Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Rumi: Poet and Sufi mystic inspired by same-sex love

Rumi and Shams together in a detail from “Dervish Whirl” by Shahriar Shahriari (RumiOnFire.com)

Rumi is a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic whose love for another man inspired some of the world’s best poems and led to the creation of a new religious order, the whirling dervishes. His birthday is today (Sept. 30).

With sensuous beauty and deep spiritual insight, Rumi writes about the sacred presence in ordinary experiences. His poetry is widely admired around the world and he is one of the most popular poets in America. One of his often-quoted poems begins:

If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
and say,
Like this.*

The homoeroticism of Rumi is hidden in plain sight. It is well known that his poems were inspired by his love for another man, but the queer implications are seldom discussed. There is no proof that Rumi and his beloved Shams of Tabriz had a sexual relationship, but the intensity of their same-sex love is undeniable.

“Rumi of Persia”
by Robert Lentz
Rumi was born Sept. 30, 1207 in Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian Empire. His father, a Muslim scholar and mystic, moved the family to Roman Anatolia (present-day Turkey) to escape Mongol invaders when Rumi was a child. Rumi lived most of his life in this region and used it as the basis of his chosen name, which means “Roman.” His full name is Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi.

His father died when Rumi was 25 and he inherited a position as teacher at a madrassa (Islamic school). He continued studying Shariah (Islamic law), eventually issuing his own fatwas (legal opinions) and giving sermons in the local mosques. Rumi also practiced the basics of Sufi mysticism in a community of dervishes, who are Muslim ascetics similar to mendicant friars in Christianity.

On Nov. 15, 1244 Rumi met the man who would change his life: a wandering dervish named Shams of Tabriz (Shams-e-Tabrizi or Shams al-Din Muhammad). He came from the city of Tabriz in present-day Iranian Azerbaijan. It is said that Shams had traveled throughout the Middle East asking Allah to help him find a friend who could “endure” his companionship. A voice in a vision sent him to the place where Rumi lived.

Meeting of Rumi and Shams
16th-17th century folio
(Wikimedia Commons)
Rumi, a respected scholar in his thirties, was riding a donkey home from work when an elderly stranger in ragged clothes approached. It was Shams. He grasped the reins and started a theological debate. Some say that Rumi was so overwhelmed that he fainted and fell off the donkey.

Rumi and Shams soon became inseparable. They spent months together, lost in a kind of ecstatic mystical communion known as “sobhet” -- conversing and gazing at each other until a deeper conversation occurred without words. They forgot about human needs and ignored Rumi’s students, who became jealous. When conflict arose in the community, Shams disappeared as unexpectedly as he had arrived.

Rumi’s loneliness at their separation led him to begin the activities for which he is still remembered. He poured out his soul in poetry and mystical whirling dances of the spirit.

Eventually Rumi found out that Shams had gone to Damascus. He wrote letters begging Shams to return. Legends tell of a dramatic reunion. The two sages fell at each other’s feet. In the past they were like a disciple and teacher, but now they loved each other as equals. One account says, “No one knew who was lover and who the beloved.” Both men were married to women, but they resumed their intense relationship with each other, merged in mystic communion. Jealousies arose again and some men began plotting to get rid of Shams.

One winter night, when he was with Rumi, Shams answered a knock at the back door. He disappeared and was never seen again. Many believe that he was murdered.

Rumi grieved deeply. He searched in vain for his friend and lost himself in whirling dances of mourning. One of his poems hints at the his emotions:

Dance, when you’re broken open.
Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off.
Dance in the middle of the fighting.
Dance in your blood.
Dance, when you’re perfectly free.

Rumi danced, mourned and wrote poems until the pressure forged a new consciousness. “The wound is the place where the Light enters you,” he once wrote. His soul fused with his beloved. They became One: Rumi, Shams and God. He wrote:

Why should I seek? I am the same as he.
His essence speaks through me.
I have been looking for myself.

After this breakthrough, waves of profound poetry flowed out of Rumi. He attributed more and more of his writings to Shams. His literary classic is a vast collection of poems called “The Works of Shams of Tabriz.” The Turkish government refused to help with translation of the last volume, which was finally published in 2006 as The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication. It was forbidden both because of its homoerotic content and because it promotes the “blasphemy” that one must go beyond religion in order to experience God.

Rumi went on to live and love again, dedicating poems to other beloved men. His second great love was the goldsmith Saladin Zarkub. After the goldsmith’s death, Rumi’s scribe Husan Chelebi became Rumi’s beloved companion for the rest of his life. Rumi died at age 66 after an illness on Dec. 17, 1273. Soon his followers founded the Mevlevi Order, known as the whirling dervishes because of the dances they do in devotion to God.

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Related links:
Rumi and Shams: A Love of Another Kind (Wild Reed)

Ramesh Bjonnes on Rumi and Shams as Gay Lovers (Wild Reed)

Another Male's Love Inspired Persia's Mystic Muse (GayToday.com)

Love Poems of Rumi at Rumi.org

Rumi quotes at Goodreads.com

5 Queer Couples in Islamic History (islamandhomosexuality.com)

*“Like This” is quoted from The Essential Rumi, which has translations by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. For the whole poem, visit Rumi.org.

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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, 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.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

FannyAnn Eddy: Lesbian martyr in Africa


FannyAnn Eddy was a major activist for LGBT rights in her native Sierra Leone and the rest of Africa. She was murdered 11 years ago today on Sept. 29, 2004. Nobody was ever convicted of the crime.

She founded the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association in 2002 and advocated for LGBT rights at the United Nations. Her organization documented harassment, beatings and arbitrary arrests of LGBT people in her country.

In her testimony at the U.N Commission on Human Rights in April 2004, she affirmed that there are LGBT throughout Africa, but they live in fear.

With tragically prophetic words, she told the U.N, “We live in fear within our communities, where we face constant harassment and violence from neighbors and others. Their homophobic attacks go unpunished by authorities, further encouraging their discriminatory and violent treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Eddy was working alone at night in the Freetown offices of the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association when one or more attackers broke in and killed her. She was survived by her 10-year-old son and her girlfriend, Esther Chikalipa.

Eddy’s final words to the United Nations still resound today: “Silence creates vulnerability. You, members of the Commission on Human Rights, can break the silence. You can acknowledge that we exist, throughout Africa and on every continent, and that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are committed every day. You can help us combat those violations and achieve our full rights and freedoms, in every society, including my beloved Sierra Leone.”

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Related links:

FannyAnn Eddy at the Legacy Project

Uganda Martyrs raise questions on homosexuality, religion and LGBT rights (Jesus in Love)

David Kato: Ugandan LGBT rights activist (1964-2011) (Jesus in Love)

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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.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Good (Gay?) King Wenceslas

St. Wenceslaus and Podiven
By Lewis Williams, SFO. © www.trinitystores.com

There’s good reason to believe that Good King Wenceslas was gay. Yes, the king in the Christmas carol.  His feast day is today (Sept. 28).

Saint Wenceslaus I (907–935) was duke of Bohemia (now the Czech Republic). The carol "Good King Wenceslas" is based on a legend about Wenceslaus and his loyal page Podiven. According to the story, it was a bitterly cold night when they went out to give alms to the poor on the Feast of St. Stephen, Dec. 26. Podiven could not walk any farther on his bare, frozen feet, so Wenceslas urged him to follow in his footsteps. His footprints in the snow stayed miraculously warm, allowing the pair to continue safely together.

Many details in the Christmas carol are pious fiction, but the king and his page are both grounded in historical truth. The following is based partly on research from Dennis O’Neill, author of “Passionate Holiness.”

The earliest accounts of Wenceslaus’ life mention his page -- but not the woman who supposedly gave birth to his son in more recent versions. An account written in the late 10th or early 11th century describes the young man who was a “worthy page” and “chamber valet” to Wenceslaus.

It says that Wenceslaus used to wake his page in the middle of the night to join him in doing charitable works. The page is described as “a youth from among his valets who, of all his servants, was the most trustworthy in secret matters. The saint himself truly loved him during his lifetime.”

Wenceslaus was murdered in a coup by his brother at the door of a church on Sept. 28 in the year 935. The records say that Podiven “was often overcome by grief, sorrowing for days on end.” The brother also had Podiven killed to stop him from spreading stories of the saintly Wenceslaus. Both Wenceslaus and his beloved Podiven are buried at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague.

The icon above was painted by Colorado artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). He studied with master iconographer Robert Lentz and has made social justice a theme of his icons. It is dedicated to the memory of Father Larry Craig, a Chicago priest known for service to the Latino community and prison ministry. Before his death in 2006, Father Craig used to stand outside the Cook County Jail at night, giving sandwiches and bus passes to surprised inmates who had just been released. He served as the model for Podiven’s face in this icon.

May these facts warm your heart whenever you hear or sing the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.”



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Related link:

Thoughts on a Queer Christmas: The Feast of Stephen (Impact Magazine)

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To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
San Venceslao I de Bohemia y Podiven: Venceslao, el buen rey (gay?)

To read this post in French / en français, visit Pays de Zabulon Un blog qui parle d'amour:
Saint Wenceslas et son ami

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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

The Wenceslaus and Podiven icon and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Pope's visit: Mixed messages for LGBT people


Pope Francis’ well-publicized visit to America this week has mixed messages for LGBT people.

On the bright side, the Pope brought great personal warmth and a welcome focus on justice for the poor and protection of the environment. A native of Argentina, he spoke Spanish and obviously connected with many of America’s poor Latina/os. His speech to Congress was impressively intelligent, highlighting a diverse group of four Americans: Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, and two Catholics who were once censured for their prophetic views: Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton. How refreshing to hear that after speaking to Congress, he turned down lunch invitations with politicians and instead dined with the homeless. A scripture reading during the Pope’s Mass at Madison Square Garden was done by openly gay comedian/journalist Mo Rocca. I also enjoyed the rare burst of positive religious coverage in the national news.

This is the same Pope who eased the Vatican’s anti-LGBT position when he took office three years ago by asking “Who am I to judge?” But the Papal visit did not always give LGBT Christians a reason to cheer.

The Pope’s most direct references to LGBT people came today in a speech to bishops gathered at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary. Criticizing same-sex marriage, he urged them not to ignore “the unprecedented changes taking place in contemporary society, with their social, cultural -- and now juridical -- effects on family bonds…. Until recently, we lived in a social context where the similarities between the civil institution of marriage and the Christian sacrament were considerable and shared. The two were interrelated and mutually supportive. This is no longer the case.”

The Pope compared the changes in family life to consumerism and the switch from neighborhood stores to supermarkets. He urged the bishops not to respond with blame and condemnation, stating, “Gratitude and appreciation should prevail over concerns and complaints.”

[Update on Sept. 30: Pope Francis undermined his own message of tolerance by meeting secretly with Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. On Sept. 30 the Vatican confirmed that the meeting occurred. “The news that Pope Francis met privately in Washington, DC with Kim Davis throws a wet blanket on the good will that the pontiff had garnered during his U.S. visit last week,” Francis DeBernardo, executive director of New Ways Ministry, said in a statement.]

[Update on Oct. 2: In another surprising turn of events, the Vatican responded to the controversy over his meeting with Kim Davis by announcing that Pope Francis met Davis only briefly and did not intend to endorse her views. His only "real audience" was with a gay former student (Yayo Grassi) and a few others, including his partner of 19 years. This news story -- and the mixed messages -- just keep coming!



The first sign of trouble came even before the Pope arrived, when news reports surfaced that the Pope’s advance team objected to having LGBT Christian leaders on the guest list for the White House Welcome Ceremony Sept. 23. They feared these unwanted guests would be photographed with the Pope, and the photos used as an endorsement of their activities. Dozens of LGBT church leaders were invited to the event, but the reports singled out Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church and Mateo Williamson, a transgender Catholic activist. They also targeted Sister Simone Campbell, founder of the “Nuns on the Bus” movement.

In the end the conservative effort to dis-invite LGBT church leaders failed, while the Vatican Press Office denied ever making such statements.

With all this fuss I imagined the Welcome Ceremony in a room where everyone could see each other, similar to prayer breakfasts that I have attended. Silly me. It was on the White House lawn with literally a cast of thousands -- 11,000 guests. As far as I can tell, none of the LGBT church leaders got anywhere near close enough for a photo with the Pope.

On the same day that the Pope arrived, pioneering gay priest John McNeill died. For me it was a reminder of how the Vatican silenced him and expelled him from the Jesuit order for coming out and promoting LBGT rights. The timing of his death spared McNeill the pain of seeing the US media glorify the Pope while he slighted the suffering and needs of LGBT people.

The Pope gave uplifting and well-crafted speeches on universal values of justice, the dignity of all human life, and responsibility for the earth. But his broad generalizations were open to multiple interpretations and included some conservative code words that could easily be missed.

LGBT Catholic leaders were upset when he condemned “unjust discrimination” during his remarks at the White House.  It sounds good at first, but the phrase comes from a key Catholic teaching against homosexuality and has been used by US Catholic bishops to argue that there are just forms of discrimination against LGBT people.

“It is a term that has dangerous ramifications for LGBT people,” Dignity Executive Director Marianne Duddy-Burke told Buzzfeed News. She sat in the VIP section at the White House during the Pope’s remarks. “To any well-tuned LGBT ear, or anyone listening, it is support for a position many U.S. Catholic bishops have taken — which is against same-sex marriage, the right to fire married gay employees or transgender employees, the right to exclude LGBT people from adoption, and to deny LGBT people foster-care services.”

The Pope spoke repeatedly of “religious freedom,” which is fine except that this is the justification used by to defend anti-LGBT actions such as county clerk Kim Davis’ recent decision to break the law and deny marriage licenses to same-sex couples. What about the religious freedom of LGBT people of faith?

Many saw implied criticism of LGBT rights in Pope’s Sept. 25 speech to the United Nations when he said that “promoting social progress” risks becoming “an ideological colonization by the imposition of anomalous models and lifestyles which are alien to people’s identity and, in the end, irresponsible.”

In his address to the US Catholic bishops on Sept. 23, Pope Francis emphasized the need for dialogue. Indeed it would be an improvement over the Catholic hierarchy's usual harsh, one-sided condemnations of LGBT people. As a veteran of several Protestant “dialogue committees” on religion and homosexuality at the US National Council of Churches, I have grown weary of dialogue. It is a frustrating process for both sides, with change occurring slowly if at all. But even I felt renewed by the eloquence of the Pope’s words:

‘And yet we are promoters of the culture of encounter. . .Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wears of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16)’. . .

‘The path ahead, then, is dialogue among yourselves, dialogue in your presbyterates, dialogue with lay persons, dialogue with families, dialogue with society. I cannot ever tire of encouraging you to dialogue fearlessly. . .'

In introductory remarks before the Pope’s arrived to speak at Independence Hall on Sept. 26, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter told the crowd of about 40,000: “In America, everyone has rights. Our lesbian, gay and bisexual citizens continue to fight for equality. Keep fighting for your rights. It’s a collective fight, and there are many others fighting with you.”

The Pope led Mass on Sept. 27 at the Catholic church’s huge World Meeting of Families, where the only session on LGBT families (led by celibate gay Ron Belgau and his mother, Beverley) was moved at the last minute without explanation from a room seating 10,000 to one seating only 1,000.

The Pope departed on Sept. 27 with much left unsaid. During the Interfaith Prayer Service at the 9/11 memorial, he never mentioned Father Mychal Judge, the Catholic priest and “gay saint” who died there while serving as chaplain to the New York City firefighters. He never spoke out explicitly against violence towards LGBTQ people, even though this is an international issue.

There was also cause for hope in what he did not say. He avoided condemning the marriage equality movement, as the US bishops have done. While the bishops have used "religious liberty" as a divisive argument against marriage equality, the Pope used it instead to call for mutual respect in a way that may partially satisfy both sides of the debate. In his Sept. 26 address to the Hispanic community on religious liberty, he said:

In a world where various forms of modern tyranny seek to suppress religious freedom, or, as I said earlier, to try to reduce it to a subculture without right to a voice in the public square, or to use religion as a pretext for hatred and brutality, it is imperative that the followers of the various religious traditions join their voices in calling for peace, tolerance and respect for the dignity and the rights of others.
The New Ways Ministry Blog (called Bondings 2.0) is providing daily in-depth analysis of the Pope’s treatment of LGBT issues during his visit, which ends Sunday, Sept. 27.

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Related links:
Soulforce: Tell Your Story and Say #HelloPope!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

RIP John McNeill: Pioneering gay priest and patron saint of LGBT Catholics



In memory of
Rev. John J. McNeill

Pioneering gay priest, psychotherapist, author, theologian
and patron saint of LGBT Catholics


Sept. 2, 1925 - Sept. 22, 2015


white candle Pictures, Images and Photos




I light a memorial candle for Father John J. McNeill, pioneering gay priest, psychotherapist, author, theologian and Jesuit scholar who inspired countless LGBTQ people of faith and their allies. He died Tuesday night, Sept. 22, in a hospice in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with his partner of 49 years, Charles Chiarelli, at his bedside. He was 90.

The National Catholic Reporter called him a “patron saint of LGBT Catholics” in the headline for his obituary.

McNeill began ministering to lesbian and gay Catholics in the 1970s, helped give birth to the LGBT Catholic organization Dignity in 1974, and wrote the groundbreaking 1976 book “The Church and the Homosexual.” He was silenced by the Vatican and expelled from the Jesuit order for coming out and promoting LBGT rights in church and society.

I first met McNeill in 1987, soon after he ended his silence. He came to preach at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco, where I was serving on the clergy staff. He filled the church with a large and adoring crowd, and yet when I had the chance to greet him personally he seemed grounded and ready to focus his warmth on each individual interaction. I was impressed by his powerful-yet-gentle presence and the intellectual force behind his liberating theology.

McNeill became a colleague, inspiration and friend who supported virtually all my book projects over the next 28 years. He spent hours on the phone providing me with background material for my coming-out guide “Hide and Speak,” and eagerly wrote endorsements for my other books.

He went on to write more books on LGBT spirituality, including “Taking A Chance on God,” “Sex as God Intended,” “Freedom, Glorious Freedom” and “Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair.”

Conflicts between McNeill and the Vatican spanned decades, including a 2011 trip to Rome where he delivered a letter addressed to Pope Benedict XVI asking the church to condemn violence against LGBT people.

So it seems like no coincidence that McNeill died on the same day that Pope Francis arrived on his first visit to the United States. The timing of his death spared McNeill the pain of seeing the US media glorify the Pope while he slighted the suffering and needs of LGBT people. In another sense, McNeill's timely death passed the baton for the Pope to carry the holy effort to bring love and justice for all.

His life story is told in 2012 film “Taking A Chance on God.” It was directed by Brendan Brendan Fay, who co-produced “Saint of 9/11” about Father Mychal Judge. A trailer is online at YouTube.



McNeill is survived by Chiarelli and nephew Timothy J. McNeill. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Memorial gifts can be made to the John J. McNeill Legacy Fund, established by his family to provide support for the preservation and dissemination of his writings, lectures, and teachings.

May Father John McNeill join Christ and all the saints in heaven who provide a continual source of inspiration and assistance for LGBTQ people of faith. Rest in power, Father John!
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Related links

The Rev. John J. McNeill, Jesuit priest who became famed LGBT activist, dies at 90 (Miami Herald)

John McNeill, Priest Who Pushed Catholic Church to Welcome Gays, Dies at 90 (New York Times)

Both Feet Firmly Planted in Midair by Chris Glaser (Huff Post)

John J. McNeill Memorial page on Facebook

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For more info, see previous posts at Jesus in Love:

Gay priest McNeill shakes up Rome with new moves and new movie

Update: Gay priest McNeill’s premiere succeeds despite rain in Rome at EuroPride

LGBT Christians to Pope: Stop homophobia! (plus photos of EuroPride & John McNeill)



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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

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tyler Clementi: Gay teen driven to suicide by bullies


Tyler Clementi (1992-2010) brought international attention to bullying-related suicide of LGBT youth by jumping to his death on this date (Sept. 22) in 2010.

Clementi’s highly publicized tragedy made him into a gay martyr whose untimely death put a public face on the problems of LGBT teenagers. His story sparked efforts to support LGBT youth, raise awareness of the harassment they face, and prevent suicide among queer young people. Another result is new legislation stiffening penalties for cyber harassment.

His parents once considered suing Rutgers over their son's death, but in February 2013 they announced that they were working with the university to form the Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers. It sponsors conferences and academic research to help students make the transition to college. They also established the Tyler Clementi Foundation to promote acceptance of LGBT youth and  more inclusive society.

Clementi was an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey when he was driven to suicide by his room mate's anti-gay cyber-bullying.

A talented violinist, Clementi came out to his parents as gay before leaving home for college. Three days before the suicide, Clementi’s room mate used a webcam to secretly record Clementi kissing another man in their dorm room and streamed the video live over the Internet. In messages posted online before he took his own life, Clementi told how he complained to authorities about the cyber-bullying and asked for a new room assignment. Then he jumped off the George Washington Bridge. It took a week to find his body.

The room mate, Dharum Ravi, also 18 at the time, was convicted on 15 counts, including invasion of privacy and bias intimidation, in connection with Clementi’s suicide. Ravi was sentenced to 30 days in jail; 3 years of probation; 300 hours of community service; fined $10,000; and ordered to undergo counseling on cyberbullying and alternate lifestyles. His accomplice, Molly Wei, avoided jail time by agreeing to testify against Ravi.

Anti-LGBT statements by public figures are also partly responsible for Clementi’s death. They created the hostile environment that drove Clementi to suicide. Artist Louisa Bertman emphasizes this point in her powerful ink illustration, “Tyler Clementi, JUMP!” She makes visible the hateful voices that may have been in Clementi’s mind. In her drawing, his head overflows with people urging him to jump. They are politicians as well as the actual students who bullied him. Their names are listed in a stark statement at the bottom of the drawing:

“Message brought to you by Sally Kern, Kim Meltzer, Nathan Deal, Carl Paladino, Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Tom Emmer, Jeremy Walters, Rick Perry, Bob Vander Plaats, Dharun Ravi, and Molly Wei.”

Bertman, an artist based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is known for her non-traditional portraits.

Clementi helped inspire the founding of the It Gets Better Project and Spirit Day. The It Get Better Project aims to stop suicide among LGBT teens with videos of adults assuring them that “it gets better.” Spirit Day, first observed on Oct. 20, 2010, is a day when people wear purple to show support for young LGBT victims of bullying.

Unfortunately Clementi’s experience is far from rare. Openly lesbian talk show host Ellen Degeneres spoke for many in a video message that put his suicide into context shortly after he died:

“I am devastated by the death of 18-year-old Tyler Clementi….Something must be done. This month alone, there has been a shocking number of news stories about teens who have been teased and bullied and then committed suicide; like 13-year-old Seth Walsh in Tehachapi, California, Asher Brown, 13, of Cypress, Texas and 15-year-old Billy Lucas in Greensberg, Indiana. This needs to be a wake-up call to everyone: teenage bullying and teasing is an epidemic in this country, and the death rate is climbing.”

Help is available right now from the Trevor Project, a 24-hour national help line for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning teens. Contact them at 866 4U TREVOR or their website: thetrevorproject.org.

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Related links:

Tyler Clementi Foundation

Tyler Clementi Center at Rutgers

Day of Silence Prayer: Stop bullying God’s LGBTQ youth

A Brother's Pledge: Standing Up For Love by James Clementi (Believe Out Loud)

Crisis: 40 Stories Revealing the Personal, Social, and Religious Pain and Trauma of Growing Up Gay in America” by Mitchell Gold and Mindy Drucker

Queer: The Ultimate LGBT Guide for Teens” by Kathy Belge and Marke Bieschke

It Gets Better Project video by Kittredge Cherry

Image credits:

Top: “Tyler Clementi, JUMP!” by Louisa Bertman

Tyler Clementi’s webcam photo of himself (Wikimedia Commons)
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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, 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






Monday, September 21, 2015

Henri Nouwen: Priest and author who struggled with his homosexuality

“Henri Nouwen” by Br. Robert Lentz, trinitystores.com

Henri J. M. Nouwen was a Catholic priest and bestselling author who wrestled with his own homosexuality. He died on this date (Sept. 21) in 1996.

Nouwen (1932-1996) remains one of the most popular and influential modern spiritual writers. He wrote more than 40 books, including The Wounded Healer, The Return of the Prodigal Son, and The Inner Voice of Love.

Known as a “gay celibate, he probably would have had mixed feelings about being included in this series on LGBT Saints. Nouwen never directly discussed his gay sexual orientation in his published writings, but he confided his conflict over it in private journals and conversations. These are documented in his outstanding and honest 2002 biography Wounded Prophet by Michael Ford. Despite his loneliness and same-sex attractions, there is no evidence that Nouwen ever broke his vow of celibacy.

His personal struggle with his sexual orientation may have added depth to his writing. “The greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity or power, but self-rejection,” he said.

Although Nouwen is not an officially recognized saint, his “spirituality of the heart” has touched millions of readers. Nouwen’s books have sold more than 2 million copies in over 22 languages. He emphasized relationships and social justice with core values of solitude, community and compassion.

Nouwen was born in Holland on Jan. 24, 1932. He was ordained as a Roman Catholic priest in 1957 and went on to study psychology. He taught at several theological institutes in his homeland and in the United States, including the divinity schools at Harvard and Yale.

In 1985 he began service in Toronto, Canada, as the priest at the L’Arche Daybreak Community, where people with developmental disabilities live with assistants. It became Nouwen’s home until his sudden death in 1996 at age 64. He died from a heart attack while traveling to Russia to do a documentary.

The video below shows Nouwen speaking on "Being the Beloved" at the Crystal Cathedral in California in 1992. One of the  newest books about him is the 2012 biography “Genius Born of Anguish: The Life and Legacy of Henri Nouwen” by Michael Higgins, Nouwen’s official biographer.

The icon of Nouwen at the top of this post was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. During his lifetime Nouwen commissioned Lentz to make an icon for him that symbolized the act of offering his own sexuality and affection to Christ.

Christ the Bridegroom
by Robert Lentz
trinitystores.com
Research and reflection led Lentz to paint “Christ the Bridegroom” (left) for Nouwen in 1983. It shows Christ being embraced by his beloved disciple, based on an icon from medieval Crete. “Henri used it to come to grips with his own homosexuality,” Lentz explained in my book “Art That Dares,” which includes this icon and the story behind it. “I was told he carried it with him everywhere and it was one of the most precious things in his life.”

Lentz’s icon / portrait the top of this post shows Nouwen in an open-handed pose. It calls to mind a prayer written by Nouwen in The Only Necessary Thing: Living a Prayerful Life:

Dear God,
I am so afraid to open my clenched fists!
Who will I be when I have nothing left to hold on to?
Who will I be when I stand before you with empty hands?
Please help me to gradually open my hands
and to discover that I am not what I own,
but what you want to give me.

Nouwen gave the gift of his spiritual vision to generations of readers. He encouraged each individual to find their own mission in life with words such as these:

“When the imitation of Christ does not mean to live a life like Christ, but to live your life as authentically as Christ lived his, then there are many ways and forms in which a man can be a Christian.” -- from "The Wounded Healer"

“My hope is that the description of God's love in my life will give you the freedom and the courage to discover . . . God's love in yours.” -- from “Here and Now: Living in the Spirit


To watch the rest of the sermon, visit the following YouTube page with links to all 8 parts of Nouwen’s sermon on “Being the Beloved”:
http://www.youtube.com/user/belovedson12

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Related links:
Henri Nouwen Society

Chris Glaser on Henri Nouwen’s sexuality (Huffington Post)

Henri Nouwen, on Andrew Sullivan and the “Blessing” of Homosexuality (Queering the Church)

A new book “The Spiritual Life: Eight Essential Titles by Henri Nouwen” was published in 2016. It includes Intimacy, A Letter of, Consolation, Letters to Marc About Jesus, The Living Reminder, Making All Things New, Our Greatest Gift, Way of the Heart, and Gracias.
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Icons of Henri Nouwen, Christ the Bridegroom and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com



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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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Hildegard of Bingen and Richardis: Medieval mystic and the woman she loved


Hildegard of Bingen was a medieval German nun, mystic, poet, artist, composer, healer and scientist. She founded several monasteries, fought for women in the church and wrote with passion about the Virgin Mary. Some say she was a lesbian because of her strong emotional attachment to women, especially her personal assistant Richardis von Stade. Hildegard was declared a doctor of the church by Pope Benedict XVI in 2013. Her feast day is Sept. 17 (today).

The title “Doctor of the Church” is a rare honor, bestowed upon only a few saints whose writings have universal value to the church. Their “eminent learning” and “great sanctity” must be affirmed by the Pope. Currently the Roman Catholic Church has only 33 doctors, including three women.

The friendship -- or love story -- between Hildegard and Richardis is included in a 2009 film from German feminist director Margarethe von Trotta called Vision: From the Life of Hildegard von Bingen. Von Trotta is one of the world’s most important feminist filmmakers and a leader of independent German cinema. Von Trotta allows Hildegard to speak for herself by using a script based on Hildegard’s own writings and a soundtrack filled with Hildegard’s music. Watch a trailer at the end of this post.

Richardis von Stade (center, played by Hannah Herzsprung) and Hildegard (left, Barbara Sukowa) in the biopic “Vision” (from zeitgeistfilms.com)

Hildegard also inspired a play by lesbian feminist playwright Carolyn Gage. In the play “Artemisia and Hildegard,” Gage has two of history’s great women artists debate their contrasting survival strategies: Gentileschi battled to achieve in the male-dominated art world while Hildegard created women-only community to support her art by founding a nunnery.

Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179), the tenth child of a noble family, was offered to the church as a “tithe” when she was very young. She was raised from the age of 8 in the hermitage that later became her Benedictine abbey. She founded two other convents where women performed her music and developed their artistic, intellectual and spiritual gifts. She spent almost all of her life in the company of women.

“Hildegard: The Vision” by Tricia Danby

She had visions throughout her life, starting at age 3 when she says that she first saw “the Shade of the Living Light.” She hesitated to tell others about her visions, sharing them only with her teacher Jutta.

When she was 42, Hildegard had a vision in which God instructed her to record her spiritual experiences. Still hesitant, she became physically ill before she was persuaded to begin her first visionary work, the Scivias (Know the Ways of God).

"St. Hildegard of Bingen" by Plamen Petrov

Hildegard was nursed in her illness and encouraged in her writing by Richardis von Stade, a younger woman who was her personal assistant, soul mate and special favorite. Whether or not they were physically intimate, Hildegard’s actions suggest that she was a lesbian in the sense that her primary love interest was in women.

In 1151, Hildegard completed the Scivias and trouble arose between her and her beloved Richardis. An archbishop, the brother of Richardis, arranged for his sister to become abbess of a distant convent. Hildegard urged Richardis to stay, and even asked the Pope to stop the move. But Richardis left anyway, over Hildegard’s objections.

Hildegard wrote intense letters begging Richardis to return: “I loved the nobility of your conduct, your wisdom and your chastity, your soul and the whole of your life, so much that many said: What are you doing?”

Richardis died suddenly in October 1151, when she was only about 28 years old. On her deathbed, she tearfully expressed her longing for Hildegard and her intention to return.

“The Universe”
by Hildegard of Bingen

Wikimedia Commons
Hildegard’s grief apparently fueled further artistic creation. Many believe that Richardis was the inspiration for Ordo Virtutum (“Play of Virtues”}, a musical morality play about a soul who is tempted away by the devil and then repents. According to Wikipedia, “It is the earliest morality play by more than a century, and the only Medieval musical drama to survive with an attribution for both the text and the music.”

In an era when few women wrote, Hildegard went on to create two more major visionary works, a collection of songs, and several scientific treatises. She was especially interested in women’s health. Her medical writings even include what may be the first description of a female orgasm.

“Hildegard of Bingen: Vision of Music” by Tricia Danby

As a church leader, Hildegard had to support its policy against homosexual behavior. But she often wrote about the divine feminine and the dignity of women, presenting sexuality in a generally positive way. She wrote, “Creation looks on its Creator like the beloved looks on the lover.” Many readers today delight in her erotic descriptions of marriage as a metaphor for the union of a soul with God. Hildegard writes:

The soul is kissed by God in its innermost regions.
With interior yearning, grace and blessing are bestowed.
It is a yearning to take on God's gentle yoke,
It is a yearning to give one's self to God's Way.

In the Symphonia, a collection of liturgical songs to Mary, Hildegard writes with ecstatic passion of her love and devotion to the Virgin Mary. She extols Mary as “greenest twig” and sings the praises of her womb, which “illuminated all creatures.”

Her songs to Mary are available for listening in the following video and on the Sequentia recording, “Hildegard von Bingen: Canticles of Ecstasy.” Her music is still just as beautiful today.

Hildegard died on Sept. 17, 1179 at age 81. The sisters at her convent said they saw two streams of colorful lights cross in the sky above her room. She became a saint by popular acclamation.

The icon of Hildegard and Richardis at the top of this post was painted by Colorado artist Lewis Williams of the Secular Franciscan Order (SFO). He studied with master iconographer Robert Lentz and has made social justice a theme of his icons. This post also features images of Hildegard by artists Tricia Danby and Plamen Petrov.

Hildegard appears as a young woman in new portraits by Tricia Danby, a spiritual artist based in Germany and a cleric in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church. Her images reveal a sensuous side to Hildegard’s rapturous connection with God.

Stained-glass artist Plamen Petrov of Chicago is known for his window showing the male paired saints Sergius and Bacchus at St. Martha Church in Morton Grove, Illinois. His Hildegard window shows her illuminated with beautiful aquamarine colors.

“Hildegard von Bingen” by Tobias Haller

Hildegard was sketched in blue with intense blue eyes by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

“Saint Hildegard of Bingen” by Robert Lentz

Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons, portrays Hildegard with a wild rose. She used to dip a rose in the Rhine River and use it to sprinkle water on people as a blessing when she traveled between monasteries. Lentz is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland.

LGBT-affirming creation theologian Matthew Fox has written two books on the life and work of Hildegard. The newest is Hildegard of Bingen: A Saint for Our Times: Unleashing Her Power in the 21st Century, which presents her as an "eco-warrior" who meets such luminaries as Albert Einstein, Howard Thurman, Dorothee Soelle and Clarissa Pinkola Estes. Fox also wrote Illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen.

Hildegard was the subject of a major sermon by Episcopal Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori when the House of Bishops met in Taiwan on Sept. 17, 2014. “Hildegard speaks scientifically and theologically of divine creativity as viriditas, reflecting both greenness and truth… Hildegard’s vision motivates all healers of creation who understand the green web of connection that ties creation together in Wisdom’s body,” she said. (Thanks to Ann Fontaine at Episcopal Café for the news tip.)





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Related links:

Pope sets date to declare two new church doctors (Catholic News Agency)

Ritual to Honor Hildegard of Bingen by Diann L. Neu (WATER)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Hildegarda de Bingen y Richardis: Una mística que amaba a otra mujer

To read this post in Italian / in Italiano, go to gionata.org:
La forza della visione. La vita della mistica Ildegarda di Bingen
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Top image credit: “St. Hildegard of Bingen and Her Assistant Richardis” by Lewis Williams, TrinityStores.com


This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

The Hildegard icons are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com





Friday, September 11, 2015

Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11 and chaplain to New York firefighters


Father Mychal Judge, chaplain to New York firefighters and unofficial “gay saint,” died helping others in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. He was killed by flying debris while praying and administering sacraments at the World Trade Center. Father Mychal (1933-2001) was the first recorded victim of 9/11.

For a new version of this article, click this link to Qspirit.net:
Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11 and chaplain to New York firefighters


Father Mychal responded quickly when extremists flew hijacked planes into the twin towers. He rushed with firefighters into the north tower right after the first plane hit. Refusing to be evacuated, he prayed and gave sacraments as wreckage crashed outside. He saw dozens of bodies hit the plaza outside as people jumped to their deaths. His final prayer, repeated over and over, was “Jesus, please end this right now! God, please end this!”

While he was praying, Father Mychal was struck and killed in a storm of flying steel and concrete that exploded when the south tower collapsed. Father Mychal was designated as Victim 0001 because his was the first body recovered at the scene. More than 2,500 people from many nationalities and walks of life were killed. Thousands more escaped the buildings safely.

After Father Mychal’s death, some of his friends revealed that he considered himself a gay man. He had a homosexual orientation, but by all accounts he remained faithful to his vow of celibacy as a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan order.

The charismatic, elderly priest was a long-term member of Dignity, the oldest and largest national lay movement of LGBT Catholics and their allies. Father Mychal voiced disagreement with the Vatican’s condemnation of homosexuality, and found ways to welcome Dignity’s AIDS ministry despite a ban by church leaders. He defied a church boycott of the first gay-inclusive St. Patrick’s Day parade in Queens, showing up in his habit and granting news media interviews.

During his lifetime, he often said, “Is there so much love in the world that we can afford to discriminate against any kind of love?”

Many people, both inside and outside the LGBT community, call Father Mychal a saint. He has not been canonized yet by his own Roman Catholic Church, but some feel that he has already become a saint by popular acclamation, and the Orthodox-Catholic Church of America did declare officially declare him a saint. Here is a round-up of artwork, films and books about him.

A dramatic icon of Father Mychal against a backdrop of the burning buildings was painted by Father William Hart McNichols. He shows Father Mychal with St. Francis of Assisi as the World Trade Center burns behind them. The narrative that accompanies the icon describes Father Mychal as a Passion Bearer who “takes on the oncoming violence rather than returning it… choosing solidarity with the unprotected.” It is one of 32 McNichols icons included in “You Will Be My Witnesses: Saints, Prophets, And Martyrs” with text by John Dear. McNichols is a Roman Catholic priest based in New Mexico. He has a deep connection to New York City because he worked at an AIDS hospice there in the 1980s.

“Father Mychal Judge” by Brother Robert Lentz, trinitystores.com

Father Mychal carries his fire department hat in an icon by Brother Robert Lentz, is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. It is one of 40 icons featured in the book “Christ in the Margins” by Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley.  Lentz is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland. Both McNichols and Lentz have faced controversy for painting gay-affirming icons. They are two of the 11 artists whose life and work are featured in “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More ” by Kittredge Cherry.

“Mychal Judge” by Tobias Haller

A smiling Mychal Judge with a halo was sketched by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

“Fr. Mychal Judge” at the Legacy Walk

In 2014 Father Mychal was inducted into the Legacy Walk in a Chicago. The outdoor public display celebrates LGBT history through a series of biographical bronze plaques with laser-etched photos located in a traditionally gay neighborhood along North Halsted Street.

In June 2015 a larger-than-life bronze statue was dedicated to him at St. Joseph’s Park in East Rutherford, New Jersey, across the street from St. Joseph’s church, where he worked for several years. It was sculpted by nationally known artist Brian Hanlon, who has sculpted more than 300 public art pieces of religious, civic and sports figures.

“(Saint) Mychal Judge being Welcomed by the Franciscan Saints” by JR Leveroni

The priest's connection with others is emphasized in “(Saint) Mychal Judge being Welcomed by the Franciscan Saints” by JR Leveroni. Deliberately painted in the primitive style of folk art, it goes beyond the iconic news photo, sometimes called the “American Pieta,” that shows firefighters carrying Father Mychal’s limp corpse at Ground Zero. In Leveroni’s vision, saints replace the firefighters to carry Mychal onward to heaven. He holds his red firemen's helmet in his left hand. Leveroni has also painted gay martyrs Matthew Shepard and Saint Sebastian together. A variety of male nudes and religious paintings can be seen on Leveroni’s website (warning: male nudity).

Stories from the life of Father Mychal are presented in the book, “Mychal's Prayer: Praying with Father Mychal Judge” by Salvatore Sapienza, a former monk who worked with Father Mychal to build St. Francis AIDS Ministry in New York City. The book mixes prayers with stories from the chaplain’s life. It begins with Father Mychal’s own words, a text that has come to be known simply as “Mychal’s Prayer”:

Lord, take me where You want me to go;
Let me meet who You want me to meet;
Tell me what You want me to say; and
Keep me out of your way.

For an excerpt from the book, see my previous post 10 years later: Mychal Judge, gay saint of 9/11. Sapienza is also the author of Seventy Times Seven: A Novel, a novel about a young Catholic brother torn between his sexuality and his spirituality as an out and proud gay man.

The film Saint of 9/11 - The True Story of Father Mychal Judge is a complete and uplifting documentary on Father Mychal’s life, including his gay orientation and his support for LGBT rights.  Its producers include Brendan Fay, who directed “Taking a Chance on God,” a biopic about gay priest John McNeill.

Another gay man who died heroically helping others in the Sept. 11 attack was rugby champion Mark Bingham, who lost his life while fighting hijackers on Flight 93. His story is told in my previous post at this link.

An excellent interfaith selection of prayers for peace is available at WorldPrayers.org. It includes prayers by Father Mychal as well as Sister Joan Chittister, Dr. Maya Angelou, Rabbi Harold Kushner, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Dr. Jane Goodall, Rumi, Lao-Tse, Mahatma Gandhi, Muhammad, Jesus and many more.

Mychal Judge is the first recorded victim of 9/11 -- and also the first saint profiled in the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry when it began on Sept. 11, 2009. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, may these images and stories inspire people with renewed dedication to peace and service to humanity.

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Related link:

Saint Mychal Judge Blog

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Top image credit:
“Holy Passion Bearer Mychal Judge and St. Francis of Assisi” by William Hart McNichols


Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Qspirit.net presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

The Mychal Judge icon is available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com