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By E. Hughes
July 14, 2017
I image God stepping from the clouds into the narrow and green man-made pond. The evening is sweet. Neither cold nor hot. Perfect. I image the ducks on the pond flying away into an orange and blue sky, as a giant foot (hair and all) presses down toward earth. In a clearing before the pond, Paul Lisicky reads surrounded by mature pines and oaks about his experiences as a queer man, about conservative Christianity, about his father. The sun is beginning to set and a group of sparrows leap from the surrounding trees into sky. I wonder if these birds are a sign.
I hope that they are. Two days ago, Eugene Peterson confessed that he would perform same-sex marriages. This news came just two weeks after the end of pride month: a month during which I watched Facebook friends post about the dangers of HIV, how this deadly disease is a judgement of God (Lisicky reads about his experiences during the 90’s in Provincetown, a community for humans living and dying of HIV). A month during which I watched other friends wave rainbow flags (God’s binding promise to never flood the earth again) and kiss loved ones. Just two weeks after pride month, LGBTQ, Christian-identifying humans were waving the promises of God high, were breathing a sigh of relief, a burden cast off in the name of Jesus.
The stage lights are on now. I stare closely at gnats swarming each warm beam. Lisicky continues on slowly yet clearly about watching his father kneeling, praying on the hardwood floors of a Catholic church. I consider Abraham on the hard ground of his tent, laying with Hagar. Their brown bodies trying to make their own light in their doubt. And single Apostle Paul telling the Corinthians that it is better not to marry and that women should wear head coverings.
Yesterday, Peterson recanted his pledge to marry same-sex couples. Just hours after Life Way Books threatened to tear the volumes of one of contemporary Christianity’s most decorated theologians from their shelves (Life Way, the same company that censures albums that reference the clinical term ‘penis’). This mostly white and conservative company forced the translator of The Message Bible (the only contemporary bible to forsake the term “homosexuality”) to come back on the record: “To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything,” he said.
I lift my foot to meet the splintery bench in front of me, watching closely Lisicky’s mouth roll over each word, thinking of yesterday—“To clarify, I affirm a biblical view of marriage: one man to one woman. I affirm a biblical view of everything,” Peterson said. Then there is Jesus.
Not stepping in the pond with a giant, hairy foot, but sitting next to me. Now watching with me a lesbian couple sit closely, rubbing their thumbs against the curve of the shoulder, against the curve of the knee. He touches the curve of my shoulder. He whispers to me Peter.
I see the sky open up, a blanket of unclean food descending before the stubborn and insecure Apostle. “Oh, no, Lord. I’ve never so much as tasted food that was not kosher,” Peter says. The Lord’s response: “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”
There’s a lull in Lisicky’s voice. Then an amphitheater of people whistling and clapping. I see face I know in this crowd: The faces of my LGBTQ-identifying friends enrolled in seminary who cannot claim their partners publically. And the woman who was (before they knew she was a lesbian) admitted into an MFT program then soon was denied access after they learned of her marriage to a woman. And every LGBTQ student at small conservative colleges threatened with expulsion if they happen to fall in love.
Lisicky walks from the podium under a blanket of stars. And I see Apostle Peter standing perplexed at the front of the theater. A loud cry. It’s Cornelius from the back of the theater: “Four days ago at about this time, I was home praying. Suddenly there was a man right in front of me, flooding the room with light.”
Peter stares at Jesus sitting next to me and screams: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.”
The night opens up: Rainbows. And the amphitheater full of people throw their heads back, clacking their tongues.
Erica Hughes teaches and is working on an MFA in creative writing and poetry at California State University, Fresno.
Speaking in Tongues, 2014, Paul Benney, used by courtesy of the artist.
The Burning, 2012, Paul Benney, used by courtesy of the artist