Thursday, August 02, 2012

Queer grace: Beyond sex and race, beyond time and space

“Grace is a Bit Queer” by Felicia Follum

grace is a bit queer
the gays get it
the straights don’t deserve it
the bad need it
the good are expected to give it
the poor, the homeless
the helpless, the meek,
the humble
are loved by the laws of grace


In between all that can and can’t be seen
Where the dirty meets the clean, 
somewhere in the dark
Beyond sex and race, beyond time and space
In a state of grace is the spark

Grace is a bit queer, as social justice artist Felicia Follum points out in a new poster. She is among the artists, musicians and thinkers who are shining a queer light on grace -- undeserved help from God.

“The idea for this poster came from my life drawing class. During a critique the class discussed how the model looks like Jesus. It was interesting because the model was a friend who happened to be gay,” says Follum, who often unites art with activism. She lives in Laramie, Wyoming, site of the infamous 1998 gay-bashing murder of Matthew Shepard.

Follum decided to explore the Christian concept of grace and combine it with the Christ-like drawing of her gay friend. “From a Christian perspective, the ‘grace of God’ is a fascinating, strange, and almost incomprehensible. Jesus died on the cross for everyone, including gay people. There is nothing that anyone can do to make God love you less or to make God love you more. That being said, ‘Grace is Queer,’” explains Follum, who earned a bachelor’s degree in art this year from the University of Wyoming.

She purposely muddled the lettering so it would be hard to read. “The text in this poster is jumbled and confusing because that is how grace is in comparison to our culture,” Follum says. “Our culture tells us that if we work hard we will get something better. We can earn anything that we want. Grace is different. We can not earn grace and we can not lose grace. Grace does not make sense and it is not fair.”

“James Cone’s Black Jesus”
by Felicia Follum
Racial justice and African American history are common themes in Follum’s art. She challenges traditional concepts of Jesus based on race as well as sexual orientation. Her work includes not only a gay Jesus, but also a black Jesus. Follum’s black Jesus poster is based on theology of James Cone, the founder of black liberation theology. The poster shows the black face of Jesus is surrounded by the scripture: “As you did unto one of the least of these, you did unto me.”

In his landmark book A Black Theology of Liberation, Cone wrote, “The blackness of God means that God has made the oppressed condition God's own condition.”

Cone laid the groundwork for Patrick Cheng and other queer theologians who use his approach to liberate LGBT people and our allies. Cheng, who teaches at Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, studied with Cone as his doctoral advisor. Cheng discusses queer grace in depth in his latest book, From Sin to Amazing Grace: Discovering the Queer Christ.

“We, as LGBT people of faith, must address the doctrine of sin -- and its companion doctrine of grace -- head on. We can no longer avoid or ignore the subject,” Cheng writes. “It is time for LGBT people to take back the words ‘sin’ and ‘grace’ in the same way we have taken back the word ‘queer’!” He proposes seven models of grace (and sin) that arise from LGBT experience:

1) Erotic Christ (grace as mutuality)
2) Out Christ (grace as coming out)
3) Liberator Christ (grace as activism)
4) Transgressive Christ (grace as deviance)
5) Self-Loving Christ (grace as pride)
6) Interconnected Christ (grace as interdependence)
7) Hybrid Christ (grace as hybridity)

Long before liberation theology, the idea of grace has always been a bit queer. It comes to mind when people see someone less fortunate and say with grateful compassion, “There but for the grace go I.”

Avant-garde rock singer-songwriter Richard Haxton celebrates grace in his song “The Spark,” which is quoted above. More of his work is available online at, a town / solar system built of Haxton’s songs and drawings, music and art.

And the Bible is full of mysterious promises about God’s grace, such as these words from 2 Corinthians 9:8:

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”

Related links:

20 Inspirational Bible Verses About Grace (

Felicia Follum Art

Felicia Follum Art + Design Blog


Trudie said...

Your article on Grace is indeed a major gift - a grace - in itself. I love the art and the opportunity to visit the artists' other work via your links. Of course I read Patrick Cheng's book, and have reviewed it for Amazon in case anyone's interested in my viewpoint. Indeed, I ended the review as follows:

"Although I initially read this book in a tremendous burst of enthusiasm and delight, it is one of several that I will revisit in depth. This will be facilitated by the exceptional questions for reflection provided at the end of each chapter. Although I deeply regret that I will probably not be able to even scratch the surface of delving into the extensive bibliography Cheng provides, it is wonderful to have so many resources at my fingertips in case I do find myself needing to further investigate aspects of this intriguing theology."

Thank you again for the ongoing breadth and depth of your sharing on this blog!

Al Cantwell said...

I generally like her poster very much, but I'm curious why she says "straights don't deserve it."

Kittredge Cherry said...

Good point, Al. Felicia, the artist, is heterosexually married so I assume she is speaking of her own group when she says straights don’t deserve grace. I assume she was referring to homophobic actions by straights against queers. The definition of grace is that it is an undeserved or unearned reward, so I suppose nobody, gay or straight, deserves it.

“The good are expected to give it” also puzzles me. It sounds like she is speaking of forgiveness more than grace.

Trudie, we correspond so much one on one that I forgot to comment back here. Thank you for your supportive words here and info on your Amazon review of “Queer Grace.”

Unknown said...

@Al, "The straights don't deserve it" comes from the idea that no one can earn and therefore no one can deserve it. Often times our culture seems to believe that we are owed many things which is simply not the case when it comes to grace...Well put Cherry

I suppose I believe that we (God's children) are expected to extend both grace (more of in a blessing sense I suppose) and forgiveness with all. This idea may come from my Lutheran upbringing.

Grace & Peace,
Felicia Follum