Queer Christ Books Stir Hope and Hate
By: Kittredge Cherry
A queer Christ lives out the Easter story of death and resurrection in my new novel Jesus in Love: At the Cross. It is being released during the season of Lent when Christians remember the sufferings of Jesus to prepare for Easter. The following is an excerpt from the introduction:
I wrote Jesus in Love and its sequel, At the Cross, as part of my own healing process. Originally they formed one long manuscript, written over several years while I was mostly housebound for health reasons. Imagining and writing Christ's miraculous story of love, death, and resurrection helped me heal.
I grew strong enough to find a publisher, and we decided to split the manuscript into two separate volumes. I made revisions so that each volume can stand alone. The division enables readers to choose whether to focus on Jesus' upbeat early ministry in Jesus in Love, or to take the darker journey all the way to the cross and beyond. Having just finished rereading and revising At the Cross, I feel that this second volume may be the better half, especially because it includes the dramatic Passion narrative.
The Jesus in Love series presents a gender-blind, gender-bending Jesus Christ who falls in love with people of both sexes and with the multi-gendered Holy Spirit. He has today's queer sensibilities and psychological sophistication as he lives out the Christian myth in first-century Palestine. I included Jesus' erotic life as a bisexual because I love Jesus and this is how his story seemed to "come through" me in my meditations. No doubt I was influenced by my own experiences as a lesbian Christian minister. I had been at the forefront of the sexuality debate at the National Council of Churches (USA) and the World Council of Churches as National Ecumenical Officer for Metropolitan Community Churches.
For me personally, writing these books was more about why God allows suffering than about what God says about sexuality. Through the writing process, I grappled with why an all-powerful, all-loving God would let people suffer, a question that felt immediate and all-consuming as I struggled daily with debilitating fatigue and pain. The sexuality aspect came naturally and served as a respite from the thorny theodicy issue.
I decided to publish the manuscript in hopes that it would serve a larger purpose in society. Some of my inner dialogue on the subject is included in the "Locked Room" chapter, especially when Jesus says, "I lived my life as a love letter to people in the future. You can help me deliver it." As a follower of Jesus, I felt called to tell the world what I had witnessed. I wanted to use my remaining strength to keep alive the resurrection story that has inspired people for two thousand years.
Sex was not my main focus when I wrote this two-volume set, but that was all that many publishers could see. The manuscript was too gay for religious presses, but too Christian for most queer publishers. After many rejections, the first half was published by AndroGyne Press as Jesus in Love: A Novel. The erotic element is what makes my version of Christ's life unique and attracts some readers to take another look at a familiar story. If my books can help win freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, then I am glad.
This is my version of the gospels, but everyone has the right to describe Christ in their own way. I learned from my readers that the desire to write one's own version of Christ's life is surprisingly common, and I hope that many more people follow through on the dream so I can read the gospel from a wide variety of viewpoints.
I got a lot of hate mail from conservative Christians after Jesus in Love was published. A typical comment was, "Gays are not wanted in the kingdom of Christ! They are cast into the lake of fire." Right-wing Christian bloggers labeled me "a hyper-homosexual revisionist" and denounced my book as "garbage," "insanity," and "a blatant act defamation and blasphemy." This kind of religious bigotry is exactly why the Jesus in Love series is needed. Christian rhetoric is used to justify hate and discrimination against LGBT people, but Jesus loved everyone, including sexual outcasts. Christ took human form in order to represent all people, including the sexually marginalized. It's okay to imagine ourselves in the story of Jesus. He belongs to all of us. He is all of us.
On the other hand, many readers poured out their hearts to me about how Jesus in Love had touched them. They said the writing style was "beautiful" and "disarming," and the spirituality expressed was "extremely mature." They often noted the sensitive, in-depth treatment of all the characters. Readers told me that Jesus in Love lifted their spirits in their daily lives while they were reading it. Some enjoyed reading it aloud with a spouse or lover, while others turned to it for solitary inspiration. Priests praised its theological orthodoxy. One of my favorite comments came from Father Dennis O'Neill, a Roman Catholic priest, who wrote, "I have been yearning to feel closer to Jesus, and this book has been a great help." More than anything, that is my goal.
John and the Risen Jesus Reunite
An excerpt from "Jesus in Love: At the Cross"
The last of my loved ones to call for me was John. He was praying silently, but I understood every sweet, irresistible word. "Come, Holy Spirit! Come in Jesus' name," he prayed. John's mind seemed like a harp of sumptuous red and blue strings, summoning me to listen and play.
I rematerialized next to him and looked around to find out where we were. John was kneeling with his eyes closed on a mat atop the roof of the upper room. He had wrapped an extra blanket around himself to keep warm, for it was a cold night. Beside him a small oil lamp burned with scented oil. I recognized the perfume. It was the same spicy cinnamon that I had used to wash my disciples feet. He was all alone. It must have been late, because I sensed my other disciples were all asleep in the room below us. The ordinary world was hushed and clothed in darkness, blurring the line between waking, praying, meditating, dreaming, sleeping-even between life and death, between God and human.
The Holy Spirit was right there, too, like a voice shining in my mind. "Speak to him," She prompted, "But don't use your mouth. Strum the places in his brain that evoke the thoughts you want to express."
I hesitated. I didn't want to violate John's privacy. "It's okay. He invited us to come in," the Holy Spirit reminded me.
I could hear John's thoughts clearly, since they were addressed to me. He was praying the prayer that I had taught my disciples, then rephrasing and embellishing each line in his own words. "Holy is your name… I make room for your light and vibration. I make time for your rhythm, cycles, and pace."
The prayer became a duet as I responded silently.
"I bring you into rhythm with me and set the pace for you."
"Your kingdom come…Your heart come. Be my only point of reference. Live in me."
"My heart is within you, and all around you."
"Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…I give you my trust and my emptiness, my will and my life."
"I accept your gift. Everything is unfolding in mercy, according to God's will, in your own best interest."
"Give us our daily bread today…no more, no less."
"I'll supply all your needs. Let me take care of you."
"Forgive our debts, as we forgive our debtors…and as I forgive God...and as I forgive myself."
"You are forgiven."
Big tears began to roll down the creases in John's weathered face as he knelt there, bundled in his blanket. He asked forgiveness for his sins and non-sins, one after another. I had already paid for all of them, but I went ahead and reviewed them as he asked. Once again I forgave any action that counted as sin, then promptly forgot about it. I kept playing the message of forgiveness in his mind, but he didn't stop crying, so I repeated it aloud.
He didn't react. I suppose that my physical voice sounded like the inner voice that his mind created when I strummed it.
"Didn't you hear me?" I half-shouted. "I said that you are forgiven!"
His eyes flew open and he jumped for fright. "Rabbi! How long have you been here?"
"Ever since you asked the Holy Spirit to come in my name. You heard my voice, didn't you?"
"Yes," he answered uncertainly. "But I thought it was all in my mind."
He huddled in front of me, and his soul bowed before my divine heart. The curls on the back of his head shone like tarnished silver in the starlight.
…"You and I have been so close. Why don't you want to touch me now?" I asked.
"Because you really are God!" He was awed, but not entirely pleased.
"But you knew that from the beginning."
"Not like I know it now. You were dead. Most of the others weren't at Golgotha to see it, but I saw it. You rose from the dead, and you can speak inside my mind. You're God-and I lust after you. That's wrong."
It evoked my compassion that he judged himself so much more harshly than I ever would. "You have to feel the full range of human emotions toward me in order to become whole and be reborn into new life," I explained.
"Lust?!" he asked, incredulous. "You want me to feel lust?"
I tried a different approach. "Do you know the Song of Songs?"
John became more rational as he tried to remember. "I don't think so."
"Well, ask Nicodemus to recite it for you sometime. It's an ancient poem about erotic love, but it also symbolizes the love between God and each individual soul. Here's how it starts: 'Oh, if only you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!'"
I leaned back a little and smiled at him, feeling full of mischief. John's fiery, bejeweled soul was so alluring that I tried not to look at it. His dark eyes searched mine until a look of wonder dawned on his face.
"You're still flirting with me!" he accused happily.
When I didn't deny it, he let go of his blanket and gave a deep belly laugh. Tears streamed down his face as he laughed and sobbed uncontrollably all at once. Emotion almost choked off his efforts to speak: "I thought those days were gone forever...."
Rev. Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author and minister who offers gay-friendly spiritual resources at JesusInLove.org.
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