Clothing as a Faith Statement…or a Political Statement?

Psalm 139:14 NRSV
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.

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My life in the mountains these past nine years has been very healing. Because of our loving, supportive community, and church, for the first time in my life, I feel good about who I am. I am a butch woman. To be “technical” I am what is called gender queer. You can read a full article on that term, but here’s a summary from Slate.com’s article:

“Genderqueer, alogender-queer-from-slate-pageng with the somewhat newer and less politicized term nonbinary, are umbrella terms intended to encompass individuals who feel that terms like man and woman or male and female are insufficient to describe the way they feel about their gender and/or the way they outwardly present it.”

 

I guess this is a “coming out” of a sort in that I have never said this to many people. It’s scary enough to come out as a lesbian, much less to say the word “queer”. I should have calculated how many years it took me to say the word “lesbian” applied to me. It might have been interesting. Butch and lesbian are not terms often used in Christianity as a way of talking about faith. Yet, without acknowledging these identifying terms, one cannot know the faith challenges and blessings found in a life condemned.

Many who meet me do not understand what I mean when I talk about being condemned. When I was younger, in order to protect myself, I learned how to “pass” so that I could be in the church and later become a pastor. I know how to wear a dress and walk in high heels (though I hate both). Once I was removed from the church however, the dresses and high heels were history. I will never wear anything like that again. From an early age, the only thing I didn’t like about church was the fact that I had to wear dresses (or skirts). When I was a child, this was before the times where you can go wearing dress pants if you are a woman. The males wore pants and ties (which I loved) and the females wore dresses/skirts and hose. It was physical torture for me.

Attire is not what condemns a person, but attire is often seen as an indicator of sexual preference. It’s been great to see many straight women embrace pants and ties. When I began to work in offices, I found a way to wear dress pants in a way that felt natural to me. My attire would have been considered gender neutral probably. It was a safe way to dress, one that didn’t call attention to how I felt inside. Yet, dresses always made me feel wrong and vulnerable.

I remember a conversation with a colleague in seminary where she said that dressing up made a person feel good about himself or herself. Since she was a woman, she of course meant dressing up in a dress, hose, and pumps. I know this specifically because of our conversation. I disagreed with her, but at the time could not say that the dress made me feel worse about myself because of my gender identity. It was only during that time that many were beginning to talk about gender identity. Furthermore, at that time, there was a witch hunt for LGBT seminarians. The church had basically a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy but many seminarians were asked and they had to lie to stay on the ordination path.

Many things changed. Several years after my removal as a pastor, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) voted to accept Lesbians and Gays in committed relationships as pastors. Of course, it was too late for me to return to the pastorate because of my health. Still, I rejoiced that the church could see the ways that the LGBT community serves and witnesses to God. Then, several years later, Gay and Lesbians were allowed to marry in the entire US in 2014. By 2015, I was married to the woman of my dreams. Every year, I’ve gotten to be more and more myself.

My wife and I have talked about gender and how it’s interfered, or the perception of it has interfered, with the things we’ve wanted to do in life. For me it was learning to play trumpet and how I dress. For her, it was learning to play guitar and how she dressed. There’s a theme here. How many times have I been asked, “Why are you dressed like that?” My answer finally became (because it’s true), “I dress for comfort.” Which is true.

Robin in January 2017.jpgAs you can see from this picture, comfort often means being dressed casually. While I wouldn’t wear this as a pastor or in the offices where I worked in Charlotte, I would have worn this to the doctor’s office. Lucky for me, mountain life is casual.  At the same time, the community is so loving that I’ve been able to wear bow ties and vests. I often wear hats.

Now there are new companies who cater to those of us who avoid dresses and still want to look dressed up or dapper. As you can see by the hoodie I have on in the photo, it is produced by a company called Haute Butch. I’ve become a big fan of their site because they show styles of how I always wanted to dress.hautelogo-final-for-black-bg-sample They also have great clothes. They are teaching me how to dress to impress…when I need to do that. Of course, here in rural NC, my way of dressing to “impress” is dangerous.

How can clothing be dangerous? As you can see by the hoodie I’m wearing, it’s rather easy to see the word “butch” on the hoodie. It’s a really comfortable hoodie and so I wore it to my allergy doctor today where I get my shots. The office I must attend is in a more rural setting near a more conservative town. Today, I actually worried that what I wore made me a target for hatred. A target in ways that I never felt targeted before.

Did it stop me from wearing it? Truthfully, I thought about it. With HB2 and all the other hatred that is being fueled, I wasn’t sure that it would be wise to wear it. Yet, it was perfect for the temperature. Then I realized I can’t allow my fear of others hate to control me any more. Many of you have known this all along. I’ve been a fearful person in my life and I’m tired of it.

When I bought this hoodie, I bought it because I wanted to live out and proud to be who I am. For 2017, I didn’t make formal New Year’s resolutions. Yet, perhaps I did unconsciously  make a decision to live my life braver than ever. At my age, it’s time. If you are younger, you have a better opportunity than I to live your life to the fullest. Be who you are. You are good. You were created good. Be brave and live braver still. You are a wonder.


13 For it was you who formed my inward parts;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
    Wonderful are your works;
that I know very well.
15     My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
    all the days that were formed for me,
    when none of them as yet existed.
17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
18 I try to count them—they are more than the sand;
    I come to the end—I am still with you.

Psalm 139:13-18 NRSV (the entire Psalm is awesome)

 

 

Feeling our Worth

This is written by a dear friend. I hope you will enjoy her writing and thoughtful prayers.

prayers of my heart, a collection of articles and writings by Alicia Randolph Rapking

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photo by my friend Terri Cofiell
by Alicia Randolph Rapking
 “Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”  (From “The Sermon on the Mount,” Matthew 6:26)
This year, Christmas in our household was a time of offering practical gifts.  And so, tires and oil and oil changes and a graphing calculator became the gifts that the kids received.  The one frivolous gift, which I have determined is not really frivolous, was the gift of feeding the birds this winter.  New suet cakes, bird seed, and new bird feeders, along with assorted hardware, for hanging the feeders, appeared under our Christmas tree.  Throughout the rest of the winter there will be time for feeding and watching the birds as I sit in silence in my quiet…

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End of Year Contemplation

I think this is a great help. Even though I know these things, I always need reminders when I fall out of practice. Peace to you all.

Meditate & Thrive

new-years-day-1913100_1920I wish you all a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! I am profoundly grateful for the year behind me and for the time we’ve spent in meditation and spiritual dialog together.
I am thinking of you as I prepare my end of year ritual and I share it again with you. If you are inspired, please join me by doing this practice in your home on New Year’s Eve or at a time of your choosing near New Year’s Day. If you do, I’d love to hear from you about your experience. I will be sharing mine.
Rather than looking to what we might change or begin in the new year, this New Year’s ritual is primarily focused on integrating, crystallizing, and celebrating all the learning and blessing of the past year. I share this as one way to honor the end of a calendar year. I hope it inspires you.

Reflection, Contemplation, Integration, Gratitude, Generosity.

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December 2016

Grieving during the holidays, how do we rejoice? Let us always follow the light.

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December 2016 is here already. How did that happen? I’m not sure what happened to the rest of the year. It was a pretty bad year, so maybe I hid a lot. Of course, the reality is that I was sick a lot this year…for most of this year if I’m truthful. I finally had to stop working because my health continued to put me down. Then, the election and wildfires happened in our area. The wildfires still burn and people still feel threatened on many levels.  There’s nothing as frightening as feeling that your world is burning down around you.

 

As I write, I am listening to Don Oiche ud i mBeithil*, a Gaelic Carol trying to get in the “holiday” mood. The chant is lovely and calming. I listened to Of the Father’s Love Begotten, another carol at least ten times. It’s one of my favorite carols. Still, I feel like a stranger in some weird outpost where Christmas is strange and foreign. I bought a beautiful, handmade Advent wreath in preparation, thinking that this household tradition would bring back some of the magic of the holiday. My wife put up a tree. There is beauty and light in the darkness, but I can’t say that there’s magic for me this year.

How can I rejoice, when just over the mountains in Gatlinburg, there are tragic deaths because of fires set by juveniles? Thousands of acres of forests have burned because of arsonists who are not juveniles, who should have known better. How can I rejoice when I know that my young friend who died suddenly has left behind a grieving mother, a grieving family?

I think on my friend who lost her wife of 30+ years, what is Christmas to her? What is Christmas to me as I still grieve my own loss of my dad two years ago? The loss of my old dog, Bear? How long before the magic of Christmas returns again, or does it leave forever if you have no children?

 

Page from a French Book of Hours
Page from a French Book of Hours

Als I Lay on a Yoolis Night is an Old English tune that seems to capture my mood. “As I lay on Yule Night alone in my longing…” is the line speaking to me as well as the tune and haunting sound of harp and psaltry playing accompaniment. As I listen to more ancient carols from different regions, perhaps I want to know that I too can rejoice in the midst of a frightening world. In comparison, our world, with all its craziness is still a safer more stable place than the world that surrounded the writers of these carols. Can I sing even when my heart is breaking? Can I find beauty in the world around me even in the midst of the charred remains of trees of life?

The beauty of the ancient carols, paintings, illuminated pages of prayers and hymns is to remind us that there IS something beyond the sadness. There will be light in the darkness even if we can’t see it at the moment.

 

 


*Gaelic and English Translations

Don oíche úd i mBeithil
beidh tagairt faoi ghréin go brách,
Don oíche úd i mBeithil
gur tháinig an Briathar slán;
Tá gríosghrua ar spéartha
‘s an talamh ‘na chlúdach bán;
Féach Íosagán sa chléibhín,
‘s an Mhaighdean ‘Á dhiúl le grá
Ar leacain lom an tsléibhe
go nglacann na haoirí scáth
Nuair in oscailt gheal na spéire
tá teachtaire Dé ar fáil;
Céad glóir anois don Athair
sa bhFlaitheasa thuas go hard!
Is feasta fós ar sa thalamh
d’fheara dea-mhéin’ siocháin!

I sing of a night in Bethlehem
A night as bright as dawn
I sing of that night in Bethlehem
The night the Word was born
The skies are glowing gaily
The earth in white is dressed
See Jesus in the cradle
Drink deep in His mother’s breast
And there on a lonely hillside
The shepherds bow down in fear
When the heavens open brightly
And God’s message rings out so clear
Glory now to the Father
In all the heavens high
And peace to His friends on earth below
Is all the angels cry

May I Be Worthy…

As wildfires burn in Western NC and fires of protest burn throughout the US, I find I return to prayer. The first word is “why?” The question is the continual prayer of my life in addition this this prayer, “…where is it written what it is I’m meant to be”? God knows I’ve read as many religious books as possible and tried the self-help books. Maybe the answer is only written on my soul.

I have always asked the question “why?” because I am a curious person. I love to learn. I will always ask the question of being, because I want to grow into the goodness that I feel God planned for me.

Yet, there are also questions that are larger than facts – the unanswerable questions. Conundrum, mystery, enigma, these are all embraced in the question of “why?” and in our days of discovery, we do not like to leave things alone. There are things that need to be left alone. Yet, there are always things that need to be questioned too.

 

The challenge of this week, after an election of a man and a vice-presidential candidate who seeks to get rid of people like me (homosexuals) is not where do I stand, but how do I respond? I cannot imagine the terror that people of color feel. What does it mean for me, a person who seeks nonviolence, to respond to someone who advocates hate and deportation of immigrants? I know that I stand for the underdog, the oppressed, the wayfaring stranger. I love diversity and different cultures, people of different races. The environment is important to me as well as human and animal rights. The natural diversity of life is beautiful to me and sacred.

 

Here’s the thing…I’m willing to stand up for others in writing. I can also be present and courageous in person. Because of my health challenges, I can no longer participate in meetings or marches or protests. I cannot go out and sing or teach and preach out in public anymore. It saddens me. I can only write. But the thing that others are reminding me is that writers and other artists can make a difference to empower those who are physically stronger.

 

How can I support you in this time of change? Who are you and what do you need in this moment? I have no money or advice really. Just ears to listen, a praying and loving heart, and words. It is my prayer that that is enough. May I be worthy.
Where Is It Written?  
lyrics from Yentl

PRAYER

God, our merciful father,
I’m wrapped in a robe of light,
Clothed in your glory
That spreads its wings over my soul.
Maybe I be worthy
Amen.

There’s not a morning I begin without
A thousand questions running through my mind,
That I don’t try to find the reason and the logic

In the world that God designed.
The reason why
a bird was given wings,
If not to fly and praise the sky
With every song it sings.
What’s right or wrong,
Where I belong
Within the scheme of things…
And why have eyes that see
And arms that reach
Unless you’re meant to know
There’s something more?

If not to hunger for the meaning of it all,
Then tell me what a soul is for?
Why have the wings
Unless you’re meant to fly?
And tell me please, why have a mind
If not to question why?

And tell me where-
Where is it written what it is
I’m meant to be, that I can’t dare
To have the chance to pick the fruit of every tree,

Or have my share of every sweet-imagined possibility?
Just tell me where, tell me where?
If I were only meant to tend the nest,
Then why does my imagination sail
Across the mountains and the seas,
Beyond the make-believe of any fairy tale?
Why have the thirst if not to drink the wine?
And what a waste to have a taste
Of things that can’t he mine?
And tell me where, where is it written what it is
I’m meant to be, that I can’t dare-
to find the meanings in the mornings that I see,
Or have my share of every sweet-imagined possibility?
Just tell me where- where is it written?
Tell me where-
Or if it’s written anywhere?

From Yentl