Friday, June 29, 2012

GBE2 - Week 58: Strength, a Tale of Eric and Joe

--by Mike Adams

Eric wondered if it was a general lack of good sense or the deprivation of oxygen that had caused his little brother to act so erratically. In truth, the little monkey was acting deliberately. He only wanted to see what his older brother would do in a situation that broke all the rules of Eric's rational world view.

Despite being separated by a seven year age gap, living at opposite ends of the personality spectrum, and sharing no physical characteristics that might indicate familial relations, the two brothers had a deep affection for each other. Secretly, the older envied his younger brother's curious bliss. He wondered, sometimes, if perhaps they weren't actually related. Not that it mattered, his love for the little bug was incredible and though his personality was an outlier in this family, he truly loved every member. His only complaint was that he often felt alone, not due to any lack of being shown affection, more because he was so distinct. He came from a different mold and he felt on some subtle level like a complete outsider.

For years, his cheeks would flame as embarrassment possessed him when a parent reprimanded him for being cruel. He meant no harm, he simply failed to consider that blunt honesty might actually hurt someone. His personality was a synthesis of unemotive computational logic delicately covering a subtle and insipid rage.

He was brilliant, but couldn't understand many of the most important and basic social rules in life. Rules that his younger brother seemed to grasp without effort. The other thing that really struck him about the little guy was his sense of justice and overwhelming compulsion to stand up for what is right regardless the possibility of negative consequences.

As a toddler, Joe would stand defiant against anyone, who he perceived as perpetrating injustice. Joe would affect a look of defiance and place himself between older and larger warring parties. He would hold his hands up, look at everyone involved and say, "You stop that! I don't like it when you act that way, quit being mean, NOW!" Usually the intensity of his ire and the smallness of his demeanor would cause everyone to laugh and say, "OK Little Mister, I'll stop."

This kid, nicknamed "Bear," seemed an anomaly to Eric, who had a difficult time mustering the courage needed to intervene in bullying. If he could bring himself to act, people would listen, there was no doubt. He was generally well liked, and despite his unusually small size, there wasn't a person in the school, who could provide a physical challenge to him. He was fast, strong and had years of martial arts training under his belt. No one wanted to mess with him and he knew it.

So why then, couldn't he intervene as his little brother did? Where did this kid's courage come from?

Was he destined for greatness or for heartbreak? Would his idealistic little brother go forth and change the world or would the world crush him? Eric had no idea, but he hoped that his brother would triumph. Eric always liked an underdog and somewhere deep inside, he believed that Joe the Bear might possess some secret strength that no one suspected.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

I'm Leaving Town, but Where Will I Go?

--by Mike Adams

Continued from:
Part 1 – Something Had to Change
Part 2 – In Search of a Plan
Part 3 – From Sandia Peak, a Plan is Born

Next day, I awoke, to an unusually warm environ. The sun’s light glared menacingly at me from every angle, such that I had to squint and cover my eyes. Flipping over onto my stomach, I lay there, like road paint melting into the highway on a sweltering summer day. “Wait a second,” I said, “the sun never hits my room before 2:00 pm.” I looked at my clock, which read 3:45, “Shit, I never sleep past noon!”

I struggled to free myself from the bed. The sheets adhered to every inch of my anatomy, glued by gallons of sweat, which had poured from my body as I slept in the afternoon sun. “Oh Crap, there better be some left over coffee, I can’t possibly brew or drink hot coffee now!” I walked towards the kitchen, “how am I going to leave town, when I sleep till 4:00 pm?”

This last statement stopped me cold, “Whoa! ...It’s already starting!”
I tended towards reversing course a day or two after making big decisions in life. I’d wake up and notice the general incompetence with which I managed my affairs, and then guided by terror, I’d change my mind. I had done this and regretted the outcome often enough to be fully aware of what was happening. I wouldn’t allow it, not this time. The previous night’s decision was important. I had a sense that backing out would be a terrible mistake.

Up to this point, I had been incredibly fortunate while searching for jobs. I was always offered the first for which job I applied and every job I had found was recommended by a friend. I had never searched the employment section of a newspaper. I’m not sure I knew it existed.

Where should I go? I began considering the important questions, how many single and attractive females live there? Is the music scene eclectic? Will the political climate suite me? Is there good hiking available?

Worry about finding a job and a place to live tickled the base of my skull, but I refused to entertain any serious thoughts about those topics. Reality, it seems, would have to wait. It could attack my psyche in a new city, but not now.

I snorted aloud to myself, “How hard could it be to find a job? I’ll work in a Hotel, they’ll be lucky to have me. And finding a place to live? That is simple! I’ll find a really cool place and live there!” The idiocy with which I considered the basics of survival leaves me a bit queasy even twenty years later.

After thinking about what I knew of various cities in terms of the questions I decided are important, I decided on San Francisco. I figured there have to be beautiful and single women everywhere. I could become a bicycle messenger and maybe start a racing team. More importantly, however, I had a friend who was living with his parents near San Fran., he’d probably let me stay there for a month or two.

I phoned and explained my plans, then asked if I could stay with him until I was situated. He said "sure Mike." I urged him to check with his parents, and avoid surprising them. He said, “Don’t worry, it’ll be fine.” Retrospectively, he couldn’t have believed I’d actually move. I had repeatedly threatened similar actions in the past and never gotten past Colorado Springs. To anyone who knew me, the possibility of my moving to California was remote. His affirmative answer was, therefore, neither considered, nor based on a realistic sense that I might knock on his door expecting a place to stay.

My employer was unhappy to lose me, but probably a bit relieved as well. They were always one full pay cycle behind, so I planned on saving two paychecks to fund my move, and receiving one more in California to help me get started. I failed to consider my own inability to manage finances. I had several “going away" parties, where I was the only celebrant and one week later, my whole paycheck was gone. Next week, I received a second infusion of funds, and I threw another party. Everyone was invited, so the next morning, when I awoke, paycheck number two was GONE! I’d have to wait two more weeks, and with my final check, I’d leave.

Two weeks later, I was packed, my bike was tuned and I was ready to go, but having been sober for almost two weeks, I couldn't resist throwing one last party. I want to “leave in style,” and I hoped Sarah might want to spend a passionate evening in my arms. Next morning found me alone and ...broke! I was moneyless, unemployed, and thoroughly humiliated...AGAIN!

I asked Mom for help and she came through with $200. I hugged her and said “good bye, I love you.” She began crying, “I’m worried about you. Why do you want to move so far away? I won’t be close enough to come if you needed help. I don't want you to get hurt.”

I froze, as guilt and shame suffused my being. Seeing my expression, mom hugged me and smiled quickly, “I understand, you need to find your way, to grow up! All moms want to keep their kids safe. You better get going, before I start crying again. I love you, please be careful!”

I climbed on my 1972 BMW R75 motorcycle, perched my helmet on my head, a nod to my Mom's concern for safety, started the beast and headed for the edge of town, where the helmet came off. I rode West, into the sunset, a grin on my face and a feeling of weightless glee in my gut. The sunset was amazing and it seemed to last for ever, as I chased it into the middle of Arizona. The wind tossed my hair and I imagined the glory ahead of me as I charged into my future soaring above humanity as a falcon, released from the zoo.

…Open up that Golden Gate, California Here I Come – To Be Continued...

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Compassion & Controversy: A Message for Unconditional Love

--by Mike Adams

The past few days have seen a swirl of activity and discussion regarding homosexuality, same sex marriage and morality. We have seen myriad responses calling for tolerance or alternately for "tough love", we have continued to be assaulted by people, whose message is closer to that of Fred Phelps than a loving and compassionate Christian. We have seen Glennon over at Momastery publish some beautiful prose, eloquently showing the depth of her introspection and her devotion to a Christian doctrine of love over intolerance. We have seen Josh Weed publish a "Club Unicorn" post, in which he announced to the world that he is a homosexual man, who has chosen to marry a woman, to have children and to live a prescribed Mormon life. His message and that of his wife is a profound expression of love and it earned them a warm and supportive response from thousands.

We have seen comments aimed at Glennon questioning or denouncing her Christianity, while others have claimed that Josh Weed can't possibly not gay. Stones are being whetted and axes are being sharpened, but out of it all, what I'm left with is a message of love, a message of tolerance, and a message of hope for humanity's future. I stand in awe at the beauty of what these people are promoting. I am inspired by my wife's post "Something is Changing," and the incredible responses she has received from her readers. I am humbled by the ever louder affirmation and promotion of every human being's inherent worth and dignity, by the incredible message that all of these beautiful authors have articulated it so eloquently.

They have set a high bar and one, which I am unlikely to clear, but I am going to add my voice to this conversation anyway. I am going to try and stretch myself to meet the level and quality of discourse already taking place. Though I am articulate and loving, compassionate and caring, I am also arrogant and self righteous. I am a deeply flawed person, who tries to be good and to do good in this world, but often I fall short. I keep trying anyway and sometimes I succeed, despite myself.

So for anyone who reads my posts here or my comments on Momastery, my conversation on TED, my responses on Faith in Ambiguity or my challenges on the Huffington Post, I know that what I say often occurs as "in your face," or "righteous indignation." And for that I apologize. For those, who need an able and convincing ally; I apologize, because though my heart is in the right place, my passion and sense of justice may harden my words and sharpen my tongue, leaving my message hard to hear for people who disagree.

I am an imperfect messenger, with a small audience; however, all of my readers are incredible people. They are better than I am. I believe they reflect the potential of who I might become. My hope is that despite my obvious limitations, despite my arrogance and indignant nature, I can inspire them to shout this message of love to the world from their pulpits and blogs and personal conversations. I am going to try, and as Glennon once said, this is a mountain I am willing to die on. It is a cause I am willing to fail at over and over again, until I get it right.

I will not give up, because I love YOU so much, because I love my children so much and I love humanity so much.

To start, I want to address anyone I have personally known who is gay and who has suffered this society's intolerance. I want you to know that I LOVE YOU. Maybe I failed to stand up for you when you were being bullied and later, I tried or perhaps I failed to offer comfort. If either is the case, I apologize for letting my fear paralyze me when you needed me. But know this, you are my brothers and sisters and I Love You! I am imperfect and ineffective, but I promise to do what I can to transform this world such that you feel valued.

To anyone who is secretly gay and hiding, because your family and friends have made it clear that they think being gay is vile. If you feel alone and frightened, if you feel depressed or suicidal, if you feel like no one cares. If you fall into any of these categories, I hope that you may find message, because you need to know that I LOVE YOU! I think you are beautiful and important and valuable. Though we haven't met, you are my brother or my sister and you are deserving of love and support. Please leave a comment or send an email. I'll be happy and honored to be your friend. mla_ca520 at hotmail dot com.

To anyone who is struggling with your faith and your personal sense of morality. Perhaps your church believes and tells you that homosexuality is wrong and that YOU need to condemn it. Perhaps you disagree, but choose to stay quiet, and wish you could stand tall and openly speak your mind. I want you to know that I Love you too. I have lived with that kind of fear, the fear that kept me from telling people to stop being cruel when someone was suffering. The fear that prevented me from stopping bullies as they tormented my friends. You are in a difficult place and I know you will find your power if you keep searching. In the mean time, please remember that I Love you!

To anyone whose heart becomes cold to this message, who is tempted to leave a comment condemning me or those who agree with me. We may disagree, I may say harsh things to you as my passions get stirred, but on a fundamental level, you should know that I Love you too. You should know that I will fight with the same passion and tenacity for you to have your personal and religious freedoms as I fight now for our gay brothers and sisters. I know that you are a human miracle, the unlikely transitory product of a marvelous and intricate evolution, which has unfolded for billions of years. You are my brothers and my sisters and I love you. I know you believe you are trying to save my soul and the souls of others whom you condemn and though I think you are misguided, I am grateful that you care enough to try and I love you.

Finally, to my brothers and sisters, who stand with me on this side of the controversy. To my beautiful and talented wife, to Glennon and to Josh Weed, to the UUA and the UCC. To anyone who has taken up this cause and decided that you will stand on the side of love. Thank you and I Love you too. I thank you for helping me to find my courage and my voice. I thank you for helping me as I strive to join your ranks and become an effective advocate for what is good and right in humanity. I thank you, not for your tolerance, but rather for your unconditional love and your compassion. You are my heroes!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Guest post by B's Stings on Growing up Unitarian

Today's post is a guest post and video featuring my talented, helpful and much loved mother-in-law, B. If you haven't seen her blog, please take a moment to check it out, but be sure to come back and see what she has to say about Growing up Unitarian. Perhaps more importantly, about growing up with a famous father and a revered mother. The video and the read are both fantastic, so you should feel free to pick one or both. Her Blog: "B" Stings

Growing up Unitarian
--by Bronwyn (B) Gordon

From a very young age I understood that the church I attended was different from most people’s religious institutions.  For one thing, I was usually the only Unitarian in my class at school. To be honest, I didn’t appreciate this distinction. I already had an odd Welsh name that no one had ever heard of or seemed able to pronounce. Plus, I was painfully shy, so shy in fact that I had spent most of kindergarten hiding under the grand piano. In my world, to stand out was to invite ridicule.

There was Sunday, of course – the one day out of the week when I might mingle inconspicuously among my own kind.  You’d think so anyway but, as it turns out, I was an oddball at church too. This was because my father was the minister – not just the minister either, but the celebrated A. Powell Davies who spoke out eloquently against Joseph McCarthy’s red baiting and racial segregation, who was invited to be on shows like Face the Nation, and got quoted on a regular basis in the Washington Post.

Because of my father’s celebrity, I was frequently waylaid in the halls of All Souls Church by various ladies who crushed me to their ample bosoms and told me how lucky I was to have a father like that. Male church goers looked me straight in the eye and dared me to live up to the high standards of my father’s courage and eloquence.

I did not want to live up to anything. I just wanted to be normal.

All Souls Church, situated in downtown Washington, D.C., was modeled after London’s St. Martin’s- in -the -Fields replete with a classical style pediment supported by Corinthian columns and  endowed with an impressive bell tower that we Sunday School children were invited to explore once a year. The church had a big auditorium plus balconies on either side and it was always filled to capacity. There was a professional organist as well as a professional singing quartet. My father ascended and descended the raised pulpit with regal solemnity.

At All Souls church,  services were formal and dignified. Ladies wore hats with veils and men wore suits. I was obliged to wear frilly, elaborately smocked dresses and patent leather shoes that drove me nuts all morning by trying to eat my socks. At the end of the service everyone recited The Lord’s Prayer even those who didn’t believe a word of it. This was, as I recall, a concession to certain elderly long-term parishioners. I’m certain my father didn’t approve of sentiments such as “Lead us not into temptation” but he chose his battles wisely.

Various political big shots attended church services from time to time.  Included among these were Senator Paul Douglas, Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and two-time presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson.

In Sunday school we read about two kids named Martin and Judy and pondered the moral conflicts plaguing preschoolers and kindergartners. Later we read Jesus, the Carpenter’s Son and I concluded that, overall, the protagonist was a pretty stand-up guy.

I also learned that Christians were self-deluded people who believed that Jesus lived with God up in the sky. As for God, Himself, it turned out that he probably didn’t even exist, at least in the sense of the grandfatherly persona most of my classmates prayed to. Apparently, if I wanted to get my wishes granted, I needed to acquire a fairy godmother or discover a magic lamp.

Due, in part, to outspoken  contempt on the part of some of my Sunday school teachers, I was sometimes inspired to insult my god-fearing friends and classmates. Predictably, they, in turn, informed me that I was destined to burn in hell. I did not believe them but I did (on reflection) regret having hurt their feelings.

All that said, I did grasp something positive in the nature of Unitarianism. For instance, I understood that Unitarians stood for justice for all people not just for rich white people.

In this context, let me explain that All Souls was (and is) an inner city church and that the presence of African-Americans among the members of its large congregation was unremarkable. In my teens, I belonged to a drama club formed by some of the kids in my Sunday School and we regularly  performed plays with “color blind” casts.   I was aware, also, that when my father was called to the pulpit of All Souls, he stopped the Church from renting space to the segregated Police Boys Club and invited the integrated Columbia Heights Boys Club to take its place.

When  Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka Kansas reversed the Supreme Court ruling of Plessey vs. Ferguson, my father celebrated this triumph from the pulpit. After that, we began to receive threatening phone calls and I remember I was not allowed for awhile to answer the phone. I understood that taking a stand, even in the face of murderous opposition was something Unitarians valued. Later, while serving as assistant minister at All Souls Church, the Rev. James Reeb  risked his life in the cause of civil rights and was murdered in Selma, Alabama in 1965.

I was thirteen years old when my father died. For awhile I continued to attend All Souls Church, especially the drama club. At some point I became aware that new churches were being founded, most, if not all, in the upper middle class Maryland suburbs. In these new churches (one of which was founded by my mother) there were hardly any dark faces. There was also less talk about social justice and more discussion about breaking the yoke of Christian dogma.

When the sixties hit, many Unitarian parents underwent a sort of test of hypocrisy. As their sons quit college and decided to take up organic farming and their daughters went around braless and marched in peace rallies, mothers and fathers protested that this was not what they had meant when they had celebrated non-conformity.  To sympathize with farmers was one thing, to actually be one quite another.  This conflict inspired my mother to preach a sermon entitled, “Did We Really Mean It?” in which she challenged the congregation of River Road Unitarian Church to respect their children’s right to choose.

Like my father in this regard, my mother fully demonstrated the courage of her convictions.  She stood up for what she believed even in the face of overwhelming opposition. Throughout her long life she was as faithful to her values as it is possible for a human being to be.

As a young adult I was more interested in Hinduism, Zen Buddhism and Native American spirituality than I was in Unitarianism. I moved a long way away from my childhood home, married and gave birth to a daughter.

When my daughter was five or six, I returned, briefly, to the fold. The church I attended on the West Coast was radically different from the one I’d grown up in. For one thing, it wasn’t even a church. It was a Fellowship and determined to remain one. The congregation was small and consisted largely of senior citizens. The Sunday school was even smaller and attendance there was erratic.

This church – or rather fellowship – went through ministers like a teacher goes through chalk. Some of the ministers were into improv, so you never knew what might take place during the service. One of them was inspired to perform the dance of Shiva  and cavorted around the auditorium wearing what looked like loose-fitting cotton pajamas. Another minister spent twenty minutes tossing a football to various randomly-selected congregates.

Really the only thing these Unitarians had in common with my childhood version of Unitarianism was a sense that many of them had of having suffered some sort of trauma due to their Christian upbringing. Since I was not brought up Christian, I have no understanding of this experience. In other words, I was more or less deprived of God not bludgeoned with him.  Was it Emerson or some other self-appointed critic who said that Unitarianism was “a featherbed for falling Christians”? I  began to wonder if this, more than moral courage and  a dedication to  social justice, formed  the common  UU ground.

When this congregation voted overwhelmingly to sponsor illegal aliens fleeing from the repressive regime in El Salvador, I was relieved and even proud. Flaky  though they were, they did, in fact, have the capacity to take a stand against injustice.

Soon after this action, a conflict occurred between the minister and the RE director. The congregation took sides while reason and compassion were overwhelmed by righteous indignation. Eventually,  part of the congregation split off and established a new fellowship.  I attended the new fellowship briefly then quit altogether.

I became increasingly absorbed by my work in special education which profoundly influenced my spirituality in ways I can’t begin to describe. One of the teachers I worked with was a Mormon who, without piosity or pretense, devoted herself to living what she called “a Christian life.” Ironically, I learned more from her about respecting each individual’s worth and dignity than I did anywhere or from anyone else.

I am not suggesting that my particular experience in the UU denomination has much, if any, correspondence with (for wont of a better phrase) “the truth about Unitarianism.” This is partly because I wasn’t just another Unitarian.  The pedestal of fame on which my father stood increasingly began to feel, for him, more like a tightrope. His fear of falling (i.e. failing to live up to the adulation surrounding him) resulted in his making some unfortunate choices that had negative consequences for him and for his family. Thus, my sister and I, rather than becoming replicas of our father, ended up dedicating our energies simply trying to survive . I succeeded (in surviving, that is) but my sister did not. Her children – my niece and two nephews – though they attended Unitarian Sunday School -have no interest whatsoever in Unitarianism. My oldest nephew regards Unitarians as cocktail party liberals and my other nephew regarded my mother’s idealism as naïve and cute. While I don’t necessarily agree with them, I understand why they feel they way they do.

My  daughter’s perspective on Unitarianism is, however quite different. Inspired by a Sunday school curriculum that focused on freedom fighters, taught by a dynamic teacher, she walked, one day, into the local peace center and offered her services at the age of eight. She and her husband continue to explore the issues of spirituality and social justice within the context of Unitarian-Universalism. My grandsons, too, have a strong Unitarian-Universalist identity.

As for myself, though I don’t define myself as a Unitarian,  I still have the utmost respect for my parents and what they stood for.  Their vision of Unitarianism was that it be a powerful force for justice, compassion, and peace in a troubled world. They did not place much value in semantics, nor did they bewail their conventional Christian upbringing.  They believed that each individual, however flawed his personal life might be, was capable of placing the common good ahead of his own self interest. That, I think, is the part of their legacy that is worth living up to – not just for their descendents, but for all of us.