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Queer Spirituality
by Rev. Nano Boye Nagle

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Beltane 2004, Vol 3-3
MatriFocus, a Cross-Quarterly Web Magazine for Goddess Women Near & Far
Kindness is lost when facts and rules become more important than people.
Good Religion, Truth and Kindness

Queer Spirituality is as yet unformed and beautifully undoctrined. The fact that it is not fixed allows me to present my case for Queer Spirituality as the practice of Good Religion. Good Religion is a spiritual practice that provides guidelines for ethical alchemy(1), the source of our ethical choices. Queer culture gives voice to the cosmology and thealogy of the individual with equal appreciation and respect. Good Religion blends micro and macro perspectives, the inner life married (or not depending on where you live) with canon and practices for interacting in the world.

When we choose to embrace the path of Queer Spirituality, we are called to walk the path of the spiritual warrior. There are many scholarly metaphysical or doctrinal definitions of a Spiritual Warrior; they all require a form of kindness and compassion as a requisite of the path. For us it is essential, because kindness is the main defense we have against the bigotry, misinformation and violence in the worlds around us, and compassion for ourselves is the foundation of personal power.

The most common usage of kind is "Affectionate, friendly; considerate; doing good to others; expressing affection, benevolence."(2) I expand that to include doing no harm, gentleness and choosing to enhance life. The Wiccan and Goddess traditions are not known for the practice of kindness, perhaps this is because witches, like most other religious people, can be somewhat blunt and forceful when asserting their rights against those who misunderstand and fear them, against patriarchy. However, I would argue that the witches creed, "Do what you will but harm no one," implies the practice of compassion and kindness beyond selfishly-motivated desired outcomes.

I began thinking about kindness and compassion because I heard a line in a song:

Would you rather be right or kind?

At first this seems like a no-brainer. Of course I'd rather be kind; I know how to be kind, besides it's the higher path. One can get a much better view from the higher path. It should be easy enough to remember:

'Right or kind?'

Over the next few days I began to pay attention to my daily interactions and to my dismay, there seemed to be very little evidence of this practice. At home I found myself attempting to prove my point more often than choosing to be kind. My interactions in the workplace or with strangers were barely 'nice', let alone kind. I realize it is a mistake to confuse kindness with niceness. Kindness does not always look nice and 'nice' is not always motivated by kindness. Iyanla Vanzant says:

A Compassionate person wants you, as a universal being, to realize your wholeness. Your wholeness has nothing to do with being nice, and a compassionate person recognizes that your journey may not look nice….(3)

In many cultures social etiquette emphasizes being nice above being kind. But it isn't always the easier path. However, no one ever said having a spiritual practice was easy either. Kindness and compassion become demanding spiritual practices. If we hope to achieve mastery in Metta, the Buddhist loving-kindness practice(4), or to embody the Witches' creed. There is a constant internal struggle or jihad, balancing kindness in the world with kindness to ourselves. At this level of practice, kindness and compassion become like the scent of rose oil, which must be applied every day if we wish to maintain the potency of its perfume.

Queer Warriors and Witches must practice compassion in all arenas. This means bringing kindness into our thoughts, our spirits, our hearts and our actions. It calls for the practice of Metta. kindness beyond harmlessness or tolerance, deeper than being nice or generous. We must ask ourselves to act with kindness when there is no guarantee of it being returned. It is time for us to embrace kindness as a place of strength not weakness. This can only happen if we reduce the size of our spiritual egos long enough to let others inside our hearts and offer them peaceful space in our thoughts. His-story remembers battles and conquests, but Her-story remembers people: people -- our loved ones, our children, the woman at the checkout -- will remember our kindness.

In postmodern America we encounter the lack of kindness all the time, so much so that an act of kindness stands out as the highlight of a day. Kindness has become a foundation of numerous bumper stickers and of feel-good-spirituality self-help books. You may think you know what kindness is. How often are you conscious of kindness as an option in your decision-making? My experience is that to live kindly, with the intention of harmlessness, we must consider the questions:

Would I rather be right or kind?
Am I willing to give up my 'right' to suffer?
Will the choice I make honor the planet, the ancestors and my grandchildren?

Most of us are extremely invested in being right. Being right gives me the mystical power of owning Truth. A part of the mystery of owning Truth is that it gives the owner the right to have power over and protection from anyone who does not have it; anyone different from me. "Because I say so," announces the end of any battle of wills. It has become the war cry, from the family home to international commerce. Where's the kindness in that? Where's the place for individual Truth? For most of us this becomes the blueprint for our religious and spiritual lives. Divinity existing outside of us, because we are not practiced at listening to wisdom held in the divinity in our hearts.

I drew close to Love
That I began to understand
How great the gain of those,
Who give themselves wholly to Love:
And when I saw this for myself,
What was lacking in me gave me pain.
Hadewijch of Brabant

Living on the fringes of society, Queers often have to embrace themselves as being in opposition to what is considered "right" by the mainstream. We have been denied the gift of an external acceptance or validation that mirrors our internal truth. This hinders the process of individuation, which can only occur when we discover and embrace our authenticity. Eventually, when the pain of living inauthentically is too great and we don our leather jackets and come out fighting, we find our voice, and shout our truth to the world. A healthy response to living in a world where we experience the accepted definitions of right as intrinsically wrong, but it is a time of us-and-them with little kindness on either side.

The path of spiritual warrior requires the willingness to stand gently in our truth, even in the face of condemnation and criticism. Responding with kindness to violence calls for spiritual strength and courage, especially when others' truths seek to destroy beliefs and rights we value as sacred and true. We are not responsible if our very existence threatens beliefs held sacred and true by others, but we are responsible for how we present ourselves, and how kind we are when our truths collide. This dynamic is the root of almost all human violence. It's ironic that our instinct is to respond in-kind, fight violence with violence, but the most powerful weapon we have to break the cycle is kindness. Violence is like a rabid STD. Kindness is the condom that prevents it spreading.

A society with only one world view is a petri-dish for prejudice and unkindness. A society with only one world view will cease to evolve. People with the capacity for individual thought -- the artists, the storytellers, the poets -- or those who see the world through different lenses -- the ethnic minorities and the queers -- are forced out to the fringes. We are the people who can dream and imagine beyond the limits of what is defined as right. We become a barometer to the soul of a culture. When art and 'otherness' is removed from a society, replaced by science and enforced uniformity, it heralds the loss of the collective soul. A Hebrew word for Holy is Kadosh, which also means separate or other. This is a sacred otherness that is the presence of the Goddess that is beyond (separate from) our everyday habits and our natural instincts.

Have you noticed how people who claim "I was within my rights to do that!" are never talking about an act of kindness?

It is the unique nature of the soul of the individual that determines the nature of the soul of the society. The soul exists beyond and within the details of the every day life; she is a mirror that reflects the infinite in everything. When each soul is in alignment with its purpose she shines with the kindness of life and the light of the Goddess. When that uniqueness is denied the light fades and the collective soul evaporates into the shadow. Kindness is lost when facts and rules become more important than people.

Have you ever noticed that the more convinced you are of your truth, the less kind you are? The more entitled people feel, the more they cling to their 'rights' and the more society becomes less kind. People who cling to being right live in a very small world; they become stunted and resentful of anyone who challenges their truth. Why is it that one of the hardest times to remember to be kind is when you know you are right? It's as if being right gives you permission to convince everyone around you how right you are and how wrong they are. Right is synonymous with facts, fixed truth. Right becomes a neatly packaged box. Different now means otherness and otherness is miracle-grow for all my projections. Eventually otherness becomes a tree in the dark forest of my fear, self hatred, and inadequacy.

During the pressure of confrontation, even people who believe deeply in nonviolence can find Metta being ousted by fear, fear which manifests as a stubborn bully. In the movie The Majestic the lead character reads a letter sent by a young soldier who died in WW II. It says: "When bullies rise up, it is the duty of the rest of us to rise up against them in what ever way we can." Standing up in opposition to the deeply held beliefs of your community takes courage. Standing up when your friends demonize others or make jokes you find offensive is twice as hard. We suffer when we don't trust or embrace our philosophical differences with our friends and allies.

Kind is the beginning of the word kindle, which means to illuminate and to bring into being. Are my words more likely to shut down dialog than illuminate an opening for conversation? Does my behavior illuminate hope or kindle the dark smoke of hopelessness? I ask the Mother for gentle strength to continue learning and practicing kindness and compassion. May I learn to dance -- not battle -- with our differences. I ask for the courage to risk rejection and hold myself true, right-sized in the face of what I perceive to be pressure for uniformity, restraint and limitation. As a Queer Spiritual Warrior in the service of the Goddess I take the risk, because despite my fears, projections, theories and frustrations, taking the risk is simply the next indicated thing to do. This I know is true and if you disagree, stick around; I can prove it.

Metta Sutta

This is what should be done by one who is skilled in goodness
and who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright, straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited, contented and easily satisfied.
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm, and wise and skillful,
not proud and demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove.
They should wish:
In gladness and in safety
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be,
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born,
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another, or despise any being in any state,
Let none through anger or ill-will wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart should one cherish all living beings,
Radiating kindness over the entire world,
Spreading upwards to the skies, and downwards to the depths,
Outwards and unbounded, freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down,
free from drowsiness, one should sustain this recollection.
(Translation from the San Francisco Zen Center)

Metta, often translated from the Pali as loving kindness, is one of four mental states that Buddhists wish to cultivate. The other three are compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Each of these four states has an easily recognized 'far enemy' and an equally insidious 'near enemy'.

(1) Ethical Alchemy is a phrase used by the theologian Karen Armstrong during a recent lunch-time lecture at Harvard School of Divinity.
(2) Penguin English Dictionary, second edition
(3) Vanzant, Iyanla, One Day My Soul Just Opened Up, Simon & Schuster, 1998 p. 148
(4) "Loving-kindness refers to friendship, love, good intentions, empathy, and establishing a sense of common understanding and happiness among all beings. Loving-kindness is neutral, both in terms of who should have loving-kindness and who should receive it; true loving-kindness is indifferent to seniority, rank and status …It is a fundamental dharmic principle that builds relationships between people, looks at people in a positive and optimistic light, and allows them to listen to one another and exchange ideas freely." Buddhadhamma, Phra Prayudh Payutto, (State University of New York Press,1995).

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