Friday, March 04, 2011
Erotic Christ teacher speaks: We are the erotic body of Christ
An experienced teacher on the erotic Christ is Hunter Flournoy, a psychotherapist and shamanic healer who teaches “Erotic Body of Christ” workshops for gay and bisexual men.
He shares his insights in the following in-depth interview with Kittredge Cherry, whose “Jesus in Love” novels imagine an erotically alive Jesus falling in love with people of both sexes. She founded JesusInLove.org to promote LGBT spirituality and the arts.
Based in North Carolina and New Mexico, Flournoy has been leading workshops and ceremonies in awareness, creativity, healing, passionate living and personal freedom for 19 years. His next Erotic Body of Christ workshop will be March 17-20 at the Kirkridge Retreat Center in Delaware Water Gap, PA. He has just launched a new website, eroticbodyofchrist.org, full of valuable resources for uniting sexuality and spirituality.
Kittredge Cherry: Who is “the erotic Christ”? How does the "erotic Christ" relate to the "historical Jesus" of scholarly research, the gay Jesus or black Jesus of liberation theology, and the traditional Jesus of churches?
Hunter Flournoy: We are Christ, the anointed one, and His Body is our own, as individuals, as a community, and as a world. At one point, the New Testament says, Christ had only one body – the body of Jesus – but he poured out his Spirit on the World, anointing us all, making us His body. That body, in the eastern traditions of Christianity, is a passionately erotic one; our erotic experience is the place we encounter God most directly, and the energy of Eros -- our sensuous experience of pleasure, desire, ecstasy and union . . . is the fuel for our journey of Theosis, or union with God. Eros transfigured through our act of giving ourselves and receiving each other completely, becomes agape. The erotic body of Christ is not a scholastic conceptualization of Jesus – it is a visceral experience of God through our bodies, individually and collectively, modeled by Jesus, lived by the erotic Christian mystics throughout the ages, and felt directly in our own experience.
KC: When and how did you first get involved with the idea of the erotic Christ?
HF: My first intimation of Christ as a living reality in my body goes back to my earliest communion at about age ten. My whole body thrilled when I knelt at the altar rail and the priest’s hand brushed against my own as he pressed the wafer into my palm and lifted the chalice of warm, sweet wine to my lips. I felt that it was Jesus there before me and in me, in everything, penetrating everything and taking it all into him. As I matured, that experience only deepened; every sensation seemed to be infused with a passionately loving presence, and sometimes I would see an astounding light shining out of other peoples’ eyes, kindling bliss in my whole body.
I tried to suppress this unsettling experience for years, since the Christianity of my youth had no room for it. I didn’t realize what a deeply Christian experience it really was until I discovered a small eastern orthodox monastery in New Mexico. There I learned that Christianity had once been something very different: experiential, sensuous, mystical, and profoundly grounded in the sacredness of our bodies and our world. Though many of the eastern churches have more recently become mired in a frightening cultural conservatism, they kept a breathtakingly erotic, incarnational Christianity alive for two thousand years.
KC: Many LGBT people have been wounded by the false teaching that homosexuality is a sin. What message does the erotic Christ have for them?
HF: Our sexual energy is the most powerful tool we have to shatter the illusion of separation, which is what the original Christians meant by “sin.” The essential question we must ask ourselves is, am I using sex to bring myself alive, to overcome separation and incarnate the divine, or am I using it to medicate or avoid my own experience of being alive? This was the original understanding of chastity: it calls us to the highest possible relationship with our own sexual energy. All sexual experience can break down the boundaries and defenses we use to separate ourselves from each other and from God – we become one body, one being. Sex can also teach us how to give ourselves totally (kenosis) to each other, how to receive each other completely (plerosis), and how to surrender to the transfiguring power of our own erotic experience. As LGBT people, we also have an innate understanding that our erotic experience, our pleasure, desire, ecstasy, and union, can serve a purpose other than reproduction. Our erotic joy is a source of profound creativity, deep empathy, and a wild ecstasy that can take us out of who we are into a far greater sense of being.
KC: As you say, the idea of "suffering as Christ suffered" has been abused in legalistic religious systems. But gay bashing and other forms of “crucifixion” continue. How can the erotic Christ help in situations of real human suffering?
HF: There is nothing inherently spiritual or useful in suffering; it is useless to suffer as Jesus suffered. Nor did Jesus advocate cooperating with abuse and injustice. What he advocated and demonstrated – what really matters – is loving as he loved, embracing everything and everyone, including suffering, as Jesus embraced it. Instead of rejecting our suffering, trying to medicate, numb, get rid of it or distract ourselves from it, we learn how to embrace it, without indulging it or running from it. We let our suffering shatter our sense of self, our sense of control, and our need to make sense of the world. This is what the Christian mystics called katharsis. Second, our embrace transforms suffering into a searingly powerful erotic experience . . . it is like a fire that fills our whole being, a great trembling ache that breaks into the profound peace the mystics called theoria. Finally, we discover through this embrace that we are welcoming not only our own suffering, but the world’s suffering . . . we begin to experience ourselves as the world, as Christ’s body, and ultimately as God, in the mystery of theosis.
KC: Your upcoming Erotic Christ workshop is only for gay and bisexual men. Do you see a special connection between the erotic Christ and queer people? How can others (women, straight men) connect with the erotic Christ?
HF: My experience of Christ has always been through this body, which is a male-sexed body primarily attracted to other male-sexed bodies, so I started off creating a workshop grounded in this experience. I have also experienced over the last twenty years of teaching that this is tremendously vulnerable work . . . and until very recently, many of us didn’t feel safe enough in mixed crowds to be so vulnerable. Thank God, this is finally changing . . . I am opening the next introductory workshop, coming up this summer, to trans-men, and I’m working on putting together another workshop that includes everyone. If we really take the incarnation seriously, we cannot identify only with one group of people, distinguished by a particular body or a particular orientation . . . we are all the Erotic Body of Christ.
I would suggest rather emphatically, that Jesus, or Christ, doesn’t have a special connection with anyone . . . but has a unique relationship with everyone! Each person has so much to teach the rest of us about how Christ incarnates through her own body! Queer folk have so much to teach straight folk about Christ, so much to share with them . . . gifts that have been violently suppressed and silenced . . . gifts that the world desperately needs, to bring it back into balance. But “special” gifts? None of God’s lovers are special, but all are passionately loved, and all of us can experience God directly through our own embodied experience. Every sensation, every ripple of pleasure and desire and joy and peace, is a revelation of divine love through our bodies, calling us into God's amorous embrace.
KC: Are you openly gay? (If not, we can omit this question.) The Jesus in Love Blog focuses on LGBT spirituality, so our readers will be interested to know: How did your gay identity influence the development of your ideas about the erotic Christ?
HF: Terms of identity are not so easy as they once were, thank God! I tell people I am a male-sexed transgender person who is sexually attracted to other males – or in some communities, two spirited. It’s a mouthful, but I think it’s important to shatter the boxes we use to delineate “us” and “them.” It’s all just “us.”
My attraction to other males certainly had a profound impact on my experience of Jesus, though; as my communion story (above) illustrates, I’ve always had the hots for Jesus. The funny thing is, though, he doesn’t seem to be satisfied with “just sex.” He wants a lover that puts it all out on the table . . . he wants to make love to everything in our lives, through our own willingness to passionately embrace ourselves, each other, and our world, to pour ourselves out utterly, and to receive the world into ourselves.
KC: What is your religious background? How does it inform your ideas about the erotic Christ?
HF: I was christened Presbyterian, confirmed Episcopalian, baptized, chrismated and tonsured Eastern Orthodox, and ordained in the Amigos de Dios, an ecumenical Christian fellowship. I’ve also spent a great deal of time with healers and elders from many different indigenous and mystical traditions. My direct experience of Christ evolved over many years in all of these traditions, but I didn’t really have a way of expressing it in Christian terms until I discovered the profoundly erotic and mystical teachings of Eastern Orthodoxy. Unfortunately, the church didn’t ultimately have room for my outreach into the LGBT Community or my interfaith work, so I and a few other kindred spirits founded the Amigos de Dios, or Friends of God, and I began to share these teachings, practices, and experiences with others in my workshops and retreats.
KC: What future projects are you planning about the erotic Christ? Be sure to tell us about your upcoming book.
HF: What a joy this process of creation has been! I have offered the introductory workshop, “The Erotic Body of Christ,” once in the four day format, and will be offering it again this month. I have delivered half-day and full-day versions several times, I have created an advanced workshop that will be offered in the fall, and I am in the process of creating an everyone-invited version of the basic workshop. The website is finally up, and I’m hoping the book, The Erotic Body of Christ, will be out by the end of this year. If people are interested, they can go to www.spiritjourneys.com for the four-day workshop, or www.eroticbodyofchrist.org for more in-depth information and other offerings. They can also call me at 828-450-8800, or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This interview is part of an occasional series on Eros and Christ at the Jesus in Love Blog. Related posts include:
An Erotic Encounter With the Divine
By Eric Hays-Strom
Erotic Christ / Rethinking Sin and Grace for LGBT People
By Patrick Cheng
Click here for the whole Eros and Christ series.