Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Feminism and Religion Blog features Kittredge Cherry on Mary's lesbian goddess roots

Logo for Feminism and Religion Blog

My reflection on Mary’s lesbian-goddess roots is the top story at the Feminism and Religion Blog today.

I’m honored be a guest blogger with the renowned theologians and scholars at the Feminism and Religion Blog, including Starhawk, Carol Christ, Rosemary Radford Ruether, Mary Hunt, and Zsuzsanna Budapest. They also feature lots of up-and-coming theologians.  Look for more of my work there in the future as part of a new arrangement to cross-post some of my writing from here at the Jesus in Love Blog.

The Feminism and Religion Blog describes its mission as “exploring the ‘F-word’ in religion and the intersection between scholarship, activism, and community.”

(The "F-word" they meant is feminism -- because many people who like feminist ideas avoid the label "feminist." It's become like a dirty word and many would rather be called "progressive" instead of "feminist.")

Check out their blog at:

http://feminismandreligion.com/

It was launched earlier this year because “important work in women’s studies in religion continues as more attention is paid to the intersection between gender, race, culture, and sexual identity, within feminism and religion.”

They also ran my piece “Artemisia Gentileschi: Baroque artist and rape survivor painted strong Biblical women” recently. Here’s how they described me: “The following is a guest post written by Rev. Kittredge Cherry, lesbian Christian author and art historian who blogs about LGBT spirituality and the arts at the Jesus in Love Blog. Her books include Equal Rites and Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.”

My post today is titled Mary’s Feast Rooted in Lesbian Goddesses Diana and Artemis.

Special thanks to Xochitl Alvizo for introducing me to the Feminism and Religion blog! Xochitl is a feminist theologian who is completing her doctorate at Boston University School of Theology.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

ML King memorial and the gay hero of the March on Washington: Bayard Rustin


Bayard Rustin at news briefing on the March on Washington, Aug. 27, 1963 (Wikipedia)

When a new memorial is dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, let us also remember Bayard Rustin, the black gay man who organized the march.

MLK Jr Memorial
(Wikimedia Commons)
The memorial, with a 30-foot statue of King, is scheduled for dedication on Washington’s National Mall on Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011. (Update: The dedication was postponed to an undetermined date in September or October due to Hurricane Irene.)

A close advisor to King, Rustin was the chief organizer of the March on Washington, where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. Rustin has been called “an invisible LGBT hero.” His name is almost unknown, even though he was a major leader in the movements for civil rights and non-violence. He was openly gay, so stayed behind the scenes. He died 24 years ago today at age 75.

Rustin (Mar.17, 1912 - Aug. 24, 1987) rarely served as a public spokesperson for civil rights because he was openly gay in an era when homosexuality was criminalized and stigmatized. His sexuality was criticized by both segregationists and some fellow pacifists and civil-rights workers. In the 1970s he began to advocate publicly for lesbian and gay causes.

From 1955-68 Rustin was a leading strategist for the African American civil rights movement. He is credited with introducing Gandhi-style non-violence to the civil rights movement. His decades of achievements include helping launch the first Freedom Rides in 1947, when civil disobedience was used against racial segregation on buses. He helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and much more.

Rustin’s sexual orientation became publicly known in 1953, when he was arrested for homosexual activity in Pasadena, California. He pleaded guilty and served 60 days in jail. A member of the Quaker faith with its pacifist tradition, he had been jailed before for refusing to participate in World War II.

He clearly saw the connections between the movements for racial justice, women’s equality and LGBT rights. He made it vividly clear in a controversial speech to the Philadelphia chapter of Black and White Men Together on March 1, 1986. The speech, titled “The New ‘Niggers’ are Gays,” is one of several pieces about LGBT rights in his book “Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writing of Bayard Rustin.” Rustin states:

“Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “niggers” are gays. … It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. … The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.”

The full synthesis of Rustin’s black and gay identities -- the “two crosses” of his book title -- was the culmination of a life well lived. He died less than a year later of a ruptured pancreas on Aug. 24, 1987 -- 24 years ago today. Late August was also significant in Rustin’s life because the March on Washington was held on Aug. 28, 1963.

The new King memorial includes 24 niches honoring others who gave their lives in various ways to the civil rights movement. I wasn’t able to find out if Rustin will be officially honored there. Some niches have been left open and incomplete, so that more individuals can be added in the future.

Rustin deserves a place in the King memorial… and in the LGBT saints series here at the Jesus in Love Blog.

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For more info, see:
Rustin’s biography at Wikipedia

Martin Luther King memorial at Wikipedia

Rustin.org (includes reflection by Rustin’s lover, Walter Naegle)

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

Monday, August 22, 2011

What if Christ and Krishna made love?

Above: “Krishna and Christ,” artist unknown
Below right: “Jesus and Lord Rama” by Alex Donis, frumkingallery.com

What if Christ met Krishna? They are two of the greatest teachers of love that the world has ever known. Would they speak of love, even make love? We celebrate this delightful possibility today in honor of Krishna’s birthday or Janmashtami (Aug. 22 this year).

"Jesus and Lord Rama" by Alex Donis
Many have noticed the similarities between Christ and the Hindu deity Krishna, but now the two god-men are portrayed as gay lovers in the work of artistic visionaries like artist Alex Donis, whose work appears at right, and poet Brian Day. His poem “Krishna and Jesus in Algonquin Park” is reprinted in full below.

Those who value love, sexuality and interfaith dialogue may find enlightenment by imagining an erotic encounter between Jesus and Krishna.

Like Christ, Krishna is a savior who taught love. Both are believed to be divinely conceived by God and a human woman, making them human AND divine.  Jesus called himself a shepherd and Krishna herded cattle, but both healed the sick, worked miracles and forgave enemies.

One difference between the two is that Jesus is considered celibate in Christian tradition, while Krishna is a fantastic lover who is “all-attractive” to men as well as women. Legends glorify Krishna’s many amorous encounters with all kinds of admirers: female and male, milkmaids and cowboys, human and divine.

A related question is: Did Jesus visit India? Krishna’s worship dates back 3,000 years before the birth of Christ, so they could not have met in the physical world, but it is possible the Jesus did travel to India. One popular theory suggests that Jesus went to India during his “unknown years” between ages 12 and 30, the period that is not documented in the New Testament. There he learned Hindu and Buddhist wisdom that is similar to his teachings in the Bible.

Would sparks fly if these two great teachers of love did meet? Toronto teacher Brian Day writes about their ineffable intimacy in “Krishna and Jesus in Algonquin Park,” a poem from his book “The Daring of Paradise.” The book, which explores the commonalities between multiple religions in a homoerotic way, was  released by Guernica Editions in 2013. Many thanks to Brian for permission to reprint the whole poem below. Algonquin Park is a provincial park in Ontario, Canada.

Another Day poetry book, “Conjuring Jesus,” features homoerotic poems about Christ. His book “Azure” includes “The Love Between Krishna and Jesus,” a poem that begins, “They approach one another with cool flowers of language…”

In a related work, California artist Alex Donis painted a sublime interfaith kiss in “Jesus and Lord Rama.” (Krishna and Rama are both blue-skinned incarnations of Vishnu.) It is part of his “My Cathedral” series of kisses between unlikely same-sex pairs.

The Donis exhibit electrified viewers when it opened in San Francisco in 1997. Heated arguments erupted in the gallery, followed by threatening phone calls and letters, and then physical violence. Vandals threw rocks and traffic barriers through the gallery windows—not once, but twice in three weeks. They smashed two of the artworks: first Jesus and Rama, and then Che Guevara kissing Cesar Chavez. The Christ-Rama image and its harrowing story appear in my book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. Many thanks to Alex for permission to post the controversial painting here.

Most modern scholars reject the theory that Jesus visited India, but the idea has been explored in many books, including the 19th-century volume “The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ” (The Life of Saint Issa) by Nicolas Notovitch and “Jesus Lived in India: His Unknown Life Before and After the Crucifixion” by Holger Kersten. There is even a movie version, “Jesus in India,” based on the book “King of Travelers: Jesus' Lost Years in India” by Edward T. Martin.

A thoughtful analysis of the similarities of Hindu-Christian philosophies is presented in “The Gospel of John in the Light of Indian Mysticism” (Christ the Yogi) by Ravi Ravindra.

Krishna also plays a central role in another Hindu festival that is especially popular with third-gender people. The Aravan Festival, held in April-May in south India, celebrates the marriage of Krishna and the male deity Iravan, considered the patron god of transgender communities. Iravan’s dying wish was to marry, so Krishna granted his wish by switching to his female Mohini female form and wedding him.

The idea of a queer Jesus shocks and offends some traditional Christians, but he can be liberating for LGBT people and our allies. The pansexual Krishna may serve the same purpose among Hindus.

People throughout history have pictured Jesus looking like one of them: black Jesus in Africa, white Jesus in the West, and Jesus who looks Asian or Latin American in those parts of the world. It’s OK to add queer Christ to the mix because he taught love for all and embodied God’s wildly inclusive love for everyone, including sexual minorities. Gay Jesus images are needed now because conservatives are using religious rhetoric to justify discrimination against queer people.

If Jesus and Krishna met, would there be conflict or kisses? Brian Day’s new poem offers a beautiful glimpse into how they might love each other.


Krishna and Jesus
in Algonquin Park
By Brian Day

They hoist their canoe to the lichened rocks
and face the smooth light they’ve paddled across.

Shucking the weight of their pale-coloured clothes
and plunging to the knuckly cupped hand of the lake,

they meet in the green, share their scents with the water,
feel their bodies enlivened with cool liquid sensation,

and turn in the still black waters of their minds.
As they ripple the mirror between world and world,

each sights the stroking phantoms of the other’s limbs,
and touches skin as papery smooth as birch.

They climb the smoothed ladder of rocks at the shore,
their abdomens slick and quick with their breath,

and lie with their backs baked sweet with stone.
Blue and clouds tumble to creation in their eyes.

Leading each other down pine-cooled trails,
the air sultry with blueberry and warm golden grasses,

they step to the island’s needled shade,
and each scents the lake-sweet on the other’s skin.

When evening has come and their hungers are sated,
their senses warmed by the perch where they sit,

their thoughts float calm as loons on the water—
then plunge to surface, later, someplace else.

Their bodies as languid as the swaying of trees,
they listen to the applause of breeze in the aspens,

know the touch of each star as it plays on their skin,
and lie down in the circling of heavens on earth.



Reprinted with permission from the book “The Daring of Paradise,” published by Guernica Editions.) ”
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Krishna-like figures are shown in more sexually explicit homoerotic scenes by artist Attila Richard Lukacs. They can be viewed in his “Varieties of Love” series at the following link:

Diane Farris Gallery

Here are other popular images that add Buddha to the mix to depict interfaith friendship at the highest level.

“May Loving-Kindness Abound” by VisionWorks (www.changingworld.com)

“May Loving-Kindness Abound” from Changingworld.com shows figures from three religions offering blessings. Jesus holds a lotus blossom as he sits cross-legged between Krishna and Buddha.

Christ, Buddha and Krisha walk together. Artist unknown.

The above image of three religious figures is often posted online with a quote from bisexual spiritual teacher Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.”

For more info on Krishna and other Hindu deities who transcend sexual and gender norms, visit the Gay and Lesbian Vaishnava Association at:
http://www.galva108.org
The GALVA website is packed with fascinating material on Hindu saints and deities who embody the full spectrum of gender and sexual diversity, including but not limited to LGBTQ and “third sex.”

“The Love Between Krishna and Jesus” by Brian Day is reprinted in a previous version of this post and in his book “Azure.”

Related book:
Tritiya-Prakriti: People of the Third Sex: Understanding Homosexuality, Transgender Identity, And Intersex Conditions Through Hinduism” by Amara Das Wilhelm.

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Does anybody know who created the picture of Krishna and Christ at the top of this post? Or the one of Christ, Buddha and Jesus walking together. They are all over the Internet, but I haven’t been able to identify the artists. I would love to honor the artists by name.

Thanks to Mario Gonzalez for the tip about images.

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This post is part of the LGBT Saints and Queer Christ series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year. The queer Christ series gathers together visions presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

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




Monday, August 15, 2011

Mary, Diana and Artemis: Feast of Assumption has lesbian goddess roots

Mary, left, took over the Aug. 15 holiday from the goddess Diana, right

A mid-August holiday was once the festival of the lesbian goddess Diana (Artemis), but it has been adapted into a feast day for the Virgin Mary.

Midsummer feasts have celebrated the divine feminine on Aug. 15 since before the time of Christ. Now devoted to Mary, the holiday known as the Feast of the Assumption (or Dormition) carries the torch of lesbian spiritual power to a new generation on the same date.

Saint Mary, mother of Jesus, is honored by churches on Aug. 15 in a major feast day marking her death and entrance into heaven. Catholic and Orthodox churches call it the Feast of the Assumption or Dormition because they believe that Mary was “assumed” into heaven, body and soul.

The connections between Diana and Mary raise many questions. The concept of virginity has been used to control women, but sometimes it is a code word for lesbian. What shade of meaning is implied by the “virginity” of these two heavenly queens? Did the church patriarchs substitute wild lesbian Artemis with mild straight Mary -- or is Mary more versatile and dynamic than many thought?

The Virgin Mary’s holiday was adapted -- some would say appropriated -- from an ancient Roman festival for Diana, the virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt. Diana, or Artemis in Greek, is sometimes called a lesbian goddess because of her love for woman and her vow never to marry a man. The ancient Roman Festival of Torches (Nemoralia) was held from Aug. 13-15 as Diana’s chief festival.

According to mythology, Diana preferred the company of women and surrounded herself with female companions. They took an oath of virginity and lived as a group in the woods, where they hunted and danced together. Homoerotic art and speculations often focus on Diana’s relationship with the princess Callisto. The god Jupiter (Zeus) lusted after Callisto, so he disguised himself as Diana and seduced Callisto in a woman-to-woman embrace. (For the full story, see glbtq.com.) The lesbian love scene is painted by artists such as Francois Boucher in “Jupiter and Callisto” (below).

“Jupiter (disguised as Diana) and Callisto” by Francois Boucher (Wikimedia Commons)
There are many more stories about Diana and the women, nymphs and goddesses whom she loved. The goddess Britomaris was another favorite of Diana. When the lustful king Minos pursued Britomaris, she escaped by leaping into the sea. Diana rescued her and, some say, fell in love with her. Diana also showed love for various princesses.  She gave the princess Cyrene a pair of magical dogs and granted the princess Daphne the gift of shooting straight. The princess Atalanta almost died of exposure as a baby girl after her father abandoned her because he wanted a son. Diana saved her and, with the help of a she-bear, Atalanta grew up to become one of Diana’s beloved companions. And this is just the beginning.

Diana’s main holiday was the Festival of Torches or Nemoralia. Hundreds of women and girls carried torches and candles in a night-time procession through the woods. They wore wreaths of flowers -- and even put flowers on the hunting dogs who walked with them. The group hiked a few miles from Rome to a sacred site, the circle-shaped Lake Nemi. The dark waters reflected the moon and the torchlight of the pilgrims. There they left offerings of apples, garlic, statues and prayers handwritten on ribbons. Click here for a vivid description of the festival. Ovid, a Roman poet who lived before Christ, described the magic of the festival:

Often does a woman whose prayers Diana answered,
With a wreath of flowers crowning her head,
Walk from Rome carrying a burning torch...

Click here for a beautiful painting of “Diana Asleep in the Woods” by surrealist Giorgio de Chirico. Diana sleeps beside an offering of fruit, her bow and arrow, and her large black-and-white spotted dog.

Artemis of Ephesus
Aspects of Diana and Artemis were taken over by the church more than 1,300 years ago. The Festival of Torches became the Feast of the Assumption. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Turkey was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, with an awe-inspiring statue of the “many-breasted” Artemis. The temple was destroyed and replaced by the Church of Mary. The Virgin Mary even assumed some titles once given to Artemis, including Queen of Heaven.

Books such as Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary by cultural historian Marina Warner show how the figure of Mary was shaped by goddess legends and other historical circumstances, resulting in an inferior status for women. In the novel “Mary and the Goddess of Ephesus: The Continued Life of the Mother of Jesus,” former seminarian Melanie Bacon explores the little-known tradition that after Jesus died, his mother spent most of her adult life in a community dedicated to worshiping Artemis.

Feminists praise Diana/Artemis as an archetype of female power, a triple goddess who represents all phases of womanhood. She is the maiden, wild and free, with no need for a man. She is the “many-breasted” mother who nurtures all life. She is the crone, the mature hunter who provides swift death with her arrows in harmony with the cycles of nature.

LGBT people and allies may be inspired by the queer origins of this midsummer holiday. May the Queen of Heaven, by whatever name, continue to bless those who remember her.
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Related links:
Are there any lesbian goddesseses?

Black Madonna becomes lesbian defender: Erzuli Dantor and Our Lady of Czestochowa (Jesus in Love)

Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon (Jesus in Love)

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Image credits:

“Diana of Versailles,” Roman artwork, Imperial Era (1st-2nd centuries CE). Found in Italy. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Assumption of Mary” by Guido Remi, 1642 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Artemis of Ephesus,” 1st century CE Roman copy of the “many breasted” Artemis stattue of the Temple of Ephesus (Wikimedia Commons)
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Icons of the Assumption of Mary and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



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

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

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cardinal Newman: Did the Pope beatify a gay saint?

A rare photo of John Henry Newman and Ambrose Saint John together

John Henry Newman, a renowned scholar-priest and Britain’s most famous 19th-century convert to Catholicism, was beatified in 2010 amid rampant speculation that he was gay. Newman’s feast day is today (Aug. 11) in the Anglican church and Oct. 9 in the Catholic church.

Newman and another priest, Ambrose St. John, lived together for 32 years and share the same grave. Some say they shared a “romantic friendship” or “communitarian life.” It seems likely that both men had a homosexual orientation while abstaining from sex. Newman described St. John as “my earthly light.” The men were inseparable.

“Blessed Cardinal
John Henry Newman:
Lead Kindly Light”
by William Hart McNichols ©
Newman (Feb. 21, 1801 - Aug. 11, 1890) is considered by many to be the greatest Catholic thinker from the English-speaking world. He was born in London and ordained as an Anglican priest. He became a leader in the Oxford Movement, which aimed to return the Church of England to many Catholic traditions. On Oct. 9, 1845 he converted to Catholicism. He had to give up his post as an Oxford professor due to his conversion, but eventually he rose to the rank of cardinal.

Ambrose Saint John (1815 -1875) apparently met Newman in 1841. They lived together for 32 years, starting in 1843. St. John was about 14 years younger than Newman. He compared their meeting to a Biblical same-sex couple, Ruth and Naomi.  In Newman’s own words, St. John “came to me as Ruth came to Naomi” during the difficult years right before he left the Anglican church.

After converting together to Catholicism, they studied together in Rome, where they were ordained priests at the same time. When St. John was confirmed in the Catholic faith, he asked if he could take a vow of obedience to Newman, but the request was refused. Newman recalled their early years in this way:

“From the first he loved me with an intensity of love, which was unaccountable. At Rome 28 years ago he was always so working for and relieving me of all trouble, that being young and Saxon-looking, the Romans called him my Angel Guardian.”

Portrait of John Henry Newman, right, and Ambrose Saint John by Maria Giberne, 1847

A portrait of Newman and St. John together in Rome was painted by Maria Giberne, an amateur artist and a lifelong friend of the Newman family who followed him into the Catholic church. She painted the couple sitting together with their books in one of their rooms at the Propaganda College in Rome on June 9, 1847. Standing between them is Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, who appears to be blessing and watching over the priests who loved each other.

St. John, a scholar and linguist in his own right, helped Newman with his scholarship and shared other aspects of daily life as if they were a couple in a same-sex marriage. John Cornwell, author of Newman's Unquiet Grave: The Reluctant Saint, told National Public Radio that St. John’s support for Newman included “even doing things like packing his bags before he went away, making sure he was taking his medicine, making sure he kept dental appointments, that sort of thing. So it was almost like a wife, but without the marital bed.”

They lived together until St. John died on May 24, 1875. He was only about 60 years old. According to a memorial letter written by Newman himself, St. John died of a stroke that “arose from his overwork in translating Fessler, which he did for me to back up my letter to the Duke of Norfolk.” Newman needed a translation of the German theologian Joseph Fessler's important book in the wake of the First Vatican Council.

In the memorial letter Newman goes on to describe their dramatic last moments together, including how St. John clung to him closely on the bed and clasped his hand tightly. Newman, unaware that his beloved companion was dying, asked others to unlock his fingers before saying the goodbye that turned out to be their last.

Newman was heartbroken by the loss of his beloved partner. “I have always thought no bereavement was equal to that of a husband’s or wife’s, but I feel it difficult to believe that anyone’s sorrow can be greater than mine,” Newman wrote.

He insisted three different times that he be buried in the same grave with St. John: “I wish, with all my heart, to be buried in Father Ambrose St. John’s grave -- and I give this as my last, my imperative will,” he wrote, later adding: “This I confirm and insist on.”

John Henry Newman, left, and Ambrose St. John

Newman died of pneumonia on Aug. 11, 1890 at age 89. According to his express wishes, he was buried with St. John. The shroud over his coffin bore his personal coat of arms with the Latin motto, “Cor ad cor loquitur” (Heart speaks to heart), which he adopted when he became cardinal. Their joint memorial stone is inscribed with a Latin motto chosen by Newman: “Ex umbris et imaginibus in veritatem.”(Out of the shadows and reflections into the truth.”) They share a small grave site in the central English town of Rednal.

John Henry Newman’s coat of arms with the motto “heart speaks to heart” (Wikimedia Commons)

During the beatification process, the Vatican tried to violate Newman’s desire to be buried with his beloved companion. Vatican officials hoped to excavate and move his remains to a specially built sarcophagus in Birmingham in preparation for his beatification. Controversy arose as some LGBT activists saw the decision to disturb the shared grave as an attempt to separate them and cover up the queer side of Newman’s life. However when the grave was opened in 2008, the remains had completely decomposed, leaving nothing that could be separated.

“John Henry Newman”
by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. ©
www.trinitystores.com
Newman’s legacy is wide-ranging. Because Newman was an excellent scholar, Catholic centers on U.S. college campuses are named after him. Newman tells his own story in his acclaimed spiritual autobiography, Apologia pro Vita Sua . He is known for writing the poem “The Dream of Gerontius” and the popular hymn “Lead, Kindly Light.”

His theology of friendship and his emphasis on conscience are both significant for LGBT people and allies. Although the Catholic church tends to frown on special friendships among priests, nuns or monks, Newman taught, “The love of our private friends is the only preparatory exercise for the love of all men.” He preached, “The best preparation for loving the world at large, and loving it duly and wisely, is to cultivate our intimate friendship and affection towards those who are immediately about us.”

Terence Weldon at Queering the Church explains how Newman’s teaching on conscience laid the groundwork for LGBT Christians today. “As a theologian, Cardinal Newman played an important role in developing the modern formulation of the primacy of conscience, which is of fundamental importance to LGBT Catholics who reject in good conscience the standard teaching on sexuality – or the high proportion of heterosexual couples who reject ‘Humanae Vitae,’” Weldon writes.

This post is illustrated with icons of Newman by Robert Lentz and William McNichols. Both artists faced controversy for their alternative and LGBT-affirming images.

Newman is honored by Catholics on Oct. 9, the anniversary of his 1845 conversion from Anglicanism to Catholicism. Naturally Anglicans chose a different date for Newman’s feast day -- the anniversary of his death on Aug. 11.

With beatification, Blessed Newman is now only one step away from official sainthood. He is already a saint in the hearts of many, including the LGBT people who are inspired by his life and love.

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Author’s note: I decided to write this comprehensive piece about the love between Newman and St. John when I discovered that it had not been done yet on the Internet from a LGBT-positive viewpoint. I was one of many bloggers on both sides who wrote about whether Newman was gay at the time of his beatification, citing a few facts. I thought I would just do a quick update to focus on his achievements and his relationship with St. John.

But as I got into the research, I was surprised both by how compelling their love story is, and how hard it was to find an overview of their relationship on the Internet. Details of their deep love for each other are available on the Web, but mostly on websites that aim to prove they were not homosexual. It’s odd how they end up supporting the very point that they are trying to discredit. So I put it all together from a queer point of view.

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Related links:
Was Cardinal John Henry Newman Gay? (NPR)

Was a would-be saint gay? (Time.com)

Cardinal John Henry Newman and Father Ambrose St John (Idle Speculations Blog) (with extensive quotes from Newman’s writing about St. John)

Reflections on the Life and Legacy of John Henry Newman (Wild Reed)


To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Beato John Henry Newman y Ambrose St. John: Un santo gay y su "luz terrenal" comparten una amistad romántica

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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.

Icons of John Henry Newman and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



Saturday, August 06, 2011

Artist Wes Hempel paints gay spiritual struggles

“A New Beginning” by Wes Hempel

Is that a gay angel weeping? Gay spiritual struggles are suggested in the paintings of Wes Hempel, whose art helps LGBT people find our missing place in history.

The Colorado artist creates a sense of mystery by combining contemporary figures with historical elements, using the polished, realistic style of the past. His projects include “a re-visioning of what art history might have looked like had homosexuality not been vilified.”

Some of Hempel’s paintings address the clash between contemporary gay identity and religious tradition. Others imply gay experiences of sublime awe through nature, sexuality and, by extension, the One who created it all. The beauty of his style and subject matter reflects the holiness of human nature.

An excellent example is “A New Beginning” (above), which shows a young man kneeling in prayer while a nude angel weeps and a handsome man watches from heavenly clouds above. Hempel’s own statement on the painting raises more questions that it answers:

“It’s not clear what prayer is being offered by the kneeling youth, though in conjunction with the title, we might assume he desires a fresh start of some kind, a break with the past (represented by the recently excavated antiquities), forgiveness, perhaps, renewal. Other elements in the painting may hint that realizing such a change will not be easy. Is the angel standing beside the youth weeping? If so, are these tears of joy or dismay? The figure perched in the clouds -- ostensibly a representative of heaven -- looks down not at the praying youth, but rather off to the side. Is his expression one of concern? Compassion? Sadness? The tornado, literally a collision of opposing air masses, churns ominously in the background.”

Another mysterious gay encounter occurs in “Supplication” (below). Two idealized men interact, or purposely fail to interact, among the clouds in a setting that suggests heaven or antiquity. Supplication is a form of prayer, but is the supplicant begging a favor from another man -- or from a Christ figure? Is he asking to have his homoerotic desires fulfilled or removed? Are they lover and beloved, human and God, or two faces of the exact same man?

“Supplication” by Wes Hempel

Like a painter from the 19th century, Hempel sometimes uses nature as a metaphor for the divine. Two shirtless men cling together as they stagger through scenery of almost overwhelming majesty in “Rescue from the Sublime” (below).

“Rescue from the Sublime” by Wes Hempel

Hempel made the spiritual connection clear in a discussion of “Rescue from the Sublime” at the gay Mormon blog Invictus Pilgrim.
“I was thinking how the beauty of the world can be overpowering at times, and how we need help from each other in enduring it. I remember reading about people in the nineteenth century who were "soul struck" by scenic beauty, peaceful rivers, majestic mountains, etc. and would literally swoon. Imagine!

“And, of course, there's the larger metaphor that comes into play about the face of God and peering into the divine. Sometimes we need to be rescued from God. It’s a paradox, because we can’t not approach. We have to look and ask the questions, but we need each other's support in doing so. We have to rest in each other's arms ...”

Hempel puts a queer eye on art history in some of his earlier work. He replaces female sex objects with men in his queer versions of famous paintings. For example, Jean-Leon Gerome’s 1884 painting “Slave Auction” shows men bidding to buy a nude white woman. Hempel’s version, titled “Auction,” has a rope-bound male angel, genitals exposed, as the enslaved object of desire. This painting and many more can be seen at the artist’s website, weshempel.com. (Warning: nudity.)

Sometimes Hempel works on joint art projects with his longtime partner Jack Balas. A detailed interview about their collaboration in life and art is posted at Philip F. Clark’s blog Artpoint.
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Special thanks to Toby Johnson for alerting me to the art of Wes Hempel in connection with the forthcoming novel “King of Angels” by Perry Brass.

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Friday, August 05, 2011

Conservatives attack our lesbian and gay Nativity scenes today!



Nasty accusations of blasphemy poured in today after some conservative bloggers discovered the gay and lesbian Nativity scenes that I created.

“Love..is NOT the criteria for making a ‘Family’. A REAL Family is a MAN & a WOMAN producing a child or children,” commented one of the naysayers. Others accused me of “vile blasphemy” that is “replusive to true Christians.”

All because I put Mary with Mary and Joseph with Joseph -- like putting two brides or two grooms on top of a wedding cake! I made a video of my alternative manger scenes, asking the question, “What if the child of God was born to a lesbian couple… or a gay couple? Because, after all, LOVE makes a family. Including the Holy Family.”

I created the video way back in 2009, but today it’s hot news on some conservative blogs. They use religious language to justify hate and discrimination against LGBT people, even though Jesus taught love for all.

Here are some highlights -- or low points:

From Apprising Ministries blog:

“Я U READY FOR THE LESBIAN NATIVITY SCENE?

What would lesbians have to do with the manger scene? Sadly, the more you make a study of the godless pro-gay lobby now well within the visible church you quickly find that nothing’s sacred to such as these. … So the time has now arrived to take up your Sword of the Spirit and go out to meet them full on.”

From WorldNetDaily:

“GOD HAS 2 MOMMIES
Jesus, Mary and ... Josephine? It's lesbian Nativity at church
'A slap in the face to the Holy Family and Christians around the world'

“That event inspired Kittredge Cherry, who calls herself a lesbian Christian author and minister from Los Angeles, to pick up the mantle and create in December 2009 her own non-living "gay" Nativities she continues to promote on YouTube.”

Most of the hateful comments were posted at YouTube. Click here to go to the YouTube page where they are posted. Instead of deleting them, I’m leaving them there as evidence.

I’m trying to see it as a badge of honor to be attacked by religious authorities. After all, Jesus was also accused of blasphemy for teaching about God’s love for all.

For more about lesbian and gay Nativity scenes, see my related posts:

Gay and lesbian nativity scenes show love makes a family

Video: Gay and lesbian manger scenes show love makes a family

Gay and lesbian Nativity cards

Update: Click here for our Queer Nativity series, Dec. 2011

Hate crime targets gay and lesbian Nativity scene at Claremont church 


Lesbian Nativity Scene with Dog (Love Makes a Holy Family series) by Kittredge Cherry ©2009

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