Two re-tellings

I enjoy fictional re-tellings of the gospel story – as long as they are not the insipid, sentimental versions meant to market the mainstream Jesus.  Recently, I have read two new novels  – Accidental Christ by Lon Milo DuQuette, and Jesus in Love, by Kittredge Cherry.  Both authors present highly controversial images of Jesus, as they wrestle with his story.  In her introduction to Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry makes the very traditional point that, in the incarnation, the Logos did not simply assume the isolated humanity of one individual, but Humanity proper.  Thus, there is nothing about our human nature – our wonderings and desires, our sexuality and suffering, our affirmations and rejections – which is foreign to Christ.  We can wrestle with Jesus and his story, from wherever we are, and we perhaps learn the most from those whose Christ-struggles are quite different from our own.

Lon DuQuette is not a Christian.  Rather, he is a follower of the religion of Thelema, founded by Aleister Crowley, and an archbishop in its ecclesial manifestation, the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica.  I know the following statement will probably get me some (ahem) interesting email – but I think Thelema has been unable to disentangle itself from a dance with Jesus (although usually a dance of rejection) since its founding.   Crowley’s biting rejection of Christianity can only be understood through considering his strict Plymouth Brethren childhood.    He then created a non-Christian church with sacraments and structure that look very much like Catholicism.  Given his trickster nature, what is parody and what is serious?   Who can say?  The strange dance continues in his successors.  Many EGC bishops have a claim to traditional apostolic succession, although it is hard to know what that would mean outside of a Christian context.  Crowley’s onetime secretary and popularizer, Israel Regardie, wrote a lovely manual on Christian spiritual practice (poorly titled Twelve Steps to Spiritual Enlightenment), only to disavow it and rewrite it from a Thelemic standpoint (as The One Year Manual).  Lon DuQuette’s inner journey from childhood Methodism to Thelema is recounted in his very engaging, and extremely funny autobiography, My Life with the Spirits.  If you want to understand Thelema, My Life with the Spirits is the most accessible place to begin.

Needless to say, DuQuette’s Jesus is quite interesting!  He is a pawn in a political plot to restore the Davidic kingdom, caught up in a drama beyond himself and yet strangely finding some sort of freedom in the midst of it.  If I say much more, I will spoil the story for you.  The narrator (Clopas, Jesus’ uncle) probably speaks for DuQuette when he says, near the end:

My involvement in the Messiah movement has taught me that it is good to have a goal in life, but that it is not good to define your life by that goal.  Doing so will only guarantee disappointment.  All of us are accidental Christs, thrust awkwardly toward Godhood by factors infinite and unknown. If I would share my secret, I would tell you to welcome your accidental adventures. Enjoy the aimless winging of your soul.  For, in truth, our aimless winging is at once the beginning, the middle, and the end of our journey. (Accidental Christ, p.241)

While DuQuette’s version of the gospel is much more fundamentally challenging to Christian faith, Cherry’s Jesus in Love is probably fated to shock many more people, as Cherry’s Jesus is transgendered and bisexual.   Cherry is a lesbian Christian, ordained in the Metropolitan Community Churches, but her book is not a political statement or heavy-handed in any way.  Rather, it the story of Jesus shot through with a compelling, powerful mix of mysticism and sexuality.  If your mind is wandering to The DaVinci Code, this is nothing of that sort – Jesus in Love is of an altogether different order.  Further adding to the challenge of the book, Cherry is very orthodox in her theology – to the point that it made me uncomfortable!  She was forced to leave public ministry some years ago due to a debilitating illness, and she engages the meaning of suffering (Jesus’ and ours) in considerable depth.  I imagine that the relationship of suffering and love will be further explored in the sequel, Jesus in Love: At the Cross, which is due soon. 

Both of these books make for scandalizing reading, but the Jesus of the gospels is a rascal, prone to turn over our tables and rattle our complacent religious understandings.  I think he would welcome these (fictional) renditions of his story, as they shake us awake, and confront us afresh with the question:  Who do you say that I am?


8 Responses to “Two re-tellings”

  1. The Liberal Rite Says:

    I shall add these to my reading list.

    Through Crowley’s appointment of William Bernard Crow (Mar Basilius Abdullah III) as Sovereign Patriarch of EGC, many ISM bishops have a direct succession (though not an apostolic one) from Crowley. Crow consecrated Mar Georgius on 10 April 1944.

    To my understanding, both you and I are in that succession.

  2. John Says:

    Hey there Liberal Rite – Yes, you are definitely correct that a large percentage of independent sacramental clergy have some link to succession from Crowley and the EGC, via a number of points of (often disputed and confusing) cross-fertilization – however much they may not want to admit it! However, check your dates on WB Crow. Crowley’s appt of Crow as EGC patriarch is dated August 1944, several months after his consecration of Mar Georgius in April of that year.

  3. The Liberal Rite Says:

    You’re right concerning the dates. The UK branch of the EGC lists this succession at and that threw me a little.

    There are certainly lines from Crowley around, but the direct line to the ISM I can find currently is to +Bertiaux from Crowley’s ‘consecrator’ Encausse (Papus).

    Crow claimed that Crowley had written the Gnostic Mass under influence of the Liturgy of St Basil from the Russian Church.

    Crow’s line also passed to J.S.M. Ward, who in turn consecrated Gerald Gardner, the convener of modern Wiccanism.

  4. John Says:

    I rummaged through my files for more info. Have you found a claim that Papus consecrated Crowley in the Doinel lineage? The more usual claim appears to be that Papus consecrated Theodor Reuss, who in turn consecrated Crowley (although there is no documentary evidence of any of this, so far as I know). The link from Crowley to WB Crow has also been challenged, as the document appointing Crow as EGC patriarch is not signed – but I think most Crowley investigators accept it as authentic (although some believe it was an authentic joke). I tend to believe the link from Crowley to Crow, but have serious doubts about Reuss to Crowley.

    Anyhow, a somewhat more secure line from Crowley into the ISM is: Crowley appointed WB Crow as EGC patriarch in August 1944. On Sept 3, 1944, Crow consecrated Henry George Brook (whose name I have also seen as George Henry Brook). Brook exchanged consecrations with a whole bunch of indie bishops, including Mar Georgius on May 20, 1945 – and the line spreads widely from there. I have never seen the hard evidence for any of this, and there are conflicting versions reported – but the foregoing is drawn from Philip Garver’s careful research, and appears to me to be the most likely chain. (If anyone knows more, speak up!)

    Every family has a crazy uncle or two tucked away in the attic. Ours just happens to be Uncle Al! 🙂

  5. Kittredge Cherry Says:

    Many thanks for your insightful, erudite comments on my novel, JESUS IN LOVE. Comparing it to ACCIDENTAL CHRIST is an intriguing idea. You aren’t the first to be disturbed by the orthodoxy of the theology in my novel. It was too “Christian” for some publishers and too “gay” for the rest — until AndroGyne Press bravely stepped forward. It’s a great new queer studies press based in Berkeley. Overall, readers seem to enjoy the synthesis of the orthodox and the unconventional in my novel.

    When I read your final question — Who do you say that I am? — I couldn’t help thinking of an art exhibit by that name, subtitled “Visions of Christ, Gender and Justice.” It will be on display in at JHS Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, from May 12 to June 23, but will have much broader ramifications. The show will feature paintings of a gay Jesus and other spiritual progressive art by folks who are exploring some of the same themes in my novel.

  6. John Says:

    Thanks for the comment! It is a really beautiful book! I will check out the exhibit you mention.

  7. Kittredge Cherry Says:

    I saw your post on another blog (Even the Devils Believe: Musings of an Indepdent Catholic Priest) saying that you thought Christ’s fast in the desert was the most powerful part of “Jesus in Love.” Thank you for that comment.

    I also think that the chapter on the wilderness fast had a different quality from the rest of the novel… a necessary interlude. Several others have also told me that it was their favorite part.

    I’m sure that JESUS IN LOVE needed to unfold as it did, but I also had the sense that perhaps in the future I could write another novel that was wholly along the lines of the wilderness fast chapter… which focused less on the erotic/queer and more on Christ’s communion with nature and His inner life.

    I know that I could write such a book beautifully, but I wonder if there would be a market for it. As it is, a common knee-jerk reaction to JESUS IN LOVE is that the story has already been told.

    And yet Christ’s story sustains me as no other has.

    I would be interested in hearing more of your reflections on what made the fasting scenes so powerful to you. I’m still revising the sequel and your feedback can help make it a better book!

  8. John Says:

    Hi Kitt –

    As this entry still gets a lot of hits, I am going to reply on-blog, and maybe others will join the discussion.

    I have been thinking this morning about what more I can say about the fasting section in Jesus in Love. It is a very potent and beautiful section – I agree that it could form the basis of a separate book. Your telling is so unique that I can’t imagine that anyone would say “it’s already been done!”

    Have you ever seen Will Campbell’s novel, Cecilia’s Sin? It began as such an interlude in his larger novel, The Glad River – but seemed to have a life of its own, and eventually became a separate novel.

    There is so much in that part of your novel that it is hard to know what to say – I think it has much to say about the nature of sin, evil and brokenness in the world, the truth of trust in the Spirit in the face of such evil, and intimations of what the reconciliation of all things (and the groaning of all creation for that day) might look like. The animal characters come across with a vividness which seems totally natural – not forced as is often the case with such.

    Anyway, I really hope you do something further with it – and if dialogue is ever helpful, I’m always here on the other end of the computer!

    Take care –


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