The Virtuousness of Playfulness

A couple years ago when I began winding down my involvement in Tipple Tuesday (the monthly underground cocktail club I founded in Salem in 2013), I started winding up my search for new models of gathering.

And, as is so often the case, inspiration came from The New Yorker. Specifically a Talk of the Town piece titled “Benjamin Franklin Invented the Chat Room.”

Unbeknownst to me, Franklin had started a conversation club at his local ale house to chat through the thirteen virtues he’d identified as being essential to the development of one’s self and by extension our nascent nation and that even today the 92nd Street Y was facilitating a global network of Ben Franklin Circles, keeping the tradition alive.

And that all seemed very much in line with the transition I was looking to make from cultivating a monthly soiree dedicated to art, surprise, and ephemeral connection to one rooted in conversation, intellectual reasoning, and big ideas with practical applications.

And so, I put Salem on the Ben-Franklin-Circle map. By design and default our monthly gatherings at a local ale house were smaller and more intimate, with more structure and content and follow-through and homework.

From the beginning, I committed to slogging through all thirteen virtues from temperance to humility including chastity, justice, and silence, regardless of what may be. . . But, I was adamant that once we reached the end I was out! The community could continue on in whatever ways made sense to the collective, but under no circumstance could the collective continue to count on me for the same level of personal investment in leadership and stewardship.

Mercifully, that hard line proved easier to maintain than I had first imagined as I was able to announce at our final, wrapping-up, What-Is-A-Virtue? Meeting that I was decamping for the West Coast to launch Abrahamic House. And, helpfully, the wheels for Round 2 had already been set in motion.

At the end of each meeting, in addition to asking what projects folks were working on and how we could help, we talked about what a second round of virtues (sans moi) might look like. We could go in reverse order? Or (my personal favorite) pair each virtue with a vice to really draw out the internal tensions these kinds of virtuous discussions often misconstrue.

In the end, the collective decided to vote in an entirely new slate of virtues. Franklin’s weren’t off the table, but we wanted to dig in not just to what we personally or culturally might think is virtuous but to look at virtures that might give rise to the juiciest conversations. And very importantly, “if you propose it, you facilitate it.”

I was many time zones away for that inaugural voting meeting and we were all on the cusp of pandemic living, but I did get the results and will admit to being pretty surprised. . . Playfulness as a virtue? I guess there are consequences to relinquishing authority.

By the time it was time to discuss Playfulness it was clear that it would be impossible for the Circle to gather in the ale house as it always had, and so the conversation moved online and I was able to join from afar and in a new capacity.

To be free to participate in a conversation you have previously always borne the burden of facilitating is a great gift.

And what a fun and surprising conversation about Playfulness we had! The roles collaboration, consent, and creation play. Why does playfulness seem easier (or at least more appropriate) for children than adults? Was Franklin playful? Can you take playfulness too far or is that just something else: competition, abuse, irresponsibility. Is playfulness an exercise in escape or presence?

Juicy indeed. . .

And next up’s Bravery for any who might be game to play?

Creativity Under Constraint

Three weeks ago in Boston I got on a train headed to Los Angeles with the understanding that my life was about to change. Little did I realize the rest of the world was about to embark on its own journey of radical transformation, just a couple weeks later.

I’d long been imagining 2020 as a year of integration and renewal. Maybe I’d move to a red state? Or dedicate my life to building new forms of social infrastructure? The particular details were slow to come into focus, but I knew I had no choice but to act in response to the charged emotions I was experiencing in light of our dysfunctional public discourse and disgraceful political and moral leadership. This was no longer a time for moderation or patience. Like Martin Luther King Jr. writing from a Birmingham jail at another crisis moment in American history, I was being called to action some might consider “unwise and untimely.”

So, when I got the call to move across the country to establish the first ever national multi-faith incubator for social change, I thought, Perfect!

Almost as soon as we started to get ourselves settled in LA’s Koreatown news of the Coronavirus was ominous. As we drove to Santa Barbara for a weekend retreat, we talked of handwashing and diy anti-bacterial gel. As we calendared our first programs, we wondered whether we could in fact responsibly invite people into our new home next month. And as we shopped for emergency food and provisions amidst mandated “social distancing” and looming long-term quarantines, the central theme of Purim rang in my ears: “You have come to your position for such a time as this.”

I’ve long said creativity works best under constraint.

Our community, established less than a month ago with the explicit mission to bridge the social distance across religious and cultural difference, will likely not hold any in-person gatherings for months.  

So all is for naught? 

Au contraire.

All those events we planned next month to observe Passover and Easter and Ridvan and Ramadan: we’re still going to do them. We might be the only ones who physically attend but we hope to imagine new ways to share and activate those experiences for members of the community, near and far, who have to keep their physical distance.

And, now that everyone’s in the house all the time, we’ve started “Religion School:” a daily lesson about our respective faith traditions (We’ve already had one Zoom visitor, maybe others would like to join?)

A week or so ago I signed up for a three-month “Assembly” called “Queering Death” at a Downtown LA art space. I had no idea what any of that meant, but I thought it would be a good way to meet people, and I love using queer as a verb. Our first meeting was last night. It was virtual. And surreal.

When the 20 or so of us signed up to explore together end of life care and new ways to ritualize death, a reality of quarantines to protect from pandemic wasn’t on our radar. In this first meeting of strangers, it was front and center. How do you grieve a loved one if you can’t visit their deathbed or attend their funeral? And as the floating heads of friends-I-hadn’t-met-yet shared their anxieties and frustrations, one line of discussion struck me: a desire to zoom out.

Yes, the economy is tanking and most devastatingly this novel virus is spreading and killing, but when you took a walk today did you notice how fresh the air was? Have you been making more of an effort to check-in and connect? Have you been Cooking and Singing and Praying. . . Have you seen how clear the canals in Venice are!

Certainly a deadly pandemic is nothing to make light of, but in this unprecedented time of social and economic reordering, what will you and I create? More pollution and financial obligation and fear? Or something different. Something better.

You’ve probably already seen this widely circulating poem, but I think it’s perfect and want to share it again here.


What if you thought of it

as the Jews consider the Sabbath—

the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.

Cease from buying and selling.

Give up, just for now,

on trying to make the world

different than it is.

Sing. Pray. Touch only those

to whom you commit your life.

Center down.

And when your body has become still,

reach out with your heart.

Know that we are connected

in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives

are in one another’s hands.

(Surely, that has come clear.)

Do not reach out your hands.

Reach out your heart.

Reach out your words.

Reach out all the tendrils

of compassion that move, invisibly,

where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love–

for better or for worse,

in sickness and in health,

so long as we all shall live.

–Lynn Ungar 3/11/20

Passage to Shabbat

Judaism teaches us to be attached to holiness in time, to be attached to sacred events, to learn how to consecrate sanctuaries that emerge from the magnificent stream of a year. The Sabbaths are our great cathedrals; and our Holy of Holies is a shrine that neither the Romans nor the Germans were able to burn; a shrine that even apostasy cannot easily obliterate.

The meaning of the Sabbath is to celebrate time rather than space. Six days a week we live under the tyranny of things of space; on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. It is a day on which we are called upon to share in what is eternal in time, to turn from the results of creation to the mystery of creation, from the world of creation to the creation of the world.

The Sabbath, Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

I am not Jewish and am not planning to convert to Judaism. Nevertheless, as a Christian with ancestral roots in Eastern Europe, it’s increasingly difficult for me to ignore the links between my own identity and practice and that of the people of Israel.

While always mindful to try as best as I am able not to participate in the age-old anti-semitism that is endemic to Christianity, I have been seeking ways to animate Jewish practice in my own life and community, not to appropriate for a Christian cause but to celebrate as inherently valuable in its own right.

As a result, I’ve become a big fan of Shabbat.

Of course, I love that it’s essentially an excuse for a dinner party, one where the rabbis encourage us to drink plenty of wine and delight in tasty food.

But more than the roast chicken or freshly baked challah I appreciate the anticipation of Shabbat. Come Friday afternoon I start tying up loose ends, clearing the decks, winding down the week, and preparing to be free to enjoy what is, without concern for creating something else.

Several Friday afternoons ago, I had not made explicit plans for Shabbat or even a general Friday night out, but my slate was clean and I was feeling festive so I made my way to the lounge at the local Indian restaurant, which you might think of as a neighborhood watercooler or even our very own Miriam’s Well.

Sidled up to the bar, gin and tonic in hand, I greeted friends old and not-yet-met in what felt the most natural and appropriate way: “Shabbat Shalom.”

Being newly adjacent to the Hebrew people, I’m not always aware of how or even necessarily what I’m signalling, but now I do know wishing a largish group of strangers a good shabbos is a sure way to out the b’nai mitzvah and forge bonds of belonging.

As we talked about the very different ways we’d each come to Judaism and experienced it over the years, I was reminded of this delightful film of elderly Jews who celebrate Shabbat at Wendy’s.

And then, I thought, what if we did Shabbat here, at Passage to India?

The Jews of India have a long and fascinating story.

Naan is a perfect stand-in for hamotzi and and there’s plenty of wine to order.

I’d been using resources from One Table to teach myself the blessings, and felt reasonably comfortable in being able to keep us on track.

So we cleared our plan with the staff and wrote it in the books. Two weeks hence our rag-tag band of wandering souls would gather again at Passage for Shabbat.

Over those next two weeks I was mostly looking forward to what we’d dreamed up, until that morning when I read in the local newspaper of an act of anti-semitism in the next town over. It was nothing overtly violent, “just” slurs hurled at Jews doing nothing more than walking down the street being visibly Jewish, but it did rattle me.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how freedom of religion in the United States is different from freedom from religion (laicite) in France or especially and most complicatedly different from the kind of established or preferred religious expression as found in England, the Islamic State, or the imagination of many conservative American evangelicals.

And, I’ve certainly participated in my share of public religious expression, most of which I now mostly view as attempts to taunt officials and intimidate non-Christians (I’m thinking especially of events like “See You at the Pole.”

But this time the stakes were much simpler and starker.

We’d be publicly practicing a minority religion with an established history of being violently oppressed. We were well within our rights both constitutionally and institutionally, but was it unnecessarily risky? We weren’t exactly just going to quietly bow our heads and appear pious to the knowing for a few moments.

But we did it! And it was glorious, and we’re going to do it again. . . And I’d encourage you too to find yourselves some Jews and build together a sanctuary of time.

[A note to Christians, though: please don’t do this by yourselves, and definitely don’t do it with messianic intent.]

Express Yourself!

So enjoyed Express Yourself‘s 25th Anniversary Performance last week at Boston’s Boch Center-Wang Theatre. . . Blue Man Group, Stomp, Amanda Mena from America’s Got Talent, 300+ young people representing various programs of The Massachusetts Department of Mental Health and this extraordinary poem from poet Regie Gibson.

Emerson said (paraphrase): 
In a world bent on making you into someone else
the greatest accomplishment you can achieve is merely to be yourself.
Accept your bumps and bruises, lumps and contusions, 
fears and confusions, 
contradictions and complexities 
as all part of the art of your unique humanity.
Even though some of us in our smallness
may laugh at your all-ness— 
Try and make you feel stigmatized and bizarre— 
like you should apologize for being who you are…
Don’t be concerned—  Learn to stand firm! 
Don’t wreck yourself. 
Don’t let your self 
be made into a lesser self
Respect yourself!—then express yourself!
Say to the world: 
I will not be a book unopened.
I will not be a word unspoken.
You will not shatter me-
scatter me-
and leave me  broken—
even though I am scarred and scared
and far from being near 
the masterpiece I will one day be…
Just give me time.
I am fine.
This is me!

Dare to Dream: A brief history of Eurovision

My first memories of the Eurovision Song Contest come from 2005. . . In an empty bar in provincial Kalmar, Sweden, an immigrant proprietor keeps the lights on for two surprised and delighted Americans rooting for the dramatic Maltan despite the sexy Greek racking up votes. I don’t think I’d ever been so bewildered or charmed.

Note especially the dramatic bridge at about 2:20.

Helena Paparizou from Greece ended up winning.
Her performance still makes me very uncomfortable.

I didn’t pay much attention to Eurovision after that, though. Despite a global audience of some 200 million (compare to 100 million for the Super Bowl and 10 million for Game of Thrones), Americans are not free to watch. The official live stream is geo-blocked, and while for the past two years the US-based Logo network attempted a pitiful broadcast of the longest-running annual international television contest and one of the world’s longest-running television programs period, they did not renew their broadcast rights this year. [I watched Saturday’s final streaming the Swedish national broadcast which for some reason is not geo-blocked (Thank you Swedish tax payers!) and started watching consistently after meeting a Dutch super-fan a couple years ago.]

Why can’t Americans watch Eurovision? I think it has something to do with the American media landscape not having the capacity to make content available that is not explicitly a vehicle for advertising. But it’s probably just in keeping with the simple stereotype that Americans don’t care about anything other than themselves.

And there definitely is an argument that Eurovision is not by or for Americans (Ahem: Madonna, maybe you should have just stayed home this year.)

The Eurovision Song Contest was established in 1956 by the Swiss-based European Broadcast Union as an overt attempt to bring together post-war Europe through song.

Have you heard of ABBA or Celine Dion? They’re past winners (1974 and 1988 respectively).

Or maybe even Conchita Wurst and “Rise Like a Phoenix,” which became a sort of anthem for Trans inclusion?

And lest you think Wurst’s dramatic 2014 performance was ahead of the trans curve, note that in 1998 Dana International became the third Israeli and first trans person to win the european song competition, with “Diva.”

Yes, Israel competes (and hosted for the fourth time this year, since winningagain last year). Also, Australia, which is admittedly weird and confusing, until you start applying a liberal definition of “European” and then map that community to epicenters of queer culture (e.g. Sydney and Tel Aviv). Then it starts to make some sense.

I haven’t yet been to the Met’s Costume Institute’s exhibition, “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” but for me, Eurovision is the epitome of “Camp.” [See Susan Sontag’s “Notes on ‘Camp’” for a full explication.]

Indeed, despite unifying platitudes of love, love, peace, peace, etc. Eurovision is mostly a celebration of difference and diversity, not homogeneity and sameness.

Consider Finland’s winning entry from 2006, Hard Rock Hallelujah.

And, Portugal’s 2017 win, which took me a long to understand, but now I really like. (Can you imagine either of these appearing on American Idol, let alone winning?)

Check out this formula for winning Eurovision featuring 2015 winner Mans Zelmerlow and lots of cameos from past winners and contestants.

The politics of language at play are also fascinating. English is ostensibly the official language of Eurovision, though it’s clear not everyone speaks it well. Since the United States doesn’t participate, the UK consistently comes in last, and Australia’s presence is sweet, but kind of irrelevant. . . Why? French used to be the dominant language of the festival, and if there’s a second language of Eurovision, it’s definitely le francais. But, when did it change and why? And more importantly, why don’t more performers sing more of their songs in their native or even preferred languages? Sure, you want the melody to be singable, so just do that part in English. . . pourquoi pas?

By this point you might be shaking your head at all this Eurovision silliness, but Shayna Weiss, associate director of the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University, said it would be a mistake to underestimate Eurovision’s significance.

“Cynics criticize the festival as a cheesy competition with bad music and outrageous costumes and mock its naïve sentimentality,” Weiss wrote in the Jewish Review of Books. “But not taking Eurovision seriously or ignoring it altogether means ignoring the power of cultural politics and performance.”

A Passion for American Art

I’m on a second pass through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path To Higher Creativity . In addition to reading weekly essays, writing my three daily stream-of-consciousness “pages” (I don’t do mine in the morning) and taking my inner artist on a date each week, I’ve been tackling the series of tasks Cameron lays out for each phase of the Way. Some are easy and entertaining, like list five hobbies that sound fun, and some are not, like list five old enemies. There are also tasks that just feel stupid. Cameron encourages working especially on those.

For Week 5: Recovering a Sense of Possibility I was confronted with one of those “stupid” tasks: List ten items I would like to own that I don’t. I get that the goal is to articulate desire and differentiate preference. . . I like this and not that. . . In a sea of possibilities, these are the ones that speak to me particularly, and that’s then where I should focus time and energy digging deeper and going further. Nevertheless, my inner Judeo-Marxist who takes Jesus at his word to “consider the lilies,” recoils at the idea of celebrating the stockpiling of earthly treasure.

A hallmark of Cameron’s Way, is one’s increasing experience of “synchronicity.” The same effect has been given different names by many others: karma, faith, the Promise, fairy dust. . . Regardless, it’s hard to dispute the sort of cosmic science at work when the Universe always seems to manage to manifest the new tools I need, just when I need them. It’s practically Newtonian.

And so it goes, that the week I’m resisting writing about ten things I’d like to own, I get invited to the press preview of a major museum exhibition featuring 200 important, beautiful things one Marblehead couple chose to own.

Best known for heading Fidelity’s Magellan Fund, the best performing fund in the world, Peter Lynch and his wife Carolyn, through travel, exploration, and intellectual curiosity, amassed a broad ranging personal collection of American painting, furniture and decorative arts.

So, I’ll do the task, but in my own way. Rather than flipping through catalogs from Ikea or Sotheby’s and lusting after objects that would no doubt make life better if only I possessed them, I’ll identify ten objects I will never own, but that do spark joy from the exhibition catalog of A Passion for American Art: Selections from the Carolyn and Peter Lynch Collection at Salem’s Peabody Essex Museum through December 1, 2019.

  1. J.O.J. Frost, The March into Boston from Marblehead, April 16, 1861: There Shall be No More War, about 1925. Oil on fiberboard. Gift of Peter S. Lynch in memory of Carolyn A. Lynch. Photography by Kathy Tarantola/Peabody Essex Museum

2. John Singer Sargent, Olive Trees, Corfu, 1909. Oil on canvas. Collection of Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch. Photography by Bob Packert/Peabody Essex Museum.

3. Dale Chihuly, Aphrodite Blue Persian Set with Carnelian Lip Wraps, 2002. Molded and blown glass. Collection of Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Stephen Petegorsky.

4., 5., 6., 7., 8. View of Dining Area, Peter Lynch Boston House. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Stephen Petegorsky.

9. Otto Natlzer and Gertrud Amon Natzler, Left to right: six plates. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Stephen Petegorsky.

10. Sam Maloof with Mike Johnson, Larry White, and David Wade, Rocking Chair, 2005. Walnut. Collection of Carolyn A. and Peter S. Lynch. © Peabody Essex Museum. Photography by Stephen Petegorsky

Advent IV

O Come, O Queer Immanu’el: God with (q)U(eer)s

Week 4: Gaudete Vipers

It was during those days that Yochanan the Immerser [John the Baptist] arrived in the desert of Y’hudah and began proclaiming the message, “Turn from your sins to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near!” This is the man Yesha‘yahu was talking about when he said,
“The voice of someone crying out:
‘In the desert prepare the way of Adonai!
Make straight paths for him!’”
Yochanan wore clothes of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. People went out to him from Yerushalayim, from all Y’hudah, and from the whole region around the Yarden. Confessing their sins, they were immersed by him in the Yarden River.
But when Yochanan saw many of the P’rushim and Tz’dukim coming to be immersed by him, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to escape the coming punishment? If you have really turned from your sins to God, produce fruit that will prove it! And don’t suppose you can comfort yourselves by saying, ‘Avraham is our father’! For I tell you that God can raise up for Avraham sons from these stones! Already the axe is at the root of the trees, ready to strike; every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown in the fire! 

Matthew 3 (The Complete Jewish Bible)

The third week of Advent (I know I’m behind) is traditionally called Gaudete, latin for “rejoice,” and marked with a pink candle.

How queer. . .

In addition, the lectionary introduces the great queer prophet of Jesus’s day: his bosom buddy and BFF?, Yochanan the Immerser. Or, if you prefer conventional anglicization, John the Baptist.

Living literally on the margins of society, dressing so unconventionally as to merit mention, and boldly breaking purity codes with his diet, John’s queerness echoes Isaiah’s prophecy that it is a cry from out-there in the wild wilderness, not here in the safe and known, we need to be listening for and paying attention to.

And what’s the fuss about?

Sure, he eventually gets around to making a messianic claim for Jesus which tends to be what we reduce the function of Yochanan’s message to today, but who’s he talking to? about what?


Though anchored in the primary color red, pink isn’t actually part of the electromagnetic spectrum. When we call something pink we’re not identifying actual wavelengths of pink light. It’s “extra-spectral,” which means other colors must be mixed to generate it. Algorithms are notorious for being largely unsuccessful in searches for “pink art.” When it occurs in nature it tends to be connected to the body (e.g. the mouth).

It wasn’t until World War II that pink started to take on the feminine/effeminate characteristics many of us attribute to it today. We can thank the Nazis for that. . . in the same way they forced Jews to identify themselves by wearing a yellow star, they forced homosexual men to identify themselves with a pink triangle. (They had a whole taxonomy of colored triangles to label various categories of social queerness.)

While much western thinking about pink is still rooted in the Nazi’s taxonomy of queerness, in contemporary Japanese culture pink is perceived as a masculine and mournful color associated with warriors falling in battle.

How often do we use pink in non-gendered contexts? Why?


You brood of vipers. You massing of power and poison.

I don’t believe John is condemning the Judaism of his fellow Jews or that the gospel writer is saying something specific about a particular group of religious leaders in a particular historical moment.

I believe he’s saying something bigger–something queer-er. A universal truth across time and space and social location about how God’s people relate to God’s work.

John’s message makes clear that the purity of one’s birth or the self-righteousness of one’s religious piety is irrelevant; is indeed a hindrance to God’s work in the world. God will find God’s people, most likely wandering in the wilderness, and the fruit that they bear will scatter the proud, disrupt the established order, and stir up a radical revolution.

We can work to create and celebrate gloriously fruity fruitcake or writhe about frightful and futile attempting to secure a status and privilege that never existed and is not possible.

The choice is ours.

O Come, O Queer: Immanu’el: God with q(U)eer(s)

Week 3: We are the Champions

And Mary said,
I’m bursting with God-news;
    I’m dancing the song of my Savior God.
God took one good look at me, and look what happened—
    I’m the most fortunate woman on earth!
What God has done for me will never be forgotten,
    the God whose very name is holy, set apart from all others.
His mercy flows in wave after wave
    on those who are in awe before him.
He bared his arm and showed his strength,
    scattered the bluffing braggarts.
He knocked tyrants off their high horses,
    pulled victims out of the mud.
The starving poor sat down to a banquet;
    the callous rich were left out in the cold.
He embraced his chosen child, Israel;
    he remembered and piled on the mercies, piled them high.
It’s exactly what he promised,
    beginning with Abraham and right up to now.

The Song of Mary (from The Message)

The Magnificat, the Song of Mary, the Ode of Theotokos is one of the most ancient canticles, or hymns with a biblical text, of the Christian liturgical tradition.

Anyone who has ever been to an Anglican service of Evensong will have heard it sung or chanted alongside the Nunc Dimittis or Song of Simeon.

Despite its ubiquity, the words are quite radical: “He hath exalted the humble and meek,” “He hath sent the rich empty away,” or my favorite, “He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.”

Queer Theologian Robert Goss has written of this essential Christian text: 

“While traditional churches read [The Magnificat] as the narrowing-down of women’s roles or idealization of women’s subordination, the centrality of women in the story of God’s liberative action is revealed. God shatters the normativity of heterosexual patriarchy.

“Mary the queer prophetess sings how God will upset the social world, bringing down the mighty and elevating the lowly. God’s actions will queer the world by turning it upside-down, for Mary will bear a child who will queer the world, disrupting the social world.

“Mary sings a song of liberation of the queer community and for all oppressed peoples and for all queers forced to experience sexual shame.”

In the tradition I grew up in, we paid no heed to Mary or her song or its message, which is a shame, I think, as she and it clearly mirror the dissenting, anti-establishment ethos out of which that tradition springs.

What I’m finding most interesting about Mary’s song at this moment, though, is not simply that God chose to reveal God’s self outside of the established patriarchal order, but that Mary connects her assumption of annunciation to an ancient promise. 

On this last night of Hanukkah I think it’s important to remember that despite the thousands of studied arrangements that give Mary the voice of a pure Anglican chorister angel, she was a just queer Jewish girl with an amazing gift to give the world.

I’m thinking the soundtrack of Mary’s Song is less English Cathedral and more Zoroastrian rock star?

Something like L’dor Va-dor set to We are the Champions?  

From one generation to another we will 
declare Your greatness, 
and forever sanctify You with words of 
Your praise will never leave our lips, 
for You are God and Sovereign, great and 

An Advent Study II


WEEK 2: Who are your people?

An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Aram, and Aram the father of Aminadab, and Aminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon, and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah, and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah, and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Salathiel, and Salathiel the father of Zerubbabel, and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called the Messiah.

-Matthew 1

I’m very skeptical of DNA ancestry testing, not just because of the potential privacy issues the nature of which we don’t have the capacity to even begin to contemplate, but mostly because I think claims to offer eternal life are always overstated. Is a profit-driven, libertarian-minded corporation really where we think a messiah will emerge?

I was especially struck recently by a New York Times Magazine  piece that followed 62 year old Sigrid Johnson as she discovered who she was as it were as defined by a couple of these commercial DNA tests

Johnson has light caramel skin. She grew up in African American communities. She graduated from an historically black university. She identifies, presents, and engages with the world as an African American woman.

According to her DNA test results though, she’s not actually African. . . she’s 45.306 percent Hispanic, 32.321 percent Middle Eastern, 13.714 percent European and 8.659 percent “other,” which included a mere 2.978 percent African. Raised as an only child, she also learned she had a slew of siblings.

Despite the evidence and experience of her life, the results of Johnson’s DNA ancestry tests show she is not African American, nor she is in fact an only child.

“You turn 65, take a DNA test and find out your whole life is a lot different than you ever thought it was.”

The stories we tell ourselves about where we come from and who we are, are powerful tools for creating meaning and purpose in our lives. They tell us who our people are and aren’t. They can tell us what we’re for and what we’re against, or help define where we’re going and why.

I think the writer of the gospel of Matthew had this in mind when they decided to open their telling of the story of Jesus with an extensive genealogy.

We mostly skip over the details of these dense verses in our nativity narratives, short-handing their perceived function: Jesus descends from the House of David, which fulfills the messianic prophecy.

But just like Sigrid Johnson, what happens if we look at the details of where Jesus came from and not just the traditional story we’ve told ourselves about it? Are there new connections to make? New kinds of stories to tell?

I think so.

Embedded in this long list of fathers and sons are the names of five women: among them a prostitute, a widow, King David’s “other woman” identified by the name of her husband who David had killed, and Mary, the mother of Jesus. The gospel writer tells us Mary has a husband, but not that Jesus is born of him.

In this telling, Jesus descends not from a neat and tidy line of dignified prophets, judges and kings but “his people” include prostitutes, adulterers, and adolescent girls giving birth out of wedlock.

I can understand how and why the dignified storyline became the popular one.

But I think it’s more important to always remember Truth is bigger than story.


Who are your people? Are some of your roots more prominent than others? Why? What would happen if you made an effort to dignify the lesser known stories of where you come from?

An Advent Study

O Come, O Queer, Imanu’el: God with (q)U(eer)s

Week 1: Stir Up Sunday!

Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

– The Book of Common Prayer

Our British cousins have a somewhat odd-to-American-palates tradition of enjoying fruitcake for Christmas. The best Christmas Cakes are rich and boozey, bejeweled with a vast array of candied fruits and nuts. There are endless varieties and preferences that all require a lot of labor and most importantly, a lot of time to mature. Some families even go so far as to make next year’s Christmas pudding, this year.

To accommodate this tradition, many Anglican communities observe an informal ritual known as “Stir Up Sunday.” On the Sunday before Advent, the short general prayer, or collect, assigned for the day, begins with the words “stir up” and goes on to exhort folks to bring forth their fruit. It also serves as a subtle reminder that it’s time to gather willing stirrers and get the Christmas cakes going so they’ll have time to ripen.

Over the past couple years, I’ve invited an assemblage of willing neighbors to gather our fruits and stir up Christmas cakes together. (We’ve used a variation of this recipe.)

But, this year, I wanted to take the call a little further.

Within queer theology, there’s a strain of scholarship that uses the word “queer” inclusively, thinking more about the Old English meaning to “stir up” than one’s particular sexual identity or affinity with the LGBTQ community specifically.* It’s this orientation to empowering diversity, privileging the uncommon, outing the out of the ordinary, celebrating the unusual, and dignifying the non-conforming not just out there, but with, in, and among ourselves that I’m inspired to explore this Advent.

In ‘queering’ the nativity narrative, I’m looking to ‘query’ it, stirring up new configurations and insights.

And, what better way to launch that adventure than a good old fashioned fruitcake!

Fruitcake itself has of course its own queer heritage. In Polari, the cant slang or secret language of British queer folk primarily in traveling professions dating as far back as the sixteenth century, “fruit” refers to gay men and can be used positively or negatively depending on the speaker’s orientation and intent. Even today among mainstream English speakers “fruitcake” can be used, most often pejoratively, to refer to LGBT people.

Perhaps this linguistic heritage has something to do with the bad reputation fruitcake suffers from today?

Or, perhaps many fruitcake-haters simply haven’t had the opportunity to savor a proper one: made with love, mature, and chock-full of surprising and delightful fruits and nuts.

In this way, the task I’ve given myself over the next four weeks of Advent one might describe as making proverbial “fruitcake” out of the Christmas story. Depending on your orientation and intent that might sound dull, disgusting, or irrelevant. I, however, am of the persuasion that with a little work and maturity, the story of Jesus’ birth will bring forth some pretty surprising and delightful fruit.

  • What surprising and delightful fruit is being stirred up in you? In your community? Are you taking your turn to get the work done or getting in the way?
  • Do you identify as mostly conforming or mostly non-conforming? Are there areas of your life where you are more likely to conform? Or more likely not to? Why?
  • How do you experience the nativity narrative? What parts do you find common and ordinary? Can you describe intersections with the uncommon and extraordinary? How do attempts to queer that experience make you feel?

*Throughout these weeks I’ll be drawing liberally from The Queer Bible Commentary.