Sunday, October 17, 2010


In the cold light of morning, things often look differently than they did the night before.

After a night's sleep, some morning coffee, a gently prodding yet compassionate note from a friend, I was able to regain the focus that had been so skewed last night. On the ride to church, I was able to do some thinking, and I came to some pretty profound realizations.

First, what happened last night was I got triggered. My past stuff got brought right to the surface in a very uncomfortable way. Once again I was a scared kid in the schoolyard, pushed and shoved by kids who fit in and laughed at by everyone, with no one to step in and protect me. Once again I was being bullied at home, humiliated and shamed, screamed at and threatened, and nobody -- no other parent, no grandparent, no aunt, no cop, no neighbor -- came to my aid. I would go outside afterward, knowing that the neighborhood had heard me scream and cry and be ashamed that I was bad and had been punished and they all knew. If I could hear their dinner table conversations in a summer evening from my bedroom, I knew they could hear me screaming and begging from inside my house.

The time I speak of, I was 11. It sucked.

So I was triggered by the idea of an adult who, in my mind, could do something to stop a kid from being bullied, but who did not.

And then there is the other side of that coin.

I am not a huge fan of the concept of sin, but I will use it in this instance.

The sins that weigh heaviest on my soul are the instances in which I could have stepped in to stop a bully but I did not, for whatever reason. I think I have told the story here about a young kid who wanted to wear an outrageous t-shirt to a political march, and some adults took him aside and pressured him to change his shirt so as not to offend anyone. They used their positions of authority as adults to bully this kid into conforming to what they thought he should be. I didn't intercede on his behalf, and it has eaten at me ever since.

So what I've got is a basic case of Freudian reaction-formation: what I cannot abide in myself, I shall loathe in others. I will hold others to a standard that I fail to meet. Ouch.

Oh dear. So it seems that my rage and self-righteous indignation last night are really all about my own shit. Well, ain't that a grand Sunday morning kind of revelation? Hmph.

The question that faces me now, as I begin my path as a minister who must be concerned with people's hearts and not an activist concerned with the often heartless world of politics, has to do with compassion and not judgement. The former will be my job. The latter will not. Nor, for the record, is it now.

How, then, do I arrive at a place of compassion without first wanting to smack someone soundly in the chops? How do I get to a place where I can meet a person where they are and lead them gently to where they can be?

Yes, kids are dying. Yes, this is urgent. But urgency on my part is not necessarily enough to overcome a lifetime of shame and fear in someone else's present.

There is much for me to learn.

Blessed be.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

trembling with rage

I am home early from an event. A political fundraiser. Cheap, over-cooked spaghetti dinner and silent auction of items I didn't want and didn't bid on. Seated with a group of people from my old church - the one I left last spring, we talked politics and disagreed immediately. Let's just say we have very different understandings of what "liberal" means. I mean "liberal." They mean "centrist."

Then Mr. Political Big Shot walks into the room.

Mr. REALLY BADLY CLOSETED Political Big Shot. The one who votes for glbt people all the time, but who never has come out himself. Only I remember his early days, back before he was as big of a big shot as he is now, when he was casual about his gayness, when it was nobody's BIG SHAMEFUL SECRET and when I kinda respected him.

But then he got to be a kind of big shot in local stuff, and he ducked into the closet a little. Then he ran for bigger offices, and kept going further and further back into the closet until now, when NOBODY will talk about the BIG SECRET.

He's gay.

And that's great. I am too. Whoopee.

I am glad when people are happy with their orientations and identities and all. I am happy when people adjust and change their expressions as they grow and evolve, and I do my best to be supportive of all types of those expressions. Even if I don't get it, so long as nobody's being hurt and everybody's consenting, I won't much squawk.

Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, questioning, queer, and just plain different kids are being bullied to the point where they think the only way to get out of that kind of horrific pain and loneliness is to kill themselves.

Kids are dying. Children as young as 12 and 13. Young adults of 19 and 20.

They are dying of SHAME.

That shame is something they are taught by us adults. We, as society, tell them that sex -- particularly non-straight sex -- is shameful and should be hidden. We tell them that being gay is not OK when we lie about who we are and whom we love.

To remain closeted in this time, when kids are dying, is to put one's own comfort, one's own personal motives -- whatever they may be -- over the lives of our kids. KIDS. CHILDREN.

We are grown-ups. IT IS OUR JOB TO LEAD. It is our job to SET A GOOD EXAMPLE. Not to reinforce all those shameful messages the kids are getting from too many other sources.

Dante said that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who, in times of great moral crisis, stand idly by and DO NOTHING.

This is about protecting our children. I remember what it was like to be bullied and have nobody step up to protect me. At school it happened, and at home it happened.

And nobody spoke for me. It is a wonder I lived. It is a wonder I am as high-functioning as I am. I am lucky.

I won't out him. But I'll be damned if I'll shake his hand, either, or stay in a room where he is.

And you know what? I won't vote for his opponent, but I sure as hell won't vote for him, either.

Kids are dying. It's time to get over yourself. Come out! Kids are dying.

The next dead kid is on your hands, Mister Big Shot.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Fire hose

I am not sure how it happened, but it is October already. I received a gentle reminder from a friend that there are people who are interested in how the school thing is going and an update might be well received. I am blessed this week with kindness and love in many forms. More about that later.

School is amazing. It is challenging and invigorating and overwhelming and exhausting. It is like trying to get a drink from a fire hose. There is so much information to absorb and it seems to be coming from all directions at once. I find that every waking moment not involved in cooking or eating meals or personal hygiene seems to be take up with reading. I have never experienced this volume of work before in my life. There is no time for work work. I am reading and writing between 50 and 60 hours each week. Student loans will keep me afloat this year.

For classes, I am taking: Introduction to Buddhism, Introduction to the New Testament (part 1 of 2), Introduction to Islam, and History of the Church in the Global South. I drive to school three days a week, for classes, most of which are in the evenings. Books were moderately expensive, and there are dozens of them. I have papers to write every week, meditations to practice, and it seems like the more I learn the less I know. It's an amazing process.

Of the eight incoming new students I was a part of at orientation in September, all are women and half identify as queer in some way. I am the only Unitarian Universalist student presently enrolled at the Bangor campus, which makes me something of a curiosity in many of my classes. I had expected to struggle with sexism and/or homophobia from my colleagues and professors, but the thing that seems to set me apart from them more than any other is the fact that I am not Christian.

I tell you, at a Christian seminary, it's a conversation-stopper.

Colleague: You're not Christian?
Dawn: Nope.
C: Really?
D: Really.
C: And you're what faith tradition again?
D: Unitarian Universalist.
C: D: And that's not Christian?
No. Not since 1960 when US Unitarians and Universalists merged.
C: Really?
D: Yes.
C: So you don't believe in Jesus?
D: Oh, I believe in him. I just don't believe he was god or the son of god. I don't believe in the trinity. Or the virgin birth. Or the resurrection.
C: *head tilt* So, do you believe in God?
D: Well, not like most religions describe god.
C: *head tilts in the other direction*
D: I'm not a strict monotheist. I tend to believe that there is a force (or forces) for good and love in the universe. I don't tend to think that it is out there, removed from us up in heaven or far away, but that it exists in all of us. I think god is too big to fit into any one description or faith. And that it probably wouldn't do us any harm to be nice to each other.
C: Uh-huh.
D: Yeah.
C: So how are these classes going for you?
D: Complete foreign culture immersion.
C: I bet.

And that's the truth of it. Seminary is like complete foreign culture immersion for me. I am learning a new language (that of Bible study, not Greek or Hebrew) a new history, a new way of thinking.

Growing up Catholic, I was given a bible and told to put it on a shelf, that the priests would tell me what I needed to know of its contents on Sunday mornings. So that's what I did. Later, I became a Unitarian Universalist, and we don't refer to the bible often at all.

So now I am in class with people who not only read the bible regularly, but with people who have multiple versions and translations in their homes. And they believe what is contained in the pages.

Multiple versions? Really? Yeah. Really.

I knew there were four gospels, but not much else about the New Testament. I am learning a lot. Mostly what I seem to be learning is how little I actually know. It is a humbling experience.

The cost of this adventure is as daunting as the amount of work it involves. School leaves me no time for work that would bring in money, so this term I am relying on financial aid and student loans. Looking long term, though, I can't afford to do that every year. Graduating with $75,000 in student loan debt is crazy. There is no ministry job on the planet that I could get that would make those student loan payments.

So this week I spoke with a friend of mine that I know from meetings. She's got some family money of the very, very old variety, and I know she does a far bit of philanthropy. She supported a series of 11th step retreats for women that I coordinated a few years ago and really liked them, so I am a known entity to her. I told her that I'd like to ask for her help, and she said to call her on Saturday. So call her I did, and she wasn't home so I left a message. Last night after I got home from doing errands, she returned my call.

We chatted about school, about how seminary is graduate school, so the classes are seminars and the work is intense, and about what classes I have to take and what my faith requires of me in addition, and about the Bible and the gospels and the men who wrote them, and AA and ministry and a little bit about my hopes.

Then she asked how much I needed.

I had no idea what to say. I need a lot in order to not graduate with a ton of debt. I told her that I did not know what or how much to ask for. It was honest.

So she threw out a figure.

I can give you X a year. Will that work?

Her figure had one more zero on it than I had dreamed of asking for.

I gulped and stammered and sputtered and very nearly cried.

She laughed and told me to thank God, not her. She's glad to do it.

I sputtered some more.

I heard her get out a pencil and a piece of paper.

"I'll send it to you," she said. "Now, hon, what's your last name?"


What's your last name?

She knows me from meetings. We don't use last names there.

But she was willing to write me a check with what I consider a lot of zeros on it, without ever knowing my last name.

It's the kind of thing to make me sing praises to Jesus and Yahweh, and the Buddha and Krishna and Gamesh and the Prophet Mohammad and all their saints. No kidding. I am blessed.

Now my job is to do well in school. I don't have to worry like I did about how I will pay the electric bill or buy heating oil this year. I'm OK. I've got some breathing room. And I am going to be OK next year and the year after, too. She's offered to write that same check each year that I am in school.

I am blessed. And humbled. And honored.

And I have reading to do.

I'll post back again when I can. Please be patient.

I am truly, truly blessed.