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.”

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 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.

Going Too Far

Editorial page cartoons are meant to rile us up. That is why I generally like them, even when I disagree with the point of view. But sometimes, the artist goes too far. And then it is up to the newspaper or magazine editorial authorities to refuse space to the cartoon. I experienced one such cartoon recently in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I wrote the following letter to the editor, which remains unpublished. So I am sharing it here.  But first, the cartoon itself. The artist, Robert Ariail is very talented and I have often enjoyed his very pointed humor. I leave it to you . . . (and of course this appeared before Mr. Wiener made himself look even more ridiculous than before–but that does not change my fundamental point about the use of these offensive images).  


To the Editor:

I am disturbed by the cartoon on the editorial page for Thursday, July 11, showing two former New York elected officials, Anthony Wiener and Eliot Spitzer, running like rats.

I understand the reference, and can appreciate the cleverness–although as a person of faith and ordained minister, I hope I am more charitable. Both are accomplished public servants and have done much good, despite their shaming (of themselves and their families, and the voters who elected them) behavior. I am glad that I do not live where I would have to decide whether to vote for them or not.

But what really disturbs me is how the cartoonist appears to have drawn upon ugly Jewish stereotypes from the past to draw these two men. Shame! I say “the past,” but when I see repeated today the way the Nazis pictured Jews (as rats with long noses), and when I read about continuing anti-Semitism (and its relative in anti-Islamic and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian prejudice, and U.S. white supremacy and racism), I realize the past is still with us.

We have much to do to erase prejudice based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender and gender expression and identity, age, and physical and mental abilities.

This cartoonist (and the one who sometimes uses racist references and drawing to refer to President Obama in the T-D) is not helping. I ask you to exercise more editorial care in choosing these cartoons.

Robin Gorsline Signature

It’s Time We Take Virginia Back

It is thrilling news when the ACLU and Lambda Legal announce that they will be suing Virginia to reverse the provisions of state law and constitution which prohibit legal marriage except between a man and a woman.


Makes my heart pump a lot faster, and my feet move into a jig of joy.

This is part of the next great move forward, following the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions, and the movement all across the country. Image

But of course the work is not done. First, of course, while their logic seems irrefutable to me–equal protection is equal protection–there is no certainty about how various courts who weigh in on this will ultimately rule. Lawyers and judges, as we know, can contort themselves into many tort-ured shapes and outcomes (the hyphen is deliberate).

But even if the case or cases go right to the top, winning each step of the way and the Supremes in Washington wave their collective wand and make all the old, bad rules go away, the work will not be done.

Just ask women who are still working to break through glass ceilings (pay discrimination is illegal you know) or African Americans who get guided away from certain neighborhoods (housing discrimination is illegal, too) or others who are having a hard time casting their ballots (denying folks the right to vote is unconstitutional).

Claire Guthrie Gastanaga
Claire Guthrie Gastanaga

Changing laws is essential. But we need social, culture, and religious change as well.

That takes work. Attorneys play a big role in this–just ask our friend Claire Guthrie-Gastanaga at the ACLU who has been at it a long time–but they can’t do it alone.

It takes the rest of us. Agitating. Praying. Speaking up. Marching. Coming out (in whatever way we can to help the cause).

Indeed, it takes all of us.

The great sociologist Margaret Mead famously said, “”Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead

She’s right, of course. But there is more to than that.

A bunch of small groups pulling together in the same direction–making a large movement–can do even more.

It’s time we take Virginia back. The folks who keep dividing folks and judging and holding some down while they raise others (and themselves) up have been in charge long enough.

Go ACLU and Lambda friends! We’re with you, we’re right behind you, and we’re going to keep on keeping on until not only the laws but the entire Commonwealth of Virginia is changed.

Pulling the Rabbit Out of the Hat–or It’s Time for Resurrection

I have been reflecting lately about resurrection, not just The Resurrection, the Jesus one in first century Palestine, but resurrection, the idea as Richard Rohr says that

“Resurrection is not a miracle to be proven; it is a manifestation of the wholeness that we are all meant to experience, even in this world–not time as ‘chronological moments of endless duration’ but time as ‘momentous and revealing the whole.’ (he is quoting John A.T. Robinson, 1968)

Before I left my pastorate, I had begun to explore, very gingerly, the idea that resurrection is a way of life–understanding, and accepting, the reality God gives us of being whole human beings individually, and in community as a whole breathing organism.of beings breathing together.

Into these musings came a wonderful short essay, “Rabbit Transit,” by Rev. Ben Campbell, my friend and the Pastoral Director of Richmond Hill.  He is writing about one of his favorite topics, the development of a comprehensive rapid transit system for Metro Richmond (that’s Richmond-Chesterfield-Henrico-Hanover-Charles City-Goochland-New Kent-Powhatan–1.2 million people who could be united, but often seem to be separate even in the air we breathe).

Rev. Ben Campbell
Rev. Ben Campbell

I have heard Ben preach about this, have attended public meetings about this, and I am beginning to trust that if we believe in resurrection, we must bring about this much needed way for us to breathe together.

A rapid transit system would allow people in Richmond to get out to jobs in the counties–which is where most of the new jobs are–and it would allow people in the counties to come in to their state jobs and to the ball park and the symphony and the galleries. It might even reduce the strain on puny parking opportunities in downtown Richmond.

I am all for this shift–heck, as I grow older, I might prefer to have someone else drive me places–especially because I really don’t pay much attention to the lines drawn on maps to mark political divisions. Does anyone really know, or care, when one crosses over from one country to the next?

Ben says the people of this region are “tragically proud of their failure to work together.” I know that is what our history says. I hope, I pray, our future is better than that. We can stop treating the James River as some sort of local Mason-Dixon line, and even more we can stop thinking the air is different in Henrico and Chesterfield than in Richmond.

I urge you to read his passionate argument for resurrection, and to sign up to support regional transportation.  Continue reading Pulling the Rabbit Out of the Hat–or It’s Time for Resurrection

Thank You, Your Honor!

I was a witness to history today.

Tracy Thorne-Begland was sworn in today as a Judge in the General District Court of the City of Richmond.

Soon such an event will not be historic. Indeed, the next judge sworn in who shares one particular characteristic with Tracy will not make history in the same way, He (or she)will simply be reported by the media as the second openly gay judge. Image

But on Friday, March 1, in the City Council Chambers several hundred people–judges, legislators, city council members, the Mayor, members of the bar, friends, and family–gathered to celebrate and watch history in the making.

There were a few firsts in the event itself, in addition to Tracy.

  • The Hon. Bevil Dean, Clerk of the Circuit Court, told me that this was the first time ever that an investiture of a judge was held in the City Hall. Usually these affairs are held in a courtroom, but they are all too small. They had to move to accommodate the crowd! 
  • After Judge Thorne-Begland was sworn in and he shook hands with the judge who led him through the oath and shook hands with legislators who helped him gain the appointment–most notably Delegates Manoli Loupassi and Jennifer McClellan and Senator Donald McEachin–he turned and kissed Michael Thorne-Begland, his husband of 20 years. . . right square on the lips. Two men may have kissed in the council chambers before, but this time no officer of the court could rise to object nor could any police officer say a word. It was the sweetest of moments.
  • And then the Hon. Tracy Thorne-Begland addressed the court and the audience. I doubt there have been many such occasions anywhere in the country–and I know there have been none in Virginia–in which the new judge spoke of “the elephant in the room,” namely the fact that there were, and are, people who believe he is not qualified for such an office because he and Michael have been married (in their eyes) for 20 years and are raising two adorable children (who were present, and looking very proud of their dad).

There are so many advances these days for LGBT people, in our country and all around the world. Many people think they happen everywhere but Virginia.

Today, we advanced, too.

Sen. Donald McEachin
Del. Manoli Loupassi

Of course, I thank God most of all for this, and Manoli and Jennifer and my dear friend Donald, and the managing partners of the five largest Richmond law firms who spoke up on his behalf, and the Circuit Judges who appointed Tracy to an interim term so some of the naysayers could see that all the negative fuss was wrong-headed and silly, and Tracy’s mom (and Michael’s too, who went to bat for her son-in-law) and a lot of other good people (I like to think that People of Faith for Equality in Virginia helped a little, too).

But the person I most thank is the judge himself.

He is a man of character and intelligence and determination and bravery. He was brave flying fighter planes and he is brave sticking his neck out to serve. He serves his country today just a importantly as he did flying in the skies to keep us safe.

Del. Jennifer McClellan

And he knows that in order for change to happen, good people have to do things.

That reminds me of one other delicious moment. Michael quoted his children, whom he said talked about the controversy, as it ebbed and flowed over the past eight months. One time, looking at the newspaper talking about their dad, they said,  “Gay lawyer, gay prosecutor, gay judge, blah, blah, blah, how boring!”

In case you did not know it, that is where we are headed. And we have the Hon. Tracy Thorne-Begland to thank for helping us get a step closer.

Thank you, Your Honor. And may God continue to bless you and your honorable court.