Mary Button is the creator of the Stations of the Cross: The Struggle for LGBT Equality. Congregations and faith groups are encouraged to use these stations during the Lenten season for prayer and reflection. Download the entire series from Believe Out Loud's flickr site.
I was born and raised in the church. As the daughter of a Lutheran minister, I spent every possible moment in church. But it wasn’t until I left home to go to art school that I began to think seriously about the signs, symbols, and rituals of the Christian tradition.
Suddenly, the Virgin Mary started making appearances in my artwork. I became interested in the visual culture of the church – maps of the Holy Land found in Sunday School classrooms, funeral home fans for graveside services during the summer time, family Bibles handed down from generation to generation.
I realized that I never read a Bible story without illustrating it in my mind with pictures from the Bible story books that had been my grandmother’s, then my mother’s, before finally becoming mine.
Around the same time I started incorporating the visual vocabulary of Christianity in my artwork, I read a book that changed my life: The Cotton Patch Version of Luke and Acts: Jesus’ Doings and the Happenings by Clarence Jordan. In it, the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are translated into a Southern vernacular. Jew and Gentile became ‘white man and Negro’ and the crucifixion was described in terms of a lynching.
Published in the 1960s, the Cotton Patch Gospels sought to translate the Gospels into the language of the Civil Rights Movement.
Of his translation of crucifixion to lynching, Jordan writes, “Our crosses are so shined, so polished, so respectable that to be impaled on one of them would seem to be a blessed experience. We have thus emptied the term ‘crucifixion’ of its original content of terrific emotion, or violence, of indignity and stigma, of defeat.”
Reading an account of Christ’s passion that ends not with Christ nailed to a tree in Judea, but hanging from a noose tied to a pine tree in Georgia, compelled me to begin to re-imagine, re-define, and re-contextualize the crucifixion.
I believe that we can only begin to understand the meaning of the crucifixion when we take away our polished and shiny crosses and look for the cross in our own time, in our own landscape.
When we look for the crucified body of Christ in the stories of people on the margins of our societies, then we are able to live the Gospel and not simply read it.
For this reason, I have committed myself to creating a new Stations of the Cross series every year. Last year, my stations project took viewers on a journey through the first months of the Syrian revolution. I saw in the death and destruction of Damascus a suffering and tortured Christ.
This year, my stations of the cross take viewers on a journey through the 20th and 21st centuries struggle for LGBT equality. In every decade of the last two centuries, there are deeply troubling and painful examples of the marginalization of LGBT peoples.
In the sacrifices of martyrs of the LGBT movement, we can come to a new understanding of the cross, and of what it means to be part of the body of Christ.
Artwork by Mary Button, 2013