Review: The Gay Disciple by John Henson

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Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story


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Read Toby's review of Samuel Avery's The Dimensional Structure of Consciousness

Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"

The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

Why gay people should NOT Marry

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What's ironic

Shame on the American People

The "highest form of love"

Second March on Washington

A Bifurcation of Gay Spirituality

 The cause of homosexuality

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What is homosexuality?

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Common Experiences Unique to Gay Men

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The purpose of homosexuality

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The Gay Succession

Interview on the Nature of Homosexuality

What the Bible Says about Homosexuality

Mesosexual Ideal for Straight Men

Varieties of Gay Spirituality

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Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium

Easton Mountain Retreat Center

Andrew Harvey & Spiritual Activism

The Gay Spirituality Summit in May 2004 and the  "Statement of Spirituality"

"It's Always About You"

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The Sinfulness of Homosexuality

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No Stealing

Next Step in Evolution

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption

Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

Allah Hu: "God is present here"
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The Life is in the Blood

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The Great Dance according to C.S.Lewis

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Part 1: Brer Rabbit and the Tar-Baby
Part 2:
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Jesus and the Resurrection
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Understanding the Clear Light

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How Gay Souls Get Reincarnated

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Karellen was a homosexual

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Book Reviews

Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois

Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass

A Naturally Gay Literary Genre

the gay disciple by john hensonThe Gay Disciple:
Jesus’ friend tells it his own way

John Henson

O Books, paperback, 152 pages, $19.95
ISBN 1-84694-001-X

Reviewed by Toby Johnson

“The Life of Christ” is, in itself, a literary genre. Authors down through time, starting with the gospel writers themselves, have used the story of Jesus of Nazareth as a template for conveying the various threads of spiritual wisdom, morality, and social structure that is called Christianity according to their own personal interpretations and intuitions. The basic story of Jesus’s life is well established—by traditional belief if not by actual historical evidence. Thus one thrust of the genre these days, made possible by modern scientific research techniques, tries to describe Jesus’s life as it actually was. Another thrust—and this is the one the evangelists themselves were part of—tries only to convey the message and the spiritual experience of the author; this thrust deals with historicity rather cavalierly.

In the last few years, perhaps encouraged by the success of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, a new generation of writers have been inspired to reimagine and retell the story of Jesus with a whole new feminist and modernist sensibility. The very idea that the gospels are more poetry than history is itself a distinctly modernist insight.

Besides the highly promoted life of Christ by Anne Rice, the gay-popular horror writer and mother of a gay son, three gay sensitive lives of Christ have passed across my desk in the past year.

Retired MCC lesbian minister Kittredge Cherry tells the story in the first person of Jesus—a daring perspective!—in a book with a daring title: Jesus in Love. Taking the myth motif of Jesus as the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity literally, Cherry portrays him, paradoxically and enlighteningly, as fully conscious of being God and as being a regular guy and a modern, psychologically sophisticated and sexually aware ego-person. Cherry’s Jesus is remarkable; by portraying him as having an inner erotic life (with some mind-blowing fantasies if ever there were), the author is able to articulate a wholesome Christian spirituality of sex.

University of Southern California anthropology professor and longtime director of L.A.’s ONE Institute Center, Walter L. Williams, has written a life of Christ called The Teachings of Jesus. Williams is author of the book The Spirit and the Flesh which first piqued gay America’s interest in shamanistic two-spirit tradition in Native American cultures—and my collaborator last year on the novel Two Spirits: A Story of Life With the Navajo. Williams’ book, similar to Thomas Jefferson’s effort in the so-called “Jefferson’s Bible,” paraphrases and interweaves the stories of the four gospels in order to extract the philosophy and spiritual teaching of Jesus. Williams brings a Buddhist perspective to the telling, so his Jesus comes across, like Buddha, as a wise teacher, not an incarnate God. Williams’ expression of Jesus’s message is gay-sensitive and modernly sensible.

John Henson, a Welsh progressive Christian minister and school teacher, and though heterosexually married with three children and nine grandchildren, a longtime activist with the Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement in England, has taken an entirely different tack in The Gay Disciple: Jesus’ friend tells it his own way. Henson has imagined the story of Jesus’s life from the perspective of minor characters in the New Testament, what might be called the “back story” of Jesus and his friends. He thus insightfully invents some plot twists.

The woman disciple in the New Testament called Salome, for instance, Henson reveals was indeed the dancing princess who’d called for the head of John the Baptist but who then experienced a conversion and became a follower. The “Gethsemani Streaker” mentioned in passing in the Gospel of Mark was the young son of the couple who ran The Phoenix Hotel and Bar where Jesus and his friends rented a second floor party room for their Passover gathering. The boy had waited tables the night of the Last Supper and was so excited from meeting Jesus he couldn’t sleep; so when he saw the torches of the soldiers coming toward the gardens on Olive Hill where the party guests had gone walking, wrapped himself in a sheet and ran out to see what was going on. (He shows up again in a couple of pleasantly surprising roles, but I won’t ruin the surprise by saying any more in this review.)
Also telling their side of the story are: Zaccheus, the tax collector Jesus befriended; Veronica, the woman who wiped Jesus’s face with her veil on his way to his death who turns out to have been the woman accused of adultery whom he forgave with his famous words about the first stone; Mary the sister of Lazarus who reveals she was actually the basis of the story of the Prodigal Son; Clopas, the husband of Jesus’s mother’s younger sister, also named Mary, who was also at the crucifixion, who tells that he was one of the disciples to whom Jesus appeared on the way to Emmatown the night after the Resurrection. The book takes its name from the longest of these accounts, that by a character cobbled together out of several Biblical references, who is identified as Lazarus.

This man who has become Jesus’s close friend and who is raised from the dead by Jesus is revealed to have been the “rich young man” to whom Jesus says “Sell all that you have and give to the poor, and come, follow me.” In Lazarus’s account, the reader learns that though he had at first turned away because he was afraid of losing his fortune, he soon had second thoughts—and a rush of infatuation—and came back to accept Jesus’s invitation. He sells off a major portion of his inheritance, including an olive and date farm called Dategrove, in order to finance Jesus’s first social service projects. Jesus wisely tells him to retain some of the property so they’ll have place for the disciples to all live communally and to provide housing for homeless lepers.

Henson’s stories of the New Testament are remarkable because of their tone of voice and the “translation” of biblical language into modern, everyday lingo. This is exemplified in the characters’ names. Lazarus goes by the nickname Larry, Peter is called Rocky, Salome is Sally, Zaccheus is Keith, Clopas Clover, Mary Magdalene Maggie, and the Blessed Mother is Mam.

Larry Dategrove is “liberated” and consciously homosexual, though he doesn’t use that word, but simply says he wasn’t interest in marrying, had no feelings for the opposite sex and didn’t find that a problem. He’s the “gay disciple” and he’s the disciple Jesus loved, though it is never clear how sexual the relationship is between them. But he’s the “spouse” who stays home to mind the house and farm while Jesus is out teaching and traveling and who takes care of Mam after Jesus’s passing.

There is a down-to-earth realism in how John Henson’s multiplicity of voices recount their stories about Jesus. This is maybe what the original gospels would have sounded like to native speakers. While The Gay Disciple is a reimagining of the New Testament stories, it’s more about the development of the early church out of his friends’ fond memories than it is about Jesus’s life (the crucifixion happens in chapter three).

The title of the book is reminiscent of Theodore Jennings’ The Man Jesus Loved with its analysis of sexual patterns in gospel times to elucidate what the expression “beloved disciple” could have actually meant. But this is really an entirely different sort of book. The “gay message” of Henson’s story is less about Jesus’s orientation than about how naturally the Christian reform would have included sexually liberated and gender variant men and women.

Current day Fundamentalism and Biblical literalism have turned the story of Jesus to stone. But beyond the Bible, this story of the insightful young man who saw through religion and got himself murdered by the Church of his day because he told people doctrine and law didn’t matter as much as love and kindness remains a rich and meaningful story. The “Lives of Christ” as literary genre enrich this wisdom and apply it to contemporary realities. Though they certainly can’t get themselves added to the canon of Scripture anymore, the writers mentioned above—Kittredge Cherry, Walter Williams, John Henson, even Anne Rice—are doing what religion is really about: recreating the myth for their own times. Gay consciousness is now part of human consciousness and naturally recapitulates Jesus’s teaching that love and compassion trump religion and law. It’s good that the Jesus story be written to include gay experience. The Life of Christ is an appropriate subset of gay literary genre.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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