Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday: Manifestations of Love

Grieving barn swallow by Wilson Hsu

Love is a suitable theme for Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent today. It’s a time of reflection leading up to Easter. We mark this day by posting the following meditation by Atlanta writer Trudie Barreras, a member of First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta.

Photos of a grieving bird remind her of a scene from my novel Jesus in Love: At the Cross, which tells the story of Christ’s Passion from a queer viewpoint.

Manifestations of Love
by Trudie Barreras

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believed in him may not perish, but have eternal life. --John 3:16
So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. --1 John 4:16
After receiving two items in the e-mail this morning based on the love of animals for humans and for each other, I had to revisit a topic I’ve spoken of often. I have long understood that there is only one factor in the universe that speaks completely and totally of God’s presence, and that is love in all its many manifestations. I’ve wanted to write a brief meditation based on part of Kittredge Cherry’s incredible novel Jesus in Love: At the Cross, and this seems the time to do so.

The section I’ve chosen is towards the end of this book, and imagines a possible scene between Jesus and Satan during Christ’s time in Gehenna after the Crucifixion but before the Resurrection. Not to make the quote too long, but to set the scene, Jesus and Satan have confronted each other, and have battled, and Jesus is on the point (in his human nature) of satisfying Satan’s will that he “hit, hate and kill”. Then, to quote directly, Jesus says:

“I forgive you, Brother. And I forgive myself.” (At the Cross, p. 238)

Cherry goes on, however, in some of the most beautiful words I’ve ever encountered, to the following discussion:
The small amount of love that we exchanged was enough to topple his kingdom. I hurtled back towards the realm of solid light. I careened through a galaxy where the name of every human soul was spelled out in starlight, purging sin from human cellular memories as I went. The souls came untangled. In their newfound freedom, they looked to me like an omni-dimensional tapestry of stars shooting beams of energy to every other soul, with the love between them lasting always.

In a flash, I comprehended a great truth: Once you love someone, that love lasts forever in the universe and never ends. Satan’s big lie was that hatred, fear, sin and death can sometimes conquer love. No. Time makes them fade, while love endures forever. Love – love in any form whatsoever, any love that is ever loved – remains and is gradually filling the vast expanse of the universe. (At the Cross, p. 239)
The two little items that I received via e-mail were the story of a dog who showed his love for his sick mistress by covering her with his cherished toys, and pictorial story of a bird that tried to save his injured mate and then grieved inconsolably when she died. There are, of course, innumerable stories about the various manifestations of love encountered in the animal kingdom, and humans are slowly beginning to realize that we don’t have a monopoly on experiencing and expressing it. Although the first part of the quotation from Cherry’s book cited above seems to specify human love, the second part universalizes it. And of course the quotation from the Gospel of John says, “God so loved the world,” and doesn’t limit it to humankind.

Of the manifestations of love that are obvious to everyone, then, certainly the most basic is nurturing love. This was demonstrated very clearly in the two stories I’ve referred to – and is certainly most beautifully manifest not only in the human context, but in the divine as well. God nurtures the entirety of creation moment by moment; indeed, nothing would exist at all if God didn’t nurture it. Again, referring to Cherry’s work, in both novels of the “Jesus in Love” sequence, Jesus visualizes himself as literally “nursing” the souls of his followers, and eventually of all humanity. In her description of the Last Supper, she profoundly links Christ’s “giving of his substance” in the Eucharist with this overall nurturance.

A second manifestation of love is fidelity based on trust. This, too, is easy to see in the animal world. The story of the bird who stayed by his mate even after her death, and numerous similar stories of beloved pets who stay by their humans, likewise shows this. The unfortunate thing, of course, is that when we get into the realm of human interactions with one another, this simple fidelity is all too often lacking, as is the trust that sustains it. Too often, people are guilty of betrayal and cruelty. However, stories are often told of pets, especially dogs, who remain faithful even though their masters abuse or neglect them.

Which leads to the final manifestation of love I want to discuss here, the one emphasized in the quotation from “At the Cross.” The manifestation that Jesus seems to have brought to us most forcefully is forgiveness in its ultimate glory. Again, as with fidelity, other animals sometimes seem to be able to demonstrate this in differing degrees, but even they seem to fall short at times. I have had cats that took a long time to “forgive” me for going away and leaving them for a weekend, and one cat even “punished” me for prohibiting her from using a piece of furniture as a scratching post by deliberately pissing on my pillow. However, again it is we humans who have the most difficulty with forgiveness, not only with respect to our trespasses against one another, but with what we perceive to be the unfairness of the universe.

On a previous occasion, I’ve reflected on this factor. I’ve noted that many of us genuinely harbor a grudge against God, and the main reason is that we resent the reality of pain and death in the material universe. Since this is a thought I’d like to expand further, I will reserve it for a later meditation, but surely the ability to forgive is the culmination of what John meant by “abiding in love.” We have to be able to recognize reality for what it is, accept the fact that fear and pain do exist, and then transcend our anger and resentment, as Cherry envisions Jesus doing during his encounter with Satan. And we must accept the ultimate realization she states so eloquently. Love is the eternal reality. Hatred, fear, sin and death are destroyed by time. It is Satan’s lie that we must give in to the power of these negative aspects of existence. It is God’s truth that we can transcend them by the power and grace of love.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Gay artist links body and spirit

“Angels Consorting” by Stephen Mead Mixed media on canvas, incorporated into the DVD “Captioned Closeness
Sexuality and spirituality unite beautifully in the work of gay artist Stephen Mead of New York.

Gay angels enfold each other in glittering wings as they make love in “Angels Consorting” (see above). Another pair sleeps wrapped in each other’s arms with naked vulnerability in “Angels Sleeping Unawares”(see below).

Angels are usually presented as neutered, asexual beings. Mead delights the eye and does great service by showing that the messengers of God can be erotically alive. Both angel paintings are part of “Blue Heart Diary,” a meditative series about the universality of struggle, both global and personal.

Like much of Mead’s work, it fuses art and poetry. The actual written work is over a thousand lines long with several hundred images spanning over two decades. A video sets some of the images to music, creating a meditative experience that is both soothing and thought-provoking.

The angel paintings also appear on his DVD “Captioned Closeness” at Mead presents a different view of embodied spirituality in “Sponge Christ We Anoint You” (see below).

Taking care of a dying man becomes a sensuous, holy experience in the evocative painting. The work is a glowing embodiment of Christ’s own words, “Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me.”

Both the anointer and the anointed become one with Christ. In the poem that accompanies the work, Mead writes:

Sponge Christ, We anoint you.
Whatever modern day soul
Your skin christens; the sponge, a host
For the innocence
Without martyrdom
Save the humanness
In being a triptych
Of vision, blood and bone.

“Sponge Christ We Anoint You” is included in Mead’s series “Washing the Body,” which is dedicated to the patients from Mead’s 15 years in the healthcare field.

Self-taught as an artist, Mead acknowledges that his art has been heavily influenced by both surrealism and expressionism. In the early 1990s his poetry began appearing in such journals as Onionhead, Bellowing Ark, and Invert. He moved Provincetown and began to concentrate more on visual work.

He returned to New York in 2000 and started seeking publication again for both his writing and his art combined. Since then, his work has appeared internationally both in galleries, in print and in cyberspace.

Mead has done films, CDs and e-books, including the award-winning “We Are More Than Our Wounds.” His current project is “Swan Songs,” a film series that superimposes live footage over his images while using his own singing voice as a soundtrack.

His most recent book is “According to the Order of Nature (We too are Cosmos Made): Art and Text for Gay Spiritual Sensuality.” published in 2016. This mixed-media series of paintings aims to reverse persecution, exploring LGBT sensuality for its spiritual roots and profound bonding. His other books include “Our Book of Common Faith,” which features his lyrical Laramie painting dedicated to Matthew Shepard.

“Angels Sleeping Unawares” by Stephen Mead Watercolor pencil on board, incorporated into the DVD “Captioned Closeness
“Sponge Christ We Anoint You” by Stephen Mead Mixed media on canvas, from the series, "Washing The Body"

Sunday, February 08, 2009

GLBT Christians offer hope in new film

GLBT Christians, especially my own denomination Metropolitan Community Church, are the heroes of the new TV movie “Prayers for Bobby,” based on the true story of a young gay man’s struggles. Gay, lesbian, bi and trans Christians are almost never on TV, except for occasional news interviews. So I was amazed I watched the movie and saw that the gay MCC pastor had a huge, heroic role in helping an evangelical family with a gay son. And I personally knew the real-life pastor who is named in the movie, Rev. Larry Whitsell -- a gentle and caring soul. In the movie, Rev. Whitsell explains that God loves GLBT people and refutes the Bible passages that are used to condemn homosexuality. It takes a long time for his message to counteract the homophobia of conservative churches, however, and the young gay man commits suicide. Rev. Whitsell offers compassion and gay-positive theology that transforms his grieving mother, who tells about the experience in the book Prayers for Bobby: A Mother's Coming to Terms with the Suicide of Her Gay Son. Sigourney Weaver does an excellent job of playing Mary Griffith, the mother who transforms from being a Christian fundamentalist suburban housewife to gay-rights spokeswoman. Filmmakers worked for more than a decade to transform the book into a movie, which premiered on Lifetime TV recently. Unfortunately, the story is as timely now as it was in 1983 when Bobby died. “Prayers for Bobby” shows that change is possible, one heart at a time.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Music video supports same-sex marriage

"Fidelity": Don't Divorce... from Courage Campaign on Vimeo. A touching video supports same-sex marriage -- at a time when group divorce is threatened for 18,000 same-sex marriages in California. I was moved by seeing images of real gay and lesbian couples set to the song “Fidelity” by Regina Spektor. Courage Campaign made the music video to inspire people to sign a petition to the California Supreme Court to protect same-sex marriage. Petition deadline: Valentine’s Day! News broke Tuesday (Feb. 3) that the state Supreme Court will hear oral arguments on March 5, then decide within 90 days about the validity of Prop 8 and the 18,000 marriages. Ken Starr -- yes, the prosecutor who led the campaign to impeach President Bill Clinton -- filed a legal brief for the "Yes on 8" campaign. It would forcibly divorce the 18,000 same-sex couples married in California last year before the passage of Prop 8. When Starr's legal brief went public in December, the Courage Campaign immediately launched the "Don't Divorce..." campaign, asking members to send pictures with a simple message. See those beautiful, powerful photos on the music video, and consider signing the petition at

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Gay bishop prays at inauguration

Gay bishop Gene Robinson gave the invocation at opening event for President Obama’s inauguration. I especially like the line, “Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.” Christians, myself included, tend to have trouble embracing our anger, but suppressing it leads to all kinds of problems. HBO didn’t start its coverage of the event until AFTER Rev. Robinson spoke, so it’s important to make his prayer available online. You can see it on video or simply read the moving words. I read the prayer first, then watched the video -- and got a lot out more out of it when I heard and saw Rev. Robinson’s own powerful delivery. Memory of the inauguration may already be fading with today’s fast-moving news cycles, but it happened not long ago on Jan. 18 at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. It’s refreshing to stop and remember the contributions made by GLBT spirituality on that historic day. Here is the prayer: *** By The Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson, Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire Opening Inaugural Event Lincoln Memorial, Washington, DC January 18, 2009 Welcome to Washington! The fun is about to begin, but first, please join me in pausing for a moment, to ask God’s blessing upon our nation and our next president. O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will… Bless us with tears – for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS. Bless us with anger – at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. Bless us with discomfort – at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, which we need to face if we are going to rise to the challenges of the future. Bless us with patience – and the knowledge that none of what ails us will be “fixed” anytime soon, and the understanding that our new president is a human being, not a messiah. Bless us with humility – open to understanding that our own needs must always be balanced with those of the world. Bless us with freedom from mere tolerance – replacing it with a genuine respect and warm embrace of our differences, and an understanding that in our diversity, we are stronger. Bless us with compassion and generosity – remembering that every religion’s God judges us by the way we care for the most vulnerable in the human community, whether across town or across the world. And God, we give you thanks for your child Barack, as he assumes the office of President of the United States. Give him wisdom beyond his years, and inspire him with Lincoln’s reconciling leadership style, President Kennedy’s ability to enlist our best efforts, and Dr. King’s dream of a nation for ALL the people. Give him a quiet heart, for our Ship of State needs a steady, calm captain in these times. Give him stirring words, for we will need to be inspired and motivated to make the personal and common sacrifices necessary to facing the challenges ahead. Make him color-blind, reminding him of his own words that under his leadership, there will be neither red nor blue states, but the United States. Help him remember his own oppression as a minority, drawing on that experience of discrimination, that he might seek to change the lives of those who are still its victims. Give him the strength to find family time and privacy, and help him remember that even though he is president, a father only gets one shot at his daughters’ childhoods. And please, God, keep him safe. We know we ask too much of our presidents, and we’re asking FAR too much of this one. We know the risk he and his wife are taking for all of us, and we implore you, O good and great God, to keep him safe. Hold him in the palm of your hand – that he might do the work we have called him to do, that he might find joy in this impossible calling, and that in the end, he might lead us as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace. AMEN.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Ted Haggard's gay Christian struggle

I saw Ted Haggard’s recent interview with Larry King about being an evangelical preacher who was outed for gay sex. As a lesbian Christian, it was heartbreaking to hear Haggard unable to say that God accepts gay people. However, the most memorable part was his callous disregard for the young church volunteer that he forced into a sexual encounter. There's a lot more to this story than just the gay Christian angle. What about abuse of power? Check out Queeremergent Blog for a new blog with an intriguing post on Haggard, including Andrew Sullivan's well reasoned take Haggard “trapped between who he is and his internalized belief that God cannot love him for who he is.” He connects Haggard to the need for same-sex marriage. Bravo! The disgraced preacher Haggard is in the news again because he is the subject of a new HBO documentary, “The Trials of Ted Haggard.”