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My contribution to the 2013 Queer Theology Synchroblog looks at the creation of queer theology, and how one of the best starting points is to see and name who is clearly queer in the text.

If you go to almighty Google and type in a search List of Men in the Bible, you will find loads of sites that give you an exhaustive outline of all the biblical men. Similarly a search for Women in the Bible will cough up hefty results. But try googling List of Eunuchs in the Bible. You will get web results, no doubt, but no simple listing of the names of the many biblical eunuchs and where they appear in the text. For that list you will have to do more digging and likely compile your own.

Consider virtually every sermon you have heard about the Book of Esther or any Purim celebration you attended, even in super queer-friendly churches and synagogues. Off the top of your head name the characters speakers highlight related to this story. Esther/Hadassah. Mordecai. Haman. These are the big three people can name from memory. Then there is some king, a deposed queen, oh, and a eunuch.

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The king, (known as Xerxes, Ahashuerus, or Khshayarshan depending on the Greek, Hebrew, or Persian form of the name) plays a key role in the story as the easily offended ruler waiting for things to happen. Vashti, the queen, who refuses to parade around in front of the king’s male guests, sometimes gets a shoutout for being a strong woman in a man’s world. Then there is the eunuch in charge of the royal harem.

Actually there are a dozen eunuchs in the Book of Esther each with a delicious name that fills the mouth. I like to read their names out loud.

Mehuman
Biztha
Harbona
Bigtha
Abagtha
Zethar
Carcas
Hegai
Shassshagaz
Teresh
Bigthana
Hathach

Eunuchs appear in every chapter of the Book of Esther and take on many different roles. Sure Hegai oversees the women’s quarters and puts Hadassah/Esther through a rigorous beauty and diet regime. Hegai even tells Esther what to bring into the bedroom chamber when it is time for her to perform for the king as part of the Persia’s Next Top Queen competition. But the eunuchs have much more latitude, roles, and responsibilities in the text than most retellings of the story reveal.

20130928-100408.jpg Eunuchs serve as messengers, advisors, guards, assassins, and soldiers. In fact, on the chess board of the Persian court, all non-eunuchs are mostly stuck in place. The king stays in his section of the palace, Esther in hers, and her kinsman, Mordecai, has to sit outside until escorted in. The only people who get to move freely from place to place, in and out of the palace and into every palatial space are the eunuchs.

In the ancient world a eunuch was a non-procreative male, usually castrated, and often castrated before puberty. This means they typically did not experience puberty with the rush of testosterone bringing about the lowering of the voice, the development of body hair, facial hair, muscles, and over time, a prominent brow. They looked and sounded different from the men and women around them. They would have stood out in Persia. In some places of the ancient world others considered them, and perhaps they considered themselves, another sex or a third gender. In the olden times there were men, women, and eunuchs, not a simple binary. In scripture eunuchs pop up throughout the Hebrew Bible and make brief but important appearances in the Christian Bible.

Most people in the ancient world likely did not willingly choose to become a eunuch, even if being one meant service in a royal court with access to powerful people and information. This is likely true for many of the eunuchs in Bible stories. Perhaps because of painful experiences in life, they empathize with “the other” alongside them in the text; they relate to the vulnerable. Jeremiah is rescued by Ebed Melech, an Ethiopian eunuch (Jeremiah 38.) Daniel, like Esther is parented and trained by a royal eunuch, Ashpenaz. Some scholars say there is evidence that Daniel and his friends serve as eunuchs in the Babylonian court. These are a handful of the dozens of eunuchs in the Bible.

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But back to Esther. I recently heard a sermon at an LGBTQ religious gathering where the minister spoke about Esther, who “for such a time as this” is made queen of Persia so that she can save her people against the evil plot of the very evil Haman. It is a good story, and we can make lots of modern applications for how we too can take a stand today and put our lives on the line for justice. It is also a story about a woman with power (even if it is limited power that comes with great risks) within ancient texts where women typically do not have much power. BUT (yes I have a big BUT) once again, in a queer-friendly sermon, the gender variant, sexual minorities in the text were completely overlooked, much like they are in our modern society and our LGBTQ-friendly religious spaces.

Yes, Esther saves the people by appearing before the king pleading her case, but without the eunuchs she would have been far from the court, an unknown orphaned Jewish young woman. Even in the palace she cannot speak directly with her kinsman, Mordecai, who urges her to act. She needs eunuchs to ferry messages back and forth, to set up the lunches for the king, to help her save her people.

In queering a text, one of the first steps may simply be to acknowledge those individuals already in that text who are presented as sexual minorities. It is not terribly radical actually, but it can go a long way to open up a discussion about otherness in the Bible and the essential roles that non-gender normative people play in it and in the world today. If you see yourself as an LGBTQ ally, the next time you talk give a sermon or perform a skit about the Book of Esther, go out of your way to include the eunuchs. Do not overlook the gender-variant, sexual minorities all over the page.

Special thanks to Janet Everhart and her excellent dissertation, The Hidden Eunuchs of the Hebrew Bible–Uncovering an Alternative Gender
and to Jane Brazell for her editorial help, inspiration, and feedback.

Check out the other synchroblog entries:
Queering Our Reading of the Bible by Chris Henrichsen

Queer Creation in art: Who says God didn’t create Adam and Steve? by Kittrdge Cherry

Of The Creation of Identity (Also the Creation of Religion) by Colin & Terri

God, the Garden, & Gays: Homosexuality in Genesis by Brian G. Murphy, for Queer Theology

Created Queerly–Living My Truth by Casey O’Leary

Creating Theology by Fr. Shannon Kearns

Initiation by Blessed Harlot

B’reishit: The Divine Act of Self-Creation by Emily

Queer Creation: Queering the Image of God by Alan Hooker

Queer Creation by Ric Stott

Eunuch-Inclusive Esther–Queer Theology 101 by Peterson Toscano

Valley of Dry Bones by Jane Brazelle

Queer Creation: Queer Angel by Tony Street

The Great Welcoming by Anna Spencer

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Scholars long believed that there was once a Gospel attributed to Lebbaeus, “a friend” of the Apostle Thaddeus (aka Jude or Judas NOT Iscariot, or just “The Snarky One”) but scholars could never prove its existence. From the few First and Second Century references we have to this gospel, scholars have long assumed that Thaddeus himself wrote the text. Therefore, scholars dubbed it The Lost Gospel of Thaddeus.

Legend has it that St. Paul, after a major falling out with Thaddeus over a seating chart at the Pristine Council of Corinth, banned Thaddeus’ gospel and commanded that all copies be destroyed. While on a recent trip to Malta I met with a Roman Catholic dissident, (who goes by the code name Vashti,) and learned that deep in a Jesuit vault the Church has hidden a torn parchment of the lost gospel. Apparently St. Paul, shipwrecked on the island of Malta, had in his possession the only remaining copy. He ordered it destroyed, but his travel companion, Luke, also a gospel writer, asked their Maltese man servant to hide it away instead. For centuries the text has been well guarded, and with the help of Vashti (and a Vatican butler) I entered the vault and saw for myself this long lost gospel.

Sadly the parchment sustained much damage and whole sections are missing, but for the first time in nearly 2000 years, the Lost Gospel of Thaddeus has seen the light and is now available publicly. Special thanks to Bible interpreter, Jane Brazell, for all her contributions.

The Lost Gospel of Thaddeus

{Opening}
I, Lebbaeus, write to tell you about Thaddeus, a faithful companion and Apostle of Jesus, and to share Good News with those who have ears to hear. Truth be told Thaddeus could have done without some of the other Apostles especially…[missing fragment]

{Miracles & Encounters}
Early one day as they walked towards the market, a leper sat by the fig stall and called out to Jesus. But Thaddeus, heading towards the figs, protested, “Ugh, no Rabbi, just keep walking. He’s faking anyway.” Later that day Jesus stopped to help a man on the steps of the temple. Thaddeus groaned, “Not another leper…I mean, um, what a lovely tattered robe you have on.”

As they were deciding where to have their evening meal, a Roman centurion came to Jesus, and pleaded with the rabbi to heal his body servant. Thaddeus panicked, “Oh God, that’s the guy from the baths. Just act natural…”

One day as Jesus and the disciples went shopping for new tunics, they encountered a blind man begging alms. Jesus spat on the ground. Thaddeus protested, “Really teacher, I mean, I’m sure he’s faking like most of these other beggars, but you don’t have to be rude about it.” Jesus, ignoring Thaddeus, then bent down and made mud with his saliva and the dirt. He then smeared the muddy paste over the blind man’s eyes. “Ah, I see, giving him the holy spa treatment, are we?” Thaddeus remarked.

The next day Jesus sent the disciples out in pairs to do good works and to proclaim the message of the kingdom. That afternoon the disciples returned to Jesus having failed to help a demon possessed man. Jesus said unto them, “This kind only comes out with prayer AND fasting.” Thaddeus smiled, “Ahhh a holy and an effective weight loss plan. Very clever, Rabbi”

Then after this Jesus said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.” Thaddeus bellowed, “ But it’s the off season.” As they crossed the lake Thaddeus hoped, “Perhaps today will be a quiet day.” Immediately Jesus stepped out of the boat and walked on the water and headed towards the shore. Thaddeus sighed, “I guess not.” In the middle of the night a terrible storm broke out and rocked their boat. Even the seasoned fishermen among them despaired. In the midst of the storm Jesus came to them, walking on the water. Over the wind and the waves Thaddeus shouted out to him, “Rabbi, did you remember to bring the hummus???” Thaddeus then turned to the others, “You know the pita is going to be soggy. But it’s ok; I’ve really been overdoing it on the carbs lately.”

In the morning they went to the other side of the lake and Jasper, the synagogue ruler fell at Jesus’ feet and cried out, “My daughter is dying! Come, I beg you.” A mob formed around Jesus, Jasper, and the disciples. In the throng Jesus felt something and stopped. Looking around he asked, “ Who touched me?” Thaddeus started, “Who touched you? Like inappropriately? ? Must have been Bartholomew.” Jesus turned and shouted [missing fragment]

… Jesus raised the girl from the dead and said to her parents, “Give her something to eat.” Thaddeus pondered these words concluding, “The food in the afterlife? Not so good.” Jesus turned to them, “Do not tell anyone what happened here.” Thaddeus responded, “Now you may get away with lepers and blind beggars, but raising little girls from the dead? There’s bound to be a leak.”

Lazarus, a friend of Jesus, after a sudden illness, died and had already been in the tomb for four days when Jesus arrived and saw the family mourning. Jesus wept. Thaddeus pulled out a linen handkerchief and whispered, “Rabbi, your nose is drippy. Here. It’s ok, you can just keep it. No really, keep it.” Jesus shouted, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man said, “But rabbi its’ been four days; by this time he stinketh.” Thaddeus snorted. They took away the stone, and in a loud voice Jesus shouted, “Lazarus, Come Out!” Thaddeus mumbled, “Or not.” Wrapped completely in grave clothes from head to toe Lazarus exited the tomb. Thaddeus threw up his hands, “First women, then lepers, and now zombies! What next?” Jesus instructed Simon Peter and the others, “Take off his grave clothes and let him go!” Thaddeus, despairing, sighed, “Shame, these clumsy fishermen are going to ruin that nice linen.”

The next day after they returned from the market, they found Jesus alone with a woman at the well. Thaddeus grumbled, “Humph! Quiet time praying, my foot! He’s a total player.” The disciples approached Jesus and the lone women. Thaddeus turned up his nose, “Good God, who designed her sandals, the Maccabees??”

As they entered the town a demon possessed man rushed down from the tombs towards Jesus. Thaddeus, startled, turned to Thomas and shrieked, “Yikes! Bad hair day ahead.” Jesus asked the man, “What is your name?” He replied, “Legion, for we are many.” Thaddeus, bored with this exchange, looked around for a food stall then noticed a herd of pigs grazing contently on a nearby hillside and cooed, “Awwwww, look Jesus, they got babies!” Immediately Jesus began commanding the demons out of the man. He told them to leave and instead go into the herd of pigs. Thaddeus despaired moaned, “Oh just great! Now they’’re gonna think he’s some kind of anti-pork Jewish sorcerer.” With a loud cry the demons left the man and entered pigs. Thaddeus wondered aloud, “Um, consent?” No longer possessed , the man begged to follow Jesus. Thaddeus blurted out. “Hell No! We already have a boat load of dysfunction here.”

{Some Teachings of Jesus}
Jesus sat on a big stone and the crowds gathered around him and he taught them while the disciples observed from the side and commented. Jesus said unto them, “Let the little children come unto me.” Thaddeus inserted, “Let them wash their dirty, sticky fingers first.”

Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Thaddeus turned to James, the brother of John, “Wait, love others exactly as I love myself? Oh no, I wouldn’t inflict that torture on my worst enemy.”

Jesus said, “The Kingdom of God is like a widow searching for a coin….” Thaddeus interrupted, “Wait! Yesterday you said the Kingdom was like yeast. Before that you said it was like ten virgins. Now an old woman??”

Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor…” Thaddeus whispered to John, “We might have to tweak that one a bit. Spiritualize it a little to take out the sting. How about, ‘Blessed are the poor in fashion, blah, blah, blah,’ He can fill in the rest.”

Jesus said, “You must be born again to enter the kingdom.” Thaddeus asked James, “Like physically? It’s got to be a metaphor, right? Oh God please!”

Jesus said, “Follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Thaddeus mused aloud, “Hmmm, I hope that one’s not a metaphor. Um, I mean, because I want to spread Good News, of course.”
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Thaddeus turned to Judas Iscariot, their treasurer, and asked “So then can we charge?”

Jesus said, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor.” Thaddeus reasoned, “Yes, sounds great, but, then the poor will be imperfect.”

[missing fragment] (Jesus said) “…In that final day of Judgment I will say unto you depart from me, I never knew you!” Thaddeus replied, “But rabbi when did you ask for hummus and I ate it, and gave you day-old baba ganoush instead?” [missing fragment]

Later that evening they arrived at the home of Lazarus and his sisters Martha and Mary. While Martha prepared the evening meal, Mary sat at Jesus’ feet with the disciples. Martha complained, “Rabbi, tell my sister to help me with the women’s work.” Jesus replied, “Leave Mary alone, she has chosen what is right for her.” Thaddeus said, “Rabbi, I’ll help Martha with the meal. I don’t mind.” As Thaddeus and Martha served the food, Thaddeus turned to Jesus, “Teacher, I know you let women come near and are all over the lepers, but I’ve been wondering about eunuchs. I mean some of my best friends are eunuchs, and some of the other disciples here are, well, not eunuch-friendly. You may just want to drop a word or two about eunuchs at some point. Simon, I mean, Peter, pass the tabouli.”

{The Last Days}
Jesus rode into town on a donkey. As the crowd cheered, Thaddeus fretted, “Weren’t we suppose to get a permit for all this?” The crowd shouted “Hosanna!” as Jesus glided by on the donkey. Thaddeus spotted someone he knew from Yeshiva, and standing behind Jesus, Thaddeus waved proudly making sure that he was seen, then immediately he stepped in fresh donkey droppings.

Later that night in the olive grove Jesus was transfigured before them and his face did shine as the sun. Thaddeus fell to the ground. “Stop! I look dreadful in holy light!”

As the Passover celebrations began, Jesus took the bread and broke it. Thaddeus, the Apostle, bit his tongue. “Sure, pure heart, but dirty hands.” Jesus said, “Take, eat this is my body broken for you.” Thaddeus wondered, “Now that one’s a metaphor, right?” Then Thaddeus interrupted, “Teacher, may I suggest, ‘Take, snack, this is my body, blah, blah, blah.’ Sounds friendlier.” Jesus rolled his eyes. At that very moment when Jesus and Judas Iscariot dipped their bread in wine together, Thaddeus looked down, “Seriously, Judas has some beautiful fingers. So delicate. Next to his, my fingers look so fat and dumpy.”
[missing fragment]

As they watched Jesus ride away on a camel toward Egypt, Peter, who was also called Simon, asked Thaddeus, “Hey, Judas, I noticed you’re calling yourself, Thaddeus these days, hey? Trying to distance yourself from the whole Judas Iscariot mess? Don’t worry, I predict you will be forgotten. Just saying.” Thaddeus approached Peter and slapped him on his right cheek, and said, “Simon, according to the teachings of our Rabbi Jesus, you are now supposed to let me slap your left cheek, and then you need to forgive me. Just saying.” Peter wept.

[End of Manuscript]

Want more? Listen to Zack Ford and Peterson Toscano read from and discuss the Lost Gospel of Thomas over at Queer and Queerer podcast. (Now available on Stitcher Radio as well as iTunes)

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The above satire, written by Peterson Toscano, is brought to you as part of the Queer Theology Synchroblog 2012
The theme for this year is “The Queer God”.

The Anarchist Reverend shares his thoughts on the Queer Christ over on the Camp Osiris blog.

Shirley-Anne McMillan writes about Mother Christ. (With Audio!)

Adam Rao shares why he is not participating in today’s synchroblog.

Kaya Oakes writes about God, the Father/Mother.

Brian Gerald Murphy talks about A God Bigger Than Boxes.

Clattering Bones writes about The Queer God.

Daniel Storrs-Kostakis writes writes about An Icon of God.

Jack Springald writes about Avalokitesvara and queering gender.

Amaryah Shaye Armstrong writes about Inclusion and the Rhetoric of Seduction.

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Recently I received an email from a student at a major divinity school asking the following question,

I would like to do a queer reading of the fourth gospel (John). As the foremost – that is, only – person I know of who works extensively with gender non-conformity in Biblical texts, I was wondering if there were any resources for this that you were aware of that I shouldn’t miss. Articles, books, etc.

I have to admit that John is my least favorite of the Gospels. I prefer the action and starkness of Mark’s gospel. Perhaps that is because I am an actor and have much more action to play with. John’s gospel is wordy, lots of teachings and lessons that appear no where else in the other gospels. Also, the resurrection gets so campy and divine compared to the chaos of Mark. I prefer chaos.

In my play, Transfigurations–Transgressing Gender in the Bible, I reference Thomas’ Gospel.
<Simon Peter said, 'Make Mary leave us because women are not worthy of life.' Jesus said, "Look I shall take Mary and make her male, so that she too may be a living spirit.

Simon Peter said, ‘Make Mary leave us because women are not worthy of life.’ Jesus said, “Look I shall take Mary and make her male, so that she too may be a living spirit.

Now likely this closing statement was a tag on used as a swipe to women with too much power in the church, particularly the camp of Mary Magdalene. I instead use it as a transgender narrative saying perhaps that this Mary would feel more alive living as male. I then reference Luke and John’s Gospel, and the stories of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.

I love how in Luke’s Gospel the character Mary takes the role of a male disciple, learning at Jesus’ feet and affirmed by Jesus for doing so. I think there is something there in that narrative and the resurrection of Lazarus in John (especially when looking at the Secret gospel of Mark) A Very queer family. Martha is the take charge head of the family not afraid to confront Jesus, standing up to the rabbi. Lazarus, the young man who Jesus loves enough to bring back to life. And Mary who perhaps would be happier as male. These are just a few of my thoughts about these characters. See John Henson’s book, The Gay Disciple for more.

Sadly there are not a lot of resources out there yet about gender transgressors in the Bible. It is a growing field. For too long It’s all been about gay defensive theology and somewhat dodgy speculative queer theology about who might be gay in the Bible. I like to look at stories where we have more to go on–gender transgression in particular.

If you look at the recent anthology, Gender Outlaws, The Next Generation (edited by Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman) I have a piece called Transgressing Gender at Passover. It is a midras about the “man with the pitcher of water” who appears in Mark and Luke (and as a certain man in Matthew’s Gospel.) I also blend this narrative with that of a woman who transition from male but hadn’t seen her family for a long time and decided to come out to them as a woman at Thanksgiving dinner. She said she cleared that room. Men carrying water in gospel times was a rare gender (and class) transgressive act. Only women, children, and slaves carried water. The gospel account refers specifically to a man carrying a pitcher of water. We do not know why, but when they needed a room, they turned to a gender non-conformist for help. John’s gospel of course does not have this story. I see it more as propaganda ladden fan fiction than a proper gospel. (again I don’t like John lol)

No doubt, John is beautiful. The sweeping teachings and metaphors, but it is such a disembodied text. It is concerned with so many spiritual matters that it ends up ignoring the body. I like Gospel stories that get us right in the mess of human bodies. Example: Mark chapter five. I love that passage–so much human body action in it with Jesus being pulled and tugged by nameless people and their needs and desires.

Another great resource to consider is The Anarchist Reverend. He is a queer trans* theologian who writes about many of these issues.

Also, check out The Queer Bible Commentary edited by Deryn Guest and others. And if you are in Chicago on November 18, check out my presentation at the Society for Biblical Literature Conference when my scholarship will be peer reviewed (terrifying!) Here is my schedule with the details.

Good luck on your presentation!

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Since finally coming out gay in my early 30’s (after 17 years of self-imposed therapies to de-gay myself) I was never that keen on finding a partner. Sure I dated, and I met some great guys, but first off I knew I had a ton of gunk to work through. One cannot go to war against one’s sexuality and personality the way I did without needing serious recovery. The Ex-Gay Movement with all the faulty oppressive teaching  “ministers” and “therapists” served up with a warm loving touch did a number on me. Honestly I never thought I could ever be partner material.

Although “change” was not possible (as the ex-gays vaguely promised) recovery has been. Not that I have everything sorted out. Sadly I believe I will live with some of the negative effects of ex-gay treatment for the rest of my life. But not only does life go on for me, I have been able to reclaim much of my life, my art, my hope, and my sanity. With a handful of thoughtful, faithful, loving friends, I was prepared and content to live single the rest of my life.

In regards to romance and partnership, I hate it when people say things like, “Once you stop looking, that’s when you will find love.” Perhaps anecdotal evidence supports this claim, and unfortunately my own romantic situation plops me into the data pool of those who found love when not looking. Surely most people who find a partner have been looking for said partner. These folks don’t just drop out of the sky.

Glen Retief in Lesotho

Still, my partner did, in a matter of speaking, dropped from the sky. In 2008 I attended the Friends General Conference, an annual gathering of North American Quakers. We met that year on a college campus in Johnston, PA, and I roomed with my conference buddy, Dennis, a 65 year old+ scientist and dancer from Denver.   We roomed in a wing of the dorm where many of the LGBTQ folks clustered (you get to request what cluster you prefer when you register.) The dorm rooms were such that two rooms shared a bathroom. When I heard someone on the other side of the two bathroom walls, I thought that we should meet and devise a protocol so that we do not inadvertently barge in on each other.

Just as I cracked open my bathroom door, the stranger in the next room burst in. Tall, gorgeous, and wearing only his underwear, he practically ran into me. I quickly explained, “Um, yeah, so, like, I guess we share a bathroom, so maybe we need to knock or do something before we enter.” Although he was the near naked one, he did not seem flustered one bit. “Yes, I did not realize.” he said with a lilting foreign-accent that sounded a mash-up of British and German. “My name is Glen.”

And that dear friends, is how I met my partner–in the bathroom at a religious conference. Glen, Dennis, and I spent much of the week together going to meals, talks, and Quaker worship. I was a bit harried as I co-led a daily workshop for teens and was scheduled to offer a plenary address to the 1000+ Quakers at the end of the weekend. Glen told me months later that at the time he did not know if Dennis and I were just friends or something more, and he hoped I was available.

I struggled with a sore throat the whole week. I obsessed so much that I would not be able to speak by the time I did my presentation, The Re-Education of George W. Bush, that I paid little attention to Glen. He did catch my attention after one of the plenary addresses when he expressed his strong, thoughtful opinion contrary to my own about something the speaker said. I found this to be extremely alluring. At one point he told me that he was a writer, and inwardly I remarked, “Yeah, right, everyone is a writer these days.”

He saw my play and although he did not say so at the time, he was struck by my ability as an artist–not just another pretty face 😛 He then emailed me a chapter of a book he had begun, something about growing up in South Africa which I promised to read when I had some quiet time away from all the wild Quakers with all their many activities. Then we abruptly parted ways. He left a little early because he was concerned for the welfare of his cats, and I hurried back to Hartford to catch a  plane to London to speak at the Lambeth Conference.

I meet so many people. I like many of them and stay in touch, but I felt something different about Glen, and found myself thinking of him and speaking about him to friends in the UK. “I met this really nice guy…but I’m sure it is nothing.” Then on a train going up North to visit friends in Wakefield I cracked open the email that held the attachment of Glen’s memoir excerpt. The prose was gorgeous. The story deeply moving. I concluded, “He really is a writer–not just another pretty face.”

And as they say, the rest is history. Of course we took other steps to get to know each other before we literally fell in love while hiking in the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon. We also each found the other to be freakishly compatible. We are both odd ducks in our own ways, and to find another that fits so well, is well, nothing short of miraculous–a statistical improbability. We compliment each other in multiple ways. We enjoy ourselves together immensely and we help each other to become better artists and better people. We intellectually spar, we comfort each other, we cook for each other, look out for each other, we partner in every aspect of our lives–personally, professionally, spiritually, domestically.

Glen Retief and Peterson Toscano

Next month in Washington, DC we will appeared together to present our work. Glen will read from his memoir, The Jack Bank, and I will perform scenes from my plays, I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window and Transfigurations (a play about transgender Bible characters.”

Glen and I often quote a favorite passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, a text used in many wedding ceremonies. It can easily apply to all sorts of couples, but the text appears to be speaking directly about two males (at least in the English translations I have read. I will have to check in on the Hebrew one of these days.)

Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

—————————————————————–

Wanna check us out?

Tuesday, April 26, 11:00 AM Radio Interview with Glen about his book. WVIA’s ArtScene with Erica Funke

Wednesday, April 27, 7:30 PM Reading and book signing, The Jack Bank, at Susquehanna University

Saturday, April 30, 7:00 PM Reading and book signing, The Jack Bank, at Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg, PA

Friday, Saturday May 7 and 8 Peterson will perform I Can See Sarah Palin from my Window and Transfigurations in Oslo, Norway.

Wednesday, May 25, 7:00 PM Quaker and Public Witness, a joint presentation by Peterson Toscano & Glen Retief, at the William Penn House, Washington, DC

Thursday, May 26, 700 PM An evening with Glen Retief and Susi Wyss, Atomic Books, Baltimore, MD

Friday, Saturday June 24, 25 Reading by Glen Retief, performance by Peterson Toscano at Wild Goose Festival, Shakori Hills NC

Glen will also read at the Friends General Conference and Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (details to be announced)

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Sunbury, PA (photo credit John Schwenkler)

As the wind began to whip the still tightly closed tree buds and newly blossomed dandelions, my friend Quintin and I walked up Market Street in the idyllic (and rough around the edges) Pennsylvania farming town of Sunbury where we both live.

The broad boulevard has a long narrow park in the center flanked by a cast iron fountain on one end and a Civil War canon the size of an SUV at the other. Recently renovated, the park planners caused an on-going controversy when they relocated the canon to its present position. The unintended consequence of this move manifested itself near Christmas time when they planted Santa’s Shack where it has always been on Third Street sandwiched between the east side of the park and the railroad tracks that cuts directly across town. In so doing they inadvertently aimed the canon directly on Santa as he sat in his big chair fielding requests from Sunburian children.

Right after we crossed the railroad tracks past the recently built and more recently vacated Social Security office, two young white men nearly crashed into us as we rounded the corner. In their late twenties, with an odd mix of scruffy and clean-cut looks with their facial scrub and button-down shirts and what looked like homemade haircuts, they each clung to well-worn black Bibles. Quintin and I gave the traditional Sunburian male greeting–a nod accompanied with a grunted “Good evening.” One of the two men replied, “Would you like to spend eternity with Jesus Christ?” He spoke with an accent common among the Amish Mennonite who populate much of the Central PA rural communities and speak a German dialect commonly called Pennsylvania Dutch.

They did not dress in traditional Amish Mennonite clothing–suspenders and hats, but I have learned that our area contains many different types of Mennonites each with their own rules, customs, and dress codes. English was most likely not the man’s first language, and as he spoke, I was not sure if his embarrassed-sounding, stilted delivery arose from speaking English as a second language or the nature of the question tossed at strangers on the street.

I smiled, “Already taken care of. I became born-again years ago at the age of 17.” Both men smiled back. Quintin looked like he wanted to flee the scene, perhaps worried about what I, his unpredictable performance activist friend newly relocated to the Conservative Susquehanna Valley, might do next. The same man spoke again, “Jesus is coming back very soon.” I found this curious since recently an older gentleman, replete with a long white prophetic looking beard, appeared at Pennsdale Quaker meeting two weeks ago and to those of us silently assembled proclaimed the same Adventist message with the added exhortation that we should get ready. Coincidence? Or is the Second Coming of Jesus trending among white rural religious folks who are suddenly propelled out of their comfort zones into the broader world to warn us all?

Since I speak Evangelical as a second language, I replied, “No man knows the day or the hour. According to scripture he can come back today, next month, or in another two thousand years.” This Biblical response seemed to surprise and please the two street evangelists as evidenced by their broad smiles. They then looked confused about what to do next. Likely they journeyed to Sunbury with its many bars and rough town folk  on the prowl for lost hungry souls. Instead they encountered someone unashamed to say he already shacked up with Jesus decades ago.

To lubricate the conversation, I then slipped into the social banter I mastered when I lived in Memphis, TN where they truly have a church on every corner–in fact some churches take up whole city blocks. “So, what church are you from?”

This question confused the men some more. Perhaps it was my accent–strangely foreign round these parts, or that in their pre-sinner safari preparations they did not rehearse this question. The man doing all the talking fumbled a bit, “We go to one over there,” vaguely pointing towards the river, “a church in Milton,” a smaller town about 15 miles away. “I guess you would say it is a Mennonite one.”

3rd St Tracks (photo credit John Schwenkler)

Unlike many folks I encounter cruising the streets for prodigals, these two Christians did not engage in the typical guerrilla church marketing campaign. They did not seem at all interested in luring prospects into their church to fill the pews. Unlike the church growth methods preached bymissiology guru, Ed Stetzer, these men did not extol the wonders of their congregation, their vibrant youth program, the Family Life Center replete with Olympic-size swimming pool, and the award winning programs for all ages.  They simply canvased our town in order to share Bad News (the scary announcement of End Times) and what some would consider Good News (You can have a friend in Jesus.)

I do not know what would have happened if I had  informed these street ministers that I am happily partnered with a man I hope to marry one day, and that as a Christian who is also gay, I have found comfort in transgender Bible stories.  Based on my experiences with Conservative Christianity, they would likely have interrupted these revelations as obvious, flamboyant signs of the rapidly advancing wicked Last Days. Or perhaps they would have surprised me with sincere questions instead of knee-jerk condemnations.  I do not know because I chose instead to wish them a good night and then carried on towards the local Chinese Buffet with Quintin.

Maybe they will return to Sunbury, and we will continue our conversation. They have good news. I have good news. We are both in search of a prospect, a hungry, open soul ready to hear a life-changing message. The passion  to plant our seeds in fertile, well-tilled soil drives us each out of our homes into the highways and the byways, onto Market Street and beyond.

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A few years ago I began text messaging a select group of friends with random “Jesus Loves You!” messages. These were short reflections, some silly, some serious, about Jesus, what we have been told about him, the Christ that he has become, and the swirl of pop culture that has celebrated and commented on  Jesus for centuries.

I never told these friends what I was doing; they just started getting these random messages. I saw the project more as art than ministry although people said they found the “Jesus Loves You!” messages to be thought-provoking and even inspirational.

On May 25, soon after I arrived in the England for what would be a six week tour that included Northern Ireland, Wales and Sweden, I began a series of Twitter messages that began “Jesus Loves You!” My hope was to do one a day for 31 days, and I did it! My Twitter is attached to my Facebook status and to this blog, so LOTS of people got to see the updates and especially over on Facebook many people commented adding their thoughts. (You view my Twitter page here and find my Facebook here.)

Everyone seems to have their own favorite (please be sure to share yours in the comment section) and often people said things like, “I really like these, but I don’t get some of them.” Others would confess, “I have no idea what this is about.”

I tried to come up with statements with multiple or ambiguous meanings (or both). I drew on theology, church history, pop culture, advertising, my own personal religious history (yes, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit and spoke in tongues), gender studies, and word play. Much like the parables of Jesus where the listener must tease out the meaning for herself/himself, I attempted to create statements that meant different things for different people. Perhaps this comes from my experience among Friends (Quakers) where we so value the questions, the ambiguities and the many sides of a story.

So as promised, here is the series, “Jesus Loves You…”

  • Jesus loves you. But he has a messiah complex.
  • Jesus loves you, but then again he is under contract.
  • Jesus loves you! But he is high maintenance.
  • Jesus loves you! But it’s complicated.
  • Jesus Loves You! Apparently it runs in the family.
  • Jesus loves you! But he seriously needs to update his status.
  • Jesus Loves You! But I hear he’s polyamorous.
  • Jesus Loves You! But does he LIKE you???
  • Jesus Loves You! But he ADORES Madonna!!
  • Jesus Loves You! Take note: Exchange of body fluids may apply.
  • Jesus Loves You! But his handlers can be quite difficult.
  • Jesus Loves You! But I hear he’s clingy.
  • Jesus Loves You! Now in new Rainbow Flavors!
  • Jesus Loves You! But he may be missing a Y chromosome
  • Jesus Loves You! I hear he is sick and in prison.
  • Jesus loves you! With tongues?!?
  • Jesus Loves You! And with your tax-deductible seed gift…
  • Jesus Loves You! for a limited time only; while supplies last.
  • Jesus Loves You! But I’ve heard rumors…
  • Jesus Loves You! Or it might just be gas.
  • Jesus Loves You! He doesn’t mind the scars one bit.
  • Jesus Loves You! but he was caught up in that whole prisoner abuse scandal.
  • Jesus Loves You! He’s the Real Thing™ Now w/ convenient eco-friendly Emergent Church® twist-off cap.
  • Jesus Loves You! But he may be a little too old for you.
  • Jesus Loves You! For the Bible tells him to.
  • Jesus Loves You! But he does play favorites.
  • Jesus Loves You! Act now & we will automatically enroll you in Spiritual Fruit of the Month Club. Collect them all! Operators standing by.
  • Jesus Loves You! Just be aware that he has enjoyed the services of at least one sex worker.
  • Jesus Loves You! Shocking new book for children banned in 12 states — “Jesus has Two Daddies, One mommy and an Invisible Friend!”
  • Jesus Loves You! Now Healthy Choice Jesus–sugar-free, low-carb, and no trans-fats. New formula–same savior taste!
  • Jesus Loves You! Now What???

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