Friday, January 28, 2011

In memory of Ugandan LGBT rights activist David Kato

In memory of
David Kato
Ugandan LGBT rights activist
Murdered Jan. 26, 2011

white candle Pictures, Images and Photos

David Kato
I light a memorial candle for David Kato Kisule, a Ugandan LGBT rights activist who was brutally beaten to death on January 26. He is considered a father of Uganda's gay rights movement. Shortly before his murder David won a lawsuit against a magazine for identifying him as gay and calling for his execution.

American evangelicals who promoted the death penalty law for homosexuals in Uganda helped create the hostile atmosphere in which this hate crime occurred.

I offer prayers for David Kato, his family and friends, and all who share his passion for justice. May we honor his legacy by continuing to work for justice and equality for all. May David Kato find peace with all the other LGBT martyrs and saints who have gone before him.

Update on 2/7/11: I added a powerful video about David Kato from "The Rachel Maddow Show." Be sure to watch it to see scenes from David’s funeral and hear David’s own voice in an NPR interview about homosexuality in Uganda. At the funeral Ugandan clergy speak both for and against LGBT rights. Very moving!

More info is available at the following links:


Wild Reed Blog

Walking with Integrity Blog: Martyrs of Uganda by Caroline Hall, president of Integrity USA

Counterlight's Peculiars Blog

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Cool workshop: Queer Christ and the Queen

Her Majesty looks down on a nude black Jesus as Axel Schwaigert teaches

Queen Elizabeth seemed to look down in disapproval when images of Jesus as black, gay or female were shown at a European church conference recently.

The alternative Christ figures were shown by Axel Schwaigert in his workshop “Art That Dares: Images of the Holy” at the European Conference of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) held in Manchester, England in November.

Schwaigert, pastor of MCC Stuttgart, Germany, says he was so busy presenting the Europakonferenz workshop that he didn’t notice the odd contrast between Her Majesty and the controversial art.

An especially funny photo (above) shows a prim and proper queen looking down her nose at a triumphant black Jesus in all his naked glory. The painting is “Triumph of the Light” by Becki Jayne Harrelson.

Much of the art in the workshop has offended conservative Christians, but Schwaigert said that it inspired the people at his workshop, adding “Somebody immediately drew a transgendered female to male christ!”

Schwaigert went on to report, “I already suspected that people would not be shocked. We Europeans deal differently with nudity than the average American. But it was so interesting to see how people started to think... I showed one of the female christs, very beautiful and naked on the cross and somebody asked: and where am I? where is the middle aged women, slightly out of shape, with hanging [breasts]...? And that is exactly the kind of thinking we need: Where am I in all of that...”

Schwaigert hopes to lead the workshop again for more conservative audiences. His workshop included many images from my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.”

Axel Schwaigert discusses the female “Christ Sophia” icon by Robert Lentz

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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Christ’s torment and queer suffering: More on Wojnarowicz censorship

Christ with Ants from the David Wojnarowicz video
“A Fire in My Belly”
Insightful essays continue to be written about the Smithsonian’s censorship of gay artist David Wojnarowicz’ video “Fire in the Belly” because of its controversial ant-covered crucifix.

I have come to believe that conservative Christians condemned the Wojnarowicz video precisely because it equates Christ’s torment with queer / LGBT suffering. They do NOT want Christ to be identified with lesbian, gay, bi and trans people at all.

Here are highlights from some of the best new essays on the controversy and its LGBT Christian meanings. Click the titles to see the whole essay:

X-Ray of Civilization: David Wojnarowicz and the Politics of Representation
“What seems to be truly unconscionable for critics of Wojnarowicz’s art is its forceful imputation of the analogy between the Biblical torment of Christ and the contemporary suffering of queer bodies and subjects.”
by Leon Hilton of bullybloggers: the queer bully pulpit

Sacrilege Or Censorship? Christians Enraged by Art with Gay, Religious Images by Stuart Wilber of
“This was not the first time that an exhibition that included LGBT or religious imagery had been censored and undoubtedly not the last.”

Art, Censorship, and the Scandal of the Cross
“God doesn’t need Christians to act as intellectual property watchdogs.”
by Patrick S Cheng, gay Asian American theologian and author of Radical Love: An Introduction to Queer Theology

Wojnarowicz’s Ant-Covered Jesus: Blasphemy or Religious Art?
“That Christ on the cross is actually dead, and the body so dead that ants might eat it, is both the most orthodox Christian statement, and the most scandalous.”
by S. Brent Plate, religion professor and author of Blasphemy: Art that Offends

For more info, see our previous posts: “Smithsonian censors gay artist when conservatives attack”.

Christ’s torment and queer suffering: More on Wojnarowicz censorship (Jesus in Love)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

St. Aelred: Gay saint of friendship

St. Aelred of Rievaulx
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1992
Courtesy of (800.699.4482)
Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL

Saint Aelred (1109-1167) is considered one of the most lovable saints, the patron saint of friendship and also, some say, gay. His feast day is Jan. 12.

Aelred was the abbott of the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in England. His treatise “On Spiritual Friendship” is still one of the best theological statements on the connection between human and spiritual love. “God is friendship… He who abides in friendship abides in God, and God in him,” he wrote, paraphrasing 1 John 4:16.

Aelred’s own deep friendships with men are described in “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” by Yale history professor John Boswell. “There can be little question that Aelred was gay and that his erotic attraction to men was a dominant force in his life,” Boswell wrote.

Boswell’s account inspired the members of the LGBT Episcopal group Integrity to name Aelred as their patron saint. Click here for the full story on how they won recognition for their gay saint.

Aelred certainly advocated chastity, but his passions are clear in his writing. He describes friendship with eloquence in this often-quoted passage:

“It is no small consolation in this life to have someone who can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow... with whose spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties. A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart; . . . where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you, where you so join yourself and cleave to him that soul mingles with soul and two become one.”

The icon of Saint Aelred was painted by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It includes a banner with Aelred’s words, “Friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ.”
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints 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.

Icons of St. Aelred and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Nursing Madonna honors body, spirit and women

Nursing Madonna: Our Lady of Travels to Life with Reality
Photo by Trudie Barreras

An unusual nursing Madonna statue emphasizes the body-to-body connection between Mary and the baby Jesus.

The nursing Madonna figurine illustrates the flight into Egypt that is remembered this time of year. According to the gospel of Matthew, the Holy Family traveled from Bethlehem to Egypt after an angel warned them that King Herod would try to kill the infant Jesus.

It’s important to honor the breastfeeding Madonna because Christianity has often denied women’s experiences and the human body itself. We return to wholeness and balance by valuing the natural act of nursing as holy and good.

Some people were shocked by the bare breasts of the Madonna when Atlanta writer Trudie Barreras put the statue in a meditation chapel at her church. The pastor regretfully asked her to take it home. For the full story about the statue, see our previous post “Nursing Madonna shocks and inspires.”

In her monologue “Miriam’s Journey,” Barreras does a wonderful job of describing the physical sensations and spiritual musings of Mary as she nursed on donkey back. Here is an excerpt:

We soon became aware
Our little Yeshua needed safety greater than was offered
By our small-town obscurity.

So my brave Joseph took us forth on a retracing of the journey
Followed by our ancestor Joseph as he was led in slavery to Egypt.

That was when reality came crashing in!
I’d thought the way was hard
When first we went to Bethlehem!
Yet now I held the babe within my arms
For every dusty, weary, jolting league.
Mile after mile, day after day,
Nothing to be seen but rocks and thorn-trees
And endless burning desert sands.
The patient donkey plodded on
While Joseph walked the path ahead,
Probing crevices for serpents, scanning horizons for raiders.

I was afraid, yet somehow I saw with doubled vision
As I gazed into that infant face,
For God was here, and we had Abba’s promise
That if we did our part, and followed faithfully,
And did not turn aside from this hard path,
The angels would be there to guide us.
And oh, the blessing of those warm lips upon my breast,
Drawing nourishment and love from my deepest being!
I knew then what I have clung to ever since –
Somehow that vast Omniscient Spirit of the Cosmos,
All Powerful, Eternal, All Supreme,
Has chosen us, weak mortals that we are
To bear Love’s fragile gifts to one another!
We matter! What a miracle, we matter!
What an awesome challenge,
Knowing that if we don’t bear our burdens in obedience
Incredible blessings for humanity are lost.
It was these thoughts that kept me going
Long after weary arms would have let go!

At last that first hard journey ended, but of course
Really our pilgrimage had just begun.

For another excerpt from “Miriam’s Journey,” see our previous post “Eros & Christ: Mary’s Ecstasy in Drama.”

Related link:
Our Lady of Milk: 20 Images of Mother Mary Nursing (St. Peter’s List)

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Vatican’s gayest event? Acrobats strip for Pope

It looked like Gay Day at the Vatican when male acrobats stripped and performed topless for Pope Benedict XVI recently.

The startling true-life event was captured on video. Watch with queer eyes and wonder.

Here is the official description from Russia Today, a Moscow-based news channel that posted the video on YouTube in December: “A usually staid weekly Papal audience was spiced up this week with an acrobatic performance by a troupe of topless men. The four performers dressed in white suits walked across the stage towards the Papal throne and surprised the Pope by whipping off their shirts before beginning an acrobatic performance on Tuesday. The Pope looked on as the men hoisted each other into the air, one on top of the other, three high.”

What a mix of sexuality and spirituality! The nuns seem to be enjoying the spectacle too.

The acrobats, known as Fratelli Pellegrini (Pellegrini Brothers in Italian), have performed around the world.

P.S. on 1/11/11
News reports this week confirm that the acrobats are LGBT-friendly. Thanks to the Queering the Church Blog for reporting that “the performers are definitely gay aligned, if not specifically gay men themselves. It seems that they formed part of the gay circus, which performed as part of the Euro gay games in Barcelona, 2008.”

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Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Epiphany: 3 kings or 3 queens?

“Epiphany” by Janet McKenzie, copyright 2003.
Collection of Barbara Marian, Harvard, IL

Reimagining the three kings as queer or female gives fresh meaning to Epiphany, a holiday celebrating the visit of the Magi to the infant Jesus. It is observed on Jan. 6.

The word “epiphany” also refers to a sudden, intuitive perception. By looking at the Bible and church history from a LGBT viewpoint, people can experience new insights -- their own personal “epiphanies” of understanding. New interpretations of the wise ones known as the Magi include:
  • Queer Magi. LGBT church leaders suggest that the Magi were eunuchs -- people who today would be called gay, queer or transgender.
  • Female Magi appear in a controversial painting by Janet McKenzie. Epiphany is also known as Women’s Christmas.
  • Queer gifts are presented to the Christ child in an icon by William Hart McNichols.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Queer Epiphany: Three kings or three queens?

Queer Magi
Although they are often called the “three kings,” the Magi stand in contrast to worldly King Herod who sought world domination by massacring the “holy innocents” who might grow up to take his throne. The wise Magi who followed the star to find the newborn Jesus were wizards who provide a higher wisdom and astrologists with expertise in cosmic balance.

The Magi played the shamanic role often filled by eunuchs, an ancient term for LGBT people, says Nancy Wilson in her book Outing the Bible: Queer Folks, God, Jesus, and the Christian Scriptures.” She writes:

“They were Zoroastrian priests, astrologers, magicians, ancient shamans from the courts of ancient Persia. They were the equivalent of Merlin of Britain. They were sorcerers, high-ranking officials, but not kings—definitely not kings. But quite possibly, they were queens. We’ve always pictured them with elaborate, exotic, unusual clothing—quite festive, highly decorated and accessorized! …Also, the wise eunuchs, shamans, holy men were the only ones who had the forethought to go shopping before they visited the baby Jesus!

They also have shamanistic dreams. They deceive evil King Herod and actually play the precise role that many other prominent eunuchs play in the Bible: they rescue the prophet, this time the Messiah of God, and foil the evil royal plot against God’s anointed.”

The concept of the queer Magi is amplified by Virginia Ramey Mollenkott, author of Omnigender. “My guess is that they were people who today would be termed transwomen,” she writes in the brochure “Gender Identity and Our Faith Communities.”

Eunuchs and cross-dressers were surprisingly common in the Mediterranean world of the Bible and later. By happy coincidence, a cross-dressing saint happens to have a feast day on Jan. 5, the day before Epiphany. Apollinaria of Egypt, put on men’s clothing and presented herself as a eunuch named Dorotheos in order to live as a monk.

Three stylish Magi wear fabulous outfits on a 1972 German Christmas stamp (Wikimedia Commons)

Female Magi
Female Magi have been envisioned by artists in a gender-bending move that sometimes causes controversy. Epiphany itself is celebrated as “Women’s Christmas” (Nollaig na mBan) in Ireland, where men assume the household duties for the day so women can celebrate together at the end of the holiday season.

A multi-racial trio of female Magi visits the baby Jesus and his mother in “Epiphany” by Vermont artist Janet McKenzie. Instead of the traditional three kings or three wise men, the artist re-interprets the Magi as wise women from around the world.

Jan Richardson, an artist and Methodist minister in Florida, also portrays the Magi as women of different races in “Wise Women Also Came,” an image that appears on the cover of her book “Sacred Journeys: A Woman's Book of Daily Prayer.”

The unconventional portrayal of the Magi makes good theological sense. Barbara Marian, who commissioned the McKenzie painting, explains: “The story of the Magi in the Gospel of Matthew allowed the Jewish followers of Jesus to imagine the unthinkable -- God’s grace extending to the outsiders, the gentiles. Who are the outsiders in our world? Can we imagine the favor of God extending beyond the human boundaries of race, class, nationality, ethnicity, religious devotion, and gender?”

Marian commissioned “Epiphany” for the Nativity Project, which revisits and revitalizes the Gospel with new images of women. “It’s easy to get so caught up in regal images of Matthew’s night visitors that we miss the core message -- Christ for all people,” Marian says.

Conservative Christians protested against the inclusive “Epiphany” in 2007 when it appeared on the Christmas cards of the Most Reverend Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church.

The Standing Committee of the Episcopal Diocese of Ft. Worth, Texas, sent a notice to clergy and 2007 convention delegates condemning Jefferts Schori for her choice of art. “Happy Multicultural Feminist Celebration Day,” sneered the headline of a traditional Anglican blog where nearly 100 comments were posted condemning the image as “stupid,” “faux-nouveau hipster theology” and worse. For more info, see my previous post Conservatives blast inclusive Christmas card.

McKenzie denies the accusations that she is trying to be divisive and rewrite scripture. “Of course this is as far from my thinking as possible,” she says. “I feel called to create sacred and secular art that includes and celebrates those systematically ignored, relegated and minimized, and for the most part that is women and people of color.”

The artist continues to be amazed that her loving images provoke so much anger. “Even this gentle image of a loving Holy Mother and Child, with no agenda except to include and honor us as the nurturing feminine beings we are, surrounded in community with other women, is still misunderstood -- even at this late date,” she says.

McKenzie has weathered even bigger storms before. Her androgynous African American “Jesus of the People” painting caused international controversy when Sister Wendy of PBS chose it to represent Christ in the new millennium.

Critics focus on the content of McKenzie’s art, but her outstanding artistic style is one reason that her work attracts attention. The Vermont artist uses drawing and line with oils to build images that glow. Her painting technique and pastel colors are reminiscent of American Impressionist Mary Cassatt, who is famous for painting intimate scenes of mothers and their children.

The controversy over McKenzie’s work is a reminder of the power of art, and the continuing need for progressive spiritual images. Opposition seems to fuel her passion to paint. “We all need to find ourselves included within the sacred journey of life, and afterlife,” McKenzie says. “I have been surprised to find archaic and out-dated hate still in place, still alive and well and fueled by fear, in response to some of my art. I have made the decision to respond to such hate not in the way it comes to me, but by creating ever more inclusive art that confronts prejudice and hate. The only path open to any of us is the one of love.”

McKenzie’s art is featured in my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” and her book “Holiness and the Feminine Spirit.”

(Special thanks to Barbara Marian for permission to quote from her article “Recasting the Magi.”)

“The Epiphany: Wisemen Bring Gifts to the Child”

Queer gifts

Father William Hart McNichols paints another kind of queer Epiphany. McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Roman Catholic priest whose gay-positive icons have caused controversy. He worked at an AIDS hospice in New York City from 1983-90, when many in the gay community were dying of the disease. During that period he painted “The Epiphany: Wisemen Bring Gifts to the Child.”

St. Francis and St. Aloysius are the wise men visiting the baby Jesus in this icon.  Instead of the usual gold, frankincense and myrrh, the “gifts” they bring to the Christ child are people with AIDS, perhaps gay men. The baby Jesus reaches eagerly to receive these gifts. The child and his mother appear in a form popular in Mexico and other Latino cultures as Our Lady of Guadalupe and El Santo Niño de Atocha. The halo around them echoes the colors of the rainbow flag of the LGBT community. McNichols offers a prayer with this icon:

Dearest Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe,
Mother of the poor and the oppressed,
we watch full of reverence
and joy as St. Francis and
St. Aloysius bring the gifts of
these two people afflicted with AIDS
to the Holy Child in your arms,
who is so eager to receive them.
Teach us to find and embrace
your Son Jesus in all peoples,
but most especially those who
are in greatest need and
who suffer most.

In closing, the question arises: What gifts are queer people bringing today to Christ, the church and the world?
Related links:

LGBTQ Nativity 4: Queer Magi visit Mary, Josephine and Jesus

Nursing Madonna honors body, spirit and women

“Wise Women Also Came” and Women’s Christmas by Jan Richardson


This post is part of the LGBT Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to LGBT and queer people of faith and our allies.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts