Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Day 4: Naked Lazarus flees at Jesus’ arrest

Jesus is Arrested (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision)
A queer version of Christ’s Passion is running in daily installments this week from Palm Sunday through Easter. Each daily post features a queer Christian painting and an excerpt from the novel Jesus in Love: At the Cross by Kittredge Cherry.


After supper all my disciples went with me to Gethsemane, even though it was late, the night was cold, and the olive garden was a long walk away… Lazarus was waiting for us inside the garden. He managed to look stylish even though he was wrapped in the kind of linen sheet worn during religious ritual. He spoke with unaccustomed seriousness. “I’ve been keeping a prayer vigil.”

“Good,” I answered. “I want all of you to stay here and continue the prayer vigil.”

“But—“ John caught himself and held his tongue. He and Lazarus fixed a pained, plaintive gaze at me.

“But what?” I spat out the words impatiently.

“I was going to baptize Lazarus tonight.”

“Baptism!” I snorted. “You want to drown your old self so you can unite with God? You want to lose your life so you can gain it? Do you think you can take the baptism that I’m about to get?”

“We can,” John and Lazarus chorused, as if my questions were just part of some ritual.

My lips tightened. “Don’t worry. You’ll have your chance at a real baptism tonight—and so will I.”

I looked around at the whole group. “I’m sick to death about what’s happening. Stay here and keep awake. I need to go pray by myself.” ...

[Jesus’ prayers end when a small army arrives and arrests him.]

My captors began goading me toward Jerusalem. We hadn’t gone far when we heard footsteps behind us. The soldiers and temple police tensed in alarm. I turned and saw Lazarus. Some of the men grabbed him, but Lazarus wriggled out of their grasp, leaving them holding only the ceremonial linen cloth. Lazarus sprinted away stark naked, his buttocks gleaming in the full moonlight.

The whole squadron burst into laughter. “Why, it’s just a boy-whore!”

“It looks like we spoiled the king’s evening entertainment!”

“Too bad—pervert!” The insult was directed at me, along with some blows.

(Continued here tomorrow)
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F. Douglas Blanchard is a New York artist who teaches art at City University of New York and is active in the Episcopal Church. Much of his art explores history, including gay experience.

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Note: Judas kissed Jesus to identify him to the soldiers for arrest. Click on the following titles to see art that explores the homoerotic aspect of Judas Kiss:

Judas Kiss by Robert Recker

Judas Kiss by Becki Jayne Harrelson

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Day 3: Jesus shares a Last Supper

Study for The Last Supper
by Becki Jayne Harrelson

A queer version of Christ’s Passion is running in daily installments this week from Palm Sunday through Easter. Each daily post features a queer Christian painting and an excerpt from the novel Jesus in Love: At the Cross by Kittredge Cherry.


All of them, male and female, were seated around the table. They smiled at me eagerly when I took my seat. The air was filled with the inviting aroma of fresh-baked bread. John was on one side of me and Judas on the other. My disciples had been chatting and nibbling on olives and other appetizers, but now they all stopped in anticipation of the official start of the meal. …

I tore the bread in half with my human hands. In my mind I ripped a chunk out of my own divine heart. A spark of sacred energy exploded into infinity when the two pieces of my heart separated. It hurt! I was bleeding red light. Shafts of pink and scarlet now pierced the white light that poured from me.

“This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me,” I said. When I passed the bread to my friends, I also offered them chunks of my divine heart….

I took a sip of the wine. It was dry and delicious, mixed with just the right amount of water. I prepared to pass this cup of blessing around the table according to our Jewish custom, but first I said something that was not part of the standard ritual.

“Drink, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”

… I handed the cup to John. He looked in it warily and saw his own reflection on the surface of the liquid.

“Go ahead, drink up.” I touched his shoulder gently.

He sipped. The Holy Spirit sighed. Inside John’s soul, a piece of my divine heart started beating. Somehow it was able to receive the red light that was bleeding from the wound in my heart.

(Continued here tomorrow)
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Becki Jayne Harrelson is an Atlanta artist who challenges mainstream religious beliefs via art. Raised in a fundamentalist Christian family, she cares passionately about lesbian rights and other justice issues.

Detail from Study for The Last Supper

Monday, March 29, 2010

Day 2: Jesus and his beloved disciple say goodbye

Jesus in Love
A queer version of Christ’s Passion is running in daily installments this week from Palm Sunday through Easter. Each daily post features a queer Christian painting and an excerpt from the novel Jesus in Love: At the Cross by Kittredge Cherry.


That night John asked me to go to the garden of Gethsemane with him. I welcomed the chance to say goodbye to him privately before I died. …

“It broke my heart when you cried over Jerusalem the other day,” he began. “I’m sorry that I’ve been ignoring you lately. When Lazarus died, I thought I had lost another lover. Then you brought him back to life and I got carried away.”

I didn’t say anything, so John added, “You know that you come first with me, don’t you?”

I knew. I paused, pondering how deeply he mourned his dead lovers. I wondered how he would manage to survive the grief of my death. No matter what I said, he refused to believe that I was going to die soon. I didn’t know if we could even say goodbye with his love for me blinding him to the hard truth of my future. …

“My hour is coming soon,” I confirmed. “Any day now. Probably tomorrow.” John and I spoke of my physical death in metaphor because he couldn’t bear it otherwise. I loved his capacity for understanding the multiple meanings in my most poetic, mystical language.

“I don’t want you to go.” He stifled a sob, for he knew from my group discussions with my disciples that there was no talking me out of it. I lay my head on his chest and listened to his heartbeat again while I let him hold and stroke my body as much as he wanted. We were both damp with sweat and tears. Our salty, musky smell evoked my compassion, like a low musical note purring where my womb would be.

I spoke from that place: “I won’t abandon you. I’ll be back. The world won’t see me anymore, but you will see me,” I promised. … “God will give you Someone to be on your side forever. This Someone is the Spirit of truth.”

He stretched against me, awed and awake. “Do you mean that you will be with me…forever?”

“Yes! We’ll be wed. You know what the prophet Isaiah said: ‘Your Creator is your husband, and God Omnipotent is his name.’”

(Continued here tomorrow)
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Gary Speziale is an openly gay New York artist whose art flows naturally from his full-bodied Roman Catholicism and who experiences life as one holy, homoerotic whole. He did the cover art for the “Jesus in Love” novels by Kittredge Cherry.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Day 1: Crowds greet Jesus with palm branches

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


A queer version of Christ’s Passion is running in daily installments this week from Palm Sunday through Easter. Each daily post features a queer Christian painting and an excerpt from the novel Jesus in Love: At the Cross by Kittredge Cherry.


After passing through the village of Bethany, we came to the place where the Mount of Olives starts descending into the Kidron Valley. I usually paused here to admire the panoramic view of Jerusalem on the other side of the valley, but today I saw something even more dramatic. Thousands of people thronged the road all the way to Jerusalem.

They roared when they first saw me. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of God—the king of Israel!” They waved palm branches as they shouted. They covered the road with the leafy branches. Many people were even removing pieces of their own clothing and spreading them on the road….

Tears filled my eyes when I saw the city rising behind its walls, so close, yet so standoffish. My divine heart ached from the memory of all the violent rejections that God had suffered in this place, even though it was called the city of God.

I pulled the donkey to a halt and let my tears flow freely as I cried out to my city, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets who are sent! So many times I wanted to gather my people together like a hen nestling her chicks under her wings, and you refused! If only you knew even today what makes for peace! But you don’t see it.”

I sobbed, overcome by sorrow.

Most in the crowd interpreted my lament as the tactics and theatrics of a man with political aspirations. The one who was most keenly attuned to me in that moment was John, who came up and touched my foot in reverence and condolence. His dark eyes poured out the tragic sense of helplessness he felt in the face of my grief. He was blind to how much his gesture comforted me. The donkey twisted his head around and eyed me, wondering what to do. I urged him onward into Jerusalem.


(Continued here tomorrow)
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F. Douglas Blanchard is a New York artist who teaches art at City University of New York and is active in the Episcopal Church. Much of his art explores history, including gay experience.

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[Note: For a woman’s version of Christ’s Passion, see “A Women’s Way of the Cross” by Julie Lonneman at:
https://www.trinitystores.com/?collection=74

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gay Holy Week series starts Sunday

A queer version of Christ’s Passion will run in daily installments from Palm Sunday (March 28) through Easter (April 4) here at the Jesus in Love Blog.

Each daily post features GLBT Christian art and an excerpt from “Jesus in Love: At the Cross,” a novel about a bisexual Christ by lesbian author Kittredge Cherry. Jesus is in love with his disciple John and faces religious homophobia in the selections from “At the Cross.”

The eight-day series covers Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. The dramatic events of Christ’s Passion happen in the context of a gay love story between Jesus and John. Jesus has today’s queer sensibilities and psychological sophistication as he reveals experiences that may have led to the first Easter.

“I’m doing the Holy Week 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 spirituality and the arts for GLBT people and their allies.

“Christ’s story is for everyone, but GLBT people often feel left out because conservatives use Christian rhetoric to justify hate and discrimination,” she said.

The online Holy Week series includes art by F. Douglas Blanchard, Becki Jayne Harrelson, William Hart McNichols, Corinne Quinones, Gary Speziale and Dirk Vanden.

Some conservatives labeled Cherry “a hyper-homosexual revisionist” because of the gay love story between Jesus and John. However, her books follow the Biblical text and standard Christian doctrine while speculating on Christ’s erotic inner life.

“I get hate mail with warnings such as, ‘Gays are not wanted in the kingdom of Christ!’ This kind of religious bigotry is exactly why the queer Christ is needed,” Cherry said.

Meanwhile, secular literary critics and progressive Christians affirm the Jesus in Love series as “profound,” “spiritually mature” and “beautifully written.” Gay spirituality author Toby Johnson praises it as “a real tour de force in transforming traditional myth to modern consciousness.”

The Bay Area Reporter called it “revolutionary religious fiction” and Mel White, founder of Soulforce, says, “Kittredge Cherry has broken through the stained-glass barrier… a classic re-telling of the greatest story ever told.”

“At the Cross” grows out of Cherry’s own spiritual journey and her experiences as a minister in the LGBT community. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as national ecumenical officer. One of her primary duties was promoting dialogue on homosexuality at the National Council of Churches (USA) and the World Council of Churches. Her previous books include “Art That Dares,” “Equal Rites” and “Hide and Speak.” The New York Times Book Review praised her “very graceful, erudite” writing style.

The Holy Week blog series includes art from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a compelling set of 24 paintings by New York artist F. Douglas Blanchard. The controversial “faggot crucifixion” by Atlanta artist Becki Jayne Harrelson is also featured, along with drawings by New York artist Gary Speziale. They are among 11 contemporary artists from the United States and Europe who are profiled in Cherry’s book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.”

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Update: Click here to view the entire Holy Week series.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Follow us on Twitter

We just joined Twitter! You can follow us on Twitter by clicking below:

Follow JesusInLoveBlog on Twitter

Our user name at Twitter is JesusInLoveBlog. I’ll be “tweeting” daily messages during Holy Week, so it’s a good time to become one of our first Twitter followers.

Twitter is a social networking and microblogging phenomenon. I’m excited about joining the ranks of the Twitterati.

A tweet is a text post of 140 characters or less. I always enjoyed writing haiku, so this should be fun.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Jesus suffers with GLBT people in “AIDS Crucifixion”


AIDS Crucifixion by William Hart McNichols © 1986
www.fatherbill.org

Christ hangs on the cross below a sign saying, “AIDS, homosexual, faggot, pervert, Sodomite” in a powerful drawing by Father William Hart McNichols.

A man waves a Bible at the dying Jesus, symbolizing the conservative Christians who claimed that AIDS was God’s punishment for being gay. Jesus identifies completely with the suffering of gay AIDS patients in the drawing.

McNichols is an iconographer and Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. “AIDS Crucifixion” grows out of his experience working at an AIDS hospice in New York City from 1983-90.

I am pleased to highlight this important drawing here at the Jesus in Love Blog. It may be the first artwork ever to link Christ on the cross with the word “faggot.” The point is not so much that Jesus is gay, but that Jesus is crucified again whenever anyone expresses hatred for LGBT people -- or other groups.

McNichols drew “AIDS Crucifixion” in 1986, but it is not widely available. In granting permission to post it here, even his agent reported that the high-quality digital file has been lost in the art studio computer storage.

When McNichols drew “AIDS Crucifixion,” there was no effective treatment for AIDS and many people were dying of the disease. New drugs can vastly extend the lives of people with AIDS, but not everyone has access to them. AIDS is still a life-threatening disease and it has grown into a global pandemic.

McNichols has also written and illustrated a moving “Stations of the Cross of a Person With AIDS.” See it online at:

http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/andre/stations.html

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Friends to the end: Saints Perpetua and Felicity


Saints Perpetua and Felicity
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1996
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)
Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL


Saints Perpetua and Felicity were brave North African woman friends who were killed for their Christian faith in the third century. Their feast day is March 7.

The details of their imprisonment are known because Perpetua kept a journal, the first known written document by a woman in Christian history. In fact, her "Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions” was so revered in North Africa that St. Augustine warned people not to treat it like the Bible. People loved the story of the two women comforting each other in jail and giving each other the kiss of peace as they met their end.

Perpetua was a 22-year-old noblewoman and a nursing mother. Felicity, her slave, gave birth to a daughter while they were in prison. Although she was married, Perpetua does not mention having a husband in the narrative.

There were arrested for their Christian faith, imprisoned together, and held onto each other in the amphitheater at Carthage shortly before their execution on March 7, 203.

The above icon of Perpetua and Felicity was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons. It is one of my personal favorites among his icons because it shows the love between two women in such a beautiful, powerful way. It is rare to see an icon about the love between women, especially two African women. The rich reds and heart-shaped double-halo make it look like a holy Valentine.

Perpetua and Felicity are still revered both inside and outside the church. For example, they are named together in the Roman Canon of the Mass. They are often included in lists of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender saints because they demonstrate the power of love between two women. Their lives are the subject of several recent historical novels, including “Perpetua: A Bride, A Martyr, A Passion” by Amy Peterson and “The Bronze Ladder” by Malcolm Lyon.

I also recommend the 19th-century painting “The Victory of Faith” by St. George Hare. He paints a beautiful romanticized vision of what Perpetua and Felicity might have looked like sleeping together nude in prison. Here’s a link to the painting:
http://victoria-fidei.blogspot.com/2010/05/of-faith.html

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Click here for an updated version of this post with more art and info

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Icons of Perpetua and Felicity and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores



Tuesday, March 02, 2010

New paintings honor gay martyrs


The Murder of Matthew Shepard by Matthew Wettlaufer
Oil on canvas, 2006. 1-1/2 meters x 1 meter.

The Murder of Allen Schindler by Matthew Wettlaufer
Oil on canvas, 2006. 2 meters x 1-1/2 meters.


Men killed in gay-bashing murders are honored in powerful new paintings by gay artist-philosopher Matthew Wettlaufer.

He painted Matthew Shepard (1976-98), a university student who was killed in Wyoming, and Allen Schindler (1969-92), a naval officer who was killed by two of his shipmates in Japan. Both were brutally beaten to death for being gay.

Wettlaufer makes connections between the anti-gay hate crimes, other human-rights struggles and his own art in the following interview with Kittredge Cherry, founder of JesusInLove.org and author of “Art That Dares.”

Born and raised in America, Wettlaufer lived in El Salvador and South Africa before returning recently to California. He has a doctorate of philosophy from Germany’s Kassel University and moved to Capetown to teach philosophy at the University of Stellenbosch. He paints a variety of subjects, but his large political landscapes focus on issues of homophobia and political violence.

It is especially appropriate to reflect on gay martyrdom now during the season of Lent, when the suffering and death of Christ are remembered. In the following interview, Wettlaufer is especially eloquent at discussing the meaning of his art because he is a philosopher as well as an artist.


KC: You have a doctorate in philosophy and taught philosophy at the university level. That's unusual for an artist. So I am going to ask you some about the philosophy behind your art. Why did you decide to paint the difficult subject of the gay-bashing murders of Allen Schindler and Matthew Shepard?


MW: I was strongly affected by their murders, it was one of the reasons why I found myself leaving the United States, because of the entrenched homophobia in society which served as a foundation for these acts of brutality. In 2006 I saw the film Brokeback Mountain and it reawoke all these feelings of anguish and pain that I had managed to put aside after moving to South Africa. I walked around in a daze for a week. Then I painted the Matthew Shepard painting, which was my first political narrative. I was actually embarrassed about showing it to anyone, it was too personal and too private, but over time I grew out of that reticence as I started to get feedback from people about it.

I m not sure if this is related but I was at the March on Washington in 1993 and I saw Allen Schindler's mother address the crowds on the Washington Mall. I knew his story already because of an article I had read that described the events leading up to his murder and the murder itself, which the Navy initially tried to cover up. Hearing his mother speak brought me to tears.

All my life I have sought ways of recording the memory of people martyred under conditions of oppression, by working in El Salvador during the 1990s in health care, by teaching philosophy (critical theory) in El Salvador at the University in San Salvador, by activism in the gay community. Painting these people made sense to me as a way of creating an archive of what their deaths meant, so that they never be forgotten. It was in some ways easier to paint Salvadoran subjects as I am not Salvadoran, it was much harder to bring myself to paint gay subjects, especially the subjects of Shepard and Schindler, as this was so close to home and so personal.


KC: What did you experience during the process of painting these terrifying scenes of anti-gay violence? Maybe you felt fear or liberation or a connection with the past?


MW: I cried. I felt angry and exhausted. But mostly I was in tears. I hope that doesn't sound self-indulgent! I also felt a frustration at "not getting it right"--not really capturing what their deaths meant to me--but I think that must be the problem with all art--it never seems to "get" it--only an approximation. Still what I had in my mind was what I actually painted--I always have the picture formed in my mind before I paint, and it usually comes out the way I imagined it beforehand. But capturing the feeling of their loss is much harder to achieve.


KC: Matthew and Allen are sometimes considered to be gay martyrs or gay saints because they were killed for refusing to deny their own (God-given) sexual identity. What spiritual meaning, if any, do you see in their lives and deaths?


MW: As I had wanted to be a priest when I was a teenager, before I realized I was gay, I would not be surprised if spiritual elements enter into the way the paintings connect with a viewer. The cross-like character of the Shepard piece for example is completely intentional. He and Schindler were martyrs, and martyrdom has a spiritual level to it. Some of the strongest influences on me growing up were people who had been martyred for civil and human rights--Martin Luther King J., Robert Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Salvador Allende, Oscar Romero, and Jean Donovan (one of the four US Churchwomen killed in El Salvador).


KC: You described yourself as a "lapsed Catholic." What is your own spiritual journey?


MW: I joined the Church when I was 12. Before that I grew up in a small mountain town in Southern California--I was very fortunate to be around wilderness, mountains, streams--and to be able to hike and to escape into the wilds. I had I guess a pantheistic feeling about spirituality, an intimate connection with life around me. But when I turned 12 I felt I needed to exchange this vague experience for something more structured and organized, so I went to the Catholic Church. Part of the reason for that was seeing the events happening on television in El Salvador during the late 1970s. Oscar Romero's courage in standing up for the rights of the poor and persecuted made a strong impact on me.

I joined the Church though right at the time when things in our parish changed and we had our gay priest replaced with a straight and very rightwing one. I began to clash with him and with catechist classes over the issue of being gay. I went ahead and was confirmed but our priest told me that as I was gay I was psychologically ill and should seek aversion therapy to "cure" myself. I left the Church.

As a young adult I found myself in a 12 step program and it was there that I was able to reclaim much of my earliest feelings around spirituality. I draw on those when I paint. I don't know if I believe in a God--but I believe in a higher power--the universe in its massive incomprehensible vastness inspires me with respect and humility. I study currents in contemporary physics to educate myself more on these matters. I am also impressed with liberation theology, with buddhism and with the essence of what Christ taught, about unconditional love of others and about compassion and forgiveness.


KC: Are you an openly gay man? (If not, it's OK, I'll omit this question when I post the interview.) If yes, how does your sexual orientation affect your art? Do you have any other paintings on gay themes?


MW: I am openly gay :) I think it affects my art in the sense that I see things from the outside looking in. I have a few paintings that touch on gay topics--one of a man next to another man's hospital bed--an AIDS pieta. Also one of two soldiers sleeping with their arms around each other. And one of the two soldiers in the cage--it is titled “There's No Place for Us.” (All three are pictured below.)  It has been hard for me to paint "happy" or optimistic pictures dealing with gay subjects, but perhaps that will change with time. Ultimately I would like to create images that are hopeful and life-affirming with all the power and emotion that I have felt in making my martyrdom paintings.


KC: You've lived all over the world -- El Salvador, South Africa, United States. What have you learned about art, spirituality and gay/lesbian issues from your experiences living in such different cultures?


MW: Some places I have lived were more accepting of gay people than other places--at least on the surface and in terms of legal rights. In some places I found that people have an almost physical reaction to art which speaks to them, a strong and passionate accord with visual imagery. It hasn't been my experience that the most tolerant societies are also the most passionate artistically; in South Africa I found a rather lukewarm reception to my work (and to political or social work in general) in the art community--equally lukewarm was the South African reception of abstract and expressionist pieces by some of my teachers, attitudes which mystified me. Yet on the other hand the legal standing of gay people in that country is well ahead of most western countries. In Latin America on the other hand I find a more intense reaction to my work (and to the political painting of other people) yet my experience of El Salvador is that it is a deeply homophobic society but that there are growing pockets of inclusion and acceptance, especially in the cities. It is a struggle still.

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For more info on Matthew Wettlaufer, visit www.capegallery.co.za or contact him directly at tahquitzpeakartist@gmail.com.


Pieta by Matthew Wettlaufer
Oil on canvas, 2007. 36 x 56 cm.

Two Soldiers on a Train by Matthew Wettlaufer
Oil on canvas, 2008. 32 x 44 cm.

There’s No Place For Us by Matthew Wettlaufer
Oil on canvas, 2007. 1 meter x 1 meter.