Posts in Category: Teacher

Love One Another – Introducing Father Robert

Follow Father Robert on Facebook, and you will find a man that desperately wants the world to be a kinder, gentler, and more just place. His desire to lift others and let all people know that God loves them is evidenced by his posts on Facebook. Here are two examples.  

  • “We all make errors in our theology; you and me both. So my recommendation is to err on the side of love. Why? Because … God is not doctrine. God is not denomination. God is not war. God is not law. God is not hate. God is not hell… God is Love.” (Brian Zahnd) 
  • “Be who God meant you to be and you will set the world on fire!” St. Catherine of Siena 

Father Robert is an Apostolic Catholic priest and a passionate supporter of the LGBTQ-IA community. He first became aware of the mistreatment of the gay community in 1969 during the Stonewall riots. He would not think much about it again until the late 70’s when he worked as a high school social worker. A distraught young man entered his office, closed the door, and began to cry.  

Father Robert asked, “What is your problem?”  

The student responded, “I am gay.”  

Father Robert was confused and asked again, “No, really, what is your problem?”  

And the student replied, “I just told you, I am gay.”  

Father Robert told the student, “That’s not a problem! It’s ok.” 

Afterward, Father Robert contemplated what the student shared with him. He thought to himself, we are not going to do this. We are not going to treat people this way. This is not what Jesus had envisioned or taught. 

Father Robert felt called to action and created support groups to listen and encourage this student and others like him.   

In the late ’80s, during the AIDS epidemic, Father Robert became further involved with the gay community. Nursing homes and care facilities would not accept residents with AIDS or HIV. The disease was new, and very little was known about how it was contracted or treated. Fear and lack of knowledge prevented many from receiving the care they needed.   

The director of Muskegon Community Mental Health asked Father Robert if he would open a foster care home for some of the men with HIV/AIDS. He did, and as soon as the doors were open, three men arrived. Shortly after, the house was filled to capacity and remained that way for about two years. There was little that could be done medically for the men that resided at the foster home. Instead, love, compassion, comfort, and support were given in abundance as each man traveled to the end of his life. For most, the final journey lasted only one to five months. 

Compassionate care at the end of life is not too much to ask. Is it? Homosexuality, AIDS/HIV were controversial enough in the 80’s that only two foster care homes for men with AIDS/HIV existed in the state of Michigan. People were outraged that Father Robert’s foster care home existed. The media frequently dropped in for impromptu and uninvited interviews exposing the location of the house. The garage was firebombed, cars parked outside the house were damaged, and rocks were thrown through the windows. To keep the residents safe, Father Robert moved the residents to a different place. 

Father Robert continued holding support groups for the LGBT community after the foster care home closed. But, in 2014, Father Robert read about the suicide of a transgender woman named Leelah Alcorn, and his commitment once again deepened. He was utterly devastated. He thought, this poor child. My God, now we have people killing themselves because they are not allowed to be who they are. Jesus would not want this.  

Leelah was born male, but from the age of four felt that she was a female. She longed to find a way to transition to the body that matched how she felt. However, this would never happen. Leelah’s family held conservative Christian beliefs, and being gay or transgender was not seen as acceptable. Leelah was sent to conversion therapy in an attempt to help her overcome her gender identity.  

 Leelah grew more depressed after conversion therapy. Her hopelessness led her to write a suicide note on her Tumblr account and schedule it to post a few hours after her death. She walked several miles from her parents’ home and then walked in front of a semi traveling on I-71.  

Since Leelah’s death, conversion therapy has been severely scrutinized. Many believe that the treatment does not work and only leaves the participant with feelings of more profound shame, lack of self-worth, and causes depression, self-harm, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Conversion therapy has since been banned in many states and communities.  

Father Robert was determined to open a center where everyone would be welcome and feel safe. It took him over a year to find a location that he could rent. He viewed eleven available properties in Muskegon and Muskegon Heights to be told that they were no longer available when the landlord found out what Father Robert intended to do with the property.   

Finally, Father Robert found the perfect space in Muskegon Heights. The center offered various support groups for the LGBTQ-IA community and their families and anti-bullying and suicide prevention courses, AA and NA. The center experienced some success, but the location was an issue for many people. Muskegon Heights is a mostly black community, and many white people feared going there. And, many of the black participants feared being seen entering the building.  

Father Robert was back to the drawing board. He found a new location in North Muskegon, and all was going well. However, once the community learned what was being done in the building, the landlord ended the three-year lease at 11 months, stating, we don’t have those problems. 

Another location was found in Muskegon. It was opened with a broader concept and included a used clothing store where people could get used clothes for free. The center hosted Halloween and Christmas parties for the community. Everything was going great until the churches got involved. Once again, Father Robert found his dream of offering a safe place for the LGBTQ-IA community and other at-risk persons smashed. 

Father Robert has not given up. He has moved to a rural community north of Muskegon and will start a community center in Shelby. His plans are on hold right now over social distancing concerns and his own recovery from COVID-19. Father Robert was diagnosed with the illness on June 1st. While he has recovered, he continues to have fatigue, breathing problems, and internal damage that will never heal.  

Father Robert shared many thoughts about the LGBTQ-IA community, organized religion, Christianity, COVID-19. 

Father Robert believes the following related specifically to LGBTQ-IA. 

  • That biology creates the body and that God creates the soul. He advises you to always follow your soul.  
  • Transgender persons have a more challenging time being accepted and understood than any other LGBTQ-IA community member.  
  • There are consequences when a person is expected to hide, keep secret, or deny a part of themselves, such as drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, and suicides. 

Father Robert shares the following related to Christianity. 

  • Christianity is not an easy thing to do. Love people that hate you. That’s not easy. Turn the other cheek. That’s not easy. Forgive people. That’s not easy either.  
  • If we could ever get to a point when people who consider themselves Christian to actually become Christlike, we would not be dealing with all these issues. The problems would be resolved. Poverty, hatred, and so much more! It would all be gone. People have missed the boat.  
  • If you are a member of the LGBTQ=IA community and the church you attend will not let you to take communion, marry you, or support you to adopt children, find another church.  
  • Tolerance is not love. Acceptance is love. 
  • But it is written in John 15:12 This I command you, that you love one another. 

Father Robert’s concerns about COVID-19

  • Wear A Mask. It could save a life.  

Thank you, Father Robert, for sharing your passion and deep care for the LGBTQ-IA community. Your commitment to choose love and compassion over fear and judgment is evident in all you do. I will end this post with the final thought you shared. If there were only one verse in the Bible, this would be a good one to live by. 

John 15:12, “This I command you, that you love one another. 

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A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.

Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.

A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon, beginning September 2, 2020, to October 10, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/

Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist. 

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2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited. 

In Loving Memory of Gwen Jansma

How Can Anyone Ever Tell You You Were Anything Less Than Beautiful

This evening I learned that a dear old friend passed away. Though I had not been in touch with her in many years, I thought of her often. I heard her words of wisdom, her laughter, saw her magnanimous smile accentuated by the deep lines and creases that come with age.  But most of all her sparkling blue eyes that were alive with love, compassion, and a bit of mischief. Gwen was a beacon of light in a world that can so often be frighteningly dark. Gwen entered my life during a profoundly desperate time. She lifted me up, guided me, gave me hope, and helped me believe in myself, and my future.

I met Gwen purely by accident in my mid thirties. During a time when most of my friends had found successful careers, marriages, and had started families, I was still struggling. Nothing I tried was working. I had given up my dream of working as a park ranger, had failed miserably at two love relationships, and was working in the Detroit area at a low paying dead end job. To top it off, I had sustained a painful and debilitating upper body injury that left me unable to work for over a year. All the money I had saved had been spent on medical bills, and I could no longer afford to keep my apartment. Thankfully, my friend Mimi allowed me to stay with her until I could get my feet back on the ground.

Recovering from my injury was a slow and painful process. The only thing that eased the pain was massage and acupuncture. One day while I was getting a massage my therapist suggested that I get counseling for grief and loss. Having little money and little faith in therapy I quickly rejected her suggestion. However, she convinced me that I should join a group that met one weekend every other month. It would cost $50 and a dish to pass.  Feeling I had little left to lose, I signed up for an upcoming workshop.

A few weeks later, armed with black bean and corn salad, I nervously entered the first of many meetings to come. At first glance I found the group of thirty strangers to be quite an odd lot, and not particularly friendly. There were men and woman of all ages and vocations. Some dressed in hippy garb, others in jeans and t-shirts, and yet others in their Sunday best. They came from many different religious backgrounds and had varied spiritual beliefs and practices. What I found on second glance was a group of folks that no matter their background had stumbled upon some adversity that had challenged them to look deeply within themselves.  With Gwen’s guidance, they were able to explore and gain greater insight and strength. And finally, I found a loving, kind, compassionate group that accepted, and loved me. 

Gwen took this odd group, disassembled our differences, and exposed our sameness. With each tale of hardship the group listened to one another, wept, and prayed for one another.  In doing so, we were all on some level healed. We also, sang, meditated, created ceremonies, pledged in the Native American Tradition to Air, Water, Earth, or Fire. We created prayer sticks and explored the emotions relevant to each of the four elements. We opened our minds, bodies, and spirits to gain greater insights to ourselves and each other. Gwen guided us graciously through each process.  Sometimes with gentle encouraging words of wisdom, and at other times, quick to call one on their misconceptions (otherwise known hog wash or b.s.).

I went to the workshops for several years. During that time I not only grew stronger mentally and physically, but also met the woman that made my career in dentistry possible. I literally went from the depths of despair to having most of my dreams come true, and from believing there was no hope to knowing that there is always hope. I have never had the words to thank Gwen for all she gave me. Thank you just seems too small and insignificant. But as I look heavenward all I can say is this: Gwen from the deepest and most sincere part of my heart and soul, thank you.

Gwen was 88 when she passed away. She was a wife, mother, grandmother, poet, and artist. She was also a teacher, mentor, and healer to countless numbers of people. During her workshops Gwen would occasionally speak of her transition. She was unafraid, as she did not believe in a true death, only a changing of one form to another. She spoke of this transition with joy and looked forward to continuing her journey on the other side. She would not want us to be sad, but to remember and to carry on, to live in love, with integrity, and to help one another when possible.

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Ode to Mrs. Pollack

When I was in 5th grade my teacher, Mrs. Pollack, gave the class a creative writing assignment.  As a reward, the best would be displayed in a cabinet in the hall.  I do not really remember much about what I wrote.  Although, I do recall that I compared monarch butterfly orange to that of a pumpkin.  That comparison pleased Mrs. Pollack very much, and I was awarded first place.  As promised, my writing was placed in the glass cabinet for all who passed by to see.  However, she rewrote it in calligraphy on an orange butterfly-shaped piece of construction paper. The re-write was necessary because my handwriting was and still is atrocious.  Though Mrs. Pollack tried harder than anyone to improve my penmanship, her efforts in that area were for naught.

I was proud to have what I had written in view of all the students and teachers at my school!  Mrs. Pollack even invited my mom for a private viewing of the display.  But even more than this special honor, what I remember most, is when Mrs. Pollack removed the butterfly scrawled paper from the cabinet.  She gave the class some busy work, and then, asked me to help her take down the display.  I followed her down the empty hallway.  The echo of her heels clicking on the too shiny floor was the only thing that broke the eerie silence.  She opened the cabinet, removed the butterfly, and gently placed it into my ten-year-old hands. She then leaned in close, and whispered in my ear, and said, “Someday, you are going to be a writer”.    What I felt in that moment I cannot really say, but it felt true.

As the years passed I have heard Mrs. Pollack’s whisper again and again.  “Someday, you are going to be a writer.”  In my twenties, I dreamed of having my own column in the newspaper called “Chronicles From the Robinsnest”.  In my thirties, I attempted to write a book.  After 40 pages, life became too busy and I gave up on the project thinking someday I would get back to it.  In my forties, I wrote technical documents for seminars I was conducting for work.  And now in my fifties, I decided to begin a blog.

The mystery for me is this:  Am I a writer because I have a natural ability to link words together in a way that others might enjoy or learn from, or is it because a teacher placed a notion in my head when I was ten years old?  My belief is that I most likely would have found my words at some point, but would I have had the courage or confidence to put them out there for all to see?  The answer is impossible to know.  What I know is that Mrs. Pollack’s whispered words planted a seed.  The seed rooted deeply within me and has been germinating ever since.  As I write these words I feel the small sprouts of leaves bursting from within.  I feel the unstoppable momentum of something being born and I can hardly wait to see what grows!

Mrs. Pollack, I am a writer.  I am the author of technical documents and blog entries, and maybe someday, I will even finish the book I started so long ago.  Thank you for planting that seed, for believing in me, and inspiring me.  I am blessed.

Song of the Blog: Elusive Butterfly By Bob Lind  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IKWpdEdAKGw

 

Me / 10 years old

Me / 10 years old

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© Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Gail Howarth and Living At The Lakehouse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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