I realized how true it was that often we are wearing goggles or filters at which we see the world through. Maybe not always fuzzy and on the verge of vomiting, like I was when dancing with my friends mom, but nevertheless, we put on interpretive lenses at which to see the world. We approach every day situations with our filters, which are always socially constructed. We often don’t recognize our filters even exist, we don’t know they hinder or help us understand the way the world works. Unlike my friend’s mom who screamed at the thought of rocking her beer goggles, our every-day-
goggles aren’t so obvious. We don’t think twice about them.

In our context, the conversation on feminist thought and Christianity, we have learned through feminist scholarship that often, the cultural goggles we have inherited aren’t that healthy. They are often restricted by race privilege, gender privilege, religious privilege, straight privilege, and historical privilege.

There are many directions I could take from here in describing, “feminist-goggles” or as academics might say, a feminist hermeneutic, but what I find most important in conversation such as this, is the notion of exclusion. The challenge I invite you to wrestle with is, in what ways are your actions and/or language exclusive?

I would suggest that the Christian narrative is that of inclusion over exclusion. Jesus life and work is the clearest model of what it means to include over exclude.

Jesus is born to a poor immigrant family, as if to say God’s saving action will begin with and through the poor and marginalized of society. The first signs of God’s coming commonwealth are in the midst of people our society tell us to ignore. The story has barely even begun and it already has political implications. At Jesus birth the first to show up are Magi, aka astrologists. They weren’t practicing, devout religious Jews. They were stargazers, those outside the chosen people of Israel. In the opening account of Jesus life we not only see the poor included we see people of other spiritual persuasions included. Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well, his story of the good Samaritan, his prayer for unity in John 17, his dinners with rich and poor alike, his inclusion of tax collectors, sinners and the self-righteous are all in stark contrast to exclusion. The very metaphor we use as Christians to describe the interrelatedness and complexity of God, is a three fold relationship, the Trinity. The very nature of God is oneness in otherness. In Gods triune self, we see community, a community of inclusion that we have been created in the image of.

As Christians, I would suggest, that in our actions and in the words we use to describe our lived experiences, that we would seek inclusion of exclusion. When our words and deeds act in ways that harm the Earth, harm others and/or harm ourselves, we are essentially excluding God’s declaration over all that is from good, to unworthy of love, respect, and care.

Read Part II now

GREG STEVENS HOLDS A DEGREE IN GENDER STUDIES FROM THE UNIVERSITY OF SOUTH FLORIDA AND IS STUDYING FOR HIS MASTERS OF DIVINITY AT CLAREMONT SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY. HE SEEKS TO CONTINUALLY DISCOVER NEW WAYS TO UNITE FEMINIST ACADEMIA WITH LOCAL FAITH AND JUSTICE INITIATIVES. HIS WEBSITE IS http://www.hellogregory.com/, AND YOU CAN FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER @HELLOGREGORY.

The opinions expressed above are those of the guest writer and do not necessarily state or reflect the views of Brown-Eyed Amazon. Publication on this website should not be considered an endorsement.

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America’s “failings” in the eyes of God

DISCLAIMER: I love my country. I am proud of much of what we have created. I am also not unaware of our failings – to our own people and to the rest of the world.

The following is not a researched or fleshed out article. It is my immediate, emotional response to reading yet another end times article posted by a friend and fellow Christian. Please forgive any misspellings or not-so-eloquent statements.

Of all the horrific things our country has had its hands in, I am really sick and tired of members of my faith trotting out their warped view of homosexuality and same-sex marriage as evidence of end-times or America’s “failing” in God’s eyes.

America has much for which it needs to atone. We have hurt our own people and the members of our global community.

We have had internment camps for Japanese-Americans.

We have robbed,raped, and murdered indigenous people – and had the audacity to claim it was in God’s name.

We have repeatedly financially and militarily supported dictators and war criminals – enabling them to oppress and even kill their own people.

We have enslaved and/or oppressed “minorities”.

We have objectified and exploited women on a societal level.

We have over 400,000 abandoned/unwanted children coming of age in government-run facilities.

We have created and protected economic systems that allow us to exploit each other for financial gain.

We boast a national rate of homelessness that is approximately 21 homeless people per 10,000 people in the general population (more than 600,000 people).

We continue to knowingly profit from and maintain our lifestyle through labor trafficking (SLAVERY).

This is just to name a few things.

But sure, homosexuality, something that I and many members of our faith adamantly agree is NOT a sin, that is going to be the thing that offends our God.

SHAME.

Okay, rant over.

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I Love Jesus and “The Gays”

Confession: I love Jesus and “The Gays”

This has been weighing on me for some time and I can no longer remain in the “closet”. You’ve probably seen the signs… had your suspicions… I’m just going to come out and say it…

I’m a heterosexual. I love Jesus. I…GULP… love “the gays” too.

Somehow, these 3 concepts, particularly the latter two, have been labeled opposing ideals. I beg to differ…

The church needs to repent for its exclusion, persecution, and alienation of LGBTQI people. Some would say that day is never coming. I understand their frustration. I feel it as well. Yet, I am always hopeful. Hopeful that people would mature and evolve. Hopeful that Christians would work to actively heal the wounds the church has inflicted. Hopeful that a heart of justice and mercy would take root in the church. Hopeful that people would let go of the party line and form real opinions based on knowledge and logic.

I’m always hopeful for these things. That’s why seeing them fail to happen breaks my heart.

 I will address the scripture in the anti-gay arsenal but it is important to begin by saying that part of my decision to identify as a Christian LGBT Ally is that the alternative (“anti-gay”, “pro-marriage”) does not sit well with my soul.  I don’t use that term lightly.  The concept of rejecting an entire group of people (or their actions as some Christian groups would distinguish) based on who they do/do not love or feel attraction for feels ridiculous and cruel. I will not call myself a loving Christian with one breath and denounce them with the other. That, to me, is truly hypocrisy.

Case in point: I have a beautiful friend who is a Christian woman and attended a Christian university (Ironically named, Grace University). After it was discovered that she was in a monogamous relationship with another woman she was expelled from the school because they did not agree with her “lifestyle choice”. She allowed me to read the expulsion letter. It was anything but full of grace.

This is not a lifestyle choice; it is a sexual identity that is a part of their creation. The concept of aversion therapy or cures is incredibly offensive and treats a healthy person as though they suffer from a mental disease or defect that requires correcting. These types of therapy may result in a change in behavior but not a change in actual attraction. That is why Christians have so cleverly come up with terms like same-sex attraction vs. practicing homosexual.  “You can be gay just don’t ever act on it and we can all pretend it’s no longer true”. Homosexuality is not an affliction to be cured with the right remedy (1-part “holy water”, 1-part “pray the gay away”, and 1-part “shame them back into the closet”?)

The high rates of self-mutilation, suicide, and drug use among homosexuals is not a product of shame, it is a product of shaming. We know that abuse victims, no matter how false abusive statement are, will eventually internalize the vitriolic hate they are subjected too.  Self-mutilation, suicide, and drug use are not indicative of a fault in homosexuals but rather a failing of society.

Why this issue? Why so much passion and attention? The church has a multitude of sins to choose from in scripture.  I would arguably say the most important one being the existence and treatment of those living in poverty. Yet, our politics, our sermons, our debates focus heavily on homosexuality and its “threat” to marriage. Perhaps because this is a “sin” heterosexuals  feel no threat of falling prey to themselves and therefore can judge and condemn without fear of having that condemnation returned?

We love to pick and choose the easy targets. A friend of my once hit on the ridiculousness of the church’s fervent efforts to prevent gay marriage rather than doggedly pursuing reform among other marriage-related issues, “If we are going to make laws that two gay people can’t marry because it isn’t Christian, then why can two atheists or two Muslims marry each other? Why should we permit divorce? Why don’t we punish adulterers? How is any of that any different?”

Now for those bible verses that many love to throw around…

People spout the church rhetoric regarding homosexuality because that is what they have been indoctrinated with for years and therefore they don’t question it or even bother to challenge it. Rather than repeating the party lines of “God made Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve” and even more ridiculous ones I would encourage people to really look at what they are saying. Many Christians throw the “but the scripture says…” line out with such passion but can’t even name a particular verse (I’m leery of people who don’t even know why they say what they say).

For those who can name the scripture: how much time have they spent reading it? Have they looked at the surrounding verses for context, considering the historical relevance, cultural influences, or even the fact that Jesus himself never once addresses the issue of homosexuality? How do they reconcile the church’s abolishing of so many other Levitical laws but its harsh stance on maintaining this one?

Leviticus 18:22, 20:13 are the go-to OT verses that appear to condemn homosexuality.  The church is in agreement that Leviticus was a list of laws given to the Jews by God that focused greatly on ceremonial cleanliness. It’s why we have abolished so many of them.

Consider that scary word “abomination” being used in these verses. An abomination? How much more horrifying could something be?  You know what other horrible thing God calls an abomination: eagles (Lev. 11:13).

“And these are they which ye shall have in abomination among the fowls; they shall not be eaten, they are an abomination: the eagle, and the ossifrage, and the ospray…”

Eagles are an abomination – they are unclean. Had much poultry lately?

We, the church, often make a point of stating that dietary laws etc… in Leviticus were meant for a specific people, at a specific time.  It is our explanation for setting aside laws such as Lev. 11:13. The Levitical laws that appear to be addressing homosexuality are directed at the Israelites.  It is a warning to them not to worship false gods such as Molech. The chapters are breaking down the false worship practices; which include sexual acts as a way to gain favor from the gods.

“When read in textual and historical context, the prohibitions in Leviticus 18 and 20 are clearly directed at homosexual temple prostitution, and that is how they should be applied.”

These are just a few things to consider…

But what about the story of Sodom and Gomorrah?  Sodom & Gomorrah is a party-line favorite. “Down with the gays! God destroyed entire cities because of them! He will smite them!”  Sodom and Gomorrah is not some warning tale of the perils of homosexuality. It’s an issue of hospitality and of sexual violence not consensual homosexual acts (man raping angels) – refer to the book of Judges.

As for the New Testament…

Our understanding of NT verses that appear to address homosexuality is so deeply flawed. Strip away years of church rhetoric and it comes down to a poor translation/understanding of Greek language; particularly the words “arsenokoites” and “malakos”. The modern church has translated these words to mean “homosexuality” or “homosexual activity” (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 1 Timothy).  So many members of the church seem to have this issue with questioning church “authority”.

“someone else translated it to mean homosexual therefore I don’t have the right or inclination to look at the evidence that the translation is wrong”

“We’ve always read it to mean that, therefore it must be true.”

Sidenote: The words “arsenokoites” and “malakos,”. didn’t appear until the mid-late 20th century.  Malakos (“soft” or “effeminate”) can be found in other Greek literature. It should be pointed out that it is not always a sexual reference [hetro/ homosexual])

The creation of the word “arsenokoites” is actually attributed to Paul himself. He created this word despite the fact that there were several other words in the Greek language (“erastes,” “eromenos,” “paedika,” “paederastes”) that already reference sex between two men. Could it be he was attempting to make a distinction between homosexuality and something else entirely?

If you look at the verses using “arsenokoites” with a more discerning eye you will note that Paul does not use this term when listing sexual sins, he uses it when listing sins of exploitation or economics – implying a reference more likely to male prostitution.  I find it interesting that the very verses the church uses to fixate on homosexuality as a sin may be drawing us back to that greater and more readily ignored issues: poverty, exploitation, and injustice.  Very interesting indeed.

One would hope this makes the loving Christian who claims to “hate the sin and not the sinner” and even the most staunch anti-gay activist lay down their “God hates fags” sign and pick up a bible. Consider your true motivations and reasons for jumping on the church bandwagon. At the very least.. take pause.

Last August, I had the humbling pleasure of spending a few days on a private retreat with Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation. Most of my time was simply spent sitting and soaking up his words. I managed to write a few of those words down…

“We are responsible for our unconscious motivations and how they may result in hurt. Our sincerity is not enough.”

Wear It Well

I do not wear humility well. I usually find modesty to be an unnatural fit and will shy away from experiences that force me to adopt these traits. This may stem from self-consciousness as much as it does pride. There are limited areas of life in which I truly feel confident and, like most, I seek out things that give me confidence rather than touch on my insecurities. I will say this, when my insecurities come up against my passions they are without any hope of victory. Those things which spark my passion also spark my confidence and this can be beautiful and powerful. It can also be my downfall.

One of the greatest challenges to humility is passion. To know even a taste of what God created a person for can make one reckless and proud. Recognizing one’s passions is directly followed by the urge to “gift” others with your knowledge and influence them to work towards a shared vision or goal.

That desire is not innately wrong or selfish. It is natural to want to be able to express your heart in a way that engages others. My heart beats for justice and the overflow of that is evident in all conversations of depth. The weight of my passions are something I rarely can restrain. Good can come of that. Justice can come of that. But so can pride.

It is vital that we temper our passions with self-reflection and humility. I am confident that God has commissioned me to live a life in pursuit of justice for victims of oppression, abuse, and those living in extreme poverty. I have always known this. My story rarely changes but the means through which I convey it are ever-evolving. I would hope that, over the years, my message has become more mature and humble. I’m sure there is still work to be done.

Having new experiences laid before us is crucial to our spiritual growth. To a degree, I have been a voice of authority and knowledge within my circles, at least as it has pertained to my particular passions. With some embarrassment, I will admit that part of me revels in that. There is a euphoria that is born out of having people look to you for answers or recognize you as someone they might learn from. Unfortunately, there is a point where living in this role can cause a person to forget what it means to take a posture of humility or learning. If one does not make a point to take these postures, life will often do it for them. Failed marriages, loss of jobs and homes, broken friendships and redirected dreams can force humility upon us.

I identify myself as someone who will go anywhere and do anything if it means serving others and doing what God has called me to do. Want me to teach in Mozambique? Let’s hop a flight today. Serve at a children’s home in Haiti? I can pack in an hour. It is so simple when the circumstances are ones of my choice. When I choose to put myself in certain conditions. But what about when they are chosen for us? The experiences we invite and the experiences that confront us are survived much more easily if we live in a continued place of learning. Our ability to fulfill our roles in life and serve others can only be strengthened by a posture of humility.

It is a wonderful thing to assume the role God intended for you—if it is done in God’s timing and without a propensity for self-exaltation. One should cherish the times where they can learn and grow from the wisdom of others. If we prematurely assume the honor of being a teacher we are dong a disservice to ourselves and those we would presume to teach. The same can be said for prophets, missionaries and advocates. This is particularly true for those who feel called to roles that require great acts of service. It is part of the reason that forging relationships is so vital to the work of justice and mercy. This work must be less about stepping into our perceived roles and more about cultivating relationships of mutual respect.

We must always be cautious of the inclination to assign the roles of “servant” and “person in need of service”. Without this caution we run the risk of dehumanizing others and creating “projects” out of those we are called to love. This awareness protects the dignity of those being served but it also protects the person doing the serving—the latter from the fallacy of unassailable spirituality and holiness. You are much less likely to run the risk of pride when you recognize your own capacity to fail, to be hurt and to be in need of the service of others.

It is an immeasurable blessing to be given the opportunity to serve. We cannot allow this blessings to be diluted by arrogance. Though the fit may be unnatural we must lean into the uncomfortable and allow ourselves the gift of humility.

This article was originally featured in Spring 2012 issue of The Cry – A quarterly journal that shares the stories of those who suffer under poverty and Injustice.