Jerusalem Journal: No. 1, Begin with the Trauma

October 31, 2014 - Leave a Response

[This is the first of a series of entries in my Jerusalem Journal--observations and opinions arising from an eight-day trip my husband Jonathan and I took to Israel in mid-October so he could attend the annual conference of the International Association for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology.  We had some adventures together, and as you will learn if you read later entries, I had some of my own, in Jerusalem and in other parts of Israel and Palestine (aka the West Bank). The series will appear as I am able to gather my thoughts and feelings--I have plenty of both and they need to be sorted, sifted, and organized.]

I have been circling around this for several days, like a dog trying to find the right spot to lie down. I have puzzled about my reluctance to begin, until I realized that I have carried back, inside myself, the tension that underlays everything in Israel and Palestine.

Just using the word Palestine can land you in a controversy. Israel’s government does not recognize a sovereign nation called Palestine. Neither does the U.S. government for that matter. In law, such a nation does not exist. And yet it does. Some call it the West Bank, others the Palestinian Territories.

Those two latter terms recognize the reality that although Palestinian leaders–the Palestinian Authority or Hamas–have some authority in certain areas, they do not exercise full governmental authority anywhere. Their ability to govern is always conditioned on the forbearance of the Israeli government–either its civil authority emanating from Tel Aviv or the omnipresent Israel Defense Force (IDF).

So the society–it is in many ways one society, even though it is deeply divided into two–is governed by, and runs internally on, tension.

Western Wall, where Jews go to pray, with the dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muslims pray (part of the third holiest site for Muslims in the world), in the background. Not visible, to the left, is the Dome of the Rock.

Western Wall, where Jews go to pray, with the dome of Al-Aqsa Mosque, where Muslims pray (part of the third holiest site for Muslims in the world), in the background. Not visible, to the left, is the Dome of the Rock.

Lest you think I am only critical of how Israel’s dominance produces so much of, although far from all, this tension, let me be clear: the trauma of Jews for two millenia, if not longer–the trauma of feeling always unwanted and unwelcome, indeed of being vulnerable not just to Nazi Holocausts but also to everyday violation–makes the Israeli desire to dominate and control, and own, every part of the land, quite understandable.

Trauma is, I think, the operative word here, but of not just for Jews. The Palestinians experience every day the trauma of living on, or agonizingly close to, the land that once was fully theirs but now belongs mostly to someone else. So many live in ugly, marginal, secondhand spaces only a stone’s throw (I use the term deliberately) from where they used to live the much richer, natural lives that had belonged to them and their ancestors for generations. So the trauma is everywhere.

Both traumas go largely untreated.  Which is why Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of Tikkun magazine, says, “For those of us who truly care about the well-being of both sides, or even or either side, the task is to heal the trauma. That healing is not just a political or psychological project but also a spiritual project.”

Understanding this, I am more grateful than ever for Presidents Carter and Clinton who tried, by bringing the leaders of both sides to Camp David, to get them to talk, to listen, to communicate. And other Presidents, as well as other leaders,  have tried various approaches to change the dynamics of the situation. Secretary of State John Kerry has been engaged for some time, it seems to me, in trying to do something.

In coming entries, I will write about Israelis and Palestinians I met who yearn for an end to the hostilities, for peaceful coexistence, even in some cases daring to believe that all could somehow thrive together. And I will write about others: Israelis who so fear for their survival that they cannot imagine anything other than conflict, and Palestinians who feel the same way. I met peacekeepers and observers and teachers who seek to build honest and even caring relations on the ground now. I met Palestinians who do their best to live well and without rage, in Jerusalem and elsewhere, even as they carry a keen sense of the wrongs they see and experience.  I will write about the things I saw that disturbed me, in some cases made me angry, and I will write about the beauty I saw and the sacredness I felt.

I came back determined to find a way to help. Such a beautiful and holy land need not be a place of bloodshed and terror. I came back understanding that this is not simply an Israeli and Palestinian problem, or even just a Middle East problem. It is a global problem. As a U.S. citizen, I am implicated in what is going on there, if for no other reason than my government’s fingerprints are all over the place.

The sad truth is that both sides have to want to change the situation, and to do so in ways that do not deny the existence and well-being of the other. But to say that does not mean we simply wait until they are tired of fighting and decide to act like grown ups.

It means we have to do whatever we can, everything we can, to help them decide to want to change. That’s what friends do.

And that is what people do who recognize that the trauma which is theirs is also ours. More about that later.

 

Its the Art, All the Art, Stupid!

June 16, 2014 - Leave a Response
Binoche and Owen (yes, he has a beard, and it does not look bad)

Binoche and Owen (yes, he has a beard, and it does not look bad)

Which has more power, words or pictures? In our media-saturated culture today, it would seem that pictures always carry more power. I notice that Facebook posts with pictures usually draw the most interest. And “as little as possible” is the amount of text that works best with the picture.

At the same time, there are some things a picture cannot tell us. There are subtleties of meaning and even information that are best served by text. And, for me at least, there is always the beauty of language well used.

A mew film, “Words and Pictures,: explores all this in a most delicious way. I urge everyone I care about to see it. Indeed, I urge everyone who cares about the liberal arts in our culture to see it.

Jonathan told me we were goint to see a romantic comedy with Clive Owen and Juliette Binoche. That sounded good by itself–two accomplished actors can often be good.

Clive OwenBut this is no simple romantic romp. I don’t want to give much away, because not knowing anything in advance surely helped me enjoy the film. Suffice it to say that Owen plays a troubled “Honors English” teacher at a prep school (in what appears to be Maine) and Binoche plays a painter who is hired to teach “Honors Art” at the same school.

Sparks fly between them pretty much from the beginning and more sparks fly around campus as they rouse their students in a “war” over the question I raised at the beginning of this post: which has more power, words or pictures (of course, some students are taught by both)?

Owen delights in playing word games with colleagues and in quoting authors to his student to show how vital good words are. Binoche demands much of her art students and  seeks always to beat Owen at his own word game (she’s pretty good). So it is fun, even as at moments it turns sad and depressing.

Juliette BinocheBut the real deal for me is the evocation of art–spoken, written, visual–as something really vital, indeed absolutely necessary for life. In less than two hours, I was reminded in the most beautiful way of why the liberal arts matter, why choosing the right word is of first importance, why painting the truth is absolutely essential.

And if you don’t believe me, stick around till almost the end of the credits . . . . . to see the identity of the painter of Binoche’s paintings.

A Sad Hatter’s Delicious Birthday

October 11, 2013 - 2 Responses

Aging is a process. Of course. And like any life process, there are aspects we like and others that bother and surprise.

Image

I only had one!

I had a delightful 67th birthday yesterday–hearing from family, leafletting for Obamacare on Cary Street (politics never leaves my blood), a Reiki session with JR Adams, dinner with Jonathan (in his office so we could do the next thing), laughing my way through a fabulous performance of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Richmond Triangle Players, a delicious gluten-free cupcake and Ben & Jerry’s “Cherry Garcia” frozen yogurt, and the gift from Jonathan of a volume of poetry by Mark Nepo, Surviving Has Made Me Crazy. And somewhere around 200 of my Facebook friends–folks from my youth in Michigan, and in Virginia, and all the other places I have lived, and some folks from far away–shared good wishes (one of the joys of Facebook and other social media).

What’s not to like about all that? And oh yes, tossing the ball with Cocoa and feeling his delight–and in some ways, the true high point: being sung to by my 2-year-old granddaughter, Juna, and her beautiful parents, on FaceTime on the iPhone!

Juna and Papa

Juna Gorsline Knox and her adoring Papa

And later today, October 11,  the day after my birthday which always is National Coming Out Day, we drive to Williamsburg for an overnight and a daytime stroll around historic Jamestown. I am feeling very blessed.

But, the inevitable “but,” something happened yesterday that reminded me that things keep changing. The stream moves on, and sometimes, just sometimes, it does not feel good. Or right. Or at least it creates, or touches, some sadness. And offers a challenge.

I have this hat, a black fedora. I bought it years ago on West Fourth Street in the Village (that’s Greeenwich Village for non-New Yorkers and non-LGBT folks–actually, the store may have been too far east to qualify as being in the the village, but I always think of it that way). I paid $175 for it, an extravagant sum for me to spend on much of anything, let alone a hat.

But it is good quality, a Dobbs hat, and it serves me well. I wear it pretty much whenever I go out into the world from October until April or May (whenever the warmer weather feels right to trade it for a straw hat for the warmer months).

For the past two years, I have known it needed to be cleaned and blocked (shaped). This constant wear had caused it to look a bit shabby and the back was curling up rather more than I liked.

So my personal birthday present to myself was to arrange to take the hat to a shop in downtown Richmond whose sign I had seen over the years. They advertised cleaning and blocking hats.

Now you may have an inkling of the rest of the story. But here it is

I called the shop (Chic Chateau in some listings, Chic Chapeau in others) to find out their hours and to be sure of their location (I had noted a “We’ve Moved” sign in the window last year). No answer, in fact, no business message, just one of those impersonal, machine-generated “invitations” to leave my message after the tone. A woman called back a couple of hours later. “No, we don’t do that any more.”

I asked, “Do you know of another place I can take my hat?” She answered, rather curtly I felt, “No.”

Robin wearing fedoraI checked online. Lots of places sell hats–well, mostly caps with logos and pictures and the like. I like caps. I have quite a few of them. Wear them in the yard, walking with Jonathan and Cocoa, going to the fitness center. But in my 67-year-old-brain, they are not hats.

One business consistently came up in web searches as the place to call. “No, we don’t do that anymore.”

“Do you know……?’ “No, I don’t.”

It that moment, I realized something: An age has passed. A place as sophisticated as Richmond no longer seems to have a place to care for hats, real hats.

The old curmudgeon in me wants to flail about, in “high dudgeon” as my mother used to say. But really I am just sad.

I cherish my hat. I like the way I look in it. I feel a bit dashing. Yes, I have noticed that few men wear hats, at least fedoras and the like, anymore. Which makes me all the more happy to wear it. It is a trademark of Robin Gorsline. And I enjoy seeing other men in hats. We often notice each other, complement the other on his hat. It is a sort of fraternity.

So, I will find a place to care for my hat. In the meantime, I bought a brush to clean it up a bit. I realized that I am one of the few people who can see the soiled spot on the top of it–still, I care about my hat, and don’t want it to feel neglected.

So I will wear it this season, and then I will send it somewhere, in time for a good cleaning and blocking before next October 10. Somewhere in the world is a place to take care of my hat. Or maybe I will buy a cheap imitation now and send it away for “treatment.” I don’t know if I can bear that. But my hat might feel better.

An age has passed. I am a year older. So is my hat. I too could use some cleaning and blocking–that’s partly why I work out at Snap Fitness.

We, my hat and I, shall carry on, of course. I have miles to go, I hope many of them. I am just getting started.

Robin holding fedoraI want my hat to go with me, preferably cleaned and blocked. But, either way, don’t count us out. There’s plenty of life left in both of us. Surviving has made me crazy, as the poet Mark Nepo (a cancer survivor) has discovered (see reference above).

For me, and if I read Nepo correctly he would agree, it is the craziness that makes it possible to do more than survive, to thrive and change and shine and meet the challenges of living.

So I thrive. And my hat is going to thrive, too. Oh yes, my hat is going to thrive. We’re in this together.

There’s Life in the Green

October 7, 2013 - Leave a Response

POFEV logo for web[On September 24, POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia sponsored "Celebrating the Many Voices of LGBT Pride," an interfaith service focused on the spiritual foundations of LGBT liberation, at Congregation Beth Ahabah in Richmond. A small group heard some amazing color-themed meditations by various speakers. I continue my own blog posts with some thoughts about green, and will continue to share more entries--still to come are yellow, orange and red.  Prior entries include violet, indigo, turquoise, and hot pink, colors from the original 1978 rainbow flag designed by Gilbert Baker, as well as brown, added by Alexandria Hawkins and myself, to round out a fuller rainbow.]

“Green.” That’s the one-word answer I blurted out when Rev. Pat Bumgardner of MCC New York asked me to fantasize about my future pastorate.  I had just told her that I felt called by God to abandon my plan to stay in New York and serve the Metropolitan Community Church she led there–working part-time in ministry and continuing to draw my six-figure salary at The Association of the Bar of the City of New York–and instead follow God’s lead to become a spiritual leader in a community somewhere else. Fourth_Avenue_Brooklyn_ek_2006

That was mid-November of 2002, not long after I heard God’s booming voice–as I walked down 4th Avenue in Brooklyn (picture,left) through a crowd of Latino/a worshipers on Sunday afternoon, a street about as green as the Mojave Desert–saying, “”Why are you holding out on me?” In that moment, I blurted out, “I’m sorry, God. I have been angry with you, and I realize it was not you that stopped my ministry, it was the church. I will serve you. Tell me what to do.”

james-river-road-trip-1_22324_600x450

Aerial view of part of the James River, part of the east end view of Richmond’s green

Six months later, almost to the day, I was in a plane, circling Richmond International Airport.  Wondering why we are being delayed, I looked out the window to see  . . . the most glorious green–trees everywhere, all in vibrant hues of green. I realized that God called me to green, just as I fantasized. I grew up on a tree farm in Michigan–acre upon acre of evergreens and deciduous trees, for sale to people who want to beautify their homes and businesses and communities.

I love trees. And I had surely missed them during my years living in New York. The parks are wonderful, but for me they were not enough. Sadly, however, I stayed in New York long enough to have almost forgotten my need for green. However, God rescued me, just in time.

Now I live in a green paradise–not just the east end where the airport is surrounded by forest, but our home on the south side that faces a woods cut through by a small stream and the forests not far west. Indeed, one of the most important reasons I call Virginia home is that the entire Commonwealth of Virginia is a carpet of green from east to west and south to north (with cities here and there, less green, but still not without trees). Four-leaf_Clover_Trifolium_repens_2What is it about green? I’m not Irish, and I don’t even wear much green (unless you count teal).

The psychology people say that the personality marked by green is practical, down-to-earth, with a love of nature, stable and well balanced or are striving for balance, although in seeking this balance, you can at times become unsettled and anxious; kind, generous and compassionate; good to have around during a crisis as you remain calm and take control of the situation until it is resolved; caring and nurturing to others (watch out for your own needs, though); and intelligent and a lover  of learning

And “greens” need to love and to be loved, open books who don’t hide our feelings; belong – greens are the joiners of social groups; good citizens who like to be involved in community groups; live by high moral standards; be accepted, appreciated and admired for the good we do in the community as well as in our family life. And be a loyal friend and a faithful partner, gentle but not passionate

Jonathan 2Speaking of being a loyal friend and faithful partner (and passionate!), I met Jonathan in New York, but not in the city. We met at a Radical Faerie gathering near Ellenville in upstate New York, on some rolling acres around a simple retreat center amid, yes, a lot of trees. Radical Faeries? Talk about green! Of course, Irish fairies are often pictured as green. But Radical Faeries are green in different ways. They are a loosely-affiliated worldwide network and counter-cultural movement seeking to redefine “queer consciousness”  through spirituality. According to the entry on Wikipedia, radical faeries  reject “hetero-imitation. ” The Radical Faerie movement began during the 1970s sexual revolution among gay men in the United States.

Radical Faeries 1The movement has expanded in tandem with, and at times in opposition to, the larger gay rights movement, challenging commercialism and patriarchal aspects of modern LGBT life while celebrating pagan constructs and rituals. Faeries tend to be fiercely independent, anti-establishment, and community-focused. Faerie culture is undefinable as a group; however, among Faeries you will find Marxists, feminists and pro-feminists, pagans, many who celebrate Native American and New Age spiritualities, as well as anarchists, men’s movement adherents, radical individualists, and those committed to self-actualization. Many seek an earth-based movement and sustainable community life. There are rural communities, and urban groupings.

One thing more, that mattered to me at an earlier time, and probably still does: I really enjoy, even resonate with many Faeries who bring together spiritual solemnity with a “camp” sensibility, gay liberation and drag.  When Jonathan and I met, the Faeries were almost exclusively men, but it was beginning to change even then, and today, Radical Faeries embody a wide range of genders, sexualities, and identities.

Radical Faeries 4This is the green part, or a key element in the green segment, of the what many call the LGBTQQI community–really a gaggle of loosely connected interests whose main glue is the denial by the dominant culture of our social and political freedom.

Trees and faeries. Green. The color of life. In the drive for political freedom–where I am very active through POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and in other groups and activities, too–it is easy to push the Radical Faeries and others like them to the sidelines. They don’t necessarily help us win over Republican politicians and middle-of-the road religionists, let alone those on the Right who might be open to including “us” in the wider community of worthy people. In fact, they can hurt “our” cause by their counter-cultural behavior and attitudes.

April 2010 incl Hinton & Rally 023But who is this “we,” this “us,” if it does not include the counter-cultural ones? We are, when we exclude those who make us uncomfortable simply because they are different, a people without our whole soul.

Green grows where it will, even in the tiny cracks in my asphalt driveway.That is the Radical Faerie contribution to LGBT life: Green where we least expect it, and in forms we cannot imagine on our own.

There’s life in the green, whatever color your inner Faerie likes to wear.

Of Birds and Moods and Liberation, Indigo-style

September 25, 2013 - Leave a Response

POFEV logo for web[Last night, Tuesday, September 24, POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia sponsored "The Many Voices of LGBT Pride," an interfaith service focused on the spiritual foundations of LGBT liberation, at Congregation Beth Ahabah in Richmond. A small group heard some amazing color-themed meditations by various speakers--including a poem about indigo by NAACP Richmond President Dr. Kim Allen. I continue my own blog posts with some thoughts about indigo, and will continue to share more entries over the next few days to help us get ready for the celebration of Virginia Pride on Saturday, September 28, at Kanawha Plaza, in Richmond--and to continue focusing on our roots and dreams in the days to come.]

Who does not want serenity and harmony? That is what Gilbert Baker says is represented by indigo, a shade of blue I rarely hear mentioned these days.

Indigo BuntingMy earliest memory of indigo was hearing my parents talk about sighting a male Indigo Bunting, a bird, in our yard. The female, as is true in so many bird families, is quite drab, but the male is this glorious color.  When I looked up the bird, I was quite surprised to see how bright the color is. I had always thought of indigo as a very dark, almost midnight blue. But, as I am coming to realize, colors encompass a wide range of appearances.

This is true of LGBT people, of course. Those who do not know us, and especially those who choose not to know us, think we are all the same–in the same way some people act as if all Black people or all Mexicans are the same; seen one (or maybe just talking without any real knowledge), you know them all.  But like indigo, and other colors of the rainbow, we are a beautiful spectrum.

blueberriesIndigo appears between blue and violet in a rainbow. Purple grapes and blueberries are indigo. The deep blue of dark denim jeans is indigo. One of the colors of the rainbow, indigo — a dark purplish blue , sometimes more blue and sometimes more violet— gets it name from the indigo plant used to create the indigo dye.

Here’s more of what I learned in my digging into this color. Indigo is the color of the deep midnight sky. It can have a negative effect when used during a depressed state, because it will deepen the mood. Indigo symbolizes a mystical borderland of wisdom, self-mastery and spiritual realization. While blue is the color of communication with others, indigo turns the blue inward, to increase personal thought, profound insights, and instant understandings. While blue can be fast, indigo color rangeIndigo is almost instantaneous. Inventors use indigo skills for inspirations that seem to ‘come out of the blue’.

Reading about this psychological understanding of indigo, I realize it is the color of coming out, or at least the color that gets us to look inward and value what we find enough to announce to the world–to family, friends, co-workers, fellow congregants, people who matter to us–that we lesbian or gay or bisexual or transgender. And then when we do come out, we gain seemingly instant understandings of ourselves.

As LGBT people so often say, our sexuality is not all we are, but when we claim it we surely know ourselves more and we are freed to become more ourselves in all parts of our lives. Things begin to fit together and we can work toward more personal fulfillment. Of course, when we don’t do this, we experience of the depression of the closet.

For me, indigo is the color of Maine. My first male lover, Marvin, lived in Maine, and I moved to Maine to be with him for about four years. Maine is very beautiful, and big parts of it are still fairly natural.  A special aspect of Maine are the “lowbush” blueberries that grow wild in what Maine folks call “barrens.” The blueberries we buy in stores are nice, but if you want a pungent taste, a real knock-your-socks-off flavor, find some growing wild, and bend down to pick them. I think this is the sort of authenticity, or wild integrity, older LGBT writers, people like poet Judy Grahn, mean when they write about our ancient roots and traditions. They want us to claim the parts of ourselves that are untamed by the world that so often seeks to make us all the same.

Duke EllingtonSpeaking of authenticity and indigo, there is, of course, “the Duke,” (no, not John Wayne), and his famous jazz piece, “Mood Indigo.”

Ellington was not gay, but in this piece he did something very “queer,” He took the traditional front-line of trumpet, trombone and clarinet, and turned them “upside down.” At the time of the first recordings in 1930, the usual “voices” would be clarinet at the top (highest pitch), trumpet in the middle, and the trombone at the bottom (lowest pitch). In “Mood Indigo,” Ellington voices the trombone right at the top of the instrument’s register, and the clarinet at the very lowest. This was unheard of at the time.

Some of the earliest researchers about and theorists of same-gender-love and sexuality spoke of “inverts,” because we turned things inside out, we inverted the usual order.  Today, many accuse LGBT folks of turning things upside down, against their “natural order” (marriage is only between one man and one woman, e.g.).

In this sense, “Mood Indigo” might well be the jazz theme song of the LGBT liberation movement, as lesbian and gay–and bisexual–people continue to challenge the old narratives about how love and sexuality work together, and transgender people upend all the old narratives about the rigidity of gender–advancing the truth first articulated by feminists that biology is not destiny. If you want to listen to, and see, an early rendition of this classic by the Duke and his orchestra, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GohBkHaHap8

All this and so much more is wrapped up in a color–remembering that in this one color, as in all of them, are many colors. Can we not remember and celebrate the rainbows inside the rainbow(s), and know that it is God who calls us to do so? All this glorious color is, I believe, God showing off, and being pretty delighted to be doing so!

As an Older Man, I Shall Wear Violet

September 23, 2013 - Leave a Response

POFEV logo for web[Next Tuesday, September 24, POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia is sponsoring "The Many Voices of LGBT Pride," an interfaith service focused on the spiritual foundations of LGBT liberation, at 6:30 pm at Congregation Beth Ahabah, 1111 West Franklin Street, in Richmond. I will be offering some color-themed blog posts over the next few days to help us get ready for this celebration, and the celebration of Virginia Pride on Saturday, September 28, at Kanawha Plaza, in Richmond.]

Rainbow flag 8 colors 1978Violet. The color at the other end of the original rainbow flag from hot pink is violet, and according to Gilbert Baker, it signifies spirit. Poet Judy Grahn opens her exploration of “gay cultural history,” Another Mother Tongue: Gay Words, Gay Worlds, this way (the first chapter is entitled, “Sashay Down the Lavender Trail”). . .

‘Our color is purple, or lavender,’ my first lover affirmed, intensely whispering to my avid and puzzled young ears the forbidden litany of who we were or might be. ‘No one knows why this is, it just is,’ handsome Vonnie said, her lips against me like the vibrant breasts of birds . . . .

Another Mother TongueI once wrote a poem–it probably sits in a notebook somewhere–whose first line was “The purple pansies are lovely this year.” I think I borrowed the opening from poet May Sarton. I meant it as an affirmation of being a “pansy,” reclaiming what had at one time was, and perhaps today among some still is, a derogatory term for being a gay man.

purple panxyBut it was really about my Aunt Grace, whom I suspect was a lesbian–at least she was a spinster, that description we used to use for women who lived alone and with other women (May Sarton was probably called a spinster more than once). Auntie, as we called her, taught me about purple pansies, lavender scent, and spring violets. Again, my absorption in this knowledge should have clued my family into understanding my same-gender-loving ways (and me, too).

Some say this purple-centeredness comes from a mixture of female red and male blue (of course, this connection was in earlier times reversed, female was blue and male, red or pink),  Some point to ancient times, before male-dominated history, when women carried the spiritual life of the community. I see an echo of this in the story in Acts 16 where Paul encounters Lydia, the dealer in purple cloth (she worshiped at the river with some other women–it has long seemed to me possible, if not likely, that she was a lover of women). She certainly was an independent woman, inviting Paul back to her house and leading the women to accept Christianity.  Of course, purple is often associated with royalty, and there often were gender-bending and “different” people in royal courts–eunuchs and jesters, for example.

Violet color rangeBut why did Baker choose violet, why not purple? It may be, as Wikipedia tells us, that “From the point of view of optics, violet is a real color: it occupies its own place at the end of the visible spectrum, and was one of the seven spectral colors of the spectrum first described by Isaac Newton in 1672.”  The difference between violet and purple is that violet appears in the visible light spectrum, or rainbow, whereas purple is simply a mix of red and blue. Violet has the highest vibration in the visible spectrum. So violet is not a pale imitation of purple.

I am sure Baker knew this, as an artist. So, he picked violet, even though we may think of purple as the stronger shade. That feels so very “gay” to me, another example of the sort of “secret” knowledge that LGBT people have from living outside the normal social realms.  The artist, relying on scientific knowledge as well as historical associations, picked what appears to be the softer color to the rest of the world even though it has more strength in its essence.  The resilience, and even survival, of LGBT folks, like those in other marginalized groups, often depends on such knowledge (at least among some who can carry forward the group identity and traditions).

rainbow flag in front of the Supreme Court June 25 2013

Waving the rainbow flag in front of the US Supreme Court

The replacement of violet by purple as the rainbow flag evolved may be seen as a sign of the “normalizing” of LGBT experience. Some people complain about this–I think of people who wish there was not so much emphasis on marriage equality, some of whom reject the insistence that marriage be limited to couples only. They don’t want “us” to become so blended into “het” culture that our special history and ways are lost. I understand this–and even hold it in tension with my desire and work for political and religious liberation– although I am not in agreement with those who claim LGBT people are a separate people. I am not a separatist.

VioletsAccording to various interpreters, purple stimulates the imagination and inspires high ideals. It is an introspective color, allowing us to get in touch with our deeper thoughts. It carries the energy and strength of red with the spirituality and integrity of blue. This is the union of body and soul creating a balance between our physical and our spiritual energies. I am beginning to see this even more in violet (and lavender, and what is often called “lilac” on paint chips).

When I am an old Woman I shall Wear purpleI mentioned in an earlier post, in this series about the rainbow, the book, When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple.  It is a glorious evocation of claiming all the parts of being a woman that society mutes, ignores, and belittles. I celebrate that. But for me, as I am moving into the second half of my life, about to turn 67, as an older man, I shall (begin to) wear violet.

Is the Rainbow Enuf?

September 20, 2013 - Leave a Response

POFEV logo for web[Next Tuesday, September 24, POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia is sponsoring "The Many Voices of LGBT Pride," an interfaith service focused on the spiritual foundations of LGBT liberation, at 6:30 pm at Congregation Beth Ahabah, 1111 West Franklin Street, in Richmond. I will be offering some color-themed blog posts over the next few days to help us get ready for this celebration, and the celebration of Virginia Pride on Saturday, September 28, at Kanawha Plaza, in Richmond.]

This is a difficult post, because in a short space I am attempting to tackle a complex set of topics: color as in visual perception and art, color as in skin color and race and racism, color as in history of a people, and probably one or two other things.

Rainbow flag 8 colors 1978In our spiritual observance of LGBT Pride this Tuesday at Congregation Beth Ahabah, we will center ourselves on the eight-color rainbow flag that was originally designed and sewn by artist Gilbert Baker in 1978. That vibrant palette had two colors no longer in use, hot pink and turquoise, as has been noted in this space in prior posts. Also, indigo has been replaced by a more basic blue.

Over the years, however, I have been troubled by a color that was never included, namely brown. My distress has several foundations. First, as you may know from prior posts on the rainbow, I like color. And although brown is not a bright color it signifies much that I love: earth, of course, fall leaves, monks’ habits (especially the Franciscans), and wood. Jesus is so often portrayed wearing earth tones, and if we showed him accurately his skin would be that dark olive of the Middle East that is part green and part brown–no blonde, he! It also signifies for me, and many others, a whole people, or peoples, people whose skin color is not like mine. We often call some of them “black” people, but most of those are more accurately brown. And then there are Hispanic peoples who are so often shades of brown (and some Native American people may appear to be more brown than red).

When I see brown, I see the ground of being–even though according to experts, brown is not its own color, but rather a mixture of red, black and orange. It is officially considered a shade of orange. Check this out for more about brown. Oh yes, one more thing: many of us run after a “tan” each summer, wanting to look brown as a nut.

Hitler's brown shirtsI also know, that like the pink triangle and the yellow star of David, the Nazis, and their counterparts in Mussolini’s Italy, appropriated brown as the color of their uniforms. Once again, something beautiful and loving was turned into a symbol of hate and violence. So, as always, it is complicated.

But for me, part of the complication has been this: Are “brown people” included in the rainbow? One response is to say, well, of course, there is no white in the rainbow, and no black, so the absence of brown signifies nothing about race or racism. It sounds reasonable, and as a straightforward logical point of view it is.

But for those of us who are “white” (of course, most of us are not truly white–its more that we are not “black”), it is important to remember that it is people who look like us who created this rainbow flag–and I don’t just mean Gilbert Baker. White people have long held most of the leadership positions in the LGBT community, and until fairly recently, it was white people who always seemed to be pictured in groups of LGBT people. Context matters.

For-Colored-Girls who have considered suicideAnd I remember in the 80’s picking up a copy of a ground-breaking book, the book of a play called, “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide when the Rainbow is Enuf,”by Ntozake Shange, a major poetic and drama voice among African American women. The play was produced off Broadway in various locales and finally, on September 15, 1976 at the Booth Theater on Broadway,

It is not enough to say that this play is powerful, it knocks your socks off. It was an early venture in what was known as “women’s theater,” at a time when that usually meant “white women’s theater.” It still, forty years later, catches you–the rhythms, the insistent truth-telling, the images.

One thing in particular caught me: there are seven parts in the show, seven ladies: one in yellow, one in red, one in green, one in purple, one in blue, one in orange . . . . and, yes, one in brown.

And here’s another thing: the show begins with the lady in brown.  Here’s part of her first speech:

I can’t hear anythin

but maddening screams

& the soft strains of death

& you promised me . . .

somebody/anybody

sing a black girl’s song

bring her out

to know herself

to know you

but sing her rhythms

carin/struggle/hard times

sing her song of life

she’s been dead so long

closed in silence so long

she doesn’t know the sound

of her own voice

her infinite beauty

she’s half-notes scattered

without rhythm/no tune

sing her sighs

sing the song of her possibilities

sing a righteous gospel

the makin of a melody

let her be born

let her be born

& handled warmly

Let her be born . . .  maybe the rainbow, our rainbow, is enuf, but then again, are we not yet engaged in giving birth to ourselves, to our community, too, and don’t we want to be sure none are left, none are stillborn, none are cast away or cast out?  So maybe we need a bigger rainbow? I know mine is bigger than six, and even than eight.

“Celebrating the Many Voices of LGBT Pride” means, for me at least, making sure the “brown” voice is heard.  Join us Tuesday night as we attempt to celebrate all the voices (and no doubt we will fall short–but making the effort is important).

The Rainbow Is Better with Turquoise

September 19, 2013 - Leave a Response

 

 

POFEV logo for web[Next Tuesday, September 24, POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia is sponsoring "The Many Voices of LGBT Pride," an interfaith service focused on the spiritual foundations of LGBT liberation, at 6:30 pm at Congregation Beth Ahabah, 1111 West Franklin Street, in Richmond. I will be offering some color-themed blog posts over the next few days to help us get ready for this celebration, and the celebration of Virginia Pride on Saturday, September 28, at Kanawha Plaza, in Richmond.]

turquoiseTurquoise. Why did Gilbert Baker choose turquoise as one the eight colors of the original rainbow flag for the gay rights movement in 1978? There may be some answers in what follows, but after reading short biographies about Baker and more about the flag, I imagine he was just trying to capture the range of people in what we now know as the LGBT community. Baker is quoted in the 2007 book “The American Flag, Two Centuries of Conflict and Concord” saying “Flags are torn from the soul of the people.” I think he got that right in 1978 (with one exception, which I will discuss tomorrow).

GilbertBaker with 8-color Pride flag

Gilbert Baker with the 8-color rainbow flag

I am glad he did include turquoise, because a deeper shade, called teal, is one of my three favorite colors. My first memory of turquoise, teal really, was a dress my sister wore to a fancy party–it was a sort of satin, sleeveless affair, very sexy. I was probably about seven and I can still remember when she took it out of the closet. I was in heaven just seeing it (someone should have told me then that I was gay!). And my former wife loved her birthstone, turquoise. I delighted in buying some pieces for her.

But it is only in the past five years or so that I have begun to claim it as a very favorite color. There is a book which I cherish, “When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple.” My version is, “When I Am an Old Man, I Shall Wear Teal” (I have worn purple a long time). I guess that makes me an old man–even though I intend and hope to live a long time yet.

teal enamel flower

Jennifer Bourne, a creative person who writes about color (and especially as it is used in advertising and mass communication), says that turquoise is “a blend of the color blue and the color green, has some of the same cool and calming attributes. The color turquoise is associated with meanings of refreshing, feminine, calming, sophisticated, energy, wisdom, serenity, wholeness, creativity, emotional balance, good luck, spiritual grounding, friendship, love, joy, tranquility, patience, intuition, and loyalty.”

The parts about sophistication, feminine, energy, creativity, intuition, and joy sound traditionally, even stereotypically, “gay.”

And many Native American people claim turquoise as spiritually healing, bringing together water and air, promoting a clearer movement of energy and healing.

So why no turquoise in today’s flag? The history of the flag (at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rainbow_flag_(LGBT_movement)  is that after hot pink was dropped and the number of colors became seven, it was more difficult to display the flag fully hanging from poles (the middle stripe was obscured by the pole). The decision was made to use an even number of stripes, so turquoise was dropped. But why turquoise? Why not drop green or yellow or orange, for example?

subtractive color mixing

Palette for “subtractive color mixing”

I knew turquoise was not a primary color, but I became unsure which colors are considered primary. I thought I knew from childhood talk and school art classes–red, yellow, green, and blue, plus orange and purple that are made from combining two primary colors, which are of course the six colors of today’s rainbow flag–but it turns out there are lots of theories involving this and actually the definition of primary colors depends on what media you are using. It did not take long for me to become overwhelmed with information and theory! You can read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Primary_color . Maybe your mind works better with all this than mine. I am a simple theologian, pastor, sometime poet, and community organizer,

That does not mean, however, that I am unhappy engaging in this research. Not at all. I love color–am known for wearing colorful socks, for example–and the more time I can spend with color the happier I am. And color clearly is a “gay” thing, and by that I mean largely gay men. That is not to say that lesbian women and transgender folk, and certainly bisexuals, oppose color. And I know non-LGBT people who like color, too. There are many colorful people in each group. But so many gay men choose to wear colors, bright colors, deep colors, strong and vibrant colors.

More straight men seem to want to stick to basic blue, black, and brown–of course blue and brown can be bright, but so often they are subdued shades.

I know I am dealing in gross stereotypes here. For example, my husband, gay as they come, has an underdeveloped sense of color. So I know there are exceptions. As a friend once told me, “Not all lesbians wear Birkenstocks, and not all women who wear Birkenstocks are lesbians.”

teal and turquoise socksSo, why turquoise? Because it is a beautiful, vibrant if soothing, color. And is different, not just blue or just green. Maybe that is like LGBT folks. We are not just L or G or B or T, and even within these categories we are a range, a combination of attributes. At various points in my life, I have worn long, dangly earrings–the kind you are more likely to buy in the women’s jewelry department than n some piercing palace for men. That has caused more than one person to ask me about my gender.  Some have assumed I identify as transgender.

I am male, a gay male, who likes earrings, big ones, small ones, but especially earrings that dangle from my ears. It is, I think, part of my maleness, which is a range of gender. Indeed, I am not really male, I am Robin. Sure, I have what are considered male body parts, but they are not the only things that shape me. My inner spirit is bigger than that, it is more of a range. Indeed, perhaps, as some gender theorists say, my gender is Robin. Certainly, my gender expression is my own.

And that may be the story with turquoise. It is its own color that is a combination of colors. Besides, it looks nice between green and indigo, its neighbors on the original rainbow flag. It may be as simple as that.

Whatever happened, I miss turquoise.  The rainbow is better with turquoise, certainly it is less without it.

Feeling Pink Today, and Every Day

September 18, 2013 - One Response

POFEV logo for web[Next Tuesday, September 24, POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia is sponsoring "The Many Voices of LGBT Pride," an interfaith service focused on the spiritual foundations of LGBT liberation, at 6:30 pm at Congregation Beth Ahabah, 1111 West Franklin Street, in Richmond. I will be offering some color-themed blog posts over the next few days to help us get ready for this celebration, and the celebration of Virginia Pride on Saturday, September 28, at Kanawha Plaza, in Richmond.]

Rainbow flag 8 colors 1978Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered that the original rainbow flag, designed in 1978 by artist Gilbert Baker, included hot pink!

Well,maybe, if you don’t know me, you would not know of my delight, but trust me, hot pink, really any shade of pink, is good in my book. I still remember how much happiness my friend MJ Simmons brought me when she took a pink dress shirt and made it into a pink clergy shirt! And the pink dogwood is my favorite tree.pink_dogwood_lg

Baker gave meaning to each of the eight colors in the original rainbow. Hot pink represented sexuality.

Of course, it is sexuality that got us in trouble, at least with the authorities and those who are afraid of the whole range of God’s creation. So, it is right that it should be represented by a color that speaks of passion and being out of control.

But according to those who study color as part of psychological understanding, pink also is the color of nurturing and unconditional love. “Pink is feminine and romantic, affectionate and intimate, thoughtful and caring. It tones down the physical passion of red replacing it with a gentle loving energy,” say the writers at http://www.empower-yourself-with-color-psychology.com/color-pink.html

pink JesusSpiritually speaking, I like to think Jesus likes, or would like, pink. I don’t know if the color was in use when he walked the earth, but given his passion and his focus on love, I am pretty sure he would have worn pink. That would probably have been one more reason for him to get into trouble with the authorities. I also think Moses was a pink kind of guy. I often think of him as gruff on the exterior, but a real softie on the inside. He’d almost have to be to put up with all the grumbling. He certainly was a passionate guy, and pink fits that well.

As I read about colors, and especially about pink, I realize that the meaning is in the eye of the beholder. Many of us probably have associations with a particular color that don’t fit someone else’s idea. So color is personal.

pink triangle menBut it also is sometimes political. No LGBT person should ever think of pink without remembering the badge of shame, that we now have made a badge of honor, the Nazis made gay men wear–the pink triangle. Talk about a symbol of love. The oppressor, in their twisted logic, took love and made it into hate.

That too often happens. People fear something and so they decide it represents evil. Colors can be made to do that–no Jew forgets the yellow star of David from the death camps (yellow is another color on the Rainbow flag, and I probably will have more to say about it).

Pink love shirtIn the pink. Sometimes we say that when are feeling especially good. “I’m in the pink!” So pink is the color of good health. Funny the American Medical Association doesn’t use pink in their symbol (it’s all blue–more about that color later). Maybe they’re afraid they will be seen as too feminine, or too gay?

I want pink back. My rainbow includes pink–hot, soft, rose, fuschia, pale, whatever. If its pink, I like it, I’m feeling pink today.

I think I am going to wear pink next Tuesday for “Celebrating the Many Voices of LGBT Pride.” If we don’t include pink, a voice will be missing.

A Great and Amazing Journey

August 22, 2013 - Leave a Response

I am on the most amazing spiritual journey. 

I thought the only reason God called me step down from pastoring was to do the work of leading POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and be a leader among leaders to help in the transformation of Virginia from a state of fear to a Commonwealth of Abundance and Love. 

All that is true, indeed. And it is exciting and wonderful work. 

ImageBut, I am catching on that God also seeks my transformation, moving from someone excessively other-directed to a whole person whose compass is my soul, that is to say God in my deepest heart and being. 

At times wrenching in the pain and upheaval of emotional and spiritual relocation and at other times glorious in the new vistas I see, this is one great adventure. 

As long as I keep God as my guide, I am safe and growing and filled with hope.

And I am blessed. 

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