Browsing the blog archives for February, 2011

Colin Firth – A Stand-In or Catalyst for Us?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Is King George VI in The King’s Speech a stand-in for each of us?  I may not have his speech impediment but I’ve had impediments keeping me from my own voice. Working through my impediments I’ve discovered, as he did, that each of our voices need to be claimed, used and heard. Is this why The King’s Speech resonates for so many of us?

Bertie’s stammer was “blessed” with condescension by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He implied that the stammer and inability to speak in public was something the reluctant king would have to settle on living with. That’s not much different than hearing that your voice, imagination and intuition are diminished because you’re a woman, or gay, or a person of color or an immigrant….

Bertie and his wife refused to buy into that self-diminishment. A commoner and failed actor named Lionel Logue achieved what no other person had been able to do. He allowed Bertie, King George VI, to claim his voice and speech. The result was a leader whose new found voice inspired a nation and the world to defeat the Nazi’s. Claiming your own voice is no less important to the world.

There is no such thing as a “commoner” or “failed person” in the one who eggs us on to trust our voice and claim who we are. Is this part of the power of the role that Geoffrey Rush plays as Logue? No matter our perceived status, the world needs each voice – including yours and mine – because we are each a vital part of the story of what it means to be human and alive. Is this truth part of what we connect with in the roles played by Colin Firth and Helena Bonham Carter?

Those who nurtured and egged me on to claim that part of my voice as a gay man were my spiritual saviors. They knew that until I did so my own self would remain diminished and enclosed from life. Their help was different than the methods Logue used to have Bertie overcome his stammer in order for his voice to become free. But their encouragement, confrontation and support were no less of a life-line.

How do you react to the story of The King’s Speech inviting you to trust your voice? I’m reminded of the unexpected people who have been part of this journey of mine. You’ve probably had similar companions helping you to open the gate to whatever impediment or self-image enclosed you.

I was surprised at my strong emotional reaction to the Oscar awards that went to Colin Firth and The King’s Speech!  It’s more than a beautiful story and powerful acting. It’s an invitation to trust that as much as the British people needed Bertie’s voice so your voice is needed by the world. It’s an invitation to remember that we need our own voice to be fully alive. 

So how has this Oscar winning story had its way with you?

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Libyan Challenge to Free Your Voice

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

“For the first time in 42 years my voice is free.” Transformative words from a Libyan freedom protester in Benghazi. That truth is liberating. Her courage to claim her voice is inspiring. This Libyan woman challenges each of us to courageously claim our voice. Your voice is too important to be devalued in any way.

It is no easy simple thing to claim your voice when you live in an oppressive situation.  I remember the courage that it took for those fighting apartheid in South Africa to use their voices to never let go of a vision of freedom, human dignity and oneness that would ultimately triumph over the decades of a system designed to denigrate and deny the humanity of people.

As I began to discover the truth of the violence of apartheid I found it impossible not to speak about what I was experiencing. I was often greeted with, “you’re treading on dangerous ground; you should be quiet!” and “There’s never smoke without fire; the government must know what it’s doing.”

I was discovering that it is often those closest to us who seek to enclose us by offering their bad advice.  Not because they’re bad people, but because when we choose a path to new truths about who we are and others and how to exercise our voice, they feel threatened. 

When we choose to grow on the path of realizing that our voice is part of becoming fully alive, the anxiety level of those who choose to remain in their own enclosures increases.  Ironically, the more you find your own voice, the more insistent those other voices can become. 

It’s tempting to become co-dependent and buy into the bad advice shrouded in soothing tones about our own welfare.  I’m guessing that the Libyan woman along with millions of her fellow citizens knows the raw truth of that. Stories on National Public Radio and CNN certainly point to that.

In a recent workshop one of the participants raised her hand at the end of the day and said to the group, “I’ve had an epiphany I’d like to share.”  Martha said, “I’ve spent years engaged in contemplative practices.  They’ve been a gift to me. But today I’ve felt like a bird breaking out of my shell learning to sing for the first time.”

Martha went on to add, “I’ve always listened for the voice of the Holy somewhere out there” as she gestured with her arms to the space around her. “I’d never imagine what I was missing in the Holy in here” pointing to herself. Smiling she added, “I feel as though I’m beginning to learn a new song.  The notes and the lyrics have always been there but I’ve never paid them any attention.”

Martha, like the Libyan woman, was discovering that her life was at stake in claiming her voice. 

Our circumstances of being enclosed or penned down may be different than that of courageous Libyans.  But like them our own lives are at stake in the courage and choices we make about letting our voice speak or sing. 

Like the Libyan woman, it is a path that usually connects us in a profound way to the voices of others as we break out of enclosures and discover freedom and dignity through new lenses.  This is transformation!

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If you enjoyed this blog you might want to read Egyptian Protesters: Meekness Be Darned! and Dalai Lama – Invitation to Show Up With Compassion

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Lady Gaga’s Porn Show or Cathedral?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

“Why are you going to a porn show?” I was asked. I’d never thought about Lady Gaga’s Monster Ball concert in those terms. I didn’t know what to think except that I was looking forward to it. This was no porn show. It was a spiritual revival in her very own travelling cathedral.

I was blown away by what I experienced and saw! Yes, it was a marathon dance party set against a production that was part opera, musical and music video. But the main attraction was Lady Gaga and her fans, the Little Monsters.

“I don’t want you to leave here loving me any more than you do” Lady Gaga announced. Then she added a benediction to the Little Monsters, “I want you to leave here loving yourself more.” It was the first sign that this was no ordinary concert with another self-absorbed artist. The concert space was morphing into Gaga’s cathedral where her words about love, acceptance, kindness, justice, inclusion and hope were matched with the passion of a revival preacher.

Lady Gaga grew up Catholic and knows a thing or two about religion. She also grew up teased and bullied for being chunky, not “pretty” enough and ridiculed for her musical talents. When she appears onstage in a bikini it is unexpected. You know that Sports Illustrated would not seek her out because of the ordinariness of her body. Yet she graces the front cover of Vogue this month  – Our Lady of Pop – saying, “I am the excuse to explore your identity. To be exactly who you are and to feel unafraid. To not judge yourself, to not hate yourself.”   

Her bikini is a visual reinforcement of those words of encouragement. But it is also more. A New York Times reporter quotes Lady Gaga saying that each religion hates or condemns a certain kind of person. She says, ”I totally believe in all love and forgiveness, and excluding no one.” When Lady Gaga talks to her fans she is part therapist, part spiritual exhorter – her Little Monsters are of inestimable worth and she wants them to know that. 

The blogosphere is in a flutter over her. Rod Dreher on Beliefnet calls her a “pornography songstress.”  David Mills denounces her emphasis on spirituality. The Latin root word for spirituality means “Breath of life.” The spirituality that Lady Gaga exhorts her fans to is about that breath of life bringing people fully alive. She decries anything that demeans or diminishes another person.  Her God is one of love, inclusion and forgiveness. Her fans eat it up. They’re hungry for the spirit and hope she embodies in who she is.  

When she invites her audiences to join her in financially supporting programs that respond to homeless youth she highlights gay and lesbian homeless teenagers.  “No one” she says, “Should be without a home because of who they are.” The audience responds with the fervor you’d expect at a religious rally.  As she sings about immigration reform and gay marriage in her new song Americano her spirituality of oneness is all at once a prayer, a call to action and a fearless vision.  There are no outsiders in her message. The Pop Theology blog gets that her message about there being “no mistakes” in the creation of any person resonates with the spiritual while confounding religion.

In Lady Gaga’s cathedral she does more than inspire a positive self-image of the possibility of each person. She connects the dots to the sacred found in every person. Those who lambast this miss the point that her fans are people looking beyond the real or perceived exclusion of religion. She points to sacred truths about love and forgiveness.  Ironically these are the core truths present in most religious traditions. Is this why some are so dismissive of her?

I wasn’t sure what to think when I was invited to attend Lady Gaga’s concert. I left as a convert. She is more than a super star. Her music, like the concert halls converted into Gaga cathedrals, is electrifying because of the message she invites people into. The fervor of her fans reactions is even more telling.

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Join the conversation and watch the video Spiritual or Religious?

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Life Lessons from Death?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Death has cultural taboos associated with it.  It is not usually the subject of enlivening conversation.  Chris Glaser describes death as The Final Deadline.  In his new book he names and explores how the many forms of death we experience are invitations to life in the now.  Join us in exploring how death invites us to stop putting life off.

Robert:  In The Final Deadline: What Death Has Taught Me About Life you invite us to name the deaths we experience in the many spheres of our lives.  You seem to be giving us permission to accept the invitation to a life-changing conversation.

Chris: You’ve got that right! In this first question you show great understanding of my intent. I’m trying to open the conversation that will help all of us find how various deaths have shaped our souls—who we are and who we want to be. It’s also a way of honoring those who have gone before us, leading our way.

Robert:  In the current economic meltdown many people have experienced death and loss through becoming unemployed.  For many, it is more than just the death of losing a job but also the loss of part of their identity and of a collegial network.  What hope or learning does your book offer the reader?

The Final Deadline by Chris Glaser

Chris: In the chapter entitled, “Death Made Personal,” I describe a death I experienced in relation to my own vocation—the lack of opportunity, the limits imposed, the loss of colleagues, former and potential. Both being unemployed or being underemployed (an often overlooked “death”) can wreak havoc on a person’s self-worth. I found I needed as many spiritual and personal resources as I could gather to survive, to know I was still useful and yes, lovable.  Without the experience, however, I might not have had the opportunity (shall I say “urgency”?) to write!

Robert:  Your very personal stories about different experiences of death are compelling.  Was there any one experience that led you to offer your wisdom and insight to having this conversation with readers?

Chris: Perhaps it was the preponderance of deaths that I’ve experienced that was my “wake up call.” Every death reminded me that I’ve got to start living NOW, which means finding fulfilling work, opportunities, and experiences. It’s not about finding pleasure alone, but about writer Frederick Buechner’s concept of true vocation being where your greatest joy meets the world’s deepest need.

In the chapter “Death by Plague,” which describes friends lost to AIDS, I tell of feeling “out of community” when I tested HIV-negative, as if I had abandoned my gay brothers. An HIV-positive friend responded with the challenge, “No, you need to survive to tell our story.”  This became true of all those in the book, not just those who died of AIDS.

Robert: You write about The Final Deadline as an invitation to embrace and be embraced by life in the now, in the present.  What surprises have you discovered in your own final deadlines?

Chris: That I have the power, the resources, the stamina to make it. There were points in my life when “One day at a time” seemed too big a chunk for me. My mantra became “One thing at a time”: okay, I’ve done this, now I can do this, etc.  Deadlines can prompt enormous creativity and quick thinking. My brother once commented that having a job as a student was a good thing, because with limited time, one becomes more adept at using time wisely. I think that’s true. I also believe in placing deadlines before actual deadlines—a personal deadline prompts finishing a project before it is actually due, but then gives time to leave it in the computer for a period—even if only overnight—for further reflection and development, giving opportunity for a wiser response.

Chris Glaser

Chris Glaser

Robert:  We’ve each known deaths that bring on what seems like inconsolable grief, or, that leave us feeling utterly bereft.  Our authenticity about what we feel is a vital part of allowing us to journey towards new life and hope.  In those moments we unexpectedly think about how we will live.

Chris: Yes, that’s right. It also provokes us to savor our memories and reach out to others. None of us have to face grief alone, though there are times when only we know what we’re going through. People around us do best by giving us space to cry out. When I euthanized my dog, I wailed like a banshee and threw my body on his corpse. Think how helpful that might be if we could respond so honestly with every death.

Robert:  Our journey repeatedly engages us in the question of “Who am I here to be.”  I’m not an advocate of misery or suffering as a way of being yet my experience is that experiences of death wake me up to life itself.  I’m struck by the joy and delight that you discover by living authentically with such questions.

Chris: Readers might be afraid that my book would be too painful or sad to read, but in fact, both to write it and to read it prove occasions to embrace life—its profundity and awesomeness, as well as its pleasure and humor and serendipity.

Robert:  I love your reminder that fear of death leads to many personal and social ills.  What wisdom would you offer to the person who is not fearful of working through a death of some kind but who is fearful of where it will lead her or him?

Chris: What wisdom would I offer? The wisdom of people around you whom you trust, whether friends, family, spiritual guide, therapist, spiritual community, or pet.  Consult your heart, but also consult the hearts of those who love you, respect you, and will be there for you. This balance is needed, especially in the throes of grief. I dedicated my next book to three who saw me through such a fearful time.

Robert: Your compassion towards yourself and others radiates from the pages of this book.  There is a loving tenderness to the conversation that you invite readers into.  What grounds and sustains you on this road to all that matters – love and compassion!

Chris: Thank you! That’s kind! What grounds me is the love and compassion that I have received from my parents to my partner, and all those friends in between. Even more so, the unconditional love and absolute compassion I experience during my morning prayers. Death has above all taught me gratitude for all that God has to offer.

Robert:  In the face of despair and uncertainty your stories are filled with abundant hope and a certainty that life beckons us to become more fully alive.  It feels like a blessing of encouragement. 

Chris: Coming  from you, Robert that means a lot— because that’s what your life and work is all about. May all come to such a place of hope. Thanks for this opportunity to talk about my book.

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Order Chris’ new book The Final Deadline by going to the Resource Page

Robert and Chris will be co-leading a retreat November 10 – 13, 2011 – Gratitude in Three Movements –  at Kirkridge Retreat Center in Pennsylvania.  Register on the Kirkridge website

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Egyptian Protesters: Meekness Be Darned!

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

Courageous Egyptians are saying, “Meekness be darned” in their quest for freedom, human rights and democracy. Their voices resemble that of another Egyptian named Moses. The protesters are inspiring others to claim their voice and imagination. In the process they reminding us of what meekness really is.

Egyptian voices for freedom refuse to accept the wily machinations of their modern day pharaoh. They know all too well his manipulative and corrupt use of power to deny the fully humanity of his fellow citizens. Their voices for freedom know that the journey to creating the new human involves claiming their own humanity. They’re breaking out of the enclosure that their president has attempted to keep them penned into.

Moses did not have the tools of social media and El Jazeera at his disposal in inviting the Jews who lived in Egypt to mobilize in the same way that todays’ protesters do. Those who wrote about Moses presented him as the courageous leader on a pedestal. That is very different than the mass groundswell for freedom that has emerged in Egypt today.  Or is it? 

Moses’ success in confronting the Pharaoh depended on the Jewish people living in that country keeping alive the image of a Promised Land of freedom. Like the modern day Egyptians their identity as human beings was connected to their willingness to say no to being constrained.

The biblical stories about Moses celebrate his “meekness.”  At first glance that seems like a contradiction to us. Weak, abused and doormat all mingle together when we think of “the meek.”  Those images of meekness were the consensus of a recent discussion I participated in on Darkwood Brew about being the concept of “the meek.”  They are life-draining negative images about suppressing the spirit and humanity of people. The evidence points to a different story of claiming your voice and embracing life fully.

Many of us have experienced the religiously infused cultural use of meekness as code language for being pliable, subservient and obedient. It smacks of being a Jell-O person. Those invested in keeping people enclosed from their fully humanity rely on these expectations of meekness. It is no doubt what the Egyptian president would like to return to in suppressing the humanity of his fellow citizens. But there is another way to thing about the meek creating the new human.   

Moses’ courage to speak from his heart against the might of an all-powerful leader and regime shone through in spite of his attempts to deny his own voice. He tried to find an excuse to avoid speaking for freedom by hiding behind a speech impediment. Not too different than our attempts to say “my voice won’t make a difference.”

The meekness that Moses is celebrated for is the way in which he and his unlikely small band of people defeated the military might of the pharaoh. It is a meekness that said “no more” to denying freedom.   

Meekness be darned means banishing our popular associations of the word with wimpiness. There is nothing timid about the historic figure of Moses or the millions of modern say Egyptians pursuing a similar yearning. The Pharaoh of Moses’ time used every resource at his disposal to crush the imagination and aspiration of the Jewish people taking freedom into their own hands. Plagues, pestilence and a mighty military were all deployed to try to crush them. Egypt’s current pharaoh may well employ a modern day version of the same playbook.

If the meek do “inherit the earth” it is because individuals have the courage to celebrate, claim and believe in the power of their own voice. It is because those individual voices reflect an imagination inviting us to imagine how things might be and then to work for its realization.

Is this why the courage of ordinary Egyptians is inspiring so many around the world? Is it because they remind us that change, hope and freedom invite our participation? 

Egyptian voices for freedom invite our support. They remind us of our deepest shared yearnings. They set an image before us of a sacred field of life on which we meet one another. How will we reflect that oneness with them? What shall we do in our lives with our voice and imagination?

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Discover Alaska – Discover Yourself!  Join Robert in Alaska July 2011 – click here

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