Friday, December 28, 2007
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Annunciation by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin
Christmas has inspired many contemporary GLBT artists to create queer spiritual art.
For example, Annunciation by Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin shows the Madonna and her female lover are portrayed by a lesbian couple, pregnant through artificial insemination.
The photo is included in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. In our interview for the book, Ohlson Wallin told me how she created the striking, mysterious image. Here are some excerpts from Art That Dares:
She combined the dual influences of Christianity and queer consciousness to create a groundbreaking series of twelve photos showing Jesus in a contemporary LGBT context. It became one of Europe’s most noticed and notorious art exhibits, even arousing the disapproval of Pope John Paul II—who reacted by canceling his planned audience with the Swedish archbishop.
Ohlson Wallin called the series Ecce Homo, a pun meaning “See the human being” and “See the homosexual.” …
She enlisted local LGBT folk to serve as models, and they spent three years meticulously recreating scenes from the life of Christ based on the artistic masterpieces of Michelangelo, Caravaggio, Rubens, and others….
“It’s very important for me in my work that the picture have a documentary truth mixed with the way I arrange the story in the picture,” Ohlson Wallin said. She and her models played with the contradictions….
“I wanted Jesus for me and my own sexual sense. I wanted to be able to identify with Jesus. There are millions and billions of Jesus pictures for heterosexuals to identify with. In Africa they have black Jesus. In China they have Chinese Jesus. Lots of different countries each have a different Jesus.” …
The exhibit went on to tour Scandinavia and continental Europe from 1998 to 2000, winning awards and breaking several attendance records. More than 250,000 people viewed it. Not everyone liked what they saw. A man with an ax destroyed two of the photos. People threw stones at Ohlson Wallin and she needed police protection after receiving death threats….
Ohlson Wallin recorded the whole span of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, beginning with the announcement of his coming birth. In her version, the Madonna and her female lover are portrayed by a lesbian couple, seven months’ pregnant through artificial insemination. The angel Gabriel comes in the form of their gay male friend, who floats in with a message from God—and a test tube for insemination.
May everyone experience God born anew in their hearts this Christmas season!
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
A homoerotic Christ on the cover of a new German book is sparking international debate as Christmas approaches.
The provocative cover appears on the German translation of Jesus in Love, my novel about a queer Christ.
The cover art by Berlin painter Alexander von Agoston shows a near-naked Jesus and John the Baptist rising from the water together after Christ’s baptism. The men’s genitals shine through their wet clothes. A shared halo affirms the union of body and spirit.
My book says that gay sexuality is holy to Christ and I’m a passionate promoter of queer spiritual art. However, even I thought the German image was too frankly erotic for a cover at first. Discussions with my German publisher, Edition EuQor changed my mind.
“German readers are used to seeing nudity on covers, much more than Americans,” my publisher told me. “Sure, the cover attracts attention. That’s what a cover is for.”
Gay-positive Christian images are needed now because conservatives are using religious rhetoric to justify discrimination against queer people. The cover goes all the way in showing that God loves gays. Jesus is completely comfortable in his skin. Now I’m sure that it’s the right cover for the German edition.
The German translation of Jesus in Love was released in time for Christmas by Edition EuQor, a start-up German press specializing in provocative books.
“When Jesus in Love was published in English, websites in Germany buzzed with excitement,” the publisher told me. “The idea of a bisexual Jesus seemed to fascinate Germans more than anyone else outside the English-speaking world. Soon Edition EuQor offered to do a German translation.”
Reactions to the Jesus in Love cover vary widely from delight to shock and disdain, even within the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) community.
The original English version of Jesus in Love was published in 2006 by AndroGyne Press with a more romantic cover drawing of Jesus and John wreathed in roses. Conservative Christians attacked the novel as blasphemy because it portrays a Jesus who felt sexual attraction to men. However, it received praise from literary critics and GLBT Christian leaders.
Mel White, founder of the GLBT Christian activist group Soulforce, endorsed the English version. “Kitt Cherry has broken through the stained-glass barrier,” White said. “This is not a prurient look at the sex life of Jesus, but a classic re-telling of the greatest story ever told.”
Theology professor Carter Heyward called it “a lovely, gentle, playful book.” Toby Johnson, author of “Gay Spirituality,” described it as “a wonderful, gay-sensitive, and delightfully ‘shocking’ reassessment of the stories of the old-time religion.”
What do YOU think of the new book cover? Please post your comments here or email them to kitt@JesusInLove.org.
Monday, December 03, 2007
- Gay Jesus art sparks violence
- See new videos on glbt rights
- New vision statement for Jesus in Love
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
With the Thanksgiving holiday approaching, I wondered what the great spiritual teachers such as Jesus and Buddha said about gratitude and giving thanks.
The answer: Not much.
Today’s popular wisdom urges people to “count your blessings,” a technique that never helped me much when I was down. Ignoring painful realities felt like denial, not healing.
Jesus and Buddha both seemed to take a different approach. Buddha spoke of the Middle Way, where people could be free from both desire and aversion, no longer caught up in seeking and counting blessings.
Jesus himself often gave thanks to God. Otherwise he called attention to the behavior that he witnessed. For example, he healed ten lepers, including one Samaritan, a member of a despised ethnic group, perhaps similar to queer people today. Only one, the Samaritan, bothered to say thanks.
Jesus spoke to the bystanders. “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
To the leper he said, “Your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:17-19)
Can’t relate to lepers? When I used a voice-recognition program to type the above scripture, it changed “clean” to “lean.” I smile when I imagine ten fat people made lean, a type of healing that’s much more familiar in America today.
Jesus seems to equate gratitude with faith. It’s an act of faith to give thanks as we navigate life’s vicissitudes, which Buddha identified as pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and dispute.
I’m grateful for the chance to try to walk the Middle Way with an attitude of gratitude this Thanksgiving Day. I also thank the people who build community by reading and commenting on this blog.
My two favorite resources on Buddhism are Insight Meditation by Sharon Salzberg and Joseph Goldstein and Lovingkindness by Sharon Salzberg.
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Menachem Wecker of the Iconia blog on art and religion has just posted his interview with me about the Folsom Street Fair poster. He posed some great questions. Here’s an excerpt:
MW: You critique the sex toys as "a step away from the body, like inserting an artificial device between the direct contact of flesh on flesh." But aren't sex toys about celebrating the body? Why is this not making seemingly mundane things holy, as opposed to the opposite?
KC: You’re quoting the line from my essay that has generated the most debate. I’ve been forced to think more about sex toys by the many responses that were posted by various gay, lesbian, bi and trans (GLBT) people….
MW: You question "whether it is ever appropriate to use Christ's image for secular sales. "Aren't you then saying that you have some degree of ownership or copyright on Christ's image? Why can't it be available to everyone, even say the money changers?
KC: … I often say that Christian conservatives don’t own the copyright on Jesus. You raise a valid point. Jesus doesn’t belong exclusively to Christian progressives like myself, either. He doesn’t even belong only to religious people. Jesus is available to everyone, and that was part of his message during his lifetime….
To read the full interview, visit Iconia.
I first encountered Menachem Wecker earlier this year when he contacted me about my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. His book review appears in New York Arts Magazine.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
Debate continues about the Leather Last Supper pictured on a poster for the recent Folsom Street Fair.
GLBT people posted many insightful comments both pro and con in response to my previous post about the image, which conservative opponents say shows Jesus and his disciples as “half-naked homosexual sadomasochists.” Iconia, a blog about religion and art, asked to interview me about the Leather Last Supper.
Most of the comments appear at MyOutSpirit.com’s Gay Spirituality blog, where my Leather Last Supper essay is cross-posted. Here are a few highlights:
“The image seems to play up the division between leather and drag - both of which, along with the rest of the fetish community, are traditionally seen as betraying the gay rights movement by those who more easily ‘blend in’ (ie, white, middle class males)…”
“Sex tools are a medium for ecstatic/transcendent experience. Might they, symbolically, become sacramental, too, if we are aiming to approach queer sexuality in a way that elevates it as a spiritual/sexual experience that can take us out of our bodies and help us approach the ecstatic oneness of creation?”
Posted by: Steve H. October 30, 2007 at 12:07 AM
Be sure to visit MyOutSpace.com's Gay Spirituality blog to read the comments in whole. It's packed with lots of other fascinating insights on queer spirituality, too.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Readers will get to experience the Passion of a queer Christ when my novel At the Cross is published in early 2008.
I’m in the final stages of proofreading the typeset galleys of At the Cross, the sequel to Jesus in Love. As I reread and revise the book for the last time, I feel that this second volume may be the better half because it includes the dramatic Passion narrative.
At the Cross should be available next year in time for Lent, the pre-Easter season when Christians reflect on Christ’s arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and resurrection. In 2008 Lent begins Feb. 6.
Development of the cover for At the Cross is also underway. The image above is a drawing by Gary Speziale, the openly gay New York artist who did the cover illustration for Jesus in Love. Gary and I hope that the cover of At the Cross will embody a similar spirit. Gary is one of the 11 artists that I profiled in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.
Originally the two novels Jesus in Love and At the Cross formed one long manuscript, a fictional autobiography of a bisexual Christ. My editor at AndroGyne Press and I decided to split it into two separate books. Readers can choose to focus on Jesus’ upbeat early ministry in Jesus in Love, or to take the darker journey all the way to the cross and beyond.
A passionate Jesus stands up to religious leaders and pays the ultimate price in At the Cross. Speaking with today’s sophistication, Jesus reveals the erotic, mystical experiences that may have propelled his life, death, and resurrection in first-century Palestine. Love stories are interwoven with his Last Supper, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection, ending on Pentecost. Jesus transcends gender identity, sexual orientation, and ultimately death itself. He leads disciples of both sexes toward ecstatic union with God.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Folsom Street Fair’s Leather Last Supper poster
A poster of Jesus and his disciples as “half-naked homosexual sadomasochists” sparked controversy recently at the Folsom Street Fair in San Francisco.
Under pressure from a media blitz orchestrated by Christian conservatives, Miller Brewing Co. asked to remove its logo from the poster (pictured above). U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those defending the image.
I was all set to issue a major news release promoting this latest addition to the global boom in queer Christ art. Right-wing Christians don’t own the copyright on Jesus! It’s important to create new images of God based on the experiences of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) people.
However, the image itself made me stop and think.
I certainly endorse freedom of speech and gay culture photographer Fred Alert’s right to make the Leather Last Supper. But the image raises questions that go far beyond whether it’s OK for Jesus to be gay. One purpose of art is to inspire dialogue, and the Leather Last Supper can be a springboard for discussion about what it means to be queer and spiritual. I hope to hear comments from others on the following two questions:
1) Is it good theology?
I like seeing the disciples as contemporary leather folk. Of course, it’s not historically accurate, but it is true to the spirit of Jesus’ ministry. He welcomed everyone. During his lifetime Jesus was often criticized for eating with prostitutes and other outcasts, and some of these “sinners” became his disciples. The Leather Last Supper stands in the tradition of communion as a heavenly “love feast” where all are welcome.
What bothers me most about the leather Last Supper is that, as the Concerned Women for America put it, “The bread and wine representing Christ’s broken body and lifegiving blood are replaced with sadomasochistic sex toys.” In my view, Jesus was God-made-flesh, a total affirmation of the human body, sexuality included. But sex toys seem like a step away from the body, like inserting an artificial device between the direct contact of flesh on flesh. In the sacrifice commemorated by the Last Supper, Christ offered his own body, not a mechanical substitute. Even many queer Christians are offended by images like this.
The leather community and the GLBT community are two distinct categories with significant overlap. A press release from the Folsom Street Fair says that the image was not intended to be “pro-religion” or “anti-religion, adding that “many of the people in the leather and fetish communities are spiritual and that this poster image is a way of expressing that side of the community’s interests and beliefs.”
2) Is it good art?
I see the need for a wealth of queer spiritual images, good and bad, as we try to develop new images and set standards for them. A few people have criticized me for not having high enough standards in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. So be it. I do try to promote queer Christian images overall in my book, blog and website JesusInLove.org. There aren’t enough spiritual images that speak to GLBT people, and I want to encourage artists to create more of them.
However, I also support the development of our own standards rooted in our own experience. For example, Australian gay theologian Rollan McCleary does pioneering work on setting criteria for queer spiritual art. On his blog he explores questions such as: “Where and when might there be a case for protesting that a line has been crossed and that a given production might reasonably be considered ‘offensive’ to people or, rather more importantly, ‘blasphemous’ by nature?”
I see a difference between the Folsom Street Fair poster and the images in my book Art That Dares. The book does include a photo of a traditional-looking Jesus being adored by queer leather folk, which is part of the Ecce Homo series by Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. Like the Folsom Street Fair poster, Ohlson Wallin’s photos use queer models to recreate historic masterpieces of Christ’s life. She even did her own version of the Last Supper using drag queens as models (pictured below), but maintaining the traditional bread and wine.
Last Supper by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin
The meaning of an image is shaped by the artist’s intent and the context in which it is shown. Ohlson Wallin got angry when some Christians said AIDS was God’s punishment, so she created her drag queen Last Supper for a gay pride art exhibit. In contrast, the Leather Last Supper is a poster used to sell a leather festival and its sponsors such as Miller beer. I question whether it is ever appropriate to use Christ’s image for secular sales.
Some defended the Folsom Street Fair poster by pointing out that there are many other Last Supper parodies, featuring figures from McDonald’s to the Simpsons, from Sesame Street to Star Wars. A quick look at these suggests that they were done as artistic statements, not as advertisements. To me this surprising jumble of images suggests that queers aren’t the only ones struggling to reconcile spirituality with contemporary life.
I thank the creators of the Leather Last Supper for providing a focus for discussion and an image of how Jesus welcomes everyone, even those on the margins.
Thursday, October 18, 2007
The new cover (right) is more “out” than the 1991 original
A Polish translation of my book Hide and Speak will be published as Poland’s first coming out guide for gay men and lesbians.
Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide is being translated into Polish for publication by Helion Press, a major commercial publisher in Poland. I signed the contract with Helion shortly before U.S. National Coming Out Day, Oct. 11.
I’m delighted to introduce the power of coming out to Poland’s gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (glbt) people. The ideas in my book are so new in Poland that the expression ‘coming out’ doesn't even have its equivalent in Polish yet. Helion Press tells me that there are only a few books in Polish about homosexuality, and all of them treat it as a disease or a problem.
The Polish edition will be published within the next 18 months by Helion, one of the largest publishers of business and computer books in Poland. Helion is expanding its business to include psychology titles.
Hide and Speak offers a powerful program of self-acceptance and appropriate disclosure.
for queer people -- and anyone else with a story to tell. Each chapter includes real-life examples and tested, highly effective exercises that I used in coming-out workshops nationwide. The book tells positive ways to come out to yourself, create a circle of supporters and deal with family, job and school.
Originally published in 1991, Hide and Speak was recently updated and released by AndroGyne Press, a new queer studies press based in Berkeley, CA.
Coming out has become easier in America, so the new cover is more “out there” than the older, more discreet version. But Hide and Speak is still much needed even in the U.S.
Hide and Speak has also been translated into Chinese. The Polish edition means that the book is available in three languages.
By writing Hide and Speak, I hope that readers will learn how to live proud, free and balanced, no matter what happens. May it happen in English, Polish, Chinese and many other languages!
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Thursday, October 04, 2007
Your comments will guide the queer spirituality website in launching series of exciting new projects, including videos, image collections and daily meditations.
Please share your thoughts on the following draft statement:
JesusInLove.org promotes progressive spiritual arts for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and our allies. Open to all.The statement will be revised based on comments received. So tell us what you think. Or respond to the following questions:
For home page:
JesusInLove.org is an online resource center for progressive spirituality with an emphasis on art and images. It was created by author Kittredge Cherry to foster spiritual growth and creative expression for queer people and our allies. Centered in Christ, we seek interfaith understanding and the freedom to imagine and experience God in new ways.
For “about” page:
Re-envisioning God is one of the most important spiritual tasks of our time. Jesus In Love is a network of people and websites that affirm gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies by displaying and discussing progressive spiritual art and issues.
Jesus In Love has expanded to address all forms of progressive spirituality. We still honor Christ, but now we seek interfaith connections. We are still grounded in queer experience, but we actively welcome all people. We continue to promote books and writers, but we now give strong support to art, artists and art lovers of all kinds.
JesusInLove.org was founded by lesbian Christian author Kittredge Cherry in 2005 as the first website devoted to the gay Jesus and the queer Christ. She called it Jesus in Love because she was motivated by the life of Jesus—who was in love, in every sense of the term.
Our logo shows the face of Jesus inside a pink triangle, the symbol imposed on gay prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Inside the pink triangle, Jesus joins in transforming queer suffering into power.
JesusInLove.org receives thousands of visitors per year. It cosponsored the first National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in 2007.
What would you add, delete or change from the JesusInLove.org vision?
What do you like about visiting JesusInLove.org?
Please post your comments here or email kitt@JesusInLove.org. Excerpts from your emails may be posted on the blog to facilitate discussion.
The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Thank you for sharing your vision and bringing new life to the Web and the world.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
A common complaint from artists is that progressive spiritual art attracts big crowds, but doesn’t sell well.
Painting the queer Christ is considered the biggest financial sacrifice of all.
I challenged the popular wisdom and found inspiring new solutions by attending an “Entrepreneurial Artists” workshop by arts consultant Jerry Yoshitomi last week.
Yoshitomi believes that all art adds value to society, so he teaches people like me how to make their artistic visions real by increasing income and audience.
He got the whole group of 30 people to brainstorm about how to transform this very blog into a powerhouse that supports progressive spiritual art globally by building on the successes of my website JesusInLove.org, my book Art That Dares and the National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art.
I told the group my dream of sponsoring a big progressive spiritual art contest with a prestigious judge and winners displayed online, in a book, and in a U.S. gallery tour—and they can up with practical steps to make it happen.
“You’ve got the vision and you’re doing the work. Money is the easy part,” Yoshitomi said at one point.
It was a personal breakthrough for me.
“Make it easy for people to give you money,” Yoshitomi advised.
He recommended using chipin.com. On that note, I set up a chipin.com account (see below) to collect funds for a huge mailing that we are doing to 800 art and religion professors who expressed interest in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues. AndroGyne Press designed the flier and is sharing the costs, but my portion is $450. Please use the chipin.com button below to help with a donation.The workshop was sponsored by the Arroyo Arts Collective, an amazing arts group that happens to be based in my part of Los Angeles. A group of strangers became a mini-community at the workshop as we took turns brainstorming about each other’s art projects. We generated enormous enthusiasm as we encouraged each other in all our diversity-- a flamenco dance teacher, a woman who does cigar art, a painter of family portraits, a man who wants to do animated films, and of course me, the lesbian Christian author.
Before the workshop I was planning and dreaming (and sometimes worrying) about how get the resources to go to the next level with Jesus in Love. I believe that re-envisioning the sacred is one of the most important tasks of our time. I had faith that God’s abundance was out there with more than enough funds to meet the need, but I couldn’t imagine how to access it.
The key is to get your audience to think about and express the value that your art adds to their lives. Let me say here and now that the Entrepreneurial Artists workshop gave me motivation and practical steps to make my artistic dreams come true. Some attendees grumbled that Yoshitomi’s approach minimized the purpose of art by packaging it like detergent to sell to a specific demographic. Perhaps this proves his point that audiences are not uniform, but are comprised of subsets of people with differing needs.
Yoshitomi is lead consultant on information and network strategies for LINC (Leveraging Investments in Creativity), a national initiative to improve the lives of artists. In the workshop he taught marketing theory with examples from museums and corporations. But his greatest gift was creating a sense of community and vision that empowered us to see that the resources we need are already within our grasp.
I’ll be presenting more specific ways to join the vision of promoting spiritual progressive art in the future.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Artist Janet McKenzie is world-famous for her sacred art, but her most daring female Christ has rarely been seen until now.
McKenzie’s controversial Christ Mother painting is included in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. The book contains color images by 11 contemporary artists from the U.S. and Europe.
McKenzie is best known for painting the androgynous black Jesus of the People, which appears on the cover of Art That Dares. The famous painting was chosen by Sister Wendy of PBS to represent Christ in a contest sponsored by the National Catholic Reporter. The resulting controversy brought bomb threats and hate mail to McKenzie’s secluded Vermont studio.
Undaunted, McKenzie followed up with an even more challenging work—a nude female Christ that has largely been censored by the gatekeepers who decide what gets exhibited. Called Christ Mother, it is a towering, gritty, and majestic painting of a naked woman bound in a crucifixion pose.
“Sometimes ‘controversial’ art simply comes forward, like it or not. It is like a scream; you are doing it before you realize you are,” McKenzie recalls in Art That Dares.
In the book, McKenzie describes the opposition to Christ Mother and explains why she painted a female Christ. “She is the feminine aspect of Jesus, mother to us all, and to my mind, she is undeniable,” McKenzie says. “Christ Mother is in the act of being crucified, yet she stands with strength, in acceptance, although bound. Her body glows with life but also reflects the coming hereafter.”
I interviewed McKenzie from afar for Art That Dares, but I didn’t get to meet her in person until we both converged on Taos recently for the National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art, where McKenzie was one of the top-selling artists.
I was touched by McKenzie’s sincere joy at seeing me with my mother in Taos. A highlight of our time together was when she took a photo of me with my mom. McKenzie is known for paying homage to the female figure, a commitment that she attributes to the loss of her mother and grandmother at an early point in her life.
Other female Christ figures in Art That Dares include Edwina Sandys’ famous bronze crucifix Christa.
I believe that re-envisioning Christ is one of the most important tasks of our time. The new images are much needed now because Christian rhetoric is used to justify discrimination against women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (lgbt) people.
In Art That Dares, the book’s 11 artists all tell the stories behind their controversial images, including censorship, violence, death threats and vandalism that destroyed their work. A lively introduction puts the art into political and historical context, exploring issues of blasphemy and artistic freedom.
Author Kittredge Cherry, left, with artist Janet McKenzie
Friday, September 14, 2007
I created this blog as a place to discuss queer spirituality and the arts. I realized that more explanation was needed when I got an email from a straight ally saying:
I understand, a little bit, the current need to have, for instance, “queer spirituality.” But I want to say that every time I am faced with that “Keep out” sign (your blog's description means it's not for me), it makes it harder to feel like I can be in loving community with gays.
This comment inspired me to add the phrase “open to all” to this blog’s header.
Queer spirituality is indeed the focus of this blog and my website JesusInLove.org, but I always intended to welcome ANYONE to engage the subject, including straight people. It’s sort of like how I as a white woman was interested in African American literature and took a class where I was welcome to read and discuss it. Actually the word "queer" is considered to be relatively inclusive.
While “lesbian” and “gay” have specific meanings, almost anyone who feels different can identify as “queer.” The Wikipedia has an elaborate definition of queer that includes “asexual and autosexual people as well as well as gender normative heterosexuals whose sexual orientations or activities place them outside the heterosexual-defined mainstream.”
The use of the word “queer” has changed a lot in recent years, as I wrote in my coming-out guide, Hide and Speak. Here’s an excerpt:
The word “queer,” once a terrible insult, was reclaimed for popular use. The process began in 1990 when activists founded Queer Nation to force people to confront their homophobia. The group caused controversy even in the LGBT community by using such radical tactics as “outing” closeted public figures, staging public kiss-ins and using the in-your-face slogan, “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.” Queers became so acceptable that universities started offering degrees in the new field of “queer studies.” In 2003, the term got the ultimate stamp of mass-market approval when a TV series called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” became a surprise hit.
One thing that’s queer about queer spirituality is that it defies definition. Spirituality is about personal faith, in contrast to the more institutional approach of religion. In my view, queer spirituality is an alternative to mainstream religion, rooted in the personal experience of LGBT people and anyone else who identifies as “queer.”
Anyway, you don’t even have to feel queer at all to read and make comments on this blog.
Thursday, September 06, 2007
Jesus Christ was human, so he must have had sexual feelings, but maybe he was so enlightened that his attractions were not limited to a single gender.
The bisexuality of Jesus is a new subject being explored by a variety of artists and authors. For example, I wrote about it in my novel, Jesus in Love, and photographer Peter Grahame explores it in his photo montage Saying Goodbye to John and Mary.
Jesus, John and Mary embrace in a naked trio with bread and chalice in the foreground of Grahame’s richly symbolic image. A future scene appears in the background, where Jesus rises while Mary carries a child of light and flowers multiply around John.
In the text accompanying the image, Grahame writes:
“The night before he was to die, after his last supper with the twelve andGrahame contacted me from his studio in New Mexico after he discovered Jesus in Love, my fictional autobiography of a bisexual Jesus. “You make Jesus seem like some sweet guy I just met!” Grahame wrote to me while he was reading the novel.
before going to the garden's hilltop to pray, Jesus expressed his deepest most
profound Love to Mary and to John, the two he loved more than his own soul.
And Mary brought forth his daughter.
And John brought forth his word.”
I felt an immediate kinship with Grahame’s art. His specialty is “transformational, iconographic” male nude photos. He has compiled many of them into a beautiful book called Contemplations of the Heart: A Book of Male Spirit. It’s a gem with poetic text, glossy pages and a wide variety of male nudes all set in a spiritual context.
Although it was created as a gay men’s meditation book, Contemplations of the Heart also moved and inspired me, a lesbian. I was caught off-guard by the appealing, authentic and spiritual qualities of the photos. I've often thought that women’s bodies are objectified in western culture, but this book made me see that men have been subjected to equally strange misrepresentations in pornography and popular culture. Grahame’s nudes are a relief and a blessing.
“The book is about self image, and its intention is to help alleviate self hatred and internalized homophobia,” Grahame says. “The images are sensuous but not overly erotic and present guys of all shapes, sizes, colors and ages (all over 18.)”
Contemplations of the Heart began as a couple of hand-bound volumes that Grahame passed around to men on gay retreats, straight retreats and even at a Native people’s ceremony where it was blessed by a two-spirit elder. Their encouragement led to publication in its current hardcover form. Now Grahame is working on his next book, which will focus on queer spirit archetypes and further explore the sacred feminine.
Grahame lets viewers figure out his symbolism for themselves, but he did offer this reflection on his bisexual Jesus image: “In the back Jesus ascends to ever-new adventures in the cosmos, leaving his legacy behind... as each and every one of us will also do... what will our spiritual legacy be? It’s up to each of us.”
Click here for more of Peter Grahame’s work at the Jesus in Love Blog.
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Senator Larry Craig’s mug shot after the bathroom bust
Gay sex scandals have become way too common — especially among conservative leaders who oppose gay rights while leading a secret gay life.
The news media are in a frenzy over Craig's arrest for allegedly soliciting gay sex in a public restroom. Craig announced yesterday that he regretted making a guilty plea to a lesser charge and keeping the incident secret from his family, friends and staff.
I’m trying to do my part by offering to send a free copy of my book Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide” to any U.S. Senator, including scandal-plagued Larry Craig.
In my opinion, Jesus had the best coming-out advice of all: “The truth will set you free.”
He elaborated in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”
Sometimes telling the truth is difficult, but living a lie is even harder. Senator Craig is just the latest example of an anti-gay leader caught in a web of lies about a secret gay life.
Former U.S. congressman Mike Foley and evangelical leader Rev. Ted Haggard officially opposed gay rights until recent gay sex scandals ended their public careers. They all might have prevented their scandals by following my book’s powerful program of self-acceptance and appropriate disclosure. The coming-out guide gives practical help with the coming-out process for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people -- and anyone else with a story to tell.
Each chapter of Hide and Speak includes real life examples and tested, highly effective exercises that I used in coming-out workshops nationwide. The book tells positive ways to come out to oneself, create a circle of supporters and deal with family, job and school. Readers learn how to live proud, free and balanced, no matter what happens.
If you know any Senators who would like a free copy of Hide and Speak, please send them my way!
Friday, August 24, 2007
Art that shows Jesus as gay has sparked violence—most recently in Sweden last week.
The controversial images also appear in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. It has color images by 11 artists from the US and Europe, including Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.
A group of young people tried to set fire to a poster at the cultural center that was exhibiting her photos of a queer Christ. Staff intervened and as many as 30 people joined the fight, according to news reports.
The recent melee broke out over her Ecce Homo series, which recreates scenes from Christ’s life in a contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) context. The conflict occurred in the Swedish city of Jonkoping, known as a center of evangelical Christianity.
The violence in Sweden is the latest example of why the queer Christ is needed. Jesus taught love, but now Christian rhetoric is being used to justify hate and discrimination LGBT people.
People try to censor or destroy queer Christ images, so I compiled them into a book to ensure that they would be available. An online gallery of gay Jesus images, including Ohlson Wallin’s work, was recently added to my website, JesusInLove.org.
Ohlson Wallin’s Ecce Homo series has caused violence before. It toured Europe widely from 1998-2000, winning awards and breaking attendance records. More than 250,000 people viewed it, but a man with an ax destroyed two of the photos and Ohlson Wallin needed police protection after receiving death threats. The Pope cancelled a planned audience with the Swedish archbishop because Ecce Homo was shown at Uppsala’s National Cathedral.
Ohlson Wallin created Ecce Homo in the late 1990s after losing many friends to AIDS. She got mad when some Christians said that the disease was God’s punishment for being gay. Grief and anger became the motivation for her powerful, transformative images. “I wanted to show that love is for everyone,” she told me.
I’m a lesbian Christian author who believes that Christ represents everybody, including sexual outcasts. Two thousand years ago Jesus taught love and justice and was killed for it. One of the charges that led to his crucifixion was blasphemy—the same charge that is being leveled against me and the artists in my book.
My experiences as a minister and art historian have shown me that many people are longing for progressive spiritual images. They seek alternatives to the current conservative monopoly on Christian imagery.
Today queer people of faith are reclaiming our power and creating new images of the divine based on our own experiences. I am grateful to the artists who are pioneers on this sacred path.
I received a lot of email this week responding to news reports about the violence in Sweden. I was especially moved by an “ex-Christian, ex-Pentecostal” who wrote: “For all the hate this art will stir up, it was worth it because in the hearts of women and the LGBT community, it will bring love, healing, and an intense connection with Christianity that many of us have lost due to ignorance and hate.”
Friday, August 17, 2007
At the kick-off banquet my partner Audrey and I read the Honor Roll of Artists and presented an iris to each artist whose work was included in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More and/or in the related exhibit at JHS Gallery.
Audrey reminded collectors of the important contribution they are making by buying 21st-century progressive spiritual art. “You’re not only purchasing a beautiful painting for your wall, but you’re also creating the support necessary for this kind of art to flourish and continue,” she said.
Fifty people gathered for the banquet in the La Fonda Hotel’s historic conference room, which houses D.H. Lawrence’s famous Forbidden paintings. They were confiscated by police from a London gallery in 1929 for being obscene, just as images of the queer Christ often face censorship today.
“Yesterday’s scandal is today’s museum piece. Today’s scandal is tomorrow’s masterpiece,” Audrey told the crowd.
The related exhibit was titled Who Do You Say That I Am? Visions of Christ, Gender and Justice. The book focused on equality for women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, while the exhibit put those issues into a larger context by also addressing war, racial justice and global warming.
For the Honor Roll of Artists, each artist stood as I read a brief description of their accomplishments. Then Audrey handed an iris to the artist. “We honor you,” she announced as the audience burst into applause.
Here is the Honor Roll of Artists. We began with artists in both the book and the exhibit:
Surrealists inspired Jill Ansell to develop her mature style of detailed, allegorical landscapes embedded with themes of feminism and social justice.
Becki Jayne Harrelson’s potent mix of rage, religion, memory, sex, and politics swirled together and brought forth stunning images.
People attacked every aspect of the painting, but the critics seemed most upset that Janet McKenzie had painted a Jesus who was female or at least had a feminine aspect.
In Sandra Yagi’s own words, “Christ treated women with much more equality than today’s church does. To say I can’t reach the same spirituality as a man is bunk!”
Then we honored artists in the exhibit only:
In her Silent Man series, Kathleen Brennan photographed a friend who took a vow of silence when the Iraq War started.
Military members are often stereotyped by liberals and conservatives. Holly Conlon goes deeper with her portrait of her husband, a career military officer.
Robert Ensor makes sculpture from discarded materials. Some call it outsider art—and he does live on the outskirts where town dwindles away to high desert.
Italian-trained David Hewson combines realist painting and classical gilding to present images that seem thoroughly modern, such as President Bush caricatured as an infant.
Through earthy colors, spiritual themes and soft compositions, Armando Lopez combines Catholic imagery with the pre-Christian tradition of his native Mexico.
Emerging artist Robert Walton is not out to make a literal statement, but rather to poeticize the human journey in both its subtleties and complexities.
Finally we honored people who worked behind the scenes on the festival:
People said that my books Art That Dares and Jesus in Love were so far ahead of their time that they could never be published. Then AndroGyne Press came along and published them!
As manager of JHS Gallery, Michael Roberts is always ready to solve problems with his own gentle, efficient style.
In addition to working as a doctor, Michael Simmons co-founded JHS Gallery, a destination gallery for high-quality sacred art in New Mexico.
She’s an artist. She’s an organizer. She’s a spiritual progressive visionary. “She’s the one who said: Bring the art to Taos and I’ll show it at JHS Gallery.” She's Jodi Simmons.
In closing, we all stood united and applauded each other.
Friday, August 10, 2007
The audience often burst into applause at the Taos Art FestivalRemember the three topics that polite people were never supposed to discuss at dinner? Sex, religion and politics. Well, we threw that rule out the window!
Fifty of us talked at length about the connections between sex, religion and politics at the kick-off banquet of the recent National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in Taos, NM.
The lively banquet launched my new book, and honored more than a dozen artists in the book and the related exhibit at JHS Gallery.
We gathered at the La Fonda Hotel’s historic conference room, surrounded by D.H. Lawrence’s Forbidden paintings. They were confiscated by police from a London gallery in 1929 for being obscene.
“Yesterday’s scandal is today’s museum piece. Today’s scandal is tomorrow’s masterpiece,” explained the master of ceremonies, who happened to me my life partner Audrey.
An opening prayer was led by Bill Carpenter of Soulforce, a group that uses nonviolent resistance to win religious freedom for LGBT people.
I tied together the themes of the evening in the following keynote address:
My book Art That Dares is about seeing God in new ways, but I learned another lesson from the process of writing it: Dream big.
It taught me to dream big because it created a community where there was none. It brought all of us together tonight. I hardly knew any of you when I first imagined this book. I thought I was the only one who had visions of a Christ who fully understands the experience of LGBT people, my experience.
Then I started searching the Internet using phrases like “gay Jesus painting.” There you were! I found the needles in the haystack!
Now tonight we’re together for the first time. Most of the artists in this book were creating art independently with no knowledge of the others.
And I’ve met even more artists tonight for my next book.
I believe something special will happen now that we are all together in the same place at the same time. We can touch each other. We can look in each others’ eyes. We can be whole in mind, spirit AND body.
The book Art That Dares also taught me to dream big because writing it helped heal me. I have CFS and I got significantly better in the process of writing this book and the book that led up to it, Jesus in Love. This is my novel about a queer Christ.
When I began writing these books, I was so weak that I could barely press the pen to the paper. I was housebound and using a wheelchair. But God gave me the strength to come to this point tonight where I can celebrate with you.
Finally the book Art That Dares taught me to dream big because it showed me once again how big God’s own heart is. Art That Dares focuses on the gay Jesus and the woman Christ. Those images are much needed now because Christian rhetoric is used to justify discrimination against women and queers.
But the book and tomorrow’s exhibit also have a broader message. They show that everyone can claim their own spiritual power. There’s no copyright on Jesus. Instead of Jesus incorporated, we have Jesus in Love and Jesus of the People. People can take back their own spiritual power —and connect directly with God.
Look around and you can see the image of God in the people who are here tonight. This banquet is also a spiritual feast. Together we are a living example of God’s heavenly banquet where all are welcome.
(The second photo shows author Kittredge Cherry and artist Jill Ansell with her female crucifixion painting Fire and Ice.)
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
(The photo shows me with Crucifixion of the Christ by Becki Jayne Harrelson.)
Update: The video below captures the excitement and meaning of the festival. Produced by the Taos News, it presents gospel music and artwork from opening night, plus an interview with artist Janet McKenzie. She talks about why she painted a black female Jesus of the People.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
I’m creating this blog because I want an interactive place to discuss LGBT spirituality. That’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender spirituality.
Visitors to my website, JesusInLove.org, keep sending me emails full of theological insights and true-life stories. I hope that this blog will allow many more people enter into these ongoing conversations about God.
As I write this, we’re still trying to get the graphics right on this blog. Be patient if something looks weird. We’re working on it.
My guiding principles for this blog:
1. Stick to the subject: queer spirituality.
2. Post consistently at least once or twice a week (after the official launch).
3. Honor Jesus.
4. I know there’s something else…
As I prepared to launch the Jesus in Love blog, the guiding principles of many other groups flickered through my mind:
The Girl Scout pledge: “I promise to do my best to help other people…” Yeah, yeah, yeah. Too obvious.
A marketing guru’s take on how to make it in Hollywood: “For an entertainment property to be successful over the long term, we believe it has to consistently deliver a fantasy to the core audience.” I must have lived in L.A. too long , because this actually makes sense to me.
The Three Rules of Kayaking: “Be prepared. Stuff happens. Bring beer.” Right—except I don’t like beer. I’ll bring a sense of humor instead.
Guiding principle #4. Have fun.
What might Jesus say?
Let there be Light!