Kevin DeYoung’s Hermeneutic

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Some time has passed since answering DeYoung’s 40 questions. What my friends Keegan, Tapji, and I noticed was that one must accept DeYoung’s hermeneutical framework in order to answer his questions. Each of us, I am sure, felt a sense of emotional exhaustion due to accepting this hermeneutical framework. Likewise, I felt that the who point was that one would throw up their hands and just not do the 40 questions, and in that way, it would make DeYoung’s questions look unanswerable (and in my mind, that seems like a tactic of “look my questions have stumped those liberals!”). John Short offered an alternative 40 questions that get somewhat at some of my own questioning throughout answering the questions. But I just wanted to offer a reflection on answering those stupid 40 questions.

At this point it seems like a broken record, since I have asked this question continually but it is worth repeating, in that listening to a record repeatedly, for me, indicates an important message: conservative Christians focus so much on their queer antagonism being accepted as a legitimate part of Christian tradition, yet rarely speak out against other forms of queer antagonism. There is a significant disavowal on their part that their emphasis on “traditional marriage” (whatever this term really means) they do is marginalize a whole group of people. Yet rarely do they speak out against other forms of oppression against queer people.

Here, I think about the fact that queer people are more likely to be in poverty or homeless than their cisheterosexual counterparts. Moreover, there are more cases of drug abuse, and mental illness, which in my mind correlates with the ways in which society excludes and marginalizes people. Also insert issues like job discrimination, housing discrimination, or the fact that queer people of color still face police brutality. Or that queer immigrants face violence against the US state in detention centers, as Jannicet Gutierrez recently protested before President Obama. I cannot help but think about the racist and transphobic violence inflicted against CeCe McDonald, and that because she defended herself against this violence she still was deemed guilty by the judicial system. Transwomen continue to be murdered. Pastors will say that queer people need to caged up, and unsurprisingly conservative Christians either offer a tepid response or none at all.

These are all issues conservative Christians are often silent on. None of them deal with same-sex marriage. To be honest,  I care little about Same Sex Marriage because of all of the issues enumerate by Dean Spade and Craig Wilse. Nevertheless, it is difficult for me to accept conservative Christians who say their opposition to same-sex marriage is rooted in Christian tradition alone (as if religious tradition is somehow exempt from producing bigotry or enforcing it). Why? Because they’re silent on all the other forms of oppression that queer people face on a daily basis. It is as if their opposition to same-sex marriage symbolizes their opposition of the moral goodness of queer life and culture.

What does not surprise me is that DeYoung asks if one will support Christians who will face bullying and the potential lack of religious freedom. This willfully ignores the violence faced by many queer people today. So it is not just that DeYoung has a rather myopic hermeneutic, but he is also a revisionist, ignoring the actual violence and oppression faced by queer people, as this huffington post article critiques about Christians “being oppressed.” Again, unsurprising because many conservative Christians frame their struggle as somehow akin to the struggles faced by minorities under Nazi Germany (again ignoring that LGBT people were among those persecuted and sent to concentration camps by the Nazis, or even that Nazi ideology was buttressed by the anti-Jewish teachings found in Christianity).

Here is where DeYoung and I differ hermeneutically. The Haggadah plays a central role during Pesaḥ, recounting the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. The exodus is central both to me personally, and functions as the national founding myth in Judaism (to the extent that Rashi wonders why the Torah begins with creation not the Exodus). The exodus plays a central role in my political imagination, and in my desire to see the liberation of various groups of people. For Christians, Jesus is the image of God’s character. For me as a Jew, it is through the liberation in Egypt and the desire for new ways of life. As Moses says, החיים והמות נתתי לפניך הברכה והקללה ובחרת בחיים למען תחיה אתה וזרעך “life and death I have set before you, a blessing and a curse and you will choose life so that you and your offspring may life” (Deut 30:19). Here, I take life not just to mean a physical way of life, but the way life is conceptualized, in the hopes that lives that are typically not valued will be valued, and advocating for a society that values the lives of those who are marginalized.

Lastly, I think our hermeneutic differs to the degree that Judaism has put more stock in historical experiences than Christianity. For many Christians, it always comes back to “doctrine.” Jews have overwhelming supported SSM, at least I believe, because of the lived experiences of oppression. This in part ties into the experience of exodus, but it also ties into the anti-semitism that Jews have faced in Europe and the United States. As Yitz Greenberg notes, “Judaism is a midrash on history.” Thus, lived experience plays a central role in how one practices Judaism, and lives faithfully to God.

I am sure that these interpretations do not adhere DeYoung’s hermeneutic, but then again, I find his interpretation of Scripture to be rather bland, simplistic, and lacking a depth of flavor like mayonnaise.

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Free ‘Tonya’ McDowell

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I am not entirely sure how effective petitions actually are, especially in the case of determining legal decisions. However, here is a link to a petition that I just signed, urging that Tonya McDowell a homeless woman from Connecticut be cleared of charges for “stealing” school funds by sending her son to school. You can find the link to sign the petition here. I also wrote a message included in the petition, saying,

In Judaism, there is a concept of yetzer hara, the inclination of every human potential to be wicked. This inclination is the inclination of greed and selfishness. The lack of care of others around us and in our communities. We might be quick to argue that Tonya McDowell committed an act of selfishness. But I think this interpretation is incorrect. In Judaism, the education of one’s child is the most important thing a parent can do. Through education, a child can learn to think critically and to learn how to participate in community. We might consider this a broach of justice and in Jewish tradition, our courts and society must judge impartially (neither favoring the rich nor the poor) but this case clearly reveals that if we want impartiality in our court system, we must reconceptualize justice because time after time it favors the rich in our nation.  It is baffling to me that we are criminalizing a woman who is, in my opinion, doing the right thing for her child by sending her son to school, when it is precisely the corporations in our country that commit acts of yetzer hara daily. It’s clear that politicians in Washington favor the lobby of the rich over the overwhelming majority of its citizens and this is especially the concern for the impoverished in our country.

It is easy to pick out Tonya for her faults but the reality is, we are scapegoating her for a system that is broken and needs to be fixed. It is abominable that we scapegoat Tonya for doing something that, perhaps if we were in the situation, might do. I know that if I had a child, I would want them to come first and that is precisely what Tonya did. I am sure that Tonya felt it was the best she could do for her child in her circumstances. It might not be the best method, but when our system is biased against the poor, and women of color, what are we going to expect? By jailing Tonya, we are not solving a problem but already reinforcing the brokenness of our legal system. So I urge you to let Tonya free in order to address the underlying issues that allowed this “problem” to arise in the first place. For instance, let us address the fact that our failing school system might be due to the fact that our national budget spends more on our military defense than our education. Or the fact that institutional racism and sexism are pervasive in our society. These are just a few examples.

So I urge that you drop all charges in regards to Tonya McDowell’s case. I believe it is not only a just action but one of wisdom and compassion.

It is cases such as this that both piss me off and break my heart. It is also becoming abundantly clear in my own thought, that I am radicalizing. Perhaps this is what Rabbi Schwartzschild meant when he said, “God is the root of all things. He [sic] is the radical. Faith is, therefore, by definition radical.” I feel that public dialogue is no longer a real possibility but perhaps it never was to begin with? This is just one more headline making me feel this way.

justification, gurl

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I have been in a perpetual fog for the past couple of days. I’ve been tired, weak, and particularly shaky. I am still shaken about the events of the last week. I am not sure if I had a seizure, or rather seizures. Nevertheless, the events stress me. The experience has helped me recognize a problem I will face if I ever decide to become a leader of any sort, which is stress management and learning to say no. It has made me realize just how maternal I am.

I don’t want to leave people behind, nor do I want to let them down. It’s a fact of life that we will leave people behind. The thought is an unsettling one. We have to make those choices, however. Moreover, we need personal lives. We need time to rejuvenate. I am not quite sure how King did it, leaving Coretta and his children behind. In my mind, that’s an impossible task and perhaps my justice work will never take me that far. Especially at this time, I cannot imagine justice work without having a life with Sean. It’s hard to be a part from him a month at a time. If I were to ever be a leader or a model of any sort, I think I would need him in my life as comfort. I also need him in my life because even when I’ve been out here, I have taken his loving presence for granted. I know two things, if I ever want to lead, I will need to learn how to say “no” and be realistic about my expectations. Moreover, I think we need to emphasize the sabbath in our own lives. The personal life, or the private life is not severed from living a life of justice, especially when we’re advocates for a queer life and queerer culture.

We become queer through our acts of intimacy. We engage in intimate relations that the society at large finds unnatural. Moreover, these intimate relations breakdown social norms and offer a means of transformation both in our personal lives and a community that embodies our culture. Our identity evolves, developing in and through the intimate relations we experience. These experiences are the transformative because not only do they allow us sexual charged experiences, new ways of discovering ourselves. Moreover queer experiences offer new modes of kinship, with import to the wider society. Our acts create richer forms of social life, a richer culture. In the end, the way I fuck my boyfriend translates to the way I encounter culture and form relationships with other human beings.

Ultimately, these are just a few notes that I will likely merge into my Leadership portfolio. In the next couple of days I would like to do a few things in my blog. First, I want to write the first part of my Leadership portfolio. I am sure I will articulate more than a few thoughts. Since the first section, especially, deals with our background and what shapes us, a blog is right for that. Second, I would like to start the writings of an artist statement. My own work is a discipline of constantly discovering who I am as a person but this is basic, I think, to any works we create. They’re ultimately about us, or at the very least, ideas we wish to articulate, if not for an audience, then for our selves and the artists with which we collaborate. Right now, I am interested in the apocalyptic, specifically blaspheming in relation to the apocalyptic. I am interested in blasphemy and how it is essential to creating more vibrant forms of religious life. Specifically, I like using art to discuss religious culture, ideologies, values, texts in order to broaden the scope of what the mean. In some ways, my work attempts to become an apocalyptic, using past concepts but breaking them and arguing for richer, more vibrant, and more inclusive categories. I believe in the process of radical democracy. Deal with it.