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.
The muses have been busy in my life. In addition to music, I’ve been busy writing. There are sketches too, but nothing I’m willing to share. For a while, it was overwhelming how fast things were coming to me. Trying to keep up with the creative flow while also trying to promote my new novel made it hard to decide where to focus for 2019.
After some time considering the next step in my writing journey, I’ve decided that I will be working on a book about dogs. The title is nothing fancy right now and so I’m not going to type it out. It may sound disappointing if you know its title is so um….not catchy.
Here is something really exciting I want you to know, however. The new book cover is going to be created by one of my favorite photographers, Pat Thomas. I met Pat while living in Sylva. Her wife bought City Lights Cafe and together they are making Sylva a fun place to be. While Bern keeps busy feeding people, Pat keeps busy encouraging dog owners and helping people find lost pets. She also helps everyone celebrate pets by sharing her artwork of pet photography. The only thing she asks is for the owners to make donations to her non-profit, Advocates for Animals in Jackson County.
Pat has started a new non-profit organization in Sylva that works to help keep pets and owners together. You can read more about her and her work in her bio. I just wanted to share the good news about her being willing to work with me. I can’t wait to show you the new book. You’re gonna love it!
Pat Thomas is passionate about all types of photography, but her love for animals motivated her to focus on pet photography. She began photographing pets through her involvement in animal rescue in Atlanta, GA, 10+ years ago and continues to contribute her photography talents here in Western North Carolina.
Pat has been supportive of many rescue organizations and has established an email communication network for pet placement, lost and found animals, upcoming pet events, etc. Extremely passionate about animals and animal welfare Pat enjoys donating her time and photography to the local rescue community. She was formerly on the board for PAWS Bryson City and has volunteered for ARF, (Jackson County Humane Society). She has also donated her time to photograph the dogs and cats at our Jackson County Animal Shelter. In addition, Pat donates her time to photograph local pet events, such as the Bark in the Park event in Sylva every year. Several times a year, Pat schedules photo shoots at different community businesses, where she takes special holiday and-or themed photos, including Valentines, Easter, summer beach photos, Halloween photos, and of course, the ever-popular holiday photos. From these proceeds, she always donates a generous percentage of her proceeds to a local rescue organization, another way she supports the rescue community.
In 2017, Pat recognized the increase in owner surrenders and abandoned animals, and decided to establish a non-profit group that would focus on pet retention, and Advocates for Animals in Jackson County was founded. Keeping pets IN the home has been the objective of this organization, by helping with pet food, unexpected vet bills, training, and fencing. AAJC has also helped with temporary boarding for domestic violence victims, and people that are temporarily homeless.
Pat enjoys doing private photo shoots on location, often at the client’s home, where the pets are most comfortable. If requested, she is happy to arrange the shoot at a local park or another location. Many people request posed shots, however, she has found some of her best photos have been the candid ones, where pets are just being themselves, and showing the personality their owners have come to love.
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.