Friday, July 30, 2010

To Anne Rice: You can be pro-gay AND Christian


Bestselling author Anne Rice announced this week that she is quitting Christianity because, as she put it on her Facebook page:

“I refuse to be anti-gay. I refuse to be anti-feminist. I refuse to be anti-artificial birth control. I refuse to be anti-Democrat. I refuse to be anti-secular humanism. I refuse to be anti-science. I refuse to be anti-life. In the name of ...Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen.”

Her decision to leave the church is getting a lot of news coverage. Here is a copy of my open letter to Anne Rice:

Dear Ms. Rice,

I read the news that you quit being a Christian because you refuse to be anti-gay and anti-feminist.

Believe it or not, you can be Christian AND support gay rights and feminism! I’m a lesbian minister and author who blogs about gay, lesbian, bi and trans spirituality and the arts at http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/

There are thousands of churches around the world that affirm LGBT people. You can find links to them through my website http://jesusinlove.org/

It sounds like you have made an important transition from being a church member to being a post-institutional, individual follower of Christ. Congratulations. I believe that this is one of the stages of spiritual growth to which Christ calls us.

I feel a special connection to you because, like you, I wrote first-person novels about the life of Christ. I also enjoyed meeting your son Christopher when he moderated an authors’ panel discussion on which I appeared as finalist for the Lambda Literary Award.

A book review comparing your “Christ the Lord” novels and my “Jesus in Love” novels is available at this link:

http://jesusinlove.blogspot.com/2008/09/novels-show-jesus-from-heart.html

Here is an excerpt from the review:

"Cherry in essence begins where Rice's narrative ends… Cherry's primary objective is to depict Jesus as fully human in terms of sexuality, while maintaining, as Rice does, that Jesus was not genitally sexually active. Her rational for this, which I find marvelously sensitive and cogent, is that Jesus realizes his divine nature would inevitably produce an "imbalance of power" that would not permit the full and free interaction of "consenting adults" which sanctifies all human sexual interaction. Jesus also recognizes, in Cherry's vision, that he is "married" to the Holy Spirit."

Ms. Rice, I thank you for supporting LGBT people and I hope that you will continue to grow in your relationship with Christ.

Blessings,

Rev. Kittredge Cherry
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This isn’t the first time that I have corresponded with Anne Rice. I sent her an email to inform her when the double review of our books was published, and she even sent me a short personal reply. I hope to hear from her again this time!

(Photo: Anne Rice)

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Thursday, July 29, 2010

Mary and Martha: Sisters or lesbian couple?

Mary and Martha by Bernardino Luini


Mary and Martha of Bethany were two of Jesus’ closest friends. The Bible calls them “sisters” who lived together, but reading the Bible with queer eyes raises another possibility. Maybe Mary and Martha were a lesbian couple. Their feast day is July 29.

Mary and Martha formed a nontraditional family at a time when there was huge pressure for heterosexual marriage.

As Rev. Nancy Wilson wrote in the brochure “Our Story Too: Reading the Bible with ‘New’ Eyes”:

“Jesus loved Lazarus, Mary and Martha. What drew Jesus to this very non-traditional family group of a bachelor brother living with two spinster sisters? Two barren women and a eunuch are Jesus’ adult family of choice. Are we to assume they were all celibate heterosexuals? What if Mary and Martha were not sisters but called each other ‘sister’ as did most lesbian couples throughout recorded history?”

(“Our Story Too” was first published in 1992 by Metropolitan Community Churches and is still one of the most advanced texts on LGBT people in the Bible.)

Mary and Martha are best known for the conflict they had when they hosted Jesus and his disciples. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet to listen, but Martha wanted her to help her serve. Jesus’ famous answer: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41-42).

In another major Bible story, Jesus talks with Mary and Martha in turn before raising their brother Lazarus from the dead. During the conversation, Martha speaks what may be the first profession of faith in Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world” (John 11:27).

Like with most Biblical figures, the truth about Mary and Martha is a mystery. The gospels references are brief and sometimes contradictory. As a result, Mary of Bethany is identified as Mary Magdalene in the Roman Catholic church, while in Protestant and Eastern Orthodox traditions they are considered separate persons.

The Orthodox Church also includes Mary and Martha among the “myrrh bearing women” who were faithfully present at his crucifixion and brought myrrh to his tomb, where they became the first to witness his resurrection. Christian feminists also honor the sisters and say that they probably were leaders of a “house church.”

I’d love to see a contemporary artist show Mary and Martha as a loving lesbian couple. Is anybody out there ready for the challenge? I hope to see these images soon! Meanwhile, art history provides some beautiful paintings of the “sisters,” including the one above by Italian Renaissance artist Bernardino Luini (1480 -1532).

I explored the happy possibility of Mary and Martha as a lesbian couple in my novels “Jesus in Love” and “At the Cross.” I will close with the scene from “Jesus in Love” in which Jesus blesses the relationship of Mary and Martha.  It's a kind of same-sex marriage. Jesus, the narrator, tells the story:

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The sisters were still making my bed. I realized that they were dawdling over the task in hopes of talking with me. As soon as I tore myself away from direct contact with the Holy Spirit, the women’s longing for me drew me like a magnet. Tenderness toward them welled up in me, and I decided that I had time for one more human conversation that night. I walked over and saw Martha smoothing out every wrinkle from a woolen blanket spread over my mat, while Mary-Beth was arranging and rearranging a pillow for me.

“Thanks,” I said again as I sat on the blanket and looked in their eyes: Mary-Beth’s dark and generous, Martha’s just as dark, but receptive. It was the first time we three had been alone together. Divine energy traced pretty triangles at it poured from me into Martha and from her to Mary-Beth, then back to me. Sometimes it reversed its course, repeating the cycle in the opposite direction. The Holy Spirit reigned over us, providing a kind of filter that purified our energies and prevented one person’s disturbances from merging into the others. The flow of sacred love between Martha and Mary-Beth was always strong, no matter which way it traveled.

“Your teaching tonight was fantastic!” Mary-Beth said, clapping her pudgy hands together for emphasis. “Martha and I have been hoping and praying for years for God to guide us to someone like you. You are going to lead our people to true liberation. You are the best on earth!”

I smiled and let it feel good as she went on like that for a while. Mary-Beth’s words kept growing louder and faster. “We want you to know that you are always welcome in our home. In fact, please treat this as your own home.”

Martha managed to slip in a sentence. “We discussed it with Lazarus, and we all agreed.”

“That’s right,” Mary-Beth enthused. “Please come here whenever you want and stay as long as you want. You can come even if you just need a quiet place to pray. We won’t interrupt you.”

“Even though we’re interrupting your prayers right now.” Martha’s sly wit made us all laugh.

“I feel at home with you. I’ll be back,” I agreed.

A not-quite-satisfactory silence stretched among us.

“I thought there was something more you wanted to tell me,” I prompted them.

There was, but there wasn’t. The sisters looked at each other, unable to speak. They had longed for my attention and approval, but now that they had it, the intensity of my love was almost unbearable to them. They had invited me into their house, and here I was, knocking at the door to their hearts.

The goodness of who they were, of who God had created them to be, was hidden from them behind layers of shame. Their silent, futile struggle to hide the full extent of themselves and their beautiful relationship moved me to speak in compassion. “Everything hidden will be revealed, and everything secret will come to light,” I assured them.

Fear made them convert to a closed, vacant politeness that they thought would appease me. “We have to go,” Martha said preemptively. “We’ll get you some more bedding.”

I put a hand on her shoulder for a moment, holding her back. “No. Enough serving me. Enough listening to me. Go ahead and speak to me.”

An awkward silence arose as each sister waited for the other to speak up. Mary-Beth was full of bluster, but when it came time to say something difficult, Martha was the braver one.

She took the lead now. “Well, you’ve been so open with us that we thought we should be more honest with you about who we are. Lazarus isn’t our biological brother. We all decided to move in together and be a family because none of us wants to get married. We all look after each other.”

Martha drew a deep breath and began to stammer as I gave her my kindest look. “Mary-Beth and I told you that we were sisters, but we’re not sisters by blood. We’re...sisters...by love.” Unable to find any more words, Martha took her sister-lover’s hand and held it in my lap.

“If people knew what we do, they would say that we gave up natural intercourse with men and are consumed with passion for each other,” Mary-Beth explained.

I had sensed their real relationship from the start, but their honesty opened a floodgate between us. I couldn’t find words that would convey my feelings to them, either, so I held their hands in mine and bowed my head to place a long, gentle kiss on their clasped hands. Divine love surged powerfully among the three of us. Now their souls invited my divine heart into their relationship and we forged a stable triangle with me at the apex. Their souls began a lifelong kiss.

When I looked up and saw their bright eyes, the right words came to me. “May nobody separate what God has united.”

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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.

 Jesus in Love

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Icons of Martha and Mary of Bethany and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



Saturday, July 24, 2010

Sts. Boris and George: United in love and death

Saints Boris and George the Hungarian
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 2000
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)
Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL


The love between Saint Boris and George the Hungarian ended in tragedy in 1015 in medieval Russia. Their feast day is July 24.

Boris was a prince and gifted military commander who was popular with the Russian people. He was married, but he had enormous love for his servant George the Hungarian. Slavic professor Simon Karlinsky has highlighted their gay love story in his analysis of the medieval classic, “The Legend of Boris and Gleb” compiled from 1040 to 1118. Karlinsky writes:

Boris had a magnificent gold necklace made for George because he “was loved by Boris beyond reckoning.” When the four assailants stabbed Boris with their swords, George flung himself on the body of his prince, exclaiming: “I will not be left behind, my precious lord! Ere the beauty of thy body begins to wilt, let it be granted that my life may end.” The assailants tore Boris out of George’s embrace, stabbed George and flung him out of the tent, bleeding and dying. After Boris died, first having forgiven his assassins, his retinue was massacred… Not only was the author of this story clearly sympathetic to the mutual love of Boris and George but he also seemed to realize that “the gratuitous murder of George resulted from his open admission of the nature of this love.”

Karlinsky’s text above is quoted from “Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People” and “Gay Roots: Twenty Years of Gay Sunshine.”

The man behind the murders was Boris’ half-brother Sviatopolk, who wanted to consolidate his power. He also had their brother Gleb killed at the same time. In 1071 Boris and his brother Gleb became the first saints canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. They were named “Passion Bearers” because, while they were not killed for their faith, they faced death in a Christlike manner, forgiving their murderers.

Brothers Boris and Gleb are popular saints in Russia. They are often pictured together and many churches are named after them. Meanwhile the beloved George the Hungarian was never canonized and has mostly been ignored -- until recently.

The icon above was painted in 2000 by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores.

Here George is restored to his rightful place beside Boris, properly honoring this extraordinary couple and the way they loved each other.
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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.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

St. Wilgefortis: Bearded woman

St. Wilgefortis in the Chapel of Our Lady of Sorrows at the Loreta Sanctuary in Prague, Czech Republic

St. Wilgefortis prayed to avoid marriage to a pagan king -- and her prayers were answered when she grew a beard! Her feast day is July 20. This virgin martyr has natural appeal for LGBT, queer and transgender folk.

Here’s an account of her life by Terence Weldon, a gay Catholic who blogs on queer and religious matters at Queering the Church, where this summary first appeared.
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A wonderful example of a sainted bearded lady?

Unfortunately, Saint Wilgefortis may also be an example of a ‘saint’ whose biography is more popular fiction than recorded history. Still, she is listed in the standard catholic reference works, and has had an official feast day, as well as bewildering array of aliases, among them Liberata, Kummernis, Uncumber, and Livrade, Of the biographical details, take them as you will. For what it is worth, the legend says that she was the daughter of a king, who had taken a vow of virginity. When her father wanted to marry her off to the King of Sicily, she prayed for deliverance from this evil fate. Whereupon she grew a beard. What self-respecting king would want to marry a bearded princess? Her father was said to be so enraged at this that he had her crucified. This may be the reason she became known as the patron saint of difficult marriages – but crucifixion seems an extreme way to end one.

Modern skeptical scholars suggest that the story of her beard and crucifixion are sheer invention. Spoilsports! Why let facts get in the way of a good story? Sadly, her “cult was suppressed and she was dropped from the calendar in 1969.″
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[Note from Kittredge Cherry: Here are a few more fun facts about St. Wilgefortis. Her veneration arose in 14th century Europe, and her story is often set in Portugal. The name Wilgefortis may come from the Latin “virgo fortis” (strong virgin). Her English name Uncumber means escaper, while she was called Liberata in Italy and France, and Librada in Spain -- meaning “liberator” from hardship or husbands!]
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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.

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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Cartoon shows GLBT rights on the cross

Gay Jesus cartoon by Mike Ritter from Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook

Jesus embodies GLBT civil rights as he is crucified by Christian fanatics in a political cartoon from Wipeout Homophobia on Facebook.

The cartoon uses art and humor to support LGBT equality and poke fun at the rightwing Christians who oppose our civil rights.

“Quit squirming! You’re oppressing our religious freedom!” shouts the priest who nailed Jesus to the cross.

Jesus wears a shirt labeled “GLBT civil rights.” He’s not passively accepting crucifixion, but kicks at the angry mob carrying a torch, a pitchfork and Bibles.

The cartoon does a great job of illustrating how fundamentalists seem to feel threatened by the idea of equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. LGBT Christians really drive them crazy!

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Update on Feb. 24, 2014: It took years to track down the name of the artist, but he was finally identified today by an anonymous source. I am in the process of contacting Mike Ritter for permission to share his cartoon here.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Queer spiritual art appears in national magazine

“Jesus Appears to His Friends” by F. Douglas Blanchard was published in Tikkun magazine

Four friends of the Jesus in Love Blog are featured artists in the “Queer Spirituality and Politics” cover story of this month’s Tikkun, a major national magazine.

Robert Lentz, Matthew Wettlaufer, Douglas Blanchard and Paul Richmond have art in the July/August issue of Tikkun, which just hit newsstands.

You saw them here first! Tikkun asked me for help illustrating the 33-page special section on queer spirituality and politics. I posted a call for art, introduced Tikkun to our image archive and got busy contacting artists. I’m delighted that four of “our” artists ended up being published on the pages of Tikkun. Congratulations to all four on a real achievement!

The four artists are:

Brother Robert Lentz. His icon of same-gender loving saints Perpetua and Felicity became the cover art for Tikkun’s queer spirituality and politics issue. You can also see it in our post:
Friends to the end: Saints Perpetua and Felicity

Lentz is a Franciscan friar stationed at St. Bonaventure University, in Olean, New York, where he hopes to establish a school of Franciscan iconography.


Matthew Wettlaufer. His “Pieta” makes a point about AIDS activism for the article “The Transformative Promise of Queer Politics” by Alana Yu-lan Price. You can also see it in our post:
New paintings honor gay martyrs

Wettlaufer is a gay artist-philosopher who lived in El Salvador and South Africa before returning recently to the United States.


Paul Richmond. His “Noah’s Gay Wedding Cruise” goes with the same article, placed aptly near the subhead “A Cultural Sea Change.” You can also see it in our post:
Noah’s gay wedding cruise pictured

Richmond is an Ohio artist and illustrator who came out as gay after graduating from Columbus College of Art.

Douglas Blanchard. His “Jesus Appears to His Friends” (above) illustrates the article “Dismantling Hierarchy, Queering Society” by Andrea Smith. The painting comes from his 24-part series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” which shows Jesus as a contemporary gay man. You can see more art by Blanchard in our 2010 Holy Week series.

Blanchard is a New York artist who teaches art at City University of New York and is active in the Episcopal Church.
 
And there’s a lot more to love about Tikkun’s “Queer Spirituality and Politics” section. It presents 16 articles by such respected writers as Jay Michaelson, Starhawk, Yvette Flunder and Emi Koyama.

The first articles look at “how lesbian, gay, bisexual, same-gender-loving, Two Spirit, and transgender people are moving forward in various mainstream or conservative religious milieus.” The last articles examine LGBT religious and political innovation. Overall they express an impressive religious range, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Native American Spirituality, Buddhism, Judaism and Wicca. With a circulation base of more than 15,000, Tikkun is estimated to reach over 37,000 people.

Our goal here at JesusInLove.org is to match LGBT-affirming artists with the people who are eager to see queer spiritual art. With this issue of Tikkun, I’m celebrating, “Mission accomplished!” (At least for today.)

A special thanks to those artists who submitted art that was not accepted -- this time. I hope that Tikkun’s high-profile presentation of LGBT-affirming religious art will inspire others to provide a forum for this kind of art in the future.

When Doug Blanchard told his Facebook friends that his art would be in Tikkun, he wrote some kind words about me and my work here. He gave permission for me to quote him:

“Kittredge Cherry is a courageous champion for gay and lesbian religious art. In an age where it is hard for any artist to get visibility, it is especially hard for those who pursue gay/ lesbian religious themes. That such artists are visible at all is almost entirely her work.”

Thank you, Doug. And congratulations to all.

Click here for Tikkun’s online preview with highlights from the queer spirituality and politics issue.

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Invite your friends to visit our blog

Please invite your friends to visit this blog, sign up for our newsletter, and befriend us on Facebook. More people need to hear that God loves all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity.

We’re looking for new friends who are:
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Please make a special effort to invite GLBT artists and writers with spiritual interests. Many of them get discouraged because there doesn’t seem to be a “market” for LGBT spiritual art. Our goal is to match these artists with the people who want to see their work

By supporting the Jesus in Love Blog, you also support the artists and writers who do LGBT spiritual work. More people here will mean more friends for you, too. We’ll have more comments, more news tips and build a stronger community

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Thank you! We appreciate your friendship and your help in building an online community that supports LGBT spirituality and the arts. As the Bible says in 1 John 4:7, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.”

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

1974 Gay Freedom Day float celebrates God’s word

Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco’s 1974 Gay Freedom Day float

Pioneers of LGBT liberation are shown in this historic photo from the 1974 Gay Freedom Day march in San Francisco.

“The 1974 float is symbolic of MCC San Francisco - marching proud and strong, to ‘We are Not Afraid Anymore’ - as a Phoenix rising out of the ashes after an arson fire destroyed our worship location,” says Lynn Jordan, who submitted this rare photo.

Lynn designed the float with the late Rev. Bruce Hill (third from the right behind the banner). The book on the float presents two scriptures: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31) and “The Lord is the spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (II Corinthians 3:17). The book was made from panels of sheetrock. The parade that year was going down Polk Street - not Market Street.

Arsonists burned MCC’s worship home at Stewart Memorial Church on Guerrero Street, so the float lists their new location at Mission United Presbyterian Church, 3261 - 23rd St., where they worshipped until 1979.

Wood from the annex of the burned church was used to build a cross that was displayed on the float and at MCC-SF worship services for many years..

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