Writer and activist Jay Michaelson unofficially calls his upcoming talk, "The Parts of the Bible Your Fundamentalist Cousin Doesn't Want You to Know About."
Michaelson will be scholar in residence at Lakeside Congregation for Reform Judaism, 1221 County Line Rd. in Highland Park, on Nov. 1-3.
His discussion on Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. explores queer aspects in the biblical stories of Abraham, Jacob and David.
"It's kind of new look at what a lot of us think we know about the bible and what's there that is potentially liberating in the political sense," Michaelson said. "These texts that have been used as a club to beat gay people up actually have a lot of interesting things to say that the fundamentalists don't want you to hear."
Michaelson was until recently a vice-president of the Arcus Foundation, where he worked on LGBT issues. He is also a prolific author, having written five books, among them God vs. Gay? The Religious Case for Equality.
"One of the aspects of my work is that I do a lot of things at once," he said. "I do a lot of queer activism and a lot of what you could call spiritual activism. …Those are different parts of myself personally as well as professionally. We all have our coming out stories, and for me, coming out is not complete until it involves the whole self."
Growing up as what he calls "a nice Jewish boy" in the Florida suburbs, Michaelson now doesn't identify with any particular Jewish movement. Like many people, he said he "mixes and matches."
"Take my Buddhist practice, it is very important for me, but it doesn't contradict my ritual life in Judaism," he said. For many people, he added, religious practice is "more like a food court than a restaurant. We can moan about that, but I think there is real potential in that development. That's good for LGBT people to know that especially, because so many of us have been alienated from our faith traditions."
Michaelson spent some time in Orthodox observance, coincidentally around the time he came out of the closet. What he assumed would be the end of his spiritual practice was a new beginning as he integrated a growing sense of self with his Jewish practice, he said.
"Good religion, when it's done rightand it's not, most of the timehas to be about honesty and integrity and being available to love," Michaelson said. "We meet people all the time who are still in that spacethey're sure that what their God wants is for them to repress themselves and lie."
"The Jewish and Christian traditions are pretty clear about the messages of honesty and love, but we do seem to get the message wrong a lot of the time," he added.
Some of the American Jewish movements were fairly early to the table in their support of gay rights. Though many LGBT Jews historically experienced intolerance as individuals, and acceptance of homosexuality is virtually non-existent in Orthodox circles, years of struggle to reconcile gay and Jewish identities are over for many people, Michaelson said.
"It was true a generation ago with the civil rights movement," he added. "It's not true that every American Jew was supportive, but that legacy is thereand it's not just there in the historical memory, it's in the tradition itself. We're told all the time, 'Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and be just.'"
"That means that the interesting questions are just beginning to be asked," Michaelson said. "That's what the Saturday night talk is about. I asked the synagogue if they wanted me to do a talk that essentially asked, Why is it okay to be gay? They said, 'No, other people have done that.'"
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