Probing Questions

The other day a Quaker peace worker (a Friend of a Friend) wrote to ask me a few questions. She has been working on the front lines in the Middle East and was taking a little break to regroup. She decided to reach out to other activist types to find out how they go about and do the work they do. I confess that compared to the dangerous and important work she is doing in a hot zone there in the Middle East, I felt I had little to say that might be helpful

I spent a lot of time on her questions. I found the process aided me to understand some things about myself and my work. Below are some of the questions and my answers.


Where does your spirituality come from?

I once spent an evening with Kurt Vonnegut, the US author and humanist, and we talked about many things. He repeated a statement that night that I take as a truth to believe and follow. He said, Everyone should practice art for art enlarges the soul.

As a new Christian back in my teens one of the first things I learned about God is that God is a creator. They then taught me that I am made in God’s image (male and female God made them). Therefore, I am most godlike when I create (and when I am genderqueer! 🙂 I can write a poem, record a video, rearrange a room, then I stand back and admire my handiwork and declare, “It is good!” (even if it is only so-so, it still feels good.)

For me spirituality and creativity come from the same spring. Practicing art releases me and opens me up. I also draw on the mystical traditions we have as Friends. I believe we connect to each other and the divine in real and often tangible ways. Sitting in meeting for worship I imagine the invisible cores that connect us, the spiritual web that transcends our beliefs, politics and personalities. (I confess other times in meeting for worship I think about what I will make for lunch, where I left my sunglasses and if I turned the kettle off).

Then there is love–a superpower that I fight off at times, but it lives in me, deposited in me. If I let it, it rises up and then I care about people. So inconvenient at times because then I feel responsible to write that letter or make amends or do the thousands of tasks big and small that love can lure us to do.

I’m an intuitive person. I believe I’m led in life. Perhaps I am not really led after all, but I want to believe I am, and that belief causes me to take risks.

What are you doing to affect change?

I hope I’m allowing myself to be transformed, to deprogram from the bitter harvest I reaped from a racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, wasteful, violent world. I can change the world because I am the world. But I see that my role is also to present opportunities for people to think in new directions, to consider new perspectives and to see people they did not know existed before. What they do with all this is their responsibility. As an artist, an activist, dare I say a minister, my job is to be faithful to the light I have received so far and the message I have to share knowing I will get it wrong and do get it wrong and have much to learn.

As a playwright I feel two needs tugging at me. One pulls at the entertainer in me, the need to connect with an audience, to delight them, move them, challenge them. The other tug comes from my artist’s heart. I sense a vision to do something or say something in a certain way, to touch a chord for ME, the artist, to find a place of beauty or authenticity. I tap, tap, tap at it not caring if no one else gets it, thrilled when they do, but unable to rest until I find it.

How did you heal from the ex-gay experiences you endured?

For my healing I found (and am finding) several sources. My art, particularly my Homo No Mo play as well as blogging has helped me deconstruct the hell I went through, the church-based self-hatred that nearly destroyed me. In doing that work I had to take responsibility for my part, face up to the fact that I treated myself and my sexual self cruelly, brutally. I needed to discover why I did this and why I let others do it to me. Then I needed to find out how to forgive myself and others and then how to nurture my injured self.

I have found that so much brokenness and dysfunction gets sorted through healthy relationships–love, honesty, vulnerability, being heard, hearing others, have all helped me. Humor has been a tool and weapon to help me blast through the bitterness and shame in my life. I vanquish the demons in my past by making them ridiculous.

Part of the healing requires coming to the place that I understand and accept that not everything can be fixed. Some relationships for instance can never be fully repaired. In the church I often heard about new life, new starts, and they do come, but that doesn’t mean we do away with all the old. The bruised and messed up part of my life is still part of my life and something that I will carry with me for the rest of my time here. I’ve needed to come to a place of acceptance about that and not feel I need to be perfect and perfectly healed. There is no such thing.

What do you find really challenging about your work and life? How do you work with these challenges? What helps you stay grounded?

A practical challenge is the travel. I travel a lot. A LOT! I love it, much of the time at least, but it can wear me out. Along with the travel I meet with people on deep levels and hear a lot of their stories and their pain. I can absorb that and feel overwhelmed. It has taken some time, but I have learned some ways to care for myself on the road. I eat well, get as much sleep as possible, pad trips with time to relax and be social. All the same, I come home a few times a year exhausted physically and emotionally and need to crash for a few days, nest in my apartment and regroup.

I have a support committee through my home meeting and we meet  once every 6-8 weeks. I also have friends in various parts of the world who I can see during my travels and through the Internet. Thank goodness for Facebook! I try not to take myself too seriously or feel I have to do what I am doing for the rest of my life. I have a role for a time and a place, but over time I have let that evolve as I step away from some issues (like the ex-gay movement) and move into new issues (gender and the environment). I imagine one day soon I will stop performing and traveling like I do. I keep retiring shows, so I should be out of work soon! I long to settle down and plant a garden and be part of a local community for a change. I don’t think I have to do something International to make a difference. I don’t feel that sort of pressure. I have a clear sense that it is far less important what I do and much more about who I am.

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This post has 3 Comments

  1. Tim on October 22, 2008 at 2:03 am Reply

    I love your stuff, Peterson, it’s so very wise. I wish the whole world would read it.

  2. James on October 22, 2008 at 3:06 am Reply

    Hey Peterson,

    Once again very touching and moving and powerful. You always have a way of helping me. You are a great mentor and friend. I can’t wait to talk to you and hopefully see you soon. Thank you for sharing your wisdom, it never ceases to amaze me how incredible you are.

  3. Lynn David on October 22, 2008 at 6:05 am Reply

    I’ve always had a more “universal” idea of what spirituality entails, simply the idea of “wonder.” Creativity can take place under various philosophical constraints, from a more free-form in religion and art to a more constrained form in science and technology. But in whatever form, creativity is necessarily the child of the parent, wonder. Wonder on many scales and about many different things is the beginning of our interpretative skills which we display as our creativity.

    Not trying to step on your toes, but I just think you didn’t necessarily delve deep enough.

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