More than 20 years of sermons. Imagining them, researching them, word wrestling them in the wee hours of many Sunday mornings, delivering them in dozens of pulpits.
Some of them given only once. Some in multiple congregations.
All of them open to revisiting, reviewing, and rethinking in light of new findings and understandings, and the responses of those who heard or read them.
This is one that I was asked, and have asked myself, to examine as thoughtfully and openly as possible:
My journey with the work and life of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo began nearly two decades ago: an abiding appreciation of her gripping, self-reflective paintings: a fascination with the trajectory of Frida’s personal life and the way it seemingly intersected with my own. How there were striking parallels: our physically and emotionally devastating, life-changing freak motor accidents at a young age; our difficult pregnancies; our ongoing struggles with pain.
On the path of exploration, as a Jewish person, I was intrigued by what I understood of her self-identity as being both of Spanish/Indigenous Mexican and Jewish heritage (through her German-Hungarian father).
The sermon I eventually created and have presented in UU congregations was centered in my own journey with Frida over the years. It lifted up her bold introspective art and highlighted my fascination with her life and admiration for her artistic bravery and courage to be “strange.” It described how admiration can turn into unchecked fandom, as it has for Frida internationally both during her lifetime and following her untimely death in 1954.
My self-focused Frida Fandom sermon is not the sermon it could have been to fully honor Frida Kahlo’s artistic language and intelligence. To more thoroughly emphasize her Mexican cultural context and legacy. And her revolutionary spirit. And from my heart I offer apology to those who experienced spiritual harm and injury through my sermon.
These are my learnings from a deep dive into a subject, and indeed a sermon, into which I have invested much curiosity, time, energy, and yes, ego:
Her carefully chosen indigenous dress was a way in which Frida expressed her love of, and identification with, the Tehuana culture of her mother: her fierce support for the anti-Colonialist autonomy and revolutionary resistance of the women of the Isthmus of Tehuantapec, the matriarchal society of that region. Thus, in costuming myself as Frida without framing, I did not contextualize Frida’s deliberate political and cultural intention in fashioning her appearance.
I have realized that in delivering dialogue from the movie about her life and quotes from her writing in a theatrical voice, I veered into cultural disrespect.
By focusing in my sermon almost exclusively on describing my lived experience of Frida Kahlo, our commonalities and differences (what I still see as our kindred feminist spirits), I did not center any of this sermon in the observations about her by Latinx voices – whether art historians or art curators, or voices of diverse feminisms – from outside and within our own UU movements.
Over the course of my 20-years journey with Frida Kahlo, I discovered not only her art but the ongoing outpouring of creativity in response to her life and her portfolio. I have shared – either by description or by actual presentation – some of the original paintings, drawings, photo collages, and ceramics that have taken Frida Kahlo’s art and essence into the 21st century. Many were by Mexican women, others by artists and crafts people from all over the world. I remain committed to discovering and supporting their work.
I have also shared – either by description or by actual presentation – the Frida products that have come with her international pop culture idol status: coloring books, magnets, paper dolls, coasters, sticky note pads, temporary tattoos. Last year a Frida Barbie doll was introduced, with the permission of Frida’s family. Too much focus on the merchandising of and the “consuming” of Frida can devolve into parody and fetish. Fandom can de-contextualize her; can remove her from her historical and cultural circumstances and roots. While this admonition was part of the point of my sermon, my own example, meant to bring this point home, missed its mark.
I will not give this sermon again. Out of my revisiting, reviewing, and rethinking, a new sermon may well emerge.
Breakthroughs, often triggered both by our blind spots and our insights, merge together to offer lessons that are at once painful and illuminating.