Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Crucified Christa embodies female Christ

“Christa” by © Edwina Sandys

Christa, the female Christ, is the theme of the following address by Nicola Slee, a feminist theologian and poet based at the Queen’s Foundation in Birmingham, England. She is the author of the new book “Seeking the Risen Christa.”

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If you are anything like me, you will be conscious of an ambivalence about Good Friday. I can’t imagine being anywhere other than in church, yet I wonder what I’m doing here, fixing my attention and prayer on the horrible death of a man two thousand years ago. I’m both drawn to the cross yet repelled by it Somehow we are here, however we’ve got here and whoever we are, gathered around the cross, with all its strange fascination and its horror – with some kind of a sense that it is important to be here, that we need to be here, that we are doing something that is significant, even essential.

Yet we do well to proceed with care as we approach the cross, to bring what theologians call a hermeneutics of suspicion to bear on this place of violent death where Christians claim we see the love of God most powerfully at work. The cross can be, and has been used, as a tool of oppression to justify violence, bloodshed and abuse. The suffering of Jesus, the innocent, has been preached as a means of encouraging those who suffer to accept their burdens meekly, without complaint, as Jesus did – even when that suffering is unjust and cries out to heaven for restitution. Mary Daly, that arch feminist whose death this year marks a milestone in feminist theology, described Christianity as necrophiliac, death-fixated, addicted to violence. Mary Grey, a more moderate critic, ponders: ‘as Christianity has now had two thousand years of death symbolism, it is at least possible that the slaughter perpetrated in the name of Christendom is related to its symbols of death, blood-guilt and sacrifice’.  A number of feminist theologians argue that the cross should be displaced from the centre of Christianity and an entirely new (or perhaps old) religion of natality (birthing) and flourishing replace the death-fixation of patriarchal religion.

It is important to take such critiques seriously, and I for one have found such work both challenging and liberating, helping me to recognise ways in which I have succumbed to an unhealthy valorization of suffering in my own life – and, perhaps more importantly, helping me to see the ways in which the church uses the symbolism of the cross to shore up its own patriarchal power and to keep abusive systems in place.

So I can go a long way with those who want to deconstruct and decentre the cross. A long way, but not the whole way, because even if we try to remove all references to suffering, violence and death from our faith, these are daily realities for many in our world and can’t be easily airbrushed out. It’s not so much that we need to remove the cross from the centre of Christianity as find better ways of understanding it. And this is possible because the cross is capable of multiple readings and re-interpretations. As Elisabeth Moltmann-Wendell has said, ‘In the last analysis, the cross is a paradoxical symbol. It is not simply the guillotine or the gallows. It is also subconsciously the symbol of wholeness and life and it probably could only survive as a central Christian symbol because of this simultaneous subconscious meaning.’

In these addresses, then, I want to consider some different ways of ‘reading’ the cross, some different angles or perspectives on the cross, particularly some that have been developed by feminist and womanist theologians – some that don’t often find their way into churches, particularly on Good Friday, though if they do, it’s places like St James where I’d expect that to be happening – and I’m grateful for places like this, rare as they are, where it is possible to bring our critique, our ambivalence and our efforts to find new theologies.

One of the ‘fresh readings’ of the cross feminists offer us is the image or symbol of the female Christ, the so-called ‘Christa’. I say ‘fresh’, though in fact, it’s almost forty years old in its recent manifestation, and has roots that go way back into the ancient mystical tradition of Christianity. You have a few examples of artists’ depictions of a female Christ on your service sheet, although these represent just the tip of the iceberg, as there are literally dozens of such images to be found once one starts searching (and that in itself tells us something about the need for images of a feminine divine in a religion which has suppressed the feminine).

When presenting such images to Christians who have never seen them before, I can expect reactions of shock, confusion, even horror – though I imagine that at least some of you at St James will be familiar with such images and, even if you are not, will have a more sympathetic reaction. The Christa is not in any way a denial of the historical reality of Jesus’ masculinity, it is not an attempt to rewrite history and pretend that Jesus might have been a woman. Such images are trying to do something more profound. They are making a positive and visceral identification between the bodies and sufferings of women and the body and suffering of God. In doing so, they have the power to shock us into recognizing just how patriarchal and male our assumptions about God and Christ still are – and in that sense, as Marcella Althaus-Reid puts it, such images ‘undress’ or reveal, our own blasphemous idols of God. She speaks about the ‘obscene Christ’ – a black, or female, or lesbian or transgendered image of Christ – not that such a notion in itself is obscene, but it reveals to us our own obscenity when we recognize that we had assumed Christ to be white, male, heterosexual or whatever.

Nevertheless, the female Christ figure is, itself, controversial amongst feminist theologians. Some consider it merely reinforces, rather than challenges, the stereotype of women as powerless victims of abuse. Others find it immensely healing, enabling them to realize their own bodies as the site of the divine, even in their mortality, pain and abuse. I leave you to make your own response, as I share with you something of my own, in a poem I have written exploring the identity of the crucified Christa with us today:

Who is the Christa?

Every woman forced to have sex who didn’t want it
Every girl trafficked out of her own home country
trapped in some anonymous bedsit in someone else’s city
working all the hours men want to have her body
making a fast buck for her pimp

The woman you meet in the street with bruises all up her arm
which you don’t see because she covers them up in long sleeved blouses
and thick sweaters
(Harder to hide the gash on her face but make-up has its uses)
Every woman who is too frightened to go out alone because of what has happened to her in the past or what she imagines might happen to her

The woman sleeping in the underpass
in her makeshift room of cardboard
who wards off the unwanted attentions from the drunk two streets up

The smart young graduate climbing the career ladder
who can’t get through the day without shooting up
The anorexic teenager starving her young body
that is strange to her and she cannot seem to love
The classrooms of self-harming girls

The nine-year old orphan caring for three siblings all under five
in a shanty town in any African city
Her parents dead from AIDs

Every street girl and boy scavenging on rubbish tips
Every child working in sweatshops making cheap tee-shirts for Primark
All the women raped in war or, worse, forced to watch their daughters raped
Husbands shot in front of their eyes

Women who walk a thousand miles through a war-zone
with babies on their hips and children dragging along beside them
Desperate to make it to a refugee camp
where they might find food and shelter

Christa, our sister,
have mercy
Christa, God’s beloved,
show us your face
where we have not wanted to see it
where we resist your presence among us

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The above reflection by Nicola Slee is the first of three addresses on Christa that she delivered on Good Friday in 2010 at St. James Piccadilly Church in London. Her other addresses look at the Corporate Christa and the Cosmic Christa. Click here for the full text of all three addresses.

Slee’s new book “Seeking the Risen Christa” was just released by SPCK Publishing, an Anglican press and Britain’s third oldest publisher. For more info on Slee, see our previous post “Female Christ conference planned.”

We usually focus on LGBT spirituality here at the Jesus in Love Blog, but the idea of Christ being female seems queer in the best sense of the word. We are also focusing on the woman Christ now in order to help balance the many gay male Christ figures that will appear here soon in a new series for Lent/Easter.

The illustration for this post is “Christa” by Edwina Sandys -- the most famous artwork of a female Christ. Sculpted in 1975, the magnificent bronze crucifix has graced the pages of the London Times, Time, Newsweek, Life, and other major publications. It has appeared at respected galleries and churches throughout Europe and North America, notably a controversial 1984 showing at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. Wherever Christa goes, the sculpture triggers debate about the nature of God and the role of women. Sandy’s “Christa” sculpture and the story behind it are included in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Kuan Yin reflects the queer Asian Christ

“Kwan Yin is Coming” by Stephen Mead

Buddhists celebrate the birth of Kuan Yin, androgynous spirit of compassion, today (March 23) this year.

KuanYin is sometimes thought of as a queer Christ figure, so we honor the birthday with excerpts from an essay on the subject by gay Asian American theologian Rev. Dr. Patrick S. Cheng. He is assistant professor of theology at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

In the introduction to his essay “Kuan Yin: Mirror of the Queer Asian Christ,” Cheng explains:

Kuan Yin, the Asian goddess of compassion, can serve as a mirror of the queer experience. Specifically, Kuan Yin affirms three aspects in the life of queer people that are often missing from traditional images of the divine: (1) queer compassion; (2) queer sexuality; and (3) gender fluidity. In other words, Kuan Yin can be an important means by which gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people can see ourselves as being made in the image of God.

Cheng writes clearly about the connection between Kuan Yin and Christ in the section where he describes his personal search for queer Asian Christ figures:

I write this paper as an openly gay Asian American man who is within the Christian tradition. Although I have tried in my own theological reflection to locate myself within the classical Western biblical and theological tradition, I have been frustrated at the difficult task of finding texts and images that reflect the experiences of my people (that is, other queer Asian American Christians) and that affirm ourselves as beloved children of God.

Olga’s Kuan Yin
By William Hart McNichols ©
www.fatherbill.org
For some time I have been intrigued by the goddess Kuan Yin. Something about her image resonates deeply with my Chinese-American heritage, and in past years I have kept a statue of her by my desk. Although I would not say that I worship the goddess per se, I do feel that the image of Kuan Yin allows me to make a connection between the divine and many of the people in my family who I love (for example, my mother, my aunts, my cousins, and my deceased grandmother). . . .

I have been intrigued by the possibility of Kuan Yin serving as a christological figure for queer Asian people. For me, it has been difficult to envision the Jesus Christ of the gospels and the Western Christian tradition as being both queer and Asian (although I do recognize that queer theologians and Asian theologians have tried to do so in their respective areas). It is my thesis that Kuan Yin might serve as a symbol of salvation and wholeness for queer Asian people of faith....

Click here for the whole essay “Kuan Yin: Mirror of the Queer Asian Christ.”

Cheng’s new book “Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology” was just published and is now available. His series on “Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People Today” was one of the most popular stories of 2010 at the Jesus in Love Blog. For more info on Cheng, visit his website, patrickcheng.net.

Another gay perspective on Kuan Yin is provided in our previous post “Kuan Yin: Androgynous spirit of compassion” by comparative religions scholar Toby Johnson.  He is a former Catholic monk turned gay author and LGBT activist. Johnson retells the traditional story of Kuan Yin and explains why it is “such a nice myth for gay people.”

This post is illustrated with visions of Kuan Yin by Stephen Mead and William Hart McNichols.

Mead is a gay artist and poet based in New York whose work has appeared internationally in cyberspace, books, and galleries.

McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been criticized by church leaders for making LGBT-friendly icons of saints not approved by the church. His icons have been commissioned by churches, celebrities and national publications.

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This post is part of the LGBT 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.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rainbow cross lights the way for all

Reclaiming the cross is the theme of the following prayer from a spectacular Easter Eve service where rainbow lights were projected onto the 103-foot cross at Mt. Davidson, San Francisco’s highest point.

Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco sponsored the cross-lighting worship services there from 1997-99. Longtime MCC-SF member Lynn Jordan still remembers how poignant it was for the LGBT community to reclaim the cross at that time, when the AIDS death toll was finally being reduced by new drugs introduced in 1997. Thank you, Lynn, for providing the prayer and photos from the MCC-SF archives.

Litany for Lighting the Cross
By Rev. Karen Foster and MCC-SF staff

On this Easter Eve we gather to commemorate the suffering and crucifixion of the Holy One, and to celebrate the rising of new life and

We light the cross as a sign of hope for all people.

There are those who would tell us that we have no place in the realm of God and the cross is not ours, but we hear God’s voice calling us for us and

We light the cross as a sign of hope for all people.

We call upon those preaching a rhetoric of hate to stop the violence, and tonight for all who have been battered, rejected, and alienated by churches and in the name of religion

We light the cross as a sign of hope for all people.

We have died many deaths and we have lived in many tombs, but deaths could not hold us down and this night

We light the cross as a sign of hope for all people.

Bringing our bright and beautiful selves like the colors of the rainbow, different as we are, we come together as one, and

We light the cross as a sign of hope for all people.

We pray for the day when in freedom and in peace, people of all ages, all races, all nationalities, and all sexual orientations will stand together and proclaim

We light the cross as a sign of hope for all people.
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The prayer and picture come from the bulletin for the third annual Mount Davidson Easter Eve Service, held by MCC-SF on April 3, 1999.

Rainbow lights bathe the cross at the 1999 Easter Eve service at San Francisco’s Mt. Davidson. This vivid photo was reproduced on postcards sold by Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco.

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Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Ash Wednesday: Queer martyrs rise from the ashes

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Ash Wednesday: Queer martyrs executed for homosexuality rise from the ashes

Dutch massacre of sodomites,
detail (Wikimedia Commons)
Today on Ash Wednesday queer martyrs rise from the ashes as we recall the thousands who were executed for homosexuality throughout history.

This is not just a historical issue. The death penalty for homosexuality continues today in 10 countries (Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Mauritania, Nigeria, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, and United Arab Emirates).

Christians traditionally put ashes on their foreheads as a sign of repentance on Ash Wednesday. It is an appropriate time to reflect on the sins of the church and state against queer people, including the burning of “sodomites” and thousands of executions for homosexuality over the past 800 years.

Some of the executions for sodomy were recorded by artists, either long ago or in recent times. This post features images, both new and historical, to remember and honor those whose lives were desecrated and cut short.

The whole sad history of church- or state-sanctioned executions of queer people stretches from the 13th century almost to the present. For the first 1,000 years of church history, Christianity was relatively tolerant of homoerotic relationships.

Then came campaigns of terror that started to use the terms “heresy” and “sodomy” interchangeably.  Eventually hostility began to be directed at same-sex erotic behavior in particular. Terence Weldon of Queering the Church discusses the fateful period when the atrocities began in a well researched overview titled “Lest We Forget: The Ashes of Our Martyrs”:

In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts. Although this penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

The church contributed to the deaths of thousands for homosexuality over the next 700 years. Witch burning occurred in the same period and claimed the lives of countless lesbian women whose non-conformity was condemned as witchcraft. (Current events in Uganda and elsewhere prove that some are STILL using Christianity to justify the death penalty for homosexuality up to the present day.) As Weldon concludes:

Obviously, the Catholic Church cannot be held directly responsible for the judicial sentences handed down by secular authorities in Protestant countries. It can, however, be held responsible for its part in fanning the flames of bigotry and hatred in the early part of the persecution, using the cloak of religion to provide cover for what was in reality based not on Scripture or the teaching of the early Church, but on simple intolerance and greed.

It is important as gay men, lesbians and transgendered that we remember the examples of the many who have in earlier times been honoured by the Church as saints or martyrs for the faith. It is also important that we remember the example of the many thousands who have been martyred by the churches – Catholic and other.

Sodomy is often considered a male issue, but the facts of history make clear that queer women were persecuted under sodomy laws too. The meaning of sodomy has changed a lot over the centuries. The “sin of Sodom” in the Bible was described as arrogance and failure to care for travelers and the poor.

“Catharina Margaretha Linck, executed for sodomy in Halberstadt in 1721” by Elke R. Steiner. Steiner’s work is based on Angela Steidele’s book "In Männerkleidern. Das verwegene Leben der Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Lagrantinus Rosenstengel, hingerichtet 1721." Biographie und Dokumentation. Cologne: Böhlau, 2004. ("In Men's Clothes: The Daring Life of Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Rosenstengel, Executed 1721.")

German artist Elke R. Steiner illustrates the last known execution for lesbianism in Europe. Born in 1694, Catharina Margaretha Linck lived most of her life as a man under the name Anastasius. She was beheaded for sodomy on Nov. 8, 1721 in Halberstadt in present-day Germany. Linck worked at various times as a soldier, textile worker and a wandering prophet with the Pietists. She married a woman in 1717. Her mother-in-law reported her to authorities, who convicted her of sodomy with a "lifeless instrument," wearing men's clothes and multiple baptisms. The subject is grim, but Steiner adds an empowering statement: “But even were I to be done away with, those who are like me would remain.”

“Catharina aka Anastasius Linck” by Ria Brodell

Genderqueer Boston artist Ria Brodell portrays Linck and several other historical women who were killed for sodomy in her “Butch Heroes” series. They include Katherina Hetzeldorfer of Germany, drowned in 1477 for female sodomy, and Lisbetha Olsdotter aka Mats Ersson of Sweden, who was decapitated in 1679 for cross-dressing and other crimes.

“The Shameful End of Bishop Atherton and his Proctor John Childe,” hanged for sodomy in 1641 in Dublin (Wikimedia Commons)

John Atherton, Anglican bishop of Waterford and Lismore, and his lover John Childe were hanged for “buggery” in 1640 in Dublin, Ireland. The bishop was executed under a law that he helped to institute! The picture comes from an anonymous 1641 booklet titled “The Shameful End of Bishop Atherton and his Proctor John Childe.” The title tries to shame and blame the victims, but the shame belongs to the church and society who killed them for who and how they loved.

Balboa executing two-spirit Native Americans for homosexuality in 1513 in Panama -- engraving by Théodore De Bry, 1594 (Wikimedia Commons).  

The Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa found homosexual activity among the Native American chiefs at Quarqua in Panama. He ordered 40 of these two-spirited people thrown to his war dogs to be torn apart and eaten alive to stop the “stinking abomination.” Executions for homosexuality continued during the “Mexican Inquisition,” an extension of the Spanish Inquisition into the New World. In one of the most notorious examples, 14 men were executed by public burning on Nov. 6, 1658 in Mexico City.

The knight of Hohenberg and his servant, accused of sodomy, were executed by burning in Zürich in 1482. (Wikimedia Commons)

The knight of Hohenberg and his servant, accused sodomites, were executed by burning before the walls of Zurich, Switzerland in 1482. Source: Diebold Schilling, Chronik der Burgunderkriege, Schweizer Bilderchronik, Band 3, um 1483 (Zürich, Zentralbibliothek)


Execution of sodomites in Ghent in 1578 -- drawing by Franz Hogenberg (Wikimedia Commons)

Five Catholic monks were burned to death for homosexuality on June 28, 1578, in Ghent, Belguim.


"Timely Punishment..." shows Dutch massacre of sodomites in Amsterdam in 1730-31 (Wikimedia Commons)

A total of 96 gay men were executed for sodomy in the Netherlands years 1730-31.

More recent examples include the Holocaust or "homocaust" of persecution by the Nazis, who sent an estimated 5,000 to 60,000 to concentration camps for homosexuality. Executions on homosexuality charges in Iran continued to make news multiple times since 2011.

Many more die in attacks fueled by religion-based hate, including those killed in the arson fire at the UpStairs Lounge, a gay bar in New Orleans.

Milder forms of anti-LGBT persecution continue in the church. Now it is common to freeze LGBT people out of church leadership positions. Gay pastor and author Chris Glaser writes about the exclusion from clergy roles as a “fast imposed by others” in the following prayer based on the practice of fasting during Lent, the season of individual and collective repentance and reflection between Ash Wednesday and Easter.

One: Jesus,
     our fast has been imposed by others,
     our wilderness sojourn their choice more than ours.
Many: Our fast from the sacraments,
     our fast from ordination:
     our only choice was honesty.
One: With the scapegoats of the ancient Hebrews,
     sexual sins of generations
     have been heaped upon our backs,
     and we have been sent away,
     excommunicated, into the wilderness to die.
Many: Yet we choose life,
     even in our deprivation
One: Jesus, lead us to discern our call
     parallel to your own:
     rebelling against the boundaries,
     questioning the self-righteous authorities,
     breaking the Sabbath law
     to bring healing.


This prayer comes from “Rite for Lent” by Chris Glaser, published in Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations. Glaser spent 30 years struggling with the Presbyterian Church for the right to ordination as an openly gay man before he was ordained to the ministry in Metropolitan Community Churches in 2005. He writes progressive Christian reflections at chrisglaser.blogspot.com.

Faggots We May Be,” a 2015 poem by Georgia poet S. Alan Fann, makes connections between gay men burned to death, global warming and the Rainbow Christ.

It is horrifying to remember the "burning times," especially for those LGBT people who consider themselves part of the Christian tradition. Let us rise from the ashes with these verses from the Bible:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
For thou hast no delight in sacrifice; were I to give a burnt offering, thou wouldst not be pleased.
[Psalm 51: 10, 17]

Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a you to humble yourself?
Is it to bow down your head like a rush,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under you?
Will you call this a fast, and a day acceptable to God?
Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily.
[Isaiah 58:5-8]

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Related links:

“Burned for sodomy” (Queering the Church)

Lest We Forget: The Ashes of Our Martyrs (Queering the Church)

The blood-soaked thread (Wild Reed)

List of people executed for homosexuality (Wikipedia)

LGBT Victims (Gay History Wiki)

List of unlawfully killed transgender people (Wikipedia)

Victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes (Wikipedia)

Victims of Hate” gallery on Facebook

Here are the 10 countries where homosexuality may be punished by death (Washington Post, Feb. 24, 2014)

Significant acts of violence against LGBT people (Wikipedia)

BURN BABY BURN: A Knight, a Squire, a Bishop, a Steward, Five RC Monks and Millions of murders initiated by bigots at Church! (Eruptions at the Foot of the Volcano Blog)

The Gay Holocaust (Matt and Andrej Koymasky)

Catharina Margaretha Linck, Executed for Sodomy (Queering the Church)

A History of Homophobia, 3 The Later Roman Empire & The Early Middle Ages (Rictor Norton)

A History of Homophobia, 4 Gay Heretics and Witches" (Rictor Norton)

Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook (Rictor Norton, editor)

“Pilloried” - a poem by Andrew Craig Williams

Queering All Saints and All Souls, Celebrating the Queer Body of Christ by Adam Ackley (Huff Post) (litany also suitable for Ash Wednesday)

Blessing the Dust: A Blessing for Ash Wednesday by Jan Richardson

Iran's New Gay Executions (Daily Beast, 8/12/2014)
"Two men, Abdullah Ghavami Chahzanjiru and Salman Ghanbari Chahzanjiri, were hanged in southern Iran on August 6, possibly for consensual sodomy..."

Four Iranian men due to be hanged for sodomy (Pink News, 5/12/2012)
"Iran court sentenced four men… to death by hanging for sodomy… named ‘Saadat Arefi’, ‘Vahid Akbari’, ‘Javid Akbari’ and ‘Houshmand Akbari.’"

Iran executes three men on homosexuality charges (guardian.com 9/7/2011)

International Holocaust Remembrance Day: We all wear the triangle (Jesus in Love)

Ex-gay movement as genocide (Jesus in Love)

Book: Homosexuality and Civilization by Louis Crompton
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This post is part of the LGBT Holidays series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to LGBT and queer people of faith and our allies.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Friends to the end: Saints Perpetua and Felicity


For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Perpetua and Felicity: Patron saints of same-sex couples

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1996
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.  Their names are familiar to Catholics because Perpetua and Felicity are included in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Mass.

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 icon of Perpetua and Felicity at the top of this post was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons. 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.

Felicity and Perpetua by Jim Ru
Artist Jim Ru was inspired to paint Felicity and Perpetua as a kissing couple. His version was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.

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 as an inter-racial couple sleeping together nude in prison. Click here to see it at its home in the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia.

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



Friday, March 04, 2011

Erotic Christ teacher speaks: We are the erotic body of Christ

Connection with the erotic Christ can heal the wounds of organized religion, give access to the riches of the Christian mystical tradition and lead to union with God.

An experienced teacher on the erotic Christ is Hunter Flournoy, a psychotherapist and shamanic healer who teaches “Erotic Body of Christ” workshops for gay and bisexual men.

He shares his insights in the following in-depth interview with Kittredge Cherry, whose “Jesus in Love” novels imagine an erotically alive Jesus falling in love with people of both sexes.  She founded JesusInLove.org to promote LGBT spirituality and the arts.

Based in North Carolina and New Mexico, Flournoy has been leading workshops and ceremonies in awareness, creativity, healing, passionate living and personal freedom for 19 years. His next Erotic Body of Christ workshop will be March 17-20 at the Kirkridge Retreat Center in Delaware Water Gap, PA. He has just launched a new website, eroticbodyofchrist.org, full of valuable resources for uniting sexuality and spirituality.


Kittredge Cherry: Who is “the erotic Christ”? How does the "erotic Christ" relate to the "historical Jesus" of scholarly research, the gay Jesus or black Jesus of liberation theology, and the traditional Jesus of churches?

Hunter Flournoy: We are Christ, the anointed one, and His Body is our own, as individuals, as a community, and as a world. At one point, the New Testament says, Christ had only one body – the body of Jesus – but he poured out his Spirit on the World, anointing us all, making us His body. That body, in the eastern traditions of Christianity, is a passionately erotic one; our erotic experience is the place we encounter God most directly, and the energy of Eros -- our sensuous experience of pleasure, desire, ecstasy and union . . . is the fuel for our journey of Theosis, or union with God. Eros transfigured through our act of giving ourselves and receiving each other completely, becomes agape. The erotic body of Christ is not a scholastic conceptualization of Jesus – it is a visceral experience of God through our bodies, individually and collectively, modeled by Jesus, lived by the erotic Christian mystics throughout the ages, and felt directly in our own experience.

KC: When and how did you first get involved with the idea of the erotic Christ?

HF: My first intimation of Christ as a living reality in my body goes back to my earliest communion at about age ten. My whole body thrilled when I knelt at the altar rail and the priest’s hand brushed against my own as he pressed the wafer into my palm and lifted the chalice of warm, sweet wine to my lips. I felt that it was Jesus there before me and in me, in everything, penetrating everything and taking it all into him. As I matured, that experience only deepened; every sensation seemed to be infused with a passionately loving presence, and sometimes I would see an astounding light shining out of other peoples’ eyes, kindling bliss in my whole body.

I tried to suppress this unsettling experience for years, since the Christianity of my youth had no room for it. I didn’t realize what a deeply Christian experience it really was until I discovered a small eastern orthodox monastery in New Mexico. There I learned that Christianity had once been something very different: experiential, sensuous, mystical, and profoundly grounded in the sacredness of our bodies and our world. Though many of the eastern churches have more recently become mired in a frightening cultural conservatism, they kept a breathtakingly erotic, incarnational Christianity alive for two thousand years.

KC: Many LGBT people have been wounded by the false teaching that homosexuality is a sin. What message does the erotic Christ have for them?

HF: Our sexual energy is the most powerful tool we have to shatter the illusion of separation, which is what the original Christians meant by “sin.” The essential question we must ask ourselves is, am I using sex to bring myself alive, to overcome separation and incarnate the divine, or am I using it to medicate or avoid my own experience of being alive? This was the original understanding of chastity: it calls us to the highest possible relationship with our own sexual energy. All sexual experience can break down the boundaries and defenses we use to separate ourselves from each other and from God – we become one body, one being. Sex can also teach us how to give ourselves totally (kenosis) to each other, how to receive each other completely (plerosis), and how to surrender to the transfiguring power of our own erotic experience. As LGBT people, we also have an innate understanding that our erotic experience, our pleasure, desire, ecstasy, and union, can serve a purpose other than reproduction. Our erotic joy is a source of profound creativity, deep empathy, and a wild ecstasy that can take us out of who we are into a far greater sense of being.

KC: As you say, the idea of "suffering as Christ suffered" has been abused in legalistic religious systems. But gay bashing and other forms of “crucifixion” continue. How can the erotic Christ help in situations of real human suffering?

HF: There is nothing inherently spiritual or useful in suffering; it is useless to suffer as Jesus suffered. Nor did Jesus advocate cooperating with abuse and injustice. What he advocated and demonstrated – what really matters – is loving as he loved, embracing everything and everyone, including suffering, as Jesus embraced it. Instead of rejecting our suffering, trying to medicate, numb, get rid of it or distract ourselves from it, we learn how to embrace it, without indulging it or running from it. We let our suffering shatter our sense of self, our sense of control, and our need to make sense of the world. This is what the Christian mystics called katharsis. Second, our embrace transforms suffering into a searingly powerful erotic experience . . . it is like a fire that fills our whole being, a great trembling ache that breaks into the profound peace the mystics called theoria. Finally, we discover through this embrace that we are welcoming not only our own suffering, but the world’s suffering . . . we begin to experience ourselves as the world, as Christ’s body, and ultimately as God, in the mystery of theosis.

KC: Your upcoming Erotic Christ workshop is only for gay and bisexual men. Do you see a special connection between the erotic Christ and queer people? How can others (women, straight men) connect with the erotic Christ?

HF: My experience of Christ has always been through this body, which is a male-sexed body primarily attracted to other male-sexed bodies, so I started off creating a workshop grounded in this experience. I have also experienced over the last twenty years of teaching that this is tremendously vulnerable work . . . and until very recently, many of us didn’t feel safe enough in mixed crowds to be so vulnerable. Thank God, this is finally changing . . . I am opening the next introductory workshop, coming up this summer, to trans-men, and I’m working on putting together another workshop that includes everyone. If we really take the incarnation seriously, we cannot identify only with one group of people, distinguished by a particular body or a particular orientation . . . we are all the Erotic Body of Christ.

I would suggest rather emphatically, that Jesus, or Christ, doesn’t have a special connection with anyone . . . but has a unique relationship with everyone! Each person has so much to teach the rest of us about how Christ incarnates through her own body! Queer folk have so much to teach straight folk about Christ, so much to share with them . . . gifts that have been violently suppressed and silenced . . . gifts that the world desperately needs, to bring it back into balance. But “special” gifts? None of God’s lovers are special, but all are passionately loved, and all of us can experience God directly through our own embodied experience. Every sensation, every ripple of pleasure and desire and joy and peace, is a revelation of divine love through our bodies, calling us into God's amorous embrace.

KC: Are you openly gay? (If not, we can omit this question.) The Jesus in Love Blog focuses on LGBT spirituality, so our readers will be interested to know: How did your gay identity influence the development of your ideas about the erotic Christ?

HF: Terms of identity are not so easy as they once were, thank God! I tell people I am a male-sexed transgender person who is sexually attracted to other males – or in some communities, two spirited. It’s a mouthful, but I think it’s important to shatter the boxes we use to delineate “us” and “them.” It’s all just “us.”

My attraction to other males certainly had a profound impact on my experience of Jesus, though; as my communion story (above) illustrates, I’ve always had the hots for Jesus. The funny thing is, though, he doesn’t seem to be satisfied with “just sex.” He wants a lover that puts it all out on the table . . . he wants to make love to everything in our lives, through our own willingness to passionately embrace ourselves, each other, and our world, to pour ourselves out utterly, and to receive the world into ourselves.

KC: What is your religious background? How does it inform your ideas about the erotic Christ?

HF: I was christened Presbyterian, confirmed Episcopalian, baptized, chrismated and tonsured Eastern Orthodox, and ordained in the Amigos de Dios, an ecumenical Christian fellowship. I’ve also spent a great deal of time with healers and elders from many different indigenous and mystical traditions. My direct experience of Christ evolved over many years in all of these traditions, but I didn’t really have a way of expressing it in Christian terms until I discovered the profoundly erotic and mystical teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, the church didn’t ultimately have room for my outreach into the LGBT Community or my interfaith work, so I and a few other kindred spirits founded the Amigos de Dios, or Friends of God, and I began to share these teachings, practices, and experiences with others in my workshops and retreats.

KC: What future projects are you planning about the erotic Christ? Be sure to tell us about your upcoming book.

HF: What a joy this process of creation has been! I have offered the introductory workshop, “The Erotic Body of Christ,” once in the four day format, and will be offering it again this month. I have delivered half-day and full-day versions several times, I have created an advanced workshop that will be offered in the fall, and I am in the process of creating an everyone-invited version of the basic workshop. The website is finally up, and I’m hoping the book, The Erotic Body of Christ, will be out by the end of this year. If people are interested, they can go to www.spiritjourneys.com for the four-day workshop, or www.eroticbodyofchrist.org for more in-depth information and other offerings. They can also call me at 828-450-8800, or email me at hunter@newdestinies.com.

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This interview is part of an occasional series on Eros and Christ at the Jesus in Love Blog. Related posts include:

An Erotic Encounter With the Divine
By Eric Hays-Strom

Erotic Christ / Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People
By Patrick Cheng

Click here for the whole Eros and Christ series.

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Tuesday, March 01, 2011

In memory of Peter Gomes, gay Harvard pastor and author

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Peter Gomes: Gay black Harvard minister preached "scandalous gospel"
In memory of
Peter Gomes
Harvard minister, gay African American, LGBT rights advocate
Died Feb. 28, 2011

white candle Pictures, Images and Photos

I light a memorial candle for Peter Gomes, a Harvard minister and African American gay man who came out in 1991, becoming a prominent voice supporting religious rights of LGBT people. He died Feb. 28 at age 68.

(Update: click here for my expanded reflection about Gomes on the first anniversary of his death.)

In his 1996 best-seller, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” he showed how the Bible was misused to defend homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and sexism.

Click the following links for more about Peter Gomes:

His full obituary in the New York Times:
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/02/us/02gomes.html?_r=4&src=twrhp

Peter Gomes video Would Jesus Support Gay Marriage? (also posted below)




May we honor Peter Gomes by living our lives with the same courage, scholarship and tolerance that are his lasting legacy.
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Books by Peter Gomes include:

The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart
The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?
Sermons: Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living

The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need

Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living

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This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.