Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coaching U.S. Senators on coming out

Senator Larry Craig’s mug shot after the bathroom bust

Gay sex scandals have become way too common — especially among conservative leaders who oppose gay rights while leading a secret gay life.

The news media are in a frenzy over Craig's arrest for allegedly soliciting gay sex in a public restroom. Craig announced yesterday that he regretted making a guilty plea to a lesser charge and keeping the incident secret from his family, friends and staff.

I’m trying to do my part by offering to send a free copy of my book Hide and Speak: A Coming Out Guide” to any U.S. Senator, including scandal-plagued Larry Craig.

In my opinion, Jesus had the best coming-out advice of all: “The truth will set you free.”

He elaborated in the gnostic Gospel of Thomas: “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you. If you do not bring forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will destroy you.”

Sometimes telling the truth is difficult, but living a lie is even harder. Senator Craig is just the latest example of an anti-gay leader caught in a web of lies about a secret gay life.

Former U.S. congressman Mike Foley and evangelical leader Rev. Ted Haggard officially opposed gay rights until recent gay sex scandals ended their public careers. They all might have prevented their scandals by following my book’s powerful program of self-acceptance and appropriate disclosure. The coming-out guide gives practical help with the coming-out process for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people -- and anyone else with a story to tell.

Each chapter of Hide and Speak includes real life examples and tested, highly effective exercises that I used in coming-out workshops nationwide. The book tells positive ways to come out to oneself, create a circle of supporters and deal with family, job and school. Readers learn how to live proud, free and balanced, no matter what happens.

If you know any Senators who would like a free copy of Hide and Speak, please send them my way!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Gay Jesus art sparks violence… and hope

“Sermon on the Mount” by Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

Art that shows Jesus as gay has sparked violence—most recently in Sweden last week.

The controversial images also appear in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. It has color images by 11 artists from the US and Europe, including Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin.

A group of young people tried to set fire to a poster at the cultural center that was exhibiting her photos of a queer Christ. Staff intervened and as many as 30 people joined the fight, according to news reports.

The recent melee broke out over her Ecce Homo series, which recreates scenes from Christ’s life in a contemporary lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) context. The conflict occurred in the Swedish city of Jonkoping, known as a center of evangelical Christianity.

The violence in Sweden is the latest example of why the queer Christ is needed. Jesus taught love, but now Christian rhetoric is being used to justify hate and discrimination LGBT people.

People try to censor or destroy queer Christ images, so I compiled them into a book to ensure that they would be available. An online gallery of gay Jesus images, including Ohlson Wallin’s work, was recently added to my website, JesusInLove.org.

Ohlson Wallin’s Ecce Homo series has caused violence before. It toured Europe widely from 1998-2000, winning awards and breaking attendance records. More than 250,000 people viewed it, but a man with an ax destroyed two of the photos and Ohlson Wallin needed police protection after receiving death threats. The Pope cancelled a planned audience with the Swedish archbishop because Ecce Homo was shown at Uppsala’s National Cathedral.

Ohlson Wallin created Ecce Homo in the late 1990s after losing many friends to AIDS. She got mad when some Christians said that the disease was God’s punishment for being gay. Grief and anger became the motivation for her powerful, transformative images. “I wanted to show that love is for everyone,” she told me.

I’m a lesbian Christian author who believes that Christ represents everybody, including sexual outcasts. Two thousand years ago Jesus taught love and justice and was killed for it. One of the charges that led to his crucifixion was blasphemy—the same charge that is being leveled against me and the artists in my book.

My experiences as a minister and art historian have shown me that many people are longing for progressive spiritual images. They seek alternatives to the current conservative monopoly on Christian imagery.

Today queer people of faith are reclaiming our power and creating new images of the divine based on our own experiences. I am grateful to the artists who are pioneers on this sacred path.

I received a lot of email this week responding to news reports about the violence in Sweden. I was especially moved by an “ex-Christian, ex-Pentecostal” who wrote: “For all the hate this art will stir up, it was worth it because in the hearts of women and the LGBT community, it will bring love, healing, and an intense connection with Christianity that many of us have lost due to ignorance and hate.”

Friday, August 17, 2007

Today’s scandal is tomorrow’s masterpiece

Flowers welcomed people to the Taos festival

Artists and collectors alike were honored at the recent National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in Taos, NM.

At the kick-off banquet my partner Audrey and I read the Honor Roll of Artists and presented an iris to each artist whose work was included in my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More and/or in the related exhibit at JHS Gallery.

Audrey reminded collectors of the important contribution they are making by buying 21st-century progressive spiritual art. “You’re not only purchasing a beautiful painting for your wall, but you’re also creating the support necessary for this kind of art to flourish and continue,” she said.

Fifty people gathered for the banquet in the La Fonda Hotel’s historic conference room, which houses D.H. Lawrence’s famous Forbidden paintings. They were confiscated by police from a London gallery in 1929 for being obscene, just as images of the queer Christ often face censorship today.

“Yesterday’s scandal is today’s museum piece. Today’s scandal is tomorrow’s masterpiece,” Audrey told the crowd.

The related exhibit was titled Who Do You Say That I Am? Visions of Christ, Gender and Justice. The book focused on equality for women and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people, while the exhibit put those issues into a larger context by also addressing war, racial justice and global warming.

For the Honor Roll of Artists, each artist stood as I read a brief description of their accomplishments. Then Audrey handed an iris to the artist. “We honor you,” she announced as the audience burst into applause.

Here is the Honor Roll of Artists. We began with artists in both the book and the exhibit:

Surrealists inspired Jill Ansell to develop her mature style of detailed, allegorical landscapes embedded with themes of feminism and social justice.

Becki Jayne Harrelson’s potent mix of rage, religion, memory, sex, and politics swirled together and brought forth stunning images.

People attacked every aspect of the painting, but the critics seemed most upset that Janet McKenzie had painted a Jesus who was female or at least had a feminine aspect.

In Sandra Yagi’s own words, “Christ treated women with much more equality than today’s church does. To say I can’t reach the same spirituality as a man is bunk!”

Then we honored artists in the exhibit only:

In her Silent Man series, Kathleen Brennan photographed a friend who took a vow of silence when the Iraq War started.

Military members are often stereotyped by liberals and conservatives. Holly Conlon goes deeper with her portrait of her husband, a career military officer.

Robert Ensor makes sculpture from discarded materials. Some call it outsider art—and he does live on the outskirts where town dwindles away to high desert.

Italian-trained David Hewson combines realist painting and classical gilding to present images that seem thoroughly modern, such as President Bush caricatured as an infant.

Through earthy colors, spiritual themes and soft compositions, Armando Lopez combines Catholic imagery with the pre-Christian tradition of his native Mexico.

Emerging artist Robert Walton is not out to make a literal statement, but rather to poeticize the human journey in both its subtleties and complexities.

Finally we honored people who worked behind the scenes on the festival:

People said that my books Art That Dares and Jesus in Love were so far ahead of their time that they could never be published. Then AndroGyne Press came along and published them!

As manager of JHS Gallery, Michael Roberts is always ready to solve problems with his own gentle, efficient style.

In addition to working as a doctor, Michael Simmons co-founded JHS Gallery, a destination gallery for high-quality sacred art in New Mexico.

She’s an artist. She’s an organizer. She’s a spiritual progressive visionary. “She’s the one who said: Bring the art to Taos and I’ll show it at JHS Gallery.” She's Jodi Simmons.

In closing, we all stood united and applauded each other.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Sex, religion and politics mix at art banquet

The audience often burst into applause at the Taos Art Festival

Remember the three topics that polite people were never supposed to discuss at dinner? Sex, religion and politics. Well, we threw that rule out the window!

Fifty of us talked at length about the connections between sex, religion and politics at the kick-off banquet of the recent National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in Taos, NM.

The lively banquet launched my new book, and honored more than a dozen artists in the book and the related exhibit at JHS Gallery.

We gathered at the La Fonda Hotel’s historic conference room, surrounded by D.H. Lawrence’s Forbidden paintings. They were confiscated by police from a London gallery in 1929 for being obscene.

“Yesterday’s scandal is today’s museum piece. Today’s scandal is tomorrow’s masterpiece,” explained the master of ceremonies, who happened to me my life partner Audrey.

An opening prayer was led by Bill Carpenter of Soulforce, a group that uses nonviolent resistance to win religious freedom for LGBT people.

I tied together the themes of the evening in the following keynote address:

My book Art That Dares is about seeing God in new ways, but I learned another lesson from the process of writing it: Dream big.

It taught me to dream big because it created a community where there was none. It brought all of us together tonight. I hardly knew any of you when I first imagined this book. I thought I was the only one who had visions of a Christ who fully understands the experience of LGBT people, my experience.

Then I started searching the Internet using phrases like “gay Jesus painting.” There you were! I found the needles in the haystack!

Now tonight we’re together for the first time. Most of the artists in this book were creating art independently with no knowledge of the others.

And I’ve met even more artists tonight for my next book.

I believe something special will happen now that we are all together in the same place at the same time. We can touch each other. We can look in each others’ eyes. We can be whole in mind, spirit AND body.

The book Art That Dares also taught me to dream big because writing it helped heal me. I have CFS and I got significantly better in the process of writing this book and the book that led up to it, Jesus in Love. This is my novel about a queer Christ.

When I began writing these books, I was so weak that I could barely press the pen to the paper. I was housebound and using a wheelchair. But God gave me the strength to come to this point tonight where I can celebrate with you.

Finally the book Art That Dares taught me to dream big because it showed me once again how big God’s own heart is. Art That Dares focuses on the gay Jesus and the woman Christ. Those images are much needed now because Christian rhetoric is used to justify discrimination against women and queers.

But the book and tomorrow’s exhibit also have a broader message. They show that everyone can claim their own spiritual power. There’s no copyright on Jesus. Instead of Jesus incorporated, we have Jesus in Love and Jesus of the People. People can take back their own spiritual power —and connect directly with God.

Look around and you can see the image of God in the people who are here tonight. This banquet is also a spiritual feast. Together we are a living example of God’s heavenly banquet where all are welcome.

(The second photo shows author Kittredge Cherry and artist Jill Ansell with her female crucifixion painting Fire and Ice.)

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Gay Jesus art delights people at art fest

Doug Blanchard’s gay Passion series fascinated viewers. (Photo by Dorie Hagler)
Art can reach people where rational discussion can’t—especially when it comes to Jesus Christ.
A gay version of Christ’s Passion was the hit of the recent National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art in Taos, NM. (Update in April 2011: Click here to see the whole series online now.)

Opening-night crowds jammed around the gay Passion series, which shows Jesus as a contemporary gay man jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes and rising again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God and friends.
The art exhibit was based partly on my new book Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More. It is filled with color images by 11 contemporary artists from the U.S. and Europe, and many of the artists were in the opening-night crowd.
The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision by New York painter Douglas Blanchard provoked thoughtful discussions and impressed art collectors at the Taos show. He became the festival’s top seller, with almost half of the panels in his 24-part Gay Passion series snapped up by collectors.
The success of the festival proved to me that many people are hungry for progressive Christian images, even though conservatives have tried to censor them. Art that dares to show Jesus as gay or female has been censored or destroyed. That’s why I gathered these beautiful, liberating, sometimes shocking images into a book—to ensure that they would be available. The crowds and sales at the festival were a real affirmation.

Art sales set a new one-day record for JHS Gallery on opening night, when at least 350 people jammed into the gallery while the Taos Gospel Choir sang. A local newspaper editor declared it to be the biggest art opening to hit Taos in the last 10 years. Among those who covered it was the New York Sun.
More than half of the 11 artists featured in Art That Dares were on hand for the opening. In addition to Blanchard, I got to reconnect with Atlanta painter Becki Jayne Harrelson, whose notorious “faggot crucifixion” was on display, and three artists who use female Christ imagery: Sandra Yagi of San Francisco, Jill Ansell of New Mexico and Janet McKenzie of Vermont.
Thanks to curator Jodi Simmons of JHS Gallery, the Taos exhibit showcased many other artists in addition to those in Art That Dares. The book focused on queer and gender equality, while the exhibit addressed the full range of progressive issues including war, racial justice and technology.
While I was in New Mexico, many people urged me to do a blog on queer spirituality themes. I've been wanting to blog for a long time, but I didn’t want to start until I was ready to keep it up on a regular basis. Now the time has come. I plan to post once or twice a week.
A new online gallery of images from the book and exhibit is online now at the author’s website, JesusInLove.org.
I’ll be posting more photos and stories from the Taos Art Festival, as well as commentary on current events, spiritual reflections, and updates on my future projects. Check back again soon!
(The photo shows me with Crucifixion of the Christ by Becki Jayne Harrelson.)

Update: The video below captures the excitement and meaning of the festival. Produced by the Taos News, it presents gospel music and artwork from opening night, plus an interview with artist Janet McKenzie. She talks about why she painted a black female Jesus of the People.