Gentleman’s Agreement

As a man who has spent a lifetime being followed, cornered, propositioned and even groped against his will in restrooms, I can assure you that the predators are never trans*women, trans*men and not even usually self identified gay men. The culprits I’ve encountered are overwhelmingly cisgender “straight” men who feel like they have nowhere else to express these desires but in the “safety” of restrooms and locker rooms. These are the men who take advantage of the unspoken silent pacts and curious rituals of Westernized hetero-normative male bonding and are historically the ones who pose the greatest threat (think Dennis Hastert). The fear that is being projected by the men behind the current rash of anti-trans* “bathroom bills” is a product of their own twisted concept of what sex is, what a bathroom can be used for and frankly, I think they are only trying to protect their own fragile gender identities…not to mention their “right” to sneak a peek or hookup on the DL.

Yes, methinks the gentlemen doth protest too much…

Anointing North Carolina

After casting your vote,
you stand to anoint the glistening white head
with the Christening of manhood.
The ritual is rich with meaning
unconscious self conscious
as you tug at your history in the hierarchy
that flows with innocence
sometimes rises to embarrassment
and always sits on display with its simple visible purpose.

But it is not the final flick of moisture
At this font that holds the deepest meaning.
It is the furtive flash of an eye
that tells the true story
behind your belief that a public space for relief
is also the private space for release.
Your desire to shame those who only want wholeness
is meant to deflect attention
from the glances you give innocent disciples
whose untrained unrestrained excitement
at being thus blessed
is your cue to initiate them to the secret society
and teach its lessons and denial and lies.
Or maybe the restrictions you look to impose
are meant to press against how
you yourself were first evangelized
then baptized.

The frustrated communion of male bonding…
Eat for this is my body…
drink for this is my blood…
where taboo broken and DNA spilled
defines an age old covenant of hidden masculinities.
This is sacred space for you,
sanctified by anatomy anonymity
where glory is holed up in the tomb of a stranger’s pants,
and the promise that someday he will return.

You must pray,
for grace means never being asked where you’ve been…
or whether you even bothered to wash your hands.

 

Adam Lawrence Dyer is the author of Love Beyond God, the latest InSpirit Meditation Manual from the Unitarian Universalist Association: 

Love Beyond God Thumb

 

 

 

http://www.uuabookstore.org/Love-Beyond-God-P17877.aspx

An Age of Enlightenment

image

Paris in Morning

Sleep now.
The city of lights has gone out.
The shining beacon
The guide through the night
Of our fantasies, gone.
The Tour looms
A sleeping dark giant
The only sound, the wind in its frame.
The Arc is heavy
And silent and grave
A tomb for the gaiety
Lost in one day.
The metro is still,
The Opéra is dim,
And Our Lady sleeps
And weeps in the stillness
As she wades through the Seine.

And so you too are gone,
My light, my love
My shining beacon
Who guided me through this night called life.
My city of lights has gone out
Forever.
Yet, once again it is dawn
And the morning has begun.

(For the people who lost loved ones in the recent Paris attack.)

Seeing the images from Paris makes me weep.  I’m brought back to that day when I was standing on a London street watching the twin towers collapse.  Or the summer in DC when I heard of the London bombings…or Madrid…or the Boston Marathon.  I find myself, as a spiritual leader and writer asking so many questions.  What are we fighting? Do we even know?  Why?

I am also a student of the Enlightenment.  As such, I have learned that during the 16th – 18th centuries, “identity” became fixed in the Western world as something that could not only be personally defended, but as something that could be collectively defended and celebrated as a “nation.” In an age where we saw the birth of “race,” “nationalism” and “political parties” these social constructs took on the functions that had previously been ascribed only to religion and family. This development of national “identities” created the foundation for the current state of war in which we exist.

The horror and grief over the Paris attacks is extremely accessible to us in the US.  Not only as a result of the 9/11 attacks, but as a Western nation who’s identity is in large part directly a result of the French identity, we feel this pain immediately. But ISIS is not playing the same game of “identities.” Theirs is not, as some would have us believe, a simple question of wanting to supplant the French or even Western identity. Theirs is a question of a total world view and I believe is rooted in the broader question of how they see existence. Most unfortunately, this idea about existence and the nature of human life on earth for them is rooted in their gross mis-interpretation of Islam.  We must be clear, the people behind this violence are not evil because of Islam. Rather, they are using Islam for evil purposes. To grasp this concept, you might consider turning the situation around and thinking of an organization or ideology like the Westboro Baptist Church or even the KKK.  Both are legal organizations in the United States, and both organizations would happily exterminate those who do not believe as they do (in the supremacy of white heteronormative Christianity.) A homegrown terrorist like Dylann Roof should be a reminder to us that there is little difference between ISIS and the Aryan Nation.

But, religion, specifically Islam, is not the problem here. The problem is fundamentalism that we have in part learned from religion.  Yet,  fundamentalism does not need a religion to hang itself from…although it has clearly been done in the past and will surley be done in the future. In our increasingly secular world, religion has frequently been supplanted by everything from capitalism to liberalism to atheism and even vegetarianism. The term “fundamentalism” must be viewed through a broader modern lens and as a result our current state of crisis must be as well. We are choosing the language and the tactics of “war” to counter a “nation” that is not fighting a “war” with us as much as it is reinforcing its view of existence. This is in no way an apology for ISIS/ISIL.  On the contrary, it is a call to action for us to be truly smart in how we prevent any further senseless loss of life.

The call to action will begin with the right conversation and the right questions.  Why are Western targets being attacked; why is this extremism attractive to young people, abroad and at home; why do the leaders feel like this kind of violence is productive to their ends; who are the targets…really? Part of the right conversation forces us to examine where we stand in terms of our own Western “fundamentalism” and what role we play in this conflict. No one is entirely free from accountability. We don’t want to see innocent people blown up and gunned down, but we tolerate regular mass shootings because gun companies want to make money.  We want to shelter refugees from “radical Islam” but we squabble over how to provide refugees from our own border the same protection.  We talk about police brutality and race and give little or no protection transgender people who are targeted simply for being alive.  We are horrified by the violence of people blowing up ancient shrines, yet we carved of Mt Rushmore into a sacred Native site and continue to desecrate native land for oil. We criticize somem cultures for oppressing women in the style of dress but we live in a nation that lets men legislate women’s bodies.  We cry “All Lives Matter” in a nation where blacks are 12 times as likely to be murdered than whites.

ISIS is completely and utterly wrong in what they have done. There is no excuse for the attacks in Paris or the other sickening global violence inspired and perpetuated by both ISIS/ISIL and Boko Haram. They are not Islam.

But in our response as “Western nations” we must remember that the only true victims are the dead and those they loved.

Colonial Fool Part III: The Common Good

“The Common Good” is the first of two sermons being debuted at the Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento this summer, June 23 & August 4.  I decided to post this sermon partly in response to the irrational and misguided ignorance of the United States Supreme Court in their decision to gut the Voting Rights Act.  I have never seen a more clear example of narrow perception entirely changing someone’s world view and how the white male, heterosexual dominated concept of “common good” has a catastrophic strangle hold on our country.  Despite the lives lost over the years and the continuing restrictions on voting placed on non privileged and predominantly brown people in this country, four white men (and ‘Uncle’ Clarence) have decided that we’re done with Civil Rights.  

They have unleashed an unthinkable fury.

*** 

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

When I was in rehearsal for the Broadway show Ragtime, the Musical back in 1996, the whole performing cast had the good fortune to work closely with the creative team.  It was a heady experience working with the likes of E.L. Doctorow, Terrence McNallly, choreographer, Graciella Danielle; director, Frank Galati; composer, Stephen Flaherty and lyricist, Lynn Ahrens.  Not many people realized it but, Lynn Ahrens wrote many of the School House Rock tunes and lyrics including the “Preamble”…not the actual Preamble but the TV song.  I had some wonderful conversations with her about the craft of songwriting.  As a lyricist myself, I was very eager to share with her how much her music (prior to creating award winning shows like Ragtime, Once on This Island and Lucky Stiff) had meant to me as a very young person who was fascinated by communicating through song.  I told her that the “Preamble” was one of the tunes that I hummed constantly as a child and always looked forward to during my Saturday morning cartoons.  It was as a result of hearing catchy commercial music like this as well as studying the classics and a host of other music that led me to actually doing a show like Ragtime.  She was of course, flattered.  What is interesting to me now, however, is that there I was talking to her about the preamble of the United States Constitution, a paragraph that, although it has no real legal meaning, sets up the entirety of the rest of the Constitution as an instrument designed for the common good.  Yet, the show we were working on, Ragtime, was about the very different perceptions of what the common good actually is; how one person because of their sex, religion or race or social status, can experience the world as a very different set of outcomes entirely.  Ragtime is a musical about how different the common good looks to different people and how ill fitting the American dream really can be and the sacrifices that are made emotionally, culturally and even spiritually to live into that dream.

I was recently reading the book, Lovingkindness: the Revolutionary Art of Happiness.  The author, Sharon Salzberg shares a great deal about her own experience with discovering and embracing Buddhism.  I am struck by the clarity of her writing and I expect I will enjoy putting the book into action…not that it is an instruction manual on Buddhism, but rather a guide toward discovering ways to be genuinely happy through meditation and focus.  However, there is another part of me that is puzzled.  Salzberg, like many Westerners, traveled to the East to seek spiritual enlightenment, specifically through Buddhism.  This is something we hear a lot about, and we see a great deal right here in the Bay Area…Westerners embracing Buddhism.  I wonder, why don’t we hear about people coming from the East seeking spiritual enlightenment here in the states…seeking it from Christianity…Judaism…Unitarian Universalism?  No, instead, we hear about people coming here in search of wealth, or ways to learn how to be more wealthy.  That says a lot.  Why is this such a one way street?  Is it that the spiritual grass is that much greener?  Is Buddhism that much “better?”  I am not raising this question to at all be critical of Buddhism or those seeking/ practicing Buddhism.  I am just asking, rhetorically, what is missing in our own Western based spiritual practices that leaves us lacking?

Have we considered that it may not be lacking at all?

Consider this, every religion and spiritual practice seeks to do the same thing: make sense out of existence.  Whether that is to prepare us for the afterlife, death, or birth, or give us tools to sustain adversity, to give us hope, to build community, all of it is aimed at satisfying the answer to the perpetual “why?”  Even the lack of spiritual practice, even the determined belief that this is all we’ve got here and now, is a way of processing how we are in our existence.  It is human nature to ask “why” and that, as I see it, is about the only real common good that we can legitimately pursue: finding a personally satisfying explanation for the question “why life?”

Westerners traveling East to find “Truth.”  Odd thing, so if on a certain basic level we are all seeking the same thing, why would someone have to go to East to find truth?  What’s to say we aren’t able to attain the same level of enlightenment through our own Western traditions?  Are they that tainted?  Or are we?  Why should we have to learn someone else’s ways to find enlightenment.  The human animal, regardless of where they are, seeks peace in its heart.  It seeks oneness with existence.  In our largely Judeo Christian shaped Western world, we actually have the same goal of peace, enlightenment and truth as any Buddhist or Muslim, but we suffer from uniquely Western challenges of life. But Buddhists, Muslims and everyone else also suffers from their own unique challenges of life.  No human is perfect and no human is outwardly the same.  What binds us together is a sameness of inner purpose…not a sameness of outward practice.  If the purpose is linked to our being human and not how we are human, then it stands to reason that we should be able to find that “truth” within; regardless of how we choose to practice that truth.

I like to study anthropology in my spare time…genetics and human migrations.  It amazes me that humans who exist with no knowledge of one another all come up with the same stuff.  On a biological level, we all eat and secrete, we all procreate and die, but then also on a spiritual level, we all stand in awe of things we can’t explain and we seek an answer…whether that be through faith or science or both or neither. I love the fact that many scientists are actually deeply spiritual just for this reason. Ancient drawings, statues, language…all of these attest to the inner sameness of the human animal.  This is the reason every culture has ritual and spiritual practices and sometimes what we call religion.  There is a human tendency toward humility for our existence that wants to package that immense knowledge into something that is comprehensible; the real common good.

I try not to be the black guy who gets up and always talks about being black; and I don’t believe that conversations about race are all about black and white.  But I’m going to go there to demonstrate a related point.  I cannot stand the expression “post racial.”  It implies that we have “overcome” and hints at a job well done for everyone who was fighting through the sixties and seventies…yay, its all over now.   Many achievements have been made admittedly, but the same attitudes that created slavery in America still exist.  Slavery wasn’t created out of meanness.  Slavery was created out of ignorance and selfishness…and a sense of inherent superiority.  The assumed cultural superiority that created that disparity is still evident in advertising, public policy and pretty much everything else in this country that continues to live by a government and Constitution that was created by wealthy white men in a time long gone.  The more I study politics, I believe we will not ever be able to claim a cultural position in the United States of being “post racial” unless we are willing to give up the foundation of our government and start again by including all of the voices that make up the population.  My generation (Generation X) in the United States is the generation of deconstruction; we think…often too much.  Wedged between technology and the death of religion, civil and human rights and Reaganomics, we saw the world of the 60’s and 70’s spun completely out of control (my apologies to the Baby Boomers) and reaching adulthood said, quite simply, enough.  The words “post racial” are part of that spinning out of control “oh, we worked so hard, so there must be a result, right?”  There is indeed a result, but its not that easy.

Again, I am put off by calling something “post racial.”  For me “post racial” conjures up language like “color blindness” or believing that people of all races are the same or leveling the playing field.  I don’t want to leave my cultural, racial-isms behind…If I do, what does that leave me?  You see, the problem with the concept of “post racial” as it is largely presented is that it is based on a white Western concept of “commonality” which is fine if you are white and Western but rather lacking if you aren’t.  There is this assumption in “post racial” that my unique racial-ness can and WANTS to be blended into the concept of the “melting pot” and that this will be for the “common good.” But that is the same assumption that told me to straighten my hair.  It is the same assumption that told me to be a lawyer or doctor or banker.  It is the same assumption that says I should want a heterosexual modeled relationship.  But no, those priorities still leave one group calling the shots.  Ask the descendants of the Nisenan people, the Southern Madiu people, the Valley Miwok and Me-Wuk people, the Patwin people, the Wintun People and the Wintu people any of the indigenous people of the land we are sitting on nowAsk an Australian Aboriginal…ask different people what their “common good” represents and you will get very different answers.

The way in which we need most to become “post racial” isn’t by becoming “post racial” at all.  It is by becoming “post colonial”…letting go of a colonial Western centered world view.  When you look at indigenous people living off of the land or in nomadic tribes, do you see someone who has “less” or do you see someone living their truth?  When you see Shinto ritual, do you see primitive religion, or do you see honest insight into the heart of a culture?  News flash: some people not only want to live in villages, but they don’t understand why we don’t want to live close to our multiple generations and instead choose to cocoon ourselves in homes where we have so much “space” that we rarely see our children.  Some people don’t actually want to support endeavors that use money to make money.  Some people don’t want to be rich or even have any major stake in what our financial system is about, just ask some of our homeless populations.  Yes, we all need water, but at the cost of displacing people?  We all need clothing, but at the cost of modern slavery and the serious threat to health?  Are money and wealth and “prosperity” bad?  It really depends on who is pushed out of the way or manipulated to create that wealth.  And it definitely depends on who is defining what “wealth” really is.

In certain social justice circles there is a lot of talk today about “equity” and “sustainability” and “resilience.” But to what end?  Equity…so we can all have two leased cars a home with a mortgage and raise children who will spend 40 years working just so they can afford to retire? Who decided that our “American Way of Life” was such a good thing?  I actually don’t understand why we should have to live a lifestyle where we need to take 2 weeks of vacation.  If we were actually living in balance with what our bodies and minds and communities need, we would have no need for vacation.  We might actually live in balance with the seasons and also be able to embrace the shifts in ourselves from one time of life to the next, from day to day and from hour to hour.  There would be no retirement, because there would be an important role in the community waiting for us as elders and everyone in the community would want to support that role and all the other natural roles that are part of our human way of being.

The world that we…that’s you and me, people over the age of 40 have created, has reached a saturation point.  We cannot sustain any more useless attorneys.  We cannot build any more hospitals for rich people, and staff them with professionals who look at medicine as a profit centered business.  We cannot create any more schools of “higher learning” that are jammed with students who have to wait until someone else dies so that they can get a job.  We cannot pump any more pollution into the earth.  We cannot make our way of governing and our stewardship of the land we stole any more complicated.  We cannot keep doing this.  The next generations see it clear as a bell.  And although they love us, I do believe they are perfectly willing to let us charge headlong off the cliff…letting us die in the mess that we have created…because this world of capitalist pursuit without consequence does not suit THEIR common good.

Let me close by bringing this back around to our faith.  In his Berry Street Lecture “There’s a Change A-comin’” last year, Rev. Dr. Frederick J. Muir criticized what he calls the “iChurch” and rabid individualism among Unitarian Universalists.  It is a fascinating and delicious talk, but I caution against the negative framing of the Apple industries “i” in that the next stewards of our existence have a very different view of that little letter and the technology it represents.  Instead, I think it is more a question of whether we belong to a  “we-ligion” or a “me-ligion?”  I see ME-ligion as the faith practice that is purely driven by individual goals and desires and the individual truth.  We see this a lot.  Some of those same people who have gone abroad seeking Buddhism or other enlightenment come squarely from this space.  As do some people who experienced oppression in the name of other traditions they grew up with and carry that damage looking for healing and self reconciliation.  This is an important part of Unitarian Universalism that is even lifted up in our fourth principle “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”  There is nothing wrong with self awareness.  But taken to an extreme, ME-ligion begins to assume that everyone is doing the same self centered practice.  WE-ligion on the other hand has the potential to acknowledge the identity of the self, while pointing more toward our sixth principle “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”  Humility.  Here I believe is one place where we start to point toward that truth, that real “common good” that I speak of.  It is a common good that is small and simple enough to acknowledge that life and existence, however we experience it or explain it on a personal level, was here before us, is greater than us and will go on after us.  Yet it is a common good that is spacious enough for us to be our whole selves beyond the imaginary boundaries of “states” or the history of slavery and genocide, and allows us to access what is at our unique cores outside of Western contexts.  It is a common good that will enable the next generations to reclaim what it means to be truly human and wrest it from the priorities established in a monochromatic, monophonic world dominated by a handful of cultures who were motivated by fear.  And they will replace it with love.  Let us help them.  May it be so