Reflections in the Silver Cup

UPDATE ON A HARD TIME IN THE BAY AREA

July 23, 2017

Tags: Briana Kaufmann, memorial

On my last afternoon in the Bay Area, I arrived at the big old Victorian in Emeryville, where Bear and Peter live in two of the three apartments it holds. This was the only time we could meet, working around my book events and Bear and Peter’s time at the Oregon Country Fair (OCF). I wended my way through the riot of plants and trees growing in every container imaginable, and up the back stairs to the deck where I’d sat so often before. The round table was laid in typical Peter fashion with beautifully presented fruits and coconut macaroons. I experienced the feeling that would return again and again during our visit—of everything being familiar but also strange. Briana’s presence there was as large as ever but also deeply absent. Peter said it well, “She’s still here. This is her doing.” By that I think he meant, at least in part, that their home was the result of Bee’s business acumen (she is probably the only artist I know who loved and excelled at commerce) and her wise understanding of giving and receiving the bounty of the Mother. Then he said, and caused us all to chuckle, “She still tells me what to do. The difference is I don’t listen to her as much as I used to.”

We talked of many things—how it went at the OCF, the memorial held there with people who had exchanged art and artistry and fellowship for over twenty-five years, Bear’s work on the creation of carbon-neutral energy production using disposable biomass, the venues where Peter continues to sell his sculptures and jewelry, the memorial held in November in Berkeley, Cheyenne’s work in Denver, Bear’s vermiculture experiment. Bear had gotten out several large boards with photomontages that were on display at Bee’s memorial, and we looked at them together. I asked for a copy of something Bee had written about her Spoon People, and I share a few lines here:

       We need armies of Spoon People to combat
       the cultural boredom of our times.
       We need tribes of Spoon People to remind
       people to honor the earth and celebrate
       the power of imagination and creation.
       We need circles of Spoon People to set
       up lines of communication between us and
       our ancestors so that we many intuit the
       ways to survive the nuclear age.
       We need Spoon People because we need
       objects of inspiration and laughter.
       We need Spoon People because we need
       new mythologies that are women-created.
       We need Spoon People because women are
       no longer bound to the kitchen.

And more…

Peter took me to where Briana hung her own earrings, all of them ones I had seen her wear so often. “I want you to choose a pair,” he said. “These were her favorites.” He left me to spend some time on my own. I didn’t think I could carry off her favorites, but I chose a pair that I had loved on Bee. And I felt deeply the honor Peter was extending me. So deeply. He also had me choose a new pair of his making for Cheyenne.

The time was very intense and yet also relaxed, because of Bear and Peter’s graciousness. I was grateful to see Peter’s equanimity, to see how he’s thriving. Bear took me back to Oakland, where I was staying, and we talked then about Bee’s last months. Gratitude is everything I have for being able to spend this holy time with my friends. All three of them.

When I came home to New Mexico, I made a small memorial of Bee’s Spoon People and her words about them, my way of saying goodbye and honoring a life of most precious meaning. Until next time.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

A HARD TIME IN THE BAY AREA

July 13, 2017

Tags: Briana Kaufmann, death, funerals, memorials

I dearly love the San Francisco Bay Area. I have lived in all three of its major cities: San Francisco, also just referred to as The City; Berkeley; and Oakland. It is a place of great magic and beauty. And memories. And some of those memories came up to whack me from behind on this trip. I’ve always looked forward eagerly to return visits in the past. But not this time, and I was hard put to figure out why. I just knew I didn’t really want to leave Albuquerque, which is not my favorite place, to come to one of my very favorites.

I came up with some reasons, but they didn’t really explain my reluctance. On July 6 I flew into Oakland and met up with Sarah, my Bay Area host and good friend and colleague from Western Michigan University Creative Writing days. We chatted nonstop all evening, much of the time talking about writing projects, as we always do. But the next morning, I didn’t want to get up and enjoy all the places I love—would it be Nabolom Bakery or Arizmendi? Would I walk around Lake Merritt? Stop in at one of the Peet’s Coffee Shops?

I was curiously resistant to doing any of those, but finally at 10 a.m. (practically unheard of), I forced myself out of bed. There was no getting around going out because I had to make copies of handouts for my writing workshop the next day. I took a little time to drink a mug of English Breakfast and write in my journal, and that’s when things snicked into place.

It was last October, shortly before I would leave for my first book event outside the Southwest, that I got an email from my friend Briana’s son Bear. I’d been wondering why I hadn’t heard back from her about my proposed visit to the Bay Area in January. I was shocked to learn that she’d died two months earlier of very fast moving breast cancer. I couldn’t attend her memorial gathering in November, because that was when I’d be conducting workshops at a retreat in British Columbia. Now, on this rescheduled tour, I would be visiting Briana’s son and her partner Peter. Before leaving home, I knew it would be a hard but hopefully also good visit.

What I realized as I wrote and drank my tea was that Briana’s and my friendship had taken place all over the East Bay and over the span of thirty-six years. Sarah’s apartment looks out over Lake Merritt, where Briana and I sometimes walked the three and a half-mile circumference, stopping along the way for a swig at a Mediterranean juice bar. We often walked the trails at the Berkeley Marina together, always talking with great animation; Our spirited expressions were ever inspired by Briana, who was one of the most vibrant, alive people I’ve ever known, and that made her sudden passing without my knowing she was ill all the more shocking.

Memories crowded in—our first meeting at the residential nutrition study that I participated in at Cal Berkeley. Visits later to her apartment on Benvenue from whence we went for pastries at the best bakery in the world—Nabolom. The place on Matthew, where I hammered a few nails and learned to drink Caffix with Berkeley Farms half-and-half. The houses in Emeryville and Covelo and out on the land in Mendocino County. Every place that Briana ever lived was chock full of her and Peter’s recycled metal art and literally thousands of finds from flea markets—an endless feast for the eyes. There were times, too, when Bee (her nickname) and Pete visited us in Albuquerque and our amazing meet-up at the Oregon Country Fair. So many times I sat with her in one of her many booths—many more times than I had thought—at the Women’s Craft Fair at Fort Mason Center, hers and Pete’s at the Marin Farmers’ Market and the Oregon Country Fair. We did the Ashby Flea Market together years ago and visited the Marin Flea Market then too; she and Peter sat with Cheyenne and me at the Albuquerque Flea Market at the butt crack of dawn in the fall. I always came away from our visits with earrings and small sculptures—some as gifts and some as purchases. I tried and did give in return, but also always felt I fell short. Briana was simply larger than life, a woman of great spirit, dedicated to the Mother. We broke bread together again and again. I took care of Bear when he was a baby, and she taught art to our foster son. She affirmed my love of things Jewish and taught me about dedication to the Goddess. I discovered Bay Area eateries through Bee—the hole-in-the-wall, no name Chinese place on University Ave in Berkeley, the Mediterranean on Telegraph, the Cheese Board on Shattuck, Nabolom of course, Doyle Street Café for breakfast, and Edible Complex where Bee taught me to eat desserts left by other patrons when we were that poor. We job-shared as hospice caregivers. And it was Bee who drove me to the Oakland airport for my first trip to Europe, her old Volvo sedan flying off the lip of the Berkeley Hills, into the air and down to the flatlands. Years later I returned the favor, making a last minute rush for the Southwest Chief with her and Peter and their many baskets and bundles to heft on board at the last minute. It wasn’t all sweetness between us. A woman of passion, Bee was much better than I at confronting something that made her angry, and in the hole-in-the-wall Chinese place, she let me have it when I had brought up some banal dissatisfaction. All was forgotten when I got pregnant with Cheyenne, and Bee gifted me with little crocheted caps that Bear had outgrown. There would be thirty years of sisterhood after that one outburst.

Memories assail me at every turn, and I grieve the loss, not only to me but to the world—the loss of someone who gave so much, an activist for many of the causes I believe in, a lover of life. I want to celebrate this woman, and I suppose this writing is a celebration of sorts, but, although I grieved when I first heard, the missing of her comes so much more strongly in this place where our lives touched again and again and again over the years.

A few years back I wrote “Some Thoughts About Funerals” in my Gallup Independent column—about why we go to funerals or memorials—to comfort those who were close, to be comforted by others, to say that someone’s life had meaning, to celebrate that life. I was so sorry not to be able to go to Briana’s memorial. At the same time I was relieved because I was afraid it would be so painful. But I felt bad not to be there for Peter and Bear. It felt complicated, as the death of someone so important to one’s own life can be. Today I am reminded of my column and aware of how essential it is to share our grief as well as our celebration of a life that has been of vital importance to us. I don’t know what my meeting with Peter and Bear will bring. I suspect it will be hard and hopefully also healing for all of us.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

CLARENCE CLEARWATER'S BLEND OF CHRISTIAN AND TRADITIONAL NAVAJO SPIRITUALITY

June 30, 2017

Tags: Clarence Clearwater, Navajo spirituality, boarding school

Clarence performing at the Williams Station before boarding the Grand Canyon Railway
My interview with Clarence Clearwater about his spiritual journey was the first interview I posted on my website, back in 2015. I am reposting it because when I removed my blogged book, To Drink from the Silver Cup Clarence's story was inadvertently removed as well.

Wild West Junction in Williams, Arizona looks like a movie set, although it’s a little too upmarket for that. Arranged around a courtyard where Wild West reenactments and musical performances take place, the buildings contain a restaurant, a saloon, a bed and breakfast, a bookstore specializing in local history, and more. My schoolmate from elementary and high school, Clarence Clearwater walked into the cool semi-darkness of the Branding Iron Restaurant on a late afternoon in early August and led me to a back corner where we sat on rustic benches across a pinewood table from each other. He ordered an Arnold Palmer and I got an iced tea.

Clarence and I both attended (more…)

LIFE PURPOSE AND FEELING ALIVE

June 26, 2017

Tags: purpose, guidance, Thurman, Buechner, Bodovitz, Navajo fiber artist

This blog entry was first published on the Religion Page of the Gallup Independent on June 24, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Sometimes I know for weeks or even months in advance what I will write about for this column. Not so this time. I combed through my idea files and came up with a fat zero. I asked myself, “What do the people of Gallup need from me?” That’s probably an arrogant question, because it assumes that the readers of the Independent do, in fact, need something from me. Then I remembered a quote I had posted a few days ago by theologian Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs, ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go do that. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.”

One of my friends responded that “being alive” is (more…)

JERA BROWN’S INTERVIEW with ME

May 25, 2017

Tags: LGBT Christian, sexual ethics

I first met Jera Brown at my table in the Exhibition Hall at Calvin College’s 2016 Festival of Faith and Writing and a second time at my table at the 2017 Gay Christian Network Conference in Pittsburgh. We agreed there that Jera would post a review of To Drink from the Silver Cup on her blog, Church of the Scarlet Letter. Time constraints turned a review into an interview, which was published just prior to my reading at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago, where Jera was based.

Jera describes herself as a queer progressive Christian, an MFA student (at the time) at Columbia College in Chicago, pursuing a freelance career. She writes that she is also polyamorous and kinky and that her blog is a way of forming and sharing her thoughts about sexual ethics and her faith, among other spiritual questions.

Jera quoted this passage from To Drink from the Silver Cup before delving into questions and answers:

Belonging to St. Andrew is not only about being part of this local gathering but also about claiming kinship with something bigger, something with a history that reaches back through the ages … The something bigger than me is (more…)

READERS AND LISTENERS RESPOND

May 15, 2017

Tags: book tour, LGBT Christian

“This is quickly becoming one of the most important, if not the most important, books I’ve ever read. It’s a life-ring.” In the US we’d call it a life preserver; this comment came by FB message from a young lesbian who attended one of my workshops in Canada. She grew up in the Christian Reformed Church (CRC), the denomination I in which I grew up. I wrote the book for her.

“Can you come to our house for lunch while you’re still up here in Cuba? I’m more than halfway through your book, and I have so many questions I want to ask you.” This man had taught in the little rural school system where I was a school counselor, but we’d never known each other well. I had lunch with him and his wife, whom I knew a little better. Nearing eighty, there was so much unresolved (more…)

OF SERENDIPITY AND MEANING

May 8, 2017

Tags: book tour, LGBT Christian, All One Body, McCormick Theological Seminary, Center for Inclusivity

Reading at McCormick Seminary
I’m standing on an underground platform in a city I’ve never been to—Philadelphia—and I come upon a woman holding a train schedule. I ask her if I’m in the right place for the Paoli line. “Yes,” she says, then asks if I’m in Philly for the Occupational Therapy Association Conference. No, I was there to be interviewed for a documentary film about LGBTQ elders who were impacted by their faith communities when they came out. I tell her I’m on a book tour, and she wants to know what the book is about. My gaydar is buzzing. I’m pretty sure she’ll be receptive. In fact, as I give her the elevator version, she taps her chest, indicating that my story is, in some way, her story, then says that she’s come to no resolution with her religious past in the Church of God in Christ in Tulsa—possibly even more extreme than my own upbringing. “I think you might relate to the book,” and I offer her my card. It’s at this point that we exchange coordinates. Delighted by the surprise that we both live in Albuquerque, we agree to meet up when I get back from touring. If this sounds like a dream, it’s not. It’s the kind of serendipity that has happened again and again on this adventure.

I knew I had embarked on a (more…)

TO DRINK FROM THE SILVER CUP

April 10, 2017

Tags: spiritual journey

COMPARING COUSINS' SPIRITUAL JOURNEYS:
Interview with Danish Scholar and Activist
Charlotte Biil


Nearly two years ago, I spent eight weeks in my country of choice, Denmark. Early in my stay, my friend Tina invited me to join her annual pre-birthday celebration with a group of women on the tiny island of Bjørnø, which lies off the larger island of Fyn. I planned to take a combination of train and bus to meet up with Tina in Vester Skerninge, where she lives. Tina, however, said she thought there would be someone driving from Copenhagen and that I could catch a ride. Sure enough, Charlotte Biil and I started making arrangements to meet. “I’m driving a blue Ford Mondeo,” she texted. I had to look up the Mondeo, because it’s a car that Ford marketed in Europe, a compact station wagon. We met in the parking lot of Copenhagen’s Central Station, and thus began a three-hour trip during which we never stopped talking for long.

There were the usual getting-acquainted questions, first establishing whether we’d speak Danish or English. I always leave that up to the other person, and though later whenever we were in a group, we’d speak Danish, Charlotte chose English. I learned that she was completing her PhD in Public Administration and had held some highly responsible positions in both government and non-profits. In fact, her area of expertise lay in the intersectionality of the two entities. She learned that I had written To Drink from the Silver Cup and was publishing it in serial form as a blog on my website at the time.

Charlotte wanted to know what the book was about, and my answer brought me a surprise from her. I told her about (more…)

TO DRINK FROM THE SILVER CUP

April 4, 2017

Tags: creativity and spirituality, spiritual journey

SPIRITUAL WATER:
The Story of a Painting by
Danish Artist Tina Kragh Rusfort



In 1993, I spent a few months in Copenhagen. By then my friend Tina had moved out of the ashram and was living in a seaside cottage in Snekkersten. The town was once a fishing village, just south of Helsingør, called Elsinore in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Tina and I had arranged for me to visit her in Snekkersten, and for a reason that is beyond me, I decided to walk there from the center of Copenhagen—about 25 miles along Øresund, the sound in the Baltic Sea that separates Sweden and Denmark. The sea sparkled deep blue, and I passed commercial harbors, enormous villas, and beaches peopled by sunbathers.

I was pretty much flat-out when I reached Tina’s cottage just in time for supper. Over the mantel in her living room hung the painting you see here. It was the first (more…)

TO DRINK FROM THE SILVER CUP

April 3, 2017

Tags: creativity and spirituality, spiritual journey

SPIRITUALITY AND CREATIVITY
Part IV



This interview with my friend Tina Kragh Rusfort in the village of Vester Skerninge, Denmark will be followed by a spiritual journey interview with her cousin Charlotte Biil. I posted the interview in four parts in May, 2016, followed by a piece on a painting of Tina's that hangs in my living room. I'm reposting the interview for comparison with the interview with Charlotte.

“You’ve said that you still believe in God. How do you perceive God now?” I asked.

“I want to tell you about this because I was really confused about this priest, and about when people say something that I think (more…)