Sunday, March 29, 2015

Day 1: Jesus Enters the City on Palm Sunday (Gay Passion of Christ series)

2 Jesus Enters the City(from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus.’” --Matthew 21:10-11 (RSV)

A crowd marches under an arch with a charismatic young man on horseback in “Jesus Enters the City” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. Signs for “freedom” and “justice” make it a rally for almost any cause, from marriage equality and LGBT rights to the Occupy movement or the Tea Party. The masses adore Jesus as if he was a rock star or political leader. They stretch their hands up to him, grasping for the savior that they expect him to be. The group expresses 21st-century diversity: male and female, multi-racial, young and old, queer and straight, able-bodied and wheelchair-bound. A mother and daughter lead the way, along with a black man who holds the horse’s reins. In the middle of this “triumph,” Jesus bends down to be embraced by someone unnoticed and out of view. He is focused on something that others ignore. By passing through the arch, Jesus leaves his old life behind to meet the new challenges ahead.

Arms raised, the people rejoice, but the sky is grey and they are not united. Their signs droop or get blocked, making them hard to read. Each person looks in a different direction, never making eye contact. As the Passion story begins, Jesus seems disconnected from the passions he stirs in others. The seeds of conflict are already planted. The group marches forward, about to step right out of the picture frame. The viewer can’t see what Jesus sees, and the oncoming crowd will force viewers to make a decision: join in, back off, or get trampled underfoot. Light from the arch forms a lopsided halo behind his head.

There are no palms in Blanchard’s generic cityscape, but this is an updated vision of Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. All four gospels describe how Jesus entered Roman-occupied Jerusalem at the height of his popularity. Enthusiastic fans greeted him by laying palm branches on the ground before him and shouting “Hosanna,” which translates as “Save us now!” Huge crowds were gathering in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover. They saw Jesus as a political deliverer who came to fulfill the ancient prophecies of a messiah: an earthly king anointed by God. His arrival on a donkey reminded them of the victory processions of ancestral kings descended from David. They mistakenly thought that Jesus was declaring himself king of Israel, ready to lead a rebellion against the Roman army. Palm Sunday hints at the trade-offs that people make in the pursuit of power. As the crowds marched into Jerusalem with Jesus, they were already on the path that would lead to his destruction. Their movement was gaining momentum on a trajectory that could not be altered or stopped. “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out,” (Luke 19:40 RSV) Jesus told the traditionalists who wanted him to quiet the crowd.

Jesus’ triumphant entry foreshadows the emptiness and impermanence of earthly glory. Luke’s gospel says that Jesus wept over the city when his procession got close to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religious and national life. More than once in the Bible he lamented over Jerusalem’s inability to recognize God’s prophets. He longed to gather its people together “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” but they refused. Jesus signaled a power not of this world, while they sought worldly power. He was surrounded by adoring crowds on the way to Jerusalem, but they were not the true community that would be forged by the hardships ahead. Every hero’s journey begins with entry into a new place. On Palm Sunday Jesus leaves behind his old life as an itinerant teacher and healer, crossing through a gateway to face death itself for the good of all.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is one of the oldest Christian images. It can be found among the earliest Christian artworks in the catacombs of Rome, where the fourth-century sarcophagus of Junius Bassus shows Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The image follows a tradition in Roman Imperial art of depicting the formal arrival (adventus) of the emperor into a city during or after a military campaign. Christ entering Jerusalem has been portrayed by many great artists from the Middle Ages to the Baroque era. One of the oldest and best known versions is a fresco painted by Giotto in 1305 at the Arena Chapel in Padua. German Renaissance artist Albrect Durer engraved it in his Small Passion series, which Blanchard acknowledges as a source for his gay vision of the Passion. But the scene is omitted from the traditional Stations of the Cross, which instead starts days later when Jesus is condemned to death. Modern artists have mostly ignored Palm Sunday in favor of other episodes from the life of Christ. An exception is Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. She re-envisioned Jesus’ life in a contemporary LGBT setting with notorious series named “Ecce Homo.” Her version of “Arrival in Jerusalem” shows Jesus riding a bicycle in Stockholm’s festive LGBT Pride Parade.

Crowd scenes are one of Blanchard’s strengths as an artist. He makes fine use of that talent in “Jesus Enters the City,” which is of the most popular images in his whole Passion series. He can capture a crowd’s unruly movements almost like a stop-action camera. Indeed while working on this series, the artist studied Charles Moore’s photos of the American civil rights movement. Blanchard paints each face in the crowd as a unique individual. For example the young man in a spiky mohawk carrying the “justice” sign on the right looks like he just stepped out of a LGBT Pride march. Most artists from history have shown Jesus marching through the gate in profile or three-quarter view, but Blanchard takes the unusual step of making Jesus head straight at the viewer.

A slide from “Introduction to the Queer Christ,” a Slate Project video by Sara Shisler Goff combines an Associated Press photo by Jacqueline Martin with “Jesus Enters the City” and a quote from Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

News photos of the 2015 Selma memorial march bear an uncanny resemblance to Blanchard's Palm Sunday vision. President Obama led the crowd marching across the bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7 for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” -- a civil rights march that ended in violent confrontation with police. It is eerie how much images look alike. The Selma march and the Palm Sunday painting both show a thin black man in a white shirt and tie walking beside a person in a wheelchair at the front of the crowd. Even the bridge in Selma looks similar to the arch that Blanchard imagined. He painted this in 2001 -- before 9/11 and long before Obama was president. It’s like he saw the future. One big difference is that Jesus is missing from the news photo. Blanchard’s Christ figure is not the Obama look-alike, but a young gay man riding a donkey in the middle of the crowd.

Triumphal arches were invented by the ancient Romans and remain one their most influential architectural forms. The arch in this painting is a simplified version of the Washington Square Arch in New York City, where Blanchard has lived since 1991. It is a landmark in Greenwich Village, an artsy neighborhood with a nonconformist tradition. That arch was in turn based on the first-century Arch of Titus in Rome, which also inspired the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Arch of Titus was built to commemorate the seige of Jerusalem, yet ironically in this painting it serves as the gateway to Jerusalem for the doomed Jesus. The Arc de Triomphe played a role in military victory rallies for rulers from Napoleon to Hitler. In 1999 a new version aggrandized a contemporary kind of empire: a Las Vegas casino. All of these arches stand for material power, and thereby hint at its transience as times change.

Arriving in a city is often an LGBT rite of passage. Many queer people leave their homes to find freedom in an urban mecca where they congregate and form their own communities. Marching in an LGBT Pride parade for the first time is an experience not unlike Jesus’ triumphal entry. Pride marches celebrate LGBT culture and serve as demonstrations for equal rights. Like Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, Pride parades are raucous, wildly joyful celebrations -- and they mask internal divisions. There can be tension between outlandish drags queens and those who want to look respectable and assimilate into the mainstream. The LGBT community is not immune from the dangers that have plagued underprivileged groups since before Jesus’ time: In the quest to gain political power, communities can lose touch with the true power that they already have through their unique culture, shared history, and connection with each other.

In Christian tradition, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, a period of reflection on Christ’s Passion leading up to Easter. With this second painting in the series, Blanchard dives into the ambitious project of retelling the Passion story in a contemporary urban setting, and the action will not stop until the final painting. Let the adventure begin!

“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to God.” -- Psalm 118:19 (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Everyone cheered when Jesus called for justice and freedom. Crowds followed him into the city, shouting and waving palm leaves. Their chants were not so different from ours: “Yes we can! Out of the closet and into the streets! We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” Jesus was a superstar making a grand entrance. But he did it in his own modest, gentle style. He surprised people by riding on a donkey. Some of his supporters, those who had mainstream success, urged him to quiet the others -- assimilate, don’t alienate. Tone it down. Act respectable, don’t demand respect. Stop flaunting it. His answer: I’m here to liberate people! If the crowds were silent, the stones would cry out! It was that kind of day, a Palm Sunday sort of day, when everyone shouted for equality and freedom. But was anybody still listening?

Christ, set me free!


This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry.  For the whole series, click here.

The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” was published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

Holy Week offering: Give now to support LGBT spirituality and art at the Jesus in Love Blog

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations are from the Inclusive Language Lectionary, copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

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Day 1: Jesus with the prophets (Gay Passion of Christ series)

1. The Son of Man with Job and Isaiah (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“God has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” -- Isaiah 61:1 (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

A contemporary Jesus arrives as a prisoner in the painting that launches the series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard. Jesus stands half-naked in blue jeans and handcuffs, attractive even in adversity. Blanchard paints an accessible Jesus that 21st-century readers can know and touch in his Passion series. The 24 paintings portray Jesus as a gay man of today in a modern city, experiencing the events of Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. The beardless young Christ is unfamiliar to modern eyes, but Blanchard harkens back to the most ancient images of Jesus. The gay vision of Christ’s Passion promises to address the suffering of queer people today -- and thereby speak to the human condition. Christ the liberator comes as a prisoner. With this first painting, the stage is set and the viewer is invited to join Jesus on a journey that leads from prison to paradise.

God’s solidarity with people amid human suffering is emphasized from the first image in Blanchard’s Passion series. The pathway from bondage to freedom leads through the Passion, moving from death to new life. The word “passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering, and has become a theological term for the hardships that Jesus experienced in the week before his death.

Jesus shares his dark prison cell with a pair of older men in “The Son of Man (Human One) with Job and Isaiah.” His warm, pink flesh is bleeding. In a modern form of dehumanization, Jesus is labeled with a number, “124,” hanging on a tag around his neck. A barred window behind an arch gives him a crude halo. His queer identity is not apparent, as often happens with contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people. The title of this painting refers to Jesus as “Son of Man,” a mysterious, multi-purpose phrase that is translated as “Human One” in gender-inclusive language. Names painted on the sides of the frame identify his two companions as Job and Isaiah, prophets from the Hebrew scriptures. Their presence signals that themes of suffering and redemption will run through this series.

Blanchard, a gay artist based in New York, painted this scene at the dawn of the new millennium in summer 2001. His Lower East Side studio was only a couple of miles away from the World Trade Center. Little did he know that a few months later, on September 11, a terrorist attack there would make him confront suffering and death in a 21st-century Passion. Blanchard used the series to wrestle with his faith in the aftermath of 9/11.

The opening image is also one of the most cryptic paintings in the series. It may be tempting to skip over it and jump ahead to the next scene, where Jesus enters the city. Even the prophets turn their faces away. Job seems unable to bear seeing the bloody martyr in chains, while Isaiah appears to be lost in thought. Together the three men form a kind of Trinity. A close look reveals a surprise: The ancient prophets are wearing modern suits under their robes. The lapel of a business suit is visible beneath Job’s ancient garment, and the fringes of Isaiah’s robe dangle over modern shoes. They present a message for today clothed in an archetypal story from long ago. Jesus faces the viewer with a full frontal gaze, ready to engage in dialogue. But he doesn’t say a word. He carries nothing, no stone tablets -- not even a tablet computer. Jesus himself is the message. Just by being here, he proclaims freedom.

Both Job and Isaiah are associated with suffering. Job was a righteous man who kept his faith despite horrible calamities. Throughout the whole Book of Job he wrestles with the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? A major theme in the Book of Isaiah is God’s Suffering Servant or “Man of Sorrows” who brings justice, but is abused and rejected.

Jesus chose to quote Isaiah when he launched his public ministry. He told the people at the synagogue in Nazareth that he was fulfilling this prophecy: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, and has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1) Isaiah also is known for his prophecy about a savior named Immanuel, which is Hebrew for “God with Us.” Christians believe these prophecies pointed to Jesus, the compassionate follower of God who was crucified. The New Testament describes how Christ emptied himself and took human form, living among us as the Word made flesh.

Jesus, Job, and Isaiah all used the phrase translated as “Son of Man” or “Human One.” It can mean a generic human being (male or female) or a divine ruler envisioned by the prophet Daniel. Jesus often referred to himself as “son of man,” thereby emphasizing his own humanity and perhaps also invoking ancient prophecies of a messiah. By using “Son of Man” in the title, Blanchard underscores the humanity of Jesus while honoring his divinity. Blanchard’s choice of words reveals that this vision is progressive but not necessarily politically correct. His Jesus remains unapologetically male.

The scene of Jesus in jail with Job and Isaiah does not occur in scripture, leaving room for the viewer to speculate. Is Jesus arriving in prison or leaving? Maybe the painting represents Jesus’ own vision while he prayed in prison before he was sentenced to death. He may have remembered the ancient prophets as the crowds outside shouted for his death -- just a week after they roared their approval when he entered the city. Or does it show how society locks away today’s prophets along with those of the past?

The prison scene is an enigmatic prelude for the “gay vision” proclaimed in the subtitle of the series. Americans have been imprisoned for homosexual acts within living memory. The last sodomy laws in the United States were not overturned until 2003. Consensual homosexual acts remain a crime in many countries and a few still impose the death penalty. Many queers still imprison themselves in self-imposed mental closets.

Early Christian artists commonly pictured Jesus as a youthful Good Shepherd without a beard. The bearded Christ motif developed around the sixth century. The crucifixion images that dominate current Christian thought didn’t arise until a thousand years after he died. A Jesus in modern dress may come as a surprise, but he promised his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always.” [Matthew 28:20 RSV]

Artists almost never portray Jesus in prison. A rare exception is 19th-century French painter James Tissot. He painted Jesus with hands lifted in prayer, chained to a stone between two sleeping guards in “Good Friday Morning: Jesus in Prison.” Likewise Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte is one of the few artists in history who ever attempted to give visual form to the phrase “Son of Man.” His famous “Son of Man” is a self portrait of the artist in a suit with an oversized apple covering his face.

The gay Passion series operates on two levels as a story within a story. The first and last paintings function like bookends, putting the gospel narrative into a larger context not limited by time and space. For those who take time to decode the rich symbolism of this painting, it foreshadows and sums up the whole series. This will be no ordinary Stations of the Cross, with a hopelessly distant Jesus moving predictably from trial to tomb. Blanchard’s vision is broader. With this first painting, Blanchard honors human suffering by invoking major Biblical models of Christ: the Son of Man / Human One, the Suffering Servant, and Immanuel. As the averted eyes of Job and Isaiah indicate, many prophets desired to see the freedom embodied by Christ, but did not. Viewers are blessed with the chance to see it played out as the gay vision of the Passion unfolds.


“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” -- John 1:14 (RSV)

Jesus was one of us, a real human being. He loved everybody, including his enemies. And yet some say that LGBT people don’t belong in the story of Jesus Christ. There’s black Jesus, Asian Jesus -- and now gay Jesus to heal the hate and discrimination done in Christ’s name. This is the story of a Jesus who emphasized his humanity by calling himself the Human One.* He doesn’t look very gay. Young and attractive, he can pass for straight. He is fully in the present, yet feels kinship with the ancient prophets Job and Isaiah who understood suffering. He wanted to serve God by healing people and setting them free. Here we remember his last days, his death and his resurrection. Jesus was a child of God who embodied love so completely that he transcended death. But while it was all happening, people didn’t understand. Society rejected him. They locked the liberator in prison.

Jesus, show me how you lived and loved.

*Son of Man can be translated as Human One.


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This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry.  For the whole series, click here.

The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” was published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

Holy Week offering: Give now to support LGBT spirituality and art at the Jesus in Love Blog

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations are from the Inclusive Language Lectionary (Year C), copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.




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Saturday, March 28, 2015

Gay Passion of Christ series starts Sunday

“The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard on display (Photo by Dorie Hagler)

A gay vision of Christ’s Passion starts this Sunday here at the Jesus in Love Blog. New posts will run daily from Palm Sunday through Easter.

All 24 paintings in Douglas Blanchard’s “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” will be posted here with commentary by Kittredge Cherry and short Bible passages.

The paintings present Jesus as a contemporary gay man in a modern city as he lives out the dramatic events of Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. This year they are also available as a book.

Click the titles below to view individual paintings and text in the series. Links will be added as the series is posted.

1. Son of Man (Human One) with Job and Isaiah
2. Jesus Enters the City
3. Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
4. Jesus Preaches in the Temple
5. The Last Supper
6. Jesus Prays Alone
7. Jesus Is Arrested
8. Jesus Before the Priests
9. Jesus Before the Magistrate
10. Jesus Before the People
11. Jesus Before the Soldiers
12. Jesus Is Beaten
13. Jesus Goes to His Execution
14. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
15. Jesus Dies
16. Jesus Is Buried
17. Jesus Among the Dead
18. Jesus Rises
19. Jesus Appears to Mary
20. Jesus Appears at Emmaus
21. Jesus Appears to His Friends
22. Jesus Returns to God
23. The Holy Spirit Arrives
24. The Trinity
Holy Week / Easter offering to support this blog

The Holy Week posts are timed so that Christ dies on Good Friday and rises again on Easter itself.

New book
"The Passion of Christ:
A Gay Vision
Blanchard’s images show Jesus being jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes and rising again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God and friends. He stands up to priests, businessmen, lawyers, and soldiers—all of whom look eerily similar to the people holding those jobs today. His surprisingly diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom.

Blanchard, a gay painter based in New York, and Cherry, a lesbian author and art historian in Los Angeles, have turned this series into a book. “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” with Blanchard's paintings and Cherry's text was be published in fall 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

“We are sharing the gay Passion series to make Christ more accessible to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and our allies,” said Cherry, founder of JesusInLove.org. The website promotes artistic and religious freedom by supporting LGBT spirituality and the arts. “Christ’s story is for everyone, but queer people often feel left out because conservatives use Christian rhetoric to justify hate and discrimination,” she said.

Cherry was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its National Ecumenical Officer, advocating for LGBT rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. In 2005 she created Jesus in Love to support LGBT spirituality and the arts and show God’s love for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It has grown to include a popular blog, e-newsletter and website. She earned degrees in journalism and art history from the University of Iowa, and a master of divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion.

“These powerful paintings break the deadly illusion that Jesus belongs exclusively to a particular time or group,” says author Kittredge Cherry, a minister and art historian. “The paintings and the new book that I wrote about them have been attacked as blasphemy by conservative Christians. But we refuse to concede Jesus to those who act like they own the copyright on Christ, then use him as a weapon to dominate others. The gay Passion of Christ is intended to broaden, not limit how Jesus is perceived. ”

Blanchard teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. He was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1982 and remains an active Episcopalian and self-described “very agnostic believer.” He earned a BFA in painting from the Kansas City Art Institute, an MA in art history from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA cum laude from the New York Academy of Art.

He spent four years painting the gay Passion. He started in summer 2001, but it took on new meaning on Sept. 11 when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center near his studio on New York’s Lower East Side. He used the series to grapple with his own faith struggles as a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The gay Jesus himself appears surprisingly accessible in Blanchard’s art. “Christ is one of us in my pictures,” Blanchard in the book's introduction. “In His sufferings, I want to show Him as someone who experiences and understands fully what it is like to be an unwelcome outsider.”

Each of the Passion pictures is oil on wood panel, 18 inches by 14 inches.  Some originals are available for purchase.

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

Selections from Blanchard’s Passion also appear in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry. A Lambda Literary Award finalist, the book is filled with color images by 11 contemporary artists from the U.S. and Europe.

The New York Times Book Review praised Cherry’s “very graceful, erudite” writing style. She has written seven books, including “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations” and “Jesus in Love: A Novel.”

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Related links for “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision”:

*Book website

*Prints and greeting cards

*Advocate.com: "Artist Doug Blanchard's haunting contemporary paintings of the Passion of Christ are an emotional reminder of the courage it takes to resist the powers that be."

*Facebook u-turns to allow gay Jesus crucifixion ad (Gay Star News)
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Other links:

“Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality” by Mary Button with commentary by Kittredge Cherry

Excerpts from "Jesus in Love: At the Cross" by Kittredge Cherry

This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts


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Friday, March 27, 2015

Adrienne Rich: lesbian poet with spiritual impulses

Adrienne Rich portrait by Sharon McGill

Adrienne Rich, a lesbian feminist and one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, died three years ago today on March 27, 2012 at age 82.

Her writing was a guiding light to me and countless others, both people of faith and secular readers. The following lines from her poem “Natural Resources” (from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977) became like a creed for many:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

Rich was born on May 16, 1929 to a Jewish father and Episcopalian mother. She wrote about her conflicting religious background in her essay “Split at the Root” (from Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985). That volume also includes the insightful essay whose title alone was enough to dazzle me: "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence."

I had the honor of meeting Rich in person in the 1980s when she spoke at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, where I served on the clergy staff. Informally among ourselves, we called her “the Great One.”

Many years later I was impressed all over again when I listened to my cassette tape of her remarks and reading at MCC-SF on Nov. 7, 1987. I was there in person and I remember it well.  Speaking to the mostly LGBT audience from both Jewish and Christian traditions, she emphasized the importance of bringing together sacred and secular, Christian and Jew, lesbian and gay and straight. The event was co-sponsored by Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, a progressive Reform Jewish congregation in San Francisco.

I transcribed what she said about her connection to spirituality:

The coming together of those of us who are non-congregants with you who are is very important. A couple of years ago in a talk and reading that I gave at UCLA Hillel, I described myself as a secular Jew and later in a discussion Andy Rose (now Avi Rose) asked me why, since he felt the poetry I was reading to be spiritual rather than secular in its impulse. I’ve thought a lot about that and about the lines drawn in Judaism between secular and religious, and between various degrees and forms of observance.

Along with all the work being done by observant Jewish feminists, the re-creation of liturgy towards a theology of wholeness, I think there are some of us who are drawing a deep spiritual sustenance from the Jewish secular progressive tradition, who are trying to fuse the material and the spiritual rather than leave them in the old dichotomous opposition, coming from a secular rather than a religious orientation and wanting to keep asking the questions of flesh and blood, of justice, of bread, the questions of this world.

Maybe we don’t know exactly what we are trying to do nor yet have a language for it. Liberation theology is not quite it, though the concrete examples of liberation theology in action, both Jewish and Christian, have revealed certain possibilities. The wealth of blessing that proliferate in Jewish tradition -- the tradition that bids Jews bless all kinds of everyday as well as exceptional events and things: new clothes, a new moon, bread, wine, the washing of hands, our teachers, spices, the sight of lightning, the sound of thunder -- this tradition has implications as well. And for me this has implications for poetry. And since I would never claim that poetry can be purely secular, I will have to leave it for now at that.

She also talked eloquently about LGBT life with words that are still just as true more than 25 years later:

There is no simple way to speak about what’s happening in lesbian and gay communities at the end of the 20th century. We know that in the history of our communities there have been many efforts and many ways of defining ourselves against the hostile and destructive definitions that have been ground out by a heterosexuality badly in trouble and terrified of its own complexity, terrified of its own fragility. Nothing obviously but a deep sense of anxiety of identity could produce the kind of projective thinking and scapegoating which has targeted lesbians and gay men along with any women and men who have refused the straightjackets of gender.


Rich had a big impact on the lives of many people, including artist Sharon McGill whose art graces this post. Her tribute "Wonder Woman: Adrienne Rich" is posted at her McGillustrations blog.

Artist Sharon McGill illustrated a quote from Adrienne Rich: “Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.”

Rich's essay “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978) played a major role in helping me (and many other lesbians) decide to come out of the closet. I read the essay so many times that I  memorized parts of it.  I still refer to these words when I need to make difficult decisions:

An honorable human relationship-- that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word "love"-- is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.


Thank you, Adrienne.  Now your soul is continuing on that hard way.  I count you among the LGBT saints for all the wisdom that you have bestowed upon the world.

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Related links:

Adrienne Rich 1929-2012: A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism (New York Times obituary)

In Remembrance: Adrienne Rich by Victoria Brownworth (Lambda Literary)

Adrienne Rich and transmisogyny (You're Welcome blog)

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.


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Friday, March 20, 2015

John Boswell: Historian of gays and lesbians in Christianity

John Boswell

John Boswell (1947-1994) was a prominent scholar who researched and wrote about the importance of gays and lesbians in Christian history. He was born 68 years ago today on March 20, 1947.

Boswell, a history professor at Yale University, wrote such influential classics as Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994).

Boswell converted from the Episcopal Church of his upbringing to Roman Catholicism at age 16. He attended mass daily until his death, even though as an openly gay Christian he disagreed with church teachings on homosexuality. He also helped found Yale’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center in the late 1980s.

A linguistic genius, he used his knowledge of more than 15 languages to argue that the Roman Catholic Church did not condemn homosexuality until at least the 12th century in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century.

Using some of his last strength as he battled AIDS, Boswell translated many rites of adelphopoiesis (Greek for making brothers) in his book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, presenting evidence that they were same-sex unions similar to marriage.

Boswell died an untimely death at age 47 from AIDS-related illness on Christmas Eve 1994. He remains an unofficial saint to the many LGBT Christians who find life-giving spiritual value in his historical research that affirms the value of queer people in Christian history.

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Boswell’s books include:

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century

Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
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Related links:

John Boswell Page at Fordham University

John Boswell profile at LGBT Religious Archives Network

John Boswell tribute at Yale AIDS Memorial Project (yamp.org)

John Boswell profile at Elisa Reviews and Ramblings
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This post is part of a new effort to add authors and theologians to the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.



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