New Book, “Hearts Ablaze,” Offers Biblical Parables from a Queer Perspective

A new book offers a “fresh reading of ancient stories,” answering the question, “Where is queerness in Scripture?” Hearts Ablaze: Parables for the Queer Soul, written by Rolf R. Nolasco Jr., offers reflections on ten parables from a queer perspective that seeks to invite people into the liberating mission of Jesus.

Ryan McQuade reviewed the book for the National Catholic Reporter, and he praises Nolasco’s writing as “not interested in proving the validity of our queer perspective through Scripture.” Rather Nolasco is praised for “bringing a queer lens to Scripture and seeing what mysteries unfold.” While many queer re-examinations of Scripture offer comforting imaginations, that is not the task of Hearts Ablaze. McQuade highlights two examples:

“It can be comforting to imagine Jonathan and David’s friendship might have been something more, or that Paul confirmed the gender spectrum when he said, ‘no longer male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ But at the end of the day, you and I and the bigoted preacher on the street corner know if we went back in time and asked Jonathan, David and Paul if they had a concept of queer theory, they would not.”

Nolasco’s task in Hearts Ablaze is to be a resource for queer-affirming churches and ministries responding to the spiritual needs of LGBTQ+ Christians. In the introduction of the book, Nolasco explains:

“I took seriously the sociocultural and political contexts out of which the texts emerged, but they did not have the last word in what the parables mean. … The difference that I hope to make is to center the particularities of queer life in the way I have experienced and embodied them and to use the texts to enrich and expand that life so that it flourishes.”

As parables were the primary methods from which Jesus taught, Hearts Ablaze uses parables as “the perfect vehicle to deliver the queerness of Scripture.” Nolasco describes parables as “truths in drag” due to how parables “draw or tease us into a story that is familiar, vivid, and strange (like a drag performance) and then leave us there bewildered and astonished.”

“Jesus’s parables are very queer,” writes Nolasco, “in their attempts at evoking both ‘delight and instruction to countless people and offense to others’… who refused to have their version of reality be interrogated and disturbed.” The ten parables that Nolasco plays upon are: the Good Shepherd, the Great Banquet, the Mustard Seed, the Hidden Treasure, the Sower, New Wine in Old Wineskins, the Lost Son, the Good Samaritan, The Talents, and The Wise and Foolish Builders. These parables build upon the radical heart of God that Nolasco describes as the “Divine queer storyteller.” 

In a witness to the divine queer storytelling of the parables, McQuade highlights Nolasco’s reflection on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, noting, “readers are encouraged to reflect on the queerness exhibited in the portrait of the father who breaks all the conventions of culture and patriarchy.” The father’s love becomes the story’s central theme as the father responds lovingly and compassionately to the rejected and missed love from the sons. Nolasco describes the theme of the parable as such, “Love that is rejected and love that is missed are countered by the father’s love, no matter what. It is queer through and through.”

“Queerness,” McQuade describes in his review, “becomes a lens that is offered to everyone, a frame of mind to see out of the conventions of cis/heteronormative ‘love’ and instead the boundless expressions of a love that is made queer.”

In a time when Scripture is often a weapon for oppression against the LGBTQ+ community and laws against drag performances multiply, Hearts Ablaze offers an alternative narrative. Christ’s messages, in particular through the parables, presented an upside-down vision of the world where the first were last, and the last were first, where all people, especially those on the margins, were welcomed. It was a radical and queer message to the ears of the hierarchy. Today, perhaps it is time to embody the “boundless expressions of love” known through the “Divine queer storyteller” and work to set ablaze the lives of all LGBTQ+ and allied Christians.

Bobby Nichols (he/him), New Ways Ministry, April 21, 2023

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