“The category is ‘Live’, ‘Work’, ‘Pose’!!!” I finally caved to the peer pressure of our illustrious Associate Rector and recently started watching the critically acclaimed show, Pose, on FX. Some of you are already converts to the good news of Pose, and so this’ll be review. For others, a few notes about the show will help orient us to the truth it lays out, particularly as those truths seem incredibly relevant when exploring this morning’s gospel. Pose is a drama that takes a deep dive into the lives of gay, trans, and gender queer black and latinx individuals in the drag ball culture in New York around the 80’s. It tells the story of people who both because of their race, but even more so their sexuality and gender identity, were then and sadly in many spaces are still today, considered non-persons, less than, inferior, or even, as Jesus is accused of being by his family today, out of their minds. The specter of the still new and terrifying disease AIDS lingers as a part of the backdrop of the show. Yet, this is not a story of trauma and pain alone. Much more so it is a story of exuberant self-expression, of joy, of abundant life – it is the story of love and chosen family, of the need we all have to live our truth out loud, to be fully and completely who God created us to be!
So it was as I began to watch the pilot season and the first few episodes that I heard distinct and clear theological truths being spoken, truths that are profoundly and radically akin to the good news Jesus preached and practiced in the gospel of Mark. When we heard this morning, that Jesus’ family have come to put him in his place, come with intent to silence and rein him in, I saw resonances with the stories of the young people cast out from their homes, rejected by their families because of their identity, because of who they love or because they don’t fit into the narrow categories society would have them conform to. When Jesus points to those gathered around him and says, “Here are my mother and my brothers!” he is pointing to the creation of a new family, one that embodies the very kingdom he preaches and practices, a family centered on the acceptance, love, healing, and life-affirming presence of God.
The category is ‘Live’!”
The characters of Pose, most of whom had experienced deep and life-ending rejection from family, were redeemed and reclaimed, and put on a path toward healing in the legendary houses of the ball culture, their chosen families. Through these new families those whom society had tried to kill are being given new life! The main character of the show, Blanca starts a new legendary house of Evangelista based on the premise that no one should be an outcast, that all should have a home and a family where they are loved and accepted. Her model as a mother drawing in the misfits and the wounded, those seeking to have their voices heard and their lives affirmed echoes with the image of Jesus this morning, surrounded by a crowd, all yearning for healing, acceptance, love, and abundant life.
The category is ‘Work’!
This is the good news of the gospel, the work of the gospel, that in Jesus, we experience a God who beckons us to himself, draws us closer to the healing and life-giving presence of the Divine being, and invites us to do the same. Theologian Roberta Bondi relates the thought of a 6th century monk, Dorotheos who liked to explain the salvific work of God using the image of a circle with dots around the circumference and with a dot at the center and lines connecting the dots at the periphery to the hub, which Dorotheos said represented God. Bondi explained,
“The straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of human beings…To move toward God, then, human beings move from the circumference along the various radii of the circle to the center. But at the same time, the closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another, the closer they become to God.”
Such a theological truth is echoed at the heart of our own Prayerbook’s explanation of the mission of the church, answering in the catechism that it is to “restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” The work of our lives as disciples of Jesus is this work, the work of reconciliation between estranged peoples, the work of healing the world comes as we allow ourselves, our lives, to be drawn, as we even draw others, to the center, to the beating, loving, healing, heart of God. This is what kinship across lines of difference looks like – this is how we build Beloved Community – we find ourselves reconciled not at the periphery and margins but at the center of the life of God, in Christ.
The category is ‘Pose’!
At the center of the second episode of the show is a magnificent speech by one of the few white characters in the show, Stan, played by Evan Peters, an aspiring young worker in the finance industry, trying to build a name for himself and his family, trying to live his version of the American dream, a dream built on status and money and of fitting in. It is clear as we meet Stan though, that he is a man wrestling with identity and desire. Stan is, he believes, falling in love with Angel, a member of the house of Evangelista, a beautiful young trans woman who is trying to make ends meet as an exotic dancer and occasional call girl. Stan is enamored of Angel and is trying to find a way to get her off the street and, in a way, to possess her as only his. Angel is baffled by his overtures, and frankly does not trust that he can or will follow through with his offers of support. She asks him why he is so drawn to her, why would a guy, accepted by his peers, living the dream, not at the margins of society but at its center, want her, a trans woman of color, someone despised and rejected by society, someone who, as she says has to work to keep her dignity while on her knees begging for scraps from the table. Stan responds,
“I’m no one. I want what I’m supposed to want, I wear what I’m supposed to wear, and I work where I’m supposed to work. I stand for nothing … I can buy things I can’t afford, which means they’re not really mine … I accumulate. I’m a brand, a middle-class white guy,” he says.
“But you are who you are, even though the price you pay is being disinvited from the world. I’m the one playing dress up.”
Stan is naming a central lie that undergirds so much of our life and society, that the existence we are trained and schooled and cultured to crave, the life of money and status and acceptance by those in power, is actually not life at all. Such a life requires the very marginalization that would keep the undesirables, the outcasts, the rejected, on the periphery of society. Such a life depends not on drawing all inward toward the heart of God, but of violently expelling and scapegoating those we’ve been taught to “other” so that we can get ours. Jesus says this morning that Satan cannot cast out Satan. In our culture we’ve tended to turn Satan into a devil, a personification of evil, a deity, perhaps lesser, but still a being of significance who opposes good and God in a perpetual cosmic struggle. But, Satan, in the frame Jesus is using, is actually the absence of being, nothing, an absence of goodness and life and love, a contagion that infects the human heart. What Stan is seeing, what he is naming, is that he has been infected by a contagion far worse than any affliction that can hurt the body. And, as Jesus says, Satan cannot cast out Satan. Or as one of my favorite lines of an Arcade Fire song says, “If you want something, don’t ask for nothing.” The antidote to the lie, to the death dealing nothingness, the satanic cult of power, money, and prestige, is to live fully and completely as who God created you to be! Pose! When Jesus says his family are those who do the will of God, he is pointing to the central truth of the Ball culture – namely, be extravagant and joyful and show off who God called you to be. Pose!
The category is, Live, Work, Pose!
Live! Embrace the life-giving, affirming, loving, healing presence of God and God’s beloved community – the family of God that claims and names you as a child of God, and know that through you and all of us together God blesses all of life as we serve and heal the world in Jesus’ name!
Work! Spread the good news. Be evangelistas for the word of healing and acceptance that you’ve found in the church and with one another in our chosen family, in this the first fruits of Beloved Community. Invite others into the family, do the work of reconciliation in the church and in the world. Be disciples of Jesus!
Pose! Be nothing more or less than the beautiful, extravagant, wonderful person God created and called you to be. Live life out loud. Be you, for to be such is to do the will of God, to be divinely and sublimely inspired and graced as none other can be.
The category is, Live, Work, Pose! Amen!