One of the most perplexing and delightful things for me about the Bible is the ever-shifting images of God. Scripture never allows us to rest upon one single descriptor, title, or name. All language for God is metaphor, because no word captures God’s entire identity. The very being of God is paradox. Is God one? Yes. Is God three? Yes. And even in a book that is overwhelmingly written and compiled by men in patriarchal contexts, the gender of God is surprisingly variable – dare I say fluid? Jesus’ human body seems to have been male, and God is generally referred to with male pronouns, but female and non-gendered images are used as well, and the word for Spirit is feminine in Hebrew and neuter in Greek. Even if we discuss God within the boundaries of a particular gender, Scripture challenges our concepts of how that gender is enacted. In various ways, Jesus was not exactly performing masculinity in the way that would have been expected of a thirty year old Jewish man of his day.
God is constantly playing with our definitions and perceptions of God’s character and essence, including gender. Not “playing” as in playing a nasty trick or jerking us around; playing as friends do, playing as children do, in a way that uses lightheartedness to open us to new possibilities and simply become better acquainted. We know God better when we join in that play – when we explore a wide array of names, metaphors, and descriptors for God, and try not to take ourselves too seriously while we do so. And we know ourselves better as well, as we see other facets of God’s image and welcome their creation in ourselves. God brings marginalized characteristics and devalued traits to the foreground, making them central and valued, so that those who are marginalized and devalued by humans may know themselves as central to and valued by God.
Last Sunday as part of my congregation’s worship service, we had Drag Story Time with Sparkle Leigh. Because it was covered in the local newspaper, I’m now fielding a lot of questions from folks outside the church about why I would allow such a thing. Actually there aren’t so many questions as there are complaints and declarations that we’re not real Christians and I’m a cult leader and we’re all going straight to hell in a hand basket I have personally woven. I’m not responding to all that nonsense. However, it’s not terribly common for drag to be included in worship, and I think it’s fair to ask why we would do such a thing. After all, most people who have seen drag have seen it in a club setting or on RuPaul’s Drag Race, where it tends to be, shall we say, on the bawdy side.
Discomfort around sexuality overlapping with church should be its own post and then some, but that’s not where we’re going here. While drag does involve projections of gender, it isn’t necessarily sexualized. Drag is a performance art that plays with concepts of gender, often using stereotypes to lightheartedly poke at expectations of how gender should be enacted. The exaggerated personality and appearance of a drag performer isn’t just about that individual and how we perceive them. It’s about how we perceive ourselves and our own performance of gender. Drag done well helps us to see facets of ourselves and the people around us. It takes qualities that are often devalued and pushed aside – in this case flamboyance, exuberance, overt and assertive femininity – and blows them up, larger than life, not just for the sake of the performer, but so that we might find joy in those qualities in ourselves.
When we include drag in our worship and allow our children to be taught by a drag performer, we’re not simply doing a fun Pride Month thing (although honestly, what is wrong with the church being fun sometimes?). This is a deeply theological act. We welcome drag performance art in worship because we welcome beauty and joy in worship. We welcome drag because we welcome play and playfulness. We welcome drag because we welcome people who are marginalized and despised elsewhere. We welcome drag because it expands our understanding and acceptance of ourselves. And we welcome drag because it pushes at the limitations we place on God, allowing us to see a God who is bright, bold, perhaps even brazen, with an infectious laugh and love that embraces us all.