I’m a big fan of Jethro Tull, so I’ll just get this out of my system:
When I think of this song, I also think of one of the lasting images from last year’s Korea (now Seoul) Queer Culture Festival (our Pride Festival and Parade):
This guy named Robert Evans had the stereotypical ‘western Jesus look’ that he could carry off, so he came to the Festival in stereotypical ‘Jesus garb’. Just before the Pride Parade got going, he stood in front of a group of CCF (conservative Christian forces) protesters who were set up in front of the cluster of office buildings and hotels to the south of Seoul Square. An enterprising photographer took the picture, and Mr Evans & the protesters had their 15 minutes (actually, a few days) of fame.
I’m glad he was there. He provided a moment of combined levity with a serious underlying challenge to all the CCFs who have made it their business to make their presence known at all the QCF/Pride Festivals and parades occurring through the country. What’s more, he pulled off the Jesus look a lot better than me. Our church decided to have a ‘Rainbow Last Supper’ mode where festival goers could have their picture taken with me in a Jesus costume at hourly intervals.
I couldn’t convey the Jesus look like Robert Evans did. I just ended up looking like a red-headed Howard Stern in drag! I’m too embarrassed to publish the picture!
However, as I reflect on last year’s experience and prepare for this year’s proceedings, it’s worth asking, for those of us who think this is important: where was the presence of Jesus at Pride 2017? Where do we hope it will be this year?
I remember the booth next to us, run by the Korean-language affirming churches. There were always clergy on duty, offering personal blessings and prayer with those who wanted them. They were all wearing stoles, signs of the priestly/pastoral office, many of them made from rainbow-style tapestries. They invited people to touch the hem of their stoles as a sign of blessing. Many who came to them were in need of assurance that they are blessed. For most queer Christians in this country, they must live a daily struggle against family, faith communities, workplaces, landlords, and so-called friends who view their lives, if not their very existence, with anywhere from suspicion to outright condemnation. In order to ‘get by’ in their daily lives, some of them actually have to condone or actively participate in the condemnation, condemning themselves in the process.
There were tears shed by both those being blessed and those blessing. While we were trying to add a light moment, I guess trying to ‘rejoice with those who rejoice’, our neighbors were taking the time to ‘weep with those who weep’ (Romans 12:15). It became apparent to me that Pride in this country is still not only a time to celebrate and rejoice, but also a time to lament and give voice to pain. The presence that my ecumenical colleagues provided was much needed, and a very real reminder of the presence of Jesus.
So, where will Jesus be this year?
I don’t know if Robert Evans or another Jesus-type figure will emerge this year, but I will welcome it. The presence of pastors who will give people the emotional space to shed their tears and speak their pain will be needed, too. As for us, I’m NOT going to try to look like Jesus again. I do hope, through, that we’ll get at least one people who will take us up on our offer to bless relationships at our booth.
To be honest, in the days and hours leading up to the Festival, I think about our presence in our booth and I get anxious and become plagued with doubt – Do people really care if ODMCC is there at all? Are we really effective in reaching out to people? Are we really meeting people where they are? Are people really going to notice us? This year, there’s a little bit of fear, too. It seems that protesters at the Daegu QCF this year disrupted the parade, and were happy to get into shouting matches with paraders. Are we going to have to worry about similar things in Seoul this year?
In the end, I need to remind myself that being present – just being present – is perhaps the greatest ministry we offer. Simply letting people know that those who are outside the Festival gates, preaching against us, are not the only ‘Christian’ expression. In all our actions – celebrating, blessing, comforting, or providing a symbolic challenge – we all do what we can to make the presence of the Jesus we know a real part of this Festival.
Happy Pride to all at Seoul Queer Culture Festival 2018!