Category Archives: WC75 – Bears

WC75 – Review of Kitt Cherry’s Art That Dares

Rvu_kitcherry_artthatdaresArt That Dares: Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More
By Kittredge Cherry
AndroGyne Press,
Paperback, 96 pages, $38.95
Reviewed by Toby Johnson

Editor’s Note: Regular readers of White Crane will recall this book from our Friends issue, in which, in addition to the beautiful cover image, several images from the book were published in connection with a show at JHS Gallery
in Taos, NM  (

Kitt Cherry’s newest creation is wonderful, mind-blowing, and beautiful. White Crane readers will recognize her name from previous mentions of her equally mind-blowing novel, Jesus in Love, which presents an autobiography (i.e., told in the first-person) of Jesus Christ as a modern psychologically sophisticated and sexually aware ego-person. Cherry is a lesbian former MCC minister, now in semi-retirement, and author of a book for young people on coming out and a guide to lesbian and Gay worship and ceremonies. She is also an art historian. And it is in this last identity that she has collected paintings, photographs and graphics that depict what might be called “alternative” versions of Christian imagery.

This book is effectively a “catalogue” of an exhibition she mounted at the JHS Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, as part of the National Festival of Progressive Spiritual Art, in May 2007. It includes beautifully reproduced images of some eleven artists, along with in-depth articles about each artist and explanations of the themes in the selected examples. The subtitle reveals just why “explanations” are in order: “Gay Jesus, Woman Christ, and More.” The introduction contains an account of Cherry’s motivation in searching out this truly “visionary” style of artistic expression and an intelligent discussion of the meaning of the oh-so-religious-sounding term “blasphemy.”

You can imagine she’s had that epithet hurled at her!
Her “blasphemy” is so honest, so respectful, visionary, and inspiring that it becomes a kind of new religion, a Christianity not stuck in literal old stories, but alive with imagery meaningful to us today — not the Jesus of history 2000 years old, but the mystical Jesus of the present NOW, alive in human beings today, suffering and resurrecting through the struggles of modern life and of sexual and gender liberation.

Cherry explains that blasphemy refers to speech intended to transgress or express contempt for central religious beliefs, in that sense, the idea is to protect the status quo religion and culture. But in effect, blasphemy is what wakes people up and forces them to rethink their unquestioned cultural beliefs and myths. In that sense, blasphemy is the truly spiritual tool for transforming consciousness. Jesus Christ, after all, was put to death for blasphemy.

I suppose not all blasphemous speech or art wakes people to the true meaning of religion, but the very fact that a believer would feel so threatened that he or she would hurl accusations at another of this sin ought to tell them something about their own precarious hold on truth. It’s like the Jungian  notion of “the shadow” that what upsets you the most — and the most compulsively in other people — is a reflection of traits in yourself you are trying to protect yourself from recognizing and admitting. Being upset by somebody else’s beliefs one disagrees with is some sort of sign of one’s own skepticism. And so the more the beliefs seem meaningless, the more fiercely they have to defended.

The sinfulness of blasphemy is based on the first of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt make no graven images. Jesus, of course, transformed those commandments, reducing them to two: love God and love your neighbor. And as Christianity moved into Europe in its early missionary days, it dropped the objection to graphic images altogether. That was a desert thing! Nomads — Jews and later Muslims — objected to depictions of God. Greek, Roman and European cultures exulted in creating representations of God. Indeed, during the Middle Ages, the stained glass windows of the great cathedrals were the catechisms by which the religious stories were portrayed and promulgated. The imagery made the stories more real — and memorable — and provided insight into their meaning.

That’s exactly what the image, say, of a female Christ — like that of acrylic artist Jill Ansell — does: causes the viewer to think through the contradiction and to understand “Christ” as a mystical reality which necessarily includes both male and female since humankind includes both male and female. The image of a woman rising from the tomb triumphant reminds us vividly that the Christian message about resurrection includes the feminine principle as well as the masculine.

Depictions of Jesus are often “homoerotic” in that he is prototypically shown near naked and suffering the afflictions of the flesh. Oil painter F. Douglas Blanchard portrays Jesus as a modern Gay man in modern clothing being brutalized by police and by fag-baiting protestors. The disturbing, but ultimately glorious, series of twenty-four painting, of which five are included in the book, force the viewer to consider that anti-Gay violence in the name of religion is an exact parallel to the violence done against Jesus and which Christians believe was salvific for us all.

With paint on plexiglass Alex Donis produced faux stained glass windows showing improbable combinations in an intimate kiss — John Kennedy and Fidel Castro, the Pope and Gandhi, Adolf Hitler and a Holocaust survivor—to call into question conventional dualistic categories. Reproduced in the book are the kisses of Jesus and the Hindu god Rama and Mary Magdalene and the Virgen de Guadalupe. Several of Donis’ creations were destroyed by vandals in protest against the exhibit in San Francisco in 1997.

Perhaps the most familiar artwork in the book is that of Franciscan brother Robert Lentz. His modern day Greek Orthodox-styled icons — of both traditional holy figures and modern  political and cultural characters — have been distributed through progressive and GLBTI bookstores and card shops for years. The icon of Harvey Milk, Martyr is a national Gay treasure. (Since Lentz returned to the Order later in his life, he’s been forbidden for marketing the more controversial of his icons, but they are still available through his previous distributor.) And the icons of Jesus as AIDS sufferer by openly Gay ex-Jesuit priest William Hart McNichols will also be familiar. They’ve appeared in the Gay press.

That’s to point out only five of the eleven artists. All the images in Art That Dares are equally striking and transforming of ideas about the meaning of religious iconography.
The book is liable to be dismissed and deprecated by the Religious Right. Some of the people who really need to see this material will never lay eyes on it. But now it’s out there. Kitt Cherry’s work has already been noticed and that condemnation, ironically, has brought needed attention.

This is a lovely book. And a very neat idea! I urge readers to seek it out.  Selections from Art That Dares are highlighted on Cherry’s internet page

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Toby Johnson is the author and editor of countless fine books like Gay Spirituality, and Charmed Lives.  He is also former publisher of White Crane Journal and currently Reviews editor. Visit him at

WC75 – Review of The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved

Rvu_katzrevnotmicrowaveThe Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved:
Inside America’s Underground Food Movements

by Sandor Ellix Katz, Chelsea Green
Paperback, 400 pages, $20.00
Reviewed by Jason Mayernick

The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved revolves around two realities. First, everyone needs to eat. Control what a person needs and that person is control.  Author Sandor Katz chronicles the dozen of ways every bite of food we eat is controlled by corporations and government agencies to the detriment of our societies our society’s health and survival. Realities number two; you don’t have to passively live with the stranglehold of corporate greed that has come to characterize food production in the “modern” world. There is a Revolution under way to put food back in the hands of the individual and the Revolution is Recruiting.

Liberation is achieved through awareness of oppression and a struggle against that oppression. In no uncertain terms The Revolution Will Not Be Microwaved touches on the oppressive nature of government regulations and market practices leaving their mark on everything from the seeds farmers plant to the way meat is slaughtered and shipped. With each reality mentioned Katz offers examples of how that oppression is being challenged and offers ways for the reader to join the struggle.

Across the pages of this amazingly well researched book march a host of individuals resisting and undermining the soulless food industry. Guerrilla gardeners in urban centers, raw milk dairy farmers, illegal floating food markets, and other examples highlight the work of food activists across the world. Each chapter ends with an extensive bibliography and resource list making this volume an exceptional starting point for anyone interested in food activism. Taken as a whole The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved is a call to action, a wonderful piece of accessible research, a thought provoking work chronicling the struggles of food activists across the globe, and definitely worth the read.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Jason Mayernick is a polyglot scholar, teacher and pirohi.maker living in Minnesota.  Visit his blog “With Pirohi & Love.”

WC75 – Review of That Undeniable Longing

Rvu_tedesco_2That Undeniable Longing:
My Road To and From the Priesthood
By Mark Tedesco
Academy Chicago Publishers
Hardback, 197 pages, $23.95
Reviewed by Toby Johnson

Mark Tedesco’s interesting, chatty and entertaining account of his experience as a Catholic seminarian begins with an epigraph from St. John of the Cross: “In the end we shall be judged by how much we have loved.”

When I was a young seminarian myself, the Novicemaster gave me a holy card as a Christmas present with that same quote from John of the Cross. So I started this book identifying with the author. My experience was also similar to his in being in two different seminaries. I moved from one religious order to another after the first told me to leave on account of my homosexuality (though, fortunately or unfortunately, didn’t explain that in a way that made any sense to me). I experienced it all as a series of “divine interventions” that got me from a fairly conservative order to a liberal progressive one and from that order which had a student residence in San Francisco to liberated life as a gay man in the nation’s gay mecca.

Mark Tedesco’s journey was similar, but actually more exotic than mine. Though he was an American and lived in Modesto, California, he joined an order of priests called Oblates of the Virgin Mary which had its seminary in the Italian city of San Vittorino outside Rome. So he really got the full experience of Roman Catholicism. He was with this group for a couple of years and then was told not to return from a summer leave back in California. He was emotionally lost and confused for a while, but then got assistance from a priest he knew outside the Oblates to get into the North American College in Rome (a seminary not associated with a specific religious Order). So he returned to Italy and continued his training and was eventually ordained. He returned to the U.S. and worked in a parish in Washington, D.C. while he continued his education at Catholic University. In Rome he’d become involved with a Catholic lay group which he calls Communion and Freedom (C.F.) C.F. was paradoxically both progressive and intensely conservative. (C.F. sounds very similar to the lay Catholic organization Opus Dei which received a lot of attention during the heyday of the DaVinci Code movie.)
Throughout his seventeen some years as a seminarian and then a priest, Tedesco was emotionally wracked with fears of his gradually emerging homosexuality. And the emotional stress manifested as digestive problems and general unhappiness. To deal with these issues he saw a counselor in D.C. who innocently asked him if he’d considered leaving the priesthood. Well, long before, back with the Oblates he’d been told by a “living saint” in residence at the seminary that God wanted him to be a priest. How could he leave?

By the time of the counselor’s question, however, the “living saint” had been exposed as phony (his stigmata was apparently self-imposed and his “odor of sanctity” really just a cloud of perfume he secretly doused himself with). Maybe Il Santo’s advice wasn’t so pertinent after all and that the longing for happiness was a better sign of what God wanted for him than the self-serving admonitions of Church authorities. The counselor’s question opened the possibility of change. And soon he was out of the priesthood and back in California starting a career as a high school teacher.

That Undeniable Longing is very personal, though for all that he writes about his confusion and emotional suffering the book reads more like a travelogue through Italy and the Catholic Church than a tale of psychological abuse by religious authorities. Indeed, it is quite readable and hard to put down. I devoured it in three sittings over two days, thoroughly enjoying the experience.

I’d have liked a little more explanation of how he finally reconciled his homosexuality and his religiousness. The discovery is that the “undeniable longing” that draws people to God is also what draws them to sexual love. But this seems only acknowledged tangentially. He doesn’t seem to have developed a positive “gay spirituality” or spiritual vision of sexuality as much as seen through the oppression of the traditional Catholic culture.

And he never mentions masturbation. I would affirm his right to privacy and personal respectability, of course. This book isn’t meant to be a confession. But all the way through I kept wondering if he were strictly “chaste” by Catholic standards and, if so, how he’d managed this feat. As a young Catholic seminarian myself, I’d managed to suppress sexuality for a period of three years. And am amazed—and in a curious way a little proud—of myself for the discipline. But Mark Tedesco apparently endured this for 17 years.

Tedesco relates some of his deep emotional/homosexual attachments to fellow seminarians. I really could identify with those stories; I had similar experiences in my own religious life days. But I was in the Church in the 1960s. Tedesco’s story starts in 1978. How could he have been so unaware of homosexuality?

The fact that all this happened decades after Stonewall seems a reminder to us in the gay movement that our message about the real nature of homosexuality—and especially the spiritual side of gay consciousness—isn’t reaching the youth who need to hear it. As a devout teenager longing for God, Tedesco should have been told that acknowledging his gayness would have been a faster path to the divine that going off to Rome.

All former seminarians will enjoy this book. The stories about the “living saint” and the traditional life at the seminary at San Vittorino are just precious. There’s a pedestrian honesty and simplicity about the way Tedesco relates the life of a young priest that all readers can find appealing. I enjoyed this book.

This is just an excerpt from this issue of White Crane.   We are a reader-supported journaland need you to subscribe to keep this conversation going.  So to read more from this wonderful issue SUBSCRIBE to White Crane. Thanks!

Toby Johnson is the author and editor of countless fine books like Gay Spirituality, and Charmed Lives.  He is also former publisher of White Crane Journal and currently Reviews editor. Visit him at