Browsing the archives for the Claiming Your Voice tag

Gay, Spiritual & Fully Alive

Robert V. Taylor

This blog first appeared in LA Weekly June 4, 2102, in response to their question “What does it mean to be gay?”

I’ve discovered that my spirituality is informed by being gay as much as being an out gay man shapes my spirituality. Gay, spiritual and fully alive is a choice about how to be human.

To be out, proud and thankful for it does not come easily to many LGBT people. I recall the shame I felt as an adolescent struggling with my sexuality. Surely the messages that religion tweeted about us could not be true? The agitated righteous anger of so many religious people was my clue that religion was huffing and puffing to conceal a more generous spiritual path.

In my teenage despair I thought it would be easier to end my life. I collected a handful of Paracetamol pills from the jar my mother kept, squirrelling them under my pillow for the night when I would end it all. On the night my shame seemed overbearing I took the ten pills I’d collected and said “I hope you’ll still love me God.” I was surprised to wake up the next morning as my mother called out to ready me for school.

To be ready for school became a metaphor for going beyond my fears readying me for a different path. I’ve never forgotten my thankfulness for being alive that morning. I still had years of work ahead to accept, love and be proud and thankful for the gift of being gay – a journey whose truths I would never have known otherwise. It’s given me a lifelong passion for every person to have the love and courage to embrace their identity.

That thwarted attempt on my own life left an indelible mark of wanting young LGBT people to have role models and mentors so that they will not harm or take their own life. Even with the seismic shifts in the acceptance of LGBT people the struggle to come to terms with sexual orientation is still a minefield for young people who are bullied and harassed for who they are. I can give back by being proud and sharing the resources of truth that keep me ready to be enlivened.

I’ve learned that courage is not about the celebrated triumphs of those we lionize. Courage is about love which begins with self-love. That’s a lifelong journey for many. I began to pay attention to the spirituality of love and compassion that knew no exclusions. It terrified me at first but I intuitively knew it was an invitation to love that embraces all – even me – including our sexual identity.

My own well-being was not visible on the GPS of my life back then. My young adult involvement in the anti-apartheid movement was rooted in justice and inclusion for all. Except for myself! To discover well-being is to seek happiness. Not the happiness presented by what we consume or own, but the happiness that is discovered in eternal truths about our own beauty and purpose in life.

Along the way I’ve discovered that the arc of my own story, like that of every other person, reveals spiritual wisdom and truth. It emerges when I stop compartmentalizing my life and see that all of the wonder, shame, regret and joy of life form a narrative that allows me to be compassionate about my story and life. Our story is not a series of unrelated experiences but a vessel of spiritual insight inviting us to live in all of our magnificence.

In naming my love and sexual orientation it points me to the invitation to live an intentional integrated life in which every facet of my being is cause for thankfulness. Spirituality is not disembodied – it is revealed with each embrace of our identity.

The courage of self-love, our own well-being, the spirituality revealed in our story and thankfulness about human sexuality is not a treasure for us alone. I need others to claim those same truths for themselves – then the celebration and journey of being at one with me as a gay man makes spacious room for others. It is a generous, joyful and enlivening choice about being who you are. How will you choose?

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Your Voice as Person of the Year?

Robert V. Taylor

The Protester has been elevated by Time Magazine to a richly deserved new status. When you claim your voice as an individual you become more fully alive. When your voice joins together with the voice of others for the well-being of many you become more fully human. The Protesters invite us to new awareness about our oneness as human beings.

From the streets of US cities to those of Egypt, Libya, Syria, Myanmar and other countries a common human thread is being given voice to. It is the human yearning for our interconnectedness and shared humanity to be dignified and honored.

In place of the narrow interests of a few, the Protesters who Time honors as the Person of the Year demand that the well-being of all be reflected in political and economic arrangements marked by fairness and opportunity.  It is a reminder that our humanity is all bundled together. 

While the specifics of what that looks like will always vary from country to country the yearning for freedom and accountability stands in stark contrast to the violence inflicted by severe distortions of economic and political benefits that accrue only to a few. The magnificence of each person flourishes when the well-being of all marks how we engage with one another.

No wonder Time highlights the Protesters. They invite us to remember that our humanity and purpose is best discovered together.

The invitation to this truth is discovered each time we claim our voice. With every seemingly small contribution in our local communities our voices collectively turn into actions that seek to expand what it means to belong as members of the one human family. Every voice is of value; every voice is important; every voice is needed.

How will we each join with others as Persons of the Year in words and acts that point to the truth that we perish or flourish together?

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Is Gay Spirituality Better…?

Robert V. Taylor

Robert V. Taylor

“Gay spirituality is better than any other” – the reporter desperately wanted me to endorse his belief.  I wasn’t going there. Righteous spiritual segregation is antithetical to the idea of a spiritual journey. So where does spirituality
for LGBTQ people connect with the human family and the Holy?

Our normative story usually includes experiencing bullying, fear of coming out, rejection by family when we do, the Holy used by religion to condemn.  We
might even be the victims of violence or discrimination. Our journey also
contains another story line. It is about courage and love birthed in us.

A more spacious invitation than the reporter’s belief invites us in. Spirituality in not about a theory, it is discovered in the reality of who we are. I’ve discovered that in the spiritual journey of immigrants, women, people of color and other minorities my own journey is inspired. Many of us fall into several self identifying categories.

The question is not whether your spirituality or mine is “better.”  It’s how does your journey create empathy with others?  How does your spirituality get fed by the
wisdom of those who are different from you? How does it connect you to oneness
with others?

Unlike the belief of that reporter my spirituality is not celebrated as a “better” treasure. I discover a much richer inclusive path in three pathways to celebrate and share the gift that is my life.

Whoever and whatever tries to define you wants to confine you. It creates an enclosure keeping you from the Holy discovered in your life. In accepting an enclosure you become cut-off from the unique gifts that only you have to offer.
You deprive yourself and the world of them. Allowing yourself to be enclosed can happen subtly over time. The good news is that we have a choice to break out of the enclosure.

When we discover our voice and claim it as an LGBTQ person we are on sacred ground. Instead of listening to the bad advice of those who do not want you to claim your voice, you discover that in the Holy is present in it. Not outside “there” somewhere, but in you.  You begin to be free of a narrow consciousness. Claiming your voice is a spiritual practice taking you to a field of feasting with others.

The Universe needs your story as much as that of anyone else. As you tell your story you discover self-compassion. In the telling you become awake to the sacred in you as an LGBTQ person. As you settle in and celebrate your voice you begin to listen to the stories and voices of others with new attentiveness. They become connecting stories. Through them your appreciation and love for yourself and others deepens. You discover a new way of being alive.

These three pathways of moving beyond enclosures, discovering and trusting your voice and connecting stories are markers of your authentic experience of being gay.

Love is the only thing that matters on our spiritual quest. Everything else pales in comparison. I am loved by the Holy for all of who I am. It’s a struggle for many to know and believe it every day. When I love myself and know that I am loved life becomes more radiant. I become more fully human, more alive as I am.

It takes courage to journey through the three pathways. The root word for courage means love. To be grounded in love we cannot avoid being courageous about who we are. Not the lonely isolated warrior courage, but the courage discovered in trusted people to call on along the journey. It’s all part of our spiritual positioning system.

When I’m grounded in these three pathways my encounters with others become sacred ground. Like the Hindu greeting Namaste the light me honors the light in you.

The three pathways are not just for GLBTQ people. Love and courage are not confined to GLBTQ spirituality. They’re each part of our common journey to become fully human –  as we are. We bring to the journey the only gift we can – ourselves.

So what are the markers of your spirituality?

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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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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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