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Friday, December 6, 2013

From Problem to Miracle

Wednesday was just one of those days. You know, the kind that happen and you wonder, "Why?!" or "WTF?" It started out as sort of a bummer. I woke up late, had part of a cup of coffee, which is terrible, because I always need a whole cup or more. Then I went to work without breakfast, so I had a combination of chex-mix, and salted nuts, which got me through till lunch. But the work was piled high, so I worked through lunch, left a little late and raced home for an appointment. It was then that I found out the bad news. For the third, or maybe fourth time in the last twelve months, a high school student in my small town had committed suicide.

I'm a youth adviser for the high school kids in the local Unitarian Universalist church, and I immediately thought about the kids, who would be most affected. Then, I felt all my energy drain and I settled into a sort of mental and physical depression. My appointment was with a therapist, so I talked a bit about how this all felt, that didn't seem to be productive, so I switched topics to how my oldest kids had just experienced a break through in their relationship and our house was no longer a constant battle ground. After therapy, I brought my youngest son to his basketball practice, which was fun to watch, and then I went home and began to wonder about this rash of teen suicides we've been seeing.

So today, a full day has passed, and comments about this suicide have been planted on facebook, from them, conversations have grown, which have included insightful commentary as well as simple blame for society, or television, or bullying, and as I've watched this transpire, I've wondered what there is to say. So now I'm banging out a blog post on the topic, but just like yesterday, I still don't know what to say. I could try to talk about love, or inherent worth and dignity. I could try to talk about taking a breath and getting through the hard times, or how I've wanted to take my own life in the past. I could talk about all sorts of things, but somehow they all feel flat right now.

I think the problem is bigger than any of that. I think it is something that encompasses all of that. It is the air we breathe, the thing we're not really aware of. It lives in our community and our conversations. It breaths every time we look at someone and think, "wow I wish there was something to do, but they don't want to change. All we can do is feel sorry for that person," If we're really honest, isn't that last sentence a little more like, "I really feel sorry for that loser?" For the past day, I've been wondering what we are doing wrong? Why are our teens killing themselves? What is the source of their overwhelming stress, or their feelings of worthlessness, or shame, or lack of hope? Why can't they imagine a future that needs them and that they should live to experience? I've been asking these questions and it just occurred to me that maybe its because our society has a deficit of meaningful compassion. That people are so quick to say, "laugh, and the world laughs with you, but cry and you cry alone."

Last week my kids took a course in San Francisco and on the last day of the course, the parents were asked to come sit in another room and participate in what is called a parent coaching session. The coach asked for two volunteers, whose job would be to write what we said on two chalk boards. The first chalk board was to filled with parent statements about what we're worried about with regards to our kids. The second chalk board was what qualities a perfect parent has.

The first chalk board was filled with worries about things like our kids being lazy, or slovenly. About poor grades, or a lack of respect. About being argumentative, or defiant, or bullies. At some point, while we were calling out things that we are worried about, I gasped and realized that all of those worries are caused by our love for our children. So later that evening, when our kids came into the room with us, the leader asked if there were any parents who wanted to share something with their kids. I raised my hand and stood up. I took the microphone, looked at my kids and described how we had filled a chalk board with complaints and worries we share about our kids. I admitted that I had contributed heavily to the list. I said that some how some wires seem to have gotten crossed in my head and that while I was getting angry and being pedantic. While I was being frustrated and upset, complaining to my kids about their grades and telling them that they are being lazy. While I was hurling various insults, what I really meant to say was, "I LOVE YOU! I love you more than anything you could imagine. I would do anything for you. I want you to be safe and grow up to be happy people. I love you and I apologize for telling you instead that you that you are flawed and can never be enough." I stood there crying in front of fifty teenagers and all of their parents, and admitted how horribly I had failed to communicate what I meant.

I told them that they could count on me to remember how to say I love you and that they could count on me to look for how they are right, for how we could be a happy family, and how we could increase the love we all have for each other. I've had an increase of moments like that recently, but that one just flooded my mind and it makes me think that there may be something important in that story.

Maybe the important thing is actually a simple thing. I'll start by saying that today is the last day of Hanukkah, and yesterday, my little town was shook by tragedy. But Hanukkah is a time for miracles. So I submit that maybe a huge component of what we're doing wrong is simple to address. The most important thing that my kids taught me the other week, is that they aren't defined, nor is their value assessed by their grades. They are perfect, and my job is to see how great they are and encourage their greatness. This isn't always easy, and I've already failed countless times. But in the end, nothing great can be accomplished without lots of failure. So maybe our focus has been wrong, and that is why our kids feel hopeless. Maybe our job is not to direct them into a future where they'll have some 9-5 office job and bring home a good pay check. Maybe our job is to see them as miraculous and trust that a miracle always has a bright and inspiring future, which may be hard to imagine to an observer.

Maybe we need simply to give freely of our love and when we offer guidance or criticism, to offer that feedback from a place of love, rather than anger or frustration. Maybe we need to teach our kids that it is more important to help our fellow human beings than to be successful in business. Maybe we've been trying to solve a spiritual crisis with educational theory, and intellectual band aids.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Not current - but still true. Nine months later, Newtown still haunts me!

--by Mike Adams
I wrote this on December 22 of 2012, and I couldn't quite post it at the time. Maybe it was too raw. I just found it and decided to go ahead and post it now.

Words can't express...

Last Saturday evening, December 15th, after everyone was in bed, I finally sat to read about the headline news that I had been avoiding. I clicked my browser to the Washington Post and read about a disturbed young man, who murdered his mother, and then then went to the school where she worked and executed 20 little kids between the ages of five and seven. He finished by murdering school staff prior to turning the gun on himself.

My eyes filled with tears and for more than an hour I wept. That was nearly a week ago, and tonight, as I sit here banging out these words out my eyes again are filling with tears. I am overcome with an immediate sense of what we've lost.

My little bugaboo is seven. He is beautiful, excited about life, adventurous, bursting with curiosity, and easy to love. Every morning in December, he bounces down the stairs, scampers to check the advent calendar and delights in gifts left behind by elves for him and his brothers.

I might get in trouble for telling you that he has a secret super hero identity. He has only shared this information with me, his mom and his brothers. I've been sworn to secrecy, so I won't reveal which superhero he is. He is concerned that “robbers” not use that information against him while he fights crime.

Last year, I helped coach his soccer team, and each Tuesday & Thursday, I worked in vain to create order out of chaos. I coaxed and cajoled a group of six and seven year olds trying to direct their focus to moving a soccer ball in one direction or another. Ultimately, there wasn't much interest in soccer. However, I was amused by the light saber duels that took place during both soccer practice and soccer games. These kids were fun and excited. Each one a miracle, a beautiful treasure, our hope for the future. So as I read about the tragedy in Newtown Connecticut, I couldn't help but to imagine my little soccer kids being gunned down. I imagined the fear in their eyes and the screams as they were violently sent from this world. To be honest, I can't bear the idea.

It is impossible to imagine the pain of losing a tiny little person, who calls me Dad or coach or uncle Mike. These little people represent my hope for the future. They are pure possibility and sheer inspiration.

To the school staff who sacrificed their lives protecting our little babies, I say thank you and more importantly, I'm so sorry you lost so much. Though my words are insufficient and I can say nothing to adequately honor your memory and sacrifice, it is all I have and it is what I can offer at this moment along with my deep sorrow.

To the parents, struggling to survive this tragedy, I can only offer my deepest condolences. I can't imagine what you are going through. Your future has been stolen from you and it is horrible. I am so sorry that you have to endure this tragedy.


To my own kids, the kids I coached, the kids I know from Sunday School, and the kids from my son's school, I say you are beautiful and I love you.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

But Nothing Will Ever Change If You Don't Change It Yourself!

Last school year, my seven year old son began a career in home school. He woke every morning as I prepared for my work day. Before I left, each day, his school day had already begun.

I watched in awe as his knowledge of science, math, reading, history, and grammar blossomed. Today, he reads at an advanced level and he is a knowledgeable and enthusiastic student of history.

He has an innate curiosity, which when coupled with Tara's teaching ability produce a sensitive, brilliant and inquisitive lover of life.

I just finished watching the video below, and it reminded me of Tara. She was previously a reading coach at a local elementary school and from my perspective, she is one of the best. She is passionately interested in learning to teach ever more effectively. She spent hours researching methods of teaching and she was constantly inquiring about how she might help one of her students to master a particularly challenging skill they would need in life.

She brought her work home every day and she pursued it with zeal.

I watched as my wife invested hers passion and energy into being the best possible reading coach she could be. Her position paid less than fifteen thousand dollars a year, but she spent hours researching her topics and her eyes shone like bright stars when she shared about even the slightest success. This past year, she has been a part time tutor and a full time home school teacher.

I've seen the same passion burn within her that fed those students two years ago. Today it nourishes our little son and her tutoring clients. This evening, as I watched the video below, it brought two tears to my eye. First for the kid, Sammy, whose life has been changed for the better, and second for my wife and all the other underpaid, unappreciated and sometimes vilified teachers who show up every day and give their all to the next generation.

To Tara, I know that half of teaching is the ability to transmit information to a student, but the other, more important half is the ability to help a person become an enthusiastic student, and that is where you really shine. Your love of learning and your enthusiasm are infectious. Your students can't help but to learn when in your presence. They find themselves caught up in the loving embrace of your curiosity and they develop their own excitement for discovering the new and the previously unknown.

Though you lack certification, you are the best kind of teacher and the world is better for your being here. Your commitment to people's transformation and progress is inspiring. You are a carrier of light and wisdom, illuminating the dark places in life and we are all blessed to have you.

In Love and Awe,
Your Husband -- Mike

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Hiding, Shame and Inherent Worth

--by Mike Adams

Delivered June 2, 2013 in Santa Fe, NM


When my son was four years old, he came home one day from Grandma's house with a sad face. I asked him what was wrong and he said that Chloe cat was missing and she had probably been eaten by a coyote.

I hugged him and I felt a little sad. I really liked Chloe; my sister had rescued her from an abusive situation more than twelve years earlier and she was both sweet and ancient. In fact, I sometimes amused myself by imagining Chloe as witness to the 1680 Pueblo revolt or alternatively, the introduction to horses on this continent. She had lived with my parents for many years and her disappearance wasn't a surprise to anyone. I remember thinking how her body was riddled with arthritis and her eyesight had decayed to near blindness. I figured it was good that she didn't suffer.

Several years later, it occurred to me that perhaps Chloe had never become a coyote snack. That maybe she had been hiding, when my little bug-a-boo came home with a sad face. Animals have a tendency to isolate and hide when they are injured or sick. It is an instinct that originates in the lizard brain, which helps a vulnerable animal to avoid predation or conflict. Maybe Chloe was hiding that day, following an instinct that probably originated with the dawn of complex life on this planet.

The thing is that if she was hiding, Chloe would have been better off coming home and allowing herself to be cared for and comforted. In fact, pets would generally fare better if they went home when sick or injured, rather than hiding. But that simply runs contrary to behavior that has been an evolutionary advantage for millions of years.

The tendency to hide seems universal. Humans do it with what seems like a comparable frequency to any other species. However, like our pets, we often hide when it isn't necessary, and when it causes trouble. In fact, we often mis-perceive threats and react, with anger, fear and even violence, when we should have shown kindness. We protect ourselves from predators when there is no actual threat; the result being we hurt our friends and loved ones, our children and parents in a misguided effort to stay safe from a danger that isn't actually present.

When I was seven years old, I stood in a mortuary and gingerly extended my hand to touch my Dad's cheek. He was lying in a coffin and his cold skin felt like a mild shock to me. Grief swelled  inside me and burst forth with violent disdain for my desire to maintain control. I collapsed and sobbed into my hands with every fiber of my being. A few days later, at his funeral, I had decided that I would suppress any urge to cry for the duration of the service. I wanted to be strong and in control, to display no weakness. I wanted to act like, “a man.” Already my instinct to hide was interfering with my ability to get the help I needed in a crowd of people who loved me and who wanted to provide comfort and support.

In the thirty four years since that day, I have seen every single person I know add layers of complexity to their tough facade. I too have added layers, and they have caused me to sneer when I should have apologized. I've hurled insults when I needed to be kind, and I've been callous, when the appropriate reaction would have been to show empathy. I remember in eighth grade, a school-mate of mine, who was brilliant, but who also had a host of physical challenges. He went home one day, took a gun and shot himself in the chest.

When I heard about his death, I wanted to cry, but he and I didn't get along, so I hardened myself to the tragedy, telling myself that it was good, that he had been mean to people and had humiliated several of us in front of others. When I did that, a little bit of me died, and I made the world a little less kind. I had just added a thick layer to my own facade of toughness and indifference.

I work hard to justify my own poor behavior in light of someone else's actions. I think this is normal and that you probably do it too. My first memory of really working at making excuses is in seventh and eight grade. I endured daily bullying and I regularly fantasized about giving someone a Chuck Norris type of beat down, or at least delivering a well timed and devastating verbal response. But I never could do either, and when the fantasy dissolved in the face of real life, I often found myself wishing for the courage to take control of my suffering a swing from the end of a rope.

That doesn't make me unique, in fact, suicide is the second leading cause of death for our young people between the ages of 10 and 24. It is a final desperate act, aimed at asserting some kind of control in the face of overwhelming emotional pain. Our kids take charge of the only thing they feel they can influence and they leave us for ever.

They are the victims of an acute conflict between people's evolutionary need to be members of society, and our overwhelming tendency to avoid being emotionally vulnerable. This conflict between survival instincts leaves many feeling hopeless and abandoned, even while in the midst of people we love and who love us. We desperately need to experience love and acceptance, but rather than sharing ourselves, we isolate. We're threatened by the prospect of authentically sharing who we are, what we're afraid of and how we're vulnerable—we are ruled by shame.

The introductory line to Dr. Brene Brown's TED talk on shame reads, “Shame is an unspoken epidemic, the secret behind many forms of broken behavior.” Brown has studied shame in our society for nearly a decade, and she has developed the following definition of shame. “An intensely painful feeling or experience of believing we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”

Is that what my school-mate experienced as he pulled the trigger nearly thirty years ago? Though decades have passed since I walked the halls of Los Alamos Middle School, I vividly remember being ruled by fear, being filled with anxiety, afraid of what was going to happen next—terrified that my classmates would humiliate me yet again. My daily life was a trial of fear, anger, worry, and embarrassment. This nurtured the seeds of shame, which blossomed in the fertile soil of an insecure, overweight, pimple faced kid, who hated life. Even today, I find myself paralyzed when I need to take actions that could make a difference in my life. I'm terrified of failure and ridicule. I'm afraid to be exposed, because I truly believe that I'm unworthy of being your peer and enjoying your companionship.

Those seeds of shame have profoundly influenced my life, my sense of worth and my ability to follow through on important commitments. Even today, when I look in the mirror, what I see is an unattractive, obese slob. I often see a person who disgusts me, who is neither worthy of a good life nor of your respect. I am ashamed of my body and my weight. I am ashamed of my finances and the fact that I never finished college. I'm ashamed of how I've parented my kids, particularly the one, with whom I've had ongoing and difficult conflicts. I'm ashamed of the husband I've been and my lack of empathy and compassion when my wife needs it most. I'm ashamed to have burdened my parents with ongoing requests for financial help and support and I'm ashamed of all the money that has been spent on college tuition, which never resulted in my earning a degree. When I think of my life, I often think of someone who had great potential and myriad opportunities, but who squandered all of it. I live with deep shame, which impacts every area of my life.

Gosh, what a downer...right?! How many people came here to church this morning to hear someone talk hopelessness? Raise your hands.

Well, you can consider it a gift! I don't know how much you appreciate it and I have to apologize for failing to wrap it nicely, but trust me it is a gift. Every single one of you, knows me better now than friends, whom I've been acquainted with for decades. You've heard me share the things that I never wanted to admit to anyone, not even myself. You have heard me confess my deepest fears and insecurities and I thank you for listening.

I did it for a reason. You see, we've all inherited this society's tendency to use shame as a means of controlling people. As a society, we shame our children and hope they'll do well in school. We shame our prisoners and hope they'll become law abiding citizens. We shame our girls and hope they'll control their weight, and we shame our boys, because they are too distractible at home and in the classroom. We shame people who cross gender lines, or who disagree with our politics. I think our society is addicted to shame, and somehow we don't know that all the while, shame is feeding on us. It is like a fungal infection, rotting our skin, it thrives in dark and hidden places, where it drops spores and spreads. It consumes our sense of worth and destroys our chances for happiness

Shame can't bring about good behavior. It isn't like guilt, which is an uncomfortable feeling we get when we made a mistake and took actions that conflict with our values. Shame tells us that we are a mistake and that we will never be able to live consistent with our values. Shame carries a direct correlation with violence, aggression, addiction, depression, eating disorders, bullying and suicide. It erects high walls, forcing people into isolation and subjugating them to fear. Shame is a monster at our gates, which causes us to tremble and hide. We've forgotten that we are its authors and we have the power to mitigate its damage.

We hide unaware that shame's existence requires secrecy. We're unaware that shame, when exposed to the light of day, once removed from the shadows, whithers and begins to decay. Shame can't survive open and honest expression or empathetic feedback, so it makes people feel threatened and hopeless. But when we're open, when we're honest, when we share ourselves, then we develop resilience against shame and we gain hope for the future. When we're courageous and authentic, we allow others to give us empathy and compassion. We are able to experience love and acceptance, despite having exposed our flaws. We're able to begin removing the terrible manacle from our neck, which shame placed there, and which has prevented us from pursuing our dreams.

There is no substitute for being open either. I went to Mexico over spring break with my son and built houses for impoverished people. It was an incredible experience. In fact, my hands have done all kinds of good work. They have tutored literacy in the county jail, written sermons, prepared RE curricula, held the hand of friends dying from cancer, and comforted distraught children. None of that has compensated for my shame. I've earned a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I've worked hard at my job, I've made people laugh, and I've studied history, science, and math. None of that has made me feel worthy of love and acceptance. Finally at forty one years of age, my quest has taken me inward to confront my own sense of uselessness. And if what I've read is true, my job now is to share my insecurities and place my broken self on the exam table for others to see. This is frightening and it requires that I practice courage and faith.

That second word, faith is a tough one. Faith and I have an awkward relationship, owing to the fact that I am an atheist. Practicing faith often feels to me like playing roulette with my mortgage check. It occurs like magical thinking and it never really seems like a good idea. But recently, I stumbled upon a great definition, which has made faith available. According to the CharacterFirst website, “Faith is having confidence that action rooted in good character will yield the best outcome, even when I cannot see how.” So Today, here in church, I place my faith in the notion that shame can be overcome by authentic self-expression. I place my faith in the idea that when we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people, we actually mean that I too have inherent worth and dignity. As do all of you, even those of you who live with deep shame, like I do. Today, I place my faith in the possibility that my words might touch someone, who is hiding and afraid, who desperately needs the love and acceptance of a community. I place my faith in the possibility that they might find the courage to authentically share their true selves and their deep insecurities, that they might find a path to experiencing the love this community has to offer. I place my faith in you, to be empathetic and compassionate.

In closing, I'll share a short story by Anthony de Mello

A woman dreamed she walked into a brand-new shop in the marketplace, a shop she had never seen before.

To her surprise, God was standing behind the counter.

She looked up and asked, “what do you sell here?”

God replied, “everything your heart desires.”

She smiled faintly, but hardly daring to believe what she heard, the woman decided to ask for the very best things a human being could wish for.

She smiled and said, “I want peace of mind, and love, and happiness. I want wisdom and I want freedom from fear.”

Then she paused, before continuing, “I don't want these things only for me, I really want them for every single person on earth.”

God smiled and with a kind voice, responded, “I think you've misunderstood slightly. We don't sell fruits in this shop. We only sell the seeds.”

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Rose Window


--by Mike Adams

By Alex Bramwell
He stared unblinking, eyes red, the result of inflamed capillaries exploding in his eyes like tiny volcanoes overrunning a previously pristine landscape.

He blinked and pulled away from the mirror, “I'm not going to hide my red eyes today,” he grumbled as he shook his head and turned sharply for the door.

How had it come to this? A couple decades earlier, he had been excited about life. The future had seemed a treasure chest. Filled with interesting people and ideas, intellectual conversations, love, lust, adventure and movement. Fast forward to now and all of that has been replaced with routine. His life is mostly a series of chores, work, and mundane tasks. 

He is a responsible adult and parent. There seems no room for spontaneity, which is perhaps the thing he misses most. Don't misunderstand, George loves his family, six year old Gracie is a plump symphony of happiness and exuberance. Twelve year old Mason is in seventh grade and shows promise as a burgeoning violinist. While Liz, the eldest, at fourteen seems a latent genius, who waits for her moment to fly free into this world. He smiles, but soon it fades as George remembers how he loved creating and implementing “hair brained ideas” in his twenties.

“Stop thinking that way George! It's time for work.” He slides on his jacket, starts his car and pulls out onto the road. The sound of someone screaming fills his senses and jolts him into the present as he turns in horror to see a huge delivery truck bearing down on him, horn blaring, tires smoking, it is a rogue elephant bent on his destruction and he can't see any way out of being trampled.

“Oh God...I can't die Now! Not like this! There is too much to do!” He inhales deep, closes his eyes, as his body stiffens. He grasps the steering wheel in panic, but nothing happens. Slowly opening his eyes, George looks around timidly, wondering how he could possibly be in the main terminal of the international airport of Phoenix. Next to him, is Frank, his husband of seven...no eleven years. The kids are there and everyone is happy. The eldest, Liz beams at him and says, “I can't believe we're finally going to France. I've been studying the language for years now, I can't wait to try it out for real.” He smiles and ruffles the hair of his youngest child, who looks up disdainfully and says, “please don't do that. I hate it.” He nods with a smile, and wonders how that little chipmunk managed to grow so fast. “It seems like just this morning that she was only six and now she's already ten. Wow!”

In France, they immerse themselves in the experience with all the enthusiasm a child has devouring a fresh peach in the middle of summer. George stands entranced in front of the Rose Window at the Notre Dame Cathedral. Suddenly, ten year old Gracie,  hugs him and says, “I love you!” He pauses for a moment feeling disoriented before responding, “I love you too Liz, and I am so proud of you. Henry seems like a fine man and I think the two of you will make a wonderful couple. Don't make me wait too long for grandchildren though.” Liz flushes, smiles and says, “Come on Dad, lets get to the reception, this is your dance.” They walk out together and Liz says, “remember when I was fourteen and we visited this very church and you stared at that window for hours?” George smiles and says, “I was just thinking about that. It seems like it happened only moments ago”

Back to the hotel, George and Frank smile at each other, they are truly in love. Frank says, “you looked so happy out there dancing with your oldest daughter. “ George says, “I was! Can you believe how fortunate we've been? I remember when we were barely able to survive and now we own a house in Maui, and one in Portugal. We have one kid in Europe, one in the US and the third in Australia. We're able to visit all of them often. I'd say Life has been really good to us Frank.” George remembers how hard it was to work through all of the difficult and challenging times, but he's glad they did. It has all been worth the effort. He smiles, kisses Frank and lies down.

Frank nudges George, "can you believe how beautiful Mason's brand new little son is? Oh, and his wife, Stephanie, she is simply wonderful.” George smiles and Frank and responds, “I know and it seems that only earlier this evening, we were celebrating his older sister Liz's wedding. We are blessed.”.

George closes his eyes and then he sees a bright, warm light. He walks slowly towards the light, wondering what it could be. He feels cold, but the light beckons him. It emanates happiness and contentment. He smiles and starts walking, his heart filled with bliss, when suddenly every nerve in his body is screaming with pain. He becomes aware of a long and irritating beep. Again, his body is overcome with incredible pain. Every muscle seizes, his neck and back are rigid and the pain is overwhelming, then he relaxes. The beeping assumes a more rhythmic beat and he sees the light again, but not quite so warm. A doctor leans over and says, “Stay with us George, you've been in a terrible accident, but stay with us. We don't want to shock you again to start your heart, OK.” George is momentarily overcome with panic, then he remembers the truck and he hears his family outside arguing with hospital staff to let them see him. “I was hit by that truck, right!?” The doctor nods and says, “We can save you, just stay awake, OK.” George nods. He won't go back to sleep now, not knowing what he'll miss if he does.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Though We Often Fail, Humans are Pretty Cool non-the-less!


--by Mike Adams

I've been germinating on this for a while. I'm tired and sore and should probably focus on something else, but tonight I want to write a post and I want it to be about something important.

So I'll start by sharing a link. Take a few minutes to check it out...go there right now and read it, then come back and feel free to comment, so here you go:
http://www.buzzfeed.com/mjs538/60-moments-that-gave-me-the-chills-during-seattle

I first saw this in late December and I couldn't stop crying. Now after reading it again, I can't stop smiling, a tear is lazily strolling down my right cheek and I feel speechless.

But with me, being speechless usually passes quickly, so here we go. I've been thinking about the significance of December 10th 2012 in Seattle and at first I thought I'd say something trite, like “This is the dawn of a new era” (imagine a big booming voice when you read that...OK!) Then I decided that was too stupid. I remembered the Berlin wall being torn down and thought that perhaps Seattle had experienced it's own wall demolition, but finally I realized that this is simply what people do.

We categorize and judge forcing injustice on those who happen to be the minority until finally, there are a sufficient number of people who realize that we've all been wrong and then we begin to change.

It's what I love about people. We keep trying to grow, to be better, in short, to live our ideals. Continually, we fail, but we try and we progress and it makes us beautiful.

In Seattle on December 10th, 2012, we took a step in the right direction and that is reason to celebrate. Thanks to Matt Stopera from buzzfeed for the great post!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Patriotism: This Week's GBE2 Writing Prompt

--by Mike Adams

I've pulled away from blogging in this forum, the result of working double time to promote my side business MLAdams, a remote PC maintenance service. All you need is internet and a connected computer. We can have your computer running better tomorrow! Seriously, I'm pretty good at this computer stuff, so if you need some computer support check it out. Also, if you just want some technical advice, check out my computer maintenance blog. Anyway, now that I've got my shameless plug out of the way, lets move on to the topic at hand, which is patriotism.

Sometimes, I feel that I have a lot to say on this topic, but upon careful examination, my thoughts really boil down to three main points:


  • A patriot is capable of changing their mind given a reasonable point. This is because patriots know that it isn't possible to always be right, so they are looking for where they are mistaken, because they want what is best for their nation.
  • A patriot knows that the political opposition is also patriotic and that their point of view is also based in some truth.Therefore, a real patriot values intelligent discussion with someone who disagrees. The true patriot knows that the best ideas are born in the creative mix of opposing and thoughtful opinion.
  • A patriot bristles at the use of these words in the name of political points, "fascist," "Nazi," "Hitler." The patriot knows that unless we are discussing Slobodan Milošević, idiocy rules when Nazis are introduced. Furthermore the use of Nazi or Hitler for political points it incredibly disrespectful to those who survived concentration camps and those who fought to liberate those camps in WWII.
Lets start with my first point and examine it in light of what we know about humanity. Having been a human being and lived among other humans for my whole life, I assert that the only thing humans can be certain of is that we are, all of us, often wrong. The best way to mitigate being often wrong is having facility with changing one's point of view when appropriate. I contend that loving one's country and wanting what is best for one's community necessitate a willingness to admit when we are mistaken and change our point/s of view. Anything less is specifically unpatriotic! In fact, it is narcissistic platitude masquerading as national pride. Beware nationalists, you best not stare into the mirror too long, you'll be stuck gazing with love at your own misguided self-importance and misperceived infallibility.

This is a perfect time to launch into my next point about knowing that the political opposition is most likely patriotic too. Their thoughts and opinions are based on their view of life, and their lifes' experiences. So quit villainizing them. I mean it quit that right now! We're never going to get anything done of the two or more partisan sides don't grow the f#%k up, quit calling each other names, and sit down at the table like adults to figure this mess out. SO STOP NAME CALLING! DO IT NOW! RIGHT NOW!

For those who know me, you'll know that I tend to be pretty left leaning. Well it turns out that one of my friends and business associates is pretty right leaning. He also happens to be my favorite person in the whole world to discuss politics with. He is a lawyer, he is widely read and his opinions have germinated in the fertile ground of reason, cultivated with facts and nuance. In short, we challenge each other, and in any conversation, either one of us is willing to change our mind. The last time we talked, we joked, half seriously on my part, that we should host a radio talk show. It might not do very well, but it would be the one political show, where the ideas being discussed are being examined using nuance, fact and apparently opposing ideologies. In short, we might come up with some really good and creative ideas in such an atmosphere. That is what our country and world need right now. A healthy exchange of ideas among thoughtful and reasonable people...everyone else, should either take a deep breath and come sit at the grownups table or just sit this one out, Real Housewives or 90210 is supposed to be great this coming season. We'll let you know what we come up with in a 30 second spot after we've ironed out the complicated parts.

Finally, the most personal point I have to make. The Hitler, Nazi or fascist point. Take a break from the TV if you just turned it on in the previous paragraph, because this is important. Stop invoking Hitler, or Nazis or fascists for US politicians, unless they propose that we start some ethnic cleansing or that we send the Cherokee on another long walk. 

I've often wondered when history started getting such short shrift in school. When I was in school, we were taught that the Nazis were infamous for murdering 8 millions Jews and roughly 13 - 16 million people in concentration camps during WWII. This next part bears emphasis, so pay attention: NO US PRESIDENT IN MY LIFETIME HAS DONE ANYTHING COMPARABLE! Not GW, Not Barack Obama, so quit using Hitler or the Nazis to paint these Presidents. It doesn't make your point at all. Rather, people like me, who know about the Nazis, look at your picture of a sitting US President with a Hitler mustache and think, "My God that person is truly an idiot!" 

So my advice, just stop!

Background: my wife's family, on her father's side, is Jewish. I have in-laws, whose parents survived Nazi concentration camps, and who lost every single person they had ever known to the Nazi genocide. So if you are going to invoke the word Nazi, it better be for someone who is engaged in mass murder, otherwise you just painted a giant target on your forehead, which beckons me to label you as a complete ass and a thorough idiot. This third point is really just and outgrowth of the first two points, but I felt it had to be made, so just expunge the words Nazi, Hitler or fascist from your working vocabulary and make room for some other more meaningful words.

If you are still reading, thanks for sticking with me through this rant...I appreciate it and hope you will join me on the road to an intelligent national dialogue about something...anything, please!

Friday, October 19, 2012

A Long Haul...The Marathon

--by Mike Adams

I have not posted here in a long time now. If anyone wondered where I went or noticed the silence, I can assure you that I haven't lost interest, nor did I want to stop blogging. I love writing and being part of the GBE2 community. I've missed reading and commenting on posts. I've missed the incredible conversations we've had and the sense of community. But my absence has been and will continue to be necessary. Life has become difficult and I've been exerting the sum of my energy and concentration to take care of the most important things in my life: Tara, Rowan, Devin, and Mikalh.

A little background, several years ago, Tara began experiencing unexplained pain and when it didn't subside, she began seeking medical help. Over the course of time, the pain got worse and since then, she has been surviving chronic migraine headaches and almost constant bodily pain.

This past year, our medical bills have ascended a steep incline due to co-pays having doubled, prescription costs having doubled, a significant increase in the number of doctor visits, and an increase in the quantity of prescription drugs. Our monthly medical expenses hover around $1000. Let me be clear, we can't afford that. I don't bring home enough money to cover our medical, our mortgage, our food, our utilities  and our gas. My parents have generously been helping me to pay bills each month, but they can't do so for ever, and more importantly, being forty one years old, I have a personal need to take care of myself and my family without being constantly bailed out by my parents.

My ego has taken a beating, and my self esteem seems to have been trampled. I simply don't know know how to proceed, what to change, or where to start. I have avoided sitting in paralyzed fear, but my actions have produced little in terms of tangible results. I started a small business, MLAdams, which provides affordable computer maintenance services to small businesses and sole proprietors. I've began studying for additional computer certifications and I've studied both marketing and search engine optimization till late in the evening almost every night. I've pushed myself beyond what I had thought possible and I continue to push each day.

This sort of behavior is unusual for me. I tend to enjoy my time off and the way I enjoy it usually doesn't include much exertion, but because I love my family more than anything, I get up each day and I work hard. This beautiful family simply will not fail if I can prevent it.

The problem is that I feel I'm in an impossible position. My family needs me. They need me to be present, to be loving, to be tolerant and supportive. They need me to be available and to be compassionate. Simultaneously, they need me to earn enough money to cover our expenses. They need me to ensure that my wife's health is taken care of, to ensure that our mortgage, utility bills and food expenses are covered. They need more from me than I feel I have available. They need a me who is a workaholic breadwinner and another me, who is inspired, available and loving.

But as they said in the Highlander, there can be only one. So here I am, exhausted, sad, lonely, and afraid. I don't feel I have more to give, and because more is needed, I often feel like a failure. I am overwhelmed with what there is to accomplish, and I'm forgetful of important tasks that needs my attention. I trudge through life focusing on what is in front me, forgetting the things that lie on the periphery, and I am missing things that are sometimes really important. I'm tired, angry and frustrated. I'm difficult to get along with and my wife needs me to be happy. She needs me to get help with my emotional state and my attitude. I agree, I believe that I need those things, but I don't know how I'll afford it or when I'll seek it. My teeth need dental attention, and my back is tied up in knots. Both are the result of a bicycle injury from twenty years ago. I live with a constant headache and I'm physically, emotionally and spiritually exhausted.

But none of that compares to the pain that my wife has to endure, so I try my best to ignore whats going wrong with me, because I have to keep going. My family needs me to keep going.

So tonight, I decided to take a break from my professional life and share with you what is going on, so that I don't feel that I'm doing it alone, so that maybe, I can capture some perspective and bring that with me as I continue to trudge this portion of life's path. I know "this too shall pass" and I know if I, and my family can come through this difficult time, we'll be alright...probably even great. So that is my goal.

To me, this is like that part of the marathon, where the runner just wants to give up, where they can't imagine running even one more mile. Some quit, but others just keep going and before they know it, they're crossing the finish line.
Exhausted Runner

That is where I am right now, where my family is, and from what I can tell, where our nation is too. We're all at mile eighteen and there are eight more long miles to run. Our legs are weak and burning, our sides are cramped, we're gasping for breath and we can barely take even one more step. We keep eyeing the curb or the shade of a tree and thinking how easy it would be to collapse there and rest. Forget the race, we'll just walk home later, alone. To keep running is too painful. We need to remember, this is not the time to stop. We're not at the finish line yet, and we didn't set out to run part of a marathon. This is simply not the time for us to quit. Rather it is time to dig deep and find resources we never knew we had. It is time to remember why we entered this race in the first place. It is time to push ourselves through to the finish line. Even if we're the last runners on the course and no one is waiting at the finish, none of that matters, because even if the finish line is deserted and all cleaned up, our prize WILL be there. That is the perspective I'm going to take.

So along those lines, I'll say, Tara, I love you with my whole heart and my whole being. I know we can and will be happy if we can get through this tough time. I know I am tired and irritable and intimidating. I am trying to figure out how to address those things and I will find a way to succeed, I promise.

To Rowan and Devin and Mikalh, I'm so sorry for the lack of patience I've had with you and I'm apologizing now for the inescapable times I'll have a complete lack of patience with you in the near future. This is not the person I want to be and I am trying to become better. Please remember that I love you completely...I love you more than you can imagine.

Everyone, please forgive me for my arrogance, my short temper and my sometimes dismissive attitude. I never meant to hurt you and I'm working to do better. Please know also, that I do and will forgive you for what ever there is that I should. Not because I'm some great person. I assure you I am not, but simply because we are family and that is what family does, when they love each other, they forgive!

I love you all!

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Kelly Let me Post on Her Site! - @Southern Fried Children

Kelly over there at Southern Fried Children - http://southernfriedchildren.blogspot.com/, let me guest post on her blog today!

If you've been following my auto-biographical story about leaving Albuquerque, this is the next installment. The one when I land in California.

While you are there, you should stop and read some of Kelly's writing, She is fantastic and I am so honored that she is posting one of my stories on her blog. She is one of my favorite writers and I think she'll be one of your favorites too!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Interdependent Existence: Our Blessings and Our Curses

--by Mike Adams

Delivered July 29, 2012 in Rio Rancho, NM

In our seventh UU principle, we covenant to affirm and promote...”Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

What does that mean to you? Look around, everything you see or feel, the air you breath and the chair where you sit is composed of stardust. That stardust was created billions of years ago by supernovae. It was a time before life or water or planets. A time, when energy danced through the cosmos making stars and morphing into matter. A time of energetic creation, which truly is the beginning of our story. It is the root of our interdependent nature, an interdependence which exists not only on a physical and biological plane but also ontologically between our achievements or success and the suffering others have endured unjustly. I don’t necessarily mean the results of our nation’s ill deed as in legalized slavery or the genocide of Native Americans. Rather, I refer to the unseen interdependence, the byproduct of another person’s misfortune, which improves our lives. The tragedies in which we never participated, but somehow they made us who we are. According to Blaise Pascal, “The Least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.”

I recently attended a UU service in Cambridge, MA. The result is that I have been contemplating this UU principle of interdependence ever since. Rev. Mark Morrison-Reed delivered one of the most profound and moving sermons I have ever heard. I arrived there quite by accident. The previous night, I had searched the Internet for UU services in Boston and I was drawn to this one. The topic and the guest preacher sounded intriguing. Rev. Morrison-Reed is one of the few African-American ministers in Unitarian Universalism and he has written extensively about the experience of African-American UUs. But what really drew me in, was his topic for a Sunday sermon. It was a topic, which reached across this great country, and touched my hometown of Los Alamos, NM.

Rev. Morrison-Reed's father had been one of the first African-Americans in US History to be hired as a scientist. Apparently, the US war effort during World War II, opened many doors for African-Americans and the Reverend’s father walked right through one of those doors and joined the Manhattan Project as a chemist. The result for young Mark Morrison-Reed was that opportunities became available to him as a youth, which were out of reach for most African-American kids of his day. His education and life path were possible because of his father’s profession. So when, Mark began contemplating the human tragedy that resulted from the atomic bomb. When he realized that his father’s success was tied to that creation, he was troubled. Years later, the Reverend traveled to Hiroshima, on a pilgrimage to make peace with this specter from his and his father’s past. He went to confront the horror and to offer apology to those lost souls who had suffered a nuclear storm. His story was insightful, emotive and thought provoking.

It was at least one full day before I really began processing the poignancy of Rev. Morrison-Reed's message. During his sermon, I sat transfixed, tears gently gliding down my cheeks, each word infusing itself into my emotional and intellectual life. Time evaporated and for a moment, I was transported, I had the profound privilege of sharing another person’s spiritual quest and as the Reverend described his moment of redemption, I too was set free.

Several days later, it occurred to me that in some very important ways, my life mirrors that of Rev. Morrison-Reed. I was struck by the absurd complexity and nuance of existence. I was humbled by the incredible depth and profound nature of covenanting to affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence.

I thought of my mother, a full blooded Canadian Indian. She was kidnapped as a young child by the US Government from a Seattle hospital. She was placed into foster care, where she endured violence, neglect, and abuse. As a youth, she was adopted into a family, which provided for her physical and educational needs, but affection was a rare commodity. As a young adult, she attended college, and married a man who later became abusive. She also gave birth to me and to my sister. As I thought about her life and all that she had endured, I suddenly became acutely aware of the fact that my life is possible only because another innocent human being was forced to endure unimaginable torture and suffering.

Had my mom been allowed to grow up with her Canadian Indian family, she would have been loved and cherished. She would have been the eldest sibling in a large family, where she would have played an important role in tribal life. A talented, intelligent and loving person, she would have been an asset to our tribe.

However, she might never have gone to college. She certainly would not have grown up in Santa Fe, or become a LASER technician at Los Alamos National Laboratory. She would not have addressed a group of Native-American students about technology and inspired one to finish college and become a science teacher. Most pertinent to me, however, neither my sister nor I would ever have been born.

So my life, my sister's life, the lives of our kids, and possibly the lives of countless Navajo youth who learned science from a woman, my mom had inspired are possible only because of my mom’s sacrifice. She is a woman whom I love unconditionally, whom I admire and revere. A woman who sends care packages to our service men and women overseas, who volunteers her time in our local schools, who has taught Religious Education for more than fifteen years. She is a beautiful and kind person, whom I love completely. So it pains me to know that she had to sacrifice her childhood in order that I might live.

How does a person make peace with something like that?
"Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part."

It occurred to me that this interconnected relationship between success and tragedy is everywhere. The fabric of our existence, of our country's success is filled with strands of achievement that were purchased by another person’s loss. UUs are quick to applaud the courage, sacrifice, and accomplishments of civil rights heroes, of abolitionists, of those who ran the Underground Railroad or worked for women's suffrage. But we often forget to pause, to remember, and to respect the unwilling sacrifices forced upon millions of nameless victims. We forget that our lives are built not only on the courage and effort of our heroes but also on the shoulders and terror of all those anonymous victims who lost everything. We are the inheritors of their legacy too, and we owe it to them to remember their sacrifice.

During World War II, Nazis tortured and murdered between 11 and 17 million people. By 1945, two out of every three Jews from Eastern Europe had been killed in concentration camps. Additionally, there were millions of others, including homosexuals, disabled people, Pentecostal believers and political dissidents. This world was filled with survivors who had lost everyone they had ever known. They had been forced to watch as their brothers and sisters, as their parents and their children were systematically worked to death. Deprived of adequate food they labored past human capacity and were killed. For years, the survivors had daily inhaled the smoke and fumes of Nazi ovens, burning the remains of their fellow victims. They lived and slept with this horror, and when liberated, they returned to this world alone, having lost every person they had ever known or ever loved. How often, we forget that the holocaust was a major contributing factor to the conditions that allowed the US to enjoy a position of global leadership after that war. We may not have condoned or participated in that evil, but we certainly benefited from it.

Some of you may be wondering why I am talking about this on a beautiful Sunday morning. Why would I introduce such ugliness and negativity? Don’t people come to church for inspiration? Maybe, but there are some people like me, who actually come here for the free coffee...

I also come to church, because I am inspired by our seven principles. I believe that when we covenant to affirm and promote the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, we also covenant to speak those forgotten tragedies aloud. We covenant to bear witness to the horrible cruelty which humans can inflict. We covenant to acknowledge that our success is intimately tied to and dependent on the horror of someone else’s life.

Unitarian Universalism has always stood for those who lack power and who need a voice. We have always stood for those who are not the heroes or the freedom fighters, but simply the victims. Today's sermon is not so much a call to action, but rather a reminder that we have promised to remember with deep reverence, those forgotten and frightened people. We have promised to remember their unwilling contribution to the creation of this world. We have promised to respect the interconnected nature that their lives played in all of existence.

People's’ reactions to this sort of truth vary. Some may choose to dedicate their lives to peace. Others may decide life is short and unpredictable--that they need to ensure their friends and family feel loved. Some may be fidgeting and thinking, “I can't wait till this guy stops. The coffee wasn’t worth it today." Another person may simply feel moved and contemplative, there are countless valid reactions.

But I ask that you set those aside and join me now.
Take this moment to be silent and remember.
Remember the child, neglected and abused,
or the child who watched as their family was killed.
Take this moment to breathe and to mourn,
to mourn their suffering and horror and pain.
Take this time to experience life,
and give reverence to those who were sacrificed.
To honor their contributions to our lives and to all that we know...

In closing, I’ll quote D.H. Lawrence, “I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. There is not any part of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surfaces of the water.”