Beloved Dreams (John 1)

Monday, January 16, 2023


Biggest thank you to Heather for completing this transcript!

TFF2023 Episode 2 John 1

Channing: [00:00:00] Hi, I'm Channing.

Elise: And I'm Elise. 

Channing: And this is The Faithful Feminist Podcast. 

Elise: [00:00:09] We focus on feminist interpretation of scriptures and follow the LDS Come Follow Me Manual as a guide for study. We understand that scriptures can be a tricky endeavor for readers, but we also believe sacred texts contain really compelling examples of loving and liberating relationships with the divine others and ourselves.

[00:00:29] We hope you'll join us in exploring the problems and promises of sacred text with imagination, critique, and celebration to reveal what we feel is the loving and liberating heart of scripture. 

Channing: [00:00:40] While Mormonism, with its iconic floral foyer, couches is our background, we follow our faith in our God on the path of spirituality, over institution and connection over condemnation.

[00:00:53] We are fellow wanderers, weavers, and doubters. If you found yourself feeling too faithful for some and not enough for others, welcome. We've saved you a seat on the soft chairs.

[00:01:09] Hi friends. Welcome back to the podcast. This week we'll be studying John chapter one for the dates January 16th through the 22nd. Before we get right into the chapter, we want to offer a little bit of context and commentary for the text. This week, for example, we have a new person writing- a new voice in the text, and this is John.

[00:01:29] We understand John to be a disciple of John the Baptist, who later became one of the first followers of Jesus Christ and one of the 12 apostles. In this first chapter of the Book of John, we see John, or whoever the author is, we see their writing style come through, and we really understand it to be mystical and one that carries a tone of wonder.

[00:01:51] Instead of starting with Jesus's birth, John takes us back to the intergalactic beginning with discussions of language, God, light and dark. John also makes special note of the awe that is divinity being made flesh and dwelling with us on Earth. John also talks about Jesus arriving to his ministry, gathering the 12 apostles- not all 12, but a handful of apostles at the time- and yeah, just the beginnings of the introductions to Jesus. So we're going to explore a little bit more about who John is, talk a little bit about light, dark, and language, and then talk about Jesus's invitation to come and see. And really quickly before we get into the bulk of the episode, we do want to offer a content warning for our listeners for a mention of anti-black violence later on in this episode.

[00:02:40] So as always, listen with care and take care of yourselves. Love you.

Elise: [00:02:45] One of the things that I found when I was researching for this episode is this conversation around John the beloved disciple of Jesus, and as far back as like the 16th century, some people believed that the reference to the beloved disciple was really John himself, and that John was also perhaps Jesus' lover and this information comes from an article from the website  QSpirit titled “John the Evangelist: Beloved Disciple of Jesus—and maybe his lover” by Kittredge Cherry. And we learn that the love between Jesus and John has been celebrated and depicted by artists since Medieval times. And this story has also inspired many queer folks, and of course caused controversy for centuries.

[00:03:30] In this article, Cherry writes, “The possibility of John as genderfluid or genderqueer is also being explored because John is often portrayed as younger and beardless, which is more feminine by traditional standards.” We also learned that John was at many of the main events in Jesus' ministry, including the raising of Jairus’s daughter, and during the atonement in the garden of Gethsemane.

[00:03:55] Additionally, the unnamed disciple whom Jesus loved is mentioned five times in the Gospel of John, and in the final chapter the author of this book identifies himself as the beloved disciple. Of course, there are lots of other claims or considerations for who the beloved disciple could be, and some people have claimed that this title belongs to Lazarus or Thomas or even Mary Magdalene.

Channing: [00:04:20] So whoever the beloved disciple was, it is written that they reclined next to Jesus at the last Supper and rested their head on Jesus' chest. Many works of art depict this tender encounter of John resting his head tenderly on Jesus' chest. Cherry writes,  “There is even a medieval European tradition that John and Jesus were the bridal couple at the Cana wedding feast…the Bible tells the story in John 2:1-11 without ever naming who was getting married. But the apocryphal Acts of John state that John broke off his engagement to a woman to ‘bind himself’ to Jesus.”

Many modern scholars have expressed the belief that Jesus and his beloved disciples shared an erotic physical relationship.

[00:05:05] And in a book by Theodore Jennings, who is a Biblical theology professor at Chicago Theology Seminary, this book titled The Man Jesus Loved: Homoerotic Narratives from the New Testament, Jennings finds the evidence inconclusive as to whether the beloved disciple was John, but leaves no doubt that Jesus had a male lover.

Elise: [00:05:27] I really, really love piecing all of these tiny narratives together to really flesh out a possible story between John and Jesus. And I also found that Sufjan Stevens has a song titled “John My Beloved,” where he sings the following lyrics:

I'm holding my breath

My tongue on your chest

What can be said of my heart?

If history speaks, the kiss on my cheek

Where there remains but a mark

Beloved my John, so I'll carry on

Counting my cards down to one

And when I am dead, come visit my bed

My fossil is bright in the sun

So can we contend, peacefully

Before my history ends?

So with each of these depictions, whether it is in narrative or art or song, or simple, inspirational conjectures, I thought it was really a wonderful queer reading of the relationship between John and Jesus, and again, offers us one pathway, not the pathway, for interpreting different relationships that Jesus had during his lifetime.

Channing: [00:06:31] That's so exciting and I think the potentiality there definitely comes through as we look a little bit deeper into their stories and their characters. As we move toward the text and studying what the chapter says, we really wanted to look closely at the meeting places of three different verses in the first chapter of John. We want to start near the beginning of the text with verses one and four. Verse one reads “1: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; 4: In him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.”

So as I was going through reading this text, I was thinking about, “oh my gosh, literally all my favorite topics are showing up in the first chapter of John. We're talking about light and darkness. We're talking about the creation. We're talking about the word we're talking about God becoming flesh. The word becoming flesh. It's all just so exciting.” And one of the texts that I think is so, for me, intricately linked with the concept of creation and speaking things into creation is an essay titled “Poetry Is Not A Luxury” by Audre Lorde, Saint Audre Lorde, in my mind, and Audre Lorde really explores these themes of light and darkness in this essay.

[00:07:56] For example, Lorde describes darkness as “a place within, where hidden and growing our true spirit rises.” Lorde offers a new understanding of this inner darkness as something neither empty nor malicious, but as “an ancient and deep place of possibility,” an “incredible reserve of creativity and power of unexamined and unrecorded emotion and feeling.”

[00:08:22] And I know a lot of times when we're talking about light and darkness, we kind of talk about them as opposites or things that contrast each other. But for Audre Lorde light is not the contrast of darkness, but an addition to it. As a self-described black woman warrior poet, Lorde experiences light and lightness as the beginnings of language.

[00:08:46] She writes, “Poetry [or the beginnings of language] is illumination.” And my question is: Why? Why is poetry illumination? Why is it a synonym for light? Audre Lorde answers this saying, “For it is through poetry that we give name to those ideas which are - until the poem - nameless and formless, about to be birthed, but already felt. It is within this light [of poetry] that we form those ideas by which we pursue our magic and make it realized.”

[00:09:20] And I know we're on a podcast so you can't see me, but there's this part of me that gets so excited and so lit-up talking about the ideas that Lorde presents in this essay. To quickly summarize, Lorde carefully walks us through a reframing of darkness as a potent place of power and possibility, a hidden place full of ancient emotion, feeling, and creativity.

[00:09:43] Lord then describes light as not the opposite of darkness, but the vehicle through which deep creative power and potentiality is expressed. For me personally, I am absolutely seeing some incredible parallels here between darkness and God's self. Whatever form God might be to you. When I look at the descriptive words Audre Lorde uses for darkness, I see words like: ancient, deep, possibility, power, creativity, a place where our true spirit rises. And the parallels for me don't stop there.

[00:10:14] I also see a lot of similarity between Lorde's description of light and the mythical figure of Jesus. 

Elise: [00:10:20] Lorde continues to write “Poetry [or the beginnings of language] is the way we give name to the nameless so it can be thought. We can train ourselves to respect our feelings and to transpose them into a language so they can be shared.”

And we want to pause here.

[00:10:37] Sometimes God and the experience of God is described as “ineffable” or beyond words, as if saying it is too holy for language, too sacred to be shared. And while we're not necessarily disagreeing with those that feel this way, we want to push back a little because we do think there is something powerful in what Lord says here: “Poetry is the way we give name to the nameless, the way we respect our feelings so they can be shared.”

Channing: [00:11:06] So what if we looked at it another way? Jesus's birth, life and ministry are also known as the condescension of God. There are some negative connotations for the word condescension with definitions like “relinquishment of dignity” or “inferiority”, but none of those words feel right to me when I think of God/darkness and Jesus/light, especially in the context of Lorde's essay.

[00:11:30] When I read the Condescension of God, the word feels less like a sense of descent and more like coming down, maybe not even coming down, but the sense of coming through, let me try saying it this way. What if we think of Jesus descending from, a descendant of, or coming through God/darkness? How might this happen?

[00:11:53] How might the nameless God be named? How might a deep, dark, ancient creative power be expressed so it might be shared? Well both John and Lorde attempt an answer. For example, Lorde writes of everyday humans,  “I believe that [we] carry within ourselves the possibility for fusion of darkness and light.” John writes in verse 14: And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

[00:12:23] What this paired reading presents is the exciting understanding that the coming through of God happened through a process of revelatory distillation, and the result of this was named Jesus or Light. 

Elise: [00:12:37] And although Lorde focuses on women's experiences with creativity and language and never explicitly or implicitly relates her words to God or Jesus, a paired reading of her essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury” and John chapter one reframes the condescension of God with exciting depth and unexpected commentary. For example, here are some really powerful excerpts from Lorde's essay. See what happens for you as you play around with the language of light, darkness, feeling language and poetry in the context of God's self and Jesus.

[00:13:10] She writes, “Poetry is not a luxury. It is a vital necessity of our existence. It forms the quality of light within which we predicate our hopes and dreams toward survival and change, first made into language, then into idea, then into more tangible action.”

Finally, in the words of Lorde we can hear echoes of the concepts of surprise creation, recreation, catalyst, and new beginnings that we also heard in Luke chapter one with the annunciation and the miraculous conception. Lorde writes, “There are no new pains. We have felt them all already. We have hidden that fact in the same place where we have hidden our power. They surface in our dreams, and it is our dreams that point the way to freedom. Those dreams are made realizable through our poems that give us the strength and courage to see, to feel, to speak, to dare.”

In Jesus, the dream of God made flesh, who gives strength and courage to see, feel, speak, and dare. Jesus, who knows there are no new pains and has felt them all already. Jesus who reminds us the power hidden in the dark places inside each of us everyday human word dwelling among us beings. Jesus, uncovering our grace and truth by showing us his own. 

Channing: [00:14:34] Oh, I just think this is so exciting and so many of the possibilities that this pairing presents just get me really lit up and fired up. And so I'm really glad that we were able to share this with our listeners this week.

[00:14:47] Exploring the language of John chapter one through Audre Lorde's work is fascinating and it also comes with responsibility, especially for white readers. Lorde reminds us that, “Experience has taught us that action in the now is also necessary, always. Our children cannot dream unless they live, they cannot live unless they are nourished. “If you want us to change the world someday, we at least have to live long enough to grow up!” shouts the child.” And with these words, we must remember and implicate ourselves and our participation in the systems of oppression and harm. This week, Keenan Anderson, a 31-year-old Black father and high school English teacher, was killed by Los Angeles police officers who were responding to a call for help to a traffic accident.

[00:15:35] Lorde reminds us that people cannot dream unless they live and cannot change the world unless they live long enough to grow. This week, please take Audre Lorde's words to heart and take action in the now. Listen to and center Black voices always, and especially in situations that have a direct impact on Black lives.

[00:15:56] Continue to join the call for police defunding and abolition. Read “No More Police: A Case for Abolition” by Miriame Kaba who helps us understand why rejection of police reform is so important. We learn from Audre Lorde that words have power, so speak out loud so others can hear you and say, “Black lives matter.”

[00:16:15] And make sure they know you mean it by backing it up with action. In the now. Listen, learn, share with and encourage your friends and family. Donate and show up. 

Elise: [00:16:27] Yes. I love this. I actually think this is a really nice echo that we do end up seeing through the phrase “come and see” which shows up twice as an invitation in John chapter one.

[00:16:38] The first time it shows up is in verse 39, where Jesus says “come and see” in response to the question, “Where dwellest thou?” And the second time it comes up is in verse 46, where Philip actually responds to his friend Nathaniel who wonders if anything good can come out of Nazareth. And Phillip says “come and see.”

[00:17:00] And up until this point I can understand how many of the potential disciples or people in that community have been thinking and learning and talking about Jesus. They know all the prophecies, they know the stories, they know the literature. But what I like about these invitations to “come and see” is that it can be read like a plea to move from thinking and talking to action, exactly like Channing was outlining with the Lorde piece.

[00:17:27] And in contemporary terms, this is an invitation to do the work in tangible, community-focused, responsive ways that require sacrifice, action, and the risk of making mistakes. This reminds me of a meme that I like where there's this small, smart, snooty little corgi dog who thinks he's better than everyone else because he reads Marxist theory and knows the political theory of, like, Antonio Gramsci.

[00:17:53] And on the other side of the meme, there's that, like, giant, super buff Corgi who knows nothing about Marks or Gramsci, but volunteers, redistributes his wealth, and knows all of his neighbors by name and practices community care and safety. And the joke is that many folks who consider themselves activists really only exist in theoretical and primarily online or individual spaces.

[00:18:17] Whereas other folks who know nothing about academic theory are often the ones who are actually involved and engaged in community aid and transformation work.

Channing: [00:18:27] Absolutely. And if we look a little bit more closely at the phrase “come and see”, we see that “come” is a verb of motion, meaning to move with the purpose of reaching some point.

[00:18:38] We might ask ourselves: is our online or private work moving outside of individual spaces? What is the purpose we are trying to reach? I know many of us talk about liberation and justice and freedom, but how are we acting and moving? Yes, of course self-education is incredibly important, but that can't be the end.

[00:19:00] And as we know, the revolution will not be online. The revolution is not a trendy Instagram post. And please know that this is just as big of a critique of ourselves as it is of anyone else. We are uncomfortably self-aware in situations like this.

Elise: [00:19:14] That's right. But that's a necessary part of it. And the second piece of the “come and see” phrase is the plea to see or the act of becoming aware, perceiving, understanding, or experiencing. And I think for many of us, we require our personal experiences before we can become aware or truly understand an issue or be in solidarity with others. And I think that Jesus recognizes that many of us need to experience things personally before we get on board with the cause.

[00:19:45] But this is why I think the first requirement to “come” demands more of us than simply personal experience. It's a demand to come and be in community with those we think we know intellectually about. It's one thing to think we know something about unhoused folks or addicts, but the call of Jesus demands that we come and commune, come and be with marginalized groups before we get to claim the seeing, understanding, and personalized experience. Thus, come and see is a two-part plea, come as movement or action, and then we have the opportunity to see or understand things for ourselves. 

Channing: [00:20:25] Oh, this is just so good. I know we're only two episodes into the New Testament, but I'm so pumped. Is this the book we've been waiting four years for? I'm like, “It's finally here!” It's just so exciting. It's just incredible. 

Thank you, friends, so much for joining us for this episode, for walking through John chapter one with us and exploring this radical text with other really incredible radical authors, writers, creators, and dreamers with us.

[00:20:55] We love you and we'll see you again next week. Bye.

Elise: [00:21:01] Friends, thank you so much for joining us today for another episode of The Faithful Feminist Podcast. We know your time and space is sacred, and we're grateful to have spent ours with you. If you enjoyed this episode, we would love it if you showed your support by sharing the podcast, leaving us a loving rating on iTunes, or connect with us on Instagram as The Faithful Feminist.

Channing: [00:21:21] We're deeply grateful for your kindness and encouragement. We love you so, so much, and we hope to spend more time with you again soon. Bye friends.

Powered by Blogger.