Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Madre Juana de la Cruz: Queer saint of 16th-century Spain

Portrait of Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez from Cubas de la Sagra, Madrid, Spain, circa 1600 (Wikipedia)

Madre Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez was an abbess in 16th-century Spain who insisted that God changed her gender in the womb, transforming her from male to female. Her feast day is May 3 -- which is both her birthday and also the day she died.

She also saw Jesus in queer ways, saying that Christ becomes whatever the seeker needs: father, mother, husband, wife, or friend. She blended sexuality and spirituality by envisioning the streets of heaven lined with marriage beds, each with God and a male or female saint. She had visionary experiences in which she lost consciousness and spoke in a deep voice that identified itself as Christ.

Some of her sermons are available in English for the first time in the 2016 book “Mother Juana de la Cruz, 1481-1534: Visionary Sermons,” edited by Jessica A. Boon and Ronald E. Surtz.

Juana was so controversial in her own time that her beatification was quashed, but modern scholars rediscovered her and the Vatican put her back on track for sainthood after an extensive review of her writings. Pope Francis issued a decree in March 2015 approving Juana’s “heroic virtues” and raising her to the status of “Venerable.”

Madre Juana’s genderbending life and theology are explored in the following article, written for the Jesus in Love Blog by Franciscan scholar Kevin Elphick. In 2016 he traveled to the convent where she lived, participating in “La Marcha de Santa Juana,” which recreates her flight from her family home, dressed as a man, to the convent.

“It is wonderful that 500 years later people are still celebrating this young woman (Santa Juana) turning her back on marriage and setting out for a community of women. A 15-year-old girl accompanied me on much of the trip and felt like a modern day-Juana. A young lesbian woman and her dog also walked with us. We sang ‘Resucito’ as we walked. It was a brilliantly sunny spring day, dripping with resurrection joy,” he said.

The March of Santa Juana in Cubas de la Sagra, Spain, April 2016 (photo by Kevin Elphick)

She is often called “Santa Juana” (Saint Juana) or “Madre Juana” (Mother Juana), but she is also known as Juana de Azaña, Juana de Cubas. She is a different person from another famous nun who had a similar name: Sor Juana de la Cruz of 17th-century Mexico.

“Madre Juana de la Cruz” by Lewis Williams

Madre Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez (1481 - 1534)

Imagine this scenario. You are talking to a woman who believes that she was originally conceived as a male, but in utero, became a female. This woman points to her Adam’s apple as evidence of her claim. She shares that when her family wanted her to be married off to a suitable gentleman, she fled her family home dressed as a man to escape. Likely by now, you might be speculating that this person might be transgender. But before you reach this conclusion, one more fact to add: This person was born in the year 1481. Unlike us, the 15th century had no technical language to describe being transgender. But what might the stories of our transgender ancestors sound like? Perhaps something like the story of Juana de la Cruz I suspect.

Although never canonized, in Spain Mother Juana is known as “Santa Juana de la Cruz,” Saint Juana of the Cross. Each year pilgrims in Spain recreate the journey of young Juana leaving her family and traveling to the safety of the Franciscan convent. Every April, they contemplate a young girl dressed as a man, traveling to a refuge where she could remove those clothes and put on the clothing of yet another man, spending the rest of her life dressed in the habit of St. Francis.

Venerable Juana could not be a more timely saint. What does she say to us today? I believe her message for us today is a vision of claiming whatever gender elements we experience as our own, and heroically integrating and accentuating them into our lives regardless of what critics say. Her creative and sensitive reimaging of Biblical stories challenges us to translate our sacred Scriptures and Traditions into stories relevant and palatable for our listeners today. And Juana’s own integration in her own person of male and female roles and attributes, models for us the challenge to achieve the same. In the midst of the Inquisition, she was an abbess, preacher, parish leader, visionary, theologian, and tender advocate for her own community of women. Given the many paradoxes she embodied, it speaks to her remarkable character and sanctity that she not only traversed Inquisitional scrutiny, she locally came to be venerated as a saint.

Juana was born to farmers in the Spanish village of Azaña (today: Numancia de la Sagra) in Spain on May 3, 1481. She would later tell her community that God had been originally fashioning her as a male in the womb of her mother, but upon the intervention of the Blessed Virgin, she was changed into a female. As proof of this miracle, Juana pointed to her Adam’s Apple (in Spanish “nuez … en la garganta,” literally “nut in the throat”), as evidence of divine intervention. By the time she was 15, her family had identified a man to espouse her, but Juana would have nothing of this plan. Instead, she dressed in men’s clothing and fled her family home, walking to a community of women religious to begin a new life for herself. Each March, Christians continue to recreate her journey annually, pilgrimaging to Cubas de la Sagra (near Madrid) to visit the convent of “Santa Juana” -- officially known as the Convent of Santa María de la Cruz.

Where a woman dressing as a man might seem odd as part of the story of a female saint, one need only think of St. Joan of Arc as a model for this pattern of holiness. Like St. Joan, depictions of Juana, her iconography, show her sanctity by portraying her dressed as a man. Other cross-dressing female saints include: Eugenia of Alexandria, Euphrosyne, Galla, Paula of Avila, Pelagia, and Wilgefortis. But for Juana, this dressing as a common man was transitory. Her goal was ultimately to clothe herself in the habit of another man, St. Francis of Assisi, by joining a community of Franciscan women. Now where some contemporary attitudes might find the homogenous celibate life of monasteries and convents to be potentially oppressive, in the past these homosocial communities were one of the few socially acceptable options for LGT persons to avoid otherwise socially prescribed heterosexual marriages.

Madre Juana de la Cruz and her guardian angel. The painting is behind the main altar of her church in Cubas de la Sagra, Madrid, Spain. Photo by Kevin Elphick.

In 1497 Juana professed as a member of the Franciscan sisters there in Cubas, Spain. By 1509, Juana was elected as Abbess of the community and became “Mother Juana.” Her community was unique in that it maintained a parish church and appointed its priest. Juana prudently appointed her own brother. Even more unique was Juana’s role in preaching lengthy locutions, giving detailed elaborations of Bible events and Jesus’ and Mary’s lives. These sermons were eventually collected in the book, El Libro del Conorte. It speaks to Juana’s personal charisma and vision, that in the midst of the Inquisition, she was both preaching and exercising oversight of a parish. To her credit, she sagely named God as the source and inspiration of her sermons, thereby placing the inquisitors in the position whereby if they questioned her, they were questioning God as well.

Juana’s expansive understanding of gender extended beyond herself. For her, Christ was both male and female as well. The blood and sweat of the Crucified Christ are evidence to Juana that at the cross, Jesus gave birth to us as our Mother. 

Most interestingly, in her Sermon on the Holy Innocents, Jesus addresses the martyred female infants and says to them: "I also am a little girl (niña) like you, because I am the child of a woman."

Juana is also partial to the gospel image of Jesus as the brooding mother hen (“Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Matt. 23:37). For Juana, to imitate Christ is to imitate Mother Christ who keeps nestling souls safe beneath her protective wings. And still, this same Jesus is so expansive, that one gender alone is not adequate.

In one of Juana’s sermons, Jesus says: “And all those who seek in me a father, will find in me a father. And those who seek in me a mother, will find in me a mother. And those who seek in me a husband, will find in me a husband. And those who seek in me a bride, will find in me a bride. And those who seek in me a brother, or a friend, or a neighbor, or a companion, likewise will find in me everything they desire…”

[“E todos los que me quisieredes en padre, en padre me fallares. E los que me quisieredes en madre, en madre me falleres. E los que me quisieren en esposo, en esposo me fallaran. E los que me quisieren en esposa, en esposa me fallaran. E los que me quisieren en hermano o en amigo o en proximo o en conpanero, por semejante me fallaran para todo lo quisieren...”]

(Unless otherwise noted, the page references are quotes from: Ronald E Surtz, The Guitar of God: Gender, Power, and Authority in the Visionary World of Mother Juana de la Cruz; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. pp. 95-96.) Juana’s characterization of Jesus himself as a bride is unique in Christian mystical literature. Ronald E Surtz, one of the primary authors to introduce Juana to English readers, explains that “…in Mother Juana’s visionary world the differences between the sexes are blurred.” p. 94. More than blurred, in Mother Juana the two genders are each hyper-accentuated, and attributes of both are unearthed and lauded in each person she encounters and sermonizes.

As a devout follower of St. Francis and St. Clare, Mother Juana was very faithful to the tradition of gender-bending that the Franciscan family had engendered. In many ways Juana follows the Franciscan trajectory of gender liminality to its logical outcomes. During his life, St. Francis had had a vision of himself as a mother hen with multitudes of Franciscan children beneath his wings. Juana describes Francis as “the hen [that] labors to brood the eggs” (p. 44) [“…la gallina se trabaja por sacar los huevos…” p. 153] and has God fondly refer to him in Heaven as God’s own “little brown hen.” (p. 45) [“la gallina morenita” p. 153] Juana believes herself to imitate both Francis and Jesus by her own maternal brooding over souls seeking heaven.

St. Clare had had a vision in which she nursed at the breast of a lactating St. Francis. Juana builds upon this vision, having Christ ask to see St. Francis’ breasts. (p. 45) Francis complies and indicates that he nurses all of his followers: “My breasts, O Lord, here they are for these that I bring with me …the breast of my desires.” (Surtz, p. 45) [“ ‘Muestrame tus tetas…’ ‘Mis tetas, Senor, helas aqui, que estos que aqui traigo comigo fueron last etas de mis deseos’ p.59] Where Clare had experienced an interior encounter with Francis as nursing mother, Juana universalizes the lactating Mother Francis as a source of maternal nourishment for all his followers, endorsed by Christ himself.

In her sermon for the Feast of St. Francis, Mother Juana completes the gender transformation of St. Francis by declaring him the Bride and Wife of Christ. The Lord asks Francis “If you want to be my wife” and more pointedly “...if you want to be united and have relations with me …” [Si quieres ser mi muger y si te quieres unir y ayuntar conmigo.] So when Francis consents, he explains: “I will be united with you like the wife is united with the husband.” [me ayuntare contigo, asi como la esposa se ayunta con el esposo., p. 154] Jesus invites him to realize this union by sharing in the intensity of his Passion, to which Francis agrees. Juana then explains as narrator “And he was so united with him in that hour that He [Jesus] imprinted him with his five wounds after the same manner he received them on the cross.” (p. 154) [y que asi fue tan ayuntado con el en aquella hora que le imprimio las sus cinco llagas de la manera que rescibio en la cruz, p. 154] Surtz explains that the verb Juana uses for unite, “ayuntar,” includes the meaning “to have sexual intercourse…” thereby adding a “sexual semantic charge” to the verb. (p. 95) For Juana, Francis not only becomes Christ’s wife, but in the moment of marital consummation, his flesh is also penetrated by the Passion of Christ. For a 15th-century celibate, Juana could not be more explicit.

Juana uses this same verb to equally describe the Lord’s embrace of St. Clare. In a sermon for the Feast of St. Clare, Juana describes God’s intimacy with Clare as so fecund, that she mystically births the Christ Child. For Juana, the ultimate union with God is a mystical marriage. She herself experienced this same union. And as a Franciscan, her spiritual experience was deeply embodied and physical. She described it this way: “The Lord embraced me and placed his feet on my feet and his knees on my knees…and his palms on mine and his head and body against mine.” (p. 68) [Entonces abrazome el Senor y puso sus pies en mis pies y sus rodillas en mis rodillas… e sus palmas en las mias e su caveza e cuerpo todo junto con el mio. p. 68]

A 17th-century Cardinal reviewing Juana’s cause for beatification censured this experience from her writings, noting chidingly “corpus corpori copulante.” But for Juana the spiritual experience is very physical, and in no way diminished by this physicality. Like Francis, her union with Christ necessitates sharing his bodily passion, and still it fills her “with his presence and with the taste and sweetness of his love.” (p. 68) [Inchavase con la presencia suya e con el gusto y dulcor de su amor. p. 68] In a vision described in the “Vida” of her life, Christ explains that their wedded union to each other necessitates shared mutual suffering. “Since you chose me…. as husband and spouse, and you were wedded to me…there has been such intimacy, [that] surely some of my frailty had to infect you. Therefore, whoever loves well must suffer from the lover whatever befalls…” (p. 37). As a fellow bride of Christ, like Francis, Juana received the stigmata. (However, she prayed that it be taken away, and her gentle Spouse complied.)

In point of fact, Juana’s eschatology appears to be largely that of a heaven of marital bliss. She uniquely imagines a heaven where the streets are lined with marriage beds. 

In her sermon, she places this vision in the mouth of God. “Just two persons were seated on each one of those loveliest of marriage beds that were along all the streets and corners of the kingdom of Heaven; one of them was [God] himself and the other was a male or female saint…the number of the elect …. will be many and incomparable, but …only two are to be united in faith and love, namely God and the soul.” (p. 96) [“…estavan en aquellos talamos preciosos que avia por todas las calles e cantones del reino de los cielos asentados en cada uno d’ellos solas dos personas, la una d’ellas hera El mesmo e la otra hera un santo o santa … el numero de los escogidos… mas que solos dos an de ser los ayuntados en una fe e amor, conviene a saber, Dios y el anima…” p. 96]

Juana does not flinch in envisioning marriage beds with same-sex or opposite-sexed pairings. For her what matters is the consummation of the Two united together. 

She explains of Christ that “when he came into the world to be incarnated…. He did not come for any reason other than to invite [us] to nuptials…” (p. 119) [“Porque quando El vino en el mundo a encarnar…Mas quando El venia …no venia a otra cosa sino a conbidar a bodas…” p. 119]

Juana can envision herself as male and Francis as female because for her, gender is not an exclusive and firm-boundaried experience. No one has exclusive rights to define either gender. In her native Spanish with its gendering of nouns, Juana explains that our soul (anima - feminine) and spirit (espiritu - masculine) point toward the reality that the human person is a composite of both female and male.

 “Because if woman has a soul, which is by name female, likewise man too has a soul… by name female, so that every man and woman can be called female. And, conversely, man and woman can be said ‘male’, because if man has a living and everlasting spirit, likewise woman has a living and everlasting spirit. Thus… man can be said ‘woman’ and woman can be said ‘man’, for both have a spirit and a living soul.” (p. 25) [Porque si la muger tiene anima, la qual se llama fenbra, por semejante tiene tanbien el honbre anima… llamada fenbra, de manera que todo honbre e muger se puede llamar fenbra. E por el contrario puede ser dicho el honbre e la muger varon porque si el honbre tiene espiritu biviente e permaneciente para siempre, por semejante tiene la muger espiritu biviente e permaneciente para siempre. Assi que honbre e muger todo es una cosa e un espiritu e un anima en cuanto el honbre puede ser dicho muger puede ser dicha honbre, pues entramos tienen espiritu e anima biviente. p. 25]

C. G. Jung would be pleased to have been so anticipated by Juana. Her tenacity and conviction that each gender is necessarily present and mutually essential extends even to the salvific event itself. For Juana, a solitary male Savior at Calvary is not sufficient. In Juana’s soteriology, the Passions of both Jesus and Mary are essential and salvific. An unwitnessed Passion cannot save. There must be the Suffering Servant and a witness, the Virgin, who voluntarily co-participates.

In Juana’s view, a man and woman occasioned the fall; equally so a woman and man remedy it. Juana envisions Mary’s co-participation in the work of the passion so that “…she was fully crucified in her soul, as he was in the body.” [“… era toda crucificada en el anima, asi como el lo era en el cuerpo”] [Jessica A. Boon’s “Mother Juana de la Cruz: Marian Visions and Female Preaching” in A New Companion to Hispanic Mysticism, ed. Hilaire Kallendorf, Boston: Brill, 2010., p. 147] The mutuality of this shared salvific experience is so thorough, that Juana changes the words of the cry of abandonment of Jesus from the cross to include also his mother. Instead of solely: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” Juana adds these words: “My powerful Father! Why have you abandoned me, that I and my mother die?” [Padre mio poderoso! Por que me has desamparado que morimos yo y mi madre? p. 147] In the depths of the passion, Juana necessitates a gender mutuality in which both male and female are actors in the remedy of human salvation.

Uniquely, Mother Juana died on her birthday in the odor of sanctity on May 3, 1534 at the age of 53. Her community continues to this day, although it has transitioned to a community of Franciscan Poor Clare nuns. In 1997, the Fraternity of Santa Juana was created in association with the Poor Clares, advocating anew for Juana’s canonization. In his book, Writing Women in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain: The Mothers of Saint Teresa of Avila, Surtz depicts Santa Juana as a literary “mother” to St. Teresa. Pope Francis has declared 2014-2015 as a Jubilee in Spain to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Teresa’s birth. It would seem fitting in this jubilee birthday celebration to ensure that the fiesta includes honoring the Mother also. Santa Juana is well worth celebrating. Pope Francis has been canonizing saints who have a long history of local veneration as “saint.” We may yet hear a declaration proclaiming her universally as the Saint she is.

It is my hope that one day Santa Juana will come to be formally recognized for her courage, sanctity, and leadership, all the more so as a patron saint for the LGBT community.

While it is miracle enough that Juana's cause for canonization was resurrected nearly 500 years after her death, and after extensive re-scrutinizing of her writings, the Vatican will now be looking for two more miracles to advance her cause to formal sainthood for the universal Church. Would it not be telling and affirming if Madre Juana decided to bestow these two miracles upon LGBTQ individuals? Imagine the witness and affirmation Juana would be giving from her place of divine nuptials in heaven to today's Church.

Holy Juana, pray for us your LGBT family and progeny.


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2016 update from Kevin Elphick:

Since the initial writing of this blog post, the first English translation of some of Juana's Sermons was published just last month, "Mother Juana de la Cruz, 1481-1534: Visionary Sermons." In these Sermons we see Mother Juana's continued emphasis on gender parity in the divine economy and further examples of Christ sharing marriage beds with both male and female saints. The book makes entire Sermons of Juana newly available to the English-speaking world.

Another effort by Ronald Surtz to make Juana's writings better known is his article, “The Privileging of the Feminine in the Trinity Sermon of Mother Juana de la Cruz” in the book, “Women's Voices and the Politics of the Spanish Empire” (University Press of the South). In this article, Surtz explores Juana's groundbreaking image of the Father and the Son as each, mutually pregnant with the other, a unique conceptualization of the theological principle of Perichoresis, the teaching that the Persons of the Trinity mutually indwell each other. Increasingly, Mother Juana is being made better known to English-speaking audiences through the efforts of Professor Surtz and others.


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Kevin Elphick is both a Franciscan scholar and a supervisor on a suicide prevention hotline in New York. He wrote a thesis on “Gender Liminality in the Franciscan Sources” for a master’s degree in Franciscan studies from St. Bonaventure University in New York. Elphick also has a master's degree in Religious Studies from Mundelein College in Chicago and a Doctorate in Ministry from Graduate Theological Foundation with a focus in ecumenism. He writes regularly for the Jesus in Love Blog about queer Franciscan subjects, including Francis of Assisi, Blessed Bartolo and Vivaldo, and Blessed John of La Verna. Elphick joined the Sisters of St. Francis in New York as a lay associate in 2014.

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Related links:

Pope gives first step to beatify nun Juana de la Cruz (lainfo.es)

Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez bio (Wikipedia)

Images of Santa Juana de la Cruz (most are from the convent of Santa Maria de la Cruz in Cubas)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Madre Juana de la Cruz: ¿Una Santa Transgénero en la España del siglo XVI? (Santos Queer)

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, 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.

Icons of Madre Juana de la Cruz and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



Sunday, May 01, 2016

First-ever LGBTQ religious children's books published

A page from “Faithful Families”

LGBTQ-affirming religious books for kids are available for the first time ever with the launch of the Good News Children’s Book Series this spring.

Books such as “Faithful Families” remind children that God loves them, no matter what their family looks like -- even if they have two mommies or two daddies.

Mr. Grumpy Christian” is for LGBTQ families to read if they hear Christians telling them that God cannot love them.

What to Wear to Church” was written with transgender children in mind, while the gender diversity of God’s creation is affirmed in “Is it a Boy, Girl or Both?”

Megan Rohrer
The books are published by Wilgefortis Press as a project of Grace Lutheran Church in San Francisco. All nine books in the series so far are written by Megan Rohrer, pastor at Grace Lutheran and the first openly transgender pastor ordained in the Lutheran church.

Not every book in the series specifically addresses LGBTQ themes, but each one is promoted as “a safe book for reconciling churches and diverse families.”

Aimed at children from pre-school up to age 12, each book expresses God’s all-inclusive love with simple language and beautiful pictures by a variety of illustrators.

“My thought with these books is that as a collection they could help kids know that they are loved no matter what they wear, who they love and no matter what others tell them about it,” Rohrer told the Jesus in Love Blog.

The books grew naturally out of the ministry at Grace Lutheran. “A longtime welcoming congregation located in San Francisco, with a transgender pastor, we knew that our children's books had the ability to be full of the grace that our congregation was named after,” Rohrer explained.

The first nine books were published quickly in February and March so they would be ready to use as prizes for the congregation’s Easter Egg Hunt.

“The children who received them over Easter were really excited and loved getting something they could take home with them from the service,” Rohrer said.

The books delighted adults in the church too. “Many wished they had books like this when they were younger,” Rohrer said.

Faithful Families” was inspired by the many families and children at the church's Grace Infant Child Care Center. Rohrer co-wrote it with Pamela Ryan, director of the center for more than 30 years. It is illustrated by Ihnatovich Maryia and aimed at children up to 8 years old.

A page from “Mr. Grumpy Christian

Rohrer wrote “Mr. Grumpy Christian” after meeting a 7-year old-boy who tried to kill himself because a pastor threatened him with hell. It is suitable for LGBTQ families who face hostility from other Christians. Children ages 5 to 10 are the target audience. The rhyming book affirms:

When a grumpy Christian ruins your day,
Remember God’s love is here to stay.

In the true spirit of Christ, the book goes on to add, “But remember that God’s love extends to grumpy Christians too.”

What to Wear to Church” reminds children that God will always love them no matter what clothes they wear. The illustrations were designed from a photo of Rohrer’s real-life grandmother, who inspired the story.

“‘What to Wear to Church’ is a short book for toddlers that I imagine my grandma reading to me if she knew I was going to grow up to be transgender,” Rohrer said. It is illustrated by Daren Drda.

Is it a Boy, Girl or Both?” is one of the series’ most popular books with children. Pictures of animals illustrate the point that God's creation includes many kinds of gender expression.  It is geared to children up to 8 years old. After exploring everything from koalas and penguins to banana slugs, the book concludes:

But, no matter your favorite color,
what your body looks like,
if you have a baby or not,
if you are in charge,
if you are a girl, boy, both or do not know,
or how any of these things change in the future,
God will love you no matter what.
And so will I.

Others in the series of Good News Children’s Books include “Church Bugs,” “Jesus’ Family,” “The Parable of the Succulent” and “The Children’s Crumbs.”

“We even have a book on the Holocaust that has some of my favorite illustrations of the series,” Rohrer said. “Never Again” was inspired by Rohrer’s wife Laurel, whose relatives who were killed in Auschwitz during the Holocaust. Illustrations are by Eugene Ivanov.

Wilgefortis Press works with a variety of artists to illustrate the Good News Children’s Books. “We gave the artists the story and creative license to illustrate,” Rohrer explained.

Rohrer received a master of divinity degree from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA and is currently a candidate for the doctorate of ministry degree there. Rohrer created Wilgefortis Press to publish books about queer, disability and poverty issues. Other books by Rohrer include “Queerly Lutheran” and “Letters for My Brothers: Transitional Wisdom in Retrospect.”

Rohrer was an art major at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD before switching to religion. That artistic training will be put to use when Rohrer serves as both writer and illustrator of the next book in the series. It addresses how hard it is to come to church for the first time by telling the story of a dog coming to church.

The Good News Children’s Books are published as both ebooks and paperbacks. Discounts on paperbacks ordered directly from the church are available by contacting pastor@gracesf.com.

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This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.

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



Saturday, April 30, 2016

New in May: LGBTQ Christian books

Forgotten LGBT religious history, a queer love story at a British university and Joan of Arc's gender ambiguities are covered in new books this month.

They are “Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Jim Downs, “Speak Its Name” by Kathleen Jowitt and “Joan of Arc: Her Trial Transcripts” by E. P. Sanguinetti.


BESTSELLER AT JESUS IN LOVE
Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Jim Downs.

LGBT religious life is the "forgotten history" covered in the major new book “Stand by Me: The Forgotten History of Gay Liberation” by Harvard history professor Jim Downs. “One of my goals in this book has been to shift the focus of discussion of gay culture from sex to religion, and from intimacy to community,” he writes. The second chapter is titled “The Gay Religious Movement” and tells about MCC, Dignity, Integrity, and many other groups in the 1970s and ‘80s, plus lesbian and gay clergy such as Troy Perry, John McNeill and Ellen Barrett. The first chapter is about “The Largest Massacre of Gay People in American History,” which was the fire at the UpStairs Lounge, a bar / gay church that embodied the mixed identities of the age. Religion is woven throughout the book, which also looks at the role of bookstores, newspapers, theaters, and prisons. Endorsed by such luminaries as historian John D’Emilio. Published by Basic Books.




Speak Its Nameby Kathleen Jowitt.

Faith, love and politics mix and explode as lesbian and bisexual students fall in love with each other on campus in this novel about being queer and Christian at a British university. This is one of the first novels about a young lesbian’s struggle to reconcile her sexuality with Christian faith since the classic “The Well of Loneliness.” Lydia, the main character, tries to balance her studies with her responsibilities as an officer for the Christian Fellowship while hiding her attraction to women. She discovers that there are more ways to be Christian – and to be herself – when she encounters out-and-proud bisexual Methodist Colette in an eccentric ecumenical household. Controversy erupts when a disgruntled member of the conservative Catholic Society raises questions. Male novelists have explored young gay men’s struggles with Christianity, but this breaks new ground with a female perspective. The author is a bisexual Christian in Cambridge, England. Self published.




Joan of Arc: Her Trial Transcripts” by Emilia Philomena Sanguinetti.

Extensive evidence that Joan of Arc was a lesbian or transgender person is presented in the epilogue of this groundbreaking book about the cross-dressing medieval saint. She explores how Joan shared her bed with another woman and insisted on wearing male clothing. The bulk of the book consists of her trial transcripts. They are translated into modern English by Sanguinetti with nothing edited out (as sometimes happened in the past) to support or refute various opinions about the sexuality and gender identity of Joan of Arc. The author is a theology student at the University of Notre Dame whose credentials include five years of French language study. Published by Little Flower Publishing.


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Related links:

New in April 2016: LGBTQ Christian books "Justice Calls" and "Signs and Wonders"

New in March 2016: LGBTQ Christian books "The Firebrand and the First Lady" and "Space at the Table"

New in Feb 2016: LGBTQ Christian books “Brother-Making in Late Antiquity" and “Two Pews from Crazy”

Top 25 LGBTQ Christian books of 2015 named (Jesus in Love)

Top 25 LGBTQ Christian books of 2014 named (Jesus in Love)

Top 20 Gay Jesus books (from Jesus in Love)

Queer Theology book list (from Patrick Cheng)

Jesus in Love Bookstore (includes LGBT Christian classics)

15 LGBTQ Christian Valentine’s Day books, movies and gifts (Jesus in Love)


Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.

http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Friday, April 29, 2016

RIP: Bangladesh LGBT martyrs Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar



In memory of
Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar

LGBT activists in Bangladesh

Murdered April 25, 2016


white candle Pictures, Images and Photos




I light a memorial candle for Xulhaz Mannan and Tanay Mojumdar, who were hacked to death for being "pioneers of practicing and promoting homosexuality in Bangladesh" on April 25 in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

The militant Islamist militant group Al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for murder in the south Asian nation, calling it a "blessed attack."

Xulhaz Mannan was editor of "Roopbaan," Bangladesh's first and only LGBT magazine, and also an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development. Before that he worked for eight years as protocol specialist at the a U.S. Embassy. He tried to organize a Rainbow Rally for LGBT youths on April 14, the Bengali New Year, but was stopped by officials. His friend Tanay Mojumdar was a theater and TV actor who sometimes helped with publishing the magazine.

Roopban was launched in 2014 to promote greater acceptance of LGBT people in Bangladesh.

An Associated Press news report explained:

Mannan had written openly about the frustration of living "in the closet" as a gay man in Bangladesh, where homosexual relations are considered a crime. In a May 2014 blog, he said gays and lesbians in Bangladesh experience "A country where the predominant religions say you are a sinner, the law of the land says you are a criminal, the social norms say you are a pervert, the culture considers you as imported."

Mannon and his friend were killed a gang who got into his apartment by posing as messengers. Witnesses reported that the attackers yelled "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") as they left.

The misuse of religion to condone murder adds to the tragedy of their deaths. All life, including LGBT lives, must be honored and protected as God intended.
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Related links:

Al-Qaida says it killed Bangladesh gay activist, friend (Associated Press)

Al-Qaeda affiliate says it killed a gay rights activist and his friend in Bangladesh (Washington Post)

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Related books:

Lotus Of Another Color: An Unfolding of the South Asian Gay and Lesbian Experience” by Rakesh Ratti (editor)

Impossible Desires: Queer Diasporas and South Asian Public Cultures” by Gayatri Gopinath

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, 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.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts


Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Christina Rossetti: Queer writer of Christmas carols and lesbian poetry

Cover illustration for Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market and Other Poems” (1862) by Dante Gabriel Rossetti)

Portrait of Christina Rossetti
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Christina Georgina Rossetti was a 19th-century English poet whose work ranged from Christmas carols to sensuous lesbian love poetry. A devout Christian who never married, she has been called a “queer virgin” and “gay mystic.” Her feast day is today (April 27) on the Episcopal and Church of England calendars.

Many consider her to be one of Britain’s greatest Victorian poets. Rossetti’s best-known works are the Christmas carol “In the Bleak Midwinter” and “Goblin Market,” a surprisingly erotic poem about the redemptive love between two sisters who overcome temptation by goblins. The homoeroticism is unmistakable in verses such as these:

She cried, “...Did you miss me?
Come and kiss me.
Never mind my bruises,
Hug me, kiss me, suck my juices
Squeez’d from goblin fruits for you,
Goblin pulp and goblin dew.
Eat me, drink me, love me…”

She clung about her sister,
Kiss’d and kiss’d and kiss’d her…
She kiss’d and kiss’d her with a hungry mouth.

Some of these verses were set to music in a choral piece commissioned by the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Choir: “Heartland” by Matthew Hindson.

There is no direct evidence that Rossetti was sexually involved with another woman, but historian Rictor Norton reports that her brother destroyed her love poems addressed to women when he edited her poetry for publication. Rossetti is included in “Essential Gay Mystics” by Andrew Harvey.  A comprehensive chapter titled “Christina Rossetti: The Female Queer Virgin” appears in “Same Sex Desire in Victorian Religious Culture” by Frederick S. Roden. Rossetti is also important to feminist scholars who reclaimed her in the 1980s and 1990s as they sought women’s voices hidden in the church’s patriarchal past.

Rossetti (Dec. 5, 1830 - Dec. 29, 1894) was born in London as the youngest child in an artistic family. Her brother Dante Gabriel Rossetti became a famous Pre-Raphaelite poet and artist. Encouraged by her family, she began writing and dating her poems starting at age 12.

When Rossetti was 14 she started experiencing bouts of illness and depression and became deeply involved in the Anglo-Catholic Movement of the Church of England. The rest of her life would be shaped by prolonged illness and passionate religious devotion. She broke off marriage engagements with two different men on religious grounds. She stayed single, living with her mother and aunt for most of her life.

Christina posed
for this Annunciation
by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
During this period she served as the model for the Virgin Mary in a couple of her brother’s most famous paintings, including his 1850 vision of the Annunciation, “Ecce Ancilla Domini” (“Behold the Handmaid of God.”)

Starting in 1859, Rossetti worked for 10 years as a volunteer at the St. Mary Magdalene “house of charity” in Highgate, a shelter for unwed mothers and former prostitutes run by Anglican nuns. Some suggest that “Goblin Market” was inspired by and/or written for the “fallen women” she met there.

Goblin Market” was published in 1862, when Rossetti was 31. The poem is about Laura and Lizzie, two sisters who live alone together and share one bed. They sleep as a couple, in Rossetti’s vivid words:

Cheek to cheek and breast to breast
Lock’d together in one nest.

But “goblin men” tempt them with luscious forbidden fruit and Laura succumbs. After one night of indulgence she can no longer find the goblins and begins wasting away. Desperate to help her sister, Lizzie tries to buy fruit from the goblins, but they refuse and try to make her eat the fruit. She resists even when they attack and try to force the fruit into her mouth. Lizzie, drenched in fruit juice and pulp, returns home and invites Laura to lick the juices from her in the verses quoted earlier. The juicy kisses revive Laura and the two sisters go on to lead long lives as wives and mothers.

“Goblin Market” can be read as an innocent childhood nursery rhyme, a warning about the dangers of sexuality, a feminist critique of marriage or a Christian allegory. Lizzie becomes a Christ figure who sacrifices to save her sister from sin and gives life with her Eucharistic invitation to “Eat me, drink me, love me…” The two sisters of “Goblin Market” are often interpreted as lesbian lovers, which means that Lizzie can justifiably be interpreted as a lesbian Christ.

In 1872 Rossetti was diagnosed with Graves Disease, an auto-immune thyroid disorder, which caused her to spend her last 15 years as a recluse in her home. She died of cancer on Dec. 29, 1894 at age 64.

She wrote the words to “In the Bleak Midwinter” in 1872 in response to a request from Scribner’s Magazine for a Christmas poem. It was published posthumously in 1904 and became a popular carol after composer Gustav Holst set it to music in 1906. Her poem “Love Came Down at Christmas” (1885) is also a well known carol.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” continues to be sung frequently in churches, by choirs, and on recordings by artists such as Julie Andrews (video below), Sarah McLaughlin, Loreena McKennitt and James Taylor. The haunting song includes these verses:


In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ....

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breastful of milk,
And a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
Which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air -
But only His mother
In her maiden bliss
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give Him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him,
Give my heart.


The Episcopal Church devotes a feast day to Christina Rossetti on April 27 with this official prayer:

O God, whom heaven cannot hold, you inspired Christina Rossetti to express the mystery of the Incarnation through her poems: Help us to follow her example in giving our hearts to Christ, who is love; and who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Rossetti herself may well have felt ambivalent about being honored by the church or outed as a queer. She shared her own thoughts for posterity in her poem “When I am dead, my dearest” (1862):


When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain:
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.


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Related links:

Christina Rossetti profile (glbtq.com)

The Many Weird and Wonderful Illustrations for Christina Rossetti's Goblin Market (Unpretentious Blabberings)



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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, 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.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts