Eloquence and drawing

Russian plant © Samantha Groenestyn (oil on linen)

Russian plant © Samantha Groenestyn (oil on linen)

Language, woven of conventions, adapts and evolves, but Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s account of its progression takes a delightfully unexpected path. Language, he (2009: 294) declares, was born of the passions: ‘Neither hunger nor thirst, but love, hatred, pity, anger wrested the first voices from them.’ Physical needs are easily signalled; but the complexities of expressing gently nuanced emotions—of swelling love overlaid with brittle melancholy; of restless expectation shaded with pleasant hope—demand a more developed mode of intimation. The first words to escape our trembling lips must thus have been effusive outpourings of raw poetry, only to be subdued and ordered much later by reason. Language’s intellectual ripening carried it further and further from its first poetic utterances: ‘In proportion as language was perfected, melody imperceptibly lost its ancient energy by imposing new rules upon itself’ (Rousseau 2009: 329).

Kanal

 

But painting may be spared this ruthless pruning. Painting, as language, has never been reigned in to express concepts with logical precision. It rather remains an unruly address to the eyes that harmonises with the chaotic cadences of our hearts. We are moved because we discover our passions and imitations of the objects of our passions candidly reflected in paint—it is in this empathetic manner that paintings speak with us. And ‘one speaks to the eyes much more effectively than to the ears,’ Rousseau assures us (2009: 291).

Dresden galerie

Rousseau reserves particularly high praise for drawing. Good painting touches us, certainly; but we ought not overestimate the role of colour in this. Colours, argues Rousseau (2009: 319), operate at a simple sensory level. They strike us immediately, they catch our attention, they please our eyes, but colours alone cannot move us. ‘It is the design, it is the imitation, that endows these colours with life and soul, it is the passions which they express that succeed in moving our own, it is the objects which they represent that succeed in affecting us’ (Rousseau 2009: 319). Colourless drawings retain their expressive force; but colours without contours melt into pure sensory pleasantness (Rousseau 2009: 319).

yellow field

Rousseau privileges drawing with a more fundamental position than words, much nearer to the earth and to our volatile passions. Love, that consuming passion, ‘has livelier ways of expressing itself’ than with the very words it summoned into existence, however poetic those words may be (Rousseau 2009: 290). Love is fabled to be the impulse that compelled the first drawing. Rousseau (2009: 290) swoons with evident delight: ‘What things she who traced the shadow of her lover with so much pleasure told him! What sounds could she have used to convey this movement of a stick?’ And so we clutch our sticks, the ‘Griffel’ of Max Klinger’s (1985: 21) ‘Griffelkunst,’ with renewed vigour, finding ourselves closer to the poetic expressiveness we crave. ‘Writing, which seems as if it should fix language,’ systematically changes language—categorically domesticating it, demanding ever more precise adaptations, shedding its poetic origins. Drawing, by contrast, abandons the pursuit of precision in order to move us in more complex and thus deeper ways (Rousseau 2009: 300).

jedes buch

It is this resolute devotion to the passions that lends drawing its eloquence. Our visual language, built of rhythmic lines and deliberately constructed compositions, possesses all the tools of charming and winning over our audience: we have not the means to persuade, but to stir. We rely not on arguments, but on poetry, and poetry and eloquence, says Rousseau (2009: 318), have the same origin. While we search out logical colour series, and look for technical solutions that make clear statements about light, about form, about perspective, our technical grammar is subservient to our elusive poetic aims. We ought not forget our advantage, for even words derive their eloquence from the visual, as Rousseau (2009: 291) reminds us; they move us most when infused with imagery and colour through metaphor.

haus

Drawing—design—with unlimited poetic potential, saves the visual language of painting from too strict a grammar. Because though there are means of drawing more accurately, more naturalistically, more literally, the best drawings may be judged to harness the grammatical concerns of truth and precision for more expressive purposes, to elevate something poetic in the subject. An able draughtsman pursues accuracy; a good draughtsman tells seductive lies with his eloquent stick. His impassioned retellings are more captivating than the truth; the visual grammar he works within does not ever refine itself towards rational precision. Good drawing orders a painting according to another kind of logic. It makes the painting a painting, not a mirror image, not a soup of sensations.

painting carnage

Our language, as painters, is rooted in the grammar of design. We must search out the visual patterns, impose hierarchies, intentionally structure our images, and chase endlessly after the stirring undulations of our lines, for herein lies their emotive strength. Used forcefully, we may speak with an eloquence that moves our viewers more deeply than any string of words. Words have evolved as a tool of persuasion, and ‘by cultivating the art of convincing, that of moving the emotions was lost’ (Rousseau 2009: 329). Drawing, and through it, painting, has not suffered as a language at the hand of progress. Its conventions, though they shift and change, tie it ever to its emotional source.

Leipziger Atelier

 

Klinger, Max. 1985 [1885]. Malerei und Zeichnung. Leipzig: Philipp Reclam.

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques. 2009 [1781]. Essay on the Origin of Languages and Writings Related to Music. Edited by John T. Scott. Trans. from the French edition. Hanover N.H.: Dartmouth.

 

 

Standard

Home and away

Un regal pour les yeux © Samantha Groenestyn

I frequently itch to travel. Leaving behind all those weights we tie around ourselves, stretching our legs, exercising our brains and our tongues, memorising new maps and trying out new words. Seeing the limitless unseen things, tasting the untasted, pouring all the raw sensations into hurried drawings and writings. Meeting new faces and learning new philosophies, talking it out by rivers or over campfires or over beers in smoky bars.

It’s hard to feel content at home when so much is waiting, like a word on the tip of a tongue. But then I remember that opposite pull that I feel when I travel—that desire, not to be at (my) home, but to be stationed, based, established. When one is established, one can work. No longer limited to dog-eared sketchbooks and simple pens, one can drag out an easel, spread out paints and turps, plug in the sewing machine and invest in detailed projects, and best of all, read fifteen books at once. Books on philosophy, books on French intellectuals, books on language and books on graphic design. Books on artists, books on colour theory and the science of light, books on history. One can study, and, better, one can apply that new knowledge and create endlessly, on any scale. One can load up one’s car with materials, go to classes on a regular basis. Travel often provides that spark, suggests new avenues to explore, prompts the acquisition of new languages or provides new material for paintings. But home is the place where you can get down and work day after day and really produce something.

As Maira Kalman, renowned illustrator and writer, concludes of life: there is love and there is work. ‘How do you spend this time without perpetually being so brokenhearted about saying the eventual goodbye? I usually say in the end, okay, it’s love and it’s work. What else could there possibly be? What do I want to do?  What is the most wonderful thing I could be doing, and who are the most wonderful people I could be with?’ It’s hard for me to shake the idea that there is also place, and I think place is fundamental to my being—to my work and to my love. Travel lets us explore new places in which to be—perhaps for the long term—and we need to find our physical place as well as what to do and who to do it with.

What overwhelms me most of all is that I consider there to be so many things crucial to living that I cannot find the time for them all. I can’t get by only speaking English! That limits me to particular places. I can’t rely on my untrained artistic ability—I need to learn to use new materials, and to understand the particulars of light and tone. I need to understand people, and ideas. Then I start to feel like Henri Perron in Simone de Beauvoir’s novel The Mandarins, who feels that he can’t continue to edit his newspaper L’Espoir (‘Hope’) unless he has a complete grasp on the world(p. 153-4):

‘Well, I’ll just have to start working at it,’ he said to himself. But if he really wanted to extend his knowledge, it would require years of study. Economics, history, philosophy—he would never be done with it! What a job! And all just to come to terms with Marxism! Writing would be completely out of the question, and he wanted to write. Well? … ‘What I need is time!’

When travelling, we have all the time in the world. Time to wander along the Seine, in and out of bookshops and ice creameries, time to contemplate passers by from benches. But we lack resources. When we have resources, we are battling schedules and weekly events.

I think that all there is to do is to keep on working. Keep pushing ourselves to learn, keep pushing ourselves to produce. Jack White muses that ‘inspiration and work ethic ride right next to each other. … Sometimes, you just get in there and just force yourself to work, and maybe something good will come out.’ And if you go beyond just showing up and really make things a little hard on yourself, the tension that you build can produce that spark and make something happen.

Brain Pickings pointed me in the direction of these interviews with Maira Kalman and Jack White.
‘Un regal pour les yeux’–a feast for the eyes. A Parisian sent me off to explore the labyrinthine flea markets of St Ouen in the north of Paris, and they did not disappoint. I wanted to convey the alluring decayed splendour of the markets. Europe could almost survive solely on selling its old junk to the rest of us!

 

News: I’ve cobbled together a sweet collection of drawings I did in Europe, many of which you may have seen on my website, into the Tour of Europe non-sketcher’s sketchbook. The covers are hand-stitched in three different fabrics and there’s room for your own musings. Grab one from my Etsy shop.

Standard

Living intentionally

Cloves © Samantha Groenestyn

Never seeing the person you love again—this is the harrowing reality facing Ira in Discover Love, a performance I had the privilege to see the Belarus Free Theatre perform last night. After a lifetime of struggle, poverty, and surviving with barely a moment to talk, Ira’s husband Tolya is kidnapped and executed. Giddy childhood memories, the street community, falling in love with her physics teacher—a rich patchwork of a life is stitched together like Ira’s grandmother’s cheerful patchwork quilt, with vibrant dancing, a haunting ocarina and a box of oranges. All is dashed when one life out of so many is removed.

Somehow it seems like the very struggle for existence makes life richer and more meaningful. The poverty, the daily resistance, the bold eastern European culture set amidst the repression of a former Soviet republic have a guilty romanticism. When another man approaches Tolya and asks him to leave Ira, Tolya quietly, in his beautiful curling language that sounds like softly warbling doves, explains, ‘I love my wife, and we have struggled so much to be here now. It would be best if you left.’

Somehow, the idea that such passionate, salt of the earth people could want our gaudy consumer-driven lives, could want to move to such a bland, banal country as our own, is a let down. Yes, we have opportunity, and wealth, and freedom to choose—freedom, indeed, to perform theatre, while members of the Belarus Free Theatre are exiled from their own country—and we would never wish the agonies portrayed in Discover Love on our brothers and sisters abroad. But what is this fine line between living hungrily, purposefully and meaningfully, and living under hardship and fear? Is it possible for us to live so intentionally in complete freedom? Our freedom makes our challenges trifles. If only we could learn from Tolya that ‘one shouldn’t cry over trifles’.

The resounding declaration from Discovering Love is that ‘Every person is free. No one rules over anyone else.’ Not husbands, not employers, not states.

Source: Brisbane Powerhouse

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Discover Love is showing at the Brisbane Powerhouse Theatre until Sunday 19 February, 7.30pm; Sunday 1pm, 6pm, with a free Q&A session following Saturday’s performance. $25-$30.

* Our homemade spice rack, replete with old cook books from my mum.

Standard

Where be ye going you Devon maid?

Where be ye going you Devon maid
And what have ye there i’ the Basket?
Ye tight little fairy–just fresh from the dairy
Will ye give me some cream if I ask it–
(Keats)

A teaser: More portraits of J in progress. Who could ever tire of that profile?

A pleasant afternoon at Blackstar Coffee, where sugar pots are tied with tags of poetry penned by the poet in residence.

And a sky full of golden orbs who keep a safe distance in their Web City.

Standard

On marriage

People ought to be straight with each other, and give each other a heads up. Life seems to be a slow unravelling of unfortunate revelations that are completely unsupported by the things we were taught to be right (right in a moral sense).

A 1953 Simplicity pattern modified with white rose lace; clutch from Only Midge

I attended a wedding. It was lovely. All the people came, oohed and ahhed, feasted magnificently and made merry. Prior to the wedding, I scoured Keats for some inspirational lines on love, but found him to be too authentic for wedding card wishes: a moment after speaking of joy, he plunges into the depths, always linking the two together. Life is simply not all roses—and love especially.

Lace ruffle added to split; shoes from Modcloth

The marriage celebrant bemoaned the youth of today and their loathing of anything binding. A more intelligent way to consider it is that we have seen the mistakes of our parents and grandparents, and we recognise the gravity of such a contract as that of marriage. As everyone clicked their cameras and giggled at the flower girls, and ogled the diamonds and evaluated the bridesmaids’ hair, the couple vowed to stand by each other in sickness and in health, for richer or for poorer. As we filed out, all I could say to my mum was, ‘Man, this marriage stuff is heavy—what if your spouse ends up terminally ill, in poverty?’ I like the balance that has traditionally been built into the ceremony (though I’ve seen others that emphasise that the bride will love and obey her husband as the church does Christ, while the husband gets to be the deity of the relationship), that contrasts each positive with its negative, and quite starkly so. But I’m not so sure that weddings ought to be the celebrations that they are. At least, they should be equally serious as they are happy.

And this is the problem that has plagued generations: their elders push them into unions as morally correct and as blissful, God-blessed unions, but once couples have passed through to the other side all the difficult things are revealed. And I don’t mean difficulties like shared toothbrushes. I mean mismatched personalities, unequal ambitions, drastically different perceptions of family and the like. If our elders treated marriage as seriously as many of my generation do, they wouldn’t push us into legal contracts with people we haven’t yet investigated fully enough.

So let’s be straight with each other: signing a legal contract promising you’ve got someone’s back no matter what is kind of a big deal. Forsaking all others until death parts you signals you are certain that you’ll never meet another person whose temperament, humour, interests and financial aptitude match yours so perfectly. Hiding all these hard things under expensive bouquets and intricately beaded lace and inspired photography won’t make these things go away, and doesn’t lend the situation the true gravity it deserves. We saw what your parents drove you to, and we questioned your choices. That is why we are taking our time and don’t fear your judgement.

Standard

Hardy: Gothic defender of women

Can anyone read Hardy without feeling crushed at the injustice of the world? Most particularly at the meddling, life-destroying injustice of the world towards genuine love between two souls? Hardy is not generally listed among Gothic writers, but the tale before us is more than just a tragedy. Pummeling the reader with malady after bitter malady, improbable misfortune after unfortunate encounter, Hardy works the reader into an emotional frenzy more deeply piercing than Walpole ever manages in The Castle of Otranto, but just as unrelenting. But, more than this, Hardy ‘raise[s] the sad spectres of “othered” and oppressed behaviours, crossings of boundaries, and classes of people and finally arrange[s] for the distancing and destruction of those figures or spaces into which the most troubling anomalies have been abjected by most of the middle class’ (Hogle, 2002: 13).

Tess of the D’Urbervilles, provisionally called Too Late Beloved, is a harrowing epic of a country maiden’s swift fall from society’s favour that unravels her life in so complete a manner that one feels her final punishment a reward, though her martyrdom goes unnoticed. Hardy wastes no time in introducing death and destruction, with the unwitting Tess, a mere teen, feeling herself the cause of her family’s ruin when their only horse is slain on her watch. This early insight into her generous and self-aware nature, that cannot help but read the effects of her actions on those around her, prepares us for the more miserable self-blame to come.

Just as swiftly, Hardy brings on Phase the second: Maiden no more, Tess having fallen prey to the man her parents have urged her to request help from—Alec D’Urberville. If this isn’t enough, Tess is with child. If this isn’t enough, her mother blames her for her silliness. If this isn’t enough, the child dies soon after birth. If this isn’t enough, the priest will not baptise the dying baby. Tess names him Sorrow. On being scolded by her mother for her indiscretion, Tess finally lashes out: She couldn’t have known; she was sent into the arms of a beast with no warning from her own mother, with no novels to educate her of the wiles of man.

-I-
I would that folk forgot me quite,
Forgot me quite!
I would that I could shrink from sight,
And no more see the sun.
Would it were time to say farewell,
To claim my nook, to need my knell,
Time for them all to stand and tell
Of my day’s work as done.

Tess struggles with her sudden impurity, and seeks a fresh start—still a teen—moving away from home and finding work in a dairy. She buries her baby and buries her past, leaving her personal demon, Alec D’Urberville, behind. Her mother’s advice—the most sympathetic she ever receives—guides her, backed by centuries of mistreated women and those who blamed them for their misfortunes (p. 191):

Many a woman—some of the Highest in the Land—have had a Trouble in their time; and why should you Trumpet yours when others don’t Trumpet theirs? No girl would be such a Fool, especially as it is so long ago, and not your Fault at all.

 

-II-
Ah! Dairy where I lived so long,
I lived so long;
Where I would rise up staunch and strong,
And lie down hopefully.
‘Twas there within the chimney-seat
He watched me to the clock’s slow beat—
Loved me, and learnt to call me Sweet,
And whispered words to me.

Here Tess meets a face from her carefree younger days, a young man named Angel Clare, son of a clergyman who, having turned his back on the church and thus been denied a university education (something of a sore point for Hardy, reminiscent of Jude the Obscure), is training to be an ‘agriculturalist.’ A slow and sweet romance blossoms between the two that draws Tess out of her bitter mistrust of men. Hardy makes it so pure, airy and magical, that one wants to slip under it like the waters of a cool stream and revel in the morsel of happiness he allows Tess, though one knows it is but a morsel and the thick wad of pages to follow will be scrawled with agony and misfortune (pp. 192-3):

She had not known that men could be so disinterested, chivalrous, protective, in their love for women as he. Angel Clare was far from all that she thought him in this respect; but he was, in truth, more spiritual than animal; he had himself well in hand, and was singularly free from grossness. Though not cold-natured, he was rather bright than hot—less Byronic than Shelleyan; could love desperately, but his love more especially inclined to the imaginative and ethereal; it was an emotion which could jealously guard the loved one against his very self. This amazed and enraptured Tess.

Compelled into marrying him, both by her own intense feelings and his, Tess cannot be so unjust to so loving a soul as to keep such a significant secret from him. And to our minds, we yearn for Tess to find a confidant to describe her sorrows to and ease her burden just a little, and think Angel is above social conventions. But he is not. On Tess’s revelation of her unfortunate past, Angel can no longer see in her his pure country maid. Though he knows intellectually that she is not to blame, and though he knows that the world wrongs her in oppressing her for what was committed by others, he wants Tess to fulfill his ideal of a spotless dairymaid. Forgiving in the general, he cannot accept this situation in the particular, when he had such romantic notions of his own lot in life.

It is here that Hardy is the staunchest defender of womankind: the writer and the reader know that Tess is what she seems, only someone with power over her has been cruel and thoughtless with her body. The reader implores Clare to dig deeper in his heart, and the writer warns us to think again, and not to trust even the kindest-hearted man, who would yet ruin a woman because he cannot have her entirely for his own. Don’t think you are different, or that he is different!—cries Hardy. Men, forsake the chains of society and its false morality and love your women, he cries. Love them through their suffering and the crimes committed against them; don’t make them pay twice.

These feminist themes cement Hardy’s work as Gothic, for it is at its root about the clash of gender roles and expectations that ought to belong to a bygone century but still persist in his own time. Gothic is the perfect vehicle for this: ‘No other form of writing…is as insistent as Gothic on juxtaposing potential revolution and possible reaction—about gender, sexuality, race, class the colonisers versus the colonized, the physical versus the metaphysical, and abnormal versus normal psychology—and leaving both extremes sharply before us and far less resolved than the conventional endings in most of these works claim them to be’ (p. 13).

-III-
And now he’s gone; and now he’s gone; …
And now he’s gone!
The flowers we potted perhaps are thrown
To rot upon the farm.
And where we had our supper-fire
May now grow nettle, dock, and briar,
And all the place be mould and mire
So cozy once and warm.

Alec D’Urberville is Tess’s misfortune personified. Not only does he violate her in her fresh-faced youth, not only does his irremovable blight sever her from her loving husband, but he returns to haunt her—as an evangelist. It is not enough that he has destroyed her happiness, but he is now born again, of a D.L. Moody, Anabaptist-descended variety, if I am not mistaken, preaching fire and brimstone to sinners, getting about in a smock-frock and beard in place of his dandy clothes and cane of his younger, more reckless days. The Gothic coincidence which makes this twist even more painful is that he has been converted by Angel Clare’s clergyman father. D’Urberville is redeemed. Tess is condemned. D’Urberville has broken no law and is blameless in the eyes of God. Tess has flouted the law in marrying when she is physically bound to the man who first raped her; she is forever soiled in God’s eyes for seducing a man. And she believes it.

Tess Durbeyfield and Alec D'Urberville, by Hubert Herkomer

When Tess expresses her views on Christianity, only promoting the spirit of the sermon on the mount, views formed first by Clare and not wholly understood by Tess’s still forming mind, she unwittingly converts her destroyer away from God and his evangelical calling. Freed of his struggle of spirit against flesh, D’Urberville reverts to pursuing Tess with the full force of his passions. He attains his vile, domineering union, and Tess is wed to her misfortune.

-IV-
And it was I who did it all,
Who did it all;
‘Twas I who made the blow to fall
On him who thought no guile.
Well, it is finished—past, and he
Has left me to my misery,
And I must take my Cross on me
For wronging him awhile.

Clare’s internal struggle continues for years, and he cannot forget his abandoned wife, whose friend had asserted, ‘Nobody could love ’ee more than Tess did! … She would have laid down her life for ’ee’ (p. 270). Yet he is still not willing to overlook her stains (pp. 264-5):

This night the woman of his belittling deprecations was thinking how great and good her husband was. But over them both there hung a deeper shade than the shade which Angel Clare perceived, namely, the shade of his own limitations. With all his attempted independence of judgement this advanced man was yet the slave to custom and conventionality when surprised back into his early teachings. … In considering what Tess was not, he overlooked what she was, and forgot that the defective can be more than the entire.

Not even Angel Clare is able to see past the vicious condemnation of victims of rape, until his own lover is tied to her destroyer. Tess is ‘too late beloved.’ The tensions are not resolved in time; Tess is a victim of her gender and of her time.

Tess finally destroys her destroyer, and is in the act emancipated. Is it symbolic? Should she have confronted injustice and misfortune earlier? But we know that she couldn’t, for, though downtrodden, she was not then thoroughly driven to despair. Tess had learned her lot in life, and feeble as it was, she had clung to it and made the best of it. In freeing herself, however, she has removed the last crumbs of respectability society had to toss her way, and is finally and completely condemned. ‘“Justice” was done’ (p. 397). It is harrowing that Hardy’s novels were also condemned in his lifetime, with his manuscript rejected ‘on moral grounds’ by three publishers (p. xix). Hardy described Tess’s ‘fall’ a ‘paradoxical morality,’ but was unable to sway conservative readers, many of whom loathed the ‘succulence’ of Tess, branding her a ‘little harlot’ properly chastised (pp. xix-xx). Here’s to a morally clear-sighted and bravely outspoken critic of his times, who, drawing on Gothic devices to present his formidable social commentary, was on our side.

Hardy, Thomas. 2008 [1891]. Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Penguin Classics: London.

Hogle, Jerrold E. 2002. ‘Introduction: the Gothic in western culture.’ The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, ed. Jerrold E. Hogle. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge.

Standard

The way I am

It is comforting that the world changes as we change, and that those that have inspired us continue to grow as we grow. People have series of books with which they grew up, whose characters matured as they did, whose themes reflected the dominant ideas and fears of their times, and returning to them is a way to reflect on one’s own journey and to relive that part of a broader history, to position oneself within a broader consciousness.

Music accompanies us in this way as well. At fourteen, I found myself overwhelmed by two strong impulses: Christianity and guitars. The two had to converge, and this is where I ‘met’ Jennifer Knapp. She was, and certainly is now, what people might mockingly consider a walking contradiction: a Christian rock musician. To me, she was simply a brutally honest person with a guitar, who happened to love God.

The way I am

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I brought home her CD, The way I am, I listened to it cover to cover on my little boom box. Then I picked up a guitar and learned to play my first song, a scathing self-assessment that changed my outlook for two intense years:

It’s better off this way, to be deaf, dumb and lame, than to be the way I am.

Kill this tongue, for I am hung by this wicked notion.

Tame the beast, release the noose I’ve woven

O, wasted tears dripping from my tongue

I’m hung.

I consulted with my dad over this concept of ‘Christian rock.’ He was happy enough to be a Christian, and happy enough to listen to rock music, but opined that never ought the twain meet—keep the holy holy and the sinful sinful. I supposed this was defendable, but seemed nonetheless unreasonable given Jennifer Knapp simply wrote music that bared her soul, and couldn’t help that her soul was engaged in a fierce spiritual struggle. Never did she say that God was somehow deficient in power or spitefully forsaking her—what she said was that she felt abandoned because she was fallible and human. ‘When I’m down, I search every mistake, I’m looking for new regret, sometimes I forget that his grace is sufficient for me, that it’s deeper and wider than I can conceive.’

Mysteriously, and without warning, Jennifer Knapp disappeared. She skipped out on the rest of her recording contract with Gotee Records with no explanation. I speculated that, since she had been fiercely atheist until the age of eighteen, she might have abandoned God and reverted to her old ways in secret, hoping no one would discover her godly rock star past.

Eight years later, Jennifer resurfaced with a bold revelation: she is a lesbian. She still loves God, and remains convinced of God’s love for her. And she’s ready to make some more music.

And—she has been living under a rock all this time: Australia. No one will ever find you here.

Jennifer’s blog deals with the question of whether her sexuality is really anyone’s business. ‘I am who I am. I love who I love. What difference does it make whether or not people know?’ She concludes, ‘the difference maker was one of personal integrity.’ In television interviews, she bravely and articulately responds to flippant and near accusatory questions with honesty and dignity. She points no fingers. She agrees that people will ‘eat her alive’ and refuse to listen to a gay musician and feel betrayed by a sinful fellow being. But she simply holds her head up and continues to ruminate about her struggles in a candid and thoughtful way. She never claimed to be anybody’s role model, or God on earth. Jennifer Knapp wrote about her fears and doubts and joys, and people respected her integrity.

Along the way of living we accumulate the joys and sorrows of our individual experience that grow into ‘our story’. We learn by listening to others. We learn in the telling of our own journey. We wound, heal, divide and unite, over and over again.

Jennifer’s revelation comes at a time when Australia, her adopted home, makes some important political shifts towards accepting gay marriage. The Labour Party is poised to open the church doors to gay couples, allowing them to express their love in the same way as a heterosexual couple. Younger generations see no need to isolate their gay friends and family, to deny them a simple human gesture.

Christians, the champions of Faith, Charity and Love, continue to call gay people diseased, unnatural, sinful, disgusting, and to have knee-jerk reactions to gay sex as a hideous crime, a fiendish desire that ought to be suppressed. But what does this mean for someone who is gay? Are they really to take up their cross and deny themselves? Are they to live dishonestly? Are they to reject the being that God created? Or are they barred from having faith? Are they denied religion? Must they live celibate, or in guilt? Assuming that gay people are not depraved Sodomites looking for trouble, intentionally inciting the wrath of God, assuming they are regular people, working, paying their bills, studying, playing music, going to the beach, buying thoughtful Christmas presents for their grandmothers, are they really committing hideous crimes? Will Christians let them experience loving relationships? Will Christians let them love God? Will Christians let God love them?

Christianity is an old religion. It preached things like ‘no sex before marriage,’ because people would catch diseases, or impregnate each other, in uncertain times when cures were not available and when children needed the security of a father’s income. At its heart, Christianity claims to be founded on love, to have as it’s backbone the motto, ‘God is love,’ to proclaim to the corners of the earth that ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.’ Now, I know about Lot hanging in Sodom and Gomorrah, and all the depravity and the turning of Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt because she dared look back longingly at her town, but how does this fit with the gospel preached by one Jesus, friend to prostitutes and tax collectors? I’m sure there’s plenty of rules in the old testament about not being buds with prostitutes, but Jesus came ready to accept the very real tears of prostitutes anointing his feet. I don’t consider gay people to be prostitutes. What I consider them to be is real people, full of loves and fears and hopes and dreams like anyone else, cruelly marginalised for their sexual practices.

Seeing Jennifer Knapp emerge from the New South Wales coast, boldly declaring her homosexuality to the Christian community is a surprising twist in my avid following of her career. It gives me new material in my own journey, having myself turned my back on Christianity, when I had far less against me within the church than she did. I trace her journey with interest and admiration, because I know she is a person of integrity, and I hope she paves the way for others in her predicament, caught in the hateful web of the religion founded on ‘love.’

Standard