About Adam Lawrence Dyer

Author, educator, LGBT Activist. Currently an M.Div. student at The Pacific School of Religion, a believer in bodies.

Dreams Deferred

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“America’s New Patriot” (c) 2001 Adam Dyer

The president of the United States has worked with the government over the last 7 months the same way he has run his businesses: with total impunity.  His basic assumption seems to be that he was elected to lord over the country, like the CEO of a private company with no accountability other than to the allegiances forged in blood or in a mafia-like system of “you scratch my back….”  In addition, he has taken the Mitch McConnell political agenda from 2009 which was built entirely on erasing Barack Obama and doubled down on its xenophobia, isolationism and flat out ignorance.  Add to this his own special megalomaniac fixation on self aggrandizement and you have what he has peddled as the formula to “make America great…again”.  He is proud to put “America First”, relinquishing the historic and noble aspiration of being a global leader in favor of holding tightly to what he alone defines as “ours” from his dangerously narrow and fearful world view.

But a President, isn’t supposed to lord.  Our government is not by and for one oversized compensatory ego.  The President of the United States is one relatively small part of a government system that, although flawed, has absolute checks and balances on each of its branches of power.  While this president is a petulant, ill qualified, temperamentally unsound neophyte, the current Congress, on the other hand, is grossly and somewhat sadistically negligent in enabling this bull in the china shop.  Congress must start to do their job.

But I am no politician.  I am a minister.  My job is all about how people make peace with the world around them. Some call it spirit, others call it God, and others have no name for it.  What is consistent however, is that in the work of ministry, we are asked over, and over again to reflect what we see and hear from people about their lived experiences.  This could be as they watch a loved one die, or as they look into someone’s eyes and declare that their life will be inextricably linked to theirs.  It could be questioning the path of a life, the loss of a job, or grasping the meaning of the words “cancer free”.  And we do this without judging someone’s politics, religious beliefs, race, gender or any other aspect of what makes them who they are other than first being human.

I have had the opportunity in my brief ministry so far to meet many undocumented migrants.  People from Mexico, Somalia, Ecuador, Ireland, Canada, etc.  I myself had the experience of flying under the immigration radar for an extended period, many years ago in England.  It was an uncomfortable feeling, but being black with an American accent and passport, I knew that ultimately I was in little danger and would probably be given the benefit of the doubt.  What is more, I had come to the UK on a lark and not because I was fleeing violence or starvation.  Going home would never be a bad or fatal thing.  The large proportion of people I have met in recent years however, have largely escaped situations that few of us who were born in the safety of the US would be able to survive.  They escaped violence and persecution, and even more, they managed to find a way to navigate the labyrinthine systems of work, taxes, housing, healthcare and transportation that even those of us born here find to be a burden.

The young people that I have met who have benefited directly from DACA are not criminals.  Indeed they are heroes.  From very early in life, they have been family translators, workers, emotional support and so much more.  These often very young people, have become the eyes and ears and windows into the world for their parents.  We call them “Dreamers” but I think we don’t appreciate the depth or breadth of that dream.  They were brought here not just for their own dreams, but for the dreams of their entire families, who knew that even if they (the parents) died in this journey into the unknown, the dreams in their children still had a chance.  This is what every parent wants for their child, to simply have a chance.

The ministerial reflection I want to offer on the cusp of the next chapter in DACA is this: the president is also a parent.  He is the parent of an eleven-year-old, who he has carried over the wall into the White House.  To our knowledge, the president’s son had no choice in his father’s decision to run for office.  The president has forever changed his child’s future.  He has opened his son up to a level of scrutiny and objectification that only other First Children could possibly understand.  Although there are certainly enormous gifts and privileges that come with being a wealthy First Child, there is equally enormous risk and it will forever impact how his son will be seen in the world.    Of course, the president’s son is no refugee or undocumented migrant, and I certainly don’t know or understand how the president sees his youngest child, but hopefully, this young person will thrive and grow and learn about love and compassion and humanity…as every child should be given the opportunity to do.  Imagine what a different outcome we could see for DACA, if the president, for just one moment, could muster up even a grain of real empathy to see himself alongside parents who simply want to give their children a chance instead of lording over them like a tyrant CEO.

Nightmares

I can’t imagine a worse nightmare
Than to go to sleep with hope one day
And wake up with none the next.
Emerging from the hole
Coming into the light,
Being coaxed out and told I will be safe
To live, to thrive, to grow
Only to have the fat cat pounce
And start playing with me
Like a toy mouse
Forgetting that I am actually alive.
Each swat of his giant paw
Wrenching my joints
And claws gouging my skin.
I fear now that when he smells the blood
He will come in for the kill
Not because he is hungry,
But simply because he can.
I was told to rest easy ‘til the morning
When I would be called into the light of day
My sleep was peaceful
My dreams were free
My future unburdened
Now I see
It was just setting the stage for the nightmare to continue
And a prelude to the end of me.

ALD

Rising Tide

I’ve spent the last few days in quite a bubble of privilege.  I have had the opportunity to move across country (3000+ miles) with an animal, in comfort and ease only being required to do the last 419 miles of actual driving myself; and even that was a sentimental choice based on wanting to see my father before I start my ministerial journey.  I have been able to rent and outfit an apartment in one of the most prime locations in the world for someone with my career and personal goals and I am now within 10 – 25 miles of some of my most cherished family and longtime friends.  I am healthy, I have a personal vehicle, total and easy personal mobility and an entire community of people eager to meet me.  If this is not privilege, I don’t know what is.

At the same time, I know some people think of moving as an incredible burden.  They get frustrated by the idea of packing and things maybe getting lost or broken.  They get angry at airplane schedules or deliveries that don’t happen on time.  They are confused by cable vs internet or bundle, cel phone carriers, utilities and how to register to vote.  In the end, they stand there looking at all of their belongings once they are unloaded and think “it will never happen.”

Here in Cambridge, MA I am surrounded by a mix of these different energies.  August and September are times in the United States when people move and transition.  It is the beginning of school for many people.  I have several friends who are with their children as they begin college in other parts of the country.  I have others who are experiencing that very first and sometimes tearful day of school as the small being who was only a couple of years ago too young to use the bathroom themselves, waves goodbye for the first time.  But all of these, the ability to move, to change jobs, to begin new learning…the actual day to day manifestations of freedom…these are the principle privileges in which we live in the United States.  This is why some people still risk everything to get here from abroad and why others risk everything to stay here despite a history that continues to leave them behind or erase them altogether.

Right now in Texas, people are suffering.  Rising water (the very element we need to survive) is threatening life and property and will change people’s lives for years to come.  What is more, too many of these people survived the horrors of Hurricane Katrina as well.  But the real disaster is not just in the rising water.  The real disaster is that it took Mother Nature to wake the rest of us up (again) to those people who don’t have insurance, or ways to escape, or healthcare to heal the injuries and illnesses and their every day suffering.  Why do we only justify providing help to people in need when the help meter reaches our distress threshold?  Why aren’t we listening to these communities in the first place?

I’m sick of rehashing the election, but Trump didn’t win Harris County, Texas for a reason.  The city is 67% non-white with a median household income of $56k.  If he was really interested in making a difference in this “disaster”, he wouldn’t have done what amounted to a campaign stop before the worst of the impact was known or had even hit. Instead, he would wait until the water recedes and then go to the places where people who had the most to lose by having the least to begin with actually are.  In the meantime, he’s much better off making sure his government is functional enough and listening closely enough to people on the ground to actually mobilize useful rescue and medical teams to make a difference.  No tragedy is about baseball caps and stilettos, it is about real life and real death.

As I sit here enjoying a last few days of my privilege bubble giving deep gratitude before embarking on the most difficult and rewarding career of my already wonderful and blessed life, I’m making a list of strategies and priorities that I hope to publicly hold our elected officials to.  Top of the list is demanding that government be aware and accountable to the most vulnerable before that vulnerability has a chance to be fatal.  The number is not yet as high as Katrina, but even one life lost due to the bare vulnerability of poverty in the path of increasingly extreme weather, is too many.  It is our great shame to dishonor any of the people who die from neglect or politicized agendas by simply showing up for a photo op and then turning away once the sun comes out.  We need to address the problems of poverty and housing as the disasters that they are before a hurricane or earthquake makes them catastrophes.  We have the tools in our legislative process and we must use them.

The closing words of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address seem a fitting reminder for the principles we as a nation are called to defend:

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.” – Gettysburg Address, November 19, 1863

Jefferson’s Democracy

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Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s greatest deed
Sealed in the American creed that
“All men are created equal”
Too often holds these truths to be self-evident:
That “men” exclusively means “male”
And “equal” is only painted from the palette of white skin
And being “created” is synonymous with
an individual right to material wealth.

Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s “gradual abolition”
Evolved into the prolapse of civil rights
Where what is most basic became most rare
A moral inversion secured in place by law
An ethical hesitation justified by greed
An excuse later celebrated under the blazing lynching tree
Where assumptions of dominance
Were seared into the genetic memories
Of both the “dis” and the “en” franchised class.

Democracy before decency…
Jefferson’s assumptions are
Captured today in words that
Dribble off the lips of those
Who see “both sides” of racial hatred
And try to “defend” free speech and First Amendment rights
To maintain the same status quo that birthed the horrors of
Slavery, genocide, colonial sexual servitude
And the posture that denies its paternity to the progeny called
Holocaust.

Democracy before decency,
Pride before dignity,
Profit before prophetic,
“We” before “all”,
Process before people…
This is history repeating
And failing over and over
and over.

There is no democracy
If the truth of decency makes a mockery of humanity;
There is no democracy
When civil rights are based on moral wrongs;
There is no democracy
In free speech that secures the end of a noose;
There is no democracy that un-sees, un-hears…
That too easily forgets.
There is no democracy in rape.

Mr. Jefferson,
We have learned the hard way
That there can be no democracy
Without truly common human decency first.

– ALD

A message for @SenateDems & @HouseDemocrats

I hope y’all read this because its 4:30am and frankly, I’d rather be asleep right now…

I woke up in the middle of the night burning with the following thought: Donald Trump is personally violating my constitutional rights. It came to me as I thought back to his petulant, bratty and terrifying (see the rise of Nazi Germany) performance in Phoenix this week. Call me biased, but start with looking at this list CNN put together of the 57 most outrageous quotes from that speech: Donald Trump’s 57 Most Outrageous Quotes…

Here’s another bit worth considering. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution where the office of President of the United States is defined and outlined in its scope of power and obligations reads:

Before he enter on the Execution of his Office, he shall take the following Oath or Affirmation:-“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” [1]

My sleepless night comes from how this oath, as sworn to by the 45th president and when considered alongside at least 50 of those 57 most outrageous quotes from CNN, doesn’t quite match up with this little gem from the most talked about element of the Constitution today (see bold):

AMENDMENT I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. [2]

The first thing to note here is that the First Amendment is entirely the jurisdiction of Congress. It is Congress’ obligation to protect and define the laws established in the Constitution and that includes the First Amendment. In fact, any casual student of the Constitution (I would qualify as one) can see that the founding fathers gave most of the power to Congress because the House and Senate actually represent the people. The Executive, cannot and DOES not function without the power of Congress…that was the whole point of the legislative structure. Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have failed the American people in maintaining this essential balance of power in our government as the majority party leaders of both houses…but that’s another blog post.

My primary point is that Donald Trump has leveraged his “celebrity” and his power as president to completely undermine our constitutional right to freedom of the press. Every time he speaks of “fake news” or “fake media” he takes his office and actively uses it to damage the integrity of something that is very clearly protected in the US Constitution.

We do not live in a dictatorship, where the government controls our access to information. Despite the influence of wealthy individuals and power hungry corporations, one of the basic premises of US government is the free flow of information and even Rupert Murdoch understands that. Donald Trump, overriding the power of Congress, is actively and intentionally blockading that flow of information from the press by creating an atmosphere of doubt and suspicion and he has managed to master the art of curtailing, perverting and twisting the information generated by the free press into a sickening, poisonous and judging by Charlottesville, lethal brew.

If we are to have any hope at all of eradicating this disastrous virus of lies from our highest elected office, I say we need to look at and actually use the Constitution that is meant to serve as both his job description and his watchdog. I am calling on you, our elected officials to demand that Trump either end his war on the press (which, if it could be defined as a war would be full on treason…see Article III section 3) or to seek his removal from office for not adhering to his sworn oath. If you who we have put in office are not willing to do so, than folks, the People of the United States must to bring suit against Donald J. Trump for being denied free speech and access to a free press, and yes, we have the tools in the Constitution to do that as well.

See you in court.

Ways to Sue if Your Constutional Rights are Violated

[1] – http://blogs.findlaw.com/injured/2014/09/3-potential-ways-to-sue-if-your-constitutional-rights-are-violated.html

[2] – Ibid.

 

Presidents and Pulpits

SFG-Coral-Ghost-Eye-2-main-image-cropA response to the election of Susan Frederick-Gray as the next president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

I am excited that the Unitarian Universalist Association has elected Susan Frederick-Gray as our next president and I wish her many blessings.  I will support her work enthusiastically.  At the same time, within this celebration of breaking one more glass ceiling, I feel compelled to continue looking forward in order to understand how Unitarian Universalists can truly live the lofty values we put forward.  This election is only one step in a series of many that must happen for us to accomplish that goal.  I will not rehash the troubled journey within the UUA over the last three or four months, nor will I debate the history of racial and gender bias in the denominational leadership.  Instead, as a new minister about to assume the great responsibility and privilege of leadership at the pleasure of a long standing and dedicated congregation, my question is much more basic: why must the President of the UUA be a minister?

On a simple level, it is very easy to see the structure of governance and the balance between “professional” and “lay” leadership that is attempted in our association.  Yet it is that same balance, that says to me having a minister at the helm of the entire Association seems an arrangement we should question in today’s world.  What is more, considering the specificity of how our ministerial leadership is developed in terms of educational pedigree, demographics, economics, age and ability it seems like we are perpetuating the very systems of exclusivity that we are asking our spiritual community to commit to unraveling.  Above everything else, the challenges of the world in which Unitarian Universalism as an organization is being asked to navigate are not challenges that our ministers are being explicitly prepared to meet as organizational leaders.

I’m well aware of some of the incredible professional histories that our past and new president bring to the table.  They are remarkable and multi-skilled people with passion and dedication.  They are immensely qualified leaders.  What is more, a minister leading a religious/faith organization just seems appropriate; one wouldn’t ask Elon Musk to lead the Episcopal Church.  But then again why not?  The assumption that a minister will lead a spiritual organization is status quo thinking and I’m sure that the progress we want to see over the next 10 – 20 years is not status quo progress.  When I look at the list and background of our history of Association leadership we have been blessed to draw the cream of the crop; but it is only a ministerial crop.  What are we missing by not looking across all of the crops within our vast acreage of talent?

I have had the pleasure to meet many incredible people in our congregations and the bulk of them are not ministers.  I have met lay leaders and professionals including Religious Educators, Musicians and Administrators.  They are former and current corporate and non-profit executives, they are lifelong organizers and activists, they are teachers and professors and they are deemed as somehow not qualified to lead this organization because they lack the title “The Reverend.” As a denomination, we place a lot of weight on the three-letter abbreviation (Rev.) But the title doesn’t make the person.  One of the greatest lessons I have learned through my own ministerial formation takes its cue from something Michelle Obama once said about her husband and the Presidency of the United States: “Being president doesn’t change who you are, it reveals who you are.”  Becoming a ministerial leader is the same way, it is a process of constantly peeling away layers until you are your most forthright and present self.  Even then you continue to evolve and change and discover new layers of truth and strength.  It tests you in ways that until now, I’ve only seen from the outside.  But coming to ministry from a very different background of management, it is also very easy for me to see that the crucible that is ministerial formation does not guarantee that one will always be an effective organizational leader or that they will peel away the most restricting layers. It also doesn’t guarantee that one will be the right leader at the right time.  Again, leadership, any leadership is something that is revealed.

As we embrace the new direction of leadership that will be revealed in Susan Frederick-Gray’s tenure, I say hallelujah let’s celebrate!  But I would also say that it is not the time for us to sit back with relief and sigh “whew…at last, we did it!”  We’ve only rolled on to the tarmac, we haven’t taken flight yet.  Rather, it is the time to embrace Susan’s forward thinking and the forward thinking of all the candidates and say “what a great FIRST step toward wholeness!”  We have a long way to go my friends.  We are preparing for a long flight.  Let’s continue to challenge the structures that cultivate complacency, dominant culture oppression and mono-cultural vision.  At last we’ve proven that our leadership can rock a pair of heels (if she wants to…thank you Sofia Betancourt, Susan Frederick-Gray, Alison Miller and Jeanne Pupke).  Now, let’s keep proving that both our leadership and our lived faith can reflect the economic, racial, social, cultural, ability and educational diversity that we talk so much about.

Hey, Kathy…

landscape-1496233880-kathy-griffinKathy Griffin made an exceedingly poor choice as a pop culture celebrity.

No child (regardless of who is their parent) should have to see their parent or an image of them murdered.

Kathy Griffin did not kill anyone (not even her audience). The joke wasn’t worth it.

Donald Trump has not killed anyone directly (yet) and does not deserve to be murdered.  No one does.

 

But let’s not lose sight of the fact that…

Kathy Griffin created a piece of fiction…poor taste, violent, bad…but a piece of fiction nonetheless. And she is contrite.

Whereas, Donald Trump is creating fact every day and he is rabidly unapologetic no matter what kind of violence it represents.

Not only has he enabled violence at his campaign rallies but he enables and has sometimes endorsed:

…violence against and traumatic separation of families

…violence targeting people through hate crimes

…violence against women and their bodies

…violence and victimization of US born citizens as “foreign” and “undesireable” for their associations

…the ongoing violence against our environment.

 

Kathy Griffin created an entirely ugly and inappropriate piece of fiction. There is no excuse for that.

Donald Trump is creating entirely ugly and inappropriate fact. There is also no excuse for that.

And who just got fired?

 

In 2002 I had the great pleasure of briefly interviewing and chatting with Kathy Griffin as part of the Los Angeles Pride Parade.  She was totally bawdy and randy and made me blush…and she was one of the most completely authentic people I’ve ever met.  Inappropriate, rude, crude, she also knew never to take herself so seriously that she couldn’t see when she was wrong.  She still has my vote.

…literally, when the wind blows.

Kelly Wallace wrote a great piece for CNN that highlights the way that school dress codes body shame girls and how this complicates parenting (Tues, May 30, 2017). I think it is important for more parents (mothers and fathers) to address how girls in particular are shamed in the school setting. As someone who studies masculinity however, I couldn’t miss one quote in the article that really spoke volumes about how male fragility damages everyone.

In the article, Wallace quotes Dr. Catherine Pearlman’s experience with her daughter being told to change her clothes as an example (community Today blog). Dr. Pearlman is the founder of The Family Coach and author of Ignore It!. She advises parents on all matters of child rearing:

“Pearlman said her daughter, now 13, had been told in the fall by a teacher that she couldn’t wear yoga pants because the boys would get turned on and then be embarrassed.”

So in this situation, a 13 year old girl is being told that she needs to feel responsible for adolescent boys’ sexual arousal. What is more, it is assumed that the boy will be embarrassed by his physical response so the message is that his erection is shameful and the 13 year old girl who causes that erection is to blame.

Wow.

As a male bodied person who grew up with a penis, I seem to recall that being 13 years old and being aroused were basically one in the same. Being asked to read in front of the class…‘schwingg’; singing in chorus…‘sproingg’; eating lunch…‘attention!!’. Anyone who would tell a 13 year old girl that her wearing yoga pants is a more likely cause for a 13 year old boy to have an erection than his getting an A on his math test is someone who is at best ill informed about adolescent sexuality and at worst someone with a serious agenda to indoctrinate gender based shame into the lives of young women.

I just wanted to point to this article as a great place to start a conversation among parents and also between parents and children; and not just parents of girls. Parents should share this article with their teenage boys.  This needs to be a conversation between mothers and their sons or any parent of boys and male identified children. Male privilege is not just present in what men are allowed to do or be. Male privilege is present in the blame and responsibility it places on those who are not male identified. It begins by saying to the 13 year old girl that your yoga pants turned him on and ends with a rapist walking free because the defense was able to place blame on the victim’s choice of clothing or appearance.

This is a great article as a starting point for a much deeper conversation.  It is a reminder that men and boys can end sexual violence, but only if we are held responsible for our bodies.

Love your body.

– ALD

Link to original article on CNN.com: Do School Dress Codes End Up Body-Shaming Girls?