A Great and Amazing Journey

I am on the most amazing spiritual journey. 

I thought the only reason God called me step down from pastoring was to do the work of leading POFEV: People of Faith for Equality in Virginia and be a leader among leaders to help in the transformation of Virginia from a state of fear to a Commonwealth of Abundance and Love. 

All that is true, indeed. And it is exciting and wonderful work. 

ImageBut, I am catching on that God also seeks my transformation, moving from someone excessively other-directed to a whole person whose compass is my soul, that is to say God in my deepest heart and being. 

At times wrenching in the pain and upheaval of emotional and spiritual relocation and at other times glorious in the new vistas I see, this is one great adventure. 

As long as I keep God as my guide, I am safe and growing and filled with hope.

And I am blessed. 

To Sweat, to Ache, to Stretch (or Be Stretched): AKA Body Prayer

I sweat yesterday, a lot. And it only took twenty minutes . . . . twenty minutes on the elliptical machine at Snap Fitness.

Snap Fitness logoThat was before Sue arrived to orient me to the strength-building equipment. She explained 8 machines to me, and invited me to use each one, She also showed me a couple of exercises to build strength and improve balance, including something called “the log.”

I signed up for this. Truly I did.

I have several goals–lose those last 10-15 pounds, flatten my abdomen, build upper body strength, among them–but underlying it all is my desire to live a long and healthy life. Or at least to be healthy as long as I am alive.

I read recently about how some scientists now think the ancient biblical idea of the human life span–120 years–may be right. If I live to 120, that means another 53 years!! Woohoo!! I am ready.

Well, actually, I am not ready. I have lost 40 pounds over the past 18 months, but I am woefully out of shape. If I want to live a long time, I must take better care of myself.

I am a child of God. I am one of God’s own family, created in the image of God.

It’s time I started praying with my whole being, not just words and mental focus, but also praying my body. Body prayer means walking with Jonathan and Cocoa, and it means more vigorous cardiovascular exercise–pump up my heart rate–and it means strength training, too (even when it feels like torture).

Snap Fitness RichmondThis is not so much about looking good–though that won’t hurt–as it is about honoring this blessed vessel of God I call my body.

My insurance company pays for me to go to Snap Fitness, to keep their costs lower. Good for them.

I go because I want to deepen my relationship with God–going regularly to prayer service at Saint Snap Fitness is part of my spiritual life now–and because I want to live long and honor God with all of me.

Let us pray . . . .

Thanks. Thanks, for the Disappointment

Friends disappoint us. Even good friends. Communities (including faith communities) disappoint us, even those that feel most like home. People we admire disappoint us. Family disappoints us.

I seem to have more of this than I want lately–if any disappointment is welcome at any time.

Obama disappointedThe particulars are mine, and most of it is not appropriate to share in a public way here. The exception might be that while I continue to admire President Obama a great deal, and count myself among his supporters, I also am disappointed at what feels to me to be his too easy acceptance of an old-style engagement of the world (the specifics await other posts at other times).

Such disappointment, whatever its source and cause, is part of living. The only way to escape it is, I think, to deny all desire and hope. That I will not do. I am filled with both, and live off both. To deny them would be to die. So disappointment, like other unpleasant stuff, happens. Get over it.

No, wait. There’s more. Sure, we can accept how others disappoint us. And even move on.

But we can perhaps learn from disappointment, too.

pessimist is never disappointedFor example, several of my disappointments lately have shown me new aspects of qualities I like in myself, parts of me I want to nurture and grow even stronger. Recently, I experienced a disappointment with a friend that caused me to reaffirm my desire to be generous and forgiving. I could have become angry at the friend who did not share in my desire to be generous to a particular person; instead, I accepted their desire to opt out and at the same time to celebrate “my generous gene.” I want more of that, and this incident helped me see that.

Other disappointments reveal that I may be holding on to stuff that no longer serves me so well. Recently, I realized that my disappointment in another person said more about my desire to be liked than anything else.

In both those cases, my disappointment was real, and even painful, and I see more deeply into myself because of it.

Learning is a gift even when pain is teacherPerhaps as important as the disappointment itself is looking at how I deal with it. Like everything else in life, there may be something for me to learn, not only in what someone else may be saying or doing, or not saying and not doing, but also in what my response reveals about me. My disappointment is my own, created by me, not by the other or others who act or speak in ways I find distressing. What can it tell me?

The rich young man in Matthew 19 walked away, in disappointment, when Jesus responded to his spiritual searching by suggesting he change his life. What did the young man do with that after he left? Did he justify himself (“Do you believe what that spiritual guy said to me?”), did he complain to others how Jesus let him down? Or did he bury the pain? Perhaps all of the above.

I have done all that, of course, and probably will do so again.

But when I can take the hurt out and look at it, when I can turn it over in my mind and ask God about it, and check on deeper feelings it arouses, I may find rich nuggets of self-knowledge that will help me, as Frederick Buechner writes, to live “the life that wants to live in me.”

tangled knotOne very important aspect of self-knowledge is to see what, if anything, I did to help create the disappointment. I have learned, and have to relearn from time to time, that often things that bother me, things that disappointment or anger me, involve some contribution from me in addition to what the other person says or does.

I don’t want to beat up on myself for this, just observe, and use the opportunity to engage in some personal change.

So, bottom line: disappointments come, disapppointments go. They may not feel good, but they can be gifts.

So, perhaps I can learn to say, “Thanks for the disappointment.”


The Case of the Speedy Transitions, or, When Will God Be Honored, Too?

I underwent a pretty speedy makeover recently. Maybe two.

Jennifer McClellan
VA Delegate Jennifer McClellan

Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter Markus Schmidt quoted me and Delegate Jennifer McClellan in the August 6 edition of the paper, calling GOP Lt. Governor nominee E.W. Jackson to task for more of his vitriol–this time calling Democrats “the anti-God party.”

I am always honored to have my name associated with Delegate McClellan. But imagine my surprise, and perhaps hers and certainly my husband’s, when the feminine pronoun was used in reference to me . . . . ‘saying she [Gorsline] believes Jackson owes an apology “to those who are not of his particular faith brand . . . .'” and “Gorsline added she was ‘disturbed’ that Jackson’s running-mates . . . had not disavowed Jackson’s remarks . . . ” (underline mine)

During the phone interview with Schmidt and other reporters I was, as far as I know, the male-bodied person I have been for almost 67 years.

But then something happened. I was not aware of it at the time–apparently it was so fast I felt nothing. I am sure some of my transgender friends would wish for such an easy time. I became Ms. Rev. Robin Gorsline (actually that is my daughter,without the Rev. part–imagine her surprise if there turned out to be two of us).

The Robins Gorsline--Robin Sr. on right
The Robins Gorsline–NOT Rev. Robin on right

Then, presto, due to the magic of online journalism, I was returned to my former, and historic, status, as a male-bodied person.

If you check the story at http://www.timesdispatch.com/news/state-regional/government-politics/jackson-no-apology-for-calling-democrats-the-anti-god-party/article_272f3926-e4dc-54a9-9127-b3c21dd96a12.html you will be reassured about this.

I know Jonathan is relieved.

I do not write this to pick on Markus Schmidt, who seems to be a good reporter, but I am beginning to sense a theme in my life these days. Just the other day, for example, my search for a new watch got me involved in gender examination, and now, a couple of days later, my own gender is on the move.

I think the theme might be this: gender is not as much as it is cracked up to be. Or is it that gender is less than people make it out to be? Or perhaps, it is a lot more, and a lot different, than many of us realize.

Male or female, I strenuously object to Bishop Jackson’s careless, hurtful, inaccurate, shockingly ill-prepared, sometimes vicious rhetoric. And I love my new watch–whatever gender it is, or isn’t,

But. and this is a big BUT, when men like Bishop Jackson, and his running mates–Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and State Senator Mark Obenshain, not to mention Governor Bob McDonnell and Delegate Robert Marshall, and other men of similar views–want to regulate women’s bodies in invasive and other medically unnecessary and morally intrusive and controlling ways, then gender counts for a lot. And when folks make fun of, or speak derisively about, folks in various stages of gender identity transformation and reclamation, then gender counts for a lot. And often, again depending on who is doing the talking and the rule-making and the like, gender carries a heavy and oppressive tone.

Gender Is Gender Is NotSo, I can speak lightly of my speedy transitions, and someone at the T-D can delete the “s’, and all is restored to order, but in reality this just signals how easy it is for some not to pay much attention to something that carries so much weight for so many others.  And even though all it takes is to drop a letter to “correct” my gender, in truth Markus Schmidt probably got it more right than he knows.

I am not just male, not just “he.” Oh, sure I have the parts and the hair on my chest and beard on my face, etc., but gender is a lot more complicated than it seems on the surface. A pronoun does not a gender make. Even when the Times-Dispatch says it.

As more than one writer has said, I am my own gender. It is particular to me. It is “male,” yes, but I have “female” aspects, too.

Which is why I did not make a fuss. I like it when my “female parts” get a little notice. I am proud to be “she.” I am in good company. I have some sadness about being edited back to ordinary maleness so quickly and easily.

Thanks, Markus, for reminding me of how wondrously made I am, and how all parts of me, all parts of each and all of us, reflect the image of God.

And that, of course, is why I so dissent from those who seek to deny the abundance of God’s creation. God is so much bigger than Bishop Jackson will allow. For example, I am quite sure the good bishop cannot abide anyone calling God anything other than “He.”

But I am sure God would enjoy being “She” even just once in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Now that I know how fun that is, how good it feels, I am praying for it to happen soon. God surely deserves it, even more than me.

Why Do Watches Have Gender?

Last week, our daughter Emily was visiting from Mexico. We all enjoyed time at home, just hanging out, sharing meals, and even sharing household tasks.

Emily is a ferocious cleaner, and she really helped us! She even mowed the front and back lawns! Later in the week, she went through her things stored in our attic.

ImageOne result of her cleaning and sorting was that we made several trips to Diversity Thrift–both to give them stuff, and also to buy a couple of book cases we could use as ways to better organize storage spaces in our home. I am telling you, Emily Grace Gorsline is an expert at all this! (she clearly did not get this gene from me–nor from her mother, Judy Gorsline, of sainted memory, either!).

So, after our second Diversity Thrift trip she announced a desire for ice cream. Surely, she had earned that. I suggested frozen yogurt. She agreed.

But first, we went to Target. I needed to buy a wristwatch. I wanted a fabric band–metal bands cause skin irritation on my arm, and I don’t use leather if I can avoid it.

ImageThere were several models in the “Men’s Watches” section. I was about to buy one–a plain black face with black and gray band–when Emily called my attention to one in the “Women’s Watches” section. It had a black band, my preference, and wonder of wonders, the numbers around the face were in rainbow colors. Now, that is a watch for me! I am a rainbow kind of guy.

Joyfully wearing my rainbow watch I drove us to Yapple frozen yogurt on Cary Street. I like Yapple better than Sweet Frog–their hot fudge topping is far superior, and besides Yapple doesn’t sour me on their politics (I call Sweet Frog “Sour Frog” because they support regressive social policies and politicians).

So, there we were, Emily and I, sitting outside Yapple, on the chairs they provide for customers to be seen and see others while eating yogurt, gorging ourselves on soft, cold, goodness.

Emily asked me the time. I proudly looked at my rainbow watch and told her.

Rainbow ceiling inside Yapple Yogurt on Cary Street in Richmond VA

We discussed this vital question: why do watches have gender? The only issue for me had been whether the “woman’s” band would be big enough for my male wrist. It easily was–I have small wrists anyway, not limp so much as just small. The female clerk who sold me the watch said she was wearing a “man’s watch”–it looked like the metal band one I was giving up.

So why do watches have gender? I know men who would like to, and do, wear those “women’s” watches which look more like jewelry, like delicate bracelets with diamonds, etc. I know women who wear big clunky, “masculine” watches and even old-fashioned pocket watches.

And I wear my rainbow watch. After I got home I discovered the band is removable–I began to fantasize about getting bands in different colors, to match my outfit of the day. Did I mention I enjoy rainbows?

Why do watches have gender? Beats me.

Then, why do public bathrooms have gender? More about that another time,

Going Too Far

Editorial page cartoons are meant to rile us up. That is why I generally like them, even when I disagree with the point of view. But sometimes, the artist goes too far. And then it is up to the newspaper or magazine editorial authorities to refuse space to the cartoon. I experienced one such cartoon recently in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. I wrote the following letter to the editor, which remains unpublished. So I am sharing it here.  But first, the cartoon itself. The artist, Robert Ariail is very talented and I have often enjoyed his very pointed humor. I leave it to you . . . (and of course this appeared before Mr. Wiener made himself look even more ridiculous than before–but that does not change my fundamental point about the use of these offensive images).  


To the Editor:

I am disturbed by the cartoon on the editorial page for Thursday, July 11, showing two former New York elected officials, Anthony Wiener and Eliot Spitzer, running like rats.

I understand the reference, and can appreciate the cleverness–although as a person of faith and ordained minister, I hope I am more charitable. Both are accomplished public servants and have done much good, despite their shaming (of themselves and their families, and the voters who elected them) behavior. I am glad that I do not live where I would have to decide whether to vote for them or not.

But what really disturbs me is how the cartoonist appears to have drawn upon ugly Jewish stereotypes from the past to draw these two men. Shame! I say “the past,” but when I see repeated today the way the Nazis pictured Jews (as rats with long noses), and when I read about continuing anti-Semitism (and its relative in anti-Islamic and anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian prejudice, and U.S. white supremacy and racism), I realize the past is still with us.

We have much to do to erase prejudice based on race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender and gender expression and identity, age, and physical and mental abilities.

This cartoonist (and the one who sometimes uses racist references and drawing to refer to President Obama in the T-D) is not helping. I ask you to exercise more editorial care in choosing these cartoons.

Robin Gorsline Signature