Monday, May 30, 2011

Gay Jesus Art: Liberating Visions

by Kittredge Cherry

Artists have created countless versions of Jesus Christ, each adapted for a particular audience and era. There is black Jesus, Asian Jesus, female “Christa” -- and now gay Jesus to heal the damage done in Christ’s name. Queer Christian images are arising now because the conventional Jesus is no longer adequate. Christ’s story is for everyone, but lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people often feel left out because conservatives use Christian rhetoric to justify hate and discrimination.

The artists who dare to show Christ as gay have had their work destroyed -- if they can find a way to show it at all. They have faced censorship, controversy, hate mail, violence, death threats, and/or vandalism that destroyed their work. The most vicious opposition comes from the religious right, but some were also criticized by feminists and queers for being too Christian. The queer Jesus lives in the fertile, uncharted zone between two almost irreconcilable opposites: too gay for most Christians, but too Christian for most of the LGBT community.

The new visions can free the minds of viewers and start to compensate for institutional religion’s past biases and omissions. Looking at them makes it easier to recognize the face of God in LGBT people and others who have been excluded. Sometimes even devout Christians are unable to see God’s image in people who are strangers to them. Sometimes queer people are blind to their own sacred worth as incarnations of the divine. But the unexpected grace of an artist’s vision may open our eyes.

The gay Jesus images may come as a shock, especially to those who believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Some denounce them as blasphemy as religious freedom clashes with freedom of expression. Many, myself included, experience them as a blessing that enhances Christian faith by embodying God’s wildly inclusive love for all. It is appropriate for Christians to explore Jesus’ same-sex attractions because in him God became flesh -- a total, shocking identification with all people, including the sexually marginalized.

Nobody knows for sure whether the historical Jesus was attracted to other men. Being human, Jesus must have had sexual feelings. Being divine, Christ lives in every individual of every different variation of sexual orientation and gender identity. The Jesus of scripture broke gender rules and gender roles. He befriended prostitutes, lepers and other outcasts. He challenged traditional family values at almost every turn, ignoring his blood relatives in favor of those who became his “brothers and sisters” by loving God and neighbor. Jesus himself was charged with blasphemy. He taught love and justice and was killed for it. Gay Jesus images are not a reaction. They are a revelation.

I first discovered the wealth of gay Jesus art in 2005 when I began looking for images to go on a website announcing my book “Jesus in Love,” ( a fictional autobiography of a queer Christ. I was amazed to discover that while I was writing my novel, artists all over the world were also portraying the queer Christ. There were paintings, sculptures, photos, a play, and books of anthropology and theology. I was part of a global movement! I eagerly began contacting these kindred spirits, most of whom did not know each other.

The artists turned out to be a diverse group. They are women and men of various races and ethnicities who come from all over the world. Each arrived at the revolutionary images in a unique way over the last 30 years. They run the gamut from well established to emerging artists. They stand both inside and outside the institutional church. Their religious backgrounds include Buddhism, Judaism and other traditions as well as Christianity.

Contemporary artists find many ways to interpret the gay Jesus. Most common of all is the crucifixion. Queer people can relate to the hurt and humiliation that Jesus experienced on the cross. The ultimate example is “The Crucifixion of Christ” (top left - by Atlanta artist Becki Jayne Harrelson. Jesus hangs on a cross below a sign with the anti-gay slur “faggot.” She painted this stunning crucifixion through a steady stream of tears over human cruelty. “Look at the word ‘faggot’ on the cross. You could substitute the word ‘nigger,’ ‘Jew boy,’ ‘honkie,’ ‘redneck’ or ‘bitch’ -- it all means the same. Anytime anyone rises up in condemnation, hatred, or violence against another, Christ is crucified” she explained.

New York painter Douglas Blanchard goes beyond the crucifixion to explore the resurrection in his epic 24-panel series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.” He paints Jesus as a contemporary gay man who stands up to priests, businessmen, lawyers, and soldiers -- all of whom look eerily similar to the people holding those jobs today. Jesus is jeered by fundamentalists, tortured by Marine look-alikes and rises again to enjoy homoerotic moments with God and friends. The final painting, “The Trinity,” (middle left - shows the Holy Spirit protecting a gay couple. The two men are Jesus and God, holding hands in a colorful land of milk and honey.

One of the most notorious gay Jesus projects is “Ecce Homo” (below left - by Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin. She recreated 12 scenes from Christ’s life using contemporary LGBT models and locations. Her method resulted in stunning images such as Sermon on the Mount, which shows Jesus with gay men and lesbians clad in full black leather with chaps, chains and harnesses. Her “Ecce Homo” series toured Europe, often in churches, but the Pope expressed disapproval by canceling a planned audience with the Swedish archbishop. Opponents vandalized the art, threw rocks at the artist and issued death threats. This kind of religious bigotry is exactly why the queer Christ is needed.

With so much opposition, gay Jesus art has not reached all the people who need to see it. I decided to gather these beautiful, powerful, sometimes shocking images for all to see in my book “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More” ( Artists keep making new queer Christian images, so I post them as they happen at the Jesus in Love Blog ( I believe that the Christ who inspired the new images will speak directly through them to bless everyone who sees them.

Rev. Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian author and art historian who blogs about LGBT spirituality and the arts at the Jesus in Love Blog ( Her books include “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Living My Dream

by Lucretia Mann

Almost one year ago, I was rushed to the hospital, critically ill.  Following an hour in the ER, I was diagnosed with renal failure and readied for immediate hemodialysis.  After five daily hemodialysis treatments, I was discharged from ICU for five further days of hospitalization.  Miraculously, by the time of my hospital discharge, my blood chemistry had significantly improved and I felt fairly normal AND physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted.

While in the ER, even though I was aware that I was not thinking especially clearly, I knew I was fighting to survive.  In that battle, I also knew that I needed to let go of all expectations and attachments except my faith in God and desire to live.  I remember symbolically opening my hands to release my hold on the expectations and attachments, even EDS and my postulancy.  For those who know me well, you will appreciate the significance of that release for me:  attending EDS and ordination to the priesthood have been my dream for the past 30 years.  And it was a dream that I had never imagined I would be so blessed to actually experience.

After I had been home one week of my two and one half months’ leave from work, I started to hope that I would be able to pick up those threads of my life.   My hope was sustained by my faith and by the loving support of friends and family.  My three adult sons who live in the Baltimore-DC metropolitan area, successively spent five days with me from hospitalization through discharge.  To them I will be forever and deeply grateful.  Their active love sustained me and gave me courage to imagine a future.  My parish family provided meals and transportation to dialysis for the first month.  I was aware of being sustained in prayer by friends and their faith communities and by my EDS family.  To all of you, I am deeply grateful.

As I begin to prepare for the intensive June term at school, I am reflecting on the blessing of even being able to continue at EDS and with my postulancy for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church.  Before this medical crisis, I had never experienced the presence of God and support of praying as I have in the past year.  And I blink with amazement that now, as I write this reflection, I have been back at work for ten months; I have more energy than I have enjoyed in thirty years; and I am still on track to finish my degree in 2013.

I recognize that my own inherent optimism and refusal to view my renal failure catastrophically are factors that contribute to my sense of well being.  Yes, I must perform nightly peritoneal dialysis in my home until I have a kidney transplant.  But, this process occurs largely while I sleep, and I am able to disconnect each morning and resume my life.  Yes, I must plan to have sufficient supplies delivered to Cambridge for each intensive two-week term.  Yes, I must lug my dialysis machine with me on airplanes whenever I travel.  And yes, I must have sufficient protein in my daily diet and restrict my intake of potassium, phosphorous, and sodium.  Even with those considerations, I count myself blessed and I refuse to let the diagnosis of renal failure define who I am or limit my reponse to God's call to ministry and service.

Lucretia Mann is a DL student at EDS with the 2009 cohort and a postulant for Holy Orders in the Diocese of El Camino Real. Originally from the Boston area and a graduate of Wellesley College, Lucretia completed graduate studies in clinical psychology at the University of Florida (Go Gators!). She moved to Santa Cruz, California nine years ago in order to administer a small VA readjustment counseling center and provide therapy to veterans with PTSD from combat and/or miliitary sexual trauma. Lucretia is the mother of three adult sons who reside in the Baltimore-DC metropolitan area, and is a life-long crazed Red Sox fan.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Outing Sojourners Magazine

By Laurel Dykstra

Earlier this month, the progressive Christian publication Sojourners, chose not to run an ad campaign encouraging churches to welcome and fully include lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people. The campaign included a video, depicting a lesbian couple and their son being met with both suspicion and welcome when they visit a new church, which is part of the Believe Out Loud coalition’s Mothers Day campaigm (

When the news that Sojourners had refused the campaign went viral, my initial response was—that’s not news. I have known Sojourners position for years: Civil rights? Yes. The moral status of queer and gender queer people? No comment.

The news though, is this: Believe Out Loud has, either naively or in a Mother’s Day action calculated for maximum impact, called on Sojourners to make their position explicit. They have in effect outed Sojourners.

I have written for Sojourners magazine and like the family in the video, I have walked into churches, a visible Queer with my children, not knowing whether we would receive welcome or hostility. This is my issue, but I have been slow to join the debate for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to give more attention to this one publication when plenty of justice-seeking Christians have moved beyond where Sojourners seems to be stuck. And second, it is deeply wearying to have to keep defending your existence to those who claim to speak for justice.

Nevertheless, I am “lifting up some different viewpoints” in the spirit of outing what has been closeted in this conversation.

The Role of Sojourners
Sojourners has a forty-year history as a publication and a community; over time the leadership has moved from a collective model to a more corporate one. Sojourners has experienced an enormous recent growth in its circulation, in its electronic readership and in CEO Jim Wallis’ books, blog, and speaking tours. Sojourners is close to the center of a groundswell of mostly evangelical churches turning toward justice and taking action toward social reform. During this same time, other publications that critically engaged issues of Christianity and justice, like The Witness and The Other Side, have gone out of print leaving Sojourners as “the” voice of progressive Christianity in North America. Because of Sojourners’ prominence and stance, recent public conversation around gender and sexuality as justice issues for Christians has been diminished and impoverished.

Not Taking a Stand is Taking a Stand
Wallis’ recent statement on Sojourners mission and LGBTQ issues is consistent with their FAQ’s on gays and lesbians (bisexuals, and trans people are not mentioned). In short, it is important to protect the civil rights of LGBTQ persons, but it is up to individuals and churches whether they understand LGBTQ persons as sinners, beloved children of God, or something more creepy and condescending like “broken and in need of healing.” This is not a stand against homophobia, it is a position that speaks against the most egregious practices of trans- and homo-hating, while implicitly condoning the theologies and interpretations that promote such violence.

Wallis calls for “honest, fair and loving dialogue,” but Sojourners has never been about open debate, balanced reporting or “loving dialogue.” On issues they embrace, like war and poverty, Sojourners takes a prophetic stand, promoting biblical readings and theologies that demand justice, and challenging or refusing theologies that promote harm or violence, even though Christians are far from unified on these issues.

For decades biblical scholars, theologians, and ethicists have produced good scholarly work on sexuality and gender, articulating the biblical call to justice inside the church and outside it. Countless courageous LGBTQ individuals have attested to the dignity and goodness of their lives. Sojourners does not champion these but takes a political rather than a prophetic stance. Sojourners’ claim to “defend” and “love” LGBTQ persons, while refusing to reject homophobic theologies and biblical readings that harm us is a contradiction that deserves to be outed.

Wedge Issues and Core Issues
In his defense of Sojourners’ refusal to publish the Believe Out Loud campaign ad, Jim Wallis states that they do not advertise on issues that have been “reduced to political wedge issues.” From Sojourners I want some straight talk (pardon the phrase) about LGBTQ inclusion as a “wedge issue.” Who is being divided from whom by a campaign that says—when Queer people gather up the courage to come to your place of worship, treat them and their children as you would any other guest? Which “Christian constituencies” are threatened by such a message? Is this about denomination, about race, about money?

In trying to bracket LGBTQ issues, it is Sojourners that is creating wedges and taking sides. It is not possible to challenge poverty, racism, and violence without confronting heterosexism and homophobia. Out LGBTQ persons who are employed earn less than their “straight” counterparts. In some cities nearly half of homeless youth are LGBTQ. The murder rate for transgender women of color is staggeringly high.

When Sojourners, in a bid for Christian unity, says that their core issues are poverty, violence, racism, and immigration but not LGBTQ issues, they are either accepting or promoting the divisive lie that LGBTQ people are all affluent and white. Believe Out Loud plays on the same stereotype; in order to show LGBTQs as non-threateningly as possible, the women in the video are white, partnered, expensively dressed, and model-thin, with a child from central casting.

Yes, there are white middle-class and professional Queers but the vast majority of us are not, and those few who are don’t speak for us. We are Black, Latino, Asian, Indigenous, white, and multi-racial. We are old people, poor people, working people, and street kids. Immigrants, wheel chair users, waiters, and grandparents. And because of sexism, homophobia, and transphobia we are disproportionately affected by poverty and violence.

Racism, war, welfare reform, police violence, prisons, immigration, health care, and church inclusion are all LGBTQ issues and they cannot be confronted fully by those who would silence our voices or make us invisible.

To broaden the conversation further, here are a few organizations that know which issues are Queer issues (some Christian and some not):

Queers for Economic Justice,
The Open Door Community,
The SpiritHouse Project,
Native Youth Sexual Health Network,
Christian Peacemaker Teams,
Sylvia Rivera Law Project,
Student Christian Movement,

* Laurel Dykstra, MATS ’97, is an unrepentant Queer activist and bible and justice educator. She is the author of Set Them Free: The Other Side of Exodus (Orbis Books, 2002) and co-editor of Liberating Biblical Study (Cascade, Wipf & Stock, forthcoming in October 2011). Her writing has appeared in numerous publications including Sojourners magazine.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Vigil for Japan

By T. James Kodera

This is a reflection offered by the Rev. Dr. T. James Kodera, Professor of Religion at Wellesley College, five days after the earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011.

It is at times such as these that we see ourselves standing before our Maker, no matter what our heritage. There is so much to say, but we find it difficult to put words to our raw feelings. Do we have to say everything for us to be heard by our Maker or by each other? A Hindu prayer reminds us: “Oh Thou before whom all words recoil.” We can hear each other without words. Our Maker certainly knows our helplessness and our cries for help, in the silence we keep, in the tears we shed, in the warm embraces we exchange on this day and the days to come. Our Maker hears us, reaches out to us and comforts us in our solitude and also through the circle of friendship we form, a bond that shall not be broken.

Sixteen years ago in 1995, I shared with the Wellesley College community what it was like to be in Kobe when an earthquake reduced the city of 1.5 million to rubble and claimed 6,500 lives. It was the worst earthquake since the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 that claimed 140,000 lives in Tokyo and its vicinity. Kobe and Kanto were magnitude 6.8 and 7.9 earthquakes, respectively, on the Richter scale. The quake that hit the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11 registered 9.0. Unlike the other two earthquakes, the Tohoku earthquake was followed by a tsunami with tidal waves nearing 30 feet. Once the tsunami got going, we are told it accelerated to a speed comparable to that of a jet airplane. That is why it took only six or seven hours for the tsunami to reach the islands of Hawaii.

We will not know the final death toll of this earthquake. The nuclear power plant in Fukushima Prefecture continues to heat up, leaking radioactive fumes and liquid. The reactors shut themselves off when the ground first shook, as they were designed to do. But the structure was damaged so badly that they could not be cooled. Uranium, like the heat of the sun, supplies inexhaustible energy, but it also brings radiation. After the atomic bomb we were told plant life would not return to Hiroshima for a hundred years. But today, as the students who were there in January know, the Peace Park in Hiroshima is covered with grass and trees and flowers. Would this happen to Fukushima? Chernobyl, the site of the worst nuclear disaster to date, has remained uninhabitable since 1986.

Kobe is where I grew up in junior and senior high school days. After walking several hours after the earthquake, seeing train tracks twisted like spaghetti and roads turned into raw sewage, I found my parents and grandmother huddled together in a house with no external wall on one side, just like a Hollywood movie set. And old lady next door had been crushed by the heavy roof tiles and died. After a few hours of sleep without water, food or heat, I went to the Ward Office to do volunteer work. Because of my height, they promptly put me in charge of telling people at the entrance not to bring any more dead bodies there. My job was to direct them to different makeshift facilities where the dead could be properly cremated and buried. I could not return to Wellesley for the start of the spring semester. The college President encouraged me to stay in Kobe as long as I needed. I finally left Kobe for the airport on the back of a scooter, driven by a friend. Since then, Kobe has been rebuilt with the latest technology, guaranteed to withstand another earthquake 6.8 or worse.

Japan is earthquake prone. Twenty percent of all the earthquakes that registered higher than 6.0 on the Richter Scale have hit Japan. Massive tidal waves are known by their Japanese name: tsunami. This time, the earthquake, the tsunami, and the nuclear fiasco are the worst in Japan’s history. The Prime Minister declared that it was the greatest disaster since World War II. The Emperor of Japan, Akihito, spoke on television yesterday. No emperor of Japan has ever spoken on television before.

The speech recalled to many the day after Japan’s “unconditional surrender” in August 1945, when Emperor Hirohito spoke on the radio, commending his subjects who had “endured the unendurable” during the War. This time, his son, Akihito said he was “deeply worried “about the ongoing nuclear crisis at several stricken reactors and asked for his subjects to act with compassion “to overcome these difficult times.” He also thanked over 90 nations that had offered to help.

Natural disasters bring out the best and the worst in human nature. What is particularly moving is that the people of Korea and China, who have legitimate gripes against Japan for its war-time atrocities, were among the first to arrive to help.

Endless television coverage has also shown the orderly behavior of the Japanese, even after their loved ones have been washed to the sea or buried in the mud under the rubble, and their houses gone. So far, there have been no instances of looting or fighting. A friend in Tokyo reported that it took four hours to drive eight miles, bumper to bumper. And yet, there was no honking. A Wellesley alumna relayed to me that Diane Sawyer, Wellesley Class of 67, who was in Japan as a television reporter, was offered food by the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. Speechless, she simply wept.

Some 50 workers at the nuclear plant in Fukushima have been hailed as heroes. They remain at their work place, trying with all their might to cool down the reactors, minimizing the damage to others, while they were being exposed directly to radioactive materials.

In sharp contrast, after the Great Kanto Earthquake 89 years ago, some Japanese turned against the Koreans living in Japan, accusing them of poisoning the well water. And they went on a rampage, killing the Koreans on the streets. It continued until a police officer told the angry mob to bring a cup of well water allegedly poisoned by the Koreans. In front of everyone, he gulped down the water. There was no poison.

Japan once sought to compete with Western nations through military buildup and colonial expansion has since turned itself into a peaceful nation, using technology and trade in international competition. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Class of 1969, remarked two days ago that since Japan is one of the most generous nations in the world in times of need, the United States should do all it can do to help Japan. Perhaps the ugliest is what we have seen on some Websites in the last couple of days. Some Americans have linked the disasters in Japan to Pearl Harbor. For them, it is “pay back time.” Is it, really?

A continent and an ocean away, what can we do? What should we do? That is where we find ourselves helpless, speechless, standing in front of our Maker. Be a friend, comfort one another, renew our hope that love conquers hate, hope overcomes despair. Our good will reach across the globe, and touch those who need us.

Fukushima means the “island of riches.” Today, it is an island isolated and rich with radiation. Tomorrow, we pray that it will be an island rich with affection and hope.

*The Rev. Dr. T. James Kodera is the Chair and Professor of Religion at Wellesley College. He is also the Rector of St. Luke’s Church in Hudson, Massachusetts and the President of the Episcopal Asiamerica Ministry Council.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Truth of the Resurrection

By Katherine Hancock Ragsdale

This is the time of year when I most miss parish ministry. Not Christmas, but Lent and Easter. Lent and Easter, which I always see as a happily conjoined pair.

I love the fifty days of festive Easter celebration – the Easter hymns and acclamations, the descants, the buoyant joy of it all. However, I also loved crafting, week after week, step by step, liturgies designed to help ground us in the solemnity and penitence of Lent – the counterpoint that gives Easter its resonance.

Now, it may sound a bit paradoxical for an old feminist theologian to love the penitential aspects of Lent. I came of age theologically in the 1980s, on the heels of Valerie Saiving Goldstein’s pivotal journal article wherein she opined that, although pride might be the original sin of man, its opposite, or the lack of pride, might be the original sin of woman. This lack of pride, or self-abnegation, all too often causes us to consent to our own disempowerment – and thereby to fail to put our talents to full use in the love and service of God.

Penitence and guilt, we thought, were just the church’s equivalent of the medical establishment’s valium. They were patriarchy’s tools to suppress our outrage, our righteous indignation; penitence and guilt keep us docile and in our place. So we rejected patriarchy’s tranquilizers – whether they came in plastic pill bottles or from ancient liturgical texts.

And that was a good thing. But, like many revolutionary good things, in the long run self-abnegation works better as one part of a both/and balance than as one pole of an either/or dichotomy. Although revolutionary in its time, in this age of “look at me, me, me,” trophies for everyone, and salvation through self-esteem – in such an age as this, a guilt and penitence-free Lent looks more like an acquiescence to culture than a critique of it.

So I embrace a good old-fashioned Lent because it is a counter-cultural act and because, still, it is the ballast that gives Easter its meaning. I need Lent to remind me that I need Easter. I can’t be the person God created, and intends me to be, without God’s help – without Jesus. Which takes us to the heart of today’s Gospel (Luke 24:36b-48).

The disciples see Jesus standing before them, and he laughs at them for thinking they’re seeing a ghost rather than recognizing that he’s their real, flesh-and-blood companion restored to them. That’s what the text says – flesh and blood, standing before them.

I acknowledge that there may well be people in our congregations who doubt that Jesus was really resurrected in the flesh. And, if so, they’re in good company. Many very smart and very faithful people share their skepticism and disbelief on that point. And many other very smart and very faithful people believe that is exactly what happened. And we could spend a great deal of time arguing the point. But I won’t. Nor will I tell you which camp I fall into. Because I really don’t much care.

You see, I think the real danger is not believing wrongly on the facts of this matter. The real danger is getting so absorbed in the question of whether it’s factual that we forget that it most certainly is true.

The truth matters far more to me than the facts. And the truth is that something profound happened. Lives were changed, the world was changed. Resurrection happened back then. It happens still. I’ve seen it – in the Biblical texts, throughout history, in my own life, and in the lives of others.

Flesh and blood don’t matter all that much to me – resurrection and redemption do. Lent has reminded me that I need them – that I can’t be who God made and intends me to be on my own. I can’t know the fullness of life in God or grow into the full stature of Christ alone. Even on my best days I don’t get all the way there. And many of my days are not my best. I cannot save myself. I need Jesus. Jesus, who, this Gospel reading says, was to suffer and die.

Why did the Messiah have to suffer and die? Could it be that Jesus’ persecution and death were inevitable in light of who Jesus was and how the world is? Not that God intended, and wanted, Jesus to die, but that the Father and Jesus both knew what the inevitable outcome would be of a life lived as Jesus lived it?

The world, as Lent has reminded us, is filled with both the wondrous goodness of creation and with sin. And sin, when faced with absolute integrity – that is, unwavering Love – always tries to kill it. Being completely and fully who God intended him to be, living with absolute integrity, Jesus was bound to anger and frighten and shame the powers and principalities. So of course they killed Him.

We who follow the way of Jesus won’t pull it off as well as he did. That perfect integrity will elude us (not because we’re bad people, but because we’re people). Yet, if we manage to do even a halfway decent job of following Jesus, the world may very well kill us, too – our bodies, our dreams, our careers, or our sense of self. It’s likely to happen; we may as well prepare for it.

But here’s the Good News, the Easter News.

Resurrection is true – whatever the facts of the matter. Resurrection is true. I’ve seen it, I’ve experienced it, and I am a witness to it.

Whenever we summon up the courage to risk and face those deaths – to go through them rather than around them – we invite resurrection and redemption. We become strong through our very wounds. We find ourselves blessed in ways that exceed our hopes and our best imagining. Through those little deaths we find ourselves ushered into new life – resurrected, born again, becoming ever more who we were created to be, redeemed.

And when we let God into our lives that profoundly – when we cooperate in our own growth into the full stature of Christ through fasting and prayer, feasting and celebration, hard work and service, as well as steadfast love and joy – what our heirs will discover is that even the big death is not the end of us. Our lives, lived with that integrity, that openness to death and resurrection and redemption, will continue to make a difference even after our bodies have returned to dust.

When the people of God gather to worship, work, or play together; when they stand at the altar, or march on the Capital, or kiss a child, we, too, will be in the midst of them, continuing to bless them and shape the world.

We, too, will be resurrected, never really to die. And that’s the Truth.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen.

* Adapted from a sermon preached on Easter Thursday, April 28, 2011, at the Episcopal Divinity School. The full version can be found at

** The Very Rev. Dr. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale is the President and Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the editor of Boundary Wars: Intimacy and Distance in Healing Relationships (Pilgrim, 1996).

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Yes, There Is A God!

By Joan M. Martin

Last night I gasped when I read the headlines of my denomination's web page. While pleased to see the lead article was about Presbyterians fighting modern day slavery, what made my heart stop was another headline, "Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) approves change in ordination standard"- something as an ordained lesbian, an African American lesbian, I thought might come someday, but was unprepared for yesterday to be the day! A familiar hymn came to mind with new words, "O day of liberation!"

I am nearly speechless, really. I can't stop welling up with tears right now when, just beneath the surface, there have been of years of thick-skinned advocacy tinged with unspoken disappointments, but hope nevertheless.

In 1978, two years after my ordination, the predecessor denomination to today's PCUSA, "prohibited the ordination of self-acknowledged practicing gay and lesbian persons." That meant me. A couple of years after that the church "grandfathered" those of us ordained prior to 1978 in the church's rendition of "don't ask, don't tell." That meant me, too. And for 31 years more, the church has been intransigent with glimmers of light coming only since 1991 with moments of progress often measured in inches and setbacks measured in yards! Yet the inches were a lifeline in the struggle.

So, last night I rejoiced. Last night I could shout, "Yes, there is a God!"

Okay, today it's back to work.

Today, I give thanks to God that I have had the unique privilege and relative “safety” of teaching and living at Episcopal Divinity School (EDS) for the past 17 years where lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBTQ) people have been welcomed on faculty, staff, and in the student body since the mid-1970’s. Thank you, EDS.

Today is about organizing ecumenically for the petition drive, "An Endorsement Against Church Bigotry and the Injustice of United Methodist Book of Discipline, parag. 304. 3 which prohibits the ordination, certification as candidates, or appointments to serve in ministry of 'self-avowed practicing homosexuals," and support Black Methodists for Church Renewal in their radical refusal to separate the rights of African Americans from LGBTQ folks in church and society. Yes, there is a God!

Last night, my tears were tears of joy and release and celebration. Today, I am not mourning, but organizing to fight for the life of LGBTQ folks in Uganda where its parliament threatens to pass a Death Penalty Bill: Kill the Gays, and yes, sign another petition and write to my Massachusetts Congressional Delegation to demand withdraw of U.S. foreign aid to Uganda if this bill passes.

Last night, I shouted for joy! Today, it is time for me to ask Sojourners' Jim Wallace and his people, "Why and how is God's welcome of LGBTQ folks a problem of 'sides' for the Sojourner community?"

Last night I felt once again, my deep connection as a fourth generation Black Presbyterian woman fighting for equality in church and society. Today, I have to advocate my Presbytery that all who are qualified by the standards of the Church will be ordained. Today.

What goes around comes around because, yes, there is a God!

* This blog first appeared in the Rev. Dr. Joan M. Martin's blog, (

**The Rev. Dr. Joan M. Martin is William W. Rankin Associate Professor of Christian Social Ethics at the Episcopal Divinity School. She is a scholar activist and is the author of More Than Chains and Toil: A Christian Ethic of Enslaved Women (Westminster John Knox, 2000).

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fear-Conqueror, Fear-Bearer and Fear-Miner

By Eric H. F. Law

We are approaching the 10 year anniversary of September 11, 2001. Osama bin Laden is dead. Going after him and his organizations were the stated reason for the U.S. to enter into war in Afghanistan. Now that we “got him,” why don’t I feel safer? The TV news constantly reminded us that his death might cause retaliations which mean potential increase of terrorist activities against the U.S. This triggered an old feeling of powerlessness that I felt 10 years ago and then a few years later when the U.S. invaded Iraq.

In my book, Finding Intimacy in a World of Fear, I wrote about how we, as a nation, dealt with our fear through two primary images – fear-conqueror and fear-bearer. Fear-conquerors deal with fear through acts of aggression against an “other” seen as enemy. Fear-bearers are taught to treat fear as a warning tactic that says: Go no further. If you are a fear-bearer and you do not use fear to limit yourself, there is an implicit threat of violence.

Immediately after the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center, we went into fear-conqueror mode. Bathed in patriotic and religious rituals, new rules were being defined to justify aggression; later, the doctrine of preemptive strikes was born. As long as we were striking back, it did not matter how it was justified—we were conquering our fear.

Meanwhile, everyday people were made to conform as fear-bearers. President Bush, in his address to Congress on September 20, 2001, invited us, the people, to continue to participate in the American economy and have patience in facing the inconveniences of tighter security when we traveled. In the months that followed, the call for patience for many came to mean: keep your mouth shut and endure the new rules. Certain types of people were being singled out and searched in airports, even though President Bush said explicitly, “No one should be singled out for unfair treatment or unkind words because of their ethnic background or religious faith.” While persons from the historical dominant group said that they were willing to give up some of their rights for the sake of security, the historical minorities and powerless groups experience this as an extra burden put on those already perceived as fear-bearers. Systemic prejudices and discrimination against the historical minorities were practiced openly all in the name of security.

Fear-conquerors and fear-bearers are often presented to us as the only two options in dealing with our fear. If I cannot fight like Rambo to conquer my fear, the only other option is for me to be a fear-bearer, stepping in line in support of the fear-conquerors in order just to survive. While I agree that the U.S. should not become fear-bearers by submitting to the control of the terrorists, I have trouble with the fear-conquerors’ course that the nation has taken to conquer its fear. But if these were the only two options, being fear-conquerors was the only choice. By becoming fear-conquerors, the U.S. basically was insisting that the terrorists be the fear-bearers and step in line to our demands. When both sides insisted that the other be fear-bearers, violence would be sure to escalate. When the wars were going badly and the people in the United States were beginning to question the fear-conquerors’ approach, the fear-conquerors turned inwards on their people—forcing those who questioned the validity and legality of the wars into fear-bearers. This is the problem with having only two options in dealing with fear.

Jesus refused to be a fear-bearer. He did not stay within the safe boundaries set by the religious and political institutions of his time. He crossed the line again and again and as predicted, violence would visit upon him. Jesus refused to be a fear-conqueror either. He rejected the assumptions that the Messiah was supposed to be like a rebel, using aggression to liberate the oppressed. Jesus offered a third alternative - the fear-miner. He took us on a journey to face our fear through his betrayal, suffering, death and resurrection. In facing the ultimate fear – death, he exposed the unjust application of rules and rituals that oppressed and divided people so the fear-exploiters could maintain the status quo.*

Jesus showed us the greater story of life, which was not about conquering our fear with aggression, nor simply surviving out of our fear of punishment. We are to approach fear as an opening; when we dig down we can mine from fear the God-given gift of wisdom, courage, dignity and self-esteem with which we can face any adversity that comes our way. Buried below our fear is the seed of ministry. Beyond our fear is the hope of resurrection, with new visions for us, our communities, and our nations.

So, Osama bin Laden is dead. Does this mean the wars will soon be over? I doubt that. Does this mean we have no more fear of terrorists? I doubt that too. Getting bin Laden only represents a victory of our fear-conqueror mindset. It does not help us look deeply into our fear, mining gifts from it. Without the learning from truly addressing our fear, we will find another “enemy” to go after soon continuing our fear-conquerors’ way. That includes turning inward against our own people. In that sense, prejudice and discrimination against Muslim Americans probably will continue. Anti-immigrant movements that had been on the rise before will continue. Many of them had nothing to do with bin Laden but target non-English-speaking immigrants in the name of security.

Will we continue to be cast as fear-conquerors and fear-bearers? Yes, of this I am sure. So the questions for us are: How can we resist being cast as the fear-conquerors targeting the less powerful ones in our midst? How can we refuse to be fear-bearers and speak up against the systemic prejudices? How can we expose the fear-exploiters who seek to gain politically and financially by exploiting our fear? Finally, we need to learn from Jesus. We need to become fear-miners and create gracious places where people can share and face their fear in order to mine from it directions for ministries because this is the only faithful way to address our fears finding intimacy with ourselves, others and God.

*For full exploration of fear-exploiter, see Chapter 5 of Finding Intimacy in a World of Fear by Eric H. F. Law.

** Rev. Eric H. F. Law, MDiv ’84, is the Founder and Executive Director of the Kaleidoscope Institute for Competent Leadership in a Diverse Changing World ( and author of 6 books including Finding Intimacy In A World of Fear. He is the author of The Sustainist (, a weekly blog on Spirituality for Sustainable Communities in a Networked World.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Playing with Doubt

By Elizabeth Kaeton

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Lest you be too impressed, that’s really about all I remember from my high school Conversational French Class. That, and this: “Voilá, la tour Eiffel!”

The more I think about this last semester and reflect on my time here as Proctor Scholar at EDS, the more I know the wisdom of this saying. Things have changed at EDS. A lot. And, much has stayed the same.

This school – this seminary – this place of theological education for seminarians and students of theology and future leaders of the Church – is still a place of and for theological inquiry. It’s a place where questions are understood and honored as the gateway to faith. It’s a place where theological inquiry is not only supported, it is a passionate enterprise which is endorsed and cherished and blessed by faculty, staff, field education and CPE supervisors, and fellow students.

Indeed, as I was considering the Gospel lesson we are using for this day of Doubting Thomas (John 20:19-31), it occurs to me that it would not be an overstatement to name St. Thomas as the unofficial Patron Saint of EDS.

We here at EDS are encouraged to stick our fingers into the messiness of the Body of Christ. To not take anything for granted. To question and look, touch and probe for ourselves so that, in seeing and touching, we may believe – and, lead others to believe. We are all, in some way, carefully educated and trained to be the Doubting Thomases among the faithful disciples in the church, so that the church may, herself, become more faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I doubt that no other disciple – well, none other than, perhaps, Judas – gets as much grief as does Thomas. “Doubting Thomas,” he is called. No other disciple gets a distinctive descriptive before his name. Not “Impatient, Immediate Mark” or “Inclusive Luke.”

I further doubt that many would agree with me that he would be better called “Risking Thomas.” Or, “Courageous Thomas.” Or, even, “Faithful Thomas.” Well, except, perhaps, for the faithful community of theological inquiry here at EDS.

I’m wondering just how many sermons you’ve heard – or, in fact preached – over the years about how doubt is a part of the faith journey. You’ve heard it said – and, perhaps do not doubt it yourself – that faith is risk, and risk wouldn’t be risk without doubt. You no doubt believe that faith that comes only after evidence is no faith at all. Trust, perhaps, but not faith.

Faith is that daring commitment that climbs out on life’s limbs and leaps. As someone once said, faith is what leads you to have no doubt that, when you do leap off that limb, one of two things will happen: either you will land safely, or you will be given wings to fly.

And, I think that’s the point of faith – to believe enough to play with your doubts. What if John is playing with our doubts in this gospel story? What if he is tormenting us with the obvious truth by setting up Thomas – with whom, some scholars believe, he had such serious rivalry as to write this story so as to shame him – to be the one who is the bearer of our doubts and questions about the Resurrection?

You know, sometimes, I think we take our faith too seriously – so seriously that we think we have to have it right – correct, perfect, “orthodox”, God help us – or else we’ll get an “F” on our earthly report card and not gain entrance into heaven.

Today’s reading says, after all, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

Blessed are they who play with their doubts. Laugh at their doubts. Torment those who love with their doubts that they may push through their doubts and find Jesus in the midst of their doubts and fears that have frozen them into not living out the gospel more fully.

It has ever been thus. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same. The more we enter fearlessly into our doubts, the more Christ is revealed in our lives, and the better we are able to live more fully into the full stature of Christ.

It’s been going on for years like that here at EDS.

And because I have played – and will continue to play – with my doubts these past 25 years, I know this much to be true: Christ is alive!

And, after a semester here, I have absolutely no doubt that it was never more true than here at most this amazing place called the Episcopal Divinity School.

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! And, let the whole church say, “Amen.”

*The Rev. Dr. Elizabeth Kaeton, MDiv ’86, is the spring 2011 Procter Scholar at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

** Adapted from a sermon preached on Thursday, May 5, 2011, at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.