Archive for ‘my brain.’

July 13, 2013

The 99 – Lies, Bad Theology, and Scare Tactic Evangelism

TL;DR version – “The 99″ is basically a Hell House that happens in Not October. There’s nothing on their website, anywhere, about it being a religious thing. They convince tweens and teens to come and then scare and shame them into Jesus.

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My friend Carly and I were the tamest college students imaginable. In the course of our college careers we never drank, never tried any kind of drug, didn’t party, and liked to do things like run children’s book clubs at the local library, talk about church, and watch old episodes of Little House on the Prairie. After we graduated in 2010 she began her teaching career in Connecticut and I started seminary a couple years later in Boston. We see each other somewhat regularly and get overly excited about things like book fairs and laugh about church politics – she’s a life-long member of a United Church of Christ congregation and I’m in school to be a Unitarian Universalist minister.

When Carly texted me to ask if I wanted to hang out on Friday I said sure, and later as we were talking about what we wanted to do she asked if I could take the commuter rail out to Providence so we could to go “this thing about the common causes of death for young adults.” I figured it was just another weird thing Carly had discovered somewhere on the internet. Usually our rule with what we attend is that it either has to be good or it has to be so absurdly bad that it’s good.

We showed up to the Swansea Mall parking lot, I saw the tent, and I immediately said “Carly, this looks like a ‘Come to Jesus’ thing. While she ran into the mall to find a bathroom I tried running a few searches using my phone but wasn’t seeing anything about it being overtly religious. Searching was complicated by the fact that this production is called “The 99” and entering that phrase, in any way, into search engines brings up a lot of stuff about the occupy movement.

The other thing to know here is that I’m transgender; I was born female but now identify as male. I “pass,” meaning people see me as male, about half the time but I look very, very young. I was raised in an evangelical church and was kicked out or left (depending on who you ask) when I came out as gay years ago. Though I’m clearly fine with religion at this point and have no vendetta against Christianity I’m definitely not a fan of the brow-beating Evangelical Christianity that tries to do things like scare tweens into accepting Jesus.

We stood in line for this event, held in a giant tent, as they slowly let in groups of about twenty people. As soon as we got to the people with handheld metal detectors and started separating us into lines of men and women I got worried. I was directed to the male line, so I went, got wanded and waited for Carly. We approached a table where we had to sign a “release” which was actually a way to get out contact information. I put down my name, a fake email address, left the phone number part blank, checked adult, and got reprimanded by the woman at the table for not filling it out “correctly.”

We waited some more, and were finally allowed inside the tent. We paid our $3 admission price and were showing to a roped off area with a TV that told us the rules after showing a few PSAs about not doing meth or texting while driving. It was one of those faux-edgy productions – lots of messy handwriting, jump cuts, and a supposedly creepy voice reading them out loud. No video, no cameras, no loud conversations, no touching the actors “even if they touch you” and if you are disruptive you will be removed and required to wait for your party at the end.

The entire event is set up in a giant tent with “rooms” that you get in via people in safety vests lifting flaps of tent tarps. The first “room” has an empty chain-link cage in the middle. The lights go completely dark and when they come back on a grim-reaper like person has appeared in the cage. The grim-reaper is your “guide” and shows you through each of the rooms. Carly says she heard the guide referred to as a spiritual guide at some point but I didn’t catch that.

The 99 purports to show the 5 most common causes of death for teens and young adults. According to them these are; gang violence, drunk driving, drug overdose, suicide, and texting while driving. There were not statistics or cited studies anywhere so, sure, let’s go with that for the premise of this whole thing. It was emphasized over and over that these were bad choices, you had a choice, everything is a choice.

Our spiritual guide first showed us into the gang violence room. Two kids, a boy and a girl, are beaten up by four other teens. The acting was hilariously bad with phrases like “oh man that was so cool!” and “we really beat them up!” and lots of high fiving and fist bumping. Then a backlight comes on, highlighting a car behind a mesh screen and one of the “gang member” girls is shot and killed. Her friends unceremoniously pick up her body and walk out with it. As our guide leads us into the next room we walk past her lifeless body dumped on a fake park bench.

Our next room is a car crash. One girl is covered in blood and splayed on the hood of the car, the girl in the driver’s seat is gasping and sobbing and crying and covered in blood. There’s another lifeless body in the back seat. The other car has a man and a woman, also both seriously injured, and an audio track of a baby screaming starts up. I still have no idea if this was supposed to be drunk driving or not wearing seatbelts or just car wrecks in general.

Next up was a crack den. We were given chairs to sit in for this long and memorable scene in which Nothing Happens. A pregnant woman sits on a bed in the corner sobbing for “Steven.” There’s a filthy toilet bowl off at one side and people sit around pretending to do every form of drug you have ever heard of. There’s a bong being passed around, somebody cutting up what looks like a cup of crack cocaine on the table (seriously, it was a giant pile), someone making meth in a corner, a guy in an arm chair with a needle in his arm. This man was apparently injecting into a giant open wound. One of the women on the couch beats her daughter with a stick of some kind, and at one point “Steven” lumbers over and slaps the pregnant woman.

We walked from there into a teenagers bedroom where we were told to look up at a television screen. A jumpy, scratchy suicide note-video comes on that starts “mom, dad? By the time you watch this I’ll already be dead.” While dramatically pulling her hair she talks about how she was never the perfect daughter and was tired of being unhappy and how everyone would be happy now that she was dead. The screen goes black, a light comes on in the corner behind us, and there’s the girl laying there, dead from what appeared to be a chestburster alien but was, we were informed, a self-inflicted gunshot to the chest.

Next room! Two coffins and a large projected video that was a replay of three news stories. An 11 year old girl who hanged herself because of bullying, a college student who died in a car accident because her brother was driving drunk, and a group of people who started an anti-texting while driving campaign because a boy had died when a girl was distracted while texting.
Then things got really weird. We were led into what we dubbed pre-hell. A comparatively older woman, in her forties or so when most of the actors had been teens, was chained to a wall and wailing. She was then taken by a demon away as she struggled. Carly and I both later confirmed we’d had the same thought, that this was sex trafficking or something, but it was just showing people who made bad choices being led to hell.

And then WE, too, entered hell. A man dressed as “the devil” walked back and forth and badly lip-synced to us about how hell was a real place and he was the devil. We’d seen people making bad choices and now all those people were in hell. While this is going on caged people dressed, basically, as zombies are wailing and reaching out toward us asking us to take them out. And then a beam of light comes through and the devil screams “no, they’re mine, don’t take them!” and other such things.

The next scene takes place on mount Golgotha. I remember this mostly for the line “COME ON JESUS, MOVE!” as he’s led out, lugging his cross, covered in hilariously fake wounds. Next room is the crucifixion. There are three crosses – two of them have televisions mounted on the crosses and the third, tallest, has a ridiculously gory Jesus on it, facing away from us. The televisions come to life, showing scenes from a passion movie of Jesus being beaten, and then the middle cross begins to rotate so we see Jesus full on, heaving and bloody and wearing a pair of ripped up LL Bean shorts.

We’re led into a final room with a TV screen where we watch “The Bridge.” This is a dramatic depiction of the quandary that I thought was used to diagnose psychopaths. A man who apparently has the job of flipping a lever to move a train track so a train doesn’t derail realizes his child is playing on the mechanism. If he flips the lever his son will be crushed to death. If he doesn’t the whole train load of people will die. He flips the lever.

This version was further complicated because an attractive, perky young woman is on that train and about to shoot up the heroin she’s heating up on a spoon in the main cabin. As the train goes past the distraught man she catches sight of him and decides not to shoot up. You then see her, holding her young daughter, see the man and they smile at each other for a long time.

The movie ends and a man stands up and talks about how God also chose to let his son die so we could have life. He goes on for a bit and then asks us to bow our heads and close our eyes for a prayer “just out of respect” and raise our hands if we want to accept Jesus. Then he says “I see those hands.” and we’re led into the final room which has maybe around 100 small tables set up with people at each. The person says “gentlemen to the left ladies to the right” and Carly and I ended up separated. As I walked toward the men’s side with no exit visible anywhere one of the security people points and me and says “what is that?” trying to figure out if I’m male or female. I caught sight of the exit and got the hell out of there.

Carly sat down with one of the counselor people and had a conversation in which she was told she wasn’t a real Christian because she’d been baptized as an infant, not as an adult, and that being confirmed in the church was not salvation. While that was going on I made a pissed off Facebook post and left a ranting message on a friends answering machine. Finally Carly came out and we left kind of angry about the really terrible theology and how they had duped people into this.

If you look at their website there is nothing about religion anywhere to be found unless you already know what you’re looking for. Is that the only way they think they’ll be able to save people? By lying to them about what they’re going to and scaring, pressuring and forcing them into hearing a poorly translated message of salvation? It’s some seriously flawed theology they’re working from.

http://www.whatisthe99.com/

April 15, 2013

A prayer after communion

A friend was preaching tonight at the local Metropolitan Community Church and since he’s somebody I have a lot of respect for and whose ministry I value, I went. I figured “it’ll be a lot of Jesus” which isn’t a bad thing but it doesn’t really mesh with my theology. I was right; it was a LOT of Jesus.

It was a really small service, maybe twenty people in the room all told, and I think I was personally greeted by at least ten of them before the service started. I finally agreed to fill out a visitor card just so they’d stop offering them to me. When reading through the order of worship before service I noticed that they were doing communion and looked around for an explanation of their communion practices.

I’m not as stringently anti-communion as I was when the school year started. I spent a good part of spring break reading about communion practices and came up with my own “guidelines” about when I would and would not participate in communion. Suffice it to say I didn’t figure that an MCC church would have any issues with my participation in communion.

Most denominations that do communion have the same general principle behind it and then mess with it just enough to be “unique” and to “confuse newcomers.” At this church it is common practice to take communion and then receive a short prayer.

Honestly I couldn’t figure out how to not participate. Everyone else was and I was confused so I just made sure to step to the side where my friend was praying with people since, hey, I trust the guy.

I’ve had some bad experiences with folks praying over/with/about/to me. Lots of praying out the demons of homosexuality, praying out the demons that cause me to be rude to my parents, the demons that make me cuss and, when I was 10, the demons that led to my owning a CD by Hanson (perhaps that prayer was justified). Two years ago I prayed with a chaplain at general assembly which sort of made me okay with the practice in theory but it really needs to be somebody I trust in order for me to really hear the prayer rather than focus on the ten kinds of awkward inherent in the situation.

Tonight I held the hands of a friend and minister and he prayed for me and, like I said, I trust him and I respect his ministry and he’s a good person. But the really touching part was that this guy knows me. He knows I don’t really do the Jesus thing much. So he fit the prayer to me. He didn’t end with “In Jesus name” he didn’t throw much (any?) God into the prayer, and there was no hierarchical “Lord.” He held my hands and he prayed for me in a way he knew I would find accessible.

I’m always collecting bits and pieces of what effective ministry looks like but I’m not some cyborg seminary student who simply collects information whilst ignoring emotional situations. I’ve had a pretty rough year and it was really touching to feel cared for and ministered to in a different way than usual.

April 11, 2013

Have you policed the trans community today?

policetranscommunity
For those unable to read the image:
Set up is a bingo board with a bluish purple background in a gradient from dark to light.

Title is “Have you policed the trans community enough today?”

Spaces read, from left to right, top to bottom
Real trans people aren’t excited about HRT
Born in the wrong body
“Trans Pride” is dumb
You aren’t trans if you don’t try hard enough
Genderqueer people don’t exist
Being trans isn’t something to be proud of
You aren’t trans if you didn’t hate your childhood
Living deep stealth is the only way to authentically experience
Real trans people aren’t gay/lesbian
Trans people don’t enjoy having sex “like their birth gender”
No real trans person would ever reveal their birth name
Trans people don’t belong at Gay Pride events
You aren’t trans without SRS
Nobody will take you seriously if you don’t change your voice
If you aren’t on HRT you are “just” a gay man/lesbian
You have to pack/tuck when you’re dressed up or EVERYONE WILL KNOW
Trans people are uncomfortable with their bodies at all times
All trans people hate swimming
You aren’t really trans if you like “playing with gender”
Trans men can’t be feminist
Trans women can’t wear jeans
Religious trans people are dumb; God messed up with your body
No real trans man wants to get pregnant
Real trans people want to date hetero cis people
Real trans people want to stop IDing as trans after they “fully transition”

February 23, 2013

My identity is the message I scrawl inside

I can’t write you each a thank you note
because there aren’t enough thank you notes in the world.
And I don’t have your address.
I think I lost it when I moved.
And a lot of you don’t have addresses any longer.
But let my body be that envelope
for that thank you note
and my men’s clothes the pretty picture on front
and let the simple fact that my identity exists
be the message I scrawl inside
thanking you
for all you’ve done for me.

For all the butches out there
but especially those first strong, fierce, bold women
who took their identity public
and political
and said “this is who I am” with their dapper hats and pressed shirts.
From the Beebo Brinkers
to the Leslie Feinbergs
to the unnamed women who kicked those stones out of the way
so those of us who came after them
didn’t have to tread quite as carefully.

Thank you

For all the femmes out there
who said, “oh honey, I love you exactly like you are,”
those fierce ass women who society loves to ignore
or fetishize,
for all of you who told the people I’d date in the future
that it was okay to date the girl
in the button up
and the ill-fitting men’s pants
and the too big boots
and thus led to too many flings and lots of loving embraces.

Thank you

For the drag queens
who said enough is e-god-damn-fucking-nough

Thank you

For the parents who chose love for their children
above societal expectations
and who dutifully plugged away in libraries and on websites
filled with outdated and incorrect information
only to make mistakes
and apologize
and still walk their kid down the aisle
toward her wife
or up the courthouse
after she was fired from a job she loved because other people were
too afraid of her.

Thank you.

For all of you who have been arrested
for being the fabulous queers you are
and for all of you struggling
to be fabulous queers while incarcerated.

Thank you.

For all my friends who didn’t outwardly flinch when I came out
and allowed me to have a life outside of being “the trans guy”
and who sang with me at open mics
and laughed with me while we crowded into our hallway
to watch bad TV
and who let me cry when the world got a little too tough.

Thank you.

For every one of the ministers
mentors
teachers
lovers in my life who has ever said “I believe in you”
whether they believe
in the current incarnation of me
or one of the many identities I’ve traveled through
to get to this spot.

Thank you.

For all my contemporaneous queers
who fight these fights
and accept these struggles
and lift each other up
when we get knocked down.

Thank you.

©Andrew Coate. Please do not share in full without linking back to http://www.thoughtsonblank.wordpress.com

February 7, 2013

“Love the new look.” Coming out to my middle school science teacher.

Last week I was working with a group of high school seniors and I made them brainstorm on a teacher, or teachers, who had made a positive impact on their lives prior to high school.  The “prior to high school” caveat was mainly because they were all still in high school and I wanted them to think back.  We talked about what makes a good teacher and eventually settled on the answer, “it’s the little things.”  Then I made them look up an email address or, if needed, a physical address of a teacher they remembered had made an impact on them though “the little things.”  We wrote letters, by hand and on computers, thanking those teachers for what they’d done, detailing that “little thing,” and updating them on where their former students were now and where they hoped to go in the future.

They told me I should do it, too, so I sat there contemplating the question.  I’d certainly had some great teachers and I’d had some really awful teachers.  Most of the good teachers were in high school and college and certainly not all of my “teachers” have been in schools.  But middle school had a dearth of teachers I felt like cared at all.

I got caught up in the rest of the day and didn’t really plan to follow through with sending off a letter and forgot about it until I got home and turned on my computer.  I had a Facebook friend request from somebody who had bullied me mercilessly in middle school.  I couldn’t figure out why she’d want to be friends; this was a girl who scribbled “fag” all over my backpack and was such a “nice girl” in front of the teachers that, when she told one of them I’d copied her test rather than the other way around, I failed and almost didn’t pass math.  And how had she found me?  I’d changed my name since middle school and there was no way she should have known to look me up.  I considered, strongly considered, sending her a nastily worded message about how bad she’d made my life.

It got me thinking again about those teachers who hadn’t done the right thing and played into the idea that bullies have low self-esteem and let them get away with murder.  Then I remembered an incident on the playground before school; this person was bullying me and my science teacher came up to us and completely diffused the situation.  I started thinking about that letter I hadn’t written.

I searched out my middle school’s website just to see if she happened to still work there.  She did.  I grabbed the letter format I’d made my high schoolers use and started to write.  Almost immediately I realized that I’d either have to come out as transgender to this teacher or use only my legal name and an old email address to avoid coming out.

I came out to her; I figured I lost nothing if she never responded, or thought it was spam, or didn’t care, or just never saw the email.  I explained why I was writing, thanked her for standing up to a bully for me that one morning (the little things!), let her know where I’d gone to undergrad and where I was in grad school, and signed off.

Less than fifteen minutes later she sent me a friend request on Facebook.

Okay, so much for her never seeing it, or not responding, or not remembering who I was.

So I did what I do.  Sent her a Facebook message.  “That was an awkwardly fast response to a completely random email.”  She responded that she’d been avoiding grading.  And we started chatting.  She had family in Maine and Boston, relatives associated with Unitarian Universalist Churches.

Then she said, “love the new look.”  I made some sarcastic comment about moving quickly from Dykesville to Tranny Town after high school but inside I was saying, “Oh, thank you, God.”  She was fine with it; it was a nonissue.

I don’t know why it mattered.  This wasn’t somebody I’d even really thought of since I left middle school and had she never responded to my email I wouldn’t have really thought about it.  And if there HAD been some issue with it then, hey, what did it matter?  She was my science teacher, for one year, thirteen years ago.  I’m pretty sure in the prioritized list of “people who need to accept my gender identity” that’s… pretty low.

I’m at the point in my life where I’m not closeted to anybody I’ve met in the past five years and anybody from before that who I’m friends with in any capacity online.  I’m out to my parents and my siblings and a couple high school teachers who I’ve stayed in contact with.  But because Facebook didn’t become public until after I left high school I never ended up friends with almost anybody I went to school with.  Anybody who tries to seek me out now won’t find me under my legal name.

Therefore anybody I contact from before I transitioned I have to make that choice with.

Should I come out to you?

Are you safe?

Does it matter?

Sometimes the conversation is great.  This teacher was wonderful about it.  Last time I came out to a former teacher she was… less okay with it.  She’s come around, and we’re fine now but her initial reaction hurt.  A few people never questioned me when I changed my name online while others asked about it and then never brought it up again.

But it will always be the little things that make the biggest impact.

“Love the new look.”

August 29, 2011

Influence and Discernent and… have I mentioned I hate puppets?

Sorry to all my UUs out there. And my childhood ministers. To the people who have sat with me for hours and listened to me discern or complain or cry. To the folks who have offered prayers in times of need, hugs in time of excitement or fear, or hundreds upon hundreds of Facebook comments offering advice, love, support, or joy.

I’m sorry because the most influential minister in my life was Mister Rogers.

How cliché, right?

I mean, really. This is turning into a “someone I admire” essay for my 4th grade teacher.

But I grew up in a not-so-awesome home. With a mom who was more concerned with drinking and the various men in her life than making sure her kids were being imparted with lessons like “you’re important.” With teachers who had little time to do more than control chaos. With a neighborhood that had more gang violence than picnics. And with grandparents who possibly did the best thing they could have done for me by accident; putting me in front of the TV on the mornings they watched me.

Oh, the other thing you have to know about this is that I hate puppets. HATE THEM.

Got it? Okay then.

I guess I learned some concrete things from Mister Rogers Neighborhood; what break dancing was, how crayons and bike helmets were made, and things of that nature. But mostly I learned compassion. And I learned that some adults wanted me to be curious, to question things I didn’t understand, and that I had things to teach other people. I learned that it was okay to be me, and that it was okay for other people to be who they were. I learned that it was okay to cry if I needed to; in fact, I had an adult man telling me so! I hated the Land of Make-Believe. Would turn off the sound during that part and grab a book to read so I didn’t have to look at the puppets. But I would keep the TV on so I could watch for when he came back, so he could feed his fish and say good bye and sing that he’d see me tomorrow.

Mister Rogers wasn’t a TV show for me. I didn’t really like TV. I liked the escapism that books offered me far more than any TV show. I learned to read at a really young age, mostly teaching myself, and I found a lot more comfort and safety in curing up in a corner with a book than sitting in the open living room with the TV on. I made the exception for Mister Rogers, though.

I think it’s fairly common knowledge now that Mister Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister; he was a deeply religious man that felt his calling was to show love and compassion and equity and kindness to all people, most specifically to children. He was a man of extraordinary heart who often showed that there was worth to every single person. He is quoted saying:

Those of us who are in the world to educate, to care for young children, have a special calling. A calling that has very little to do with a collection of special possessions, but has a lot to do with the worth inside of heads and hearts. In fact, that’s our domain; the heads and hearts of the next generation, the thoughts and feelings of the future.

When I think of who had the most straight-on religious impact on me the answer is probably the minister who brought me back to church, introduced me to UUism. But the minister who had the most theological impact on me? Unquestionably it’s Fred Rogers. The man who taught me to be curious, to never be satisfied with being treated as less than instead of equal to, and the person who sat with me morning after morning and sang to me and talked to me and told me that I was good, and I was worthy, and I was perfect as who I was, not as who others wanted me to be.

I do not want to be a minister because of Rogers. But I want to, in some small way, pay forward what he gave me. I cannot think that I will have the love and courage and wholeness to live each day with the sheer serenity that Rogers showed throughout his life in every interaction, recorded then or years and years later as a remembrance to his holy work. I can, however, hope and strive to use his words, his actions, and his strength of character to encourage me to be my best self.

August 20, 2011

And a small cupcake will guide them

Today I worked almost a 12 hour shift and by the time we’d closed and I’d walked to the train station and found a bench I was exhausted. I’d JUST missed the train I needed so I knew I’d have awhile to sit. I pulled out my book and settled into the bench to read a little. I don’t actually mind waiting for trains as long as I’m not running late so, while I was tired, I wasn’t particularly annoyed.

Less than a minute after I’d sat down a family of five walks into the station, and two of the children and the mom sat down next to me, while the dad and the oldest boy stayed standing. The dad seemed to be on an ongoing tirade about same sex marriage. For a few minutes I pretended to ignore what he was saying, until finally I was fed up.

I put my book in my lap and said, “Sir, you totally have the right to think and say what you like, but I had a long day at work and I’m tired of hearing how immoral I am. Would you mind finishing your tirade later?” Seeing the somewhat angry look on his face, and knowing I wasn’t in the mood for any kind of a fight or a lecture, I quickly tried to figure out some peace offering.

“Also,” I said, not pausing to wait for his retort, “Would any of you like a cupcake? We had tons left over at work.”

The two younger kids, seated on the bench next to me, looked at their dad. By now he just looked confused, no longer angry, and definitely unsure what to think of me.

“Can we have a cupcake, dad?” asked the younger girl. He shrugged, and they both looked back to me. I gave them a pack of four cupcakes, and they grabbed them and said thank you. The mom asked where I worked, I told her, and we laughed that one of the perks and drawbacks of working at a coffee shop was the amount of free pastry available.

I asked them if they were visiting Boston for the first time, and the dad said that he’d been before but it was the kids’ first time. We talked for over 10 minutes about Boston, and Los Angeles (where I am from) and Tennessee (where they are from) and what kinds of things to see in Boston. I looked up an address on my phone for them. We laughed that we could see into one of the hotel rooms across the street and it looked like they were jumping on the bed.

I asked what they were up to the next day, and they said that they hoped to see the Aquarium and maybe do a Duckboat tour. Needing to just sneak one little jab in there I invited them to join me at church the next morning; their faces were predictably confused.

And a couple minutes later their train came. They all said goodbye to me, the kids thanked me again for the cupcakes, and that was that. We all, at least, left the interaction smiling.

So did I change any minds forever? Who knows; probably not drastically.

Did they get to hear a different position on the same sex marriage debate? Nope.

Did I bring up politics or the real injustices that gay people face or quote any bible back at them about equality, love, and compassion? Not even a little.

Because did I mention I’d worked an almost 12 hour shift? That I’d been out of the house for fifteen hours? That above all I was tired and just wanted to not listen to somebody bashing me and my family? That really was my initial motivation.

I’m so tired of fighting and fighting and fighting; of having the same argument with the same people and the same counterarguments flying my way. And I also do firmly and wholeheartedly believe that he did have the right to be saying what he was saying. I just didn’t want to listen, and I also didn’t really want to move.

So I offered what I had – cupcakes and advice about the city of Boston.

And, lo, it worked. They, of course, played a part too. They didn’t lecture me, or ignore my request, or target me. They accepted cupcakes from a stranger who they recognized they had been saying bad things about mere seconds before. They were interested enough, or at least feigned interest, in what I had to say, and I listened as they told me about their home back in Tennessee. We all chose to interact on that human level. That whole I-Thou thing we talk so much about.

So what’s the takeaway here? Always carry cupcakes seems impractical.

But maybe, “always be willing to approach an issue in a new way.” may be worth looking at.

Or, perhaps, “people don’t like being yelled at.”

Or maybe, just maybe, something about the inherent worth and dignity of all people? Or exercising justice, equity, and compassion in human relations?

Right, those pesky first and second principles.

I’ve been trying this thing recently, just in the past couple of months. When something upsets me I figure out what my first reaction is, and I don’t do that. I wait a minute and think, “ok, how else can I deal with this situation?” It’s led to some really neat conversations and interactions, and this is a really fun and concrete example of one.

I, like most anybody I can think of, am just tired of politics and rhetoric. I don’t want to have the same argument about the over 1400 rights that married couples have in the US. I don’t want to talk about how trans people can be fired just for their identity. I don’t want to bring up LGBTQ youth suicide rates, instances of bullying, or any of the other stuff that are the go to talking points for “dealing with” the anti-LGBTQ crowd. I want to have these conversations in new and different ways; or maybe, instead of having “those: conversations, I want to talk to people about their families and I want to let them know who I am; that I am more than a ballot question that they vote against.

So no, I probably didn’t change their minds. And I will be shocked beyond belief if they show up to church tomorrow. I have no doubt that they will go back to their Independent Fundamental Baptist church in Tennessee (I’m not making assumptions; they told me) and nod along with the minister if anything anti-gay is said from the pulpit.

But we didn’t fight. We DIDN’T FIGHT. That’s a step, right? Please, let it be a step.

July 8, 2011

Always and forever, you!

July 8th, 2011

Dear Me,

You’re reading this because you are procrastinating. You are procrastinating on something that you’ve decided is a huge, gigantic deal and if you don’t do it immediately the world will end and you are an idiot for fooling around online instead of Just Doing It.

I’m here to remind you to breathe. I’m here to remind you that the last weeks or months or years or lifetime of work will not be undone if you do not do whatever this awful thing is right away. You may get a lower grade, or lose a chance at something fun or cool or neat, but ultimately it’s not a huge deal. Ultimately you will be fine. You’ve been fine every other time, and you’ll be fine this time.

I’m here to remind you to cut yourself some slack; which, unless you’ve changed a whole lot in the past however long since you wrote this, you really suck at. You’re a good person. Sometimes you make mistakes, because you are human, but you are a good person. You are dynamic and engaging and loving and you do a lot of things well, even if you can’t think of a single one right now.

I’m here to remind you that you are loved. There are tons of people that you can call, right now, and simply say “talk to me.” Even if you haven’t talked to them in ages. Just pick up the phone and connect with somebody. You always feel better when you do.

I’m here to remind you to give yourself some space. You need space. It’s essential to your health and well being. Go outside and take a quick walk, dip your feet in the ocean if you can, just take some deep breaths if you can’t. Listen for nature, even if you are living in some big city.

I’m here to remind you that you will fail sometimes. This may end up being College Freshman Calculus, your 7th grade integrated project portfolio, or your months of attempting to blog about current news on Emergency Contraception accessibility and convenience in New York. You may fail. It’s OK. You will live.

I’m here to remind you that you HAVE done some impressive stuff before. You’ve written long papers even when you thought that it was impossible, you’ve made really scary phone calls, you’ve traveled the country for business and pleasure, alone and with other people. You’ve presented workshops to packed auditoriums, and spoken in front of hundreds of people. So, whatever it is, you CAN do it.

And lastly I’m here to remind you that it’s OK to be scared. And it’s definitely OK to not know. And it’s so very, definitely OK to cry.

Also you should never forget the healing power of Hershey’s Kisses, Dr. Pepper and popcorn.

Always and forever,

You

May 30, 2011

Periodic Table of (Liturgical) Elements

Many, many thanks to my buddies in the UU Young Adult Growth Lab for their fun and fabulous contributions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a JOKE, people.  It’s not perfect.  There are probably typos.  It’s horrifically mistitled.  It is a joke.  Just take it for what it is, ok?

May 27, 2011

SURVEY RESULTS!!!!!

Thank you, so much, to all who participated!  I received a total of 43 responses to my survey which is SUPER awesome!  9 of you brave souls had never been to a UU church before, while 21 had not gone in the past year.  The rest were some mix of “I don’t go regularly” or “this was a new congregation” or “other.”

Please not all the questions were mandatory and some people chose not to answer some of the questions, meaning not all percentages make sense with the number “43.” In fact, most don’t.

The questions!!!

Just, in general, did people have a good time at church?

Overwhelmingly yes! 37 of the 43 respondents said that they had a good time. The other 6 answered “other.”

79% of folks were greeted warmly

86% said that they understood what they were supposed to do at various times in the service

65% said that it was easy to find their way to the church

58% said they stayed for coffee hour

71% said that the service was as advertised in terms of length topic, etc

and…

28% said that somebody made the effort to tell them about various events happening at the church.

Of those who gave an age, almost three quarters were between 18 and 35, and the rest were over 35 save for the one “under 18” who answered my survey.

And… alright people. Truth time.

Exactly 2 of that coveted young adult demographic were told about young adult programming.

Two.

People had quite a bit to say about their church visits.

What did people like?

  • The people seem very friendly and approachable in general.

  • Last Sunday was our annual music service. It was mostly bluegrass music, which was a wonderful change of pace from the usual classical/organ music we hear. I like classical music, but I’d love it if we didn’t get quite so much of it. I suspect this is not a widely-shared opinion among my fellow congregants.

  • I liked the inclusive speech, the content and delivery of the minister’s sermon, the candles of concern, and some of the music–but all of the effort

  • I love how excited my toddler is to go every Sunday.

  • I liked that they had a rainbow flag and said that they welcomed LGBTQ people.

  • I was happy to see that after the big flu season scare when the sung benediction was done with hand motions, it’s back to holding hands.

  • I really liked the music. There is something special about church music that just makes me happy and peaceful.

  • There was nobody shouting which was nice. I hated that when I went to an IFB church!

  • Somebody came up to me in the service and asked if I was new, and she sat with me the whole time. She showed me where the coffee hour was, too, and I asked her some questions about the church. She was really nice and I was happy that I had somebody to ask where the bathroom was and just talk to in general because I can be kind of shy.

What needs to be changed up?

  • I didn’t notice anyone like me (i.e. people under 35ish who appeared to be there by themselves). I don’t really mind the age difference, but it did seem like everyone already all knew each other–especially during the coffee hour–and weren’t very inclined to say hello to me or ask what I’m doing there or anything. (though one person who was the official greeter did) I’m not the most social person in the world and I hate meeting new people in most circumstances, so the whole concept of awkwardly standing around while other people talk to each other wasn’t very comfortable.

  • So the reason I went, which was before I saw that you were recruiting people to go for the sake of doing this survey, is that I would really like to have a spiritual community, and I strongly agree with all of the UU principles and all of that. So, in theory, being a UU seems like a good idea. I especially enjoy the attitude that each person is on their own spiritual journey and there is no single set of dogma that we’re required to believe. However, the reason why I’m probably unlikely to be a regular UU church-goer is that I feel like the services are typically a large majority of “fluff.” Topics for sermons seem to be things like “war is bad” or “it’s good to care about the Earth” and things like that. Now obviously, I agree with these nice ideas, but I haven’t felt like I was learning anything or being intellectually challenged or emotionally affected in any way, which is what would inspire me to wake up and go to church on Sunday, rather than just sleeping late.

  • My conclusion after the service was that I think when I have children, I’d like to raise them as regular UU church-goers so that they could be exposed to all of these nice ideas and learn to ask big questions and become accepting of difference and embrace diversity, etc. So I’ll probably start going regularly once I have kids, which is nice to have as a long-term plan, but also a little disappointing for the present.

  • 10 years after signing the book and fully participating & contributing in every way imaginable, I have NOT ONCE felt welcomed or been comfortable with the word “church.”

  • There is consistently very little welcoming behavior. No one makes an effort to say hello. Although we do a welcoming ritual during church, that is awkward as well because people avoid me since I am young and usually alone. People welcome the people they already know. No one makes an effort to talk to me or welcome me. I have yet to have a conversation with any regular member of the church after or before church services.

  • I want church to be serious but also about celebrating the joy in life and love. There needs to be that balance and this church seems to take itself too seriously. It’s why I went regularly for about 6 months, but haven’t been back in a while.

  • The piano music was lovely as always. Of the hymns, 1 was relatively easy, but the other 2 were more difficult and not well known - the congregation had a hard time singing them.

  • The sermon wasn’t our minister’s best - it seemed a little disjointed and lacking in a central theme, but it did have a few interesting stories and funny jokes as always.

  • Lots of little things had changed since I was at the congregation last. One change was the benediction. While it said “the words of the benediction are printed in on the inside front cover of the order of service”, none of the greeters were giving out this piece. Apparently the church had switched to having a cardboard part that stayed the same each Sunday with the basic information, including the words to the chalice song and the benediction, as well as a paper insert with the announcements and order of service that would change each week. But most of the cardboard outsides had long since gone missing or been taken home accidentally. I wonder if greeters are expected to recognize guests and make sure they get the few cardboard outsides they have left or what. As someone coming back for the first time in a long time, it felt weird to stand for the benediction with everyone singing and not have the words to read. Same for the new chalice lighting.

  • I didn’t like the all-white congregation and celebrants. Even for Maine, it always feels unnatural.

  • I would say it was a good service; original, but not wildly unique… I wished the service had moved my spirit more

And the best comment of them all.

Wow. I never knew church could be this happy. I’m so glad I went. I will be back.

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