I’ll never forget walking past a professor’s door where a patchwork, mosaic-style image of the pop star Madonna was scotch-taped to the door: “reconstructed saint.”
As a gay man, I knew of the truth of this scandalous reversal, for I too, was a reconstructed saint.
I desire men. I am a sissy. I am queer. I do not fit the vision of the world refracted through the rose-colored lenses of a conventional view of scripture and Christ. I could feel my own empowered femininity expressed in Madonna’s relentless pursuit of the margins. I could feel, even in the midst of her brazen public demonstrations, the liberation of the queer—the reconstruction of a saint.
Traditional saints have certainly occupied queer spaces—not only because of their often hidden sexual desire or gender fluidity—but because they ingeniously embodied a scandalous reversal in their values and choices.
St. Francis, who cared for the animals, who mystically prayed in communion with “brother sun” and “sister moon,” and ruined his chances for upward mobility, success, and institutional notoriety—St. Francis was a ne’er-do-well.
John Wesley dared to throw his life away, leveraging everything on a complete reversal of society’s values—working with the addicted, the imprisoned, the poor; today, he is easily diagnosable.
The implications of Martin Luther’s obsession with God have given rise to contemporary speculation around his potential mental illness as well.
These queers were possessed by a vision that was deeply inconsistent with the lineaments of Pharoah, Solomon, etc, Herod, Pilate, etc… They endured deep criticism, adversity, and even violence in their day as a result of their “queer” Christian values, their insistence that a gospel of the empire is no gospel at all.
They refused to be tamed by institutions, systems, and structures which sought to justify the demonic by appealing to scripture, to rules, or to covenants.
Like all great artists, poets, thinkers, visionaries, luminaries, and freak-preachers, they refused to be anesthetized by bureaucracy, by “issues,” and by orders handed down in triplicate from the front office. They refused to lay-down for a domesticated gospel, a domesticated god, or a short-sighted vision of the possible. They liberated the queer, they crossed the line, they went too far, and risked it all.
It is not overstatement to regard Jesus as a queer savior; his identification with what had been jettisoned, disregarded, and relegated to the margins was rewarded with a state-sanctioned, religiously blessed, scripturally-justified execution.
Being queer is a political risk for it undermines institutional and systemic power by its own refusal to be tamed and controlled. On an individual level, queerness provides no answers but only poses more questions and will not acquiesce to comfortable categories and compartments that order suburban sacraments.
Today, we remember all the Saints and, in particular, all the partners who were called “roommates,” all the “spinsters,” all the “bachelors,” the “tomboys” and the “special friends.”
We honor those queer folk who will not be remembered because they lived outside the bounds of the conventional, the traditional, and the authorized. We honor those who have given themselves for the gospel in large and small ways. We remember their courage, their commitment, and their constancy. We remember and acknowledge that, without the queer people of God, there would be no church.
We remember them as saints—“reconstructed saints.”
For ALL the Saints.
- Where God has already proclaimed there is no such law - April 29, 2017
- Woe unto you who oppress God’s little ones - February 23, 2017
- Reflection on the first gathering of the Commission on a Way Forward - January 27, 2017