ELM Lent Blog: Cary Bass-Deschênes

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[Jesus] said to [the two disciples], ” Go into the village over there. As soon as you enter, you will find a donkey tied up and a colt with it. Untie them and bring them to me. If anybody says anything to you, say that the Lord needs it.” He sent them off right away.  (Matthew 21:2-3)

At eighteen years old, I shouldn’t have been in the warehouse dance club on Huger Street in Columbia, South Carolina, but the doorman had waved me by with a raised eyebrow because I was accompanying an off-duty bartender who I’d been sleeping with. It was at that club, that night, when I attended my first drag show. And watching men perform over-the-top numbers in women’s clothes and makeup made me extremely uncomfortable.

Because I was bullied for being effeminate when I was very young and in high school, I subsequently developed a straight act, so I couldn’t hack the idea of men putting on women’s clothing and performing, because it undermined my beliefs that men should be masculine, especially gay men. And drag queens, being public performers, seemed to be at the head of every Gay Rights march or rally in televised news reports in the 80s. I lived in dread and fear of being associated with them, particularly as it would have made me face at an early age my own gender identity. 

However, as the AIDS pandemic exploded and I was becoming more politically aware, I developed an appreciation of drag not only as an art form but also as a form of political commentary. Drag performances may include comedy that satirizes public figures or current events. Drag also subverts the concept of gender norms and shines the light of day on queer issues. It is literally performance art in the most distilled definition of the term.

Out queer people are particularly well suited for engaging in all sorts of performance art and public statements. There is a certain freedom that comes with having one’s identity public. Queer people can be creative and showy and sometimes you need a great spectacle in order to drive an important point to the heart of society.

Jesus knew how to put on a spectacle. Details of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem are contained in all four of the gospels and the differences among the accounts may not even be important as scholars agree on the historicity of this amazing event. Jesus sends disciples to fetch a donkey, (in our reading this week from Matthew, two donkeys) because of a prophecy in Zechariah. Disciples spread their cloaks along the road and shouted in Hosannahs, with many individuals in the crowd following suit. 

There are no miraculous feats here, no parables, only a master designing a performance to create fervor and tie him to prophetic scriptures of old, knowing full well what danger he was placing himself in. Witnesses saw the Messiah, they saw a king of peace, they saw their salvation from the boots of Rome.  They call out, “blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Those images remained fixed on the people’s minds even after the week is out. While the people have turned; their expectations quashed, and he is executed by the state for declaring himself king, a crown of thorns on his head. Remembering the performance and the high excitement it generated, Jerusalem now descends into mourning, its great loss resounding.

Riding on a donkey from Bethphage into Jerusalem on cloaks and branches, Jesus created a stir and sent a message to a great number of people in no short order. He generated a buzz that he knew would last long after he left them in the flesh.

Prayer: O Holy One, in the example of your life, you led the way for us to live, and in your death, you freed us from the shackles of death, that we may live eternal life in your resurrection. Grant us the courage to be public witnesses to your good news, that we may send your message of hope and peace in the world today. In your holy name, Amen.
Cary Bass-Deschênes (they/them) lives with their husband, Michael, in their home in Richmond, with their two dogs, Luna and Esby, and is currently between calls. They were the lead pastor of Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley between 2015 and 2022 and served as sabbatical pastor at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Pleasant Hill in Spring/Summer 2022. Last year, they published their third short story, “The Chaos Artist” in the graphic novel A Matter of Right by Variance Press.

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