When Do I Use My White Voice?

cropped-cropped-robin-head-crop-from-j-wayne-higgs.jpgI have been reading about a new film, “Sorry to Bother You,” and I intend to see it as soon as I can.

I was drawn to it by an article in The Washington Post, “With an Accent on Whiteness: The Tricky Art of Code-switching or Changing Your Dialect to Fit Your Audience.”   It is not that I, a born and bred WASP, have not added a drawl (though still definitely revealing my Midwestern white upper-middle class, highly educated roots) to try to charm church members in Richmond, VA on Sunday mornings or other audiences as I traveled the length and breadth of that state seeking to build support for LGBT rights and marriage equality. I suspect many do versions of that at one time or another.

Sorry to bother youHowever, the article, and this film, are examining and demonstrating something outside my experience, namely the pressure Black people experience, especially in business and professional settings where white people predominate (and are the customers), to adopt a “white voice.” The film focuses on how this works in telemarketing.

In another article in The Post, it is revealed that the filmmaker, Boots Riley, drawing on his own experience in telemarketing, sees the film as a serious indictment of capitalism—how the Western economic system uses the need and desire for money to shape (and warp) people, at least on the surface, into people they are not.

Our economic system and white supremacy are deeply entwined, and have been so for centuries, certainly beginning with slavery as well as genocide towards Native peoples.

This all fits rather neatly with a book I am reading, Epistemologies of the South: Justice Against Epistemicide, by the distinguished social theorist, sociologist, and legal scholar Boaventura de Sousa Santos. It is a very dense book, and I am only a small way into it, and will undoubtedly write more about it later. I am indebted to my friend and colleague, Rev. Dr. E. Francisco Danielsen-Morales, for leading me to it.

The book is about undermining Northern/Western ways of thinking and speaking and theorizing (hence his use of “epistemology,” the theory of knowledge, especially with regard to its methods, validity, and scope), and allowing Southern/Eastern voices to be heard, and to shape and change and even overcome and displace, Western methodologies of thinking, speaking and theorizing. However, I am already finding it helpful in thinking about internal social conflict in the United States.

Epistemologies of the SouthAs  I read the two Post articles about the film, I was reminded, so very clearly, of three basic ideas the author of the book says are key. I quote from the first paragraph of the Preface:

First, the understanding of the world by far exceeds the Western understanding of the world. Second, there is no global justice without global cognitive justice. Third, the emancipatory transformations in the world may follow grammar and scripts other than those developed by Western-centric critical theory, and such diversity should be valorized.

In other words, as I read Santos, the virtual exclusion, in most (overwhelmingly I think) social systems and ways of thinking in the United States, and in the one-third world of mostly the north, of non-Western experience and wisdom leads to a paucity of real-world life, knowledge, and wisdom. In other words, we, most of us, live in a dream world constructed by powers, economic and political to be sure, designed to keep us in line.

I feel as if my eyes are being opened by this film and by this book, and I will not, I hope, ever again be the same. That is a big claim, especially when I have not even yet seen the film or finished more than the first pages which lead to the introduction! But, I already sense a shift in me.

use your white voiceFor one thing, despite years of study of and writing about white supremacy, I never had thought seriously until now that I speak in a white voice. Of course I do; I don’t know any other, I was not exposed to any other as I gained language skills as a child and an adolescent.  By the time I was a college student  and seminarian I certainly had heard other speech patterns belonging to other people and groups, but by this time I was firmly ensconced in my white roots.

This language regime is, it seems to me, one of the great powers of white supremacy and colonialism because it affects not only my/our speaking and writing but even more deeply our thinking and acting in many ways.  If I, we, as white people can’t (and refuse to) hear it or see it, it is hard to think it especially if you are rewarded, as we are, for our ignorance and limitations.  In the film, the Black protagonist, Cassius Green (portrayed by Lakeith Stanfield), is well rewarded for using his white voice.

As the film and book claim, capitalism, so deeply ingrained in the Western economic and social, indeed political, epistemology, rewards us, those like me who do not realize we have choices as well as those who know there are other choices but who seek to gain by adhering to the norm through social acceptance and potential mobility, and just cold, hard cash (or at least the promise of it).

I also realize that something as basic as grammar is a form of social regulation, setting standards for what is acceptable writing and speech. Grammar is not neutral, in that we, at least many of us and certainly me in my formative years, were taught that saying some words or using certain language patterns marked us as uneducated or uncouth or ignorant or all of the above. There are patterns of social class indoctrination in all this.

The neighbor boy
from a poor family talked a lot,
always violating at least one rule.
My mother said it was sad
that he will grow up being devalued.
Such a nice boy, she said.
(from a draft poem, White Voice)

However, until reading about the film and opening Santos’ book I had not thought much, if anything, about racialized grammar. I don’t remember any of the very few Black people in my growing up who spoke like that white neighbor boy, or even some other way. They all used good grammar.

I remember Mrs. Kendrick, our cleaning lady, responding to offers of a second helping at lunch with words I still cherish and sometimes use, “No thank you, I’ve had a  great plenty!” Her number and case of nouns and verbs always matched. Her son, who worked a time for my father, spoke quite eloquently.

James Baldwin 1And then there are James Baldwin and Dr. King and Maya Angelou, and Malcolm X, too, who said hard things but always used “good English” (and the first two, at least, more eloquently than most white people).

But would most of us have listened if they had not?

Perhaps that is the nub of this. If you, Black person (or LatinX, too) want us to take you seriously, you’d better use proper white English. Save your other voice, your more authentic voice, for talking to your nonwhite friends.

To be sure, we white folks inherited this system, but we still enforce it—by any means necessary, Malcolm might say.

It’s time to change, to undermine the racist, class-bound, and gender enforcing power of language.

More in future posts about some options.

Love Is the Deal

Most of my life I have been fascinated by politics, probably accurate to call me a political junkie, avidly reading the latest tidbits of commentary, polls and the like.

Some of this is tied to the fact that I have been an elected official, albeit at the relatively low level of local and county government in my native Michigan. I also served as an aide to a U.S. Congressman and a State Senator. My undergraduate degree is in political science. I was sure, in years long ago, that I wanted to make my way in politics, and dreamed of being a U.S. Senator, maybe even President. [Note: There used to be a picture of the county seal here, but the county’s office of corporation counsel asked me to remove it, fearing that someone could think its presence constituted an endorsement by the county of this blog. I guess they have little better to do with their time than worry about a lowly blog by a former county official. But I have complied, to save them filing suit or taking some other such, in my view, unnecessary action, and to save the taxpayers further burden.]

I have not abandoned that interest entirely (though no dreams of elected office remain!), but I am finding it less and less satisfying. The shift began in the late 1970s when I perceived the inadequacy of the political system to solve some really basic problems in our world, at the very time I felt a call to ordained ministry (I went to seminary in 1981, graduating from the Episcopal Divinity School in 1985). 

Episcopal Divinity School group circle
lonestarparson.blogspot.com I found this picture on Google, connected to a blog that calls EDS “Satan’s Seminary” (that will be for a future post!)

Neither politics or religion have all the answers, of course. Both create problems as well as offer solutions. This is probably because each is a human construct managed by human beings. I say this without denying the role of divine inspiration in religion, and sometimes even in politics.

5.0.3
magnificat.ca

There is one thing however that I do not find in politics generally, and especially today, and that is love. Love is at the center of my life, because I believe it is at the center of all life. I agree with St. John of the Cross, who said, “There is nothing better or more necessary than love.” One of my favorite spiritual writers, Fr. Richard Rohr, has written about this extensively in, among other places, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi and Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self

Richard Rohr 2
Richard Rohr OFM en.wikipedia.org

Neither they, nor others, nor I, mean so much the feeling or sentiment of love (romantic love, Hallmark card love, etc. (although this can be very good and indeed wonderful) as we mean the active engagement with others. all others, in mutually respectful, caring, holistic relationship. 

In the political realm, I guess this makes me a liberal. I do not doubt that conservatives love other people, but their politics seems mostly devoid of it. Love requires a largeness of spirit, and certainly a focus on things in addition to money, the national debt, and the latest outrages.

hunger
sites,google,com

Speaking of outrages, there are many in the world, and they are not limited to beheadings by ISIS and shootings by extremists (“Islamic” or otherwise). How about the fact that tens of millions of people in the world go hungry every day, and yet there is enough food to feed everyone? That is an outrage of grand and preposterous proportions! 

So love. I am in search of how I can help grow the quantity and quality of love in the world. I believe it can be done best, maybe only done, in community–hence the name of this blog. 

Obama's tears
nationalreview.com

Which is where politics could come in, and religion, too. Both are fundamentally communal. But I am having a hard time finding much love in what passes for political discourse, even among Democrats. Maybe love is at the root of what they say, but they do not use the word very much (President Obama’s tears when speaking about the children killed in Newtown demonstrate love). The only Republican running for President who comes close is Governor Kasich of Ohio (and he is not doing very well in the polls!). 

John Kasich
Governor John Kasich businessinsider.com

I believe in the responsibility and power of the vote, I will never stop voting, but my criteria are clear: the more loving you sound and act, the more likely I am to vote for you. And it is possible that in some contests, if I cannot sense any love, I will leave the ballot blank. 

Of course, I find it difficult to find much love in what passes for religion in many quarters these days. The good news is that, unlike politics so far, we are not required to live under the rule of a religion (although many have tried and will continue to try to make it so). 

tough love not easy but worth it
pinterest.com

And by the way, love includes “tough love,” but by that I do not mean being a tough, macho-like guy (or gal). Tough love means, to me, telling the whole truth no matter the cost. Much of the time, the hard truth is not the aggressive- or militant-sounding one, but the quiet one, the clear analysis which shows that solutions are more complicated than building walls or denying rights and livelihoods to whole groups of people. 

In that vein, consider this post an installment payment on “tough love” for my country and the world. 

I encourage you to join the love campaign; let me know how you are promoting love in the world. Together, we can grow love until all the unlove is cast aside.  

 

 

 

Making Peace More Possible?

Violence is on my mind these days.

I doubt the world is any more violent now than in former times, but somehow it feels ever more close and intimate–probably because the  means of sharing it  is so immediate and in-your-face.

gun violence
sciencenutshell.com

I speak here of more than what we usually identify as physical violence against others–war, bombing, shootings, arson, vandalism, assault, murder, rape–by including other forms of violence against the bodies of others–hunger, malnutrition, lack of medical care, homelessness and lack of basic body protections.

police violence
flockforward.com

I mean social violence, too, including ugly words spoken to and about others, individually and in groupings–exclusion and threats to exclude people from groups based on irrelevant characteristics such as skin color, gender and gender expression, religion, sexual orientation, nationality and ethnicity, age–in person and on social media, hateful words spoken in hushed tones behind the back of the despised, the silences when those who hear the ugliness fail to speak up to offer correction or objection, as well as the violence that arises when two people, or a family or group of close friends, erupt in ugly words, and sometimes strike out physically, aimed at each other.

domestic violence 1
begun.case.edu

There also is psychic and emotional violence which can sometimes be cold and wordless, holding another or others hostage through spoken and unspoken threats of bodily harm, or eternal damnation or disgrace, if the object person even thinks what has been defined as wrong or evil or just dares to exist.

There is so much violence. And that is undoubtedly an incomplete list.

riots violence
canvas.brown.edu

Where there is violence there will be no peace. It has been said many times that peace is not the mere absence of violence. But such absence is the ground on which peace may grow.

Why do we so often resort to violence when doing so merely increases, or escalates, the level of violence? Is violence ever a good response to violence?

Few people doubt that Hitler and the Nazis could have been stopped without violence. Is that enough to justify its use in every day life, in political discourse in the land of the free and home of the brave, as the template for so much that passes for international relations?

domestic violence
calgarysun.com

I have no good answers. All I know to do in this moment of my life is to begin to observe my own violence, and the violence I experience around me, and the violence I learn about in larger social realms.

I want to understand more fully the role of violence in my life and in the lives of those around me, and in my community, state, nation and world. Naming it is the beginning, cataloging it, labeling it, help, too.

Perhaps what I am proposing is a violence inventory or index, admittedly not a pleasant thought and task, but still I think necessary if we want, as I do, a more peaceful, loving world. (you can read a UN report on violence here)

violence against children poverty
unicef.org

Will you join me? Will you commit with me to looking clearly at the violence in our lives, describing it and our feelings, owning the times when we are the agents of violence or at least complicit in it, as well as the ways and times we see others acting as purveyors of violence–in the hope we can change ourselves, and contribute to wider change, making peace more possible?

On this Solstice, when the dark lasts longest in the 24 hours, let us go deep into ourselves and into our world to hold up, examine, and discard and disown some bit of violence.

 

 

 

 

The Newest Red Menace

I remember sitting in our living room on the farm outside Milford, Michigan, some time in the late 1950s and listening as my parents and other local members of the Farm Bureau discussed a video about the Red (Communist) menace sweeping the world. There was a graphic moment when red paint spread across much of Europe and then moved on to parts of Asia.

The Red Menace is real
flickr.com

I thought it overdone at the time, and today I know I was right. Even my father, pretty conservative in some respects, told me later it seemed to be raising an alarm for the sake of raising an alarm.

This memory, and especially my father’s observation, has been dancing around in my head for the past few weeks as I continue to listen to Donald Trump, and others, paint a dire picture of the United States and how the world is being overrun by terrorists (and specifically Islamic terrorists). Of course, there are more crises than anyone seems capable to managing, let alone winning. The world is a very dangerous place these days; no place is safe.

Donald Trump 2
businessinsider.com

But what I am seeing and hearing are alarms being raised for the sake of raising alarms. The latest is Donald Trump’s call to bar all Muslims from entering the country.

What good this will do is hard to grasp–unless you think, as he appears to believe, that waves upon waves of Muslims are pouring into the nation to destroy us, a complete fabrication out of no evidence.

The harm it will do is obvious: turn even more people in the Middle East and elsewhere against the West and specifically the United States. His proposal, and similar ones offered by others is the surest way to enhance radicalization in the Middle East and elsewhere. For people who are already scared, it sure sounds satisfying.

The gentleman from TrumpLand will say anything in order to trump everyone else (getting to the White House). The New York Times analyzed all 95,000 words in every public utterance by Trump over the past week in an effort to discern his appeal (about one-third of Republican voters polled say he is their choice for the presidential nomination–read it here).

The Times reporters say, “He has a particular habit of saying ‘you’ and ‘we’ as he inveighs against a dangerous ‘them’ or unnamed other — usually outsiders like illegal immigrants (‘they’re pouring in’), Syrian migrants (‘young, strong men’) and Mexicans, but also leaders of both political parties.”

bullyboy
antibullyingblog.blogspot.com

The article highlights much to be alarmed about, especially his use of ominous, negative, divisive language, and utter disregard for facts. He speaks demagogically much of the time. This is partly what took me back to that memory of the Farm Bureau film and discussion–use of language and images that remind me of Senator Joseph McCarthy and others in our history who maniacally sought to scare us into believing whatever they say and doing whatever they tell us must be done.

Trump is in attack mode 24/7. This is what bullies do. And sadly bullying is so often an indication of great weakness inside the bully–it can be called over-compensating, striking out to disguise weakness inside.

psychiatrist and patient
jimwallacemd.com

I am not qualified to conduct an evaluation of his mental state or health, but for the first time in my lifetime (other than for Richard Nixon) I think we need the presidential candidates–all of them, to be fair–to undergo clinical psychological/psychiatric evaluation.

President Obama may be too cerebral, not emotive enough, but we can’t afford to swing back in reaction all the way over to someone who is only emotive, and who is adept at getting people to think he can fix it all by a few shouted commands–Get Out! You’re fired! Your’re dumb! (fill in the blanks) is the enemy! Bomb them back to the stone age! You’re weak!

Then again, I admit it. I do begin to see the outlines of a new Red menace . . . . states that will give him enough of their votes to put him in the White House.

You're fired with Donald Trump
libertyblitzkrieg.com

I also think that if I could get his attention, the publicity value of his attack on me with (he tweets incessantly against anyone who opposes him) would be worth many new readers.

So, bring it on Donald! Fire Me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Singing in a Strange Land

The psalmist, speaking in the voice of exiles far from home,
Struggling to hold on to their integrity in the face of taunts and demands for entertainment–like minstrels held captive in Dixie–says
“How shall we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?”
Indeed.
One does not need to be in another country for this question
to be on the tip of tongues, bursting from hearts who experience dislocation at the nearest mall.
Can we even remember the words to the song
Or have they been drowned out by the din of cries for security
Achieved at the point of guns and the devastation of drones?
Still we can sing, we must sing, whatever words and tune we know
The song awaits us, the world pretends not to notice
Yet yearns for a new song, the one that has been around since Creation began.
It is good. It is all good.

Marriage Equality, YES! White Supremacy, NO!

2014-calendar-2As we take down one calendar in order to put up the new one (if you are still using a paper calendar, as we do in our kitchen) or learn to write a new year on checks (if you still use a checkbook with paper checks)–or simply notice that the annual cycle of birthdays and holidays begins again on your phone and/or other device–it is right to pause.

What about this year 2014? Did anything good happen? What about the other stuff? Will we do better in 2015?2015 Calendar

In terms of my work and my personal life, the amazing string of victories for marriage equality (not “gay marriage”) in Virginia and many other places ranks at the top. This has been an amazing year. Incredible. Simply incredible. Who would have guessed on February 4, when a small knot of us braved bitter cold to stand across the street from the Federal District Courthouse in Norfolk to support the plaintiffs and Norfolk courthouse witness Feb 4 2014their lawyers and Attorney General Mark Herring in the suit to bring down the Anti-Marriage, Anti-Love, Marshall-Newman Amendment that eight short months later, on October 6, victory (for marriage, but not other freedoms) would be complete?

And there were many other good things, too, and some personal ones, too (our youngest daughter, Robin, married Christopher–a match made in heaven, e.g.).  I hope that you had some good news, too!

Much that is not good happened, too. Wars continued, and famine wiped out children and families, and preventable disease injured and killed too many. And many, perhaps most, of us lost friends and family, too. Christopher and Robin wedding photo

But in my book, the saddest–and ugliest–story of the year is the continuing failure of our society (our nation and our state) to deal with white racism (what I prefer to call white supremacy).  We will never become the society we can be, the community God creates and calls us to be, until we finally really deal with the deep and pervasive stain on our individual and collective identities.

Why do I say this? Here are a few signs of the times, in addition to not being able to talk in a civil and reasoned way about, and really deal with, the killing of too many black men and boys by too many public safety officers. How about outrageously high incarceration rates (the highest in the world by many counts) that are particularly harsh on African American men? Or this: Black women (and poor women generally, among whom Black women are disproportionately present) have the highest rates of HIV infection. Or this: income inequality, already significant, continues to rise between white people and all others in the United States. Or this: new studies showing that charter schools, supposed to help our ailing public education system, are in many cases re-segregating our schools–60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education.

APTOPIX Police Shooting MissouriAnd here’s another interesting situation. Many people now expect President Obama, our first Black President since George Washington was inaugurated in 1789–and he, the (rightly, in many ways) revered Father of Our Country, owned slaves–to lead a national dialogue on race. Once again, “we” expect the Black people to do the work.

Sure, it is a good sign that as a nation we finally elected a Black man–and maybe we will finally elect a woman, a white woman, no doubt, soon–but way too many of our fellow citizens remain hostile to him at least as much, and in many cases more, as they oppose his policies (and some of them are unable to sort this out because he is the policy in their view).

But it is not the skin color of our President that matters as much as the skin color of those who really run so much in our culture–the corporate leaders anobama_portrait_146pxd politicians at all levels and the judges and the opinion makers and media moguls and billionaires and others who make decisions that touch millions every day in so many ways. Together, this white-dominated group, I think unconsciously most of the time, seems to make sure that white people are not displaced from our dominant rung on the social ladder (and some of them actually do things to change this).

Unconscious or not, most of the time white supremacy just keeps being replicated, even as more Black people and other people of other colors do make it up the ladder.

But the basic system remains in place.

Here is a simple test: when you, if you identify as a white person, describe someone you just met, or a person you just heard about on the news or internet, do you mention their skin color? Do you do that equally for both white and Black, or other, group (Native American, Latino/Latina, Asian, African) members?

Be honest.

Most of us who are white only mention race when it is someone not white. That is what white supremacy, in a seemingly mild way, looks like. Race only matters when it is not ours.

If that is not true of you, Hallelujah! You are helping the rest of us move forward. But if you are like most, do not despair. We can fix this, and so much more. We can be untrained and retrained, especially if we do it together, and we hold ourselves accountable not only to each other but also to the Black people in our lives and in our wider society.

Israel and November in Richmond 033Over the course of the coming years, I will write more about this, and I hope it may help at least some people begin participating in a national process of dismantling racism and reconstructing a new society (and I deliberately use the term, RECONSTRUCT, to highlight the last time we had white leaders who were determined to change us, in the era known as Reconstruction, from 1865-1877).

In the meantime, let us pray for healing, and let us begin it by admitting our personal share in the national wounds.

All lives matter. Yours and mine, of course, and everyone else. And that means Black lives matter, because they are human, of course, and because they are Black.

Jerusalem Journal: No. 1, Begin with the Trauma

[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.

 

Jerusalem Journal: First Impressions, Falafel, and Faith

[This was intended to be the first of the 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.  Somehow, I never published it and only recently discovered the draft and published it for public view on January 15, 2015. Jonathan and I had some adventures together, and as you will learn if you read other entries, I had some of my own, in Jerusalem and in other parts of Israel and the West Bank.]

Our first full day in Jerusalem was a wonder of delights and moving moments.

How can one go to the Western Wall and not be moved? It is impossible not to feel the millions, nay billions or even trillions, of prayers that blanket the space in hope and fear and love and even anger of course. The power is palpable.

I felt great joy in noticing that even in separation there are more women praying than men. When will the men realize that we have so much to learn from women? At least, as a friend said, now the women are allowed to pray at the wall!

And who knew that people actually live in the Old City? I did not. It is not only an antiquity, but a living, breathing community. There are children playing after school, and cars in a parking lot, and people hanging out their laundry and making supper. And of course, the merchants–many of them Arab I think–selling everything from electronics to religious objects (for all three Abrahamic religions) to art and scarves and dried fruit and spices.

Be prepared….if you pause to look at something, the merchant will seek to engage you in conversation and draw you into his store. They are persistent and occasionally you have to be almost rude to break away. But there is sometimes a friendly repartee between passerby and merchant. At other times, the men–they are all men–seem sad and hurt when you keep going. One stuck out his hand as if to shake Jonathan’s hand and then tried physically to pull Jonathan into his store. But that is not typical.

And we went on a free two-hour tour (meaning you pay the guide what you want at the end).  We had intended to go on a longer, more expensive tour but we were so exhausted from 24 hours of travel that we overslept.

So we found Jaffa Gate, and looking like tourists–because we are–we were accosted by a tall, handsome man with a big sign–FREE TOUR–and he told us it would leave in less than an hour. We told him we were hungry and he said, “I will take you to the best place in the Old City, not far, and then you come on our tour!”

What do you do? We did not know which place to eat. There is no Panera or Chipotle (although I have seen McDonald’s in places), and besides, we want falafel, the Middle Eastern staple of chick peas ground up and made into balls that are are deep fried. We both really like it.

So, we follow the man and are introduced to the host who greets us as if we are long lost friends–after all, we are now friends of his friend, who brings him business– and seats us with a great flourish and takes our order.

And we eat falafel–it may be the best I have ever eaten, much lighter and more flavorful than what I usually find in the U.S. [Note: Jonathan went back to the same place for lunch on Friday, while I was on a tour out of the city, and as it happens, he sat with the “tour man,” who is Jewish, and they talked about the Middle East.]

“Tour Man” returns and leads us to meet our guide, a shorter, less charismatic man who has some trouble with English but who nonetheless knows much and shares freely. We are a small group of 10–various Europeans and U.S. people. We visit more of the market area, and the four Quarters–Armenian, Jewish, Muslim, and Christian. In the latter, we visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (he never could pronounce it correctly).  Along the way, we receive an extended history lesson involving each quarter.

What really impressed me about the guide was his even-handedness. He told the story of each religion in terms of the Old City–for example, at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre he straightforwardly told the story of Jesus being crucified and buried and rising–including the belief that the latter two events happened where the church was erected centuries later.  He demonstrated that practice with each.

After the tour, we went back to the Western Wall–the Wailing Wall it is sometimes called–to pray. As I noted above, the area is divided by gender. I wanted to go with the women, but it would have created a great scandal, and I am sure much trouble, probably including forcible eviction (there are soldiers even here, and visitors have to go through a security check to get in), so we went with the men.  I touched the wall and prayed as best I could–it was not easy because there was a man very loudly saying an endless prayer, or perhaps reading from the Torah. He did not seem to take even the smallest breath and every word came out sounding angry.

Despite him, I found it moving to be there. At the same time, it is so different from going into a church or synagogue to pray, and it was not easy to stay connected to a spiritual feeling, despite the holiness of the place.

So, we went in search of a good place to buy some dried fruit. If you can’t pray, you can at least eat! Jonathan had noticed beautiful figs and had tried to buy a few. But each merchant wanted to sell him a big bag. So he scouted many places before he found one who sold a small quantity of figs, as well as apricots (for me) and even kiwi. I am not a big fan of kiwi, but these dried kiwi were exquisite.

On our way back, we saw a bench and decided to rest briefly–it is a steady, if gradual, upward grade back from the Wall to the Jaffa Gate, and we were still dealing with travel fatigue. There was a woman taking pictures, and we spoke. Her name is Elizabeth and it turned out that she is a psychoanalyst from Chicago, attending the same conference as Jonathan (and staying in a room on the same floor as ours at the conference hotel), and they have a mutual friend.

She led us to a wonderful vegetarian restaurant later that evening (local friends of hers had taken her there for lunch).  It was great fun getting to know each other and sharing dishes.

We walked back to the hotel, and fell into bed, exhausted.

Thus ended our first day in Jerusalem.

There’s Life in the Green

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.

The Case of the Speedy Transitions, or, When Will God Be Honored, Too?

I underwent a pretty speedy makeover recently. Maybe two.

Jennifer McClellan
VA Delegate Jennifer McClellan

Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Markus Schmidt quoted me and Delegate Jennifer McClellan in the August 6 edition of the paper, calling GOP Lt. Governor nominee E.W. Jackson to task for more of his vitriol–this time calling Democrats “the anti-God party.”

I am always honored to have my name associated with Delegate McClellan. But imagine my surprise, and perhaps hers and certainly my husband’s, when the feminine pronoun was used in reference to me . . . . ‘saying she [Gorsline] believes Jackson owes an apology “to those who are not of his particular faith brand . . . .'” and “Gorsline added she was ‘disturbed’ that Jackson’s running-mates . . . had not disavowed Jackson’s remarks . . . ” (underline mine)

During the phone interview with Schmidt and other reporters I was, as far as I know, the male-bodied person I have been for almost 67 years.

But then something happened. I was not aware of it at the time–apparently it was so fast I felt nothing. I am sure some of my transgender friends would wish for such an easy time. I became Ms. Rev. Robin Gorsline (actually that is my daughter,without the Rev. part–imagine her surprise if there turned out to be two of us).

The Robins Gorsline--Robin Sr. on right
The Robins Gorsline–NOT Rev. Robin on right

Then, presto, due to the magic of online journalism, I was returned to my former, and historic, status, as a male-bodied person.

If you check the story at http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/state-regional/government-politics/jackson-no-apology-for-calling-democrats-the-anti-god-party/article_272f3926-e4dc-54a9-9127-b3c21dd96a12.html you will be reassured about this.

I know Jonathan is relieved.

I do not write this to pick on Markus Schmidt, who seems to be a good reporter, but I am beginning to sense a theme in my life these days. Just the other day, for example, my search for a new watch got me involved in gender examination, and now, a couple of days later, my own gender is on the move.

I think the theme might be this: gender is not as much as it is cracked up to be. Or is it that gender is less than people make it out to be? Or perhaps, it is a lot more, and a lot different, than many of us realize.

Male or female, I strenuously object to Bishop Jackson’s careless, hurtful, inaccurate, shockingly ill-prepared, sometimes vicious rhetoric. And I love my new watch–whatever gender it is, or isn’t,

But. and this is a big BUT, when men like Bishop Jackson, and his running mates–Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and State Senator Mark Obenshain, not to mention Governor Bob McDonnell and Delegate Robert Marshall, and other men of similar views–want to regulate women’s bodies in invasive and other medically unnecessary and morally intrusive and controlling ways, then gender counts for a lot. And when folks make fun of, or speak derisively about, folks in various stages of gender identity transformation and reclamation, then gender counts for a lot. And often, again depending on who is doing the talking and the rule-making and the like, gender carries a heavy and oppressive tone.

Gender Is Gender Is NotSo, I can speak lightly of my speedy transitions, and someone at the T-D can delete the “s’, and all is restored to order, but in reality this just signals how easy it is for some not to pay much attention to something that carries so much weight for so many others.  And even though all it takes is to drop a letter to “correct” my gender, in truth Markus Schmidt probably got it more right than he knows.

I am not just male, not just “he.” Oh, sure I have the parts and the hair on my chest and beard on my face, etc., but gender is a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface. A pronoun does not a gender make. Even when the Times-Dispatch says it.

As more than one writer has said, I am my own gender. It is particular to me. It is “male,” yes, but I have “female” aspects, too.

Which is why I did not make a fuss. I like it when my “female parts” get a little notice. I am proud to be “she.” I am in good company. I have some sadness about being edited back to ordinary maleness so quickly and easily.

Thanks, Markus, for reminding me of how wondrously made I am, and how all parts of me, all parts of each and all of us, reflect the image of God.

And that, of course, is why I so dissent from those who seek to deny the abundance of God’s creation. God is so much bigger than Bishop Jackson will allow. For example, I am quite sure the good bishop cannot abide anyone calling God anything other than “He.”

But I am sure God would enjoy being “She” even just once in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Now that I know how fun that is, how good it feels, I am praying for it to happen soon. God surely deserves it, even more than me.