Beware of People Who Think They Live on the Main Road to God

I made my talk-radio debut a few days ago.

It was fun!

But while I wanted to talk about R. S. Thomas and his poetry, the callers wanted to denounce homosexuality.

This happened because I’m a retired United Methodist clergyman, and recently a local United Methodist pastor was stripped of his ordination for officiating at the same-sex marriage of his son.

As the anti-gay callers loosed barrages of Bible verses, a Thomas poem came to mind. In it he describes a rural parish:

There was part of the parish that few knew.
They lived in houses on the main road
To God, as they thought, managing primly
The day’s dirt, bottling talk
Of birth and marriage in cold eyes;
Nothing to tell in their spick rooms’
Discipline how with its old violence
Grass raged under the floor
.

The raging grass stands, I suggest, for the forces of nature that will, in due course, bring down the house. By extension, the grass symbolizes the forces in human beings that undermine prim moral management.

One of these unruly forces is sexuality, which is too powerful and too diverse in its choice of desirable persons, to be brought under spick discipline.

Thomas, addressing a woman, says:

. . . Half the world
Hesitates at its dull prayers,
As its soul skids suddenly on your stocking
.

Here, in Thomas’s retelling of the Garden of Eden story, are Eve and Adam:

ADAM:‘What’s that you’ve got on?’

EVE:‘Nothing. Why?’

ADAM:‘I could have sworn.’

EVE:‘Don’t do that. Here, taste.’

ADAM:‘H’m! Who gave it you?’

EVE:‘He flowed. Look – like this.’

ADAM:Whereas I am erect, rigid.’

Adam’s words could, of course, mean that he is upright morally, that he is straight of posture, or that his . . . .

Like Thomas’s poetry, the Bible’s words often convey more than one meaning. So it’s cavalier to quote a few verses from one translation of the Bible, and then declare: “That’s what God says, and you’d better believe it!”

That declaration characterizes the words of many of the persons who argue that it was right to strip my brother United Methodist clergyman of his ordination for officiating at his son’s same-sex marriage. And when they called into talk-radio the other day, they hinted that I was on a slippery slope to perdition, while they “lived in houses on the main road / To God.”

I wish I could have helped them see “how with its old violence / Grass rages under the floor” of the “spick rooms” in which they primly manage their talk about the Bible and homosexuality.

But they were in no mood to hear what I wanted to say.

When you read the Bible thoughtfully, you discover that God uses anything but spick sexual behavior to achieve divine purposes.

Consider the family tree of Jesus. There’s Tamar (Matthew 1:3), who dressed as a prostitute, had sex with her father-in-law, and gave birth to their twin sons (Genesis 38:13-26).

There’s Rahab (Matthew 1:5): hers was the oldest profession (Joshua 2:1).

Ruth (Matthew 1:5) – well, read Ruth 3:1-13, keeping in mind that “uncover his feet” is probably (although it’s contested) a euphemism for releasing a man’s penis from any constricting clothing.

Bathsheba appears in Jesus’ genealogy as “the wife of Uriah” (Matthew 1:6). If you don’t recall the story, see 2 Samuel 11:1-17.

In short, the genealogy of Jesus suggests that God used people who engaged in irregular sexual behavior to bring Jesus into the world.

Therefore I suspect that travelers on the way to God are more diverse, more inclusive, than the self-appointed traffic controllers think they should be.

To be precise: One of the most radiant Christians I know is gay. God created him as he is. He loves as God created him to love. And in his role as a highly skilled church musician, he has helped numerous people, young and older, experience a genuine relationship with Christ.

Poems of R. S. Thomas quoted in this blog:

“There was part of the parish that few knew” – “The Parish,” Tares, 15.

“Half the world” – “Girl,” Pietà, 25.

“ADAM: ‘What’s that you’ve got on?” – “Sonata in X,” Mass for Hard Times, 81.

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3 thoughts on “Beware of People Who Think They Live on the Main Road to God

  1. my “local soul friend” loaned me a book the other day, Original Blessing by Matthew Fox.
    He questions the fundamental principle of original sin through sexuality, which came into being as a theological construct from Augustine and the council of Trent in the 16th Century, onto which the church has hung it’s coat of damnation and salvation, thus shrouding the view to God’s smile on his gift to mankind of sexual expression. The alternative?….The original before ‘the original sin’, God’s grace in creation and creativity…… and I’m only on page 49!
    Let the grass grow where the wild things are!

    • I see I got click happy, and lo, your reply appears twice. Fine with me, shows how much I agree with you.
      In some post I may develop this impression: I think it was Paul who began the process of messing up the Christian view of sexuality. Why do we take seriously the ideas about sex of a man who thought the world would end in his lifetime? Best to be celibate, but if you’re burning, better to marry – now there’s a position on which to erect a sexual ethic! I agree with RST who says that when we’re reading Paul, we’re “staring / across deep crevices at conclusions at which / the living Jesus would not willingly have arrived.”

  2. My ‘local soul friend’, also retired clergy, handed me the other day, “Original Blessing” by Mathew Fox. It questions the concept of “original sin”, apparently a theological construct of Augustine and the 16th century council of Trent, onto which the church has hung it’s coat of damnation and salvation, thus shrouding from view God’s smile at this gift to mankind of sexual expression. The alternative? is the original before original sin. Finding God’s grace in creation and creativity. Exactly what RS did. Let the grass grow where the wild things are!

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