I received my advance review copy of Outside the lines: how embracing queerness will transform your faith, by Mihee Kim-Kort, from Fortress Press about a month before its recent release date. And I read it. … Since then, I’ve been trying to work out how to describe the book. This is a good thing. It means it’s given me plenty of food for thought.
I mean, it all makes perfect sense to someone who does not come out of a particularly conservative faith background (or whose views of Christianity have not been formed by a popular but skewed picture of church people as prudes). But there are still some “aha” moments, as by defining inclusivity (basically) as “queer,” the thread of the book untangles and frees up lines of engagement with scripture and spirituality in some new and inviting ways.
I can only imagine the joy and freedom of reading this book if one has never been invited to experiment with the theme and many variations of divine love. This could be life-changing.
Mihee Kim-Kort is generous with her own story, even inviting us into her family, her marriage, to make her theology personal and relational. She describes the all-too-familiar feeling of “passing” as a parent. She discusses the intimacy of friendships, and the extension of family in what she calls “queering kinship.” She critiques the “purity culture” which keeps too many Christians, especially girls and women, in thrall to an ideal of submission and suppression which is not healthy for many, which is not really about their purity but the power of those who define it. She notes, astutely, that
Purity isn’t just about sex or sexuality, or about gender identity and gender roles; it’s always about race and ethnicity, nationality, ability, and more. To define itself, it needs the Other. It needs those binaries of black or white, colonizer or colonized, father or daughter, male or female, chaste or defiled. These categories are necessary for purity to be useful as an instrument that propagates a certain system that gives power to some. (179)
There were a couple of sections of the book that brought me up short. One occurs early on, in a chapter title, provocatively, “Blessed are the promiscuous.”
The word “promiscuous” means more, Kim-Kort reminds us, than its popular definition.
It is rooted in the Latin words for “to mix” and carries with it a sense of bringing together various elements. This notion of promiscuity as indiscriminate mingling is a far cry from the negative cultural definition of promiscuous we use in a more judgmental way. … It’s an orientation outward toward others, and particularly the Other, to see and love with the indiscriminate excess of divine love. (47)
I won’t give the whole chapter away, but suffice to say that it’s a perfect example of how the author’s own story draws the reader along to examine her own closed doors and hidden sense of sin, that from which the gospel sets us free.
And despite my continuing (cultural, caged) discomfort with the language, I can’t help loving the last lines of the chapter:
When embodied lives collide and intersect with each other, a kind of bedlam of disintegrating categories occurs. In the unadulterated beauty of that promiscuous intermingling, we discover the ways God is incarnate among us. (65)
I had more difficulty with the description of the woman healed by Jesus’ garment-hem of a chronic issue of blood. Kim-Kort’s suggestion that the woman was prohibited by her disease from every form of human contact – from touching her own children – runs up against the teaching of another wise woman, Amy-Jill Levine.
She experienced severe isolation because of the impurity of this persistent bleeding. According to Jewish tradition, she was unholy and unclean. And she knew it. She was deemed untouchable.
Jewish Jesus scholar Levine argues
Although no version of the story cites Leviticus, mentions impurity, expresses surprise at a bleeding woman in public, … or portrays Jesus as abrogating any Law, New Testament scholars import all this and more. … The end, the liberation of women today, does not … justify the means, the false portrait of Judaism. …
In this classification, Jewish tradition is always retrograde, and Jesus, or the church liberates people from it. The point is the opposite of multiculturalism: rather than celebrating cultural difference, theologians first misinterpret Jewish cultural practices then condemn them.*
It is a cautionary tale of how, while we are colouring outside of some lines, we might find that we have drawn up a few fences of our own. That section remains problematic to me, even as I found delight in the rest of the book.
This was my favourite moment:
One year, I played the angel Gabriel, and the thought crossed my mind that angels are neither boys nor girls. It was this ambiguity that oddly assuaged any stage fright as I sang my first solo. There was no expectation of whether I was a girl or boy or Korean or white. I focused on playing a messenger of God, which was what mattered the most. (122-3)
This summed up the message of the book for me: that our identity as God’s beloved, commanded to love one another, is meant to transcend and illuminate whatever other categories or cages we might fall into or break out of. It illustrated what Kim-Kort promised in her introduction, that
God, in Jesus, is oriented toward us in a queer and radical way. Through the life, work, and witness of Jesus, we see a God who loves us with a queer love. And our faith in that God becomes a queer spirituality – a spirituality that breaks boundaries and moves outside of the categories of our making. …
Queerness matter because we need to see all the ways that we ourselves are loved by God, and loved in so many ways. And then we see and feel this in the myriad ways people love each other, which deepens and widens the very love of God in the world. (5-6)
Now, that’s good news. That’s the message of this book that deserves to be shared widely: that God loves us, each of us, all of us, without discretion, without boundary, without regulation or reason. No exceptions.
Mihee Kim-Kort, Outside the Lines: How embracing queerness will transform your faith (Fortress Press, 1 July 2018)
Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The church and the scandal of the Jewish Jesus (HarperOne, 2006), 173-5