The advent season is upon us and to countdown, the Keep Calm and Read On Blog will be hosting 4 weeks of Fictional Liturgy. Fiction, as discussed in a post I wrote for MuggleNet back in October, has the power to create empathy and teach the reader. It requires reflection. Good fiction contains wisdom. In these 4 blogs I plan to focus on a cultural issue and a specific work of fiction ranging from novels to films, while sprinkling in some personal notes from time to time. I wrote them as one would write a sermon…or at least how I imagine one writes a sermon. I do not claim to be a Biblical scholar nor do I claim these pieces of fiction I reference to carry more weight than the Bible. These posts will reflect my beliefs but I hope they will also reflect the message of Jesus and his vision of the Kingdom. Merry Christmas.
“Cause I had met friends at school whose parents were so awesome and then they came out and their parents have not talked to them since, and their parents are still so awesome to their two other kids. Right? And there’s this one issue where you can just have perfectly delightful people and then this one thing comes up and a switch is flipped and you just have no way of predicting whether or not someone will become a completely different person when you tell them that you’re gay.” – Matthew Vines, Liturgists Podcast
The first time I ever stepped foot into youth group was during the 2004 Presidential election. A kid named Jordan was sporting a shirt that said “Vote for George W. Bush” across the top and the center of the shirt said, “It was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” I laughed. My 14-year-old self found that statement to be clever while also relaying an important message. After all, gay marriage was wrong as far as I was concerned. I didn’t exactly know why nor was I a Bible buff, but being raised in a conservative household had simply implanted the notion in my brain. Like most people who are indoctrinated (which is most people no matter what you grow up believing), I went many years believing and defending my stance against gay marriage or any LGBTQ right for that matter. In fact, I remember how bothered I would be when I would see people defending the LGBTQ community and disregarding the Bible (which coincidently I had never read and disregarded everyday. Hypocrisy 101. Read about it in my previous blog).
By the time I entered college, my pride had been severely wounded. My stance had been attacked and therefore I felt as if I was under attack which is ridiculous to think about, but I am just telling the truth. We all can relate to those moments when you argue with someone close to you, realize you are wrong but are too big to apologize so you dig a deeper hole, and then go about the rest of your interaction sufficiently awkward for a day or two. That was how I felt. It seemed the obvious next step would be to get rid of the awkwardness and just apologize.
I discussed this idea more in my November blog series which can be read here, but I was beginning to actually listen a whole lot more to people who disagreed with me. Instead of the fight or flight knee jerk reaction I usually had when people discussed the LGBTQ debate, I started listening to people.
One of my favorite shows of all time, Shameless, has a character who is gay named Ian. In the third episode of the first season (which I also discussed in my November blog series and is my favorite episode of Shameless EVER), he comes out to one of his good friends, Mandy. When the episode starts out, she tries to make out with him but he pushes her away, comfortable enough in his sexuality but afraid to outright tell her the truth. Believing him to be rejecting her, Mandy tells her brothers what happened (with some additional details to save her pride) and they begin hunting Ian to beat him up for what he “did” to their sister. Finally, Ian realizes he has to face these guys and has every intention of confronting them knowing he will get beat up. But then he sees Mandy and decides to tell her everything. What follows is such a moving scene between the two friends. I seriously recommend everyone watch the show, or just that episode. It is so well done. This show portrayed a gay character as a human being and not a stereotype and I am sad to say that before watching the show, I was pretty ignorant to the feelings of the LGBTQ community. But I was starting to pay attention and have some empathy.
Then a close relative came out as gay. I learned that my roommate and good friend was gay and dating someone who was in the process of becoming a man. And what united all these people in my life and the character of Ian on Shameless was one thing – love. They all wanted to find and be in love. When I thought about it that way, I wondered why Christians would want to deny the world of such a happy prospect. As a Christian, my beliefs were being put to the test – a sad realization all things considered. I figured that from all I knew about Jesus and his teachings, being gay was as important to him as the color of the grass or the score of last night’s basketball game.
Before I explain where Tyrion Lannister fits into all of this, I invite you to view these links if you still don’t agree with my stance or if you don’t understand my stance. This blog entry’s function isn’t to go into depth about why I believe what I believe and therefore I will spend no more time on it.
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire book series features an array of brilliant and interesting characters but none seem to compare to Tyrion Lannister. Born shorter than most with a mind to overpower the sword and a hankering for the drink, Tyrion faces a lot of prejudice because he is different. We all know the classic trope. The Disney princesses sings about this all the time. Our character is different and has traits which rival most around them and so they long for a better life. Tyrion won’t be found singing, unless perhaps he has had too much to drink. His character has much more dimension than most in his position. Instead of singing you’d find him sharpening his wit with books. He can be found managing political issues and ignoring the fact that people find him inferior because of his height. “Never forget what you are,” he says. “for surely the world will not. Make it your strength. Then it can never be your weakness. Armour yourself in it, and it will never be used to hurt you.” (A Game of Thrones).
The sentiment is nice. But I imagine you are thinking, of course an oppressed character can resemble an oppressed group of people. How does this connect to the LGBTQ community specifically?
There are many ways to answer this question. The first points to the quote that started this blog off. How Tyrion is treated in comparison to those around him, particularly his siblings, is very striking. His father has never liked him or respected him not only for his size but the fact that it is his deformity that killed his mother in childbirth. It wasn’t Tyrion’s fault, but his father doesn’t care about any logical explanations. While Tyrion is not good looking like his sister Cersei or good with a sword like his brother Jaime, he is extremely smart. In A Clash of Kings, we see Tyrion step up to power (filling in for his father during the war) and run the Seven Kingdoms in a very no-nonsense fashion. He is in his element and essentially saves the city of Kings Landing. Finally, he has the opportunity to strut his stuff. For once his father seems to have overlooked his size when merely Tyrion only holds power for convenience sake. When his father returns to Kings Landing and takes control of things, he doesn’t even acknowledge Tyrion’s achievements. Tyrion feels as if he is left with nothing and is given no thanks for all he did for the city. To his father, Tyrion will always be lesser because of his size.
Tyrion later confronts his father, claiming he has been on trial his entire life for being a dwarf. No matter what he does, most people won’t overlook his demonic and repulsive size. Plus, the book makes it clear that Tyrion is also very ugly which turns characters off to him as well.
In the A Song of Ice and Fire universe, it is clear to the reader that people are threatened by the stigma of dwarves. Tyrion is an oddity and therefore people feel uncomfortable and want to believe the worst of him. He is something they aren’t used to. Throughout history there has been examples of society feeling threatened by change and people who are different. Civil rights in the 1960s, Islam and 9/11 (and now Isis), Jews and the Holocaust, the Japanese after Pearl Harbor…the list could go on and on. Even Christians can relate to this as our very own Jesus faced contempt when he defied Caesar’s law in Roman times.
It seems we have either gotten over most the these prejudices or are in the process of doing so. But there was a point when people adamantly believed that black people shouldn’t have the same rights as white people. What changed between then and now? Did human decency magically sew itself into our genetic code? Most likely not. Rather, it seems to be a “fad” of the times and people are finally trying on new and better clothes. Different prejudices and ideas crop up all over human history. If it isn’t one race under attack or one religion under attack, it is another. Ideas and worldviews seem to be passing trends. This observation can lead us to believe that at some point in the future, we will look back at this era of the world and shake our heads and wonder, why were people opposed to gay marriage?
Speaking directly toward American Christian culture, a large amount of people believe in something known as the Rapture. It is believed, and people use Bible verses to back up this belief, that Jesus will return to Earth unexpectedly and take all those who are “saved” back up to heaven with him while everyone else (you know, people who aren’t Christians) has to survive hell on Earth for 7 years.
I don’t believe in the Rapture idea. I didn’t grow up with the knowledge of the Rapture and was introduced to it after reading the terrible book, Left Behind. Author and spoken word poet Jefferson Bethke says of the rapture,
“[The Rapture idea] didn’t become popular til about the 1820s with a guy named John Darby. He actually claimed that there was a girl who had a vision, similar to rapture theology, that then he as a Bible teacher made it very very popular and began teaching it. And another interesting thing is if you actually look at countries outside of America or the western first world perspective, a lot of different countries and different churches across the globe actually think we’re very weird for our rapture theology.” (SOURCE).
Bethke is making a stunning revelation. Could some of our ideas be cultural or passing trends? It can be argued that the Bible says “this and that” but let’s be honest, the Bible can be thrown in any direction to argue in favor of a point. That is not the purpose of the Bible. But it seems even our theology goes through trends as well.
Christians, just like the citizens of Westeros in A Song of Ice and Fire, hold on to prejudices and oppress people because of them. They can’t look beyond their own ideas of normalcy and will go to any means to defend their ignorance. But as we read in ASoIaF, Tyrion becomes a valuable player in the game of thrones. He basically rules the Seven Kingdoms for the entire second book, an opportunity which was only granted to him for being in the right place at the right time. His size never comes into play, only that he is smart and qualified for the tasks he must accomplish. I know it is cliche to say it but, it’s what is on the inside that counts.
The LGBTQ community only poses one threat to Christians, and that is that they treat their fellow man with a whole lot more compassion than Christians do. The LGBTQ community understands what it means to feel alone and oppressed and so they express love and empathy, two things Christians are called to explicitly share with their neighbors and their enemies! Let’s face it! The LGBTQ community are acting like better Christians than Christians. That is the threat! Christians have forgotten that their people were once oppressed by the Egyptians, and Jesus called to end all oppression!
In many ways I feel a call back to the first blog in this series discussing hypocrisy. It seems that the only thing Christians need other than a better understanding of the Bible is a mirror.