Table of Contents
Also on this website:
Toby Johnson's books:
GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness
GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe
THE FOURTH QUILL, a
novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil
CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story
Books on Gay Spirituality:
Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The
Dimensional Structure of
Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"
The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the "Statement of Spirituality"
You're Not A Wave
What is Enlightenment?
What is reincarnation?
How many lifetimes in an ego?
Emptiness & Religious Ideas
Experiencing experiencing experiencing
Going into the Light
Meditations for a Funeral
The way to get to heaven
Buddha's father was right
Advice to Travelers to India & Nepal
The Danda Nata & goddess Kalika
Nate Berkus is a bodhisattva
John Boswell was Immanuel Kant
The Two Loves
Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook
Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer
The Way Out by Christopher L Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson
Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry
Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr
Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois
Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson
Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low
Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman
The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman
Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor
Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine
The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada
The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook
The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther
The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel
Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak
Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez
Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr
Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman
Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano
The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo
The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar
Occam’s Razor by David Duncan
Grace and Demion by Mel White
Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso
The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery
The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass
Art That Dares:
Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More
By Kittredge Cherry
AndroGyne Press, pb, 96 pages, $38.95
Kitt Cherry’s newest creation is wonderful, mind-blowing, and beautiful. White Crane readers will recognize her name from previous mentions of her equally mind-blowing novel, Jesus in Love, which presents an autobiography (i.e., told in the first-person) of Jesus Christ as a modern psychologically sophisticated and sexually aware ego-person. Cherry is a lesbian former MCC minister, now in semi-retirement, and author of a book for young people on coming out and a guide to lesbian and gay worship and ceremonies. She is also an art historian. And it is in this last identity that she has collected paintings, photographs and graphics that depict what might be called “alternative” versions of Christian imagery.
This book is effectively a “catalogue” of an exhibition she mounted at the JHS Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, as part of the National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art, in May 2007. It includes beautifully reproduced images of some eleven artists, along with in-depth articles about each artist and explanations of the themes in the selected examples. The subtitle reveals just why “explanations” are in order: “Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.” The introduction contains an account of Cherry’s motivation in searching out this truly “visionary” style of artistic expression and an intelligent discussion of the meaning of the oh-so-religious-sounding term “blasphemy.”
You can imagine she’s had that epithet hurled at her!
Her “blasphemy” is so honest, so respectful, visionary, and inspiring that it becomes a kind of new religion, a Christianity not stuck in literal old stories, but alive with imagery meaningful to us today—not the Jesus of history 2000 years old, but the mystical Jesus of the present NOW, alive in human beings today, suffering and resurrecting through the struggles of modern life and of sexual and gender liberation.
Cherry explains that blasphemy refers to speech intended to transgress or express contempt for central religious beliefs, in that sense, the idea is to protect the status quo religion and culture. But in effect, blasphemy is what wakes people up and forces them to rethink their unquestioned cultural beliefs and myths. In that sense, blasphemy is the truly spiritual tool for transforming consciousness. Jesus Christ, after all, was put to death for blasphemy.
I suppose not all blasphemous speech or art wakes people to the true meaning of religion, but the very fact that a believer would feel so threatened that he or she would hurl accusations at another of this sin ought to tell them something about their own precarious hold on truth. It’s like the Jungian notion of “the shadow” that what upsets you the most—and the most compulsively in other people—is a reflection of traits in yourself you are trying to protect yourself from recognizing and admitting. Being upset by somebody else’s beliefs one disagrees with is some sort of sign of one’s own skepticism. And so the more the beliefs seem meaningless, the more fiercely they have to defended.
"From Michelangelo to Mantegna, Piero Della Francesca to Paul Gauguin, images of Jesus Christ have offended, delighted, outraged, and inspired the devout. For each controversial image, the sacred and profane become intermixed in new ways, challenging viewers to rethink their own imaginary history of religion, spirituality, and sexuality. Kittredge Cherry has performed a great service for our contemporary age, reminding us again what we hold sacred and profane, and how our old categories might be reimagined."
—S. Brent Plate, Associate Professor of Religion and the Visual Arts, Texas Christian University, and author of Blasphemy: Art that Offends
The sinfulness of blasphemy is based on the first of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt make no graven images. Jesus, of course, transformed those commandments, reducing them to two: love God and love your neighbor. And as Christianity moved into Europe in its early missionary days, it dropped the objection to graphic images altogether. That was a desert thing! Nomads--Jews and later Muslims--objected to depictions of God. Greek, Roman and European cultures exulted in creating representations of God. Indeed, during the Middle Ages, the stained glass windows of the great cathedrals were the catechisms by which the religious stories were portrayed and promulgated. The imagery made the stories more real--and memorable--and provided insight into their meaning.
That’s exactly what the image, say, of a female Christ--like that of acrylic artist Jill Ansell--does: causes the viewer to think through the contradiction and to understand “Christ” as a mystical reality which necessarily includes both male and female since humankind includes both male and female. The image of a woman rising from the tomb triumphant reminds us vividly that the Christian message about resurrection includes the feminine principle as well as the masculine.
Depictions of Jesus are often “homoerotic” in that he is prototypically shown near naked and suffering the afflictions of the flesh. Oil painter F. Douglas Blanchard portrays Jesus as a modern gay man in modern clothing being brutalized by police and by fag-baiting protestors. The disturbing, but ultimately glorious, series of twenty-four painting, of which five are included in the book, force the viewer to consider that anti-gay violence in the name of religion is an exact parallel to the violence done against Jesus and which Christians believe was salvific for us all.
With paint on plexiglass Alex Donis produced faux stainedglass windows showing improbable combinations in an intimate kiss--John Kennedy and Fidel Castro, the Pope and Gandhi, Adolf Hitler and a Holocaust survivor--to call into question conventional dualistic categories. Reproduced in the book are the kisses of Jesus and the Hindu god Rama and Mary Magdalene and the Virgen de Guadalupe. Several of Donis’ creations were destroyed by vandals in protest against the exhibit in San Francisco in 1997.
Perhaps the most familiar artwork in the book is that of Franciscan brother Robert Lentz. His modern day Greek Orthodox-styled icons--of both traditional holy figures and modern political and cultural characters--have been distributed through progressive and GLBTI bookstores and card shops for years. The icon of Harvey Milk, Martyr is a national gay treasure. (Since Lentz returned to the Order later in his life, he’s been forbidden for marketing the more controversial of his icons, but they are still available through his previous distributor.) And the icons of Jesus as AIDS sufferer by openly gay ex-Jesuit priest William Hart McNichols will also be familiar. They’ve appeared in the gay press.
That’s to point out only five of the eleven artists. All the images in Art That Dares are equally striking and transforming of ideas about the meaning of religious iconography.
The book is liable to be dismissed and deprecated by the Religious Right. Some of the people who really need to see this material will never lay eyes on it. But now it’s out there. Kitt Cherry’s work has already gotten notice and condemnation that ironically has brought needed attention.
This is a lovely book. And a very neat idea! I urge readers to seek it out.
Selections from Art That Dares are highlighted on Cherry’s internet page www.jesusinlove.org.
Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.
Johnson's Lammy Award winning book
SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of
Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated
PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature
of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are
available now from Lethe
back to top