Last week, I was invited to speak to students at Pfeiffer University about faith and sexuality on Tuesday evening. Then, on Wednesday morning, we talked about living the life of the beloved. The Francis Center for Student Leadership co-sponsored my talk with the Pfeiffer Chapel.
The events planned for that week were ones to address diversity. Yet, they were also about the meaning of being a beloved community. In talking with The Rev. Maegan Habich (HA-bick), we decided to focus on the text from 1 John 4:7-8
“Beloved, let us love one another. For love is of God and the one that loves is born of God and knows God. The one who does not love, knows not God for God is love. Beloved, let us love one another.”
1 John 4:7-8 (paraphrase is mine)
I was pleased to discover that the Imam Atif from Charlotte was going to speak to the students about Islam. His talk was informative and one that helped all who were there to get a realistic view of what it means to be Muslim. If you would like to hear his talk on Islam, please visit the page on Robin’s Radio: Imam Atif and Food for the Soul
It was exciting to have the opportunity to hear an Imam talk. My friend, Cary and I joined the talk. Since my talk is readily available for everyone, I recorded the Imam’s talk on Tuesday instead of mine.
Pfeiffer’s campus in Misenheimer is set in a rural community and was the main campus when I was in college in the 80s. Now, the Charlotte Campus has grown exponentially and Pfeiffer is preparing to expand more into the local communities. As the university grows, the school continues to reach out to the surrounding community with the students. The new programs through The Francis Center are teaching the students the value and importance of knowing the diversity surrounding us and that they have something to offer the community.
My talk to the students on Tuesday evening dealt with the challenges of being a lesbian and a Christian. They had thoughtful and serious questions and comments. The next morning brought back copious memories of life at Pfeiffer. The college was a beloved community when I went there in the 80s. It is more beloved to me to know that they are reaching out to the community to embrace diversity. The video below is my talk.
‘When the powers of nature are the focus of your awareness and your thoughts, you come near to spirit, near to the source of all life. This is why most people love to walk in the woods or by the sea: they come close to the original source, and it is healing just to be in its presence. It cleanses you, brings peace of mind, touches your heart and brings you home to your soul.’
~ Chris Luttichau
The past few weeks I’ve been out of town. I was only gone for two weeks and it’s summer so I wasn’t worried about my condo. The dog went with me, so no worries about that either. Yet, here it is a week later and I’m still catching up on getting my home back in shape.
While gone, nature didn’t stop being nature. The bills and emails all those things that make up “daily life” at home, still happened. I don’t have a personal secretary (though my dog Birdie thinks she is my boss). There’s no maid that comes to clean.
I left my condo clean and in order so that when we came back, we could just pick right up where we left. My hosts and family allowed me to wash my clothing too so that when I got back, all I had to do was unpack. Sounds perfect doesn’t it? We go on a trip, have fun, see family and come home and everything works out perfectly. We might as well laugh at ourselves when we think anything in life works out perfectly.
Murphy’s Law is something most of us are taught at an early age. Yet, even at this age, I remain the idealist. If I plan it, it is so or will be so. No, that’s not really working for me for those who may ask. It means to continue facing disappointments. I remain hopeful nonetheless. Not hopeful that the world will turn as I plan or that life will stop with disappointments. My hope is in something hard to describe. Many call it faith.
As I write, my heart and mind are aware of the many who no longer want to talk about God or the church. It’s understandable because as a lesbian, there are those around me who still discuss my sinfulness. The irony of it all is how boring my life is when compared to most folks. That’s not to say we can’t be boring and commit sins. I just wonder how they know so much about the state of my soul.
Faith. We use the word willy-nilly at times in the Christian tradition. I say that because it’s one of those words all Christians are supposed to use. Perhaps we use it too quickly. One of my spiritual directors told me never to pray for patience or faith. We laughed about it because I had been praying for both. Why did she say what she did? Because in order to have patience, one has to learn to wait. In order to have faith, one must learn to endure trials.
Oddly enough, the writing that helped me embrace a more realistic way of looking at faith is Herman Hesse’s book, Siddhartha. If you’re curious, the link is an open source PDF for reading the book. I always prefer a real book rather than its electronic version. I like being able to hold it in my hand. That’s beside the point. What helped me look at my faith differently by reading the book happened BECAUSE it was outside of my tradition.
As I try to summarize what helped me in the book, I find that the BBC’s description of Buddhism best summarizes both the book and what I could see in Hesse’s writing:
“Buddhism is a tradition that focuses on personal spiritual development. Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life and do not worship gods or deities.”
This sentence, in particular, strikes me,“…Buddhists strive for a deep insight into the true nature of life.” This blog started out with a quote about nature and it’s because I think the natural world is one that best teaches about the blessings of
faith. A tree does what it does and it’s neither right nor wrong, but it just is a tree. The beauty of a tree reaching to the sky never ceases to amaze and inspire me.
Sometimes it seems that those of us who grew up in the church (and the South perhaps) think that if we have faith, nothing will go wrong in life. Some of the more fundamental Christian churches will preach that way. Perhaps it’s something that is the undercurrent in all of the churches in the South. I can’t speak for anywhere else.
Yet, we all know so many good people who have horrible things happen to them. Faith won’t make us be something else. Real faith as I now begin to see it means to accept what is and know that there’s a way through the trial. The way may not be fun and most likely won’t be pretty. When we have a community of loving and kind people, then we can have faith to get through the challenge.
In two or three weeks, life really threw me some curveballs. Nothing that means the end of the world for me, but there are trials with no clear way through. There are things happening to beloved family members and all I can do is be here and be me. I have no magic and I cannot take the pain of life away from them. It’s hard to watch someone you love suffer. My thoughts return to the tree. All we can do is remain a steadfast presence for those who need us.
Many of us know Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree. I first heard of the book at some event in college. Some group was doing a skit of the story. I’ve read it and told the story many times throughout the years. I think of it when I walk among the wonderful trees in my neighborhood. There are many gifts the tree “gives” but the essence of the book throughout is the power of presence.
Faith does not try to make us something other than that which we are. As I talked with my priest about the challenges my family is facing right now, he said, “Just be you Robin. Just be you.” As my beloved aunt fades, my nephew and his wife walk through a dark valley, as my niece and her husband seek hope, I am helpless to DOanything. Yes, I can pray, but the larger part of praying is learning to BE PRESENT to the holy. Only once we are present can we know the act that is necessary.
Life is holy, sacred, and good. Yes, it can also be pernicious and in the worst of times, feel like hell. The power of presence is that our loving and kind presence can transform those hard times into gold. Not the gold we can sell, but the golden light of the soul. The light of the soul that comes from being present to yourself in life, being present to nature, being present to the Other.
Calling all heroes, it’s time to step up. At 57, I ask myself again, “What am I doing with my life?” It’s a question I’ve always asked myself and as a result, well, became rather results oriented. The first decision I made was in sixth grade. I was going to be a foreign missionary to India and teach music. I wanted to share the gift of church music in a foreign culture. From an early age, I was fascinated with India. Through Girls in Action (or G.A.s), I learned of Buddhism and Hinduism, the two main religions in India.
Though Hinduism was confusing to me with its copious list of gods, Buddhism sounded a lot like what Jesus taught to me. I was in elementary school at the time. Because I was supposed to see the “bad” in a religion that was not Christian, I did not tell anyone that I thought it very similar to Jesus’ teachings. I wasn’t sure how I would address it when the time came but was confident that God would guide me.
I went to college to study church music and music education. A pamphlet from the foreign mission board of the Southern Baptist church (where I was a member for that part of my life) pointed out the value of mission everywhere a person lived. As a result, I decided that I wanted to stay in church music in the US. I really didn’t want to be that far from my family.
Looking back, I can see that the idealist in me thought that somehow, I could play a part in saving the world. I’m using the word, “saving” in the manner more of saving a life from death than one of salvation. I was never a very good evangelist, even though I will quickly speak of all that God has done for me in this life. Free will. I want you to have it just as much as I want to have free will. Don’t tell me what to do and I won’t tell you what to do. You can see the challenges as you read that last sentence. The world is full of people who want to tell us the “right” way to live without any thought to the person in front of them. It always seems like we know better what is best for the other. In fact, nothing is farther from the truth.
Happiness happens when you fit with your life, when you fit so harmoniously that whatsoever you are doing is your joy. ~ Osho
We set goals that are formulated by our jobs, our faith community, or those around us never contemplating the implication our actions and choices may have on society at large. We are only a small part in the community, right? How can what I do affect the larger world? Many laughed at me when I chose idealistic paths and some may laugh at me still; calling me naive in the ways of the world.
What if those of us who are idealists are not naive, but prophetic instead? What if those who seek a common good for the world see the larger picture? What are you doing with your life? Are you living to be the best YOU that is possible? I can’t be you. I don’t have your talents, gifts, stature, power. You don’t have mine. And as small as I feel sometimes, there is always something happening in the world to remind me of the privilege I DO have. Here it must be admitted that there are times I am prone to pity parties. No one comes but me, so it’s never any fun. Then, always, God steps in and reminds me all that I do have and the blessings that have abounded in my life and I end up thankful and humble. Perhaps this is not unique to me and you too suffer in such a manner.
What we need to be reminding each other is that we are not alone? No matter what is happening in the world, we are here as presences. Presences that can change lives. When heroes are asked of their inspiration, it is almost always some humble person living a life of integrity that inspires the hero to become heroic.
Did I want to be a hero? You bet I did. At the time I wanted to be Batman. The “Robin” we grew up on was a dork. I never wanted to be a damsel in distress. Hell, I never wanted to be a damsel or a girl, though it felt better to be a woman than a girlchild; as though I had some kind of power. To be a woman is to hold power, but what kind of power? Our society is full of imagery that denigrates women and shows them as the weaker of the two genders. As many are beginning to address, gender is more fluid than a marking of genitals. Power is something that a human being fosters deep in the soul. There is power that is given because of birthright or wealth or politics, but true power is more than that.
True power comes from the center of one’s soul and is unique to each individual. When the lowly shepherd, David, was born, he was endowed with a power that God needed. This wasn’t something the parent or society gave the child or the growing boy. Yet, it was something God identified within the youngest child of Jesse. Once anointed, this small shepherd boy brought down a giant with his power. It wasn’t the power of an army or birthright, but the power of belief in his God-given abilities.
It was David’s belief in his shepherd’s ability to aim true that brought Goliath down. Saul’s entire army had been fighting against this giant with all their might. David brought the giant down with a stone because of his talent as a shepherd, not his talent as a warrior.
In our world, we have many giants we face. The giant may be a lifelong goal yet unachieved, or it may be merely a hurdle or mountain to cross in life. The political landscape of our world is in upheaval and it is unclear at times who or what to believe. Now is the time to claim your power. Now is the time that God calls upon all lowly sheepherders to embrace the goodness that you are and aim true.
Don’t try to be like someone else. David tried on Saul’s armor and it was bulky and made it hard for the young boy to maneuver. Saul could not have been David and as a result, Saul later tries to kill David out of jealousy. Perhaps we are like Saul and are older. It is time to step aside and allow the young warriors and young musicians to lead life to a better place. It doesn’t mean that we no longer have value, only that our power is shifting.
There is beauty in every moment of life. Embrace your current moment. What are you feeling now? What are your sure of NOW? Can you be kind to the person next to you? Then be kind. Can you lift up another’s spirit? Then be a light. Are you called to be a warrior when no one else is? Then choose to be a warrior with integrity.
Though this year has been challenging in many ways, it has also been good. I’m having my own kind of pride celebration now. I’ve been blessed to have accomplished a lot of my life goals. After finishing my third book, I have been thinking about the next creative project. Do I start on book two of the series? Do I do the audiobooks I wanted to do? Or music? Music keeps playing into my heart and mind, perhaps it’s time for music to be created. But what about painting? Am I giving up on painting?
The truth I realized is that I paint when I am happy and content. Maybe that’s why people liked my paintings, they came from feeling loved and happy. It’s not that I am unhappy here on Beech Mountain, but I am still unsettled. Having lived here for almost a year, it is beginning to feel like home. I can’t say I am content, though I love the solitude.
One of the challenges I face as my art grows is how to balance the sacred and what some would call the profane of my life. I am a lesbian who is also Christian. For me, the lesbian part is as sacred as the church connected part. I have always been a religious person and I knew at an early age I was different. I didn’t know the word “lesbian” until I was older.
Once I learned the word, I can’t say I was proud of being one. Every time it was spoken during that time, it was in a condemning way or a way that sounded dirty. I wasn’t dirty or mean, just afraid. It’s only after decades of practicing saying that, “I am a lesbian” that I can say it without feeling my heart in my throat.
In today’s climate of hatred, I am cautious again. After being in a town where I was free to be who I am, I’ve felt I had to be more careful here. I didn’t know anyone on the mountain and for the longest time thought I had to be the only lesbian on the mountain. I’ve learned that I’m not, but like me, those who live here tend to keep to themselves. I’m okay with that. There is still comfort in knowing that there is someone who gets me on the mountain even if we aren’t close.
Today I decided that I wanted to write about being proud of being a lesbian. It’s taken years of prayer and good counseling to get to the place where I can be proud of who I am instead of afraid of who I am. My goal in life has always been to serve G_d and one day to find the right person for me. After my recent divorce, I may have to accept that there is not a person for me. I am okay with that for the most part. We all have our moments. But back to my topic of being proud.
Growing up, we were discouraged from being proud in a braggart way. I’m glad of that. There was, however, a pride that was a family way of being. We were hard workers. We were smart and quick learners. None of us were (or are) perfect, but all of us are good, decent people. Just because I am a lesbian doesn’t make me any less of a good, decent, person.
People have accused me of things I’ve never even thought about doing. I will state again that I am of a religious mindset. Most of my thoughts are theological or musical when I’m not worried about hurting someone’s feelings. As I age, and my activities are limited due to health challenges, my thoughts turn to quality. I want to be better at writing, playing music, drawing or painting, living. I want to be good at living. This is something I can be proud of and exclaim to the world.
I am celebrating Pride Month in my own quiet way. I can’t get to the parades. My heart and mind are focused on what is happening in our political landscape for the immigrants right now. I want to find ways that I can encourage those who are still able to physically get involved and encourage the rest of us to keep heart.
A little bit of light will go a long way. Be proud of your light whoever you are, whatever color your light casts. You matter. I matter too. The more we embrace the goodness of each being, the better our world becomes. I hope you take time to listen to the Victor Wooten song below. His song is full of the good news of life and I believe it speaks my truth. I see God in you. I see God in me.
Living alone on Beech Mountain is certainly a process of living in the now. One of the important practices in meditation is learning to just be present to the moment. Thoughts on being are prevalent in all religious traditions. NPR even has a great radio show called On Being with Krista Tippett. She interviews great speakers from around the world to talk about being.
In my experience, being can be challenging if it means I must sit still. Sitting still is a type of challenge for me since I am a wiggly person. Since getting older, I also move to try and deal with the pain that is constantly
present in my body. For the best example of what I mean by merely being, think of a cat. I no longer have a cat, but our cat, Grayson was great at being. I often called him my Buddha cat. It always seemed that when I was having problems paying attention to “being” instead of “doing”, Grayson was sitting at the window merely observing the world as it passed by.
My wife was better at being still than I was. But, learning to be present to the moment, as meant here, is more than being still. Just as Grayson was able to be all cat in his “being”, our being means to be all you and for me, all me without trying to be someone else. It means being present to all that makes up the person you are (not who you want to be). The only person who can know if one is good at that type of being is the individual.
A new part of my “being” has been very hard for me to accept. It is accepting my physical limitations as I accept my physical illness and challenge. Yet, as I continued to push and try to be who I was in the past, those actions only caused more harm to my body, peace of mind, and relationships with others.
Being a spiritual person has meant that in my life, I paid more attention to the interior process than the body. Constantly working to train the mind, heart, and soul to be godly was my vocation. That vocation played out in music and church work. I also enjoyed softball, biking, and hiking. Though competitive, there was no interest in harming myself to win.
Because of being attuned to my body, I thought that meant I took care of my body. Though I did in many ways, one of the most acceptable ways to destroy one’s health is also one of the most rewarded ways of destroying health. Many call it work and for me, it turned into workaholism.
Growing up, I knew at an early age I was a lesbian, though I didn’t know the word for it yet. I only knew that my crushes were on girls and I dreamed of growing up to marry a woman. I did have crushes on a few boys and those were the ones I spoke of aloud. But in my childhood dreams, I was the boy and I always had a girlfriend. That wasn’t happening as a child, but it was a dream. I learned quickly that I had to find ways to divert attention from myself. Luckily for me, work did the trick. It was also a good thing that I had a good singing voice. As I began to sing at school and at church, it seemed to be a good cover.
Many will ask what this has to do with “being” and I’m getting there. During this same time, I had always been a religious kid too. I was merely interested in God and the Bible without understanding the religious condemnation at the time. All these years later, it’s become clear that some of my natural gifts combined with my physical and intellectual capacity for work empowered me to become my own wizard of oz. The only thing is it caused me harm.
Busy all the time means that someone is ignored. Always on the go means several things: not eating right, missing quality time with friends and family, waste of natural resources. Sometimes a body has to stop. Rest. Rest is the part that we Americans want to leave out of the equation for happiness. I don’t mean vacations that require more money, time, or travel. I mean sleeping. Unwinding. Reading. Being quiet. What many call unplugging. Yet, many of us are afraid of unplugging because in that place of solitude and stillness we come face to face with who we really ARE.
There are some things that can be changed about who I am. I can cut my hair, wear different clothes or makeup, ink my skin. Yet those are all exterior changes to the body. The body is a temple for the source of our being. The changes we can make to our body are merely adornments. Not taking time to rest or listen to our heart and mind can cause physiological changes. Those are not the ones we want or need. What does it mean to be you? What makes you afraid to be you? How are you creating smokescreens to divert YOUR attention away from who you really are?
One of the things this place on Beech Mountain is not a thing, but a place. I have a place where I can be quiet and simply BE. Even the little town below us has a sticker with the word on it. This sacred place allows me to let the dust of the world settle and see what remains. Every time I can be patient with myself and have courage, these things remain: G_d, spirit, music. Another way of saying that for me is faith, hope, and love. I must also admit to myself in those moments that there is an essence of life that is uniquely Robin. G_d does not want that essence to change for Robin was created for a divine purpose whether others recognize it or not.
Robin will be giving a talk about her book and the power of community on May 5th in Albemarle, NC. Please join the conversation at Second Street Sundries at 1:00 p.m.