Those Misleading Rainbow Flags

Image from raiweb.net

Image from raiweb.net

“We can either emphasize those aspects of our traditions, religious or secular, that speak of hatred, exclusion, and suspicion or work with those that stress the interdependence and equality of all human beings. The choice is yours.”
~ Karen Armstrong, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life

“When I was 13 years old, my beautiful mother and my father moved me from a conservative Mormon home in San Antonio, Texas, to California, and I heard the story of Harvey Milk. And it gave me hope. It gave me the hope to live my life; it gave me the hope that one day I could live my life openly as who I am and that maybe even I could fall in love and one day get married. Most of all, if Harvey had not been taken from us 30 years ago, I think he’d want me to say to all of the gay and lesbian kids out there tonight who have been told they are less than by their churches, or by the government, or by their families, that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value. And that no matter what everyone tells you, God does love you, and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally across this great nation of ours.”
~ Dustin Lance Black

 

I have been staying in a stately old area of Brisbane this past few weeks. These suburbs have grand old trees, some beautiful old houses, and many churches. It’s an established area. A conservative area.

Recently, a church that I frequently pass decked itself out in rainbow-striped flags and bunting. It coincided with the day of the Sydney Mardi Gras.

Oh, I thought to myself, that’s wonderful. How welcoming! You see, I expected that those rainbow flags meant something.

After all, the Sydney Mardi Gras is one of the world’s most iconic, inclusive and joyful celebrations of the Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Queer, Transgender and Intersex community.

And to be truthful I was also grateful for those flags after a friend’s young teenager had attempted suicide in that same week as a result of being bullied at school for being gay.

Image from mardigras.org

Image from mardigras.org

Image by Hamid Mousa

Image by Hamid Mousa

A few days later, walking past the rainbow-bunting festooned church, I said hello to an older lady there.

We spoke of the weather, she admired my dog, and she asked where I lived. Had I been to the church before? Would I like to come along and join them?

I thanked her for her kindness and then told her of my surprise and pleasure that the committee had decked out the church with all those rainbow flags.

‘Why?’ she said. ‘Do you like rainbows?’

‘Of course,’ I answered, ‘who doesn’t?’

She smiled at me.

‘You did realise that those flags are also a symbol used by the LGBT community?’ I said.

She looked at me, her face suddenly furrowed into a look of confusion.

‘The lesbian gay, bi and transgender community,’ I added for clarification.

‘Oh,’ she said sharply.

The look on her face said it all. No, she hadn’t known.

She stared at me for a minute, and then she said angrily,’They are rainbows. We thought the children would like them.’

‘So the flags aren’t welcoming the LGBT community?’ I asked.

She didn’t say no. ‘They’re rainbows,’ she said. ‘Anybody’s free to use them.’

‘I see,’ I answered. ‘Well, thanks for talking with me.’ I turned to walk away.

A second or two later I heard her hiss ‘Hippy do-gooder’ under her breath, but loud enough for me to hear. To a friend who had just joined her she muttered, ‘One of those people…’

If only she knew.

I’m not actually LGBTI. I’m psychic. Different closet, but often similar reactions and discrimination on coming out. I’ve had Christians denounce me for being an abomination in the eyes of God, and an instrument of the Devil. I’ve had Jehovah’s Witnesses stand on the footpath outside my home every Tuesday for three solid years praying for my soul.

As insults go the ones from the church woman weren’t so nasty. But it certainly didn’t make me feel like I wanted to rush and join her congregation. If they don’t happily accept the LGBTI community, I’m sure they won’t be all that welcoming towards a practicing psychic with strong leanings towards buddhism, druidism and aboriginal mysticism. A psychic whose friends and family include those people, as well as a rainbow tribe of faiths, beliefs, traditions and viewpoints.

Image from buzzle.com

Image from buzzle.com

The rainbow flags and bunting are pulled down now. Like all of the churches around here their congregation numbers are dwindling as our lives and lifestyles change. These churches are doing what they can to draw people back to the fold, and that bunting did look pretty!  I hope they found the kind of people that they want to attract to their own branch of the community.

I don’t think that dwindling church numbers means we are less godless as a society. So many of us have found our own ways to connect with an energy and space of divinity within us and around us that better reflects our values and beliefs.

I’ve drunk from the well of many faiths, and found something at each place that has nourished me. But I’ve often wondered if my welcome would have been as warm had they known who I was or what I did. You can’t tell what’s inside a person by the way they look. I look quite average and respectable from the outside. My mother raised me to have nice manners. I know how to fit in.

I respect the right for anyone to have at your table those people with whom you feel comfortable. But if you invite me to make your table my own, I would like to think that all of my friends and loved ones are welcome; those of different faiths and beliefs, those of different cultural heritages, those of differing sexual orientations, those who believe in God, and those who don’t. So many of my friends don’t believe in the God that was taught to them at school. They see themselves as atheists or agnostics. Ant yet some of these people demonstrate the most Christian values and character I know. Just because you do not believe in God does not mean you are godless or lacking goodness. Isn’t the Divine an energy that dwells in us all?

I’m not sure there is a faith or religion encompassing enough for myself and all of those I love and hold dear. Right now, I think the best chance of creating the inclusion I desire is if I go place a table under a tree, festoon it with lights, lay out some food and invite you all to come join me as friends – in the spirit of kindness and compassion. In the spirit simply of love.

I hold out hope that love and kindness towards all people is possible. I pray for a quiet revolution of inclusive hippy do-gooders across the world, creating tables where all are welcome to sit, share and be nourished and supported.

That’s the kind of world I want to live in. How about you?

Image from pinterest.com

Image from pinterest.com

Sometimes We Just Need A Hug

Image from A Purple Puffin

Image from A Purple Puffin

“Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” 
~ Anonymous, Holy Bible: King James Version

 

Yesterday morning, very early, my husband took me out to an inner-city cafe for a good coffee. We took a sidewalk table, and Ben went inside to place our order.

While I waited for him a young man came around the corner, his eyes red rimmed, his distress obvious for all to see although he was doing his best to hold things together.

He walked across to a post office box and checked for mail, and then walked past me again. Just a few feet further on he stopped in front of a shop window, his shoulders heaving with silent sobs. A moment later he crammed his fist in his mouth to stop from wailing.

“God, honestly…” a patron at another table complained loudly. “Gay men are just so dramatic. Go home, sweetheart!”

Before I knew what I was doing I was up and on my feet, rummaging for a clean tissue in my pocket. I put my hand on the young man’s arm.

“Are you alright?” I asked.

He shook his head. No. No, he wasn’t. The absolute agony on his face was heart-rending.

I pulled him in and held in my arms, and let him cry on my shoulder until there were no more tears to cry. I gave him the tissue.

“Will you be okay?” I whispered.

He nodded. “Yeah. Thanks,” he whispered back, squeezing my hand and trying his best to smile. “My dad just died. I hadn’t spoken to him since… well, you know. I loved him anyway. He was my dad.”

We hugged again, and he went on his way. Ben came out and we sat back down.

“Who was that?” my husband asked. “Was he okay?”

“He’ll be fine,” I said, sipping my coffee.

“Did you know him?” my husband pressed.

“Not personally, but my heart I did,” I answered.

 

When we are brave enough to be open and vulnerable – when we meet heart to heart, soul to soul – we are never strangers, we are only love.

You being here makes the world a better place. Be love today.

Image from Lalumuk

Image from Lalumuk

Ghosts, Bones, Love and Forgiveness

Image from Jagero

Image from Jagero

“The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.” 
~ Mahatma Gandhi

 

Many years ago a woman came to me for a psychic consultation. She was probably about the age I am now, and she had travelled a great distance to see me in person.

She wasn’t my usual kind of client. She was an angry woman. Angry at the world. Angry at me. So angry, and so rude and dismissive of my abilities, so defensive and antagonistic that I wondered why she had come at all.

Of course she didn’t tell me. When I explained what I normally do in a consultation she stayed silent and grim mouthed. I could feel resentment ripple off her in waves. I also knew she was deeply tormented.

Towards the end of our session I asked if she had specific questions or photos of anyone she wanted to ask about. Until that moment she had not acknowledged her torment. She had blocked me at every turn. The woman took out an envelope and removed a picture which she passed across to me. It was a photo of three young children. Her children, taken when they were much younger. Two girls and one boy.

‘That’s me,’ a voice said in my mind. Not my voice, a male’s voice. ‘That’s me’. And I then felt rather than heard the name ‘Andrew’. I glanced briefly at the girls, both bright and intelligent. The older one was cowed now, although you couldn’t see that from the picture. I just knew. She was cowed and broken-hearted and downtrodden by life. How do you tell that to a mother?

The second daughter was now gone. Not dead. I mean gone as in emotionally absent, and by the feel of things, a long way away. I knew she had cut herself off from her family in order to survive better in the world.

The smiling young boy, Andrew, was the one I got the clearest connection from. I couldn’t feel him in the same way that I felt his sisters. But Andrew had a heart full of love, and I could feel how close he still was to home, emotionally and physically. He was clever too, and had loved to dance when he was little. Shy with strangers. I also knew he was gay.

What do you want to know, I asked.

The boy… She stopped herself from saying ‘my son’. He’s twenty. He left home. We haven’t had any contact with him for over a year.

It filled the space between us. So, it came across as anger, what this woman exuded, but as soon as she said ‘the boy…’ her heart opened up and I felt into her river of shame and guilt and love and hurt and loss. Her anger was the repressed expression of unbearable pain.

Are you asking if he’s okay, I said, swallowing, because I knew that he wasn’t.

No, she spat out. I want to know if he is queer. A homosexual, she added. It’s not normal. He can’t come home if he is queer. We won’t allow it.

But you already know the answer to that, I said. He is also your son, he loves you very much, and this is not a choice. He did not choose this. This is how he was born. This is how God made him.

She held my gaze, her face mottled red. No! That is a sin against God. That is not how we brought him up. How can we fix this? What do I have to do to fix this illness so that he can come home again? He’s our only son. He’s disgracing our family name. His father will never forgive him unless he renounces that sinful lifestyle. I need to know where he is so I can get him help and bring him home.

Andrew, I said softly. His name is Andrew. I was shaken by her anger, her rage at her son. Her hate.

How do you know that? she yelled.

Because he’s telling me, I wanted to say. But I didn’t.  And anyway, I knew, and I think she did too. He was dead.

Before I could answer she stood up so suddenly her chair fell over behind her. It was a mistake to come, she shouted. You too are an abomination before the eyes of God. I won’t pay. I won’t listen to your rubbish.

She left my office, slamming the door behind her. I was so shaken that I cancelled my next appointments and went home.

About a year later Andrew appeared to me while I was meditating. He was worried about his mother. He showed me that he had taken his own life because he knew that he was gay, and he couldn’t stop being gay. His mother had taken him to a psychologist, the church had made him do a program, but still this thing in him was there, needing to be expressed. He didn’t want to lose his family. So how could he live, when they hated everything that was this thing deep inside him?

He’d barely finished school when he decided what he must do. He packed up a few of his things so it would look like he’d run away. When he next left the house he took those things and put them in an industrial bin at the local shopping mall. Then he went home and into the woods near his family home, where he took his own life. It gave him comfort as he was dying, to have his home so close.

His father was sure he’d run away, and from that moment Andrew had ceased to exist for that man. But his mother had been frantic. Deep inside she’d known, even though there was no proof. Even though his parents had never even reported him missing. After all, Andrew was an adult now. He’d finished school. These were his choices.

Andrew wanted me to tell his mother where he was, and what had happened so that she would stop looking for him. He showed me the national park near his home. He asked me to tell his mother he was sorry. Not for being gay, but for having put the family through trauma. He was sorry too for not having the strength to live. He loved them all so much. And he wasn’t lonely. He was with Boo.

I found the woman’s details in my file. It took two days to muster the courage, but I called her and I passed on the information, including that Andrew was with Boo, whoever Boo might be. The woman listened to what I said and then hurled abuse at me and told me never to contact her again.

So, nearly ten years later, Andrew came to visit me again. He kept me awake most of the night. He told me that he wanted me to let his mum know that he loves his family and watches over them, that he hears their prayers, and that he forgives them. That his mum can still find happiness in this life. Also, that his oldest sister is pregnant, although she does not know it yet, and that the baby will be a girl. Comfort my mother, he tells me. Make her understand it’s all okay.

I am at my farm and my client files are in my office in Brisbane. It will be days before I am back there. Anyway, I cannot remember his mother’s name and I had promised to never contact her again. What can I do? I get no sleep for the worry of it. For wanting to do the right thing and for being sick to the stomach at needing to contact this woman again. Because, of course, I will.

The next morning I am in the car, thready with lack of sleep, my husband driving me home from breakfast at a favourite cafe, when my mobile phone rings. A woman asks if I am Nicole Cody. When I say yes, she tells me she has flown a long way to see me. She is standing outside my old address but the people there told her I moved years ago.

It is Andrew’s mother.

Can she get a cab to where I live now, she asks.

No, I tell her. I’m interstate. I live on a farm now. I felt bad that she had impulsively travelled so far, that I cannot tell her what I need to face to face.

Before I can say anything Andrew’s mother apologises to me for her behaviour. She tells me that she is no longer with her husband, who is a minister of a particular church. Her oldest daughter is still involved with the church, but married to someone outside the church. Her daughter is conflicted because she has been unable to conceive and finally she and her husband have resorted to IVF which is outside the teachings of that faith and considered a sin. Her other daughter went to Europe over ten years ago, and only came home last month. But she is going back. The daughter will not stay. She has a new life now.

She is talking and talking, Andrew’s mother, but I know these are not the things she wants to tell me. It is not why she travelled so far to try and see me.

Still she talks. I know you were telling the truth, that day you rang me, all those years ago, she said. Boo was my grandmother, who died before Andrew was born. I had never told the children her name. To them she was always known as Granny Parsons. But Boo was what I called her, my special name for her from when I was a little girl.

Here it comes, I think to myself. Here it comes. My arms are covered in gooseflesh.

Two years ago, she says, a hiker found human remains in the park that shares a boundary with our house. I thought of what you’d said and I went to the police. I told them Andrew had been missing all this time. I told them the whole truth. They used DNA to match the bones to my son. I hear the catch in her voice as she says the word bones, and feel my heart breaking for her.

You were right, she continues. He was there all along, and his body has lain in direct line of sight with my kitchen window all that time. Every morning, every night, I was looking out over him, and I never knew. I am so sorry that I was rude to you. Please forgive me. We buried Andrew a month ago. I knew that he was gay from when he was a tiny child. He killed himself because we did not act with love in our hearts about accepting his truth. We put him in a terrible position.

My husband still will not say his name. He did not go to the memorial. He cannot acknowledge Andrew and now he will not acknowledge me. I am cast out of our church, and I am okay with that. A God that cannot love their own creation is not a God I can believe in. She starts crying. Sobbing over and over, I am so sorry. I am so, so sorry.

I pass on the messages from her son. She is sobbing so hard that her breath is coming in hiccups. Will you be okay, I ask as her breathing settles. Yes, she tells me. Yes, I will. I know that she is telling me the truth. In her not-being-okay, she will still be okay. She will live with this Andrew-shaped hole in her heart but she has two living children she can be there for now, and a granddaughter on the way. I feel a shift in her; a sense of relief and a clearing of heaviness. I am crying too as I hang up the phone.

Later I pray that Andrew’s mother can find peace.

Love, acceptance, forgiveness, compassion. In the end it is these things that matter. It is these things that endure.

I am grateful that I was able to help. But I am shaken, and fragile and exhausted. I keep my family close all day. I spend the evening in the company of my husband and dear friends. There is a deep need in me to affirm my life and what matters.

Sometimes what I do is hard, and it takes everything I have.

But it is worth it.