Monday, June 28, 2010

GLBT saints: The Saints of Stonewall

“It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard shows the Stonewall Rebellion
Oil on canvas, 24" x 36," 1999.

Queer people fought back against police harassment at New York City’s Stonewall Inn in June 1969, launching the modern LGBT liberation movement. The Stonewall uprising began 41 years ago today (June 28, 1969).

Their bold rebellion against government persecution of homosexuality is commemorated around the world during June as LGBT Pride Month. The Stonewall Uprising continues to inspire a variety of art that is featured here today.

The LGBT people who resisted police at the Stonewall Rebellion (also known as the Stonewall Riots) are not saints in the traditional sense. But they are honored here as “saints of Stonewall” because they dared to battle an unjust system. They do not represent religious faith -- they stand for faith in ourselves as LGBT people. They performed the miracle of transforming self-hatred into pride. These “saints” began a process in which self-hating individuals were galvanized into a cohesive community. Their saintly courage inspired a justice movement that is still growing stronger after four decades.

Before Stonewall, police regularly raided gay bars, where customers submitted willingly to arrest. A couple of dozen acts of resistance pre-dated and paved the way for Stonewall, such as the 1967 demonstration at the Black Cat Tavern in Los Angeles.

Despite the progress made, police raids of gay bars have continued in recent years, such as the notorious 2009 Rainbow Lounge raid in Forth Worth, Texas. June 28 is also the anniversary of the 2009 raid on the Rainbow Lounge, a newly opened gay bar in Fort Worth, Texas. Five customers were zip-tied and taken to jail, multiple others were arrested or detained, and one got a severe brain injury while in custody. The raid sparked an unprecedented public outcry that led to historic change.

The Stonewall Inn catered to the poorest and most marginalized queer people: drag queens, transgender folk, hustlers and homeless youth. Witnesses disagree about who was the first to defy the police raid in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969. It was either a drag queen or a butch lesbian. Soon the crowd was pelting the officers with coins, bottles, bricks and the like. The police, caught by surprise, used nightsticks to beat some people before taking refuge in the bar itself. News of the uprising spread quickly. Hundreds gathered on the street and a riot-control police unit arrived. Violence continued as some chanted, “Gay power!”

Drag queens started spontaneous kick lines facing the police with clubs and helmets. That dramatic moment is captured in the painting “It was Beautiful” by Douglas Blanchard. The drag queens met violence with defiant humor by singing,

We are the Stonewall girls
We wear our hair in curls
We wear no underwear
We show our pubic hair
We wear our dungarees
Above our nelly knees!

That night 13 people were arrested and some hospitalized. The streets were mostly cleared by 4 a.m., but a major confrontation with police happened again the next night, and protests continued on a smaller scale for a week.

A month later the Gay Liberation Front was formed, one of many LGBT rights organizations sparked by the saints of Stonewall. LGBT religious groups are indebted to the saints of Stonewall for our very existence.

“Gay Liberation” by George Segal commemorates the Stonewall rebellion (Photo by Wally Gobetz)

One of the most significant Stonewall artworks is also the world’s first piece of public art honoring the struggle for LGBTQ equality. “Gay Liberation” was created in 1979 by famed pop sculptor George Segal. It consists of four statues, a gay couple and a lesbian couple, cast in bronze and painted white in Segal’s typical style. The figures are arranged realistically in casual poses, evoking the power of love with their ghostly presence.

The idea for a public sculpture honoring the 10th anniversary of Stonewall came from LGBT activist Bruce Voeller. His vision inspired the Mildred Andrews Fund of Cleveland to commission Segal to create the sculpture. After much controversy, vandalism and alternate locations, the sculpture was installed permanently across the street from the Stonewall Inn at Christopher Park, which also holds two monuments to Civil War heroes.

Artists usually choose between two approaches when addressing the Stonewall Uprising. Some focus on the action in the past while others highlight the present-day Stonewall Inn, which is still in operation as a bar for the LGBT community.

Artists who recreate the past include Doug Blanchard, a gay New York artist who teaches art at City University of New York and is active in the Episcopal Church. “It was Beautiful” and other Stonewall paintings by Blanchard were shown at the Lesbian and Gay Community Services Center of New York in 1999. His series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” has been featured here at the Jesus in Love Blog and in a 2014 book with text by Kittredge Cherry.

“The Battle of Stonewall - 1969” by Sandow Birk

California artist Sandow Birk put Stonewall history into heroic context in a big way. The oil paintings in his Stonewall series measure up to 10 feet wide. The crown jewel of the series is “The Battle of Stonewall - 1969.” It updates the classic painting “The Battle of Mons-en-Pévèle - 1304” by 19th-century French artist Charles Philippe Lariviere. In both cases, the physically superior side attacked those who were considered weaker, but the underdogs won and gained their freedom. Birk replaces swords with police batons and turns national flags into “Gay Power” banners. The knight in shining armor is replaced by a drag queen in mascara and high heels. For more about Birk’s Stonewall series, see my previous post: Sandow Birk: Stonewall's LGBT history painted.

The actual Stonewall riots weren’t as white as Birk's paintings make it appear: “On the first night of the Stonewall riots, African Americans and Latinos likely were the largest percentage of the protestors, because we heavily frequented the bar,” scholar-activist Irene Monroe writes in  Dis-membering Stonewall, her chapter in the book Love, Christopher Street. “For homeless black and Latino LGBTQ youth and young adults who slept in nearby Christopher Park, the Stonewall Inn was their stable domicile.”

“Stonewall Inn” by Trudie Barreras (Collection of Kittredge Cherry)

The location where history happened is emphasized in the colorful painting of the Stonewall Inn by Trudie Barreras, a long-time member of Metropolitan Community Churches. Her art and writing on queer religious themes have appeared frequently here at the Jesus in Love Blog. She also does personalized pet portraits as “donation incentives” for Jesus in Love.

“Prostrations at the Holy Places and Veneration to Our Martyrs (Stonewall Pilgrimage)” by Tony O’Connell

British artist Tony O’Connell paid homage to the power of Stonewall by photographing his own personal pilgrimage to the historic bar in New York City in 2013. He prayed with incense at the Stonewall Inn as part of his series on LGBT pilgrimages, which he does as performances recorded in photos. He travels to places of importance in LGBT history, treating the trip as a pilgrimage to the shrine of a saint. For more about O’Connell’s pilgrimages and other art, see my previous post Tony O’Connell reclaims sainthood: Gay artist finds holiness in LGBT people and places.

Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem and the Stonewall Riots happen in Station 8 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button

Tennessee artist Mary Button weaves together the LGBT uprising at Stonewall with Christ’s journey to Calvary in Station 8 of her LGBT Stations of the Cross. She shows that a chain of oppression that stretches from the crucifixion of Christ to police harassment of LGBT people today, offering hope for resurrection. For more about Button’s Stations, see my previous post LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.

The history of the Rainbow Lounge raid and reaction is told in the 2012 film “Raid of the Rainbow Lounge,” directed by Robert Camina. He says it has “haunting parallels” to Stonewall. Emmy-nominated actress Meredith Baxter narrates the documentary. A video trailer is posted online.



May the saints of Stonewall continue to inspire all who seek justice and equality!

___
Related links:

2015 book for teens: “Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights” by Ann Bausum

Book: “Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution” by David Carter

Book: “Stonewall” by Martin Bauml Duberman

Video: “American Experience: Stonewall Uprising

Stonewall (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)

Stonewall Inn and Christopher Park (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)

George Segal’s "Gay Liberation" (glbtq.com)

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

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


Sunday, June 27, 2010

LGBT Pride Prayer: We Recommit Ourselves to God


“GLBT Heritage” stained glass window at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. Designed by Ken Scott, 1993

The triangle made of fabric serves as a visual and tactile symbol of our brokenness and connectedness as a church. World War II concentration camp prisoners identified as homosexuals, the “third sex,” were forced to wear the triangle. Like the cross, the triangle once symbolized oppression and now symbolizes liberation. Today we recommit ourselves to liberating our church to lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered people everywhere.
___
This prayer appears in “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations. It comes from “A Service of Worship and Empowerment,” a collaborative liturgy that was celebrated in more than 50 communities across the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1993 in solidarity with the commissioning as evangelist of lesbian minister Rev. Jane Spahr by Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY.
___
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. A new LGBT pride prayer will be posted here every Sunday in June. Click here for the whole series.
___
About the image: A pink triangle with two incomplete overlapping circles represents a couple whose relationship is not restricted by gender in “GLBT Heritage,” one of 12 stained glass windows designed by Honolulu artist Ken Scott for MCC San Francisco. This window was donated by Lloyd Burton and Michael Berry in memory of our gay brothers and lesbian sisters who have gone before us.

The 12-window project is called “Heavenly Wind” and is an abstraction representing God's breath flowing through the sanctuary and congregation. Each pair of windows incorporates a color from the rainbow which is a symbol of pride, unity, and celebration in the LGBT Communities. A service of dedication was held in the MCC-SF sanctuary on Nov. 21, 1993. Click here for an online gallery of MCC-SF’s stained glass windows. Special thanks to Lynn Jordan of MCC-SF for background info on the windows.

Bookmark and Share

Friday, June 25, 2010

Remembering Hands Around the God Box

Hundreds of LGBT Christians form a ring around New York’s Interchurch Center to protest religious exclusion in Hands Around the God Box. This photo was published in the Washington Post on June 25, 1994.  More photos below.

A new version of this article is available at: https://qspirit.net/hands-around-the-god-box/

Hands Around the God Box was an interfaith prayer vigil to end religious homophobia. It was held at the Interchurch Center in New York City on June 24, 1994.

More than 500 people from 15 lesbian and gay religious groups joined hands and were linked by a rainbow ribbon that completely encircled the Interchurch Center at 475 Riverside Drive. The box-shaped building housed the headquarters of the National Council of Churches (NCC) and many other religious agencies. We are highlighting this historic event here as part of our celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.

I came up with the idea for Hands Around the God Box and organized it as national ecumenical officer for Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC). I will never forget the solemn power of our combined prayers as LGBT Christians and our allies joined hands at the God Box. The building is huge, covering an entire city block, and our group of 500 barely managed to surround it -- with help from a super-long rainbow ribbon. The need for churches to accept LGBT people is just as true now as in 1994. Our prayers for full inclusion continue.

The peaceful demonstration began at noon Fri., June 24, with a short worship service. “Today 475 Riverside Drive is our Stonewall Inn. We need to turn the tables on the religious ‘police’ of our day, and fight back,” said Rev. Nancy Wilson, MCC's chief ecumenical officer.

Demonstrators then joined hands around the building in silent prayer for full inclusion of lesbians and gays in religious life. NCC General Secretary Joan Campbell and many NCC staff members joined the demonstration, even through the NCC refused to grant membership or even observer status to MCC, which ministers primarily in the LGBT community.

The event concluded with tying a rainbow ribbon around the God Box to symbolize continuing prayers for the church to honor the diversity God created.

Hands Around the God Box was coordinated by myself (Kittredge Cherry) as MCC national ecumenical officer and Kim Byham of Integrity. It was held on the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion that launched the LGBT liberation movement.

The Washington Post covered Hands Around the God Box on June 25, 1994 with an article by Christopher Herlinger of the Religion News Service titled “Gays Returning to Religion, but Few Arms Open: Little Acceptance of Homosexuals 25 Years After Stonewall Uprising.” The article stated:

“A protest yesterday by a coalition of gay and lesbian Christians at the Interchurch Center here spotlighted what Wilson and other protesters called the ‘exclusion of lesbian and gay people from full participation in the life of the nation’s churches.’

The protest, a ‘human chain’ around the Interchurch Center, was called ‘Hands Around the God Box,’ -- a reference to the building’s popular nickname. The building, in upper Manhattan, is home to a number of denominational offices and the national headquarters of the National Council of Churches, the nation’s largest ecumenical organization.

The 32 member churches of the council are divided over the issue of homosexuality.”

Some said that Hands Around the God Box was the spiritual heart of the whole Stonewall 25 celebration in New York. Reaction to the God Box event was summed up later by Mary Hunt, cofounder of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and ritual, in her sermon the next day: “How about those Hands Around the God Box people? What a feat of religious athleticism: holding hands, singing, praying, protesting and talking to the press all at once ought to merit some sort of miraculous metal or actual grace!”

Bookmark and Share

Demonstrators join hands around the God Box to pray for an end to religious homophobia. This photo by William Tom was published in the August 1994 issue of “Keeping in Touch: News and Notes from the Universal Fellowship of Metropolitan Community Churches.”

Kittredge Cherry speaks at Hands Around the God-Box, a prayer demonstration to end homophobia in the church. MCC founder Troy Perry is clearly visible in the crowd. Standing next to him is Otis Charles, Episcopal bishop who came out as gay in 1993.


The Washington Post covered Hands Around the God Box in an article titled “Gays Returning to Religion, but Few Arms Open” on June 25, 1994.

Online references:
More Light Update, a publication of Presbyterians for Lesbian and Gay Concerns. March 1994.
http://www.mlp.org/news/update/03.94

Voice of Integrity: the quarterly publication of Integrity, Inc., the lesbian and gay justice ministry of the Episcopal Church. Summer 1994.
http://www.integrityusa.org/voice/1994/Summer1994.htm

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bloggers, let’s celebrate LGBT Pride!

Bloggers have a new way to join together and celebrate LGBT Pride this month through BloggersUnite.org.

Please click this link to participate:

http://www.bloggersunite.org/event/lesbian-gay-bisexual-and-transgender-lgbt-pride-month

I recently “sponsored” LGBT Pride Month at BloggersUnite.org. They encourage people to blog about all kinds of causes -- but there was NOTHING about gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender issues. So I set up the LGBT Pride Month event.

So far four other bloggers have signed up. I hope that you will, too.

Here’s how it works
* I “created” the event LGBT Pride Month
* Bloggers write about it during June
* Bloggers share their posts thru BloggersUnite.org

I've been a member of BloggersUnite.com since last year for World AIDS Day. Their Bloggers Unite for the Gulf has helped me move from grief to action. I'm happy with the ease of using the website and the sincerity of the people involved. As an added bonus, your participation can help your blog reach more people.

I hope to set up more LGBT-related events at Bloggers Unite -- such as LGBT History Month, Harvey Milk Day, International Day Against Homophobia… maybe even some queer Christian holidays honoring our saints. It’s all part of being who God created us to be.

Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Great sermon: Never lose sight of goodness

Cleve Jones at Vancouver Pride 2009 by Pipistrula

Gay rights activist Cleve Jones spoke at one of the most powerful worship services that I ever experienced -- on Gay Freedom Day 1989 at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco.

“There’s a huge struggle ahead of us, but we must never, ever lose sight of the reservoir of goodness that exists out there, and most especially of our own power as individuals to reach people and find that goodness and DRAG it out of them,” Jones said.

I listened to the whole service again recently while duplicating MCC-SF worship tapes for a history project. Exactly 21 years later, it’s still inspiring -- perhaps even more so because the emotions of the AIDS epidemic seem so raw in retrospect. It was especially eerie to hear the prayers spoken by friends who died two decades ago. I am sharing highlights from that service here to celebrate this year’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month.

A packed audience sang enthusiastic praise songs, even though most of the church faced many obstacles. Most of the congregation was HIV-positive, there was no effective treatment for AIDS, and many were dying. More than 500 MCC-SF members died of AIDS from 1982-97. Maybe those obstacles actually gave us a reason to sing our hearts out.

Jones spoke in detail about how he founded the Names Project and built the AIDS Memorial Quilt. He got the idea after being beaten in a gay bashing, diagnosed as HIV positive, and grief-striken by a friend’s death from AIDS. Inspired by a quilt that his grandmother made, he created the first panel in 1987. The quilt was an immediate sensation. It was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize and has been seen by more than 14 million people worldwide.

The service sticks in my memory not only because of the sermon, but because it was probably the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd that I ever experienced in my years at MCC-SF. The sanctuary was packed with hundreds of LGBT people who were exhilarated from a day at the Gay Freedom march and festival.

I was on the clergy staff as program director at the time. I felt honored at the chance to meet Jones in the pastor’s office right before the service began. Pastor Jim Mitulski invited Jones to choose a reading to accompany his sermon. I was surprised by Jones’ Bible literacy as he immediately chose this scripture:

“Some of them have left behind a name and people recount their praiseworthy deeds; but of others there is no memory, for when they ceased, they ceased…Yet these also were godly people whose virtues have not been forgotten.”

The pastor knew right away that the quote came from Sirach 44. I had the privilege of reading this scripture aloud and introducing Jones at the service.

Music is another highlight of the tape. Music director Jack Hoggatt-St. John leads the congregation in rousing praise songs, including “Great Are You God,” “Bless Our God” and “We Are Standing on Holy Ground.” We used to sing these every week. Listening to them again 21 years later, I thought, “No wonder we loved these songs!”

There’s also a powerful version of “We Are the Church Alive,” a hymn that St. John wrote with David Pelletier. There’s nothing like hearing a church full of men with AIDS, back when there was no effective treatment, sing out,

We are the church alive, Our faith has set us free;
No more enslaved by guilt and shame, We live our liberty.

___
This post is part of an occasional series on great sermons from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. Click here for the whole MCC-SF history series.

Bookmark and Share

Sunday, June 20, 2010

LGBT Pride Prayer: We stand inside your church

“Diversity” stained glass window at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. Designed by Ken Scott, 1993

By Malcolm Boyd

Christ, as lesbians and gay men we stand inside your church and know a wholeness that can benefit it. We learned long ago that we must regard the lilies of the field, putting our trust in you.

Pressured to hide our identities and gifts, we have served you with an unyielding, fierce, vulnerable love inside the same church that condemned us.

Carefully taught that we must feel self-loathing, nevertheless we learned integrity and dignity and how to look into your face and laugh with grateful joy, Jesus.

Although we have suffered a long and continuing torture, we assert a stubborn, unshakable faith in your holy justice.

Negativism was drummed into us as thoroughly as if we were sheet metal. We learned what it is to be misunderstood, perceived as alien, even sometimes hated. Yet, because of your grace and love, we witness to the fullness and beauty of all human creation, including ours, in your image.

We are alive and well and stand inside your church. Bless us, Christ, to your service.

Bookmark and Share
___
Malcolm Boyd is a bestselling author and gay elder who has been an Episcopal priest for more than 50 years. His books include “Are You Running with Me, Jesus?” This prayer appears in the interdenominational collection “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations.
___
A rainbow symbolizes acceptance of all people and LGBT pride in “Diversity,” one of 12 stained glass windows designed by Honolulu artist Ken Scott for MCC San Francisco. This is a memorial window for Daven Balcomb, Troy Naranjo, and Sweet Pea.

The 12-window project is called “Heavenly Wind” and is an abstraction representing God's breath flowing through the sanctuary and congregation. Each pair of windows incorporates a color from the rainbow which is a symbol of pride, unity, and celebration in the LGBT Communities. A service of dedication was held in the MCC-SF sanctuary on Nov. 21, 1993. Click here for an online gallery of MCC-SF’s stained glass windows. Special thanks to Lynn Jordan of MCC-SF for background info on the windows.
___
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. A new LGBT pride prayer will be posted here every Sunday in June. Click here for the whole series.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Remembering local LGBTQ history


A new online exhibit of local LGBTQ histories includes an article that I wrote around 1977 about a women-only club in my hometown, Iowa City, Iowa.

My article “Grace and Rubies: A Women’s Haven” appears in the online exhibit “LGBTQ Life in Iowa City, Iowa: 1967-2010.” It is sponsored by Outhistory.org as part of a local LGBTQ history contest to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.

I wrote about the lesbian-friendly club for the student newspaper, the Daily Iowan, when I was a journalism student at the University of Iowa.

It’s uplifting to see my place in the sweep of human history and the LGBT liberation movement. At the time I never imagined that it would be the most historically significant article of my student years.

I was born and raised in Iowa City, and a big part of my heart stays there, even though I moved away after graduation. We used to call Iowa City “the gay capital of the Midwest,” and this glorious exhibit proves it.

Special thanks to the Iowa Women’s Archives for their role in building this online exhibit.

Update on 7/6/10:
Good news! The Iowa City LGBTQ exhibit won honorable mention in a national competition sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies at City University of New York. One of the judges was John D'Emilio. arguably the preeminent historian of LGBT history in America. There were nearly 40 entries nationwide.

Bookmark and Share

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Must-see LGBT icon show opens in Chicago

Saints appear as same-sex couples in brochure for “Passionate Holiness” exhibit

A must-see exhibit with controversial icons for LGBT people and our allies opens tomorrow (June 18) in Chicago.

Passionate Holiness: 22 Marginalized Christian Icons of Distinctive People” runs June 18 to July 16 at La Llorona Art Gallery, 1474 W. Webster, Chicago, IL.

Many of the icons have appeared in the GLBT saints series here at the Jesus in Love Blog. The show offers a rare opportunity to see the original paintings by artists Robert Lentz, Lewis Williams, William Hart McNichols, and David Lee Csicsko.

The images depict Christian saints and religious figures who loved someone of the same gender. A few, such as Joan of Arc, are well known, but their LGBT connection has been buried. Most are influential but overlooked people whose full religious importance is restored through these icons. Some even dare to picture same-sex couples together, including Saint Brigid and Darlughdach of Kildare, Saints Sergius and Bacchus, and Saints Perpetua and Felicity.

“The paintings are meant to remind everyone that regardless of sexual orientation, or any number of personal characteristics, everyone has his or her own place in the history of Christianity,” says the official announcement at the gallery website. The show is timed to coincide with LGBT Pride Month.

Not all church leaders have welcomed the icons and their message of acceptance for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda with some of these icons. They caused such a stink that Lentz temporarily renounced the copyright for 10 controversial images, including several in the new Chicago exhibit. Later he reclaimed authorship and all 10 are now displayed by Trinity Stores as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”

The Chicago show’s 22 icons come from the collection of the Living Circle, a Chicago-based interfaith spirituality center for LGBT people and our friends. It was founded by Father Dennis O’Neill, author of “Passionate Holiness: Marginalized Christian Devotions for Distinctive People.” The book includes many of the icons and is also packed with historical detail about the lives of these queer saints.

I highly recommend this exhibit.. Please go to support this valuable project and to enrich your spirit. The “Passionate Holiness” exhibit begins with a wine reception starting at 6:30 p.m. Fri., June 18. I can’t be there in person, but I will be there in spirit!

Bookmark and Share

Monday, June 14, 2010

Christ-like birds in oil spill: You can help

An oil-covered pelican stretches its wings like Christ crucified. The photo was taken along the Louisiana coast on June 3, 2010. (Associated Press photo/Charlie Riedel. Used by permission.)

Birds covered with oil in the Gulf spill look like Christ figures to me. I have to keep reminding myself that resurrection is possible, even though the huge, toxic leak is on Day 56 with no end in sight.

I’ve posted many queer and female images of Jesus on the cross on this blog. Today I decided it was important to post a photo of a Christ-like bird facing a kind of crucifixion.

I felt grief-stricken and powerless about the oil spill until I got an invitation to join “Bloggers Unite for the Gulf.” They reminded me, “Bloggers can use their medium to affect real change” I decided to join and tell people how to help.

But first -- why write about the BP Gulf oil spill on a blog devoted to LGBT spirituality?

1) Because the abuse of LGBT people is linked to the abuse of nature -- both come from a system of domination and control.

2) Because spirituality is linked to nature -- nature is created by God, nature leads to God, and our God-given task is to take good care of nature.

You can take action by clicking on these headlines to:

Write to President Obama (Sierra Club)

Write to your Senators (Natural Resources Defense Council)

Ask the EPA to stop BP’s government contracts (Change.org)

Tell your friends to join you in taking action.   Here's a button you can use.

Bookmark and Share

OK, you may stop clicking and start praying. I especially like “Life Chant” by Diane Di Prima, which reads in part:

deep silence of great rainforests
may it continue
fine austerity of jungle peoples
may it continue
rolling f--k of great whales in turquoise ocean
may it continue
clumsy splash of pelican in smooth bays
may it continue

Click here for the whole chant

In Luke 12:6, Jesus said, “What is the price of five sparrows--two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one of them.” Watching so many birds suffer and die in this human-made disaster must be a great sorrow to God.

Finally, please leave a comment of support for me in my personal faith journey during this oil spill. I keep having nightmares that I am a bird covered with oil. I’m finding it hard to get through each day knowing that the oil is still gushing, wildlife is still dying, and that I am still a member of the human species that is responsible for the disaster.

Psalm 137 plays through my mind: “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.” Zion is the promised land. In this case it is the lost past and longed-for future time when the Gulf waters were clean and full of life.

I’m not sure how many of my blog readers share my shock/despair/outrage/horror over the oil spill. I would greatly appreciate your comments of support. Even a few words will mean a lot.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

LGBT Pride Prayer: O wildly inclusive God


“Peace” stained glass window at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. Designed by Ken Scott, 1993

O wildly inclusive God, who loves all of the beautiful rainbow of human sexual orientation, remind us that we have a very practical Trinity--one who gives life, one who redeems life, one who stays with us forever. Hear our groans, Holy Spirit, particularly to make a home in all churches that call themselves the body of Christ: for bisexuals, gay man, heterosexuals, lesbian women, and transgendered persons. At times we are overwhelmed and hurt by this angry exclusion. At these times let us realize how much more hurt you are. (Pause for silent prayer.) Come,Holy Spirit, come! Free your people Alleluia! Amen.
___
This prayer appears in “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies, and Celebrations. It comes from “A Service of Worship and Empowerment,” a collaborative liturgy that was celebrated in more than 50 communities across the Presbyterian Church (USA) in 1993 in solidarity with the commissioning as evangelist of lesbian minister Rev. Jane Spahr by Downtown United Presbyterian Church in Rochester, NY.
___
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. A new LGBT pride prayer will be posted here every Sunday in June. Click here for the whole series.
___
About the image: A descending dove symbolizes the Holy Spirit in “Peace,” one of 12 stained glass windows designed by Honolulu artist Ken Scott for MCC San Francisco. It was commissioned by Kevin Larrabee.

The 12-window project is called “Heavenly Wind” and is an abstraction representing God's breath flowing through the sanctuary and congregation. Each pair of windows incorporates a color from the rainbow which is a symbol of pride, unity, and celebration in the LGBT Communities. A service of dedication was held in the MCC-SF sanctuary on Nov. 21, 1993. Click here for an online gallery of MCC-SF’s stained glass windows. Special thanks to Lynn Jordan of MCC-SF for background info on the windows.

Bookmark and Share

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What’s your favorite LGBT hymn?

“Joy” stained glass window at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco. Designed by Ken Scott, 1993

A festival of sacred music and texts by gays and lesbians held in 2010 for LGBT Pride Month  inspired me to make a list of my own favorites in the genre of queer hymns:

“Singing for Our Lives” by Holly Near, 1979
It seemed like we sang this song at every single LGBT Christian worship service held in the 1980s. It was our anthem, like “We Shall Overcome” was the anthem of the civil rights movement. But now one has to search hard on the Internet to find the lyrics that inspired a generation of LGBT-rights activists:

We are a gentle, angry people
And we are singing, singing for our lives.

The full text is online at HollyNear.com

Hear Holly sing it on YouTube:




”For Those Tears I Died (Come to the Water)” by Marsha Stevens, 1969.
Marsha wrote this famous contemporary Christian song when she was 16, long before she came out as a lesbian. It became one of the best known Christian folk songs of the decade, appearing in almost every evangelical songbook in the country. Her lyrics have universal appeal, but they come from lesbian teen angst:
I felt every teardrop
When in darkness you cried.
And I strove to remind you,
For those tears I died.
Hear Marsha sing it on YouTube in 1971 with her group Children of the Day





“We are the Church Alive” by David Pelletier and Jack Hoggatt-St. John, 1980.
This powerful hymn was a congregational favorite when I was on the clergy staff of Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco (MCC-SF) in the 1980s. I’ll never forget hearing a church full of men with AIDS, back when there was no effective treatment, sing out,

We are the church alive,
Our faith has set us free;
No more enslaved by guilt and shame,
We live our liberty.

The full text is online at the Conjubilant with Song Blog.


“I'm Not Afraid Anymore” by Michael Mank, 1972.
This early MCC hymn made a big impression on me as a young lesbian fresh out of the closet. I was still recovering from the fears that had made me hide my sexual orientation. I got stronger every time I joined the congregation in singing:
One time my soul was grieved, Grace was denied to me,
But then Christ’s message of love I heard, now I have been set free.
I’m not afraid anymore!
I’m not afraid anymore!
God’s message is for all the world,
Salvation is for everyone,
What’s bound on earth is bound in heav’n.
Praise to God! I’m not afraid anymore!

The full text appears in my book “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies and Celebrations.”


“Our God is Like an Eagle (When Israel camped in Sinai)” (Music: WEBB) Words by Lawrence Bernier, 1974.


Women and men alike love this early MCC hymn that breaks gender stereotypes about God. Many people can still recall the impact they felt when they first heard the liberating words:

Our God is not a woman;
our God is not a man.
Our God is both and neither;
our God is I WHO AM.
Click here for all the lyrics.

“Once We Were Not A People” (traditional English tune KING'S LYNN) Words by J. Thomas Sopko, 1987.

Unlike most of the songs I’ve listed, this hymn actually dares to use the words “gay and lesbian.” Of course, nowadays we’d have to add “bisexual and transgender” or go with “LGBT.” These inspiring lyrics came true when I stood with hundreds during worship and sang,
Once we were not a people,
God’s people now are we.
A gay and lesbian people,
A new community…
A gentle, loving people
With justice as our aim;
A gay and lesbian people
United in Christ’s name.

Postscript: While researching this post, I discovered that the patriotic hymn “America the Beautiful” was written by a lesbian! Her name is Katherine Lee Bates. I wish I had known about her when I was forced to sing her song every day while growing up in the Iowa public schools!

So what’s YOUR favorite GLBT hymn? Please leave a comment.

Bookmark and Share

___
About the image: Musical notes represent the uplifting spirit of music in “Joy,” one of 12 stained glass windows designed by Honolulu artist Ken Scott for MCC San Francisco. It was donated by Laura Kinley in honor of Alison Salter, who said “Just go for the music!” and Bob Crocker who said, “Let’s stand up and sing like we know what we’re doing!”

The 12-window project is called “Heavenly Wind” and is an abstraction representing God's breath flowing through the sanctuary and congregation. Click here for an online gallery of MCC-SF’s stained glass windows. Special thanks to Lynn Jordan of MCC-SF for background info on the windows.

___
A Heart to Praise Our God,” a festival of sacred music and texts by gays and lesbians, was held June 13, 2010 in Berkeley, California.  It was sponsored by the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion, Epworth United Methodist Church, New Spirit Community Church, and the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Poet imagines “if Jesus were gay”

Emanuel Xavier by Bobby Miller, and his new book “If Jesus Were Gay”

Both sacred and profane, “If Jesus Were Gay and Other Poems” by Emanuel Xavier is a new book that expresses Christ in a refreshingly queer way.

Xavier makes sweet poetry out of his experiences as a gay Latino whose painful past includes sexual abuse at age 3 and rejection by his Catholic mother for being gay at age 16, leading to homelessness, drug dealing, prostitution -- and at last to poetry. His background is Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian, and his poems are sprinkled with Spanish.

The title poem “If Jesus were Gay” (reprinted in full below by permission) questions whether people would still love and worship Jesus if he was gay. But Xavier also uses that title for the whole first section of the book, more than 60 poems comprising three quarters of the volume. Many of them do not specifically mention Jesus, although their soulful and spiritual quality is palpable.

While reading “If Jesus Were Gay and Other Poems,” I found myself caught up in the tragic sense of a life being wasted, a kind of crucifixion. If Jesus were gay in America today, would he do more than just hang out with prostitutes as he did in ancient Israel? Would anti-gay abuse actually turn him into a street hustler, as Xavier openly and graphically describes himself in these poems? Jesus is without sin, but the poet-prostitute who wrote this book seems “more sinned against than sinning,” as Shakespeare put it.

At least for this reader, the unspoken question that enlightened every poem in the book was, “Could this be Jesus speaking?” For example, if Jesus was gay in America now, would he say these lines from “FYI:”

I don’t really care to know how many others you have been with
or how many times you have fallen in love.
I just need to know that you will hold my hand
as we are both being stoned for our sins without regret.

Religious insights sparkle from certain poems, such as the black female God in “Lifting the Veil” and the chilling advice in “The Fourth King.” The poet warns the baby Jesus, “If any of the other magi touches you inappropriately, cry until they are deafened by their sins.”

Just the existence of a book like this, with a traditional Jesus on the cover and graphic gay sex inside, is a breakthrough in integrating sexuality and spirituality. And yet I sometimes got the sense that Xavier can’t really believe that Jesus could be gay or even sexual. As the imaginary fourth king, he brings various gifts to the baby Jesus -- including condoms. But he stops himself, saying,

Never mind… I’ll just keep these
Since they will be useless to a poor carpenter
Who believes in abstinence.

After the gay Jesus section comes a set of 18 “other poems” with a stronger Latino flavor. They are featured on the album “Legendary: The Spoken Word Poetry of Emanuel Xavier.”

I wouldn’t recommend this book for everyone because some poems do describe gay sex in x-rated detail. As Xavier laments in one poem, “We still live in an America where writing about prostitution is considered trashy and profane.” On the other hand, the graphic gay sex is a plus for the right readers.

I perceived the face of Christ in his poems, even the “trashy” ones. The book’s implication is that the rejected gay Jesus might turn to sex, drugs and prostitution to survive in America today. And our Savior would still embody love and beauty amid the muck.

In interviews, he credits poetry with saving his life. “Fortunately, I walked away unscathed,” he told CNN. “I thought that God had given me a second chance, and I felt like I had to do something with that.” Since 1997, he has written several books and his poems have been widely published. He lives in New York City and curates a spoken word poetry series at El Museo del Barrio.

Bookmark and Share



If Jesus Were Gay
By Emanuel Xavier

If Jesus were gay,
would you tattoo him to your body?
hang him from your chest?
pray to him and worship the Son of Man?
Would you still praise him
after dying for your sins?

If it was revealed Jesus kissed another man,
but not on the cheek,
would you still beg him for forgiveness?
ask him for miracles?
hope your loved ones get to meet him
in heaven?

If Jesus were gay,
and still loved by God and Mary
because he was their child after all
hailed by all angels and feared by demons,
would you still long to be healed by him?
take him into your home and comfort him?
heal his wounds and break bread with him?

Would wars be waged over religion?
Would world leaders invoke his name
for votes?
Would churches everywhere rejoice
and celebrate his life?
Would rappers still thank him
in their acceptance speeches?

If the crown of thorns
were placed on his head
to mock him as the “Queen of the Jews”
If he was whipped
because fags are considered
sadomasochistic sodomites,
If he was crucified
for the brotherhood of man
would you still repent?

Would you pray to him
when you were dying?
If he didn’t ask for you to be just like him,
If he only wanted you to love yourself,
If he asked that you not judge others,
Would you still wait for him to come back and save your soul?

Would you deny him?
Would you believe in peace?
Would there still be hate?
Would there still be hell?

Would there be laws
based on the meaning of true love?
What would Jesus do?
What would you do?


Sunday, June 06, 2010

LGBT Pride Prayer: We have always been, and we will always be


“House of Prayer for All People”
Stained glass window at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco.
Created by Little/Raidl Design Studios

Gathering Words
by Rev. Lea Brown

All: In every time, in every place, among every people on Earth, we have always been, and we will always be.

One: We are mariposa and marimacha in Spanish, Finnochio in Italian, Mahu in Tahitian, Vom Anderen Ufer in German, Nadle in Navajo, Winkte in Sioux, Agokwa in Chippewa, and the deity Ardhanaarishvara in Hindi.

All: In every time, in every place, among every people on Earth, we have always been, and we will always be.

One: We are the queers and the fairies, the bulldykes and bulldaggers, all names of derision we have reclaimed by our power. We are the priests and priestesses, the shamans and witches, the sorcerers of Spirit who bridge many worlds.

All: In every time, in every place, among every people on Earth, we have always been, and we will always be.

One: We are the word-bearers and word-sculptors, creators of beauty and bearers of justice. We are Sappho and Apollo, Queen Christina and Joan of Arc. We are Michelangelo and Audre Lorde, David and Jonathan, Leslie Feinberg and Oscar Wilde. We are Walt Whitman and Bayard Rustin, Judy Grahn and Adrienne Rich, we are each and every person at MCC-SF.

All: In every time, in every place, among every people on Earth, we have always been, and we will always be.

One: We are the people of purple, drag queens and drag kings, transfolks and genderqueers, amazons and eunuchs. We are Femmes who wear leather and proud faggots who wear lace, we are the friends of Dorothy, and the flaming friends of God.

All: In every time, in every place, among every people on Earth, we have always been, and we will always be.

Bookmark and Share
___
Rev. Lea Brown is pastor of Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, a home for queer spirituality. In May 2010 she received her Doctor of Ministry degree from the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA.
___

The “House of Prayer for All People” window pictured above was created by Roy E. Little and Jim Raidl of Little/Raidl Design Studios in Cazadero, CA.

“The skylight consists of 25 glass panes incorporating symbols from world religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, Latin and Native American spiritual traditions, and African tribal religions, along with LGBT spirituality,” noted Michael Haigler, who coordinated the design and installation of all the stained windows in the church.

The center section symbolizes MCC's Christian tradition in different textures of clear glass with symbols of the Coptic Cross, Taoism, Islam and Judaism. The four corners are inspired by Tibetan designs and symbols of woman and man, updated with the GLBT symbols of a pink triangle and a Lambda.

The window is located at the front of the church at 150 Eureka St. in San Francisco. Click here for an online gallery of MCC-SF’s stained glass windows. Special thanks to Lynn Jordan of MCC-SF for background info on the windows.
___
June is Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month. A new LGBT pride prayer will be posted here every Sunday in June. Click here for the whole series.

Bookmark and Share