Friday, December 21, 2012

The Christmas Story

"And an angel came to the woman and told her she would bear a child."

That's not a direct Biblical quote, but it is paraphrased.  If you think I am referring to Mary being visited by an angel, I am not, I am referring to Abraham's wife Sarah.  She was told by one of the three angels that visited them she would have a child.  She laughed!

The same story happens again the the opening of the new testament when Elisabeth and Zechariah are visited by Gabriel and told they will have a child, John.

The same story happens again in Luke when another angel tells Mary she will have a son, Jesus.

So what gives?  Three identical stories with the names and times changed, yet essentially they are all the same.

Well, I am not a Biblical scholar, and never attended Divinity School, but here's my take on it:

Each of these births was seen as an important milestone. Their story is told through a familiar lens of an older well-known story.  This is not to shroud history, but to reveal the truths behind the tale.  They are great myths that pass along knowledge and wisdom through generations.  They are not historically accurate.

Just like the slaughter of the innocents in the New Testament, there is a matching story in the Old Testament.  Moses is hidden in the bull rushes to avoid being slaughtered by Pharaoh in Egypt. Likewise, Joseph and Mary flee to Egypt to avoid having Jesus killed by Herod.

Why?  Because it was important to show that Jesus was of the same caliber and even greater than Moses, who "came out of Egypt".  That story was very familiar to all Jews who heard it and they would no doubt have gotten the comparison. 

Did it happen?  There is no historical evidence for Herod slaughtering children, but that wasn't the point of the story.  It was a literary device to get Jesus into Egypt, so he could later emerge with the importance needed to convey who he was.

Wise men?  They most likely never existed, but their presence in the story shows once again, and this time to Roman citizens how important Jesus was. His birth narrative is not historical fact, but another literary device to infer his importance.  It is filled with truth, but very few facts.

Does this mean I am not a Christian?  Absolutely not.  As a follower of Jesus, I find these stories meaningful and worth retelling again and again, but without understanding the "why" of these tales, they easily become just a bunch of fictional stories. 

As Bishop John Shelby Spong noted in his book, "Liberating the Gospels" these tales are best viewed as "midrash".  It is a Jewish tradition of retelling a story with new characters to show their real importance and to connect with a new audience. 

So take some time and really read the Christmas stories again and don't look for facts, but instead seek the truth they convey.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Human Rights - Family Rights

In  case you missed it, December 10 was UN Human Rights Day.  It is something we as LGBT Americans should take to heart. 

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is a wonderful document.  It is intended to assure freedom and justice and a voice for all people.   The United States along with 48 other countries signed the declaration in 1948 and it has become the standard by which human rights are judged.

One of the key provisions in this historic document is the provision that the family is a “natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.” Interestingly enough, the UN declined to give a definition of the term “family”.  They did this because they saw as early as 1948 that families were defined in different ways by different cultures.  They went on to specify that, ““in giving full effect to the recognition of family in the context of (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights) article 23, it is important to accept the concept of the various forms of family…”

In other words, our families are ours to define.  For LGBT Americans that is really important.  Now that the Supreme Court is taking up DOMA and the California Proposition 8 case, it means more than ever. 

The reality of same-sex marriage is this, until there is a federal law that assures recognition of marriages from all states, same-sex or not, a marriage license is pretty much just a nice piece of paper.  The union and its rights will be good only in the state where it was signed.  In other words your family may be OK is Washington State, but in Texas you are just a couple of friends. 

For family arrangements beyond the hetero-normative model, it gets even more difficult.  In the leather community for example, there are lots of families consisting of 2-3 or more individuals who are in a relationship with each other that they consider a family.   It is not unusual for a leather “Daddy” to have a couple of “boys” in his or her household.  (For the uninitiated  the title of “Daddy” has nothing to do with parenting.  It is a role as well as an honorific and it can apply to a man or woman.  Likewise, the idea of “boys” or “bois” or “girls” has nothing to do with minors, these are roles assumed by leatherfolk and are terms of affection and position within the leather family structure.)  These leather families are often as tight knit and valid as any blood-related family and in many cases more so. 

If the UN Declaration is to be believed, even these very non-traditional families have a right to exist and be recognized, because the reality of families in the US is this, only 20% of households consist of married husbands and wives with children.  The Norman Rockwall family unit is a myth, and it is time we began understanding just how varied families in our country are.  
Same-sex marriage will be a step toward this recognition, but it will still leave millions of American’s out. 

It will take a lot of work and a lot of education to fulfill the goals of the UN Declaration in the 21st Century.  It will take families of all types making their case for recognition.  It will be uncomfortable for some people but if we are to take human rights seriously we have to understand that all families, deserve respect and rights. 

So next time you hear of the problems of human rights, don’t automatically assume it is a third-world issue.  As LGBT Americans we still live as second class citizens who are denied the right to form legally recognized families of our own. 

The War On Christmas has been over for more than 100 years!

I am so tired of the fake War on Christmas that Fox News continues to foist on the uneducated viewers of it's alleged news.

If we want to celebrate a "traditional American Christmas" like our founding fathers, then we should go to work on Christmas Day just like any other day.  In fact when the pilgrims came to America, they did not celebrate Christmas, it was considered too decadent.  The holiday was actually outlawed in Boston until 1681 and was punishable by a fine.  After the Revolution, congress was even in session in 1789 on Christmas day.

It remained a little noticed holiday until it was made a federal holiday in 1870.

So to the Fox idiots, Merry Christmas, the War on Christmas was won on June 26, 1870 when Congress passed the law making it a federal holiday.  Now go out and SHOP!