Hearts Ablaze: Parables for the Queer Soul | An Interview with Dr. Rolf Nolasco, Jr.
October 18, 2022
Latest Book by Dr. Rolf Nolasco Looks at Ten “Queerables”of Jesus
Hearts Ablaze: Parables for the Queer Soul by Dr. Rolf Nolasco, Jr., Rueben P. Job Professor of spiritual formation and pastoral theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, is a devotional that creates queer space amongst the parables by offering new, inclusive interpretations of familiar texts by pairing them with the lived stories of queer clergy. The book comes out (pun not intended) today so we asked Dr. Nolasco a few questions about his new book.
How is Hearts Ablaze: Parables for the Queer Soul different from your previous work?
I have written before about our queer identity with an approach of affirmation, naming us as God’s Beloved Queers, with our manifold queer desires that include and yet transcend the erotic, and our human drive to flourish in all queer ways. This book is a devotional that builds upon that foundation. It’s not an exercise of positivity, but a way of questioning the traditional, heteronormative readings of scripture and taking a particular queer approach.
The primarily question my book seeks to address is how might the very weapons used to clobber our queer spirit be used as a source of subversion and resistance to ignite our hearts and keep them ablaze? How can queer folx be torches that illumine the path for personal and collective queer liberation? Looking at the parables of Jesus with a queer eye is an attempt to answer that very question. It’s a fresh take on these familiar parables intertwined with lived stories that I hope will be light for the journey.
What do you hope queer folx will take away from reading you book?
I hope to nudge my queer siblings, especially those who have been burned, cut off, and demonized, to re-enter this liminal space of queer biblical interpretation. In this space, we are the protagonists, the primary authors that queer these texts in a manner that will support and sustain the flourishing of our queer lives. And for many of us, this may be the first time to find ourselves being spoken to as “objects within God’s ken” as James Alison puts it. So, let’s take delight in the knowledge that when we queer and query these texts the treasure hidden in them reveals itself for to us to (re)discover, reclaim, and enjoy.
Your book looks at ten parables of Jesus – how did you go about choosing those particular parables? Do you have a favorite from the ten?
I consider parables as “truths in drag”—they draw or tease us into a story that is familiar, vivid, and strange (like a drag performance) and then leave us bewildered and astonished enough to disturb, inspire, and move us into action. The ten queerables (queering the parables) I offer in Hearts Ablaze are articulations of “truths in drag.” Personally, these parables have served as my anchor as I grappled with my own sexuality and gender identity and burgeoning faith very early on in my life. Amid the torrent of hateful and harmful messages that circulated, these queerables have provided respite and reassurance of God’s unconditional and expansive love. I hope my readers will find shelter and nourishment in them, as well.
Could you expound a bit more on “queering sacred space?” Your book also talks about queer folx specifically owning space in United Methodist churches. Can you talk a little bit more about your experience with the United Methodist Church and how it is reflected in Hearts Ablaze?
Spaces, particularly those considered spiritual or sacred, are not merely things to be inhabited. They are not empty spaces to be filled in; instead, they are already configured and constituted by the kind of theology and practices the dominant group deemed correct, spiritual, and godly, to which everyone must adhere or follow. Take the punitive and harmful polity of The United Methodist Church toward queer clergy, as an example. For the longest time, the altar has been manned (pun intended) mostly by the dominant group, white heterosexual men (WHM). They are protective of the space and what it symbolizes for them— the seat of divine power. The performative nature of this carefully choreographed ritual act cements allegiance to cis/heteronormativity in sacred spaces, which in turn bans and banishes those who challenge this religious arrangement. Regular sightings of WHM inhabiting and hogging these spaces on a regular basis make them look natural, expected, and divinely sanctioned.
Queer clergy create disorder and disrupt the spaces that have been owned and defended by a dominant group. The presence of queer bodies threatens and interrogates masculinity and the conception of God as a straight white male. The fervent and passionate display of queer spiritualities challenges their sense of order and control as to how the sacred is experience and expressed.
Is there anything else you want readers to know about this book?
To make our queer reading of these parables more accessible, I have included fragments of stories of queer United Methodist Church clergy whom I had the privilege to sit with and interview as part of a grant I received from the Louisville Institute. The project describes and represents the subjective and deeply personal experience and action of these ordained ministers of the gospel who are staying on course, fulfilling their sacred call expressed in manifold forms while enduring what is tantamount to sacred violence. Their stories bring such a rich dimension to these queerables, which I hope will set our hearts ablaze and ignite our queer spirit.
Hearts Ablaze: Parables for the Queer Soul is published by Morehouse Publishing, an imprint of Church Publishing Incorporated, and is available for purchase there, on Amazon, and at other favorite retailers.
Dr. Rolf Nolasco is the Rueben P. Job Professor of spiritual formation and pastoral theology at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and director of the Rueben P. Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an experienced professor, trained in pastoral and counseling psychology, mindfulness and contemplative spirituality, and affective neuroscience. Nolasco is also a psychotherapist, published author, and has vast experience in cross cultural communications from living and working across the world within varying social and cultural backgrounds. In addition to Hearts Ablaze: Parables for the Queer Soul, he is the author of God’s Beloved Queer (Wipf & Stock,2019), The Contemplative Counselor: A Way of Being (Fortress Press, 2011) and Compassionate Presence: A Radical Response to Human Suffering (Cascade Books, 2016).
Hearts Ablaze: Parables for the Queer Soul is a new look at ten selected parables of Jesus, that expands the scope of interpretation of each story to highlight God’s extravagant welcome of all people. The perspective in the reflections is deeply personal and written to be used by both individuals and groups. Queer affirming churches, seminaries, and retreat centers will benefit from this resource as they continue to champion the flourishing of their queer siblings in Christ.