Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Queer Images of Jesus

When a book starts with the words ‘ “Lets make love,” the Holy Spirit whispered while I was praying…’ (and the “I” mentioned is Jesus), one can be fairly certain that one is not going to get quite what one is used to. And so it is - precisely as one does not expect. Jesus in Love. A Novel, by Kittredge Cherry is an extraordinary book, just by virtue of the subject matter.

The basic subject matter is Jesus. Now in that, there is nothing extraordinary. Trillions of books have been written about him. Trillions more will doubtless be written in the future. But this novel – because that is what it is – is groundbreaking both in genre and in content, in a way that few of the other of the trillions of books about Jesus have and will be.

Jesus is presented as a sexual being. A multisexual, polysexual, bisexual, homosexual, heterosexual being. A being who at one and the same time can experience sensual and erotic love for his disciples and for Mary of Magdala and for the Holy Spirit. He is a being not limited by tradition, or censure, or what people might think of him. He is free to be what he is, wherever he is and with whomever he is with at any time. He is - very succinctly, according to the book - God and this multivalence which is expressed sexually, follows from that position.

Now, before mother and father Grundy start leaping for their pens, slings and arrows and other assorted weaponry - to say how disgusting and distasteful they find this, I would urge them to first read the book before commenting on it. Personally, I did not find it disgusting, or distasteful, or, to be perfectly frank, terribly shocking, but I am fairly certain I don’t represent the majority in this. Cherry is a devout (and I wish to underline that word) Christian. She also happens to be a Lesbian and she writes from the depths of Christian devotion. She is terribly careful to remain true to the way in which she reads the Gospels. Doubtless, it is not the way most people read the Gospels, but she remains true to the text, certainly in terms of chronology. It is emphasis which she stretches and broadens. Where there is a hint, she makes it explicit. Where there is the merest possibility, she makes it an opportunity.

And it is this which I found difficult. Not because I was offended by it, but because it reads a bit like a sort of first century Soap Opera. I could almost see the fades, hear the music, see the scene shifts, read the dialogue cues. I found that strange and disconcerting and in the end, difficult to relate to. Now, I hasten to add, I find all Soaps – as a genre – difficult to relate to. Indeed, I watch none. So, I am, perhaps, not exactly the intended audience. So, after the first few pages, I found myself dealing with the book with much the same reaction as I have to Soap Operas – negatively. But that is, perhaps, my own particular prejudice.

God is surely not heterosexual. And gender assignments made by humans to the divine, are surely human constructs at best. At worst, they are baffling and disorientating and confusing. But more than that, a hetero-normative world view simply distorts reality and then seeks to impose that basic distortion onto God! It is too silly for words!

Cherry’s latest book is much more accessible. It is called Art that Dares. Gay Jesus, Woman Christ and More. It has a variety of images of Jesus on the one hand, as Gay or Lesbian and on the other as a woman. I think these images would be, in the main, deeply shocking to most common or gardinal heterosexual Christians. They will probably be denounced as blasphemous, because they differ very strongly from the traditional images of Jesus which we are all so used to.

They come from a rooting in a theology of the Incarnation – God becoming flesh – representative of all flesh, not just some flesh. Not just white flesh, or black flesh, or Chinese flesh or French flesh. Not just healthy flesh, or normal flesh, or male flesh. The point being, Gay and Lesbian flesh, and certainly the flesh of a woman, is part of what the Incarnation is about. And one would go on to say that if it is not about all of that, then it is about very little indeed.

There is a very clear “evangelical” message in the variety of images, from a variety of artists which are portrayed in this book. To some people being Lesbian or Gay is a wonderful thing. It is a thing to celebrate. It is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. And if that is the case, then our image of God, in the shape of Jesus, should surely accommodate that celebration. Because, lets face it, some of the epithets applied to the Christ figure, lend themselves very well to a Lesbian or Gay (or Womynist) interpretation. He was despised and rejected. He was treated as a curiosity in the Synagogue. He was an outsider in very many ways. He was crucified and left for dead. His view of God was thoroughly rejected by the orthodox people of his day. He was more comfortable consorting with the rejects of society than the acceptable. This is the experience of many Gay and Lesbian Christians, the world over

So, Kitt Cherry’s books are extremely important. Just because they thumb the nose at the prevailing and dominant sexual hegemony within the Church. And let’s make no mistake about it, that hegemony is pretty powerful and pretty strong. It is going to take a lot more books like this to make any difference. Hers are a very brave and very creative first bunker in the ongoing battle for liberation.

The books are:

Kittredge Cherry, Jesus in Love. A Novel., Berkeley CA, Androgyne Press, 2006

__________ , Art that Dares. Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More, Berkeley CA, Androgyne Press, 2007

1 comment:

  1. I'm grateful that you posted this insightful review here. I was just checking the links at JesusInLove.org and discovered that this review is no longer online at the Witness where it was originally published. Good work disappears in the blink of acomputer screen in this digital age. Thanks for preserving GLBT culture.