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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Palm Springs’ Church of St. Paul in the Desert wants to help tell the Coachella Valley’s story.

Working with the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission, the Church of St. Paul and artist Bernard Hoyes have begun work on a community mural, “Cast Your Bread Upon the Waters.”

On a recent visit to the in-progress mural—on the church’s wall facing the alleyway behind Trina Turk—Hoyes was finishing up after a group of children from BRAFF (Building Resilience in African-American Families) had done some painting with him. Hoyes said he welcomes people to come and share ideas.

“I’ll just enlarge and re-realize it,” Hoyes said, pointing to a wagon wheel some of the kids had painted. “I’ll just make it more realistic as a wagon wheel so it can be recognized. They suggested things, and I’ll make them come alive in a way that makes them a part of what I’m doing with the mural.”

The Rev. Andrew Green, the rector of St. Paul in the Desert, at 125 W. El Alameda, agreed with the community vision.

“This is one of the elements that makes it a community mural,” Green said. “The vision is adjusting and changing as different people participate.”

Hoyes said he wants the mural to acknowledge the cultural history of the Coachella Valley and its different ethnicities.

“I’ve been living in the desert permanently now for about five years,” Hoyes said. “I’ve been coming here for about 30 years, with my studio in Desert Hot Springs. Since I’ve been out here, I’ve been involved in the community, and I’ve seen the development of Palm Springs from year to year, and I wanted to do something that was an exposé of the development. What are the important elements of the development? One of those things was water. … Water is a nutriment, or in some parts of the Bible, a sacrament, and it’s an important part of the mural. There are different ethnicities from one side to the other side, and we have Esther Williams (who was a Palm Springs resident) in all her glory making water a kind of iconic element during the ’40s and ’50s as entertainment.”

Green said he’s had a mural in mind for the church for about two years.

“Originally, it was on a different wall,” he said. “I was talking with the people from the Palm Springs Art Commission. … They had an exhibit of young people’s art for a Martin Luther King celebration. When we were setting up for that … two people from the Arts Commission came and said, ‘Are you still serious about doing a mural?’ There were two artists who came and checked it out, saying that this wall was better than the other one we had in mind.

“The designs (artists) were submitting went to my church’s board, and they selected this design. But one of the ideas for it was that a mural is a very participatory kind of art. It invites people to get involved in the production end, but it also invites people to get involved at the viewing end. … People will find this to be a sacred space for them and their own spirituality. It would be an offering of our church to our community.”

Hoyes said he’s enjoying painting the mural.

“There’s a level of satisfaction with being involved, especially with the church,” Hoyes said. “My art speaks to religious and spiritual enlightenment and continuity. I made a name for myself as an artist with spiritual works. Most of the work has been derivative of African religious retention. I was raised in a backyard church in Jamaica, and it has stayed with me. I’m kind of versed in the Bible, and I’ve studied other religions. The commonality that is existent—I understand it, and I can inform with the symbols and make an informed statement about spirituality.”

Since the city of Palm Springs temporarily banned murals before creating a new murals ordinance—mandating a rather restrictive and expensive approvals process—back in 2014, few new murals have gone up. But that may change soon, Green said. 

“Palm Springs has had a change of heart in murals,” he said. “The existing mural code was designed to make it hard to do murals. But the Public Arts Commission and the City Council have changed and want to encourage murals—but encourage murals going through a planning process with the Arts Commission in advance. For example, the Arts Commission … said, ‘If you do this and set this up, we’ll approve this, and we’ll take care of paying the city fees.’  … We waited four months to get the process accomplished before (Hoyes) put a brush to the wall so that it was completely appropriate with the city. I did not find anything they asked for onerous or creatively muzzling; the process just takes time.

“Some of the code said for this mural to receive the benefit of the fees, about $1,500 being reimbursed, it would have to be up for at least two years.”

Green said he hopes the mural inspires people to look into the church and to find meaning.

“Far too much, what we do with church is aimed at supporting the building and the institution as a corporation or a facility. What I’m interested in is seeing the church as engaged and embedded in the community,” he said. “I hope that does bring people here. It might bring them here for 12-step groups; it might bring them here for lunch when Well in the Desert is serving lunch on Wednesday—or all different types of things. If it brought them to church, I’d love it.”

Published in Visual Arts

The presidency of Donald Trump has made many Americans angry, frustrated, sad and fearful for the future. But in my case, the presidency of Donald Trump helped turn me from a staunch atheist into a Christian.

Let me explain.

I was raised by my grandparents. My grandfather was an Episcopalian, and my grandmother was a Catholic. My first exposure to religion came from my grandfather taking me to Episcopalian services in my hometown of Mentor, Ohio, whenever he was up early enough on Sundays. I remember those experiences fondly: I got to know the other kids in Sunday school, and enjoyed the fun arts and crafts that reflected the values of the Episcopalian Church.

Then came a sleepover at a friend’s house when I was 9. The next morning, we all went to my friend’s Baptist church, where rather than being nice, the teachers told us fire-and-brimstone stories that frightened me. After a few interruptions by other kids, the pastor came into the classroom, yelling at us—and praying for Jesus to save us from evil.

I never wanted to go to church again. When my grandfather would go to the Episcopal parish, I’d ask to stay home.

Later in life, I practiced Buddhism for about a decade; I even had a refuge ceremony performed by a Theravada monk on my 21st birthday. However, I never really found my place in Buddhism; the Asian cultural elements didn’t mesh with my life in the United States, and I didn’t get the answers to questions I needed from my teachers and fellow Buddhists. After that, I abandoned religion, and came to embrace atheism.

Earlier this year, I found myself in a deep depression. I was spiritually drained as I tried to make sense of my life in these uncertain times. I turned to books written by Ram Dass, who I had always admired; they helped. Then, of all things, the royal wedding uplifted me: The sermon by Michael Curry, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, at the ceremony for Prince Harry and Meghan Markle was nothing short of remarkable. I began to think about the things my grandfather believed in and tried to instill in me as a child—values inspired by his Episcopal faith.

Ram Dass once said, “Faith is what is left after all your beliefs have been blown to hell.” I had essentially reached that point: I was questioning all that I believed in, and ironically, the only thing I felt faith in was that there had to be something greater than myself.

I’ve been shaken to my core several times during my life. I dealt with an alcoholic mother who died at the age of 40; my father abandoned me before I was born; even my grandfather was not as accessible to me as I would have liked during my childhood. Despite the despair I’ve felt at times, I’ve always survived—through the grace of God, I now believe. There were many times when things could have turned out much worse. An open mind and a new perspective have led to my newfound faith in God.

What does the current president have to do with all of this? The climate he created helped blow all of my beliefs to hell. The despair he’s fomenting is inescapable on television and on social media—from Milo Yiannopoulos bullying people over the internet in the name of “free speech,” to white supremacists hitting activists with cars, to the general dark cloud that seems to be hovering over our country. Political discourse has turned ugly, and people are becoming more and more vindictive over political matters.

A fairly recent poll from the Public Religion Research Institute showed that, incredibly, 75 percent of white evangelicals still support Trump. Famous religious figures such as Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell Jr. have turned faith into a partisan game. Trump and his cabinet have been using religion as a means to promote an agenda that opposes diplomacy abroad, and both human rights and civility at home and beyond. 

Given my life experiences—including those as a gay man—I’d come to see religion as part of the problem rather than the solution. In many ways, I still feel that way. I also couldn’t wrap my head around the concept of a vengeful God, and I was disgusted by the “loving intolerance” expressed by many so-called Christians regarding people who believe differently than they do, and people with lifestyles different than theirs.

When I told friends I was starting to think back to the values instilled in me by my grandfather and the Episcopal Church, and that I was thinking of going back to church, most were supportive. Others were—and are—deeply concerned about me. I am often asked how the person who once fervently denounced religion is now a regular churchgoer.

I’ve long known the Episcopal Church is LGBT-affirming, stands for social justice, and allows clergy—both male and female—to marry. Still, I was wary when I first found myself at the Church of St. Paul in the Desert in Palm Springs. The rector, the Rev. Andrew Green, encouraged me to explore my new interest and told me I was welcome to attend services at the church whenever I was ready.

I began attending services on Saturday afternoons. At first, I was nervous and didn’t know what to expect, but I soon felt welcomed and comfortable.

One particular service “sold” me: The Rev. Green was talking about what makes someone a good Episcopalian. He pulled out three simple rules that were on a sheet of paper: “Love God; love others; and love yourself.”

Those three simple rules, combined with my experiences in reading both The Book of Common Prayer and the Bible with my newfound open-mindedness, have given me a perspective on life that not even the horrors of the Trump presidency can diminish. The Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi has also become important to me, and I have recited it to myself many times: Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

In this confusing and dark time, Donald Trump has not only led me to reaffirm my beliefs in the values of human rights for all, equality for all, and social justice; it has also led me to a place where I have found solitude, comfort and a belief in civility—even at times when civility is seemingly nowhere to be found.

Brian Blueskye is the assistant editor of the Coachella Valley Independent.

Published in Community Voices