Friday, September 30, 2011

Rumi: Poet and Sufi mystic inspired by same-sex love

Whirling Dervishes by Diaz (Wikimedia Commons)

Rumi and Shams together in a detail from “Dervish Whirl” by Shahriar Shahriari (

Rumi is a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic whose love for another man inspired some of the world’s best poems and led to the creation of a new religious order, the whirling dervishes. His birthday is today (Sept. 30).

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Rumi: Poet and Sufi mystic inspired by same-sex love

With sensuous beauty and deep spiritual insight, Rumi writes about the sacred presence in ordinary experiences. His poetry is widely admired around the world and he is one of the most popular poets in America. One of his often-quoted poems begins:

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,
Like this.*

The homoeroticism of Rumi is hidden in plain sight. It is well known that his poems were inspired by his love for another man, but the queer implications are seldom discussed. There is no proof that Rumi and his beloved Shams of Tabriz had a sexual relationship, but the intensity of their same-sex love is undeniable.

“Rumi of Persia”
by Robert Lentz
Rumi was born Sept. 30, 1207 in Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian Empire. His father, a Muslim scholar and mystic, moved the family to Roman Anatolia (present-day Turkey) to escape Mongol invaders when Rumi was a child. Rumi lived most of his life in this region and used it as the basis of his chosen name, which means “Roman.” His full name is Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi.

His father died when Rumi was 25 and he inherited a position as teacher at a madrassa (Islamic school). He continued studying Shariah (Islamic law), eventually issuing his own fatwas (legal opinions) and giving sermons in the local mosques. Rumi also practiced the basics of Sufi mysticism in a community of dervishes, who are Muslim ascetics similar to mendicant friars in Christianity.

On Nov. 15, 1244 Rumi met the man who would change his life: a wandering dervish named Shams of Tabriz (Shams-e-Tabrizi or Shams al-Din Muhammad). He came from the city of Tabriz in present-day Iranian Azerbaijan. It is said that Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East asking Allah to help him find a friend who could “endure” his companionship. A voice in a vision sent him to the place where Rumi lived.

Meeting of Rumi and Shams
16th-17th century folio
(Wikimedia Commons)
Rumi, a respected scholar in his thirties, was riding a donkey home from work when an elderly stranger in ragged clothes approached. It was Shams. He grasped the reins and started a theological debate. Some say that Rumi was so overwhelmed that he fainted and fell off the donkey.

Rumi and Shams soon became inseparable. They spent months together, lost in a kind of ecstatic mystical communion known as “sobhet” -- conversing and gazing at each other until a deeper conversation occurred without words. They forgot about human needs and ignored Rumi’s students, who became jealous. When conflict arose in the community, Shams disappeared as unexpectedly as he had arrived.

Rumi’s loneliness at their separation led him to begin the activities for which he is still remembered. He poured out his soul in poetry and mystical whirling dances of the spirit.

Eventually Rumi found out that Shams had gone to Damascus. He wrote letters begging Shams to return. Legends tell of a dramatic reunion. The two sages fell at each other’s feet. In the past they were like a disciple and teacher, but now they loved each other as equals. One account says, “No one knew who was lover and who the beloved.” Both men were married to women, but they resumed their intense relationship with each other, merged in mystic communion. Jealousies arose again and some men began plotting to get rid of Shams.

One winter night, when he was with Rumi, Shams answered a knock at the back door. He disappeared and was never seen again. Many believe that he was murdered.

Rumi grieved deeply. He searched in vain for his friend and lost himself in whirling dances of mourning. One of his poems hints at the his emotions:

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

Rumi danced, mourned and wrote poems until the pressure forged a new consciousness. “The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” he once wrote. His soul fused with his beloved. They became One: Rumi, Shams and God. He wrote:

Why should I seek? I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.

After this breakthrough, waves of profound poetry flowed out of Rumi. He attributed more and more of his writings to Shams. His literary classic is a vast collection of poems called “The Works of Shams of Tabriz.” The Turkish government refused to help with translation of the last volume, which was finally published in 2006 as The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication. It was forbidden both because of its homoerotic content and because it promotes the “blasphemy” that one must go beyond religion in order to experience God.

Rumi went on to live and love again, dedicating poems to other beloved men. His second great love was the goldsmith Saladin Zarkub. After the goldsmith’s death, Rumi’s scribe Husan Chelebi became Rumi’s beloved companion for the rest of his life. Rumi died at age 66 after an illness on Dec. 17, 1273. Soon his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, known as the whirling dervishes because of the dances they do in devotion to God.

Related links:
Rumi and Shams: A Love of Another Kind (Wild Reed)

Ramesh Bjonnes on Rumi and Shams as Gay Lovers (Wild Reed)

Another Male's Love Inspired Persia's Mystic Muse (

Love Poems of Rumi at

Rumi quotes at

5 Queer Couples in Islamic History (

*“Like This” is quoted from The Essential Rumi, which has translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. For the whole poem, visit

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

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Good (Gay?) King Wenceslas

St. Wenceslaus and Podiven
By Lewis Williams, SFO. ©

There’s good reason to believe that Good King Wenceslas was gay. Yes, the king in the Christmas carol.  His feast day is today (Sept. 28).

Saint Wenceslaus I (907–935) was duke of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). The carol is based on a legend about Wenceslaus and his loyal page Podiven. According to the story, it was a bitterly cold night when they went out to give alms to the poor on the Feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26. Podiven could not walk any farther on his bare, frozen feet, so Wenceslas urged him to follow in his footsteps. His footprints in the snow stayed miraculously warm, allowing the pair to continue safely together.

Many details in the Christmas carol are pious fiction, but the king and his page are both grounded in historical truth. The following is based partly on research from Dennis O’Neill, author of “Passionate Holiness.”

The earliest accounts of Wenceslaus’ life mention his page -- but not the woman who supposedly gave birth to his son in more recent versions. An account written in the late 10th or early 11th century describes the young man who was a “worthy page” and “chamber valet” to Wenceslaus.

It says that Wenceslaus used to wake his page in the middle of the night to join him in doing charitable works. The page is described as “a youth from among his valets who, of all his servants, was the most trustworthy in secret matters. The saint himself truly loved him during his lifetime.”

Wenceslaus was murdered in a coup by his brother at the door of a church on Sept. 28 in the year 935. The records say that Podiven “was often overcome by grief, sorrowing for days on end.” The brother also had Podiven killed to stop him from spreading stories of the saintly Wenceslaus. Both Wenceslaus and his beloved Podiven are buried at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.

The icon above was painted by Colorado artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). He studied with master iconographer Robert Lentz and has made social justice a theme of his icons. It is dedicated to the memory of Father Larry Craig, a Chicago priest known for service to the Latino community and prison ministry. Before his death in 2006, Father Craig used to stand outside the Cook County Jail at night, giving sandwiches and bus passes to surprised inmates who had just been released. He served as the model for Podiven’s face in this icon.

May these facts warm your heart whenever you hear or sing the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.”
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.

The Wenceslaus and Podiven icon and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Tyler Clementi: Gay martyr driven to suicide by bullies

“Tyler Clementi, JUMP!” by Louisa Bertman

Tyler Clementi (1992-2010) brought international attention to bullying-related suicide of LGBT youth by jumping to his death on this date (Sept. 22) in 2010.

Clementi’s highly publicized tragedy made him into a gay martyr whose untimely death put a public face on the problems of LGBT teenagers. His story sparked efforts to support LGBT youth, raise awareness of the harassment they face, and prevent suicide among queer young people. Another result is new legislation stiffening penalties for cyber harassment.

His parents once considered suing Rutgers over their son's death, but in February 2013 they announced that they were working with the university to form the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers. It sponsors conferences and academic research to help students make the transition to college. They also established the Tyler Clementi Foundation to promote acceptance of LGBT youth and  more inclusive society.

Clementi was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey when he was driven to suicide by his room mate's anti-gay cyber-bullying.

A talented violinist, Clementi came out to his parents as gay before leaving home for college. Three days before the suicide, Clementi’s room mate used a webcam to secretly record Clementi kissing another man in their dorm room and streamed the video live over the Internet. In messages posted online before he took his own life, Clementi told how he complained to authorities about the cyber-bullying and asked for a new room assignment. Then he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. It took a week to find his body.

The room mate, Dharum Ravi, also 18 at the time, was convicted on 15 counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, in connection with Clementi’s suicide. Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail; 3 years of probation; 300 hours of community service; fined $10,000; and ordered to undergo counseling on cyberbullying and alternate lifestyles. His accomplice, Molly Wei, avoided jail time by agreeing to testify against Ravi.

Anti-LGBT statements by public figures are also partly responsible for Clementi’s death. They created the hostile environment that drove Clementi to suicide. Artist Louisa Bertman emphasizes this point in her powerful ink illustration, “Tyler Clementi, JUMP!” She makes visible the hateful voices that may have been in Clementi’s mind. In her drawing, his head overflows with people urging him to jump. They are politicians as well as the actual students who bullied him. Their names are listed in a stark statement at the bottom of the drawing:

“Message brought to you by Sally Kern, Kim Meltzer, Nathan Deal, Carl Paladino, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Tom Emmer, Jeremy Walters, Rick Perry, Bob Vander Plaats, Dharun Ravi, and Molly Wei.”

Bertman, an artist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is known for her non-traditional portraits.

Clementi helped inspire the founding of the It Gets Better Project and Spirit Day. The It Get Better Project aims to stop suicide among LGBT teens with videos of adults assuring them that “it gets better.” Spirit Day, first observed on Oct. 20, 2010, is a day when people wear purple to show support for young LGBT victims of bullying.

Unfortunately Clementi’s experience is far from rare. Openly lesbian talk show host Ellen Degeneres spoke for many in a video message that put his suicide into context shortly after he died:

“I am devastated by the death of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi….Something must be done. This month alone, there has been a shocking number of news stories about teens who have been teased and bullied and then committed suicide; like 13-year-old Seth Walsh in Tehachapi, California, Asher Brown, 13, of Cypress, Texas and 15-year-old Billy Lucas in Greensberg, Indiana. This needs to be a wake-up call to everyone: teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country, and the death rate is climbing.”

Help is available right now from the Trevor Project, a 24-hour national help line for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens. Contact them at 866 4U TREVOR or their website:

Related links:

Tyler Clementi Foundation

Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers

A Brother's Pledge: Standing Up For Love by James Clementi (Believe Out Loud)

Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America” by Mitchell Gold and Mindy Drucker

Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens” by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke

It Gets Better Project video by Kittredge Cherry

Image credit: Tyler Clementi’s webcam photo of himself (Wikimedia Commons)
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

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

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Hildegard of Bingen: Multi-talented nun who loved women

Hildegard of Bingen was a medieval German nun, mystic, poet, artist, composer, healer and scientist. She founded several monasteries, fought for women in the church and wrote with passion about the Virgin Mary. Some say she was a lesbian because of her strong emotional attachment to women, especially her personal assistant Richardis von Stade. Hildegard was declared a doctor of the church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. Her feast day is Sept. 17 (today).

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis: Medieval mystic and the woman she loved

The title “Doctor of the Church” is a rare honor, bestowed upon only a few saints whose writings have universal value to the church. Their “eminent learning” and “great sanctity” must be affirmed by the Pope. Currently the Roman Catholic Church has only 33 doctors, including three women.

The friendship -- or love story -- between Hildegard and Richardis is included in a 2009 film from German feminist director Margarethe von Trotta called Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen. Von Trotta is one of the world’s most important feminist filmmakers and a leader of independent German cinema. Von Trotta allows Hildegard to speak for herself by using a script based on Hildegard’s own writings and a soundtrack filled with Hildegard’s music. Watch a trailer at the end of this post.

Richardis von Stade (center, played by Hannah Herzsprung) and Hildegard (left, Barbara Sukowa) in the biopic “Vision” (from

Hildegard also inspired a play by lesbian feminist playwright Carolyn Gage. In the play “Artemisia and Hildegard,” Gage has two of history’s great women artists debate their contrasting survival strategies: Gentileschi battled to achieve in the male-dominated art world while Hildegard created women-only community to support her art by founding a nunnery.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the tenth child of a noble family, was offered to the church as a “tithe” when she was very young. She was raised from the age of 8 in the hermitage that later became her Benedictine abbey. She founded two other convents where women performed her music and developed their artistic, intellectual and spiritual gifts. She spent almost all of her life in the company of women.

“Hildegard: The Vision” by Tricia Danby

She had visions throughout her life, starting at age 3 when she says that she first saw “the Shade of the Living Light.” She hesitated to tell others about her visions, sharing them only with her teacher Jutta.

When she was 42, Hildegard had a vision in which God instructed her to record her spiritual experiences. Still hesitant, she became physically ill before she was persuaded to begin her first visionary work, the Scivias (Know the Ways of God).

"St. Hildegard of Bingen" by Plamen Petrov

Hildegard was nursed in her illness and encouraged in her writing by Richardis von Stade, a younger woman who was her personal assistant, soul mate and special favorite. Whether or not they were physically intimate, Hildegard’s actions suggest that she was a lesbian in the sense that her primary love interest was in women.

In 1151, Hildegard completed the Scivias and trouble arose between her and her beloved Richardis. An archbishop, the brother of Richardis, arranged for his sister to become abbess of a distant convent. Hildegard urged Richardis to stay, and even asked the Pope to stop the move. But Richardis left anyway, over Hildegard’s objections.

Hildegard wrote intense letters begging Richardis to return: “I loved the nobility of your conduct, your wisdom and your chastity, your soul and the whole of your life, so much that many said: What are you doing?”

Richardis died suddenly in October 1151, when she was only about 28 years old. On her deathbed, she tearfully expressed her longing for Hildegard and her intention to return.

“The Universe”
by Hildegard of Bingen

Wikimedia Commons
Hildegard’s grief apparently fueled further artistic creation. Many believe that Richardis was the inspiration for Ordo Virtutum (“Play of Virtues”}, a musical morality play about a soul who is tempted away by the devil and then repents. According to Wikipedia, “It is the earliest morality play by more than a century, and the only Medieval musical drama to survive with an attribution for both the text and the music.”

In an era when few women wrote, Hildegard went on to create two more major visionary works, a collection of songs, and several scientific treatises. She was especially interested in women’s health. Her medical writings even include what may be the first description of a female orgasm.

“Hildegard of Bingen: Vision of Music” by Tricia Danby

As a church leader, Hildegard had to support its policy against homosexual behavior. But she often wrote about the divine feminine and the dignity of women, presenting sexuality in a generally positive way. She wrote, “Creation looks on its Creator like the beloved looks on the lover.” Many readers today delight in her erotic descriptions of marriage as a metaphor for the union of a soul with God. Hildegard writes:

The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.
With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.
It is a yearning to take on God's gentle yoke,
It is a yearning to give one's self to God's Way.

In the Symphonia, a collection of liturgical songs to Mary, Hildegard writes with ecstatic passion of her love and devotion to the Virgin Mary. She extols Mary as “greenest twig” and sings the praises of her womb, which “illuminated all creatures.”

Her songs to Mary are available for listening in the following video and on the Sequentia recording, “Hildegard von Bingen: Canticles of Ecstasy.” Her music is still just as beautiful today.

Hildegard died on Sept. 17, 1179 at age 81. The sisters at her convent said they saw two streams of colorful lights cross in the sky above her room. She became a saint by popular acclamation.

The icon of Hildegard and Richardis at the top of this post was painted by Colorado artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). He studied with master iconographer Robert Lentz and has made social justice a theme of his icons. This post also features images of Hildegard by artists Tricia Danby and Plamen Petrov.

Hildegard appears as a young woman in new portraits by Tricia Danby, a spiritual artist based in Germany and a cleric in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church. Her images reveal a sensuous side to Hildegard’s rapturous connection with God.

Stained-glass artist Plamen Petrov of Chicago is known for his window showing the male paired saints Sergius and Bacchus at St. Martha Church in Morton Grove, Illinois. His Hildegard window shows her illuminated with beautiful aquamarine colors.

“Hildegard von Bingen” by Tobias Haller

Hildegard was sketched in blue with intense blue eyes by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

“Saint Hildegard of Bingen” by Robert Lentz

Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons, portrays Hildegard with a wild rose. She used to dip a rose in the Rhine River and use it to sprinkle water on people as a blessing when she traveled between monasteries. Lentz is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland.

LGBT-affirming creation theologian Matthew Fox has written two books on the life and work of Hildegard. The newest is Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century, which presents her as an "eco-warrior" who meets such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Howard Thurman, Dorothee Soelle and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Fox also wrote Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen.

Hildegard was the subject of a major sermon by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori when the House of Bishops met in Taiwan on Sept. 17, 2014. “Hildegard speaks scientifically and theologically of divine creativity as viriditas, reflecting both greenness and truth… Hildegard’s vision motivates all healers of creation who understand the green web of connection that ties creation together in Wisdom’s body,” she said. (Thanks to Ann Fontaine at Episcopal Café for the news tip.)

Related links:

Pope sets date to declare two new church doctors (Catholic News Agency)

Ritual to Honor Hildegard of Bingen by Diann L. Neu (WATER)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Hildegarda de Bingen y Richardis: Una mística que amaba a otra mujer

To read this post in Italian / in Italiano, go to
La forza della visione. La vita della mistica Ildegarda di Bingen

Top image credit: “St. Hildegard of Bingen and Her Assistant Richardis” by Lewis Williams,

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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

The Hildegard icons are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

Saturday, September 10, 2011

10 years later: Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11

“Father Mychal Judge” by Brother Robert Lentz,

Ten years ago Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to New York firefighters and unofficial “gay saint,” died helping others in the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

To honor the tenth anniversary of 9/11, we present an excerpt from a new spirituality book, “Mychal's Prayer: Praying with Father Mychal Judge” by Salvatore Sapienza, a former monk who worked with Father Mychal to form St. Francis AIDS Ministry in New York City. Sapienza is also the author of Seventy Times Seven: A Novel, a novel about a young Catholic brother torn between his sexuality and his spirituality as an out and proud gay man.

His book “Mychal’s Prayer” mixes prayers with stories from the chaplain’s life. It begins with Father Mychal’s own words, a text that has come to be known simply as “Mychal’s Prayer”:

Lord, take me where You want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say; and
Keep me out of your way.

An excerpt from “Mychal’s Prayer”

Wherever he was, Father Mychal Judge was usually the center of attention. Part of the reason for this was purely physical. Mychal was tall and handsome and was almost always wearing his Franciscan habit. Even in a city like New York, where anything goes, the sight of a man in a monk’s robe and sandals riding the subway was unusual and garnered him stares.

At the time I had entered religious life, the custom of wearing a religious habit had gone by the wayside. Though some nuns, brothers and priests were still walking the streets in their religious garb, most were now wearing secular clothing for most of the day.

I asked Mychal once why he still wore the brown monk’s robes. “People see a policeman in uniform and know to go to him for help, right?” he said. “I want people to see me on the street and know they can come to me for spiritual help.”

In that regard, I think Mychal liked being seen. Friars who lived and worked with him have commented that he loved to have his picture taken, especially when he first donned his fire chaplain’s uniform for a professional photographer. He loved the camera, and the camera loved him.

Mychal’s work often brought him the spotlight, as well. Befriending a celebrated police officer paralyzed in the line of duty, comforting relatives of those killed in a major airline disaster, or marching openly with the first gay group allowed in the Saint Patrick’s Day parade, Mychal was often front and center.

Not everyone would be comfortable in this position, and maybe that’s why Mychal gravitated towards such high profile situations. While others might shy away from newsworthy media events, for Mychal this was one way he could use his gifts to be the public face of God.

The last line of Mychal’s prayer (“and keep me out of your way”) was most likely his reminder to self to keep his ego in check, to make sure that the attention he was receiving was not for his benefit, but for the bigger picture.

When religious figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa or the Dali Lama have attended public events, their presence has often helped shine the spotlight on the plight of those who are often ignored by the media and the society at large. I think Mychal’s motivations were in the same vein.

It should come as no surprise then that God called Mychal to the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, for the photograph of Mychal’s body being carried from the site remains, for many of us, the most ingrained image in our memories of that day.

Ten years later, the names and faces of the terrorists have faded away for many of us, but Mychal’s image remains. His selfless act that day continues to shine the light of God’s presence in the face of despair.

Reflection on the Gay Saint of 9/11

A gay priest is considered a saint by many since his heroic death in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Father Mychal Judge (1933-2001), chaplain to New York City firefighters, was killed while praying and administering sacraments at the World Trade Center. He was the first recorded victim of 9/11. Many people consider him a saint.

He responded quickly when extremists flew hijacked planes into the twin towers. He rushed with firefighters into the north tower right after the first plane hit. Refusing to be evacuated, he prayed and administered sacraments as debris crashed outside. He saw dozens of bodies hit the plaza outside as people jumped to their deaths. His final prayer, repeated over and over, was “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”

While he was praying, Father Mychal was struck and killed in a storm of flying steel and concrete that exploded when the south tower collapsed. He was the first officially recorded fatality of the 9/11 attack. Father Mychal was designated as Victim 0001 because his was the first body recovered at the scene. More than 2,500 people from many nationalities and walks of life were killed. Thousands more escaped the buildings safely.

After Father Mychal’s death, some of his friends revealed that he considered himself a gay man. He had a homosexual orientation, but by all accounts he remained faithful to his vow of celibacy as a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan order.

The charismatic, elderly priest was a long-term member of Dignity, the oldest and largest national lay movement of LGBT Catholics and their allies. Father Mychal voiced disagreement with the Vatican’s condemnation of homosexuality, and found ways to welcome Dignity’s AIDS ministry despite a ban by church leaders. He defied a church boycott of the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens, showing up in his habit and granting news media interviews.

Many people, both inside and outside the LGBT community, call Father Mychal a saint. He has not been canonized yet by his own Roman Catholic Church, but some feel that he has already become a saint by popular acclamation, and the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America did declare officially declare him a saint.

The icon at the top of this post was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. He is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland.

An icon of Father Mychal was also done by Father William Hart McNichols. He shows Father Mychal with St. Francis of Assisi as the World Trade Center burns behind them. In the text accompanying the icon, Father McNichols describes Father Mychal as a Passion Bearer who “takes on the on-coming violence rather than returning it… choosing solidarity with the unprotected.”

“Holy Passion Bearer Mychal Judge and St. Francis of Assisi”
By Father William Hart McNichols

McNichols is a Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. He has a deep connection to New York City because he worked at an AIDS hospice there in the 1980s. Both McNichols and Lentz have faced controversy for painting gay-positive icons. They are two of the 11 artists whose life and work are featured in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More ” by Kittredge Cherry.

Father Mychal’s life, including his gay orientation and his support for LGBT rights, is chronicled in the film documentary Saint of 9/11 - The True Story of Father Mychal Judge.

Another artist’s portrait of Father Mychal is based on Shannon Stapleton’s famous photo of his body being carried from the World Trade Center. “Faces of Courage,” original oil painting by Marion McGrath, also incorporates a cross and the collapsed world Trade Center. It can be seen at this link:
9/11 Memorial Museum

On the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy, may these images and stories inspire people with Father Mychal’s legacy of love and service.

Related links:
Mark Bingham: Gay hero of 9/11 died fighting hijackers

Saint Mychal Judge Blog (very complete and up-to-date!)

Mychal Judge is the first recorded victim of 9/11 -- and also the first saint in the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series began on Sept. 11, 2009, and has grown to include more than 40 saints, martyrs, mystics, heroes, holy people, deities and religious figures of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and queer people and our allies. They are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

The Mychal Judge icon is available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Short List of NEW LGBT spirituality films and books

Here is a brief listing of new LGBT spirituality films and books. This is a new feature being tested here at the Jesus in Love Blog. Please leave a comment to say whether you like it -- or not. Note: This is a list of new releases, not a comprehensive list of all the best.

Black Battle, White Knight: The Authorized Biography of Malcolm Boyd” by Michael Battle. Profile of Malcolm Boyd, 88, gay Episcopal priest, author and civil rights activist, with a foreword by Nobel Laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Author is a younger black heterosexual priest. From Seabury Books.

God vs. Gay?: The Religious Case for Equality” by Jay Michaelson.  Shows that the Hebrew Bible and New Testament do not forbid homosexuality. Author founded Nehirim, national provider of community programming for LGBT Jews and their allies. From Beacon Press. (Thanks to Amos Lassen for the tip.)

Collective Brightness: LGBTIQ Poets on Faith, Religion and Spirituality,” edited by Kevin Simmonds. Gathers more than 100 LGBTIQ poets from various faiths and spiritual traditions. From Sibling Rivalry Press. (Thanks to Philip F. Clark for the tip.)

Raw: A Poetic Journey: Finding a Way from Conflict to Revelation,” edited by Aimee Maude Sims. Raw emotions and raw faith collide in poetry by LGBT believers and friends. Foreword by Grammy nominee Jennifer Knapp. From NuWine Press.

The Seminarian,” directed by Joshua Lim. A closeted gay seminarian’s troubled relationship leads him to question God. The director was born in Malaysia and has a master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. (Thanks to Amos Lassen for the tip.)
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Image credit: Books Sketch by Ardent Photography

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Gay priest McNeill film premieres Sept. 24

John McNeill, seated, in Rome for his film’s world premiere in June 2011 with director Brendan Fay and lesbian pastor Hilde Raastad

Tickets are selling fast for the U.S. premiere of “Taking a Chance on God,” a documentary on gay priest John McNeill. It will be shown at 3:15 p.m. Sept. 24 at the Woodstock Film Festival in New York.

The new film follows the extraordinary life of 85-year-old McNeill, a former POW, co-founder of the LGBT Catholic group Dignity and author of “The Church and the Homosexual.” He refused to be silenced even though he was expelled from the Jesuits.

McNeill will attend the premiere with director Brendan Fay and Charles Chiarelli, McNeill’s life partner of 45 years. Ticket info is available at Watch for the movie at other film festivals this fall. They have received festival invitations from Poland, Germany and Italy, with interest from Spain and Romania too. A **new** trailer for the film is posted below.

Related links:
Gay priest McNeill shakes up Rome with new moves and new movie

Taking a Chance on God Facebook page

UPDATE: John McNeill has posted his own personal thoughts on the film debut at this link:
Reflections on the playing of Taking a Chance on God at the Woodstock Film Festival

Photo by Bill Wilson © 2011,

Taking a Chance on God from Brendan Fay on Vimeo.