Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Can you imagine? A gay Nativity scene

Gay Nativity scene at Pink Christmas in Amsterdam

I got excited when I first heard that a gay and lesbian Nativity scene was planned for the 2008 “Pink Christmas” festival in Amsterdam. Live actors were supposed to play a pair of Marys and a pair of Josephs.

I let my imagination run free envisioning new variations on the familiar manger scene. Love makes a family -- including the Holy Family. Everyone should be able to see themselves in the Christmas story, including gay and lesbian people.

I postponed writing about the gay and lesbian Nativity until it was staged. Now I’m glad that I waited because the reality fell far short of what I expected.

My heart sank when I saw the photos and video of the gay Nativity with two men (NOT two Josephs). They were a stereotypical drag queen and leather daddy. A male entertainer named “Miss Wendy” Mills posed as Mary in a blonde wig and black, high-heeled boots. I have nothing against transvestites and leather folk, but these guys seemed like a parody of themselves, with no loving “family” connection to each other whatsoever. Apparently there was no lesbian version at all.

Naturally I found out about the gay manger scene from news reports on Christian conservatives trying to stop it. Queer Christians almost never make the news unless somebody is opposing us. Conservative Christians complained that the gay manger scene mocked Christianity, but I feel that it makes a mockery of GLBT life.

Oh, well.

Frank van Dalen, head of the ProGay group that organized the festival, said that the queer Nativity was meant to encourage people to think about homosexuality and religion. It did have that effect on me. I had my own lesbian Christian spiritual awakening while I was waiting for the event.

While waiting for the event, I imagined that the Amsterdam GLBT community would enact Nativity scenes that showed loving lesbian and gay families like those that I have known. Scenes of a lesbian Madonna and her female partner with the baby Jesus have been created by artists such as Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin of Sweden and Becki Jayne Harrelson of Atlanta. But this was the first time that I’ve seen a gay Joseph and his male partner with the Christ child.

Why not? According to the Bible story, Joseph was an adoptive father anyway. The Virgin Mary had Jesus without having sex with a man -- much like lesbian mothers who use artificial insemination.

I had a personal breakthrough as I realized that my mind was still trapped in heterosexual assumptions about the cast of characters at Jesus’ birth. I remembered going to a huge exhibit of Nativity scenes when I was a young lesbian in seminary. They had statues of Mary and Joseph with the Christ child portrayed as every conceivable racial and ethnic identity. Not once did I consider that my own community was missing -- there was no lesbian version with Mary and another woman. Nor was there a gay version with Joseph and another man. Only now, some 20 years later, did it occur to me that LGBT families should be represented in the mix.

Inspired by the Amsterdam example, I suddenly realized how easy it would be to make my own lesbian or gay Nativity scene. All I would have to do was buy two standard Nativity scenes, and switch the figures around. It would be easy to put Mary with Mary and Joseph with Joseph -- like putting two brides or two grooms on top of a wedding cake! My partner and I toyed with the idea of getting two sets of Nativity lawn decorations and turning our yard into a queer Christmas display.

However, rearranging the Holy Family is not as easy as it might seem. In many cases Mary, Joseph and Jesus are wedded together in one inseparable, three-headed blob. What does that say about our attachment to idealized, sanctified heterosexuality?

During the recent after-Christmas sales, I ordered two Nativity sets with freestanding figures. Yes, I’m going to do it. You’ll see my reconfigured lesbian and gay Nativity scenes on this blog next Christmas.

Meanwhile, you may watch Amsterdam’s gay Nativity scene captured live on video.

Update Dec. 22, 2010: Gay and lesbian Nativity scenes are available now as Christmas cards at the Jesus in Love Store.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

2008’s top 5 queer-spirit arts stories named

“After the Rainbow Ceremony” by Peter Grahame illustrated the year's top story
Debate about the need for a unique gay spirituality is the top story for 2008, announced today. “Gay spirituality vs. everybody spirituality: A new closet?” generated the year’s largest number of comments at the Jesus in Love Blog on queer spirituality and the arts., an online resource center for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) spirituality and the arts, has announced its picks for 2008’s top five stories. Here’s a round-up of the year’s top five queer spiritual art news stories. 1. “Gay spirituality vs. everybody spirituality: A new closet?” was the most popular story of 2008 with 40 comments. A big spirituality weekend finds that many, especially young people, don’t recognize the “unique spiritual gifts” that go with being GLBT. 2. “No on Prop 8 protest for gay marriage” was the most popular video of 2008 with more than 2,000 views. The video shows more than 500 people protesting the ban on same-sex marriage at the “Stop the H8” rally against Proposition 8, in Pasadena, California, on Nov. 15. 3. “Gay Mohammad art censored” generated the longest debate, with passionate comments continuing on both sides for 10 months. Gay Mohammad images by Iranian-born artist Sooreh Hera were censored from a Dutch art exhibit. The artist says that her art is an expose of Islamic hypocrisy on homosexuality. 4. “Lammy Awards: GLBT authors laugh, cry and get awards” received the most links from other websites. The Lambda Literary Awards ceremony is “more than a dream come true” as it carries on the sacred literary tradition of gay and lesbian writers. 5. “New novel shows Passion of a Queer Christ” received the most heartfelt response through emails and comments. “WOW! I'm speechless!” was among the respsonses to a queer Christ’s journey in “Jesus in Love: At the Cross” by Kittredge Cherry. “2008 was an outstanding year for queer spirituality and the arts,” says Kittredge Cherry, lesbian Christian author and founder of “People cared passionately about gay spirituality, same-sex marriage, GLBT literature and making gay-friendly images of the divine -- including gay Jesus and gay Mohammad.” Founded three years ago, presents a positive vision of GLBT spirituality and tracks censorship of queer religious art. It has grown from a single website into an online network that includes a blog, videos, e-newsletter and an image archive. It has reached thousands of people all over the world, won many honors -- and gotten a lot of hate mail from conservative Christians “The ongoing religious bigotry proves that Jesus in Love is needed now as much as ever,” Cherry says. “Christian rhetoric is being misused to justify hate and discrimination against GLBT people, but Jesus taught love for all.”