Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Day 3: Jesus has a Last Supper, prays alone and is arrested (Gay Passion of Christ series)

5. The Last Supper (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard
 Collection of Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art
Gift of Vincent Palange in memory of Louis Prudenti

““And during supper…one of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus.” -- -- John 13:2, 23 (RSV)

Friends get together for an intimate dinner in “The Last Supper” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. The contemporary Christ figure dines with twelve people, the classic dozen disciples, but they are a multi-racial group of many ages, orientations, and gender identities. An elderly black woman sits beside a white businessman. A drag queen in high heels holds hands with a man. The face of Jesus looks almost the same as when he was preaching in the temple… impassive. He wraps his arms around the men beside him. The whole group is joined by touch, and yet they are not completely united. They express emotions ranging from surprise to sorrow, and each one looks in a different direction. Plates hold food for a Passover Seder meal, including matzo bread, a hard-boiled egg, and roast lamb. A single glass of blood-red wine stands out against the drab colors, hinting at the sacrifice to come. The room is simple, lit only by a bare light bulb. They are seated in a way that invites viewers to join them at the table.

All four gospels describe the final meal that Jesus ate with his disciples before he was arrested. Biblical accounts of the Last Supper are full of dramatic details and dialogue, making it possible to imagine what happened on that fateful night. Jesus announced to his startled disciples that one of them would betray him. They were shocked again when he identified the bread and wine as his own body and blood, urging them to eat and drink their share of it. By giving new meaning to the Passover meal, he helped prepare them for his impending death He summarized his teachings on love and gave them a new commandment: Love each other as I have loved you. He prayed for believers in the present and future. He told them that the greatest love is to lay down your life for your friends.

By inviting his friends to “do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus instituted a sacrament and invested all meals with a living sense of God’s presence. Christians relive the Last Supper every time they celebrate the ritual known as the Eucharist, communion, or Lord’s Supper. The sacred meal is a central act of worship in which believers remember Jesus and ingest God’s spirit. In Blanchard’s painting, one glass is still full of wine, meaning that Jesus hasn’t yet passed it to his friends, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.”

The man leaning his head on Jesus must be the unnamed “disciple whom Jesus loved.” The beloved disciple is referenced five times in the gospel of John. The term implies that Jesus was in love with him, and for centuries some interpreters have suggested they had a homosexual relationship. The Bible describes how the beloved rested his head on Jesus’ chest at the Last Supper. Blanchard puts them in a pose that echoes medieval paintings and sculptures, such as the 14th-century German Johannesminne (John Love) by the Master of Oberschwaben. Their same-sex attraction has been spotlighted by today’s LGBT-affirming artists and Bible scholars, but here their relationship blends naturally into the group. Some also enjoy speculating about the homoerotic undertones of the relationship between Jesus and Judas, the disciple who betrayed him. But that is not Blanchard’s focus. It’s not even possible to identify Judas in his Last Supper.

The Last Supper is one of the most popular (and most often parodied) subjects in art. Artists usually focus on either the announcement of the betrayal or else, like Blanchard, on the institution of the Eucharist. Depictions of the Last Supper date back to the earliest Christian frescoes in the second-century Catacombs of Rome, although some scholars say the supper scenes in the Catacombs show a future meal in heaven promised by Christ. For the first thousand years of Christian history artists tended to skip from the Last Supper to the resurrection. The Eucharist was celebrated as a feast of life instead of a re-enactment of his death. The bread and wine were not the crucified Christ, but the resurrected Christ. By the Renaissance it had become a favorite subject. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper from the 1490s continues to be one of the most famous paintings of all time. It has sparked a seemingly endless variety of imitations, from the sublime to the ridiculous. Some use it to make political statements, such as the all-female “Yo Mama’s Last Supper” by Jamaican-American artist Renee Cox and “The First Supper” by Susan Dorothea White of Australia. Modern interpretations of the Last Supper have been done by many renowned artists including Salvador Dali, who used surrealism and symmetry to portray the mystical meal.

By presenting a complex, up-to-date vision of the Last Supper, Blanchard makes room for viewers to inhabit a scene that may have grown monotonous from over-familiarity. Artists such as Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin and Becki Jayne Harrelson have created queer versions of the Last Supper by duplicating DaVinci’s famous composition and replacing the characters contemporary LGBT people. Blanchard goes further to re-conceive the whole composition. His queer touches include not only the beloved disciple, but also a drag queen in high heels. He puts her right up front as a courtesy. But his Last Supper is not a LGBT-only party. Queers are integrated into a mixed group. Jesus welcomes all kinds of people to the sacred meal where love connects people with God and each other, nourishing body and spirit. At the Last Supper Jesus taught his friends about love. Soon his own love would be tested.


“This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” -- Luke 22:19 (RSV)

Jesus’ friends didn’t know it would be their last meal with him, even though he tried to prepare them. All his closest friends were there, including the man whom Jesus loved. Jesus snuggled his beloved and talked about love, and then about betrayal, and then a lot more about love. Jesus said he was going away and urged them all to love each other as he had loved them. The greatest love, he told them, is to lay down your life for your friends. He handed bread to them and said something totally unexpected: Take, eat; this is my body. Then he passed around a cup, saying, Drink, all of you, this is my blood. He gave and they received completely, an act of true communion. The wine tasted sweet, with a touch of bitterness.

Jesus, thank you for feeding me!


6. Jesus Prays Alone (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“He fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” -- Mark 14:34

A man claws the ground with gut-wrenching spiritual agony in “Jesus Prays Alone.” His face is lost in darkness -- he could be anyone -- but his tortured hand is spotlighted front and center in stark relief. Jesus kneels, utterly alone, on a rooftop with trash cans and brick walls. This is the modern Gethsemane -- not a garden, but an urban jungle where a lone man wrestles with an impossible dilemma: betray his own beliefs or die. City lights glimmer against the night sky.

The simplicity of the image makes an immediate impact. It is the only painting in Blanchard’s Passion series where Jesus is alone. Even in death Jesus is shown with other corpses, but here everyone has deserted him, and God is not visible. The solitude is absolute. The painting stuns many viewers more than the explicitly violent scenes ahead. The artist captures Christ’s emotional distress and makes it up close and personal, leaving the viewer alone with Jesus. With this painting Blanchard borrows the high-contrast lighting, grim urban setting, and fatalistic mood from film noir, making an almost cinematic statement.

In the Bible, Jesus and his friends went to the secluded garden of Gethsemane after the Last Supper. He confided that he felt “deeply grieved, even to death” and asked his friends to pray with him, but they all fell asleep. Jesus knew that his ministry had brought him into conflict with authorities who would arrest and kill him. He was so upset that he sweated blood. And yet he chose not to escape the harrowing journey ahead. The doomed prophet would not deny what he believed by running away to hide. Abandoned by his sleepy friends, he was left alone to beg God over and over: “If possible, please remove this cup from me: yet, not what I want, but what you want.” The episode establishes that Jesus is not God’s puppet or a victim of circumstances, but a free agent making his own moral decisions.

“Jesus Prays Alone” marks a turning point in Blanchard’s own relationship to his Passion series, which he began painting in summer 2001. He had finished four panels on Sept. 11 when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center near his studio on New York’s Lower East Side. He watched the terrorist attacks in shock from the roof of his apartment building in the East Village. Horrified by the religious motive for the 9/11 attacks, Blanchard became alienated from religion. The artist acknowledges that he began to use the Passion series to resolve his spiritual conflict. Jesus, with his own rooftop agony, takes on the sorrows that stretch to the 21st century.

Artists mostly ignored the scene of Jesus’ inner turmoil until the rise of individualism in the Renaissance. Then the subject, often called “The Agony in the Garden,” became increasingly popular. A notable modern version was painted by French Post-Impressionist Gauguin, whose poignant self-portrait in “Christ in the Garden of Olives” expresses his own pain over crushed ideals.

This scene can symbolize any spiritual anguish, including the struggles of LGBT people to reconcile their sexuality with their spirituality, to live as whole human beings even when church and society label them sinful or sick. In a world that often denies the value of queer lives, many LGBT people have felt utterly alone, trapped between denying themselves and confronting the “social death” of persecution and exclusion. Crouching in a back alley, the Jesus of today could be praying for a world where all God’s children are honored.


“And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground.” -- Luke 22:44 (RSV)

After supper, Jesus and his friends went to an isolated place. Jesus wanted to pray alone. He asked his friends to wait and pray nearby. He knew that his actions -- even his very existence -- brought him into inevitable conflict with authorities who wanted him dead. His wildly inclusive way of loving challenged the power structures and the status quo. But he could not deny who God created him to be. He wouldn’t stop loving. He couldn’t. He had to be true to himself. Authorities would condemn him as a sinner because his love broke all the rules. They would denounce his love as sin. They might even kill him. Jesus was in so much agony that he sweated blood as he prayed: God, if it’s possible, let this cup pass by me. I don’t want to drink it. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.

Guide me, God! I put my life in your hands.



7. Jesus is Arrested (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

““Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?” -- Matthew 26:55 (RSV)

A young suspect stops his friends from fighting back when officers seize him in “Jesus is Arrested.” A disembodied hand points an accusing finger at Jesus from the left. Another hand aims a gun at him. A friend tries to defend him with a knife, but Jesus stops him. Flashlight beams and searchlights pierce the urban night, forming a partial halo behind Jesus’ head. Standing in the background, shrouded by darkness, is a bald man in a suit, probably one of the creeps who spied on Jesus at the temple. Dark silhouettes on the horizon show that many more guards are on the way. Jesus is caught off-balance in the cross of an X-shaped composition, adding to the dramatic tension.

The painting captures the moment when Jesus stops the violence, meeting hate with love by submitting to the unjustified arrest. Blanchard strips the scene of sentimentality by presenting it with gritty realism. The image gets a film-noir vibe from its stark black-and-white lighting and the sense that an innocent man is caught in a deadly web.

The arrest of Jesus is a pivotal scene that ends his public ministry and begins the chain of events leading to his execution. The gospels describe the action in quick succession: The traitor Judas arrives with a large squad of police, guards, and soldiers.  They are armed to the teeth with far more swords and clubs than necessary. Judas kisses Jesus, signaling the soldiers to arrest him with a particularly intimate gesture of betrayal. Another disciple counterattacks, drawing a sword to cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus commands his companions to put away their swords. The soldiers seize Jesus and bind him. His disciples flee. A young man follows wearing only a linen cloth. The soldiers grab him, but he pulls free and he runs away naked. They lead Jesus to the high priest.

One surprise in this “gay vision” is what is missing: history’s most famous same-sex kiss, the kiss of betrayal between Judas and Jesus. Artists have been depicting the arrest of Jesus at least since Giotto’s famous 1305 version in Arena Chapel in Padua, and the Judas kiss is almost always included. Kissing was a common form of greeting in Biblical times, but Judas’ man-on-man kiss of betrayal has been used as a vehicle to instill homophobia for the centuries, equating homosexuality with betrayal of God. Blanchard must have figured that people have seen it way too often… although the Judas kiss remains a popular subject among LGBT artists and viewers. Blanchard also ignores another arrest subplot that fascinates many queer Bible scholars: the naked young man who runs away in Mark 14:51. Several books have been written debating the authenticity and meaning of the Secret Gospel of Mark, which tells how the young man “learned the mysteries of God” by spending a night naked with Jesus.


“Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” -- Matthew 26:52 (RSV)

Jesus didn’t try to escape when the police came for him in the dead of night. He and his friends were used to police harassment and government persecution. Authorities tend to pick on the poorest, queerest, and most marginalized in any society. This time they came out in force, like a small army with bright lights and far more weapons than necessary. Some of them were security guards at the temple, so Jesus asked: Why didn’t you arrest me there, when I was with you teaching out in the open? They grabbed him. He didn’t resist arrest. His friends tried to fight for him, but he stopped them, saying that those who live by the sword will die by the sword. They ran away and abandoned him, leaving him alone with the police.

Jesus, why do bad things happen to good people?


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This is part of 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.

The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” was published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

Holy Week offering: Give now to support LGBT spirituality and art at the Jesus in Love Blog

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

Scripture quotation is from the Inclusive Language Lectionary (Year A), copyright © 1986 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Scripture quotation is from the Inclusive Language Lectionary (Year C), copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.



Monday, March 30, 2015

Day 2: Jesus drives out the money changers and preaches in the Temple (Gay Passion of Christ series)

3. Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“He poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables.” -- John 2:13 (RSV)

An angry modern-day Christ figure disrupts business in “Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers.” Jesus, hair flying, overturns tables stacked with money. Coins scatter, bills flutter away, and the men in suits run. A crowd in the background yanks off the barred gate that separates them from the wealthy money managers. One security guard struggles to keep out the mob. Another officer reaches to grab Jesus by the shoulder. Jesus looks like a freedom fighter standing up against greed and income inequality. The setting appears to be a present-day church office or financial institution with statues, classic columns, and a hanging lamp.

All four gospels describe what is commonly called “the cleansing of the temple.” By some accounts Jesus kicked the money changers out of the Temple as soon as he arrived in Jerusalem. When he saw them taking advantage of people’s faith in God, he exploded. It was the only time that Jesus used physical violence in the Bible. Jesus poured out the coins of the money changers and turned over their tables. Then he made a whip of cords and used it to chase them out, along with the sacrificial animals that they were selling. Nothing made Jesus angrier than religious hypocrisy. He yelled, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you make it a den of robbers.” It was one of many occasions when he blasted religious leaders for exploiting the poor. He talked more about money than anything else except God.

Blanchard is right to paint this scene in a place that could be a bank or a church because the Temple in Jerusalem was not only a religious institution, but also functioned like a national bank. The Temple held private deposits of wealth in its treasury, made loans, and collected debts as well as selling animals for sacrifice. The money changers of first-century Jerusalem exchanged foreign currency for the temple coins that were required for paying the annual temple tax and making offerings. They made big profits by using unfair exchange rates and adding service charges. Priests also got a cut.

Jesus’ angry outburst has fascinated artists since the Middle Ages. Their paintings of the episode go by various names, such as the purification of the temple, the expulsion of the money changers, or driving the merchants from the temple. Renaissance master El Greco painted at least five versions. But overall the angry Jesus has been downplayed in favor of the other events from the life of Christ. Modern artists mostly ignore the subject. Blanchard is perhaps the only artist to paint a “gay vision” of the day that Jesus fought back against the merchants who turned the holy temple into a marketplace.

Perhaps other LGBT versions of Jesus expelling the money-changers come not from art, but from action. The protest looks like a scene from Occupy Wall Street, although it was painted a decade before that movement began. Blanchard’s Jesus could be angry about the growing gap between the wealthy one percent and the other 99 percent, or about fundraising tactics that demonize LGBT people, or about countless other forms of economic injustice.


“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers.” -- Matthew 21:13 (RSV)

Jesus acted up when he saw something wrong. Nothing made him angrier than religious hypocrisy blocking the way to God. He got mad when religious leaders made people pay to attend worship. He said, you can’t buy your way to heaven! Everyone gets God for free. Don’t trick a poor widow into giving her last penny! The sacrifice that pleases God is to do justice and love people. Oh sure, you can raise tons of money by claiming that some other group is an unholy threat: lepers, immigrants, queer. But remember, whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me! Stop demonizing people! You call gays an abomination, but your fundraising tactics are the real abomination! Hypocrites! You’re like fancy tombs, pretty on the outside, but full of death on the inside. Then he turned over the tables where the men in suits made their unholy profits. Coins went flying as he drove them out.

Jesus, thank you for your anger. Give me the courage to act up against injustice.

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Related link:
Slacktivist blogger Fred Clark reflects on his favorite painting from Blanchard’s Passion: “Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers

4. Jesus Preaches in the Temple (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“The chief priests…feared him, because all the multitude was astonished at his teaching.” -- Mark 11:18 (RSV)

A popular teacher distracts church-goers from a worship service in “Jesus Preaches in the Temple.” Jesus, looking like an urban hipster, welcomes the people who crowd around and touch him. The title states that Jesus is preaching, but he stands quietly among them, mouth closed, communicating compassion with his presence. Blue tones conjure a peaceful mood, but there is tension between the upstart preacher and the religious establishment, between the individual and the institution.

This painting raises the question: What would happen if Jesus walked into a church of today? The general consensus is that he would disrupt the established order. Not many Christians would stay meekly in their pews and settle for stale sermons and wafers if they had the chance to see, hear, and touch the living Christ. Those who gain power by speaking for Jesus might prefer to keep him away.

The individualized faces and gestures of Jesus’ listeners invite speculation about their lives. Two gay couples wrap Jesus in a loving embrace: a white couple on the left and a black couple on the right. Jesus puts his arm around one of the blacks while shaking hands with -- and perhaps healing -- the bald man in the wheelchair. Even the cool guys are drawn to Jesus: one with a spiky mohawk and another smoking a cigarette. Others sit in front, just wanting to be near Jesus: A mother and daughter on the left, and on the right a downcast figure in red high heels. Her tall, awkward body suggests a drag queen or a transwoman.

Large pillars and arches hint that they are in the aisle of a modern cathedral. Far in the distance on the left, a row of priests carries candles or shiny processional crosses, as happens in a contemporary cathedral during worship. But many congregants are more interested in Jesus. A man peeks around the pillar on the back right to see who is causing all the excitement.

Not everyone is pleased to see the charismatic newcomer. Two bald men eavesdrop, arms crossed. Their suits suggest that they are businessmen, but they could easily be church bureaucrats. They look like the money changers who were attacked by Jesus in the previous painting. This pair might even be another gay couple, but a conservative and perhaps closeted duo with a stake in the status quo. Whatever their identity, they are the modern counterparts of the elders, scribes, lawyers, priests and Pharisees in the Bible who observed Jesus in the temple, looking for a way to destroy him.

It’s possible to guess what Jesus might be saying in this painting by reading the lengthy Biblical accounts of his preaching. The two-fold message that the Biblical Jesus taught was love and justice. Blanchard’s “Jesus Preaches in the Temple” balances the previous image of Jesus driving out the moneychangers. He stood for justice against the money changers before, and here he stands for love. The Bible records much of what Jesus taught, but he himself said the most important lesson was this: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself.

One subject that Jesus never discussed directly was homosexuality. He certainly didn’t condemn it in the Bible. He may even have implied that LGBT people are born that way when he said, “There are eunuchs who have been so from birth.” (Matthew 19:12) Some progressive Bible scholars believe that Jesus used an ancient term for LGBT people when he talked about eunuchs. The term translated as “eunuch” probably included not just castrated men, but also a variety of sexual minorities that today would be called LGBT or queer.

Images of Jesus or teaching in the temple are relatively rare in art history. Even Renaissance master Albrecht Durer, whose Small Passion contains no less than 38 engravings, did not include such a scene. The drama of Jesus’ crucifixion tends to overshadow the content of his teachings, but Blanchard reminds viewers that Christ illumined the world not just by the way he died, but by how he lived and what he taught.


“All the people hung upon his words.” -- Luke 19:47-48 (RSV)

All kinds of people crowded around: male and female, young and old, rich and poor, healthy and sick, people from every race and nation -- and the queer ones: women who acted like men, men who acted like women, those who loved someone of the same sex, those with bodies somewhere between male and female. People lumped all of the queers together and called them “eunuchs.” Jesus said some of us were born eunuchs, some were made into eunuchs by others, and some made themselves into eunuchs. He never spoke a word against homosexuality. He just taught about love: Love God, love your neighbor as yourself, love your enemies. Religious leaders felt threatened by his absolute love, but his words and his touched and healed people. The religious leaders listened too -- hoping he would say something that they could use to silence him.

Christ, teach me, touch me!


More resources:
"Jesus Preaches in the Temple" by Chris Glaser: a reflection on Blanchard’s painting with the same title

Homosexual Eunuchs - Did You Know That Some Eunuchs Were Gay Men Or Lesbians? (GayChristian101.com)

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This is part of 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.

The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” was published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

Holy Week offering: Give now to support LGBT spirituality and art at the Jesus in Love Blog

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

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 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.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Gay Passion of Christ debated today at HuffPost


Heated debate erupted today when Huffington Post ran a major article and slideshow on the gay Passion of Christ. More than 4,600 people "liked" it, but many of the 1,300 comments condemn it as "blasphemy" or "ridiculous."

Please visit HuffPost and join the conversation:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kittredge-cherry/test-gay-passion-of-chris_b_6888978.html

The HuffPost article "Gay Passion of Christ Envisioned and Attacked" by Kittredge Cherry summarizes the ideas in her new book The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision with art by Douglas Blanchard.

Holy Week reflections and images from the book will be posted daily from now to Easter here at the Jesus in Love Blog.

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Related links for “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision”:

*Book website

*Prints and greeting cards



Day 1: Jesus Enters the City on Palm Sunday (Gay Passion of Christ series)

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

“And when he entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, ‘Who is this?’ And the crowds said, ‘This is the prophet Jesus.’” --Matthew 21:10-11 (RSV)

A crowd marches under an arch with a charismatic young man on horseback in “Jesus Enters the City” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. Signs for “freedom” and “justice” make it a rally for almost any cause, from marriage equality and LGBT rights to the Occupy movement or the Tea Party. The masses adore Jesus as if he was a rock star or political leader. They stretch their hands up to him, grasping for the savior that they expect him to be. The group expresses 21st-century diversity: male and female, multi-racial, young and old, queer and straight, able-bodied and wheelchair-bound. A mother and daughter lead the way, along with a black man who holds the horse’s reins. In the middle of this “triumph,” Jesus bends down to be embraced by someone unnoticed and out of view. He is focused on something that others ignore. By passing through the arch, Jesus leaves his old life behind to meet the new challenges ahead.

Arms raised, the people rejoice, but the sky is grey and they are not united. Their signs droop or get blocked, making them hard to read. Each person looks in a different direction, never making eye contact. As the Passion story begins, Jesus seems disconnected from the passions he stirs in others. The seeds of conflict are already planted. The group marches forward, about to step right out of the picture frame. The viewer can’t see what Jesus sees, and the oncoming crowd will force viewers to make a decision: join in, back off, or get trampled underfoot. Light from the arch forms a lopsided halo behind his head.

There are no palms in Blanchard’s generic cityscape, but this is an updated vision of Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. All four gospels describe how Jesus entered Roman-occupied Jerusalem at the height of his popularity. Enthusiastic fans greeted him by laying palm branches on the ground before him and shouting “Hosanna,” which translates as “Save us now!” Huge crowds were gathering in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Passover. They saw Jesus as a political deliverer who came to fulfill the ancient prophecies of a messiah: an earthly king anointed by God. His arrival on a donkey reminded them of the victory processions of ancestral kings descended from David. They mistakenly thought that Jesus was declaring himself king of Israel, ready to lead a rebellion against the Roman army. Palm Sunday hints at the trade-offs that people make in the pursuit of power. As the crowds marched into Jerusalem with Jesus, they were already on the path that would lead to his destruction. Their movement was gaining momentum on a trajectory that could not be altered or stopped. “If these were silent, the very stones would cry out,” (Luke 19:40 RSV) Jesus told the traditionalists who wanted him to quiet the crowd.

Jesus’ triumphant entry foreshadows the emptiness and impermanence of earthly glory. Luke’s gospel says that Jesus wept over the city when his procession got close to Jerusalem, the center of Jewish religious and national life. More than once in the Bible he lamented over Jerusalem’s inability to recognize God’s prophets. He longed to gather its people together “as a hen gathers her brood under her wings,” but they refused. Jesus signaled a power not of this world, while they sought worldly power. He was surrounded by adoring crowds on the way to Jerusalem, but they were not the true community that would be forged by the hardships ahead. Every hero’s journey begins with entry into a new place. On Palm Sunday Jesus leaves behind his old life as an itinerant teacher and healer, crossing through a gateway to face death itself for the good of all.

Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem is one of the oldest Christian images. It can be found among the earliest Christian artworks in the catacombs of Rome, where the fourth-century sarcophagus of Junius Bassus shows Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey. The image follows a tradition in Roman Imperial art of depicting the formal arrival (adventus) of the emperor into a city during or after a military campaign. Christ entering Jerusalem has been portrayed by many great artists from the Middle Ages to the Baroque era. One of the oldest and best known versions is a fresco painted by Giotto in 1305 at the Arena Chapel in Padua. German Renaissance artist Albrect Durer engraved it in his Small Passion series, which Blanchard acknowledges as a source for his gay vision of the Passion. But the scene is omitted from the traditional Stations of the Cross, which instead starts days later when Jesus is condemned to death. Modern artists have mostly ignored Palm Sunday in favor of other episodes from the life of Christ. An exception is Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. She re-envisioned Jesus’ life in a contemporary LGBT setting with notorious series named “Ecce Homo.” Her version of “Arrival in Jerusalem” shows Jesus riding a bicycle in Stockholm’s festive LGBT Pride Parade.

Crowd scenes are one of Blanchard’s strengths as an artist. He makes fine use of that talent in “Jesus Enters the City,” which is of the most popular images in his whole Passion series. He can capture a crowd’s unruly movements almost like a stop-action camera. Indeed while working on this series, the artist studied Charles Moore’s photos of the American civil rights movement. Blanchard paints each face in the crowd as a unique individual. For example the young man in a spiky mohawk carrying the “justice” sign on the right looks like he just stepped out of a LGBT Pride march. Most artists from history have shown Jesus marching through the gate in profile or three-quarter view, but Blanchard takes the unusual step of making Jesus head straight at the viewer.

A slide from “Introduction to the Queer Christ,” a Slate Project video by Sara Shisler Goff combines an Associated Press photo by Jacqueline Martin with “Jesus Enters the City” and a quote from Martin Luther King: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

News photos of the 2015 Selma memorial march bear an uncanny resemblance to Blanchard's Palm Sunday vision. President Obama led the crowd marching across the bridge in Selma, Alabama, on March 7 for the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” -- a civil rights march that ended in violent confrontation with police. It is eerie how much images look alike. The Selma march and the Palm Sunday painting both show a thin black man in a white shirt and tie walking beside a person in a wheelchair at the front of the crowd. Even the bridge in Selma looks similar to the arch that Blanchard imagined. He painted this in 2001 -- before 9/11 and long before Obama was president. It’s like he saw the future. One big difference is that Jesus is missing from the news photo. Blanchard’s Christ figure is not the Obama look-alike, but a young gay man riding a donkey in the middle of the crowd.

Triumphal arches were invented by the ancient Romans and remain one their most influential architectural forms. The arch in this painting is a simplified version of the Washington Square Arch in New York City, where Blanchard has lived since 1991. It is a landmark in Greenwich Village, an artsy neighborhood with a nonconformist tradition. That arch was in turn based on the first-century Arch of Titus in Rome, which also inspired the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The Arch of Titus was built to commemorate the seige of Jerusalem, yet ironically in this painting it serves as the gateway to Jerusalem for the doomed Jesus. The Arc de Triomphe played a role in military victory rallies for rulers from Napoleon to Hitler. In 1999 a new version aggrandized a contemporary kind of empire: a Las Vegas casino. All of these arches stand for material power, and thereby hint at its transience as times change.

Arriving in a city is often an LGBT rite of passage. Many queer people leave their homes to find freedom in an urban mecca where they congregate and form their own communities. Marching in an LGBT Pride parade for the first time is an experience not unlike Jesus’ triumphal entry. Pride marches celebrate LGBT culture and serve as demonstrations for equal rights. Like Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem, Pride parades are raucous, wildly joyful celebrations -- and they mask internal divisions. There can be tension between outlandish drags queens and those who want to look respectable and assimilate into the mainstream. The LGBT community is not immune from the dangers that have plagued underprivileged groups since before Jesus’ time: In the quest to gain political power, communities can lose touch with the true power that they already have through their unique culture, shared history, and connection with each other.

In Christian tradition, Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, a period of reflection on Christ’s Passion leading up to Easter. With this second painting in the series, Blanchard dives into the ambitious project of retelling the Passion story in a contemporary urban setting, and the action will not stop until the final painting. Let the adventure begin!

“Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to God.” -- Psalm 118:19 (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Everyone cheered when Jesus called for justice and freedom. Crowds followed him into the city, shouting and waving palm leaves. Their chants were not so different from ours: “Yes we can! Out of the closet and into the streets! We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” Jesus was a superstar making a grand entrance. But he did it in his own modest, gentle style. He surprised people by riding on a donkey. Some of his supporters, those who had mainstream success, urged him to quiet the others -- assimilate, don’t alienate. Tone it down. Act respectable, don’t demand respect. Stop flaunting it. His answer: I’m here to liberate people! If the crowds were silent, the stones would cry out! It was that kind of day, a Palm Sunday sort of day, when everyone shouted for equality and freedom. But was anybody still listening?

Christ, set me free!


This is part of 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.

The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” was published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

Holy Week offering: Give now to support LGBT spirituality and art at the Jesus in Love Blog

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

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, copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Day 1: Jesus with the prophets (Gay Passion of Christ series)

1. The Son of Man with Job and Isaiah (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“God has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound.” -- Isaiah 61:1 (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

A contemporary Jesus arrives as a prisoner in the painting that launches the series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard. Jesus stands half-naked in blue jeans and handcuffs, attractive even in adversity. Blanchard paints an accessible Jesus that 21st-century readers can know and touch in his Passion series. The 24 paintings portray Jesus as a gay man of today in a modern city, experiencing the events of Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. The beardless young Christ is unfamiliar to modern eyes, but Blanchard harkens back to the most ancient images of Jesus. The gay vision of Christ’s Passion promises to address the suffering of queer people today -- and thereby speak to the human condition. Christ the liberator comes as a prisoner. With this first painting, the stage is set and the viewer is invited to join Jesus on a journey that leads from prison to paradise.

God’s solidarity with people amid human suffering is emphasized from the first image in Blanchard’s Passion series. The pathway from bondage to freedom leads through the Passion, moving from death to new life. The word “passion” comes from the Latin word for suffering, and has become a theological term for the hardships that Jesus experienced in the week before his death.

Jesus shares his dark prison cell with a pair of older men in “The Son of Man (Human One) with Job and Isaiah.” His warm, pink flesh is bleeding. In a modern form of dehumanization, Jesus is labeled with a number, “124,” hanging on a tag around his neck. A barred window behind an arch gives him a crude halo. His queer identity is not apparent, as often happens with contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people. The title of this painting refers to Jesus as “Son of Man,” a mysterious, multi-purpose phrase that is translated as “Human One” in gender-inclusive language. Names painted on the sides of the frame identify his two companions as Job and Isaiah, prophets from the Hebrew scriptures. Their presence signals that themes of suffering and redemption will run through this series.

Blanchard, a gay artist based in New York, painted this scene at the dawn of the new millennium in summer 2001. His Lower East Side studio was only a couple of miles away from the World Trade Center. Little did he know that a few months later, on September 11, a terrorist attack there would make him confront suffering and death in a 21st-century Passion. Blanchard used the series to wrestle with his faith in the aftermath of 9/11.

The opening image is also one of the most cryptic paintings in the series. It may be tempting to skip over it and jump ahead to the next scene, where Jesus enters the city. Even the prophets turn their faces away. Job seems unable to bear seeing the bloody martyr in chains, while Isaiah appears to be lost in thought. Together the three men form a kind of Trinity. A close look reveals a surprise: The ancient prophets are wearing modern suits under their robes. The lapel of a business suit is visible beneath Job’s ancient garment, and the fringes of Isaiah’s robe dangle over modern shoes. They present a message for today clothed in an archetypal story from long ago. Jesus faces the viewer with a full frontal gaze, ready to engage in dialogue. But he doesn’t say a word. He carries nothing, no stone tablets -- not even a tablet computer. Jesus himself is the message. Just by being here, he proclaims freedom.

Both Job and Isaiah are associated with suffering. Job was a righteous man who kept his faith despite horrible calamities. Throughout the whole Book of Job he wrestles with the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? A major theme in the Book of Isaiah is God’s Suffering Servant or “Man of Sorrows” who brings justice, but is abused and rejected.

Jesus chose to quote Isaiah when he launched his public ministry. He told the people at the synagogue in Nazareth that he was fulfilling this prophecy: “The Spirit of God is upon me, because God has anointed me to preach good news to the poor, and has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” (Luke 4:18; Isaiah 61:1) Isaiah also is known for his prophecy about a savior named Immanuel, which is Hebrew for “God with Us.” Christians believe these prophecies pointed to Jesus, the compassionate follower of God who was crucified. The New Testament describes how Christ emptied himself and took human form, living among us as the Word made flesh.

Jesus, Job, and Isaiah all used the phrase translated as “Son of Man” or “Human One.” It can mean a generic human being (male or female) or a divine ruler envisioned by the prophet Daniel. Jesus often referred to himself as “son of man,” thereby emphasizing his own humanity and perhaps also invoking ancient prophecies of a messiah. By using “Son of Man” in the title, Blanchard underscores the humanity of Jesus while honoring his divinity. Blanchard’s choice of words reveals that this vision is progressive but not necessarily politically correct. His Jesus remains unapologetically male.

The scene of Jesus in jail with Job and Isaiah does not occur in scripture, leaving room for the viewer to speculate. Is Jesus arriving in prison or leaving? Maybe the painting represents Jesus’ own vision while he prayed in prison before he was sentenced to death. He may have remembered the ancient prophets as the crowds outside shouted for his death -- just a week after they roared their approval when he entered the city. Or does it show how society locks away today’s prophets along with those of the past?

The prison scene is an enigmatic prelude for the “gay vision” proclaimed in the subtitle of the series. Americans have been imprisoned for homosexual acts within living memory. The last sodomy laws in the United States were not overturned until 2003. Consensual homosexual acts remain a crime in many countries and a few still impose the death penalty. Many queers still imprison themselves in self-imposed mental closets.

Early Christian artists commonly pictured Jesus as a youthful Good Shepherd without a beard. The bearded Christ motif developed around the sixth century. The crucifixion images that dominate current Christian thought didn’t arise until a thousand years after he died. A Jesus in modern dress may come as a surprise, but he promised his disciples, “Lo, I am with you always.” [Matthew 28:20 RSV]

Artists almost never portray Jesus in prison. A rare exception is 19th-century French painter James Tissot. He painted Jesus with hands lifted in prayer, chained to a stone between two sleeping guards in “Good Friday Morning: Jesus in Prison.” Likewise Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte is one of the few artists in history who ever attempted to give visual form to the phrase “Son of Man.” His famous “Son of Man” is a self portrait of the artist in a suit with an oversized apple covering his face.

The gay Passion series operates on two levels as a story within a story. The first and last paintings function like bookends, putting the gospel narrative into a larger context not limited by time and space. For those who take time to decode the rich symbolism of this painting, it foreshadows and sums up the whole series. This will be no ordinary Stations of the Cross, with a hopelessly distant Jesus moving predictably from trial to tomb. Blanchard’s vision is broader. With this first painting, Blanchard honors human suffering by invoking major Biblical models of Christ: the Son of Man / Human One, the Suffering Servant, and Immanuel. As the averted eyes of Job and Isaiah indicate, many prophets desired to see the freedom embodied by Christ, but did not. Viewers are blessed with the chance to see it played out as the gay vision of the Passion unfolds.


“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.” -- John 1:14 (RSV)

Jesus was one of us, a real human being. He loved everybody, including his enemies. And yet some say that LGBT people don’t belong in the story of Jesus Christ. There’s black Jesus, Asian Jesus -- and now gay Jesus to heal the hate and discrimination done in Christ’s name. This is the story of a Jesus who emphasized his humanity by calling himself the Human One.* He doesn’t look very gay. Young and attractive, he can pass for straight. He is fully in the present, yet feels kinship with the ancient prophets Job and Isaiah who understood suffering. He wanted to serve God by healing people and setting them free. Here we remember his last days, his death and his resurrection. Jesus was a child of God who embodied love so completely that he transcended death. But while it was all happening, people didn’t understand. Society rejected him. They locked the liberator in prison.

Jesus, show me how you lived and loved.

*Son of Man can be translated as Human One.


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This is part of 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.

The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” was published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

Holy Week offering: Give now to support LGBT spirituality and art at the Jesus in Love Blog

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

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.




Saturday, March 28, 2015

Gay Passion of Christ series starts Sunday

“The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Douglas Blanchard on display (Photo by Dorie Hagler)

A gay vision of Christ’s Passion starts this Sunday here at the Jesus in Love Blog. New posts will run daily from Palm Sunday through Easter.

All 24 paintings in Douglas Blanchard’s “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” will be posted here with commentary by Kittredge Cherry and short Bible passages.

The paintings present Jesus as a contemporary gay man in a modern city as he lives out the dramatic events of Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, and his arrest, trial, crucifixion and resurrection. This year they are also available as a book.

Click the titles below to view individual paintings and text in the series. Links will be added as the series is posted.

1. Son of Man (Human One) with Job and Isaiah
2. Jesus Enters the City
3. Jesus Drives Out the Money Changers
4. Jesus Preaches in the Temple
5. The Last Supper
6. Jesus Prays Alone
7. Jesus Is Arrested
8. Jesus Before the Priests
9. Jesus Before the Magistrate
10. Jesus Before the People
11. Jesus Before the Soldiers
12. Jesus Is Beaten
13. Jesus Goes to His Execution
14. Jesus Is Nailed to the Cross
15. Jesus Dies
16. Jesus Is Buried
17. Jesus Among the Dead
18. Jesus Rises
19. Jesus Appears to Mary
20. Jesus Appears at Emmaus
21. Jesus Appears to His Friends
22. Jesus Returns to God
23. The Holy Spirit Arrives
24. The Trinity

Easter offering to support this blog

See all 24 paintings

The Holy Week posts are timed so that Christ dies on Good Friday and rises again on Easter itself.

New book
"The Passion of Christ:
A Gay Vision
Blanchard’s images show Jesus being jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes and rising again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God and friends. He stands up to priests, businessmen, lawyers, and soldiers—all of whom look eerily similar to the people holding those jobs today. His surprisingly diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom.

Blanchard, a gay painter based in New York, and Cherry, a lesbian author and art historian in Los Angeles, have turned this series into a book. “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” with Blanchard's paintings and Cherry's text was be published in fall 2014 by Apocryphile Press.

“We are sharing the gay Passion series to make Christ more accessible to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and our allies,” said Cherry, founder of JesusInLove.org. The website promotes artistic and religious freedom by supporting LGBT spirituality and the arts. “Christ’s story is for everyone, but queer people often feel left out because conservatives use Christian rhetoric to justify hate and discrimination,” she said.

Cherry was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its National Ecumenical Officer, advocating for LGBT rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. In 2005 she created Jesus in Love to support LGBT spirituality and the arts and show God’s love for all people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. It has grown to include a popular blog, e-newsletter and website. She earned degrees in journalism and art history from the University of Iowa, and a master of divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion.

“These powerful paintings break the deadly illusion that Jesus belongs exclusively to a particular time or group,” says author Kittredge Cherry, a minister and art historian. “The paintings and the new book that I wrote about them have been attacked as blasphemy by conservative Christians. But we refuse to concede Jesus to those who act like they own the copyright on Christ, then use him as a weapon to dominate others. The gay Passion of Christ is intended to broaden, not limit how Jesus is perceived. ”

Blanchard teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. He was confirmed in the Episcopal Church in 1982 and remains an active Episcopalian and self-described “very agnostic believer.” He earned a BFA in painting from the Kansas City Art Institute, an MA in art history from Washington University in St. Louis, and an MFA cum laude from the New York Academy of Art.

He spent four years painting the gay Passion. He started in summer 2001, but it took on new meaning on Sept. 11 when hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center near his studio on New York’s Lower East Side. He used the series to grapple with his own faith struggles as a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The gay Jesus himself appears surprisingly accessible in Blanchard’s art. “Christ is one of us in my pictures,” Blanchard in the book's introduction. “In His sufferings, I want to show Him as someone who experiences and understands fully what it is like to be an unwelcome outsider.”

Each of the Passion pictures is oil on wood panel, 18 inches by 14 inches.  Some originals are available for purchase.

Reproductions of the Passion paintings are available as greeting cards and prints in a variety of sizes and formats online at Fine Art America.

Selections from Blanchard’s Passion also appear in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” by Kittredge Cherry. A Lambda Literary Award finalist, the book is filled with color images by 11 contemporary artists from the U.S. and Europe.

The New York Times Book Review praised Cherry’s “very graceful, erudite” writing style. She has written seven books, including “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations” and “Jesus in Love: A Novel.”

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Related links for “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision”:

Gay Passion of Christ envisioned and attacked” -- by Kittredge Cherry, Huffington Post, March 29, 2015

*Book website

*Prints and greeting cards

*Advocate.com: "Artist Doug Blanchard's haunting contemporary paintings of the Passion of Christ are an emotional reminder of the courage it takes to resist the powers that be."

*Facebook u-turns to allow gay Jesus crucifixion ad (Gay Star News)
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Other links:

“Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality” by Mary Button with commentary by Kittredge Cherry

Excerpts from "Jesus in Love: At the Cross" by Kittredge Cherry

This post is part of the Queer Christ series series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as 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


Friday, March 27, 2015

Adrienne Rich: lesbian poet with spiritual impulses

Adrienne Rich portrait by Sharon McGill

Adrienne Rich, a lesbian feminist and one of the most influential poets of the 20th century, died three years ago today on March 27, 2012 at age 82.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Adrienne Rich: lesbian poet with spiritual impulses


Her writing was a guiding light to me and countless others, both people of faith and secular readers. The following lines from her poem “Natural Resources” (from The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977) became like a creed for many:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:
so much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those
who age after age, perversely,

with no extraordinary power,
reconstitute the world.

Rich was born on May 16, 1929 to a Jewish father and Episcopalian mother. She wrote about her conflicting religious background in her essay “Split at the Root” (from Blood, Bread, and Poetry: Selected Prose 1979-1985). That volume also includes the insightful essay whose title alone was enough to dazzle me: "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence."

I had the honor of meeting Rich in person in the 1980s when she spoke at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, where I served on the clergy staff. Informally among ourselves, we called her “the Great One.”

Many years later I was impressed all over again when I listened to my cassette tape of her remarks and reading at MCC-SF on Nov. 7, 1987. I was there in person and I remember it well.  Speaking to the mostly LGBT audience from both Jewish and Christian traditions, she emphasized the importance of bringing together sacred and secular, Christian and Jew, lesbian and gay and straight. The event was co-sponsored by Congregation Sha'ar Zahav, a progressive Reform Jewish congregation in San Francisco.

I transcribed what she said about her connection to spirituality:

The coming together of those of us who are non-congregants with you who are is very important. A couple of years ago in a talk and reading that I gave at UCLA Hillel, I described myself as a secular Jew and later in a discussion Andy Rose (Avi Rose) asked me why, since he felt the poetry I was reading to be spiritual rather than secular in its impulse. I’ve thought a lot about that and about the lines drawn in Judaism between secular and religious, and between various degrees and forms of observance.

Along with all the work being done by observant Jewish feminists, the re-creation of liturgy towards a theology of wholeness, I think there are some of us who are drawing a deep spiritual sustenance from the Jewish secular progressive tradition, who are trying to fuse the material and the spiritual rather than leave them in the old dichotomous opposition, coming from a secular rather than a religious orientation and wanting to keep asking the questions of flesh and blood, of justice, of bread, the questions of this world.

Maybe we don’t know exactly what we are trying to do nor yet have a language for it. Liberation theology is not quite it, though the concrete examples of liberation theology in action, both Jewish and Christian, have revealed certain possibilities. The wealth of blessing that proliferate in Jewish tradition -- the tradition that bids Jews bless all kinds of everyday as well as exceptional events and things: new clothes, a new moon, bread, wine, the washing of hands, our teachers, spices, the sight of lightning, the sound of thunder -- this tradition has implications as well. And for me this has implications for poetry. And since I would never claim that poetry can be purely secular, I will have to leave it for now at that.

She also talked eloquently about LGBT life with words that are still just as true more than 25 years later:

There is no simple way to speak about what’s happening in lesbian and gay communities at the end of the 20th century. We know that in the history of our communities there have been many efforts and many ways of defining ourselves against the hostile and destructive definitions that have been ground out by a heterosexuality badly in trouble and terrified of its own complexity, terrified of its own fragility. Nothing obviously but a deep sense of anxiety of identity could produce the kind of projective thinking and scapegoating which has targeted lesbians and gay men along with any women and men who have refused the straightjackets of gender.


Rich had a big impact on the lives of many people, including artist Sharon McGill whose art graces this post. Her tribute "Wonder Woman: Adrienne Rich" is posted at her McGillustrations blog.

Artist Sharon McGill illustrated a quote from Adrienne Rich: “Art means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.”

Rich's essay “Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying” (from On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978) played a major role in helping me (and many other lesbians) decide to come out of the closet. I read the essay so many times that I  memorized parts of it.  I still refer to these words when I need to make difficult decisions:

An honorable human relationship-- that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word "love"-- is a process, delicate, violent, often terrifying to both persons involved, a process of refining the truths they can tell each other.

It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.

It is important to do this because in doing so we do justice to our own complexity.

It is important to do this because we can count on so few people to go that hard way with us.


Thank you, Adrienne.  Now your soul is continuing on that hard way.  I count you among the LGBT saints for all the wisdom that you have bestowed upon the world.

___
Related links:

Adrienne Rich 1929-2012: A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism (New York Times obituary)

In Remembrance: Adrienne Rich by Victoria Brownworth (Lambda Literary)

Adrienne Rich and transmisogyny (You're Welcome blog)

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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.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Friday, March 20, 2015

John Boswell: Historian of gays and lesbians in Christianity

John Boswell

John Boswell (1947-1994) was a prominent scholar who researched and wrote about the importance of gays and lesbians in Christian history. He was born 69 years ago tomorrow on March 20, 1947.

Boswell, a history professor at Yale University, wrote such influential classics as Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (1980) and Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994).

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
John Boswell: Historian of gays and lesbians in Christianity


Boswell converted from the Episcopal Church of his upbringing to Roman Catholicism at age 16. He attended mass daily until his death, even though as an openly gay Christian he disagreed with church teachings on homosexuality. He also helped found Yale’s Lesbian and Gay Studies Center in the late 1980s.

A linguistic genius, he used his knowledge of more than 15 languages to argue that the Roman Catholic Church did not condemn homosexuality until at least the 12th century in his book Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century. A 35th-anniversary edition was published in 2015 with a foreword by queer religion scholar Mark Jordan.

Using some of his last strength as he battled AIDS, Boswell translated many rites of adelphopoiesis (Greek for making brothers) in his book Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, presenting evidence that they were same-sex unions similar to marriage.

A 25th-anniversary collection analyzing Boswell’s work was published as “The Boswell Thesis: Essays on Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality,” edited by Mathew Kuefler. Scholars take many different approaches, looking at Boswell’s career and influence, a Roman emperor's love letters to another man; suspected sodomy among medieval monks; and genderbending visions of mystics and saints.

A scholar challenges Boswell’s interpretations in the 2016 book “Brother-Making in Late Antiquity and Byzantium: Monks, Laymen, and Christian Ritual” by Claudia Rapp. She offers evidence that the brother-making rite bears no resemblance to marriage. The author is professor of Byzantine studies at the University of Vienna in Austria.

Boswell died an untimely death at age 47 from AIDS-related illness on Christmas Eve 1994. He remains an unofficial saint to the many LGBT Christians who find life-giving spiritual value in his historical research that affirms the value of queer people in Christian history.

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Boswell’s books include:

Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the 14th Century

Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe
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Related links:

John Boswell Page at Fordham University

John Boswell profile at LGBT Religious Archives Network

John Boswell tribute at Yale AIDS Memorial Project (yamp.org)

John Boswell profile at Elisa Reviews and Ramblings
____
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.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.