Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Jesus challenges viewers by arriving as a young gay man of today in a modern city with “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a new book by Kittredge Cherry (author) and Douglas Blanchard (artist).
The book was released today and is available for purchase. Readers can buy the book now at Amazon.com and other bookstores.
In 24 stunning new paintings, the contemporary Christ figure is jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes, and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God. His surprisingly diverse friends join him on a journey from suffering to freedom. He lives out a 21st-century version of Jesus’ last days, including the crucifixion and resurrection. Readers call it “accessible but profound.”
“These dramatic paintings break the deadly illusion that Jesus belongs exclusively to a particular time or group,” says author Kittredge Cherry, a minister and art historian. “A queer Passion is crucial now even for non-believers because Christianity is being used to justify discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The book speaks not only to the LGBT community, but to everyone who is passionate about building a more just world.”
The illustrated book brings together a gifted gay artist and an established lesbian author who specializes in LGBT Christian art. They take the most important narrative in Western culture and rescue it from fundamentalists and also from over-familiarity. Both are at the forefront of a trend towards envisioning Christ as queer.
Each image is accompanied by an insightful essay on its meaning, artistic and historical context, Biblical basis and LGBT significance, plus a short meditation with a scripture and one-line prayer. The Passion is placed in a larger context in introduction by the artist and an afterword by Toby Johnson, comparative religion scholar and author of “Gay Spirituality.” The book itself is a work of art with lavish full-color reproductions and an elegant design.
“Christ is one of us in my pictures,” says Blanchard. “In His sufferings, I want to show Him as someone who experiences and understands fully what it is like to be an unwelcome outsider.” Blanchard, an art professor and self-proclaimed “very agnostic believer,” used the series to grapple with his own faith struggles as a New Yorker who witnessed the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
The gay Passion book is “transformative in the most profound sense of the word,” says Michael Bronski, Harvard professor and author of “A Queer History of the United States.” “Whether you are religious or not, it is impossible to read ‘The Passion of Christ’ without having your basic beliefs shaken and expanded.”
LGBT religious leaders also praise the book. “I was deeply moved by this retelling of the Easter story,” says Rev. Troy Perry, founder of Metropolitan Community Churches. Soulforce founder Rev. Mel White calls it “an amazing read,” Rev. Patrick Cheng welcomes it as “a beautiful work of contextual theology,” and Rev. Chris Glaser describes it as “a great contribution.” Mary Hunt of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual declares, “The divine leaps from these pages into open hearts.”
Lambda Literary Award finalist Kittredge Cherry is an art historian who founded JesusInLove.org, an online resource for LGBT spirituality and the arts. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its National Ecumenical Officer, advocating for LGBT rights at the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches. She holds degrees in religion, art history, and journalism. Cherry’s other books include “Art That Dares,” “Equal Rites,” “Jesus in Love,” “Hide and Speak,” and “Womansword.” The New York Times Book Review praised her “very graceful, erudite” writing style. She lives in Los Angeles.
Artist Douglas Blanchard teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York. He paints in a realistic figurative style to explore gay experience, religion, mythology, history, and current events. Born and raised in Dallas, Blanchard earned degrees in art and art history from the Kansas City Art Institute, Washington University in St. Louis, and the New York Academy of Art. His Passion series was exhibited at New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in 2004 and JHS Gallery in Taos, New Mexico in 2007. Advocate.com called his Passion paintings “an emotional reminder of the courage it takes to resist the powers that be.”
The book functions both as a meditation aid for believers and as an informative analysis for secular readers interested in religion, art, history, and LGBT studies. “The purpose of reflecting on the Passion is not necessarily to worship Christ, but to remember the ongoing cycle of human violence, and to seek a way to move from suffering to freedom,” Cherry says “To Christians, the Passion is the ultimate affirmation that God stands in solidarity with humankind.”
“The Passion of Christ” (ISBN 194067140X) is published by the Apocryphile Press, a publisher and purveyor of fine books on religion, spirituality, philosophy and poetry since 2004. Based in Berkeley, Apocryphile has more than 100 titles in print by historical and contemporary authors.
The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision
By Kittredge Cherry (author) and Douglas Blanchard (artist)
Publisher: Apocryphile Press
Paperback with color images: 150 pages
Dimensions: 8.5 x 11 inches
Publication date: Fall 2014
* Book website: passionofchristbook.com
* Author website: jesusinlove.org
* Artist website: douglas-blanchard.fineartamerica.com
* Publisher website: apocryphile.org
* On sale now at at Amazon.com
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Monday, October 13, 2014
“Dance to the Berdache” by George Catlin (Wikipedia)
Two-spirit Native Americans are remembered here today for Columbus Day. European explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492, initiating cross-cultural contact that had a devastating effect on the indigenous population, especially two-spirit people.
Almost all Native American tribes traditionally recognized third and sometimes even fourth genders for people who mixed male and female characteristics. “Two spirit” is one of the many and varied Native American terms for alternative genders because one body housed both feminine and masculine spirits. Sometimes they played a spiritual role mediating between the realms of body and spirit, male and female. From a Western cultural viewpoint, the two-spirited people have been seen as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) or queer.
George Catlin, famous artist who specialized in portraits of Native Americans in the Old West, sketched the “Dance to the Berdache” in the 19th century while on the Great Plains with the Sac and Fox Nation. He depicted a ceremonial dance to celebrate the Berdache, a European term for two-spirit people. But Catlin refused to give two-spirit people a place in his paintings of “traditional” Indian life.
Executions for homosexuality were common in Europe for centuries, and Europeans soon imported homophobic violence to the Americas. For example, the Spanish explorer Vasco Núñez de Balboa found homosexuality among the Native American chiefs in 1594 at Quarqua in Panama. He ordered 40 of these two-spirited people thrown to his war dogs to be torn apart and eaten alive to stop the “stinking abomination.”
Balboa executing two-spirit Native Americans for homosexuality in 1513 in Panama -- engraving by Théodore De Bry, 1594 (Wikimedia Commons).
Despite the violence, some two-spirit individuals are still remembered in history and contemporary art. They include We’wha of Zuni, the Woman Chief known as Pine Leaf. Their portraits and stories are posted for Columbus Day on the Jesus in Love Blog.
“We’wha of Zuni” by Br. Robert Lentz OFM, TrinityStores.com
We’wha of Zuni
We’wha was a two-spirit Native American Zuni who served as a cultural ambassador for her people, including a visit with a U.S. president in 1886. We’wha (pronounced WAY-wah) was the most famous “lhamana,” the Zuni term for a male-bodied person who lived in part as a woman. Lhamanas chose to specialize in crafts instead of becoming warriors or hunters.
We’wha (1849-1896) was a skilled weaver and potter who helped Anglo-American scholars studying Zuni society. In 1886 We’wha traveled from her home in New Mexico to Washington DC, where she met president Grover Cleveland. She was welcomed as a celebrity during her six months in Washington. Everyone assumed that the 6-foot-tall “Indian princess” was female.
The spiritual side of We’wha is emphasized in the above icon by Brother Robert Lentz, is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. She is dressed for a religious ceremony as she prepares to put on the sacred mask of the man-woman spirit Kolhamana.
“We’wha” by Jim Ru
Jim Ru painted We’Wha with a dramatic blue background in the icon below. It was included in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.
We’wha is the subject of the book “The Zuni Man-Woman” by gay anthropologist Will Roscoe. He also wrote “Changing Ones: Third and Fourth Genders in Native North America” and “Jesus and the Shamanic Tradition of Same-Sex Love.” Roscoe’s website willsworld.org offers resources in the Native American two-spirit tradition, third genders in the ancient world, and studies in early Christianity.
“Biawacheeitche or Woman Chief aka Barcheeampe or Pine Leaf” by Ria Brodell
Pine Leaf or Woman Chief
“Woman Chief” is one of the names for the two-spirit tomboy born around 1800 to the Gros Ventre tribe. She was captured by the Crow nation when she was 10 and was so adept at hunting and warfare that she rose to become their chief.
Historical accounts say that she wore women’s clothes but had “all the style of a man and chief,” with “her guns, bows, lances, war horses, and even two or three young women as wives.”
“Pine Leaf, Indian Heroine” from “The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth,” 1856 (Wikipedia)
She was killed in 1854 by the Gros Ventre, but her story lived on in the popular memoirs of a freed slave and fur trader named James Beckwourth. He called her Pine Leaf because he refused his multiple marriage proposals by saying she would wed him “when the pine leaves turn yellow.” Later he figured out that pine leaves never turn yellow.
She is portrayed in the “Butch Heroes” series by genderqueer Boston artist Ria Brodell. For more on Brodell’s work, see my article “Artist paints history’s butch heroes.”
Two-Spirit (Qualia Encyclopedia of Gay Folklife)
Kent Monkman (Canadian artist of Cree ancestry whose work has strong queer or gay male imagery dealing with sexuality and Christianity)
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.
Sunday, October 12, 2014
“The Passion of Matthew Shepard” by William Hart McNichols ©
Matthew Shepard brought international attention to anti-gay hate crimes when he died 16 years ago today on Oct. 12, 1998. He was a 21-year-old gay student at the University of Wyoming at the time.
Shepard (1976-1998) was brutally attacked near Laramie, Wyoming, on Oct. 6-7, 1998 by two men who later claimed that they were driven temporarily insane by “gay panic” due to Shepard’s alleged sexual advances. Shepard was beaten and left to die.
Now the Matthew Shepard Foundation seeks to replace hate with understanding, compassion and acceptance. U.S. President Obama signed "The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act" into law on Oct. 28, 2009. It broadens the federal hate-crimes law to cover violence based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Shepard has become a cultural icon, inspiring dozens and dozens of paintings, films, plays, songs and other artistic works -- with more still being created every year. His martyrdom gives him the aura of a Christ figure. Matthew Shepard’s torturous death evokes the Good Shepherd who was crucified.
The officer who found Shepard said that he was covered with blood -- except for the white streaks left by his tears. Father William Hart McNichols created a striking icon based on his report. McNichols dedicated his icon The Passion of Matthew Shepard to the 1,470 gay and lesbian youth of commit suicide in the U.S. each year, and to the countless others who are injured or murdered.
McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been rebuked by church leaders for making icons of saints not approved by the church, including this one of Matthew Shepard. McNichols’ own moving spiritual journey and two of his icons are included in the book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More by Kittredge Cherry. His Matthew Shepard icon appears in his book “Christ All Merciful,” which he co-authored with Megan McKenna.
One of the newest projects inspired by Shepard is “Matthew Shepard Meets Coyote,” a play that blends Christianity, queer experience and Native American folklore. In the final moments of Shepard’s life he encounters Coyote, the trickster god of the American West, who urges him to move beyond the cruel tricks that life has played on him. It was written by Harry Cronin, a priest of Holy Cross and professor in residence at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. This fall it is being performed at the San Francisco Fringe Festival and at Bay Area churches this year as a way to spark dialogue. Cronin currently writes plays about redemption in alcoholic and queer experiences.
Several works were released in 2013 for the 15th anniversary of Shepard’s death. They include the musical tribute “Beyond the Fence,” the film “Matt Shepard was a Friend of Mine” and the book “The Book of Matt: Hidden Truths About the Murder of Matthew Shepard.”
"Matthew Shepard: Beyond the Fence," a musical tribute celebrating a life that helped change the world, premiered in October 2013 in a production by the South Coast Singers, a LGBTQ performance troupe in Long Beach, California. Written by SCC creative director Steve Davison, it incorporates existing music by gay composers Levi Kreis, Ryan Amador and Randi Driscoll. Videos from “Beyond the Fence” are posted on YouTube, including the poignant song “Hello,” sung by Julian Comeau.
The documentary film “Matt Shepard was a Friend of Mine” is directed by Michele Josue, who indeed was a close friend of Shepard. She takes a personal approach, exploring his life and loss by visiting places that were important to him and interviewing his friends and family. View the trailer below or at this link.
Award-winning gay Journalist Stephen Jimenez does extensive research into the circumstances of the crime in “The Book of Matt.” He finds that Shepard was not killed for being gay, but for reasons far more complicated.
Other books about Shepard include “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son's Murder in Laramie” and “A World Transformed” by his mother Judy Shepard and “October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard” by Lesléa Newman, a novel in verse about the murder.
“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni
“Saint Sebastian and Matt Shepard Juxtaposed” by JR Leveroni is a painting that makes an important connection between a gay Christian martyr from history and the gay victims of hate crimes today. Leveroni is an emerging visual artist living in South Florida. Painting in a Cubist style, he matches Shepard’s death with the killing of another gay martyr, Saint Sebastian. The suffering is expressed in a subdued style with barely a trace of blood. A variety of male nudes and religious paintings can be seen on his website (warning: male nudity).
|“The Murder of Matthew Shepard” by Matthew Wettlaufer|
The grim scene of Matthew’s death is vividly portrayed in “The Murder of Matthew Shepard,” above, by gay artist-philosopher Matthew Wettlaufer. He lived in El Salvador and South Africa before returning to California. For an interview with Wettlaufer and more of his art, see my previous post “New paintings honor gay martyrs.”
|“The Last of Laramie” by Stephen Mead|
"The Candlelight Vigil for Matthew Shepard (NYC Oct. 19, 1998)” by Sandow Birk
California artist Sandow Birk painted a candlelight vigil for Shepard. With a drummer and a rainbow flag, it seems to echo “The Spirit of 76,” a famous patriotic painting of Revolutionary War figures by Archibald MacNeal Willard. But it is based on the 1889 painting (“The Conscripts” by Pascal Adolphe Jean Dagnan-Bouveret, a work that takes a hard look at the toll of war, especially the conscription of young people into the military during the Franco-Prussian War.
For more about Sandow Birk’s art, see my previous post Stonewall's LGBT history painted: Interview with Sandow Birk.
The play “The Laramie Project” by Moisés Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theater Project has been performed all over the world since it premiered in 1998. Many American performances were picketed by Westboro Baptist Church members, who appear in the play picketing Shepard’s funeral as they did in real life. “The Laramie Project” draws on hundreds of interviews with residents of Laramie conducted by the theater company. A film version of The Laramie Project was released in 2002.
Matthew’s story has also been dramatized in biopic movies such as “The Matthew Shepard Story” with Sam Waterson and Stockard Channing as the grieving parents.
More than a 30 songs inspired by Matthew Shepard are listed in “Cultural Depictions of Matthew Shepard” at Wikipedia. They come from a variety of singers, including Melissa Etheridge, Janis Ian, and Elton John.
The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco features photos of Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Gwen Araujo and others. In the center of the cross is the fence where Shepard was tortured and murdered in Laramie, Wyoming.
Cultural Depictions of Matthew Shepard (Wikipedia)
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) 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
Friday, October 10, 2014
Vida Dutton Scudder, c. 1890 (Wikipedia)
Vida Dutton Scudder is an American social reformer, professor, prominent lesbian author -- and an officially recognized saint in the Episcopal Church. Her feast day is today (Oct. 10.)
Her ideas on economic inequality are especially relevant amid the financial crises of our times. Born in India to missionary parents in 1861, Scudder studied at Oxford and became a professor at Wellesley College, where she taught English literature for 41 years. All her primary relationships were with women. For 35 years from 1919 until her death in 1954, Scudder lived with author Florence Converse in a lesbian relationship.
Scudder’s spirituality went hand in hand with her social conscience and love of learning. She was active in the Social Gospel movement, co-founding a Boston settlement house to reduce poverty, promoting Christian socialism and backing trade unions. Scudder wrote 16 books, including her autobiography “On Journey,” plus numerous articles on religious, political, and literary subjects.
Converse (1871-1967), a New Orelans native and Wellesley graduate, served on the editorial staff of the Atlantic Monthly and The Churchman magazine. She wrote many novels with titles such as “The Story of Wellesley” and “The Holy Night.”
The couple'sr lesbian life is documented in the books “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers, A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America” by Lillian Faderman and “Passionate Commitments: The Lives of Anna Rochester and Grace Hutchins” by Julia M. Allen. Their long-term relationship lasted until Scudder died at age 91 on Oct. 9, 1954.
The two women are buried near each other at Newton Cemetery and Crematory in Newton, Massachusetts. The Internet makes it possible to visit to the graves of Scudder and Converse online.
The Episcopal Church added Scudder to its book of saints several years ago. She expressed her belief in the power of prayer when she wrote, “If prayer is the deep secret creative force that Jesus tells us it is, we should be very busy with it.” Here is the official prayer that the Episcopal Church offers in memory of this lesbian saint:
Most gracious God, you sent your beloved Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Raise up in your church witnesses who, after the example of your servant Vida Dutton Scudder, stand firm in proclaiming the power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.___
Vida Dutton Scudder, American Lesbian Saint for Our Times (Queering the Church)
Vida Dutton Scudder, Educator and Witness for Peace (Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music of the Episcopal Church)
Vida Dutton Scudder (Wikipedia)
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.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts