Monday, July 27, 2020

Ask Mike About Racism: OK Hand Symbol

Alicia asks, What’s the deal with the ok 👌 hand sign? I am afraid to make it now, the problem is it’s kind of a knee-jerk.

Alicia, this is actually a complex question. I had to do a little research, and the best information I found was on the Anti Defamation League’s website. The ADL provides a surprisingly in-depth analysis of the OK hand symbol.

First, the OK symbol has been used in European cultures to communicate understanding, agreement or wellbeing, since the sixteen hundreds. I had no idea about that.

The same symbol also carries significance among Hindu, Buddhist and Yoga practitioners. Roughly, it translates to inner perfection.

So how did this symbol become associated with white supremacist hate?

We have to rewind the clock to 2017, when members of the 4chan site began promoting the idea that when the OK symbol is made with the right hand, it displays a “W” and “P”, which are supposed to symbolize “white power”

These 4chan members did this as a hoax. They wanted to see if they could get “liberals” and “mainstream media” to begin condemning the symbol. However, the gesture was soon adopted by right wing extremist trolls, and in a short time, it was being used by actual white supremacists, and they weren’t using it ironically.

What does that mean?

First, I’ll point out the obvious, it illustrates how some people are just plain and simply, ass-holes.

But, is it OK for you to use the OK symbol, when you want to communicate agreement, understanding or wellbeing? 

Yeah, go for it!

I would, however, caution you against posing for any pictures, especially with a group of white folks, while flashing that hand signal. Roger Stone did this with the Proud Boys, a group of right wing extremists, and it isn’t a good look. People might assume you are either racist, or racist sympathetic, like Stone is, and most decent people will assume you’re either an ass-hole, or at the very least ass-hole adjacent.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Goodbye Mom

When my Dad died, I was seven years old. It was devastating. I fell into a hole of grief, from which, I thought I could never escape. At the funeral home, I remember seeing his body, dressed nicely, and prepared for viewing. I was certain that I saw him move...that I saw his chest rise from a breath. Gently, I reached out to touch his face and wake him. I thoroughly expected him to stir, then sit up with a smile, hold me and my sister, and explain how there had been a misunderstanding. But when my fingers touched his skin, it was cold. I retracted my arm quickly, it was a shock. Understanding my Dad to be gone, I crumpled to the floor, crying. Family tried to console me and my younger sister, but our grief was wild and uncontrollable. It would not submit to taming. As adults swarmed to comfort me, I stood and sprinted into an adjoining room where I fell into a chair, sobbing. My body writhed with each sob and I felt certain that I would die from heartbreak, right there in the mortuary.

My Uncle, John Quincy, walked in and gently placed his hand on my back. Moments later, he scooped me into his arms and held me as I cried. He held me, as my mom pulled herself together, pushing through a thick cloud of her own devastating grief, she walked over to hold me and my sister.

That was my mom, stronger than anyone I've ever known. She lived a difficult, but amazing life and to me, she was a superhero. On that day, in the mortuary, some 42 years ago, she was only twenty-nine years old and already a widow, a divorcee, and a domestic abuse survivor. In spite of all of that, my mom, both figuratively and literally carried my sister and me, while she also completed two college degrees, worked as a LASER technician for a National Laboratory, learned to program computers, and remarried a man with whom she shared her life for more than 34 years. My mom was amazing. She volunteered as a teacher for decades, spoke at assemblies and inspired other women to become teachers and technicians. One woman completed college and went on to teach science at a Navajo reservation in Arizona, inspiring a whole generation of Native American youth in Rock Point to pursue education. Later, that same woman contacted my mom and invited us to visit Rock Point and serve as science fair judges. We did this annually, for several years.

My mom was a member of the American Indians’ greatest generation and in my estimation, she was one of of the greatest. They were the generation who were stripped from their families and tribes but overcame that to fight for justice and build something for the rest of us, who have come after. They were the people who saw friends and family killed at Wounded Knee, but who persevered to bring sweat lodges into prisons for Native prisoners so they could find a path to sobriety and right living. This generation faced down incredible odds in their quest for equality and equal protection under the law. They forced through the Native American Child Welfare act so that the US Gov. could no longer kidnap native children from their families and tribes, which had been done to my mom. They built the foundations of a movement which we see blossoming today in a new generation of Native American activists. They came from ashes and built something beautiful. My mom was a part of that in her job and community.

My mom took her last breath just before 9:00 am Mountain time, on Saturday, February 2, 2019. She had been admitted to the ICU at Saint Vincent's hospital in Santa Fe, and on Friday, the day before she died, she saw visitors and seemed both happy and upbeat. I made a point of visiting her and bringing my thirteen-year-old son. We joked and spent time talking. No one thought she was hours from death, so as I left when visiting hours were over, I told her that I was going to drive the boy back to Albuquerque for his award ceremony and then to his Jazz retreat at Hummingbird Music Camp. I said that the camp should wrap up around five, the following evening and that I'd try to drive back to Santa Fe for a visit with her. She smiled and said, OK. I gave her a hug, and a kiss then left.

In Albuquerque, my son took 3rd place at the National History Day competition. I photographed him with a giant grin on his face as he proudly displayed his ribbon. I sent the photo, via text, to my sister and my mom. It was one of the last things my mom saw. My sister reports that mom saw the picture and received the news of a 3rd place finish and she grinned, saying "I'm so proud of him." A little while later, she started hallucinating. By the time I started my ascent into the Jemez Mountains, I received a text from my sister, informing me that mom had started hallucinating and that the hospital staff planned to sedate her. That she'd be unconscious and on a ventilator for a few days, while they let her rest, and let her heart and lungs heal. I was uneasy about the idea, but it sounded like they had a solid plan, so I kept driving to Hummingbird music camp, because I was a chaperone, but I planned to visit mom the next evening, even if she was unconscious.

When I arrived, I discovered that there was no cell service. After some time, I was able to connect via WiFi and I successfully placed a WiFi call and received a text message, so I felt confident I could be reached in an emergency. Next morning, my mom took a serious turn for the worse and my father tried to reach me, unsuccessfully over the course of about 20 minutes. He called my wife, who was already in Santa Fe, and she called the Hummingbird main office, which had opened at 8:30 or 9:00 am. By the time my wife reached me, however, my mom had already passed, and again, like when I was seven, I crumpled, sobbing, uncontrollably.

I have known for years that I would one day have to confront my mom's mortality. I have lived in fear of that day for almost as long as I can remember. I have to be honest, the experience was every bit as terrible as I imagined. I cannot communicate the depth of grief into which I plunged that morning. I'm not sure how I pulled myself together so that I could drive to Santa Fe with my son to say farewell to my mom. Even today, I struggle to focuse on life's demands. After sobbing for what felt like an eternity, I finally pulled myself together, and I asked another chaperone to enter my son's jazz workshop and send him out with his guitar and amp. When he came out, I paused, and then said to him, "I'm really sorry, but Grandma Valerie died last night in the hospital." He looked stricken and his gaze fell to the floor. I don't think he spoke for nearly an hour. There is no good way to tell someone that a loved one has died. I just held him and cried, while he stood there, essentially limp in my arms. This was the second grandmother that he has lost in less than three months. Both were very involved in his life.

We somberly collected his belongings, climbed into my car, and started driving home, so that I could collect some Native Tobacco, which my uncle had grown, in Canada. At home, I fashioned a small pouch, from tissue paper and a ribbon. In it, I placed a pinch of the native tobacco, and a pinch of sage that my son had gifted me a few years back. I collected several musical shakers that I have, and then my son and I got back into my car and drove to the hospital in Santa Fe.

When we arrived, my father was engaged in a seemingly endless phone call with the organ donation specialists. I took that time to tie the tobacco and sage pouch to my mom's left wrist, and when my father was finally able to finish the call, we gathered around my mom, I distributed the shakers and we sang the Lil'wat bear song. We sang it four times and we all cried. It is one of my mom's favorite songs, and we are members of the Bear clan. My son is named Mikalh, which is based on the Lil'wat word, Mix'alh, meaning black bear. A few years ago, I learned that I'm named after my mom's little brother, who died as a child in an abusive foster care situation, she remembered his name as Michael, but it turns out he was named Mix'alh, too. After we finished that song, I sang a Lakota song, which I learned from an Earl Bullhead CD. It was a song that my mom always asked me to sing when I visited her in the hospital. Then we sang Blue Boat Home, one of my mom's favorite UU songs.

Then we made arrangements for a mortuary to receive my mom's remains and we went to eat lunch before going to our respective homes. That night, I visited my sister and father. We talked, and laughed, but we did so through profound sadness. A couple days later, we traveled together, to Santa Fe, to return my mom's medical equipment. At the clinic the staff were sad. They cried and hugged my sister and father.

Then we went to the mortuary, where we made final preparations for mom's cremation. Just prior to that, I had received a call from family in Canada and we found that my tribe, the Lil'wat, Mt. Currie Band, were planning traditional rights for my mom. They rang the bell, announced my mom's death and began the rituals that they do when they lose someone. This news made my father and sister cry. it was unexpected but welcome. We all plan to travel to Lil'wat with my mom's ashes and complete the ceremony with the tribe.

I'm grateful for all of this, for the closeness in my family, for the support of my tribe, who we barely know, but who accept and embrace us as family. I am grateful for all of that, but ultimately, more than anything, I really just wish, with all of my heart that I could have my mom back. For another year, or two. Just to build some more memories and to prepare a little better for her leaving us. I find that I want her and my mother-in-law to see my youngest child grow up. I want both of them to see me graduate college, but that won't happen. I want to discuss Star Trek Discovery Season Two with my mom and travel to Mesa Verde with my mother-in-law, but that will never happen. They are gone.

Grandmas together. Maybe they'll walk among the stars too
On Sunday, I found a paper that my mom wrote when she was completing her second college degree in 1998. It explored traditional Lil'wat stories, and in one section, she describes how, for my people, the Lil'wat, the Milky Way is the ghost path. It is the road that our deceased travel to the land of the dead, a beautiful place, which is warm and lush. It is filled with fruit, and all of the people you've ever loved, or who loved you. Some people stay there and some become star people. I am an atheist, but I like the idea of my mom walking the ghost path, among the stars, to see her dislocated Lil'wat family, and her little brother who died when she was so young, and anyone who she has ever loved or who loved her. It is a comforting idea and one which I'm extending to my mother-in-law, who passed only a few months earlier, in October.

For me, it feels like this is too much grief...too much loss. I am bearing it as best I can, but my heart is heavy and my smile unwilling. I'm doing what I can to carry my son through this, and to walk with my wife as she grieves the recent loss of her mom. I'm doing my best to walk with my father as he grieves the loss of his wife of 34 years and my sister who is having very similar experiences to me.

I loved and admired my mom so much and I can't imagine a world without her. She volunteered as a teacher in local schools. She put together homeless bags and gave them out to homeless people when she went to Santa Fe. She put together care packages for our servicemen and women, who are overseas. She served as President of the Board for the Jemez House Youth Ranch. She worked on National Security projects when she was younger and employed by a National Laboratory. She volunteered at the visitor center near Bandelier, she often carried random gifts with her just so she could give people a gift when she saw that they needed someone to be generous with them, she made small children feel welcome, and she made people feel loved. My mom made this world a better place, in spite of her difficult life.

I hope only to have an impact which is a fair measure of that which my mom had in this world.

In heartbreak and love, I say "goodbye, Mom."

Valerie Rose Adams was Born Jan 27, 1950 and died Feb 2, 2019.
She lived an amazing, difficult, and blessed life
This world is better for her having been here!

Friday, June 15, 2018

The Great Race

I talked at the Los Alamos Unitarian Universalist church on June 10, 2018 about race and racism in the USA.

Here is a link to my talk.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

I Stand With Standing Rock! ...but how to Stand, that's a Tough Question

Originally a Facebook Post:

I'm struggling right now. I am really struggling! I'm crying as I write this update, because I feel like I need to go to Standing Rock and support my Native brothers and sisters. I feel like I need to do that, so that I can look my son in the eye and say I did what I could to protect our water, and to protect our people.

I am just one person, with very little money, with no political influence, who is overweight, and a little hot-headed. I have people counting on me. A wife, kids, co-workers. I'm managing the software implementation of for a local 911 call center, and that is a big deal. Peoples' lives could depend on it.
But I still need to be in standing rock, holding my head high as I show support for the most marginalized group of Americans this country has. Tears are streaming down my face as I write this, because I can't feel good about any decision I make about this situation. I'm doing the wrong thing no matter what!

This summer, I met my tribe, and heard first hand how they've overcome the trauma that was inflicted on them by having their kids stolen and forced into boarding schools, where they were abused, and molested by adults who were supposed to take care of them. They returned to the reserve and have made something beautiful. Everyone has a place there. They welcomed me, my son, my blond haired blue eyed step-sons, and my white wife...all as family. They said my step-sons are all members of the bear clan. For me, that is what it means to be Indian. It means we stand up for what is right, and we welcome people even if they don't fit what it looks like to be family.

So today, I need to stay here and care for my family, and I need to get in my car and drive to South Dakota. I'm not going to change the tide of how things will work out there. In fact, I could get hit with pepper spray and die of an asthma attack, or be hit in the head with rubber bullets or a bean bag fired from a 12 Guage Shotgun and die from blunt force trauma. But my people. My native brothers and sisters have been kicked, and beaten, and taken advantage of repeatedly for hundreds years, and right now, they are again coming together to stand tall and protect their water supply. This oil pipeline was originally supposed to cross the river in a different location, but that plan was abandoned, because it threatened the drinking water for the city of Bismark. Isn't it interesting how threatening Indian drinking water is not a problem?

Standing Rock South Dakota is, right now, seeing the largest coalition of Indian tribes to resist an incursion onto traditional lands in more than 100 years. This is history, and I don't know how to be a responsible Indian, a responsible father, and a responsible husband at the same time.

My people are strong, they have refused to be killed off. We have survived many attempted genocides, in fact the Nazis studied how the US treated natives while crafting their final solution.
Guess what, we're still here! I don't know what I'll end up doing in the end. My family can't necessarily afford for me to go, and I honor that, but I am torn on such a deep and profound level, that I don't know what to do and how to make peace.

If you can go to South Dakota and stand with the Indians please do. If you can (and I know you can) call the white house and ask the President to take a stand on this issue, please do:
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 2050

Call and write your senators:

Call and write your representative:

If you can send money to support the Indians, please do:
I don't know what I'm going to to do, but I'm working on figuring it out!

Monday, September 12, 2016

Fifteen Years Later... a lot has changed, but is anything better?

fifteen years later...

Fifteen years ago, I lay in bed, ignoring my radio alarm clock, when suddenly I woke with a start, incredulous at what I thought I had just heard. I rubbed my eyes, sat up in bed, and listened to an advertisement as I waited to see if the news report that flung me into consciousness would repeat, or if it had been some bizarre dream.

A few minutes later, it repeated. Terrorists had hijacked two planes and crashed them into the world trade center in New York, which had collapsed thirty minutes later. I thought, "crap, this cant really have happened. This is bad, and nothing good will come of it." Over the next few days, I read news papers, and listened to radio reports, but avoided watching the video loop that TV news played of the planes crashing into the buildings and people jumping to their deaths in terror, as the flames and smoke choked them.

I had worked in the world financial center as a temp employee on a few years earlier, and I wondered how my co-workers fared. Luckily, the building was mostly empty, but still...this wasn't the sort of thing the US would sit back on.

Today, I look back at that morning, and those days afterward. I look back at everything that has transpired, and take stock of the current political climate in the US, and I fear that bin laden, despite having been killed by US troops, is inching towards victory. My country is more divided that I remember ever seeing.

We are nation griped by fear, and and divided by political lines, which more closely resemble the fervency of religious intolerance than political disagreement. Our news has been reduced to a feeding frenzy of packaging what is stupid, for mass consumption, because it sells. Our national dialogue on important issues has been reduced to petty name calling, with little to no opportunity for objectivity or facts to temper the animosity and vitriol.

I know that we've weathered other periods of discord like this, but that gives me little solace. Let's just not move backwards here. Let's just not indulge in tolerating and re-conquering (if we ever did originally conquer) the irrational idiocy that allowed us to push Native Americans to the brink of extinction, justify the sin of chattel slavery, or exalt and promote lynch mobs, and jim crow as means of terrorizing minorities into compliance.

Don't get me wrong, I worry about daesh and their brand of terrorism and extremism. I am unsympathetic to what I see of how Islam has been instituted as a form of governance anywhere in the modern world, but to be honest I also have Muslim friends, who are far more decent than what I've seen of trump's supporters on TV, or in Albuquerque. From my perspective, terrorists who are Islamic pose a lesser threat to me, to my family, and to my country than do our domestic terrorists who assault black churches, or a homeless Hispanic people. In this country, our struggle against terrorism ignores, but really ought to focus on White supremacy.

Unfortunately, it seems to me, that we may be further away from that than we were on September 10, 2001, and it makes me sad. What saddens me the most, bin laden didn't do this to us, we did. We've descended into this state of irrationality, where everyone is called a Nazi by someone, and hardly anyone realizes their beliefs are only as useful as the facts they used to arrive at those conclusions, coupled with their ability to make a logical case.

What do you think? Am I being too cynical? Please leave a thoughtful comment, and if you disagree make a good case. Shallow and inflammatory comments will be deleted!

Monday, August 17, 2015

A Call for Cohesive Disruption

-by @NativeMikeAdams
Aug. 17, 2015
#BlackLivesMatter #NativeLivesMatter #CohesiveDisruption

Today’s racial news in America highlights our divisive past, and the concerted effort by some to hide that past, and pretend this country has a pure history of fighting for and forwarding the cause of “liberty and justice for all.” I’ve watched a controversy brew between #BlackLivesMatter and #NativeLivesMatter, and I can’t help but to shake my head in disappointment, because ours is one struggle, which includes two tones of brown skin.

Black American and Native American oppression are twin atrocities, born of the same mother, evolved of the same narrative, promoted and prolonged by the same perpetrators, and champion of the same motives. Our story of horror begins on October 13, 1492. Christopher Columbus had just landed on what is believed to be Watling Island in the Bahamas. He thought he had found sea passage to Asia, and he claimed this land for Spain. A short while later, he spotted Cuba, mistaking it for mainland China, and In December of that same year, he landed on Hispaniola, and thinking it Japan, claimed it as a Spanish holding.

Having promised riches to the Spanish crown, Columbus marauded, murdered, and enslaved the native population, returning to Spain with as many Native Americans as he could stuff into his ships. On the sea voyage, Indian remains were cast into the sea without regard, and Columbus returned to a hero’s welcome with exotic savages, who could be sold as slaves in Europe. In short, Christopher Columbus founded the trans-Atlantic slave trade, an accomplishment of infamous repute.

The trans-Atlantic slave trade is the source of why 12.5 million African human beings were kidnapped from their homes and families and shipped to the new world as slaves for white Americans. Columbus’ enslavement and campaign of terror decimated the population of Hispaniola, and later, when Native Americans were found to be inadequate as slaves, due to their lack of immunity to European diseases, white colonists began a program of displacement and extermination. This meant that another group would have to serve as slaves. Another group of brown skinned “savages,” who had better immunity to European diseases was found, and the trans-Atlantic slave trade switched directions.

America was born and bred on the notion that neither black nor native lives matter. It was written into our laws, and accepted as “fact” that neither group counted as human. Either could be killed at the whim of white people, and neither had personal or collective rights to exist, live with family, or enjoy freedom. From the very beginning of this democratic experiment, white supremacy has been the law of the land, it is part of America’s genetic encoding.

Just as African human beings were violently ripped from their families and homes, their descendant African American families were torn asunder, as terrified children were ripped from their wailing mothers’ arms and sold to white Americans for any purpose they saw fit. African Americans were dehumanized, tortured, raped, and subjected at the altar of white supremacy.

As some Americans awoke to the immoral atrocity being perpetrated in their own country, some Northern states began to refuse enforcement of the fugitive slave act. Southern states were outraged and soon a rift divided this nation as the south fought to maintain the institution of slavery, and the rights of individual slave owners over the rights of Northern states who didn’t want any form of slavery to exist within their boundaries. This led to the bloodiest war in US history, and resulted in the abolition of American slavery. However, it did not allow African Americans to awake from the nightmare of white supremacy.

In parallel, native people, having no economic worth, were designated as savages and hunted. They enjoyed the right to live in peace, provided the land they lived on had no economic value to the the “superior” white “civilization.” They were stalked, and slaughtered for daring to think their land should be protected from white aspirations to harvest their forests or destroy their sacred lands in search of gold. They were forced onto reservations, enduring death marches which saw natives slaughtered, tortured and terrorized into submission.

A generation later, as Jim Crow visited racial terrorism against black Americans, native America’s children were kidnapped and forced to live in boarding schools. There, they endured cultural genocide, physical and psychological abuse, giving rise to a lost generation of Native children who had no home in America or back on the reservation.

Today, our two peoples continue to live with the consequences of white supremacy in ways that no other group can fathom. We are the most impoverished people in America. Our two peoples are killed by law enforcement and imprisoned at significantly higher rates than any other group. We have both paid the highest blood price to create and support white affluence in America.

I say it is time for us to stand together and disrupt this system of oppression. It is time for us to work together to dismantle systemic racism and overcome the shared atrocity that is our past. We are twin victims, born of the same perverse malignancy that dons white hoods in the dark of night, to hide in cowardice as it rallies beneath a banner of hate to inflict violence on the hearts, minds and bodies of brown people. Our oppressors would have us be silent, but I say we join our voices together and let loose a thunderous demand for justice and equity. For my Black brothers and sisters, your ongoing demand for freedom is itself an act of defiance. Defiance to those who would subjugate you and take what you produce. To my Native brothers and sisters, your survival is itself an act defiance. It is a warriors scream that says “We won’t be hunted to extinction!”

As racial groups, our histories, our subjugation, and our terror have been intertwined. Today, let’s link arms and stand together, holding each other up against the gale of injustice. We should hold our heads tall and let our refusal to be silenced echo through the halls of white supremacy. We are strong and proud, we are twins and our justice is inextricable. Let us be allies and warriors together. Let us create the world that was denied our ancestors. Let us take our rightful place at the table as human beings, who will not be shoved into chains or extinction. Let us work together and overcome injustice.


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.”