A very gay Easter Sunday got me thinking about the fascinating ways gay people often mix the sacred and the profane into something new and potentially empowering.
Every Easter the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence hold their Hunky Jesus contest in San Francisco. It is a major event, famous in San Francisco, and it packs the central Dolores Park every year.
The Sisters are hard to describe to outsiders. Mostly gay men, they don an assemblage of iconography and go out as nuns combining the sacred and the profane in a blaze of street theater.But the Sisters are not a joke. They do not aim to offend but are not shy about doing so.
In many ways they embody the earthy sacred, doing good works among the people. The very first information about the possibility of a new gay disease that was later called AIDS was written and disseminated by the Sisters, and their central focus is caring for the community, often raise vast serious money for good causes. We love the Sisters in San Francisco, even as they are misunderstood by many.
Mircea Eliade, the great scholar of religious experience, wrote a book called The Sacred and The Profane. In it he explained the difference between the ways pre-modern man experienced the sacred from the way we do now. In particular he emphasizes that ritual used to actually embody the sacred. The shaman dressed as the mythical great hunter and doing the traditional dance playing out the great hunter’s triumph was not role-playing a historical character. He was being the actual great hunter, right then, and right there. We still see this perspectives carried forward into modern times with Catholics and the eucharist, as the wafer is not seen as a symbol of the body of Christ, but as the actual body.
Eliade’s central point was that the profane, meaning the earthy hear and now, and the sacred, meaning the divine and transcendent, were not separate. The separation between sacred and profane came later in history. One obvious example was seen in Christians who denied the body and separated everything related to it — flesh, sexuality, and even sensuality — from the sacred. The result was weird constructs like “sex is only for procreation,” that purposefully labeled basic functions of human nature as sinful.
Gay men, of all people in our society, know how to mix the sacred and the profane in a way lost to most modern people. This can be troubling to some, as we often invoke depth while being crude by refusing to acknowledge a distinction. Christianists are appalled when they see it, as they only see one level of meaning. But we know there is more. Real life has multiple layers of truth, all overlapping and interwoven.
And for more Sister Unity, who embodies just that mix of the sacred and profane, see her YouTube Channel, or start with this video on the Gay Agenda, which clarifies the Gay Agenda’s plan for Utah, among other things. Hilarious and pointed. Some of her teachings on religious history can be really profound as well.
And in the spirt of the occasion I offer this picture of me, in a resplendent Easter Bonnet. Finally coming out of my shell, I guess. Not that I own such a fabulous hat or glasses…they were borrowed. Thanks Mikey!!!