Friday, June 24, 2011

March and Shout

As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it. (Joshua 6.20)

Some Parades Aren’t for Watching

For years, Walt and I scheduled an annual vacation in Paris for the Fête de la Musique, a dusk-to-dawn revel unlike any in the world. One year, Paris’s Fête du Pride—the LGBT celebration held the last Saturday in June—fell four days after the Fête de la Musique. Knowing Paris, we knew it would be big and didn’t want to miss a beat. We dropped in on a friend who’d spent a lot of time in New York. “Where’s the best place to watch the parade?” we asked. He wasn’t sure what we meant. Assuming our French was off, we rephrased the question. He still wasn’t clear. As a last resort, we tried English. “Ah,” he replied with a wry smile. “It’s not a parade one watches; it’s a march one joins in solidarity of purpose—to demand equality for all. Naturally, there will be music and dancing and costumes. But the march is more than that. It’s for everyone and everyone participates. You’ll see.” And so we did. As the route turned into the Place de la Bastille, the boulevard leading to the Place de la Republique—the final destination—overflowed with half a million people marching (many with distinctive flair) for LGBT equality.

Some parades aren’t for watching. They must be joined—if not physically, in spirit. This holds for any parade that celebrates minorities and movements, as its primary goal is demonstrating solidarity of purpose. Along with marking the community’s proud heritage, longevity, and progress, a yearning to overcome still greater barriers surges beneath the jubilance. Aside from displaying collective strength, the mobility touches a primal nerve. It says, “We’re not satisfied yet. We won’t stand still or be silent until every impediment raised against us is removed. As long as one of us is unjustly held back, we’ll march ahead as one.” Sideline viewing won’t get you there. Nor, as Israel’s legendary conquest of Jericho teaches, will relying on the kindness of strangers. As they say, you gotta be in it to win it.

A Place Belonging to Them

To date, archeologists have unearthed just enough evidence to support pro and con cases for Joshua 6’s version of Jericho’s fall. Some scholars defend its historical veracity; others theorize Joshua’s author reframes the conquest as metaphor to emphasize the miraculous nature of actual events. Read literally or metaphorically, the message is the same: God delivers on the promise that Israel will have a land of its own. And noting a few known facts about Jericho while revisiting the legend greatly amplifies its meaning and relevance.

Jericho is at its pinnacle when Israel arrives (ca. 1550 BCE). While it’s too soon in the human saga to call it a “major metropolis”—it covers eight square acres—it’s a renowned manufacturing and trade center. Compared to nomadic peoples like Israel, its citizens, politics, and culture are highly advanced. Furthermore, Jericho’s commercial eye looks favorably on foreign artisans and laborers. Few cities match its expansive capability to assimilate and accommodate outsiders. These and other factors make Jericho an open city—except when outside threats arise. Then, its gates slam shut and its fate hangs on walls said to be the strongest of their time.

So, realistically, the Israelites have an option. Instead of mounting a full-frontal attack, they can systematically occupy Jericho in waves, like other immigrant groups have done. And they know this, as two spies Joshua dispatches to survey the city in advance enter and move about it freely. (Only when their mission comes to light do they encounter hostility.) Yet Israel also recognizes stealthy integration isn’t enough. God promises much more than a place for them to “belong.” No, God promises the Israelites a place belonging to them—where their voice matters, their views carry weight, and they’re entitled to shape their destiny. Before Jericho and the adjacent Canaanite territory can truly be The Promised Land, every barrier relegating Israel to second-class status must topple. Strolling into town, settling down quietly, and hoping for change won’t change anything. (It will be Egypt redux—less traumatic, perhaps, but a backward step all the same, since they’ll lose autonomy gained in the desert.) When change needs to happen, walls need to fall. And when walls need to fall, it’s time to do exactly as God instructs Israel: march and shout.

Circus Act

Over-familiarity with the story leads us to discount how peculiar God’s strategy must sound to Israel and how strange its execution must look to Jericho. Word of potential military assault puts the city on lockdown. Defensive troops stand watch on the walls. When the Israelites are first sighted marching toward Jericho, their armed guard leads the way. As they get closer, though, things get weirder. Seven trumpeters decked out in priestly regalia follow the guard, and behind them seven more priests haul some sort of fancy box. (Canaanite ignorance of Israelite culture keeps them from recognizing the Ark of the Covenant—the vehicle expressly designed to transport the nation’s most sacred relics to The Promised Land.) As for the army, well, it’s definitely irregular. Even at a distance, it’s plainly sub-standard. Its weapons are crude. Its uniforms (or lack of them) aren’t presentable. And it obviously could use some discipline.

By the time Israel reaches Jericho’s perimeter, it’s a joke. The city watches in befuddlement, wondering what this circus act means. The Israelites make a lot of racket while parading once around the walls. Then they go home. They repeat the march for six days. Day Seven’s parade runs longer. The Israelites make seven laps around Jericho. Just when the march starts to wind down, the trumpeters sound a blast and the army yells at the top of its lungs. The rest is history—or, if you prefer, legend.

People of the Promise

This weekend, cities around the world will commemorate the birth of the LGBT equality movement 32 years ago, when a handful of irregular-looking patrons of a tiny New York City bar decided intolerance no longer could be tolerated. Just as Israel’s rebellion against Pharaoh triggered an onslaught of chaos and violence, the 1969 Stonewall uprising sparked a series of riots that shook the world. Gay communities everywhere united, instinctively marching out of our Egypt, where we’d been held captive and forced to live persona non grata in service to oppressive powers. The heady pursuit of freedom and equality set us down the path Israel followed: we abused our liberty by shrugging off responsibilities to safeguard our health and welfare. Urgent threats to our survival disoriented us. For the more than a decade it felt like we’d lost our bearings in a wilderness of death and disease. The desert’s crises muted our exuberance, but we kept marching. While adversaries sat on their hands and jeered at our distress, our persistence prevailed. Allies from everywhere joined our march. With their help, by God’s providence, each step brought us nearer to our Promised Land.

So where are we? I believe we’ve crossed the Jordan. Where we live now looks nothing like where we left. During our wilderness ordeal, God prospered the place promised to us, enlightening its people to the advantages of tolerance and equality. Yet we mustn’t mistake the hospitality and kindness of strangers for an acceptable option. Strolling through open gates, settling down quietly, and hoping for change won’t change our being viewed apart from the majority. Our 32-year journey brings us to Jericho, the last bastion of impediments between the promise and us. We haven’t come this far to compromise. A place where we can belong is a far cry from a place belonging to us, where our voices, wishes, and self-determination inform the world we live in and future we shape for generations to come. Equality isn’t real until all things are equal. Freedom is an illusion if one of us isn’t free.

As people of the promise—gay and straight, young and old—we will march and shout until every wall crumbles in every corner of the world. We will remain mindful that, right now, millions of LGBT sisters and brothers in Asia, Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Caribbean have only begun their march. For those held captive to fear of death, violence, and political reprisal, the Promised Land is a flickering dream. Even we who live in more advanced societies face allegedly unconquerable barriers of indoctrinated prejudice, legalized injustice, and institutional indifference. This has to change for good. When change needs to happen, walls need to fall. When walls need to fall, we march and shout.

For the Record

This weekend, and every time LGBT people and their allies—as well as every other minority and movement—take to the streets, we remember some parades aren’t for watching. Christ’s command to love our Creator and neighbors compels us to join their march, in spirit or, if possible, in person. The Bible’s constant entreaty to defend the widow, care for the orphan, and welcome the stranger calls us to respond.

And, for the record, we know how weird and weak we look to gatekeepers and watchers on the walls. We realize ignorance of what our bizarre dress and behavior signifies blinds them to power we possess. It’s okay if they regard us as no more than a noisy circus act. Every march is one more lap around the walls. Every shout rattles their foundations.

Joshua 6.20 reads, “As soon as the people heard the sound of the trumpets, they raised a great shout, and the wall fell down flat; so the people charged straight ahead into the city and captured it.” Though it looks and feels like we’re walking in circles, we’re privy to the plan. Day Seven is coming. Remaining bastions of inequality and exclusion will fall. What’s promised will belong to us at last.

We may look weird and weak, our dress and behavior may seem bizarre, and our marches and shouts may appear futile. But we’re privy to the plan. Day Seven is coming.

Postscript: Much to Be Thankful For

By design, Straight-Friendly was launched on June 29, 2008 to coincide with the Stonewall anniversary, hoping to underscore LGBT right of Christian inclusion as both a spiritual and social mandate. Thus, this weekend also celebrates our third year together. And what a magnificent journey it’s been!

There’s much to be thankful for. First and foremost, I lift a heart of gratitude to God, Whose gentle love and abiding presence sustain this place, to Jesus Christ, Whose teaching and example are its bedrock, and to the Holy Spirit, Whose guidance and instruction steady its course. And then there are all of you, who’ve so generously embraced, nurtured, and blessed Straight-Friendly with your love, wisdom, joy, and strength of character. I’m humbled beyond measure that you would claim me as your brother—and thrilled beyond compare to count everyone who gathers here, seen and unseen, as true friends. May God richly reward the faithfulness and kindness you’ve showered on S-F, its readers, and me as we continue marching ahead.

Happy Anniversary!


Sherry Peyton said...

What a great tribute Tim! And especially today as we celebrate New York's entry into marriage equality. It is a special day all around. God's hand is surely in all this with love and uplifting care.


Tim said...

God's hand is surely in all this with love and uplifting care.

Sherry, I couldn't agree more. This week as we heard NY's marital wall creaking and watched cracks forming, I kept reminding myself, here's another glimpse of the future. And when the wall came down, I thought, this weekend's march in Manhattan will be a victory dance!

One the LGBT community's greatest sources of pride is knowing we've been blessed to forge new inroads for other minorities and movements and future generations. Our progress wouldn't be possible were it not for groups that preceded us, going as far back as ancient communities that withstood oppression and demanded justice. And our work will not end once our own walls fall. There is nobility in that which transcends the immediate concerns and goals calling all of us to march and shout!

It is indeed a special day! And I'm so glad you're here sharing it with us!