31 July, 2016

Over

Sometimes I think my dad is right: I overshare.

I over-everything, really. Always have.

I'm getting better at curtailing the knee-jerk overreaction I used to be famous for (Breadner trait, that)...but the impulse to jerk that knee is still there. Something hurtful happens on Facebook? Let's think about deactivating the Facebook account for a while. 

I find it interesting, in a darkly amusing sort of way, that I don't ever think of just not posting to Facebook for a day, or a week, or what have you. I have several friends who post to their Facebook accounts once a month or so, and as much as I realize that's the healthy way of using the site...I can't seem to do it. I'll resolve that this will be my one post for today, this really sad song that sums up my current emotional state extremely well...and half an hour later I'll see something online that makes me think of someone, and wouldn't she like to see this? I think I need to share this with him. 

I overreact, or at least have the urge to, because I over-feel. I over-feel because...who the hell knows. It just is, a fact of life, as immutable as the tides. Coping with such huge billows of feeling has been my life's burden. I've never been able to lessen them. Not on my own.

My first impulse, when something good OR bad happens to me, is to share it. As widely as possible, within the constraints of privacy (other people's; I don't invoke my own very often). Because Callahan's Law is one of the few absolutes of my life: shared pain is lessened; shared joy, increased. That has always been my experience, since long before I learned of Spider Robinson, who first expressed that law. 

Almost always.

The exception to Callahan's Law comes when you violate some other widely held social convention. And yes, I'm going there again, because apparently I overemphasize this aspect of myself:

I over-love.

“The more you love, the more you can love--and the more intensely you love. Nor is there any limit on how many you can love. If a person had time enough, he could love all of that majority who are decent and just." --Robert A. Heinlein

Over-loving, otherwise known as polyamory, leaves you open to both joys and miseries that can only be shared with people who over-love themselves. The "normal" people out there don't get it, and trying to explain it just provokes head-scratches. Rare indeed is the monogamous person who truly understands compersion. And if one partner dumps you, the instant monogamous reaction is MAYBE THIS IS A SIGN YOU SHOULD ONLY HAVE ONE PARTNER LIKE THE REST OF US.

Aside: I am sick unto death of mono-normative memes. They're everywhere: the "one true love", "soulmate", "other half" expressions that irk me at best and outright offend me at worst.
Here's one of the offensive ones: Polyamorous people are quite often told that being poly is a phase, that "you just haven't found the right person yet". Yesterday I saw a post in a poly forum on Facebook that had me cackling with glee: MONOGAMOUS? YOU JUST HAVEN'T FOUND THE RIGHT PEOPLE YET!"

I was talking to one of my closest friends last week about the state of my love life, and the heartbreak I sensed might be on the horizon. This is a monogamous woman who, nevertheless, has exhibited an amazing degree of understanding about polyamory...in the past. Her succinct and rather brutal response was "you need to get over her".

Over...there's that word again.

That stung. Not only because it felt so dismissive, but because it revealed she didn't understand that part of me at all.

I don't "get over" people. The best I can do, and it takes a Herculean effort, is to refrain from expressing the love I have for them. It's still there. In every case. It would take a single sentence from them to spark the coal into a roaring flame, but the coal ember never goes dark. And in some cases, the flame itself is eternal.

It's hard to share pain when it's not acknowledged as painful. It's hard to share joy when the person you're sharing it with believes joy is some finite thing that diminishes when it's shared.

I am slowly starting to discover people who think and feel like I do. Not just online, either. And that, let me tell you, is both joy and indescribable relief. I can not and will not be discussing anything along these lines, of course, out of respect for privacy. The stigma is, to put it mildly, fucking ridiculous. You get less opprobrium CHEATING on people than you do loving more than one honestly and openly, and I will NEVER understand that.

Let's just say for the record that there are many more poly people in this city than I could have imagined and leave it at that...while noting that I still find myself hugely attracted to people (a person) I shouldn't be, and I'm no further along dealing with that than I was a couple of months ago.

Some things, it appears, are never really over.







17 July, 2016

Low Maintenance

Eva is a beautiful woman.

There are many beautiful women, of course. But right now I'd like to talk about the one I married.

After seventeen and a half years of knowing her, there are STILL days when she doesn't think she is beautiful. On those days, my protests that she is are brushed aside effortlessly: "you're biased", or, only slightly better, "I'm glad you think so". (At least that second one acknowledges I'm not making the statement up out of thin air.)

Thin, that's part of the problem, of course. Eva is no longer Eva-squared, but there are days when she still thinks she is. And even if it's not one of those days, the slappy flaps of loose skin that are the remnant of having dropped close to two hundred pounds...she thinks those are ugly, and since she has those, SHE must be ugly as well.  (Me, I think they're awesome. Eva can clap things other people can't clap. If she really wanted to, she could be a one-woman percussion section, a YouTube sensation. In a sane world.

We don't live in a sane world.

Still "too fat" -- even after bariatric surgery, Eva probably qualifies as morbidly obese, which is flatly ridiculous given her bone structure and density ... flaps ... scars ... if you're of a mindset to see any of these things as ugly, well, you best keep that mindset to yourself around me. Because Eva is a beautiful woman.

All you have to do is LOOK at her. Or, more properly, look at HER.

I've said before: I have known two actual models, people who made money from showing off their skeletons svelte bodies clad in skimpy outfits. Both of them were full to overflowing of themselves. The French have a saying: p├ęter plus haut que son cul..."to fart higher than one's ass". That described both of these women to a tee: they were full of shit. And whatever praise their bodies garnered them, it made them ugly to the point of utter repulsion to me.

I told both of them that, too. You should have seen the (identical) look on their faces: it was as if a tornado had touched down from a clear blue sky right in front of them. Then they both (identically) huffed up, stared haughtily down their noses at me, and informed me (identically) that I was both ugly AND blind.

I'll cop to ugly. That drives Eva around a bend: I'm so determined to eradicate all traces of her poor body image that I don't bother with my own poor body image.  But there's actually a good reason for that: it's because I'll cop to blind, too.

I know I don't see people the way others do. I've known that for years and years. I barely notice bodies at all: you'd have to have some kind of blue fungus growing out of your face, or an extra boob slowly revolving around your abdomen, for me to do any kind of a double-take.  Other people don't tend to see things this way, of course.

"When's the last time somebody actually CALLED you ugly, or something like it?" Eva asked me, not long ago.
"In my head? About thirty seconds ago. In real life? Years and years ago. People grow up and learn to hide that shit."

I can actually feel her grinding her teeth. "You're not ugly, you know. You're handsome. Sexy."

"You're biased...but I'm glad you think so."

Grrrrrrrrr. *giggle*

See, at the time, Eva was the only woman who had told me that. Weighed against many who (used to) say otherwise. And I was just getting over the whole "we take everything personally" thing.

Guys don't tend to get complimented on their looks. Ever. Not unless they are Hollywood stars or the like. It's not just me, it's pretty much everyone. But you take a guy who was (factual statement) a stick-figure nerd through his formative years, add the heaps of scorn that generated, and then impose the silence that males tend to endure? It has consequences.

I'm one to talk. Think what WOMEN deal with.

Because unlike how it is with men, adults never shut up about their perceptions of womanly beauty or (more common) lack thereof. And other women are often the worst about it.

Consider the case of Dani Mathers. Playmate of the Year (naturally). She took a picture of a naked woman in a gym shower without that woman's consent. This is, of course, a criminal act. She then compounded it by plastering it on Snapchat with the caption "If I can't unsee this then you can't either!"

The backlash, I am viciously gratified to see, was instant and severe. The police are involved, as they should be, and personal and professional consequences are raining down on Mathers' oh-so-pretty, oh-so-empty head. Her apology claimed it was a "private conversation" (snort: on Snapchat?!) and...yeah, off to oblivion where you belong, Dani Mathers.

Let's set aside the blatant criminality, the lack of respect and civility, and the utter stupidity. Let's instead note that the women Mathers snapped the picture of appears to be somebody's idea of "fat". (Not mine.) Ostensibly she was at the gym to exercise. Even by the crazy expectations of society, aren't "fat" women exercising to be commended?

Eva joined an upscale gym for a while back when money was (story here, and it's worth your time). The damned place closed on her, which is really a shame, and then money suddenly was no longer. This was back when she was Eva-squared, and it took a HUGE amount of courage for her to go and work out in the company of other humans. She was, as I believe I make clear in that entry, the fittest fatty you'd never expect to meet, and she would bamboozle the alpha males who would go to use the equipment after her and find that it took most of their strength to budge the weights my wife had been lifting with relative ease. God, I love that thought eight years later. Subverted expectations always make me grin.

I tend to subvert expectations myself. Especially when it comes to not caring about bodies.

Which isn't to say I don't take pleasure in exploring bodies, given (of course) informed consent: I do, scads of it. Hell, I'll go so far as to admit there are certain physical characteristics I do find attractive: peaches and cream skin, heavy on the cream is one such. The lack of that characteristic goes entirely unnoticed, though.

It's always been the same set of qualities that define beauty for me:

  • empathy
  • inner strength
  • an infectious smile that actually reaches her eyes
  • intelligence
  • a total lack of pretence. 
Put those five together in one package and I don't give a hoot what you look like, you're a knockout. 

Eva has them all, in copious amounts. Her empathy is off the charts: she can instantly grasp competing viewpoints and synthesize them with compassion. People have been telling her she's weak since she was about ten, and she keeps on keeping on, proving them wrong, no matter what life throws at her. I love to get that smile out, it brightens the world. 
I've known many women more intelligent than my wife in one way or another. But I have never known, nor are ever likely TO know, a woman (a person, really) with such a high level of so many intelligences

And then there's the lack of pretence.

Now, being around me for any length of time will probably lower your maintenance level at least a little. You can spend three hours in the bathroom getting ready and while I will compliment you when you finally emerge, you'd get the same compliment laying in bed after a restless night with a case of foo-foo-bunny-head, or lounging around the house in whatever grubby thing you happened to grab. 

This took Eva a long time to grasp. I get that: sometimes it must be difficult not to mistake my indifference for indifference. But I saw a poster just now on Facebook that prompted this blog:


That's me. Every time. 

Here's how far I go: I don't care if you shave your legs or your pits. I truly don't. Hair removal by women has gone in and out of fashion over the centuries and its most recent, roughly century-long vogue is only the product of a marketing campaign that, like so many others, preyed upon poor body image. Women have been jerked around like this for roughly ever: be thin! be smooth! be thin! wear makeup so nobody will see how hideous you really look! be thin! It's sickening, really. And I refuse to encourage it in any way.

I will grant that makeup, smooth skin, lingerie, anything like that does seem to raise self-image.  (Lingerie: never understood that stuff. Isn't that coming off? I want to gaze upon what's under it. Scars, skin flaps, whatever...show it to me so I can kiss it. As long as it isn't, you, know, blue fungus or something.

Women spend countless billions of dollars on products and procedures to raise their self-images. I don't know how much of an alternative I really am, but I have the virtue of being free.

Eva thinks of herself as an 'earth mother' type and that's pretty apt. She is the definition of low-maintenance: I'd be willing to bet she'd have to think a minute before she could locate her makeup case (which is tiny as those things go) and she colours her hair every once in a very blue moon just to change things up, not even caring about the grey. And I say hurray at that, because in  a sane world people in their twenties would be colouring their hair grey in an effort to appear older and wiser. 

We do not live in a sane world.

 Of course Eva will sometimes get herself dolled up, for Ken-values of "dolled up", because it pleases her to do so and she likes the vibe she gives off and draws in. I've told her, starting before we were even married...hey, if you're doing it for yourself, whatever "it" is...go to. Just don't feel obligated to do it for me.

I think she gets me now. And it makes her more beautiful than ever.








16 July, 2016

"Go and love him"

A man once told the Buddha,
"I want happiness."  
The Buddha replied,
"First, remove I, that is ego.
Then, remove want, that is desire.
And all you are left with is 
happiness."

--unknown (NOT an actual Buddhist teaching), but still...wow

________________________ 

Google scares me sometimes.

Okay, often.

Its auto-complete function routinely seems JUST this side of telepathy. No matter how outlandish my query, somebody has inevitably searched for it before, and Google will guess with uncanny speed and accuracy that yes, I am looking for Episcopalian axe murderers or watermelon-flavoured sex lube.

Until, of course, you ask Google to retrieve you something relevant to polyamory.

You have to get all but the last letter of 'metamour' into Google before it'll auto-complete, and when it does, one of the options is "metamouse" (??? ... I think I'll steal that if someone in my polycule is a tiptoer.)

Eva and Mark are celebrating their second anniversary today with a date a couple of hours away. I believe they're going to  the Niagara Butterfly Conservatory and I hope they have a wonderful day together. You'd have to pay me to go to that place, and not chump change, either. I don't hate butterflies, or anything, but...well, it's like a zoo for me. Oh, look, an animal. It's being all...animally.  Oh, look, there's another one. Is it time to go home yet?

And butterflies are insects. Yes, they're pretty, and of course they're wonderful metaphors for transformation. But still...boring.

This, I'm given to believe, is one of my strangest and most annoying traits, this utter ennui when it comes to living creatures that refuse to interact with me.  Eva, by contrast, LOVES most non-human lifeforms, and she can stare at many of them for hours. (Love! What exactly are you waiting for it to DO?)

And so Mark, whose love of nature much more closely matches Eva's, is taking her where I would dread to go. Yay for metamours. Eva and I have our own rituals in which Mark has little or no interest, and that's part of how this works.

But yeah, I either thought or said "go and love him" to Eva as she left this morning. And I had cause to say it to someone else recently as well, and it made me wonder. Surely somebody else says this.

 Maybe there's an article with that title, or better yet, a song. I'm a sucker for songs I can relate to: most of pop is so mono-normative it sounds vaguely threatening to me. There's a reason many people still insist on thinking of "Every Breath You Take" by the Police as a love song: because that stalker's lament isn't very far from what we're taught love is supposed to be about. How many other songs state "you belong to me"? A hundred? A thousand? Because your lover is just another possession.

Ugh.

So, let's look.

Quoth the Google...

...nope.

Six hundred and ninety four MILLION results, the overwhelming majority of them seeming to reference some variation of "if you love him, let him go..."

...which is sort of  the same thing, and yet really, really not.

(Try "Go and Love Her" and the results are even worse. I'll get to them in a bit.)

Perfect love, as Alanis so perfectly reminds us, is perfectly unconditional. (I hereby claim this as my theme song for the foreseeable future.) This is the kind of love I aspire to. On my good days--and there are getting to be more and more of those--I achieve it. Which probably has something to do with the fact I feel more loved now than I ever have.

You don't have to go very far back in this blog to see me needing. I read those posts today and I cringe: why didn't I recognize all the love that was already in my world? There were times I paid lip service to gratitude, but even then I was trying to game the system. I knew, intellectually, that it wouldn't work, and still I persisted. Because I wanted to be loved. Who doesn't want to be loved?

And yes, of course I had (and have) the love of a remarkable woman...a woman whose love I will never discount or take for granted. I had always sensed in her the same open heart I have myself, and she had found it and seized on it, and finally other people were seeing and loving what I had seen and loved all along. I was happy for her. I AM happy for her. Supremely so.

And I wanted some of what she had. Until I noticed I had it already, and began to cherish it properly. Almost the instant I did that, new love came into my life, which in turn made me more confident in the love I both receive and have to give and....it's a feedback loop.A very happy-making feedback loop.

Anyway, so "go and love him" returns "if you love him, let him go". I've always heard that as

"If you love her, set her free/
If she returns 'twas meant to be"

Two possible interpretations there. One is fate: "this woman is my destiny". (ooo-oo-ooo, Shut Up And Dance with me...")

Fate and destiny: a very common trope in love songs, almost as common as lover-as-possession.

I don't believe in fate, exactly.  I think there's something that nudges you towards people sometimes, if you're paying attention to it. I've felt it. Four times now I've felt it. All four times I paid attention to it (I couldn't not: every sense I had went redline when I first saw the woman.)

And?

The first of those women was my first love...we're no longer even Facebook friends, thanks to her cloying and overbearing religion.

The second was a dear friend for many years, dear enough that she stood on my side at my wedding. She turned out to be an energy sink: no matter how much support you gave her. it could never be enough. As important as she was for so long...we're barely acquaintances at this point.

The third was Eva. Married 16 years, still going strong. happier than a clam at high tide.

The fourth happened very recently. Recently enough that I'm still jitterbugging away here.

I can tell you that all four women played, or play, extremely important roles in my life. But fate? That reminds me too much of the asinine (and yet extremely popular, to the tune of 75% of surveyed people) notion that there's only one soulmate for you out of, you know, 7.4 billion people.)

The second interpretation of "if you love her..." makes a lot more sense to me: you can't force someone to love you. Who does that? Many people, actually, who are insecure in themselves and in their relationships. They employ subtle and not-so-subtle measures of control. doing the exact opposite of setting their partners free: petty and not-so-petty jealousy, clinginess, and so on.

I was never prone to jealousy, but the clinginess I had in spades. I buried it very well: I don't think even Eva knew it was there...most of the time.

It's not there now. Now I can say "go and  love him" and actually mean it. Because I know she's happy with him, and how could I possibly be upset by her happiness? Also because I know she loves me, and will return.

Wait a second. If she'll return, that means we're 'meant to be', with the implicit corollary that he and she AREN'T. I reject that. I reject that wholly and completely. I believe those two are 'meant to be' every bit as much as us two are. There is a whole web of 'meant-to-be's' in slow formation around us. It's the most beautiful tapestry I can conceive of...and as I conceive of it, it's becoming a reality.

Yes, love is freedom, at least as I practice it; the freedom to augment the love in your life, and that freedom granted without limit to your partner(s) as well. I could never demand all of someone to myself. It strikes me as unnatural, and a hell of a burden to place on any one person: you must be my EVERYTHING. My lover, my sole companion, my co-parent, my confidant(e)... it's just too much. I'm sure that works for some folks, and more power to them if so.

"Go and love him". Be with him, wholly, in your own time and space together. Be with me, wholly, in our own time and space together. That's the best of two (or more!) worlds...which makes life and love in this world extraordinary.

"Go and love her", incidentally, returns "Let Her Go" by Passenger.

Now, Michael David Rosenberg ("Passenger") writes some amazing music. This song. off the same album, is a masterpiece. But...

"only know your lover when you let her go...and you let her go..."?

I have no idea what to make of that line. None at all. He sounds wistful. Does that mean you're supposed to regret letting her go? In the context of the song, it sure sounds like it. But you didn't know her until you let her go? How does that even work?  She's your lover, which means you love her, but you don't know her? How do you not know somebody you love?

Okay, yeah, I overthink song lyrics. And I wouldn't seize so strongly on this one but for the fact it's repeated about eighteen squillion times. It's right up there with "It's you I love, not the thought of you" (as they say in French, qu'est-ce que le fuck? I love you, but God, I hate thinking of you????)

Anyway...whoever is in your life...go and love them. Love and be loved, and the world will be a better place.





10 July, 2016

Beaten, Black and Blue

PREFACE

Since the last Canadian election, when the politics of unity and  hope won out over those of division and fear, I have been taking what for me counts as a news and politics sabbatical.

I still pay a little attention to what's going on in the world, because I live here. And Donald Trump is so ratshit insane that you can't help paying attention to him: at any point he's prone to the verbal equivalent of playing with piranhas in his bathtub while masturbating, farting Yankee Doodle and biting at the bubbles,   and I defy you not to look at that, much as you hate to even think of it.  

But for the most part I've been disinclined to engage the world on its time and terms, preferring instead to concentrate on deepening old personal connections and forging new ones. 

Sometimes the world drags you back. And when it does, it never seems to be because goodness and light have broken out. 

Halfway through lunch on Friday -- for those of you who don't know my stupid work schedule, that translates to 3:15 a.m. -- somebody asked me if I knew what was going in on Dallas.  Dallas being emphatically part of "the world", I did not. Out came my phone.

I bring a book to work -- Guy Gavriel Kay's Children of Earth and Sky currently -- in the naive hope that I'll resist the urge to look at my phone. As I recall, I'd actually managed to read a few pages before the words "what happened in Dallas" filtered through.

I read the headline and my stomach lurched. Then for good measure I read the linked stories about Philando Castile and Alton  Sterling, two names which, I shamefacedly admit, hadn't registered  before that moment. Kay and his excellent-as-always novel were forgotten.  So, far that matter, was work: it's a good thing my job requires absolutely no brain power whatsoever, because I didn't have any to spare. Between trying to process the hatred I had just read, and the physical effects of that hatred on my own body, it was a struggle to get through my shift. And to sleep once I got home.

I feel a malignant echo of the pain of others in my gut. As far back as I can remember, watching or reading about pain or something likely to cause it has provoked some level of gastrointestinal distress. If it's someone I love, the pain can be all but debilitating. The emotional pain of millions of strangers has much the same effect.  

On Facebook, I posted the following:

I just want to retreat from the world. It's terrible out there, it's getting worse, and I feel like there's not one FUCKING thing I can do about it.

Many people sympathized. I think we all feel the same way at times like this: helpless and hope. Some friends advised I step back and recharge, some that I sally forth and engage, and more than one suggested that my words would be welcome at times like this.

Thank you, all of you. And for what little my words are worth...here they be.

______________________

Imagine facing each day knowing there are people out there who would just as soon kill you as look at you. Imagine that the course of your daily life brings you distressingly close to such people, and that further, the courses of their daily lives seem to bring them into proximity with you.

This is called being a police officer in the United States of America. In the same country, it's also called being black.

I come from a family of police officers. My dad went his entire career without firing his weapon and received a commendation for that. My uncle died on duty; my cousin is a forensic detective; even my mom was an auxiliary police woman with Metro Toronto in the seventies.

I have no black relatives and exactly one black friend.

Given these not-so-bona fides, you'd expect me to side with the gang in blue in any given controversy. And until Robert Dziekanski was tasered to death in Vancouver in 2007 for the unimaginable crime of being Polish, that was, indeed, my reflex. But since then, and especially  since Sammy Yatim, I've been forced to contend that in some cases in Canada and a disturbingly larger number of cases in the United States, the cops are in fact the bad guys, well, let's just say that privilege gently rubbed into one's face can be both an exfoliant and an eye-opener.

It's out of control in the U.S.. It really is. The police are killing people EVERY SINGLE DAY in the United States, often two or three a day. As of this writing, it's 610 people killed by police since January 1. Black people make up a disproportionately high number of those shot and killed.

Usually the victims are unarmed, but every once in a while you'll get one who is exercising his democratic right to bear arms. I have grave issues with that right, but it exists). According to reports, Philando Castile acted exactly as someone carrying a concealed weapon is supposed to when pulled over by police: he immediately informed the officer that he had a gun. He was then told not to move and to give the officer his license and registration.

Doing either of those things while not moving is quite the trick. I'd like to see somebody pull it off.

Of course, there's the little matter of why Castile was pulled over in the first place. He supposedly resembled an armed robbery suspect...that's what conservative websites are reporting, at any rate, and somehow conflating that into "was wanted for armed robbery".
It was that "wide-set nose" that clinched it for the officer. That officer, as far as I'm concerned, may as well have informed his dispatcher that "all these n*ggers look the same"....

So I've pulled over a man because -- let's acknowledge it -- he's black. He's told me he has a gun, exactly as a citizen with a concealed carry permit shoud, and it's something I would have verified (or should have) before I left my cruiser.

His girlfriend and a four year old child are in the car with him.

THERE ARE TWO OTHER PEOPLE, ONE OF THEM A FOUR YEAR OLD CHILD, IN THE CAR.

Blogger doesn't avail me the option of putting that sentence in 128-point flaming type, but I would if I could. It's where I hit a brick wall. In discussing this case, you can babble on all you want about wide-set noses and whatever other scraps of tissue paper you can cobble together to defend the actions of the police and I'm just going to keep repeating THERE ARE TWO OTHER PEOPLE, ONE OF THEM A FOUR YEAR OLD CHILD, IN THE CAR. 

No. Don't even try to press the case here.

______________



Alton Sterling. His case is much more problematic, in that he had a fairly lengthy (though dated) criminal record, and he probably was reaching for a gun when he was shot. That gun seems to be both the reason the police attended the scene and the reason they used deadly force.  This may have been a case the police got right. But even here:

The officers' body cameras (plural) "fell off" during the incident. Plural. Cameras. Fell off. So, so convenient.

Case after case, some of them suspects and many of them simply black men, and officers who seem to think "suspects" and "black men" are one and the same.  Can you at least begin to acknowledge there is a vast, inchoate anger about this, seeking expression?

But the crime rate --

Yes, the crime rate. The crime rate in black neighbourhoods is higher than it is in white neighbourhoods. (You're welcome to wade through this muddle if you wish: suffice it to say the methodologies are open to (mis)interpretation and distortion, but the statement that black crime is higher remains relatively consistently verifiable.

There are a myriad of systemic reasons for this. One of the biggest I discovered the last time I wrote on white privilege: the average family wealth of a white family in the United States is MORE THAN TWELVE TIMES that of the average black family (Hispanics don't fare much better than blacks, incidentally). Certainly poverty doesn't make you a criminal...but it does tend to make you desperate. And when your community feels utterly hopeless, you gravitate to what cohesive forces you can find, such as...gangs. And so it goes.

Black Lives Matter. It does my heart a world of good to see the memes proliferating around Facebook lately (I have seen at least six),  all stating variations on the same theme): "BLACK LIVES MATTER" does not imply that WHITE LIVES DON'T MATTER any more than saying THERE'S NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING GAY somehow means THERE'S SOMETHING WRONG WITH BEING STRAIGHT.

Both/and, not either/or. It should be noted that black people (among other marginalized people) have not felt part of "both/and" for...for pretty much ever. Which is just one reason why "either/or", "us/them" thinking is so prevalent in those communities.

And it leads to things like Dallas...as understandable and inevitable as it was UNEQUIVOCALLY INEXCUSABLE.

Dallas, Texas, is a city with a history: we all know it. The Kennedy shooting didn't bubble up there for no reason: hatred for Kennedy and his causes (one of which was civil rights) was endemic in Texas (34 credible Texan threats on JFK's life before Dealey Plaza, and flyers denouncing Kennedy's "un-American", "communist" ways were circulated all over downtown just days before the assassination.

That said, by all accounts the Dallas PD has become a paragon of transparency and community policing. Not that any department deserves to suffer the way this one is, of course, but it's decidedly odd that of all the places this sniper attack might have happened (Ferguson, MO, anyone?), it happened in Dallas.

It's worth repeating that most police officers, even in the U.S, are NOT racist rogues drunk with power. Just like most black people are not criminals. While we're at it, can we extend our "both/and" paradigm to state that one can, should, must mourn BOTH the slain  officers and their families AND all the people whom police have killed? You can be BOTH pro-police AND insist they they are held to the highest standard of accountability. You can be BOTH pro-Black Lives Matter AND  grateful for the men and women in law enforcement charged with protecting and serving.

In these days -- which, I fear, are going to get a lot worse before they get better -- such an inclusive attitude is pretty much mandatory. Because every day people are being marked for death. Undeservedly.













03 July, 2016

"Love Is The Doctrine Of This Church"

Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest for truth is its sacrament,
And service its prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve humanity in harmony with the earth,
Thus do we covenant together.
--Unitarian Universalist affirmation

Ten years ago (!), I mused about going to church.

Today I actually went.

That's how slowly things move in my world sometimes. Acutely uncomfortable in crowds of strangers, marked as "different" and "other" my whole life long (often for arbitrary reasons that were not always obvious, or even explained)... musing about leaving the safe space of home is always much easier than actually doing it.  Especially alone.

Today I actually went...alone.

Eva had to work. I so wish she could have experienced this with me: shared joy is increased, after all. I'm going to write out my experiences and impressions here since I wasn't able to share them at the time...and because that was unlike ANY church service I've ever been to. Or imagined.

It was a journey. Two busses and almost half an hour's walk, each way. The revelations (sorry, but it's apt) began before the service did. In fact, it's fair to say they started before I even sat down in the (nicely cushioned) pew.

1. There are a lot of people here. At least eighty, maybe even a hundred including the kids. I didn't have any frame of reference for what to expect, but for some reason I was expecting a crowd of thirty or forty, tops.

2. There are a lot of OLD people here.  There were a few people in their 20s and 30s, but it seemed as if the majority of the congregants were 50+, and in more than a few cases you could add a couple of +s to that. In this way, and perhaps this way ALONE, Grand River Unitarian seemed like a church as I have commonly imagined and experienced churches.

Then the music started up, played on a slightly out-of-tune grand piano by one Matthew Gartshore, and all thought of churches as I had commonly experienced and imagined them went whoosh out of my head.

The piece was something impressionistic and a bit discordant, something a lot like Ravel's Miroirs. Not the kind of thing you'd expect to hear as a prelude to a service. Exceptionally well played.

I was interested in the music, of course. Music speaks to my soul. And I have to admit I was intensely curious about what hymns a congregation with no set creeds or doctrines might sing. I got my answer presently: "We Laugh, We Cry". First verse:

We laugh, we cry, we live, we die; 
We dance, we sing our song. 
We need to feel there's something here to which we can belong.
We need to feel the freedom just to have some time alone. 
But most of all we need close friends we can call our very own. 

Chorus: 

And we believe in life, 
And in the strength of love;
And we have found a need to be together.
We have our hearts to give, 
We have our thoughts to receive; 
And we believe that sharing is an answer.

Can I say just how much this resonated? Those needs in that first verse are my needs. I believe in life. I CERTAINLY believe in the strength of love. I give my heart as freely as I know how. Sharing (and the substitute words in subsequent verses, "growing", "peace within our living") -- all answers.

The last line of this hymn -- "To question truly is an answer" -- formed the theme for today's service. Here again it departed from, well, everything a church has been in my experience. The congregation supplied the questions, written and collected during the offertory, and "Rev. Jess" gave her truth. "Little t, never big T", she reminded us. Our truths might be entirely different, and that was okay. More: that was to be CELEBRATED.

It was in the questions and answers where my sense of disconnect really dissolved and I began to feel a connection I have long sought. I'm going to paraphrase these things: my memory is good, but not perfect. She encouraged us to be as witty or as profound as we wished, and so the questions ran the gamut.

"Why do you identify as an atheist rather than an agnostic?" 

"Actually," the reverend said, "I'm an apatheist: I don't care whether there's a god or not." Now that's not something you hear everyday, I thought, and I'm going to steal that.
She continued. "I prefer the term 'humanist', but many people don't understand what that is or means. Or I'll say I'm a non-theist. But if I have to be pigeonholed into somebody's comfort zone for some reason, I'll identify as an atheist. Because I have never experienced a Higher Power."

Points for honesty. And if her being openly bisexual weren't enough, among many other signs, to prove this was a welcoming space, surely her identifying as a "praying atheist" (I don't pray to a higher power, I pray to and for each of us) certainly is.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"

Cue laughter from the assembled, but I was thinking this oughta be interesting.

"I don't know why the chicken crossed the road," she said. "But we should refrain from assuming that it wanted to cross the road. And who says it's a chicken? Maybe it's a rooster. Maybe it doesn't identify as a chicken at all."

"How do I best atone for something I regret?"

This spawned an homily on forgiveness, and how critical it is not just for peace and harmony but for self-preservation. The reverend noted that "to forgive AND forget" was unrealistic, but that "Life was for giving, not for getting." That little wisdom nugget comes from Conversations with God, a text I am intimately familiar with. Without her prompting, I thought about the nature and etymology of "atonement"--you're supposed to split that word: "at - one -ment". Withholding forgiveness, I thought, divides us, keeps us from being "at one".
She also said that sometimes it's not possible to atone to the person you have wronged, at which time you should take care to atone to someone else.

"Why do people become more inhibited as they get older?"

"Well, THERE'S an assumption," she said. By show of hands, some people agreed with the assumption; others didn't. She mused that if you ask a room full of young children, "who's a good dancer?", the vast majority will raise their hands, and they'll do the same whatever you substitute for "dancer". It doesn't take long for that room full of children to discover what they are and are not good at, and for many of them, the list of "not goods" is all-encompassing or close to it.  The world encourages that kind of self-defeating thinking, she said. We believe that evidence of someone being better than us constitutes proof that we are not good ourselves. This is, of course, bullshit, but it has a strong and lasting effect for many.

This is where I learned about their music, art, and writing programs (!) "We try to democratize things here at Grand River Unitarian", she said. "You don't have to be a great singer...you just have to love to sing. You don't have to be the word's best wordsmith...you just have to have something you want to write."

This put me forcefully in mind of a pair of Harry Chapin songs that, truth be told, are rarely far from my mind: "Flowers Are Red" and "Mr. Tanner".  Both songs that have spoken to me since I first heard them, many, many years ago.

"How do I deal with a closed-minded person?"

"When you are confronted by behaviour or beliefs you perceive to be intolerant," she told us, "don't argue them. Good luck arguing them, you'll never get anywhere. Instead, engage the person. You may find their beliefs ridiculous, they may find yours just as ridiculous, but you have a shared humanity, a shared experience (even though it may differ in its particulars). Ask them how they came to that belief. Why do they feel that way? In taking this approach, you will learn something about the person."

She talked about Unitarian Universalism, and how it's a church without a doctrine. "Love is the doctrine of this church," she said, "which means love TAKES THE PLACE of doctrine here." We don't particularly care what or how you believe, or if you believe at all. We DO care how you live, how you relate to humanity and to the planet, and how you love."

Honey, I thought to no one/everyone, I'm home.

"What can I call this place besides 'church', so I don't have to say I'm going to 'church' and have everyone think I'm a Christian?"

This was actually something, she responded, that they had struggled with, because words matter. It used to be the First Unitarian Church of Waterloo (FUCW)...but then they moved to Kitchener...
Call us what you want, she said. Tell people you're going to hang out with your friends. We're Grand River Unitarian...tell people you GRU today."

There were several more questions she answered, and many, many questions she didn't get to, for which she apologized. "But", she said, "I've tricked you into providing me with sermon and article material for the next year, so thank you."

The last thing I'm going to say about that service actually came towards the beginning of it, and it affected me in a very deep way. It was a long poem by Shane Koyczan, MEMORIZED with only a couple of stumbles. And having heard this poem, I thought, that's worth memorizing. Please, folks, give "Pinned To The Dish" a listen. I think you'll be glad you did.

"Risk is your endorsement of hope", says Koyczan, and I think I've been missing that element in my life. I've always been very risk-averse, very cautious. No risk means no rejection. Hope is something I feel, often and deeply...but I've never endorsed it.

Today I took another step towards hope. Today I found a community I might actually belong in. Today...I GRU.