"That's our word to make fun of you, and we neeeed it"
on John Waters, Homer Simpson, the Gerasene Demoniac, and the Kingdom of God.
There’ a famous episode of the Simpsons titled “Homer-phobia” where Homer’s wife Marge makes friends with an interior decorator voiced by the very famous and very gay film director, John Waters. He and Homer make fast friends until Homer finally suspects his new friend is gay. The John Waters character has been trying to tell Homer that he is gay for most of the episode until finally Waters says “Homer – I’m queer” to which Homer replies “You can’t call YOURSELF queer. That’s our name to make fun of you and we neeeed it”.
We neeeeeed to have the clean and the unclean. We neeed it to know who we are. We need “those people” to point at whoever “those people” are to you: The intolerant conservatives or the immoral liberals. The filthy poor or the filthy rich. The atheists or the Evangelicals.
Today’s Gospel is the story of Jesus casting out an entire legion of demons from this bonkers dude with serious behavior issues. Great story. (I write about this text in relation to my own depression in Accidental Saints). And you might think that the town would be happy that their so-called “crazy homeless dude” is now clothed, in his right mind and … you know, eating with utensils and everything - but they’re not. They’re fearful and furious. Because as long as he is the town’s “problematic guy” they don’t have to look at their own demons. This is what we do. (If you have gotten sober and it threw your family into crisis, or if you have gotten healthier in some way, physically or emotionally and it seemed to have cost a friendship…you can attest to this). They neeeed that guy to be what is un-holy so that they can themselves feel holy. They ran Jesus out of town because he took something precious from them…namely the identity they had in relation to who they deemed unclean.
It reminds me of a Q and A in 2017 in which a member of a seemingly liberal audience asked my advice for what to do with the fact that she “just hates Trump supporters”. To which I responded, “No we don’t. Not really. Under that thing that feels like hate is . . . gratitude. Because they get to carry all of OUR xenophobia FOR us. They are so much more OBVIOUSLY racist. And since our own racism feels so icky (and that ickiness and shame builds up and we have to have SOMEWHERE to put it) when someone in a MAGA hat comes along we get to point at them and go, how DARE they? And then we all get to decide they are the real problem and since we are all in agreement about that and feeling so much lighter having dumped all our shit on them, we also get to stand in the righteous glow of our newfound social cohesion.”
It's a pretty airtight system.
But Jesus will have none of that.
Here in The Corners, you can engage in a thoughtful comment section where people aren’t assholes to each other.
I wish I knew how to do all of this in a good way. I wish I knew how to have convictions and live them out in the world - how to participate in creating a more just world without also creating a scapegoat for my own bullshit. Without looking to who happens to make more money than I do and pointing to them (and not me) as a the problem of income inequality. Without looking for whose car gets worse gas mileage than mine and pointing to them as the problem when it comes to climate change.
Because Jesus clearly did not give a shit about our carefully curated systems of comparative righteousness. He got in A LOT of trouble for ignoring our rules about who is good and who is not and who is worthy and who is not and who gets to feel good about themselves and who should not. And it makes me deeply uncomfortable, because I want to cling to my own righteousness (I mean, I worked hard for that shit). But also, I’m pretty sure it’s for my own good. Because here's the thing about our little dysfunctional human-family-system down here: it sucks for everyone. My neeeeeeeed to have someone worse than me to point at is not serving me beyond the initial sugar high of it…but also, I am also FOR SURE the person who others point at as the identified problem.
Friends, I’m pretty sure that in the radical kingdom of God, none of it matters. I’m so sorry to say that. But also, I am so relieved that it is true.
Because it means that our designations in life, be it as the identified problem or the identified peacekeeper or the identified addict, or liar, or good-girl, or invisible one or fun dude or whatever – are meaningless in any spiritual way. You are always just the one whom God will go to great lengths to find when you have again tried to hide; to touch when others have again deemed you unclean; to love when you have once again closed your heart.
People don’t actually need you to stay sick, they need to do their own work. Keep doing yours. I’ll keep trying to do mine.
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Be gentle with yourselves.