Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Esther, Vashti and eunuchs on Purim: Queer models for such a time as this

Queen Esther by Jim Padgett, Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing (Wikimedia Commons)

Queen Esther, a role model for LGBTQ people, helped save the Jews from destruction in ancient Persia, an event commemorated today in the Jewish festival of Purim (March 4-5 this year). LGBT Jews see her as an inspiration for coming out. A possible lesbian love story between Biblical queens Esther and Vashi has fired the imagination of a lesbian playwright, while a scholar says both queens are role models for gay and lesbians in ministry.

Esther hid her Jewish identity in order to become the next queen of Persia. Later she "came out" as Jewish to the king, thereby saving her people from a planned massacre. Their story is told in the Book of Esther in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament). Vashti was a Persian queen who refused to obey a summons from her drunken husband, the king.

Queer characters fill the Book of Esther. Every chapter includes at least one eunuch -- an ancient term for gender nonconformists who today would be called LGBTQI. There are a dozen eunuchs in the Book of Esther: Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar, Carcas, Hegai, Shassshagaz, Teresh, Bigthana and Hathach. They play a variety of roles, including messengers, advisors, guards, assassins and soldiers.

The Washington Post article Gay Jews Connect Their Experience To Story of Purim reports that some see Purim as an unofficial LGBT Pride Day. Esther is traditionally considered the heroine of the story, but independent-minded Vashti has been reclaimed by feminists and now LGBT people.

Lesbian playwright Carolyn Gage imagined a love story between the two queens in her play “Esther and Vashti.” Gage describes her play as “a fast-paced, high-action drama where the love story of two women of different cultures and class backgrounds plays itself out against a backdrop of anti-Semitism and the sexual colonization of women.” Her “radical feminist retelling” fills in the blanks of scripture. In her version, Esther, a radical Jewish lesbian living in exile, and Vashti, a Persian woman of privilege, were lovers before Vashti married the king. The plight of the two women coincides with their successful effort to stop the impending massacre of the Jews.

Rev. David Bahr applies the strategies of the two queens to contemporary challenges in “Openly Gay and Lesbian Pastors Called by Predominantly Straight UCC Congregations,” a research project for his Doctor of Ministry degree at Wesley Theological Seminary in 2006. His theological reflection states, “As Esther and Vashti wrestle with their callings, I believe they can be instructive for gay men and lesbians called to ordained ministry. When should we wait, wondering if we are being prepared for something bigger? And when is enough, enough? What gives us the greatest sense of integrity? Or perhaps, who is best served? Both Esther and Vashti also present ‘models of resistance to wrong’ – one of direct dissent and one of working within the system.” Bahr went on to become pastor of Park Hill Congregational Church UCC in Denver, Colorado.

In a famous quote from the Book of Esther, the man who had urged her to hide her Jewish identity changes his advice when their people are about to be massacred: “Perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14) Now is a good time to reflect what Esther and Vashti mean to queer people and our allies today.

Related links:
The Proudest Queen of Purim (Human Rights Campaign)

Eunuch-Inclusive Esther–Queer Theology 101 by Peterson Toscano

Closets (Esther 4:13-14) (The Bible in Drag Blog)

Esther: The Queen Who Came Out (Talking Dog)

Mona West also writes about Esther in The Queer Bible Commentary

Carolyn Gage page at
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

The traditional view of Esther is presented in the following:

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Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sacred gay union with Christ evoked by music of New-Age “Passion of Mark”

Jesus initiates a young man into God’s mysteries with a rite of spiritual and erotic union in a musical Passion play by New-Age composer Christopher A. Flores and gay lyricist/priest Adrian Ravarour.

Songs from “The Passion of Mark” were recently posted online for the first time on Flores’ new Soundcloud page, and the creators are looking for a venue for its debut onstage. Both live in California.

Their hauntingly beautiful sacred music brings a fresh approach and gay sensibility to the traditional elements of a Passion play – a dramatic presentation of the events in the life of Jesus from the Last Supper to the resurrection.

In their portrayal of the Passion, dreamlike music transports the listener to a blissful state where divine union feels imminent.

“We created it as a spiritual work to help transform consciousness and bring people into the divine,” Ravarour said. “Any rendering of Jesus must go deeply to the sacred heart of life and all existence. In essence, we are addressing the soul, eternity and God.”

Jesus and his Beloved sing sensitive lyrics to each other that inspire enlightenment by putting the ineffable into words such as these:

Naked am I to you
Naked you are to me
Baring ourselves to each other
You see all of me
I know all of you
Love is a holy union
We are joined as brothers
In your arms
Lovers forever

The lyrics speak of transcendental male-male union between “you” and “I” with only a few references to Christ. The creators’ intention to construct a full-fledged Passion play with a gay Jesus is made clear in their written synopsis and stage directions.

“Throughout cultures and time people tend to create deities in their own image... and so a gay Jesus is healing to LGBT people who have been excluded from many Christian churches,” Ravarour explained.

According to the synopsis, “The Passion of Mark” begins under a starry night sky, when Jesus and his 12 disciples gather and declare their love around a reflecting pool in the Garden of Gethsemane. A mysterious young man follows the group into the garden.

The opening song is “In the Beginning,” An angelic voice sings with an orchestrated version of the electronic score in the recording posted here and at Flores’ new Soundcloud page:

Holding you at night
Your essence blends with mine
I drink in your soul
Filling me with your life

The full lyrics of “In the Beginning” are posted at the end of this article.

The young man disappears while the disciples and Jesus wash each other’s feet in the pool. After the disciples fall asleep, he returns and embraces Jesus. The next scene unfolds during a sweet song called “Surrender,” which begins:

Let us anoint each other
With the Sacrament of Love
Come, drink from my cup
Before I’m gone

Jesus takes off the young man’s shirt, washes his feet, and feeds him bread and wine. They bathe together in the reflecting pool and the night mist conceals their bodies. They exit the pool and dry each other. Then the young man leaves.

The disciples wake up and ghostly visitors from Jesus’ past arrive to thank and bless him. Jesus and the disciples share communion with the audience until Jesus is left alone onstage. His crucifixion is communicated by the dark atmosphere of the music, which climaxes as blood-red light surrounds him.

The final scene unfolds at sunrise in the garden. The disciples wake to find that Jesus is back with them, only now his hands are marked by the stigmata of crucifixion wounds. They hug him good-bye and leave him alone – but not for long. The Passion play ends when the mysterious young man returns to embrace and kiss Jesus.

“Adrian and I have written numerous works which touch upon themes from various philosophical and spiritual perspectives and traditions,” Flores said. “In Mark we wanted to approach the personality and story of Jesus Christ within the structure of a mystery, Passion play, and musical tableau...combining various storytelling and music traditions, the Scriptures, poetry, art, liturgical music, etc. into a unified whole, and which in and of itself would be ultimately be a ritual. The piece is also quite simple, dream-like, and at its core, simply a meditation.”

“The Passion of Mark” was inspired by Morton Smith's book “The Secret Gospel,” and incorporates elements from Will Roscoe's book “Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love,” Flores and Ravarour said.

The manuscript known as the “Secret Gospel of Mark” includes more details about Jesus’ relationship with the “naked youth” than Mark’s standard canonical gospel. Secret Mark says that the pair spent the night together while “Jesus taught him the mystery of the kingdom of God.” The lost gospel was discovered in 1958 by Smith, a Columbia University history professor. He interpreted it to mean that Jesus may have used nocturnal rituals of sacred sex to initiate male followers. Roscoe’s book re-examines the lost text, finding parallels with shamanic rites from ancient cultures that pre-date Christianity.

Secret Mark has been questioned as a possible hoax, but the lack of solid evidence doesn’t mean that the homoerotic Christian initiation rituals never happened, nor does it diminish the power and importance of envisioning a queer Christ today.

“I used Morton Smith's ‘The Secret Gospel of Mark’ as my departure point, and created a what-if text based upon a lifetime of reading about Jesus and countless theories and interpretations of him; and reasoned how would spiritual love and love be shared between them,” Ravarour explained. “And so my lyrics are all imagined. It’s a Passion play of what his followers would have expressed could they have said more. It’s about Love which includes the whole being....spirit/soul, mind, body. You know, LOVE.”

The lyrics and music both have an intoxicating, hypnotic quality that grows out of the artistic process of its creators.

“To be perfectly honest, I write the lyrics from a sort of trance space,” Ravarour said. “I intuit the subject, let it churn in me for days, and then birth-write the lyrics in one sitting of only 10 to 30 minutes. And I never rewrite them because I would have to be in the same sacred space to edit them. Christopher used tell me that he reread the lyrics over and over until he felt them and wrote music from that embodiment.”

Flores elaborated on the importance of the gay Jesus theme in a statement for the Jesus in Love Blog: “The concept of a gay Jesus is controversial solely because of the religious, social, political, and moral structure Western thought and culture subscribes to. In reality, there is nothing revolutionary about this if we subscribe to a different theory about God, Creationism, gender, and male / female roles. On a very basic level, a new vision of Jesus may create a sense of empowerment for some, a reclamation for others of a philosophy and message which has primarily been utilized to instill fear, guilt, and control over society…. I prefer to eradicate any definition of Jesus and view him more as the physical attribute of a Divine Being, and within that, Christ becomes the physical manifestation of such abstract ideas of love, kindness, peace, healing, and so on.”

“The Passion of Mark” has never been produced on stage, although Flores and Ravarour created it in 2002. But some of their other LGBT-themed spiritual collaborations have been performed in the years since then. For example, “The Transfigured Body: A Requiem in Celebration of Gwen Araujo” premiered in 2003 at Founders Metropolitan Community Church in Los Angeles, and “The Celestial Veil” was presented at Hollywood Lutheran Church in 2007.

“It is probably oddly fitting that Mark has taken this long to come to fruition, given the current state of world events,” Flores said.

Ravarour is a long-time LGBT-rights activist who co-founded the LGBT youth organization Vanguard in San Francisco in 1965. In Los Angeles he was an associate bishop and rector at the Beloved Disciple parish of Bishop Robert M. Clement’s American Catholic Church and he continued as bishop in Mikhail Itkin’s last Order of Thomasines. Since 1979 he has created various LGBT/gay art, photography and writings. He received his Ph.D. in Eastern philosophy and biopsychic energy studies in 1985 from the Union Institute under the supervision of Jose Arguelles (Valum Votan).

His books include "Epiphanies: Energy Flow Poetry" and "Portals: Energy Flow Photography," and "Keys to Spiritual Being: Energy Meditation and Synchronization Exercises." He currently divides his time between Los Angeles and San Francisco. “Rather than a traditional ministry, I was set-apart to make spiritual art as my ministry; personally, I am not bound by 20th-century conventions,” he said.

Los Angeles-based composer Flores is a multi-disciplinary artist who is active as a sound, set and lighting designer, audio engineer, and stage / production manager. Past commissions include scores for productions at the Los Angeles Theater Center and technical support for the Getty Center, Mark Taper Forum and East-West Players. “He has given his life to composing music of the soul for individual spiritual connection and societal transformation,” Ravarour said.

Flores was raised in the fundamentalist, evangelical, and charismatic traditions, but now he simply defines himself as spiritual. “During my formal music studies I was introduced to Buddhism, within which I was finally able to reconcile my views about the World, Life, and God,” he explained. “The mid-1980’s proved to be my spiritual awakening, discovering numerous world, social, political, philosophical, and metaphysical perspectives, and developing a strong interest in Mesoamerican history, mythology, and philosophy.” In particular he was inspired by the work of Jose Arguelles, visionary mystic and author of “The Mayan Factor” and the multi-volume Cosmic History Chronicles.

The complete lyrics for “In the Beginning,” the opening song in “The Passion of Mark,” introduce readers and listeners to the sublime love expressed in the work.

Holding you at night
Your essence blends with mine
I drink in your soul
Filling me with your life

The sweetest sense
I have ever known
Is your sacred heart
Knowing who you are

You, formed of soul and light
You, who occupy space and time
When you lived in this time
How blessed I am to behold you
Sacred friend whom I love

Your thoughts as music
Paint the fields of life
And breathe your heart
Into all you see and feel

You are my Christlight
True soul, alive, revealed
I am your Twin Flame
Alive within our unity…

Related links:

Hunter Flournoy: Teacher says we are the erotic body of Christ

The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” paintings by Douglas Blanchard

This post is part of the Queer Christ series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.

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

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New LGBTQ Christian books: March 2015


Between These Walls: A Novel” by John Herrick.
A young Christian man confronts his fears when his secret attraction to men is exposed in “Between These Walls: A Novel” by John Herrick. The author reveals the main character’s experiences in an accessible, neutral way for a mainstream audience. His goals include “to help readers find a friend, especially any readers who might be wrestling the same way the character does,” “to illustrate how hurtful judgment is” and “to show that his attraction to other men is no indicator whatsoever of his love for the Lord,” he said in an interview with the Jesus in Love Blog. Herrick promises a unique ending that allows readers to interpret it however they want. A news report about bullying of a gay teen helped motivate Herrick to write the novel.


Odd Man Out” by Joseph R Murray II.
A former insider from the Christian Right describes his journey to becoming an openly gay attorney with a civil rights practice in Mississippi.

Life of Jesus

Walking Toward Resurrection: A Transgender Passion Narrative” by Shannon T.L. Kearns.
A queer theologian unpacks the Passion by putting it into conversation with his own transition as a transgender man in this collection of essays.

Fun stuff

Gay Jesus Cometh” by Alexander Flores.
In this graphic novel, “a messiah named Gay Jesus arrives on earth to save homosexuals from the evils of global homophobia,” according to its official description. The work is the latest installment in “LGBT Bible,” an entertaining comic book series that adds a queer perspective to Biblical stories It was written and illustrated by Pastor Alexander Flores, who was born in Colombia in 1966, raised in New Jersey and currently lives in Los Angeles.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Peter Gomes: Gay black Harvard minister preached "scandalous gospel"

“The Rev. Peter Gomes, of Plymouth, 1942 – 2011” by Jon Dorn

Peter Gomes was a gay black Baptist minister at Harvard and one of America’s most prominent spiritual voices against intolerance. Gomes reportedly hated being labeled “gay minister,” yet he used his national celebrity to make the religious case for LGBT people. He died four years ago today at age 68 on Feb. 28, 2011.

A man of many contradictions, Gomes became a Democrat in 2007 after decades as a conservative Republican. He even gave the benediction at President Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration in 1985 and preached at the National Cathedral for the inauguration of Reagan’s successor, George Bush.

Gomes (May 22, 1942 - Feb. 28, 2011) was born in Boston to a black African immigrant father and a mother from Boston’s African American upper middle class. He grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts.  He studied at Bates College (where a chapel was named after him in 2012) , earned a divinity degree at Harvard University, and taught Western civilization at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama for two years before returning to work at Harvard in 1970. Four years later he became the first black person to serve as chief minister to Harvard. He held the positions of Pusey minister at Harvard’s Memorial Church and Plummer professor of Christian morals for the rest of his life.

He came out publicly as “a Christian who happens as well to be gay” at a student rally in 1991 after a conservative student magazine at Harvard published a condemnation of homosexuality.  “I now have an unambiguous vocation -- a mission -- to address the religious causes and roots of homophobia,” he later told the Washington Post. “I will devote the rest of my life to addressing the 'religious case' against gays.”

In his 1996 best-seller, “The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart,” he showed how the Bible was misused to defend homophobia, racism, anti-Semitism and sexism.

His 2007 book “The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?” went on to show that Jesus was a subversive whose radical gospel always overturns the status quo.

Among Gomes’s many admirers is artist Jon Dorn, who drew the portrait at the top of this post. Dorn is a cartoonist, filmmaker, and Master of Fine Arts student at Emerson College in Boston. He also serves on the Plymouth Cultural Council.

A musical tribute to Gomes is “I Beseech You Therefore, Brethren” by composer Craig Phillips, music director at All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Beverly Hills. It was originally commissioned by members of Harvard’s Class of 1978 to celebrate his retirement, but he died before its premiere so it was sung at his memorial. The anthem has become a memorial to Gomes' legacy. It is included on the 2014 album “Spring Bursts Today: A Celebration of Eastertide” by Harvard University Choir. Gomes himself selected the text, which was one of his favorite scriptures:

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (Romans 12:1–2)

Gomes’ blend of scholarship, wisdom and accessibility is expressed in a few selected quotations:

“Hell is being defined by your circumstances, and believing that definition.” -- Peter Gomes

“The question should not be ‘What would Jesus do?’ but rather, more dangerously, 'What would Jesus have me do?'” -- Peter Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

“To some, the temporal triumph of the Christian community in the world is a sign of God's favor and the essential righteousness of the Christian position. The irony of the matter, though, is that whenever the Christian community gains worldly power, it nearly always loses its capacity to be the critic of the power and influence it so readily brokers.” --Peter J. Gomes in The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

“The battle for the Bible, of which homosexuality is the last front, is really the battle for the prevailing culture, of which the Bible itself is a mere trophy and icon. Such a cadre of cultural conservatives would rather defend their ideology in the name of the authority of scripture than concede that their self-serving reading of that scripture might just be wrong, and that both the Bible and the God who inspires it may be more gracious, just and inclusive than they can presently afford to be.” -- Peter Gomes in The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart

Books by Peter Gomes include:

The Good Book: Reading the Bible with Mind and Heart

The Scandalous Gospel of Jesus: What's So Good About the Good News?

Sermons: Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living

The Good Life: Truths that Last in Times of Need

Strength for the Journey: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living


Related links:

Peter Gomes at LGBT Religious Archives Network

Rev. Peter Gomes: The Accidental Gay Advocate (Irene Monroe at HuffPost)

Gay, Black, Republican, Baptist Preacher, Rev. Peter Gomes, 1942-2011 (Candace Chellew-Hodge at Religion Dispatches)

Rev. Peter J. Gomes Is Dead at 68; A Leading Voice Against Intolerance (New York Times)

Video: Peter Gomes discusses: Would Jesus Support Gay Marriage? (also posted below)

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

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Friday, February 27, 2015

RIP Malcolm Boyd: Pioneering gay Episcopal priest dies at 91

Pioneering gay Episcopal priest Malcolm Boyd died today (Feb. 27) under hospice care in Los Angeles. He was 91.

I knew Malcolm personally as a fellow author, a colleague in LGBT ministry, and a good-natured friend who shared my passion for Taize music. He worked in the film industry with Mary Pickford, was ordained in 1955, was a “Freedom Rider” for civil rights in 1961, and officially came out as gay in 1977.

At my invitation, he contributed to my book “Equal Rites: Lesbian and Gay Worship, Ceremonies and Celebrations” and was the keynote speaker at a Taize Festival that I organized in Los Angeles in the 1990s. In a wonderful keynote speech, he described his stay at the Taize monastic community in France in 1957.

His 35 books include “Gay Priest: An Inner Journey.” I remember the fun and excitement of attending his Los Angeles reading for “Amazing Grace: Stories of Lesbian and Gay Faith,” which he edited with Nancy Wilson. His best-known book is “Are You Running with Me, Jesus?” a collection of conversational prayer-poems with a million copies in print. This 1965 spiritual classic includes “Prayers for Sexual Freedom” with a section that begins “This is a
bar, Jesus.”

He and his longtime partner Mark Thompson married in 2013 after same-sex marriage became legal in Califorina.

A celebration of Boyd’s life is planned for 2 p.m. on Sat., March 21, at the Cathedral Center of St. Paul, 840 Echo Park Ave., Los Angeles.

Malcolm wrote two prayers for “Equal Rites.” I was pleased when he agreed to contribute to the book, and even more delighted when I read his manuscript. Unlike most writers, he submitted text that required no editing because it was already perfect. Here is an excerpt from his “Coming-Out Liturgy”:

Leader: Have you decided that you want to come out?
Participant: I have.
Leader: What do you want to come out of?
Participant: Respression.

Leader: What kind of repression?
Participant: I am a gay man / a lesbian. I have suffered the repression of not feeling that I could share my true identity with other people.
Community: We welcome you.

Leader: Have you felt isolation and loneliness?
Participant: I have. The cold waters of fear have covered my body and wounded my soul. I have sensed desolation and utter aloneness. I have suffered misunderstanding and even been greeted by others as someone who was a total stranger to me...
Community: We offer you validation for yourself as you have been created and celebration of your gayness as a gift of God.

Leader: What do you seek now to do with your life?
Participant: I seek freedom. I want to be myself and find acceptance and love. I never want to have to wear a mask again. I want other people to appreciate me for who I really am. I want to make an honest contribution to life in an open way, without any lies or ambiguity.
Community: We offer you the assurance of freedom....
Participant: I am ready now to set my feet on the path to freedom.

Related links:

Malcolm Boyd dies at 91; Episcopal priest took prayer to the streets (Los Angeles Times)

Rev. Malcolm Boyd, LGBT Icon, Civil Rights Activist and Hollywood Producer, Dead at 91 (Frontiers)

Malcolm Boyd profile at LGBT Religious Archives Network

Malcolm Boyd, the overlooked gay activist who pushed boundaries by Jay Michaelson (Religion News Service)

If a Tree Falls in the Forest... Remembering Rev. Malcolm Boyd by Nancy Wilson (Huffington Post)

Malcolm Boyd: Reflections from me and Louie Crew by Susan Russell (Inch at a Time)

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