by Louie Crew
Given as a sermon ca. 1983
© 2004 by Louie Crew
A dozen years ago I taught in a small black
Methodist college in South Carolina. For one assignment in advanced
composition, I asked the students each to take one of Jesus's parables
and rewrite it in their Black experience. Here's a sample:
Government officials were in the crowd trying to catch the Brother talking treason. He turned to them and told them a story.
Once upon a time a great man owned an entire country in North America, and he hired some Europeans to tend the country while he went away. When it was harvest, he sent messengers from the Red Men to the tenants to receive some of the fruits. The EuroAmericans first cheated all of the messengers, then killed some, beat others, and put the rest on reservations to die.
Again the owner sent third-world messengers, this time from Africa, and the EuroAmericans did the same to them.
Finally the owner sent other Europeans, third-world Europeans, thinking that they would surely reverance their own breed, but when the Euroamericans saw wops, dagos, frogs, and micks, they said to themselves, These are kin to the owner. Let's exploit them and the land will be ours. so they worked them on the railroads, building sewers, and fighting wars.
When the owner comes, what will he do to these EuroAmericans?
The crowd answered the Brother with laughter. He will destroy those wicked peckerwoods and will let out his country to other races of people who will make better use of it.
The Stone which the Euroasians had rejected has become the chief cornerstone.
--after Luke 20: 9-19
(First published in Modern Liturgy, Oct. 1976)
Bang up against the Passion, Jesus knew that is was not a time to be sweet, but a time to tell the hard truths.
Jesus knew then, knows know, that the religious will almost always be the ones out to get him. Those of us who shout "Hosannah" on Sunday, will shout "Crucify him!" by Friday.
Few have ever stressed it, but notice, please, that sarcasm is a religious mode of discourse. The religious want to nail Jesus. They ask him the source of his authority. If he tells them "God," he's doomed. So he asks them what they think of John the Baptist, putting them on the same spot, since they hated John but the crowd loved him.
We don't know, they say.
You won't tell? Then I won't tell. Instead, hear my story.
Similarly the most religious of the religious, the Jews who became the first Christians, stressed to Paul the literalness of God's promises to them as Abraham's descendents. Paul knew that the contract had changed, that God's Children, that Abraham's decendents, are not measured in fleshly terms, but in spiritual terms. You "gashers," he called the Jewish Christians, you katatome (Philippians 3: 2-3). Paul punned on the word for "circumsize," peritome He suggests that Jewish Christians who sport their circumcision as a literal credential are no different from other pagans who practice body mutilation in an attempt to make themselves special.
Recently in Stevens Point, Wisconsin, where I was teaching, three of our Nigerian students went into a tavern near the campus. Someone said, "Oh, the niggers are here." The Nigerians, not wanting trouble, left immediately. The caller and his buddies followed them outside, cut one with a knife, stripped the coat off another, broke the car door, ripped off an arm rest, stripped chrome off the side of the car, and stole a wallet with about $25 in cash.
In the summer of 1982 in the same town four other Nigerians were bruatally beaten, one with a broken leg. When a student reporter alerted me, the two of us called in the Nigerian consul and the press. Many colleagues were furious. "This sort of thing can happen anywhere. You're just going to hurt our enrollments all over a bar fight! This time, an atheist colleague and I wanted to call a public meeting and I asked my priest whether we could use the convenient parish hall for people to express our concern and plan various reactions to support the student victims.
"What's your specific agenda?" he asked.
"To allow people to decide what we ought to do and to pool ideas about how to help end the violent racism in the community."
"Will you want to march? To protest?" he asked.
"Some of us might. Many might want other tactics," I explained.
"I'll have to check with the vestry and get back with you."
We waited past the deadline to call our meeting before he told us, "No. We want only those who will plan reconciliation."
He would not call a meeting. He would not let us meet.
In the summer of the beatings, the Rev. Dr. Anne Garrison came to conduct a service in our home. She had done so earlier, privately, when my spouse and I were grieving terribly over a private matter. But this time we opened our home for a flood of women and men. Nuns from the local catholic convent came and read some of the lessons. A brilliant young black atheist male who had been driven out of Havana with his one pink blouse, his heels six inches high, and his one blue skirt, watched closely from the piano bench, where I saw him weep. Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, all crowded into the 96-degree heat, not minding spiritual funk. My priest and bishop asked me by telephone to have one of the two male priests to celebrate instead. I said that in conscience that I couldn't. Neither male would have anyway. They acted like God had dropped her drawers! Afterall, we're in the Diocese of "Fond of Lace" where only men get to wear dresses in Church.
The most predictable joke I hear when a gay male finds out I am a church quean is the one about the time that Talullah, also from Alabama, attending Smoke Mary's, at 42nd street in NYC, told the priest (some versions have him the visiting Archbishop Michael Ramsey of Canterbury) walking past her pew in the procession, "Dahling, I love your drag, but your purse is on fire!" We do like ceremony. Some of us too much so. We'd turn down a chance to sit with shepherds if we could check out Herod's designer togas and his flatware.
Anne came back that Christmas to see Ernest and me. Although I never asked their permission, my bishop and priest again protested in advance that she would serve the Christ Mass at our table. My priest explained for the two of them that their reason was specifically sexual, not this time that my spouse and I both just happen to have penises. That was cause earlier for Father's having told me that I should tell my lover that he would not be welcome at the parish with me. This time the cause was that Dr. Garrison does not have a penis. Without one, she cannot, these two men feel, image Christ as they can.
Gay priest Father Grant Gallup spoke the only sanity we heard for this occasion: "They [your rector and your bishop] simply cannot have it both ways--they are dogs in the mangers of human nourishment, snapping at the kine of God who would eat, while their own taste is for kennel rations. You should go right ahead and plan a festive feast of the Incarnation. Celebrate the Eucharist in a manger at the barn of Kathryn [a mutual friend and local lesbian]. Ask gays and lesbians from all over the central part of Wisconsin to come and take part! Get the foreign students to be Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar of a Twelfth Night party, and get an interracial, cross-cultural feminist-gay-lesbian bilingual prayer service going. Bless the table yourself: let it be fruitcake and Boone's Farm. Your rector's appeal to the canons which require his permission is outrageous, since he intends to ignore those canons which empower the ordination of Anne Garrison, and those guidelines of the Convention and the House of Bishops which call for hard work on behalf of gay civil rights. He must come to the canons with clean hands, and with the scales balanced."
Psalm 126 stresses the joy of exiles when they return, bringing in the sheaves.
I heard that joy in 1965 when children clutched at me as if we were on a ferris wheel together as tanks with troops wearing gas masks roared towards us in Cambridge, Maryland, trying to stifle our protest, but they allowed my former governor, George Wallace to speak on the other side of the junction of Race Street and Alabama Avenue.
I heard that same joy in June 1982 Washington in the hot sun as I marched in the Gay Pride Parade with the group called Black and White Men Together. "We all fired up; ain't gonna take no more....We all fired up; ain't gonna take no more." We passed about six Churches as they were letting out, all so fine and fancy, and most of them didn't recognize that we too were in Yaweh's Parade. I saw one priest who's gay, but he pretended not to see me. I genuflected, not in mockery, but for real. I knew my deliverance. If not sheaves, I could surely come rejoicing bringing in a feather boa!
I heard that same joy of folks released from exile, when at the college of Preachers in December 1980 a bishop and about three dozen priests, many themselves gay, the others compassionate, all joined me in a chorus-girl routine at the altar. The National Cathedral did not quake next door. The world did not fall apart. For some of us, it was beginning to make sense.
These are not jokes. God wants all exile to cease. These are not mere games, even when we are gameful. Our very souls are at stake. We are the very creatures for whom Christ died!
My spouse has helped me immensely to realize God's love of me, God's impatience with my exile. Ernest doesn't pamper me or encourage self-pity. Quite the contrary. He hasn't much patience with gays who don't know our worth, because Ernie was lucky enough to have parents who recognized that they had a gay child and loved him without a flicker of doubt that he was as important as their seven other children.
"But surely you suffered inside for your gayness at some point?" I remember asking him. "Surely they got to you somehow, at least once?"
He thought for a bit, and said, "No, I can't remember."
I had seen him lose a job with the civil service because he wouldn't go to bed with an obnoxious boss. I had seen him fired from a nursing job when they found he was organizing the other black nurses. I had seen the two of us evicted from our home in Wisconsin, but then he, cool as before, went on to organize a tenants association. The episodes didn't reach him with pain, it seemed.
But surely some experience did?" I persisted.
"Oh, I remember once, yes," he said, "when I was on summer vacation from junior high school visiting an aunt in Florida. The boys all had been kidding me at the playground, saying I walked funny. When I asked them what they meant, they said I walked like a girl. Well all the way home, I studied my walking. My aunt saw me from the distance but I didn't see her. When I got to the door, she said, 'Boy what is wrong with you?'
"'What you mean?' I said.
"'The way you walking,' she fussed.
"'I'm just walking,' I volunteered.
"'Child,' she said. 'God give you two legs and you been using them well up to today. I spect I know what those chillen been saying to you, but you listen here. God can't spect you to be walking with no one else's legs, and what you been doin today ain't walkin. God loves you just as you are, you hear?!"
"No need to recall the past. No need to think about what was done before. See, now I am doing a new deed. Even now it comes to light. Can you not see it?" (Isaiah 43: 18-19.)