From Queer to Eternity

Psalm 90

May 23, 2010

by Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper
Senior Minister

As the bulletin for today went to press, Peter, who produces our bulletins, sent me this e-mail, remarking on the use of Matt Alber’s music as our prelude: “Matt Alber is my ex-boyfriend’s sister’s wife’s sperm donor’s ex-boyfriend.” It took me a while to get it. Peter was six degrees of separation from Matt Alber! We were all thrilled. Let me now make it seven degrees. Peter knows Matt Alber, sort of, because Matt Alber is Peter’s ex-boyfriend’s sister’s wife’s sperm donor’s ex-boyfriend.” Don’t worry if you can’t get it. This is not a test.

Instead, it is a testimony. It is a testimony to just how connected we all are. That connection is what we who are refugees mean by refuge. Connection actually is refuge. Especially if it is Queer connection, by which I mean consensual, self-defining, fluid connection. Connection is not refuge if it is something Big Brother or Big Family or Big Oil has in mind for you. To that you submit. To refuge we do not submit. We treasure it as it treasures us. Psalm 90 means refuge, but it means refuge with a capital R and connection with a capital C. It means the refuge of connection over time and space, Alpha and Omega, beginning and end, from here to eternity. It means not submitting to God’s refuge so much as enjoying it.

As Ken’s remarkable testimony [see below] and testifying shows, what did happen is not necessarily the end of the story. If one person can overcome violence, then so can another. If one person can be kicked and bruised and broken, and live to write against it, then so can another. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble; therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should move and the mountains come under the sea. Or the oil spill.

This sermon is a simple tribute to the way Ken has overcome the violence done to him. Violence likes to tell you there is no refuge from it. Violence writes its way onto our hearts after it hurts our bodies. Violence is bluster long before it detonates its gun or flexes its boot. Violence is oddly a strong form of bodily connection: we invade each other. One must submit.

Many of us come here today filled with the fear of violence. We see the oil chasing the birds and the beaches.

As we celebrate Ken’s voice and power, we also have to remember what has happened to Malawians Steven Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga. They have been in jail in Malawi since December 28 and found guilty of unnatural acts and gross indecency, the consequence of their holding an engagement ceremony in an insular nation where homosexuality is largely seen as nonexistent or something that has to be suppressed. The fact that one man finds his voice and knows how to complain about cartoons out loud does not mean that all are yet free.

Most of us want not to be the victims of violence. We don’t want to be victims. And we don’t want to be kicked. We do not want to be the victims of violence. But violence is tricky. So is connection. So is refuge. Right now many us hope that oily violence won’t seep onto our personal shores. You see how that works, right? Violence has its little victory as long as all we can hope for is that it doesn’t arrive here. Gulf Coast, okay. St. Pete, okay. The Keys oddly feel a little bit closer. But oil in Asbury Park? Fire Island? Nope. Let the oil soak the south and sequester the north. This is not victory over violence. Nor is it refuge. What it is, is self-protection. When we refuse to think about the whole, we let violence have its victory. Malawi? What about same-sex marriage in New York? The capacity to connect to Malawi is refuge, especially as that connection is consensual, fluid, lacking submission.

Connection is not moralistic concern about Malawi so much as it is seeing our world in that world. Connection is also not the invasion of privacy that many of us fear on Facebook. If Judson consents to be involved with social networking, good. If we feel required to do so, not so good. Connection is also not the biometric card of immigration control. It is not being a number or an object in someone else’s database. Like one family said, leaving Queens, way back then, Who wants to spend every Sunday afternoon sitting around with thirty relatives, all talking at once? Some argue that moving out of the city was moving out of the so-called refuge of so-called connection. Connection needs to be queer—which is to say free of the coffin of conformity—in order to actually be refuge. Yes, you can be queer in a family in Queens. Refuge, and being queerly refuged, has few borders—although most of us do feel like refugees when connecting.

I had an experience of a kind of violence this week when the oil of conformity showed up on my shore. I teach a little course at Pacific School of Religion most summers. Usually I fill out a form or two, teach the course, and do the gradings and read the course evaluations. Half-a-dozen pieces of paper. This year they required me to take an on-line course about sexual conduct and send in a certificate of completion. They also required that I print out, sign, and send:

  • Employment Eligibility Verification
  • Four signed contacts
  • Withholding Allowance Certificate
  • The Drug Free Schools & Communities Act Amendments of 1989
  • Personal Data – How do I self-identify?
  • Speakers Agreement, four copies
  • 1-9 Employment Eligibility
  • Direct Deposit Memorandum
  • Seven Warnings on Preventing Sexual Harassment
  • Acceptable Use for Computers Used Policy
  • My rights in workers compensation
  • Tax deferred annuity
  • Paid family leave
  • PSR Earthquake Safety Measures
  • Payroll Deduction Act

And the final document was the Paperwork Reduction Act. Did I feel invaded? Yes. Did I feel like the oil of other people’s violence had shown up on my shore? Yes. One of our own members advised me just yesterday that to be in a room with children I had to make sure there was at least one other adult. Are these trivial examples, compared to what happened yesterday in Iraq or to Ken? Yes.

But if connection is refuge, there can also be too much connection. It can invade privacy. The connection that is refuge is consensual and fluid. It is not a form we submit or something that we submit to. (By the way, “Do I look undocumented in these jeans?”) Not all paperwork is bad, nor is all documentation foolish. But some has its source in violence, which, once done, is as bad as an oil spill.

Enough said. Matt Alber is Peter’s friend. And Matt Alber is his “ex-boyfriend’s sister’s wife’s sperm donor’s ex-boyfriend.”

We are each other’s protection from violence of every kind, the small and the large. The best connection becomes refuge because it is as queer as a three-dollar bill.  Amen.


Modern Testimony, from a letter from Ken Kidd to Frances Shavers, Chief of Staff and Assistant to the President of  Notre Dame University, January 15, 2010

. . . “The Notre Dame cartoon,” as it is being called over the country, is generally offensive and dangerous, but for me, it’s personally painful: A little over twenty years ago, I was walking down a crowded street in Brooklyn Heights when I heard the sound of running footsteps behind me. As I turned around, my face was met with the kick of a Timberland boot that knocked me to the ground. As soon as I hit the pavement, that boot and its partner, along with those of two other thugs, began pummeling my head, my neck and my face and jumping up and down on my torso and groin. The last thing I heard before I passed out was “You’re nothing but a fag and you don’t deserve to live.” When I woke up in the hospital later that night, I found that my mandible—the hardest bone in the body—had been broken in two places. I had a hematoma on my brain that caused temporary amnesia (I could not keep in my mind what the month, the day, and the year was for almost the entire time of my two-week hospitalization). My face was swollen to the point where it was impossible to tell where my cheeks ended and my (broken) nose began. My eyes were blackened and swollen like the black goldfish one sees in a pet store. My left eye had a cut all the way through the eyelid—my physician said that it was a miracle that I wasn’t blinded in that eye. I had three broken teeth and four cracked ribs. By the time the dental surgeon unwired my jaw over six weeks later, I had lost thirty-six pounds and was down to103. Needless to say, I was hungry and depressed over those weeks from not being able to digest solid food, and the inability to practice proper dental hygiene resulted in a case of acute gingivitis that took months to cure. And these hoodlums took nothing of any value from me. Except, of course, my dignity and my feelings of self-worth and equality.

Do any of you find that story cartoonish?


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