Reflections in the Silver Cup

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 the Presbyterian Church, the Reformed faith, the Church Universal, the Jewish faith, the people I see driving to church on Sundays, to temple on Friday evenings, people I know who sit in the teepees of the Native American Church. We are all part of that great cloud of witnesses with whom I cast my lot when I joined St. Andrew. We all bear witness to the law that says that the Whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Every Sunday at St. Andrew, after a confession of sin and assurance of pardon, we sing a short “Kyrie Eleison,” Greek for Lord, have mercy." It is a very old part of the Christian liturgy—Eastern, Catholic, and Protestant—and this too reminds me that I have rejoined something much larger than the small congregation that worships across from my library.

And then the questions:

JB: When you talk about belonging to something bigger, you describe the wider spiritual community as those who “bear witness to the law that says that the Whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” I’m struck by the fact that the parts of this Whole will never agree with each other. What keeps them united as a Whole?

AR: I believe that they are united as a basic fact, which is probably why I used the word law. A law exists independent of our perceptions, our failings, our mostly petty disagreements. Quantum physicists have relatively recently learned what Navajo healers understood for centuries—that in the universe all is connected, and it is that interconnectedness that forms a Whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. Within the wider spiritual community we often don’t seem to want to know how we are connected, to learn what we agree on. Instead, as you say, we focus on our disagreements. But the agreement is there, apart from our human failings. When we study the world’s religions it is clear that there are many principles and even narratives that we have in common. These have the potential for uniting us as a Whole, but we have to desire that and put our energy into manifesting unity rather than division. An all too prevalent commitment to being “right” rather than being in love and harmony is greatly responsible for the divisiveness that threatens the Whole. But the Whole is always in existence. There are many names for that Whole. In Christianity we most often call it God.

JB: Belief—the creeds, the difference between religious doctrines and histories—plays a big part in your memoir. Near the end you also say all you really wanted was to belong. “It was about being a part of something bigger than me, something with a history.” What is the relationship for you now between belief and belonging?

AR: Recently I saw a wonderful meme reminding us that Jesus’s words on receiving someone in heaven are, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant,” not “Well believed, thou good and faithful servant.” Some Christian writers, among them Brian McLaren and N.T. Wright, have been talking about a shift happening within Christianity—a move toward a focus on action, living the gospel, rather than holding to belief as the gold standard. When I sought and found a Christian community to which I could belong, how that community lives the good news of Jesus was what mattered most to me. That this community could recognize that what we believe is, if we are growing spiritually, a process, was essential to me. Our doubts are honored, and with our doubts and our messy baggage we can all be included in the work that Jesus entrusted to us. This is the kind of community to which I want to belong.

JB: How do you see your sexuality continuing to inform your faith or spiritual practices?

AR: Today I’m very grateful for a sexuality that caused me to question pretty much everything that I had been taught. When you have to ask questions about something that most of the Church considers so important, usually that leads you to asking other questions. Finding that my sexuality was different from what I and everyone in my faith community expected of me, led me to see many things differently. Without that, I might not have been so aware of what I see as Jesus’s most radical, central concept of his ministry—wild inclusiveness. My sexuality will probably always inform my commitment to inclusivity in my everyday life and in the spiritual community I’ve joined. It is my sexuality that informs and will continue to inform the knowledge and practice (which I live up to only very humanly) that love is all there is, that we are in love and of love, that as God is love and we are made in God’s image, we, too, are love.

JB: I’m looking at the different themes of the body: Communion is metaphorically body-focused. And yoga, also important in your story, brings its practitioner back to the body. And then, the matter of what bodies you were attracted to. How else has being embodied been important in your journey? I’m particularly curious about the ways that Navajo and Jewish traditions brought you back to the body. Or what does being embodied mean to you as a spiritual person?

AR: I believe that we are spiritual beings living this life in bodies, and that there are many things we are supposed to learn as embodied spirits—things we wouldn’t otherwise learn. It is through both body and spirit that we experience Spirit in all its wonder. In Christianity we speak of the incarnation mainly as it relates to Jesus’s life on Earth. But I think of the whole Universe as an incarnation of the great Spirit we refer to as God, and because we are embodied, we can experience God through our bodies—rejoicing in the natural world as well as in the life of the spirit. When I take quizzes about learning modalities, kinesthetic learning is very high for me, so your attention to the spiritual role of communion, yoga, the bodies of who attracted me romantically and sexually, is right on.

Regarding Navajo tradition, I need to emphasize that what I experienced of it as a child and teen was limited to things that my missionary parents would permit. The sharing of food (communion again) and occasionally its ritual significance, as with the cake made for a girl’s puberty ceremony; learning to weave; hearing the chanting as I was falling asleep—those were all experiences of the body. Much later, when I worked in Navajo education, I learned about the interconnectedness of everything, called k’e, in Navajo cosmology. In that Navajo worldview, I think you can’t even talk about body and spirit as separate entities. As I understand it.

I guess one reason Judaism is so deeply meaningful to me is that its practice is very earthy, too. Food and ritual are very important in Jewish practice. The Christian tradition I grew up in was very parsimonious with ritual, associating it in a negative way with Catholicism. That included being very sparing with communion (we had it only four times a year). But ritual has the power to touch something deep within us, bypassing the intellect and taking us to the heart of God in a way that sermons often don’t. So yes, what I was allowed and later privileged to experience of Navajo traditions and thought and what Judaism has meant in my spiritual life have both helped this spirit live a more embodied life. To be who we were created to be is to fulfill our incarnation. And that also includes living the sexuality with which we were fearfully and wonderfully made.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

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 for him about his strict Baptist upbringing, which had at one time almost drawn him into seminary. His lifetime of spiritual seeking had in many ways paralleled mine, as recounted in the book. I wrote the book for him.

“Your book touched me so deeply,” the woman said through tears. “It’s not because I have a lesbian daughter. That was easy to accept. It’s because I didn’t have that passion for faith that you had as a child and a teenager. My rigid upbringing [in the CRC] left me cold. I walked away and later joined a more open church. I never looked back.” Her tears told me that the church experience that had failed to touch her represented a loss.

“Everyone in your family should read your book. It came from your heart,” my 91-year-old aunt, in so many ways as conservative as my mother, said as we hugged and kissed goodbye.

“I cried through your whole book,” a woman wrote me. She went on to tell me stories of the extreme hypocrisy she witnessed by leaders in her church and how her abusive father called her a liar when she told him what she’d seen. She wrote how she’d been forced to give up a boyfriend she loved because he belonged to the wrong church. Later she attended one of my home readings where she spoke of how church leaders had told the mother of a friend with AIDS that she would be excommunicated if she visited her dying son. This woman, too, left that church for a more welcoming, honest one. She brought the book she’d purchased for me to sign—dog-eared, highlighted, and plastered with Post-its.

“Thank you for writing this book,” The woman at my table said. Then she crouched down to be at my level, to almost whisper in my ear, perhaps not wishing anyone else to hear her doubt, “Do you think there’s hope for the CRC?” I said, not meaning to be glib, “There’s always hope." Later I wrote this ally an email saying, “You are the hope. We are all the hope.” I wrote the book for her.

At the University of Nebraska/Omaha a student spoke up about his father. As the young man described him, I was reminded of Anne Lamott’s phrase,“psychotically Christian.” There was hunger and hope in the speaker’s voice when he asked if my book went in depth into my experiences with non-Christian spiritual traditions. He wanted ways to share meaningfully with his father, whom he loves and respects deeply. Before answering yes, I said I thought he and I must have the same father.

When I was finished signing at UNO, I walked up to the bookstore table to see how many books had sold. The friend who’d accompanied the seller told me how much my reading had meant to her. “I wanted to come up to talk to you at the table, but I was too shy. I’m a lesbian. You’re only the second person I’ve come out to.” Her friend the bookseller was the first.

The next day an instructor at UNO told me how students in her classes talked about the book. One gay man said, “I’ve always thought, ‘Oh, those lucky lesbians. They have it so easy. Everyone accepts them and hates us. This book completely changed my thinking.” I wrote the book for him, though not in any way I had anticipated.

One of my friends gave a mutual friend a copy of the book for Christmas. She wrote me a week later: “Anna, I am so enjoying reading To Drink From the Silver Cup. I am into the section where you are at Calvin. You have such a gift for telling an engaging story, drawing your reader into the myriad feelings you are expressing. I can’t wait to read more of your journey!"

Someone I knew only as an acquaintance became a friend after she read my book. Raised strict Catholic, she has felt both released and bereft after leaving the church as an adult. She wrote, in response to a post on FB, “Well, your book sure impacted me!”

A woman from Minneapolis—a friend of friends—saw my post about taking the Blue Line to O’Hare after finishing my tour in Michigan. She wrote, “Will you be coming to Minneapolis? Please, please, please yes!” How can I turn down a request like that? She wrote more, “I simply devoured your book. For me to read a book in a week (with an 8-year-old, 18-month-old, full-time job and husband who travels) is unheard of. So much of it resonated with me (our similar Dutch upbringing, struggles with doubt, love of mysticism, and leaving a church we love and having to make our home in a new denomination).” I wrote the book for her.

I wrote the book for all of them.

© Anna Redsand All Rights Reserved

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…)

TO DRINK FROM THE SILVER CUP

March 30, 2017

Tags: creativity and spirituality, spiritual journey

Tina doing traditional willow weaving in her garden
SPIRITUALITY AND CREATIVITY
Part III



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.

Tina and I sat for a moment and thought quietly about this. Then I asked, “How has marriage affected your spirituality?”

“Being with Rudi gives me a lot of stability. I know who to love. A lot of the confusion from my younger days is gone. And I know where we live. Because I’m very bevægelig (easily shifting). He’s not. That’s helpful. Secure. It’s a big part of sharing or being in a community. Centering my life in (more…)

TO DRINK FROM THE SILVER CUP

March 21, 2017

Tags: creativity and spirituality, spiritual journey

SPIRITUALITY AND CREATIVITY
Part II



In September, 2015, I interviewed my friend Tina Kragh Rusfort in the village of Vester Skerninge, Denmark. I posted the interview in four parts in May, 2016, followed by a piece on a painting of hers that hangs in my living room. I'm reposting my interview with her because it will be followed by a new interview that represents a companion piece to this one. And because what Tina has to say about spirituality and creativity is of value.

“How did you experience your spirituality as a young adult?” I asked next.

“I experienced it as connected to creating. I had my special, sacred place with my paintings. To paint I needed to be alone, so I set up a nice area with a high quality of aloneness. I loved my colors. I fell in love with them when I was making them wet. So they would be ready for the alchemy. I would surrender to them, making a draft with pen. Then I would let the color talk because (more…)

TO DRINK FROM THE SILVER CUP

March 16, 2017

Tags: spiritual journey, creativity

Tina on the Danish island of Bjørnø
SPIRITUALITY AND CREATIVITY
Part I



In September, 2015, I interviewed my friend Tina Kragh Rusfort in the village of Vester Skerninge, Denmark. I posted the interview in four parts in May, 2016, followed by a piece on a painting of hers that hangs in my living room. I'm reposting my interview with her because it will be followed by a new interview that represents a companion piece to this one. And because what Tina has to say about spirituality and creativity is of value.

I have known Tina Kragh Rusfort since the first time I lived in the Scandinavian Yoga and Meditation School’s Copenhagen ashram in 1991. In fact, that first time, I sublet her room for part of the time. Since I was only in Denmark for the summer then, I’d get shunted around from room to room, but I was glad to have a place to stay. I was there so Cheyenne could spend time with her other mom and her dad’s family, both of whom are Danish.

Most of the folks in the ashram were (more…)

TO DRINK FROM THE SILVER CUP

March 9, 2017

Tags: UNM/Gallup, UNO, LGBTQ Christian

"Collaboration" by Jamie Burmeister
BOOK TOUR JOURNAL 19

THE TOUR RESUMES


Riding Amtrak and flying—not the same as tooling along in Anna’s Bookmobile, but I’m grateful to have gotten back to presenting To Drink from the Silver Cup to various audiences. My first event back on the road (so to speak) was held in my hometown of Gallup, New Mexico in the Zollinger Library at the University of New Mexico (UNM). I’ve never been nervous leading up to these events before, because they’re energizing for me, and the belief that the people who need to hear me will be present has continued to be affirmed in so many ways. But I was nervous about this reading in Gallup.

Although I’d done a couple of smaller events in town at the Westminster Presbyterian Church last October, this was a bigger event, more widely publicized, including an article and photograph based on an interview by star reporter Elizabeth Burrola. In part because of broad publicity, I knew (more…)