Monday, July 23, 2018

A letter to the Christians of Garanhuns, in the state of Pernambuco, Brazil.

Dear friends,

I'm Jo Clifford, the author of the play "The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven". I'm told you're deeply offended by my play and don't want it to be performed in your city.

Something happened to me when I was in church yesterday that I wanted to tell you about.

The congregation have mostly seen the play, because I've performed it in church a few times, and are really interested in what's going on with it.

So I stood up and told them about your winter festival, and how lovely your city is, and how the play had been invited to be part of it.

And the Festival's theme was "Long Live Liberty!" but that sadly somehow that didn't apply to the play and the town council had banned it.

How many artists of your city had been outraged by the ban, and had organised a crowdfunding, which had gone so well that they'd raised enough to pay the company to perform the play on Friday, when it was scheduled.

And how they'd sold so many tickets too.

But how sad it is that the location has to be secret, because of the horrible threats that the actress, Renata Carvalho, and the company and organisers have all received.

I said how distressed I feel that my words should have caused such deep offence and how concerned I am for the safety of my colleagues and friends.

I asked them to remember the play and everyone concerned about it in their prayers on Friday.

And of course that includes you.

It may surprise you to know that I go to church regularly and that it is an important part of my life. I believe there is a spiritual dimension to our lives, and that it is important to recognise it in individual prayer and meditation, but also to find ways of expressing and exploring it in a collective and social way.

And I enjoy singing the hymns, I get moved by the prayers, I'm always interested in the sermons, and I love being part of a community of people who, like me, are distressed by the injustice and suffering in the world and want to do what we can to make it a better place for everybody.

As I was leaving, I thought of you coming to church over in the other side of the world from me and how that's probably true of you, too.

And that made me want to reach out to you, somehow.

You don't have to change your mind about my play. Everyone has the right to their own opinions.

(Though of course I'd love it if you could read it, or even hear a bit of it. I'd so love to know what you thought)

But I do want to tell you that I'm sorry if I've made you feel angry, or offended, or under attack.

That wasn't my intention at all. I wrote the play 11 or 12 years ago. I was in my mid fifties. I'd done everything I could to live as a man, and had tried my best to be a good husband and father. My daughters had grown up and left home, my wife had died of a brain tumour. I found I couldn't suppress the feeling I'd had all my life of not really being a man. I simply couldn't bear living as a man any more.

I felt I'd done my duty as a husband and a father, and that I simply had to live as a woman.

It was very difficult. I was very afraid. And people would laugh at me in the street and shout abuse at me.

Around that time  I was asked to write a play about the New Testament. And at first I didn't know what to do.

But as I read the Gospels over and over again, I was so moved by the teaching and the life of Jesus. What I loved and admired especially was the way he reached out to people who were the victims of rejection, of prejudice and oppression. Of how, when he took human form, he did not come down to earth as someone rich and powerful, but as someone poor and oppressed.

So that when I imagined him returning to earth in the present day, it seemed appropriate and in line with tradition to imagine him taking the form of someone oppressed and rejected: of a transwoman like me.

And I hoped that maybe if I retold some of his sayings that way, I'd be able to communicate something of the deep love and devotion I feel for him to people who go to church and perhaps especially to people who don't.

I'm really proud and happy that that seems to happen when people see the play performed - in my country, Scotland, in Ireland and in England, In Uruguay and Argentina, and above all in Brazil.

I do hope one day we, too, can communicate with each other.

In the meantime, please believe me when i say I sincerely wish you wll.


Jo Clifford.

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