Friday, May 11, 2012

Claiming the Story

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52, New Revised Standard Version)

The best thing I did last week was hand a few people a pair of scissors and encourage them to cut up the Bible.

It took an hour to work up to it. We’d been reading the story of Jesus healing a blind beggar named Bartimaeus on his way out of Jericho in Mark 10.

We gathered as queer and queer-positive readers and listeners around a sacred text. We weren’t asking for permission to enter. We weren’t interested (at least not for the moment) in “what the Bible really says about homosexuality,” and we certainly weren’t setting out to argue, for the ten-thousandth time, over the so-called “clobber texts”—the handful of mostly short, oblique passages that the likes of Rick Santorum, Billy Graham, and the current Pope pull out of context as warrant for their ongoing bigotry.

The religious right puts much of its energy into pretending that the Bible is a seamless whole, a Magic Decoding Ring that spits out answers for everything. But it’s not. It’s an archive of twenty-five centuries of people struggling to comprehend the Mystery we often call God, and it’s full of contradictions, bearing the traces of the many times that struggle led disparate groups to disparate conclusions.

Instead of looking for pat answers, we gathered last week to enter Scripture as a space we claimed a right to inhabit, a place to find ourselves, much as Bartimaeus in the story claims space despite the pious folks in the crowd around him who want him to shut up. We were there to imagine our way in: to find ourselves among the bystanders, puzzled by what might make a charismatic, iconoclastic young rabbi stop for a persistent beggar at the side of the road; or among the rabbi’s followers; or sitting ourselves in Bartimaeus’s place—the pushy, half-Greek, half-Jewish pariah; the ACT UP protester, half-blind with CMV, disrupting Mass from the back of St. Patrick’s Cathedral; the campy queen who screams like an extra in Ben-Hur or The Ten Commandments.

Before we were finished, making the text our own meant physically taking it apart and pasting scraps onto blank pages as collage: superimposing it over a background; drawing around it; laying one phrase over another. One of us found her way in through the words “Jesus stood still”; another through “take heart”; another through a jumble of phrases spilling disjointedly over one another.

But claiming the story was only the half of it. The other half was being claimed by it: the silence and concentration of half a dozen adults deeply absorbed in a project reminiscent of a kindergarten craft exercise; getting lost in words turned into raw material, rearranging them only to find, when we looked at what we’d made, that the words had rearranged us, called us to an awareness of something we hadn’t seen before. Like Bartimaeus, seeking new sight we received it.

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