Sunday, April 08, 2012

Day 8: Jesus rises, appears to Mary and friends, and more (Gay Passion of Christ series)

18. Jesus Rises (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“I am the resurrection and the life.” -- John 11:25 (RSV)

A handsome young Christ in blue jeans leads a joyous jailbreak in “Jesus Rises” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. He takes the hand of a prisoner as he leads the group to freedom. Jesus still bears the wounds of his crucifixion, but he glows with life and health. His inner light illuminates the grey crowd behind him.

For the first time in this series, Jesus also has a halo. Beams of light shoot from his head in four directions, forming a diagonal cross behind him. One prisoner raises a fist in victory, a broken chain dangling from his shackled wrist. Another waves his hat in celebration. Even the picture frame cannot hold back the risen Christ. Blanchard has painted it to look like the frame is cracking open at the top, letting light shine through.

This uprising is not just the resurrection of Jesus as a unique individual. All humanity rises up along with Christ. God is in solidarity with humanity in this natural yet supernatural scene. It can be read as “gay” because Jesus holds hands with another man.

The prison can stand for any kind of limitation, including the closets of shame where LGBT people hide. Viewers of this series know from the previous painting that these particular “prisoners” are the dead. Jesus overcomes death itself in this updated vision of the first Easter. Artistically Blanchard drew inspiration for some of his resurrection and post-resurrection imagery from English Romantic artist William Blake.

“Jesus Rises” will always have a special place in my heart because it is the painting that introduced me to artist Doug Blanchard back in 2005. I needed queer Christian images for the website, which was still in the design stage. It was hard to find any kind of LGBT-oriented Christ figures, but the rarest of all was the queer resurrection. I was delighted when Internet searches finally led me to Blanchard’s “Jesus Rises.”

Doug sounded discouraged when I called him on the phone. He reported that nobody cared much about his Passion series when it was exhibited as a work in progress in 2004 by the Leslie-Lohman Gay Art Foundation in New York. Later he admitted that he had expected the daring Passion series to be a “career killer.” Eventually he agreed to let me share “Jesus Rises” on my website. People loved his Passsion series there, and in my book “Art That Dares,” and at a 2007 exhibit that I helped organize at JHS Gallery in Taos. Many paintings from the series sold and are now scattered all across the country. Images from the series have appeared in magazines and on numerous blogs (both admirers and detractors). Now Blanchard considers his most successful project ever.

“Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of God has risen upon you.” -- Isaiah 60:1 (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Christ lives! Nobody knows exactly how it happened, but on the third day Jesus rose to new life. The mystery of resurrection replaced the law of cause and effect with a new reality: the law of love. Jesus lives in our hearts now. Just as he promised, he freed people from every form of bondage. Captives are released from every prison. LGBT people are liberated from every closet of shame. Christ glows with the colors of all beings. People of all kinds -- queer and straight, old and young, male and female and everything in between, of every race and age and ability -- together we are the body of Christ.

Jesus, you are alive! Alleluia!

19. Jesus Appears to Mary (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.” -- Mark 16:9 (RSV)

Mary Magdalene went to the tomb of her friend Jesus early on Sunday morning. It was empty! She started crying and someone came up to her. Mary thought he was the gardener until he spoke her name. Her heart leaped as she recognized Jesus! People had wondered about her relationship with Jesus from the start. The bond that springs up sometimes between a gay man and a woman is incomprehensible to most. They don’t understand how a man and a woman can love each other without being sexual. And why would Jesus, who had many powerful male followers, pay so much attention to a woman? Yet he chose Mary as the first witness to his resurrection.

Jesus, where are you now? Will you speak to me?

20. Jesus Appears at Emmaus (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him.” -- Luke 24:30-31 (RSV)

A couple of Jesus’ friends met a stranger on the way to a village called Emmaus. While they were traveling together, they told the stranger about Jesus: the hopes he stirred in them, his horrific execution, and Mary's unbelievable story that he was still alive. Their hearts burned as the stranger reframed it for them, revealing how all things can work together for good. They convinced him to stay and have dinner with them in Emmaus. As the meal began, he blessed the bread and gave it to them. It was one of those moments when you suddenly recognize the presence of God. The stranger was Jesus! He had been with them all along. Sometimes even devout Christians are unable to see God’s image in people who are strangers to them, such as LGBT people or others who have been marginalized. Sometimes people are blind to their own sacred worth as incarnations of the divine. But at any moment, the grace of an unexpected encounter may open our eyes.

God, help me to recognize you.

21. Jesus Appears to His Friends (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see.’” -- Luke 24:38-39 (RSV)

Jesus’ friends were hiding together, afraid of the authorities who killed their beloved leader. The doors were shut, but somehow Jesus got inside and stood among them. They couldn’t believe it! He urged them to touch him, and even invited them to inspect the wounds from his crucifixion. As they felt his warm skin, their doubts and fears turned into joy. Jesus liked touch. He often touched people in order to heal them, and he let people touch him. He defied taboos and allowed himself to be touched by women and people with diseases. He understood human sexuality, befriending prostitutes and other sexual outcasts. LGBT sometimes hide themselves in closets of shame, but Jesus wasn’t like that. He was pleased with own human body, even after it was wounded.

Jesus, can I really touch you?

22. Jesus Returns to God (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” -- Isaiah 62:5 (RSV)

We can only imagine the bliss that Jesus felt when he returned to God. No words or pictures can express all the joy of a soul’s union with the divine, but some have compared it to sexual ecstasy or marriage. Perhaps for Jesus, it was a same-sex marriage. Jesus drank in the nectar of God’s breath and surrendered to the divine embrace. They mixed male and female in ineffable ways. Jesus became both Lover and Beloved as everything in him found in God its complement, its reflection, its twin. When they kissed, Jesus let holy love flow through him to bless all beings throughout timeless time. Love and faith touched, justice and peace kissed. The boundaries between Jesus and God disappeared and they became whole: one Heart, one Breath, One. We are all part of Christ’s body in a wedding that welcomes everyone.

Jesus, congratulations on your wedding day! Thank you for inviting me!

Bible background
Song of Songs: “O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!”

23. The Holy Spirit Arrives (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream dreams.” -- Acts 2:17  (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Jesus promised his friends that the Holy Spirit would come. They were all together in the city on Pentecost when suddenly they heard a strong windstorm blowing in the sky. Tongues of fire appeared and separated to land on each one of them. Jesus’ friends were flaming, on fire with the Holy Spirit! Soon the Spirit led them to speak in other languages. All the excitement drew a big crowd. Good people from every race and nation came from all over the city. They brought their beautiful selves like the colors of the rainbow, and each one was able to hear them talking about God in his or her own language. The story of Jesus has been translated into many, many languages. Now the Gospel is also available with an LGBT accent.

Come, Holy Spirit, and inflame me with your love.

24. The Trinity (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“So then the Sovereign Jesus, after speaking to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God.” -- Mark 16:19

What is the gay vision of heaven? The Holy Spirit inspires each person to see visions of God in his or her own way. Look, the Holy Spirit celebrates two men who love each other! She looks like an angel as She protects the male couple. Are the men Jesus and God? No names can fully express the omnigendered Trinity of Love, Lover, and Beloved… or Mind, Body, and Spirit. God is madly in love with everybody. God promised to lead people out of injustice and into a good land flowing with milk and honey. We can travel the same journey that Christ traveled. Opening to the joy and pain of the world, we can experience all of creation as our body -- the body of Christ. As queer as it sounds, we can create our own land of milk and honey. As Jesus often said, heaven is among us and within us. Now that we have seen a gay vision of Christ’s Passion, we are free to move forward with love.

Jesus, thank you for giving me a new vision!

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

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

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


Counterlight said...

I still feel discouraged a lot of the time. But then, I never aspired to be another Thomas Kinkade, or another Mark Kostabi.

David K. Popham said...

Thank you for the series. On so many levels this made Jesus assessable. It truly updated the dynamics of his life into a contemporary setting and challenged me to enlarge the places I look for the risen Christ.

Kittredge Cherry said...

My pleasure, David! Your blog is inspiring me too.

Doug, I suppose that when we met in person in Taos, the success of the art exhibit there was chasing away the blues for both of us. That’s how I usually remember you.

I hope that you and other readers are not too disappointed that I was unable to write the analysis of the last few images by Easter morning. I hope to write and post the new text on those resurrection images during the season of Easter, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday.

Again I say, happy Easter!

Counterlight said...

Kitt, I'm delighted with the posts. The discouragement I sometimes feel is something a little deeper and more abiding, from long before we met.

Trudie said...

I really, really can't wait for the full book to come out. You will be able to expand and refine your discussion and analysis before you go to press, and it will be extraordinary. I'll start saving my pennies now to buy enough copies to gift some special friends, too!

One thing -- I'd originally thought you planned to use short excerpts from "At the Cross" along with relevant scripture quotes. Is that still a possibility for the book itself? I hope so!

jean gralley said...

Thanks to Douglas Blanchard for these paintings and to you, Kitt, for bringing the series to our attention. They're accessible but profound!

Manawolf said...

If I'd been raised with this story, I would undoubtedly be a life-long Christian. You've translated the Bible and made it ring true. I plan on recommending this to anyone and everyone!