Monthly Archives: December 2014

2014-calendar-2As we take down one calendar in order to put up the new one (if you are still using a paper calendar, as we do in our kitchen) or learn to write a new year on checks (if you still use a checkbook with paper checks)–or simply notice that the annual cycle of birthdays and holidays begins again on your phone and/or other device–it is right to pause.

What about this year 2014? Did anything good happen? What about the other stuff? Will we do better in 2015?2015 Calendar

In terms of my work and my personal life, the amazing string of victories for marriage equality (not “gay marriage”) in Virginia and many other places ranks at the top. This has been an amazing year. Incredible. Simply incredible. Who would have guessed on February 4, when a small knot of us braved bitter cold to stand across the street from the Federal District Courthouse in Norfolk to support the plaintiffs and Norfolk courthouse witness Feb 4 2014their lawyers and Attorney General Mark Herring in the suit to bring down the Anti-Marriage, Anti-Love, Marshall-Newman Amendment that eight short months later, on October 6, victory (for marriage, but not other freedoms) would be complete?

And there were many other good things, too, and some personal ones, too (our youngest daughter, Robin, married Christopher–a match made in heaven, e.g.).  I hope that you had some good news, too!

Much that is not good happened, too. Wars continued, and famine wiped out children and families, and preventable disease injured and killed too many. And many, perhaps most, of us lost friends and family, too. Christopher and Robin wedding photo

But in my book, the saddest–and ugliest–story of the year is the continuing failure of our society (our nation and our state) to deal with white racism (what I prefer to call white supremacy).  We will never become the society we can be, the community God creates and calls us to be, until we finally really deal with the deep and pervasive stain on our individual and collective identities.

Why do I say this? Here are a few signs of the times, in addition to not being able to talk in a civil and reasoned way about, and really deal with, the killing of too many black men and boys by too many public safety officers. How about outrageously high incarceration rates (the highest in the world by many counts) that are particularly harsh on African American men? Or this: Black women (and poor women generally, among whom Black women are disproportionately present) have the highest rates of HIV infection. Or this: income inequality, already significant, continues to rise between white people and all others in the United States. Or this: new studies showing that charter schools, supposed to help our ailing public education system, are in many cases re-segregating our schools–60 years after Brown vs. Board of Education.

APTOPIX Police Shooting MissouriAnd here’s another interesting situation. Many people now expect President Obama, our first Black President since George Washington was inaugurated in 1789–and he, the (rightly, in many ways) revered Father of Our Country, owned slaves–to lead a national dialogue on race. Once again, “we” expect the Black people to do the work.

Sure, it is a good sign that as a nation we finally elected a Black man–and maybe we will finally elect a woman, a white woman, no doubt, soon–but way too many of our fellow citizens remain hostile to him at least as much, and in many cases more, as they oppose his policies (and some of them are unable to sort this out because he is the policy in their view).

But it is not the skin color of our President that matters as much as the skin color of those who really run so much in our culture–the corporate leaders anobama_portrait_146pxd politicians at all levels and the judges and the opinion makers and media moguls and billionaires and others who make decisions that touch millions every day in so many ways. Together, this white-dominated group, I think unconsciously most of the time, seems to make sure that white people are not displaced from our dominant rung on the social ladder (and some of them actually do things to change this).

Unconscious or not, most of the time white supremacy just keeps being replicated, even as more Black people and other people of other colors do make it up the ladder.

But the basic system remains in place.

Here is a simple test: when you, if you identify as a white person, describe someone you just met, or a person you just heard about on the news or internet, do you mention their skin color? Do you do that equally for both white and Black, or other, group (Native American, Latino/Latina, Asian, African) members?

Be honest.

Most of us who are white only mention race when it is someone not white. That is what white supremacy, in a seemingly mild way, looks like. Race only matters when it is not ours.

If that is not true of you, Hallelujah! You are helping the rest of us move forward. But if you are like most, do not despair. We can fix this, and so much more. We can be untrained and retrained, especially if we do it together, and we hold ourselves accountable not only to each other but also to the Black people in our lives and in our wider society.

Israel and November in Richmond 033Over the course of the coming years, I will write more about this, and I hope it may help at least some people begin participating in a national process of dismantling racism and reconstructing a new society (and I deliberately use the term, RECONSTRUCT, to highlight the last time we had white leaders who were determined to change us, in the era known as Reconstruction, from 1865-1877).

In the meantime, let us pray for healing, and let us begin it by admitting our personal share in the national wounds.

All lives matter. Yours and mine, of course, and everyone else. And that means Black lives matter, because they are human, of course, and because they are Black.

I grew up 60+ years ago in a culture where black was the color you wore when someone died.

It is also true that black was considered an elegant color for women to wear, e.g., the little black sheathe for a cocktail party.

But somehow what really stuck with me was black = death.

Black lives matterI remember, in my adolescence, reading, in Time I think, that Queen Juliana of the Netherlands (or was it Wilhemina?) said she wanted to be dressed in white for her funeral. I thought that was really cool, because it reflected her truth, and mine today, that death is not the end. However, that leads me to think I want to be dressed in my favorite colors (if there is a casket)–teal, purple, and pink.

But still people wear black to funerals, or at least dark colors, and people wear black arm bands to signify some deep sense of loss or despair or anger.

I have decided to change that for myself.

I am wearing black today to signify life. I am wearing black today, as part of “Black Lives Matter Sunday.” Black Is Beautiful. Black lives are beautiful. [The irony is that I am wearing a clerical collar for part of the day, and it is white–standing out against the rest of my clothing. I am thinking we need a black collar!]

There often is debate about whether black is a color or the absence of all color. In the science of optics, in the visible spectrum, black absorbs light and is thus the absence of color.

But still we see black. So it must be something. And because black absorbs light, we could say it is the wisest color, receiving and accepting all that is light and transforming it to black.

Whatever science says or does not say, I believe we–especially those of us who are white–must change our relationship with black. It is a social color even if scientists say it is not a color.

Healing our nation of nearly 400 years of overt and covert racism and white supremacy requires that we begin to truly value black.

I matter- young African American boyI live in a city whose infrastructure was built on the backs of Black slaves and marginalized workers during Jim Crow, and where today, as in our whole country, the poverty rate among Black people is much higher than among white people (and the gap continues to grow). And of course, Black men die, due to police actions as well as to neighborhood violence, at an alarming rate. Among transgender persons, the rate of murder against Black women is many times that of others.

This is not due to something inherent or inborn in them. Sadly, however, many Black people have absorbed this negativity, too.

But the truth is that white people create this monster. And we are the ones who can stop it.

I am starting here: Black = Life.

The mid-September days at 10,000 feet at Lower Cathedral Lake in Yosemite were warm–although as the sun slid away in the late afternoon the temperature soon dipped way down.

From late morning until later afternoon, it was warm enough to wear light clothing, and even go naked. Given what my body had told me on Tuesday (see December 10), I spent some of Wednesday afternoon sitting naked on various rocks. I knew I had to expose my whole self to the sun, to the earth and creatures and trees and rocks around me. I knew I needed to do that to be able to wade into the lake on Thursday.

So Wednesday is a day to become better acquainted with my surroundings, to sit and watch and listen. Perhaps I will connect more with my soul, even become more appreciative of myself.

As I sit, I begin to see the trees. I sit for awhile, not very conscious, just gazing mindlessly at various trees. I notice how multi-shaped they are, how misshJu, Aug to midSept 2014 incl R & C wedding, HR Pride, Quest 068apen many are. I notice what will become my soul tree (see December 9).

I begin to speak, calling the trees my siblings, thanking them for being here, for surviving long enough to bless me. I have an “aha moment,” when I realize that the trees are doing what trees do. They grow, even in granite and weather extremes.

Then I notice that all are growing, whether they are “properly” shaped or not. They don’t have to have perfect bodies to be trees, and to grow. I realize that I could learn from this truth. I don’t have to have a perfect body (as defined by someone else, or society, or me) to be me, to live and thrive.

As I take this in, I say “Thank you” to the trees, my teachers. I tell them I am glad to be with them.

Then, a voice, well, not exactly a voice in the human sense, but a voice nonetheless, says, “We have missed you.” It is so clear, and simple. We have missed you.

I cry a little, and then I sob, great big gulping sobs, so aware of how long it has been since I really paid attention to trees and how grateful I am to be here, now, with Ju, Aug to midSept 2014 incl R & C wedding, HR Pride, Quest 069these beautiful trees. Every tree is simply stunningly beautiful. I want to touch each one, and bow and say thank you.

And I see that I am beautiful–maybe not stunning, not quite sure I can say that about myself, at least yet–but certainly beautiful, handsome.

So I cry some more, and stand up and walk around, just being glad to be revealed to these siblings. And I hug my soul tree. It is a careful embrace, given my bare skin and his (I have decided he is male) needles, but a brotherly, tender embrace nonetheless.

It is beginning to cool, and it is time to put some clothes on. But I know I am now ready to wade in the water tomorrow.

I am home with my pinus albicaulis family, and all their neighbors and friends. I am safe. I have been missed, and I have missed them. We are together and I am loved, and I love, too.

Next, the lake, and who knows what else!

Paying attention is not always easy, or pleasant. Sometimes, you see or hear or learn stuff you’re not sure you wanted to deal with. On the other hand, if we stay stuck in where we are we will never get to where we can be, or where God wants us to be.

That is one reason I went on the Vision Quest. I knew I needed to be more open to the nudges I kept feeling, and the sense that I was not fulfilling what some might call my “destiny.”

Cathedral_Peak_and_Lake_in_YosemiteI have written about the amazing trees I encountered at Lower Cathedral Lake, and especially the one I call my Soul Tree. But there is more to share about our encounters. First, some background is needed.

I went up the mountain as one in a group of seven, led by an amazing shaman, Dr. Tom Pinkson. We spent all of Monday getting to Yosemite by car from Marin and up 10,000 feet, arriving at that height after dark so we had to stop for the night. Putting up your tent in the dark is not fun!

But I made it (with a lot of help from more experienced hikers), and the next day (Tuesday) we headed up another 1,000 feet and then back down 1,000 feet to get to our base camp site. We set up our tents, and we each picked out a site around the lake where we would camp alone, fasting, for two days, starting the following day (Wednesday). Then we relaxed.

I started writing in my journal, of course. So much to record, and there had been no time since we left Marin the morning before.

lower-cathedral-lakeAs I sat on a rock, writing, I heard a splash. I looked up to see one of our number wading into the lake. He was naked, which of course is the way to do this if you can’t afford to deal with wet clothes! Besides, some say your body stays warmer naked than covered (but I am not advocating this, or even claiming it is true).

He is a good looking man, and I noticed his backside appreciatively.

But what came over me so fast was body shame, my own. I was shocked, thinking I had dealt with this a lot in therapy over many years. But here it was. I knew it was one thing I would have to deal with on the Quest.

And I knew at least one thing I had to do: go into the lake, without clothes.

This is where my siblings the trees come in. I am so grateful to them and as I relate more of the story, I think you will understand better, if you don’t already, about what Gerald May calls the “wisdom of wilderness.”

But I am going to stop here to ruminate about this experience and prepare to share more another day.

I am sitting at my desk, looking out the window and ruminating about what to write, when a large black bird walks across the lawn and a squirrel scampers from our yard across the street into the woods.

Now I know what to write. These two creatures, now disappeared from my sight, are messengers, reminders that it is time I began telling of my adventures on the Vision Quest–what I have come to call my Soul Quest–in Yosemite National Park in September.

The understanding that other animals (not just human animals) and the natural world contain and share messages and truth for us is one learning from the Quest. I learned a lot from these teachers during my short time in the relative wilderness at 10,000 feet, and a primary lesson is to pay attention.Soul tree front view

Being without a watch, cellphone and internet reception, books or other devices that divide my attention from what is immediately around me in the natural world opened my eyes to what I so often take for granted–the movement of flying creatures and four-leggeds, as well as sky and water and earth, and, perhaps most of all, trees.

Trees are my special love. I grew up on a tree farm. I was not especially enamored of all the hard labor helping my Dad, but I always loved the trees (and I really liked growing flowers, too, but that is for another time).

I try not to use the word “love” when it comes to talking about things I enjoy, or like, but with trees it is the right word. I love trees.Soul tree side view

We had thousands on the farm, all in rows, plus 10 or more acres of woods, and I felt connected with so many of them. I especially felt close to the trees in our small orchard–pear, apple, apricot, and cherry–and most of all to the giant white oak, Quercus alba is the Latin name, standing majestically next to our driveway where it met the public road.

Trees are signs of God to me. Like God, they grow everywhere, or try to. They appear in whatever form is most conducive to living. They grow in the most improbable places at times, like the five-needled white bark pine, Pinus albicaulis is the Latin name, that grow out of granite in the Alpine or timberline forest in Yosemite. How trees can be rooted in granite is a mystery to me, but then how God takes root in us is one, too.

As I spent time alone, fasting, near the shore of Lower Cathedral Lake, sitting on huge granite boulders, I began to notice these trees. Some of them were soul tree side view 2tall and graceful, well-shaped conifers. Most of them, however, showed the effects of living in harsh conditions so that many appeared as dwarf trees, and others almost prostrate, almost all lacking the shape we think of as normal for pine trees.

Together, these trees became my spiritual teachers, even masters, helping me move into a meditative state and then guiding me into some deep soul truths.

One tree most captured my attention. As I share three pictures of my soul tree, I am going to pause to gaze for a while. At another time, I will write more about our encounter.

Transitions are usually challenging. That is true of the one I am in now.

Claiming my vocation as a writer means leaving my work for and with People of Faith for Equality in Virginia (POFEV). That is work I enjoy, at least much of it, and certainly it taps into and often fulfills my passion for justice (especially as an expression of my faith).

Friday was my last day as the full-time President of POFEV. However, I will be continuing in a part-time capacity until mid-February, working on a couple of projects and making sure the transition to the future goes well. I also am writing more, taking a poetry class, officiating at weddings, and looking for some adjunct teaching or other part-time work for the future (work that helps sustain and even complements my writing).

Transition figureSo, I am in that strange in between space–not entirely in the old mode but not entirely in the new either. It requires a lot of balancing; sometimes I feel like the man who has one foot in the canoe and the other on the dock–I don’t want to fall into the water!

When the guru of transition theory, William Bridges, started writing and teaching 30+ years ago about the phenomena of this kind of change, he called the in-between period “chaos.” At times, that feels right.

But more recently he started naming this period as the “neutral zone.” I don’t feel that at all. There is nothing neutral about this; I certainly am not stalled either!

Instead, I experience it as an intensely nourishing time, even as I struggle to balance. The conflicts between the old and the new often produce rich new understandings of myself and my journey, provided I can avoid getting ensnared in anxiety.

The key is to not fret, and not to spend time trying, in moments of challenge, to be in the space where I am not. It also is necessary to plan, and then not let the plan become more important than reality. Time for both, I keep saying.

Time for both. Or perhaps the best way is to say, “Time for my life.” the one I have been in, the one to which I am going, and everything in between. Maybe, in that sense, we all live in transition, all the time. Some are just more, well . . . .  transitional . . . . than others, right?

I am grateful to God for being on the move, and for knowing God is going with me, or better yet, I believe I am going with God!

[Note: I will say more in coming weeks about how I came to make this shift, or perhaps more accurately, how this shift came to move me.]