Blog Archives

What I Want is to be Myself Again

mark blue

I’m learning that when we lose faith in our feelings, we lose faith in ourselves and become outer-directed. That is, we look to the world to tell us how to feel and what to do.  We seek approval and love from others so we can prove to ourselves that we are worthy.  Paradoxically, to be outer-directed is to be self-absorbed. How can this be?  We feel so unsure of who we are , that we cannot let go, be spontaneous or real.We can reclaim ourselves by becoming inner-directed.  This means looking within ourselves for the direction we need.  When we’re just beginning to learn to trust our feelings, this can seem to be truly agonizing.  It means trusting the reality of our needs and our right to express them.  Only then can we find the faith in ourselves and in life, that we have lacked.

Becoming inner-directed takes self-acceptance and self-love.  It also takes time. Until then, there will be no real peace because it is the only way to find ourselves.

In Memory of My Other Mom, Dorothy

January 23 is the “death day” of my second Mom. Dorothy Eshenbaugh was the step-grandmother of my last partner. I’ve blogged about Dorothy on many occasions. During our brief five years as my “Mother-there-ought-to-be-a-law,” we experienced a lot of life together; there were ups and many downs. But the love between Dorothy and I was always stable. We had a hell of a lot of fun together; we played a lot of Dominoes, laughed our asses off, and cried some too. We’d get mad at one another, like everyone does, but it never lasted for very long. She always knew the easiest way to solve a family argument would be through me and not her step-grandson. Dorothy didn’t like it when we weren’t talking. I remember how she would often hold my hands and those of my partner’s in hers and she’d say; “Now fella’s we have to stick together. We’re all we’ve got as family goes.” You see, Dorothy had a respect for communication between family members. Dorothy was in end stage renal failure, and hadn’t spoken in a few years to her sister, Betty or her mother. But Dorothy and I worked on a beautiful letter that she mailed to her sister so proudly one day. Dorothy was going to put an end to the silence.

Dorothy hardly gave the envelope enough time to get through her own post office before she started checking her mail for a response from her Betty or mother. Then, weeks went by and then months. Dorothy’s sad attitude gradually lifted and she shrugged it off and said, “Wasn’t meant to be I guess.”

Dorothy died on January 23, 2008 of end stage renal failure. I often feared that when the end would come for her that she’d be alone; I knew that was one of her biggest fears as well. When she transitioned from our earth, her beloved companion Rascal was at her side. Dorothy joked that Rascal in a strange way looked a bit like her deceased husband, Robert, who was the love of Dorothy’s life! You know, I never could really disagree with her! I think somehow Robert reincarnated into that dog!

My former partner and I knew that Dorothy’s prognosis didn’t assure us any real definitive time with her before the end would come. So, we made every birthday and holiday as special as we could for her. In the five years that Dorothy was in my life, she lived life. She went to church every Sunday and put in a prayer request for my ex and me every Sunday as well. Dorothy was a good mother to me, at a time when I didn’t have one. My own mother died many years before I met Dorothy. When Dorothy learned my mother was deceased, I could see how she put herself in that role for me. I never complained one bit. It felt nice to be loved again in that way that only a mother can.

I know Dorothy is at rest and still living fully in another plane of existence with her beloved Robert. These beautiful memories I hold of our time together and knowing that Dorothy is once again reunited with her husband who she loved so much, make it easier each day to feel a little less pain about the loss and the feeling of that space filled by joy and happiness that things are as they should be.

Dorothy’s mother and sister eventually learned of her death. I always knew and felt so strongly that someday, even though my former partner and I were no longer together, that I would, in some way shoulder the responsibility of informing them of  the details of their family member’s demise.  The situation did unfold that way as my ex-partner never told them. When Betty reached me and I had given some of the details of Dorothy’s life those last few years, I inquired about that damn letter, which, they never received. Dorothy’s sister Betty and I have, through this odd process, become a unique pair of friends. Good friends in fact. We’ve never met in person (at least not yet anyway) and most of our communication is through email. Betty and I have a connection though. I have made a personal commitment to myself that this summer, I am going to make a trip to the small Texas town Betty and her family lives in, and have an opportunity to meet them all. In a strange way, they already feel like family to me. I almost found myself writing to Betty the other day, “We’ve got to stick together Betty, we’re all we’ve got you know…”  I know Dorothy is smiling as she’s standing next to her Robert, as she watches the friendship form between us.

To Dorothy, I send wishes of eternal peace, love and happiness, and all the “Robert time” possible.  Before you know it Mom, someday you’re going to realize I’m there with you too, and then you better get out a good set of Dominoes, OK?  Love you so much, Mom.

Your son,

Mark.

 

You Are In Integrity

“You are in integrity when the life you live is an authentic expression of who you are.” — Alan Cohen

 

I am a Unitarian Universalist

 

Spirit of Life

“Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.”

Singing the Living Tradition Hymn #123

 

I consider myself to be a part of one of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations here in Phoenix, Arizona and plan to become more involved on a regular basis after I get settled in Tucson, Arizona when I move there this March. When I make mention to people inquiring what “church” I attend, and tell them I am a UU, the response is most often, “Oh yeah, sure; I’ve been to a Unity church before.”  Unity and Unitarian Universalism are not the same at all.

I was raised as a Lutheran (Missouri Synod) and in 1979 when I came out to family, friends and my church community, it was made very clear that I was no longer welcome “In God’s house” by my minister.  Thus began a spiritual drought for me which lasted until 1984.  That is, until one of my employees and I became close; close enough to discuss religious affiliations and beliefs.  Upon sharing my experience with the Lutheran church, she said to me, “You need to check out one of the Unitarian Universalist churches.”  I did attend a UU congregation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on Easter Sunday.  I was impressed by the sermon challenging the reality of the resurrection.  I have felt truly “at home” in any Unitarian Universalist Association congregation I have attended in the country.

The Unitarian Universalist Association


For many, it is helpful to understand that the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) is a religious organization that combines two traditions: the Universalists, who organized in 1793, and the Unitarians, who organized in 1825. They consolidated into the UUA in 1961.

The UUA roots in North America go back to the independent, self-governing churches of colonial New England that made a covenant to help one another in times of need. In Europe, the UU heritage reaches back to religious and social reformers in England, Poland and Transylvania.

Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion with Jewish-Christian roots. It has no creed. It affirms the worth of human beings, advocates freedom of belief and the search for advancing truth, and tries to give a warm, open, supportive community for people who believe that ethical living is the supreme witness of religion. Use of “Universe” is seen as a non-judgmental, inclusive term; respecting the choice everyone makes as to his/her higher power.

UU Principles

There are seven principles which Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in UU congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within UU congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

These principles and sources of faith are the backbone of the UU religious community.

Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources:

  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to face powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires one’s ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
  • Spiritual teachings of earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Welcoming Congregation

As a gay man, one of the most important components of the UU congregation for me is the “Welcoming Congregation” program.  In 1987 the UUA established the Common Vision Planning Committee. This committee found many negative attitudes, deep prejudices, and profound ignorance about bisexual, gay, and lesbian people, which resulted in the exclusion of bisexual, gay, and lesbian people from their churches.  As a result, the Welcoming Congregation program was created to educate its members. Each congregation adapts the program to best meet its goals and each unique situation can bring positive changes to people and congregations.

The Welcoming Congregation Program is a completely volunteer program for congregations that see a need to become more inclusive towards bisexual, gay, lesbian, and/or transgender people. It consists of a series of workshops developed by the UUA. The goal of the workshops is to cut prejudice by increasing understanding and acceptance among people of different sexual orientations. Some of the workshop titles include: How Homophobia Hurts Heterosexuals; Connections to Other Forms of Oppression; Gender Socialization and Homophobia; and Biblical Perspectives on Homosexuality. Many congregations offer the workshop series several consecutive times as an adult religious education curriculum open to all members and friends. In some congregations the workshop series (and later the entire program) is sponsored by a Welcoming Congregation Task Force/Committee created for just this purpose, while other congregations sponsor the workshop series through their Interweave chapters.

What it means to be a Welcoming Congregation

Congregations who publicly and successfully welcome bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people have the following qualities:

Includes and address the needs of b/g/l/t persons at every level of congregational life—in worship, in programs, in social occasions, and in rites of passage—welcoming not only their presence, but the gifts and particularities of their lives as well.

Assumes the presence of b/g/l/t people and celebrates this diversity by having inclusive language and content in their worship.

Fully incorporates the experiences of b/g/l/t persons throughout all programs, including religious education.

Includes an affirmation and nondiscrimination clause in UU by-laws and other official documents affecting all dimensions of congregational life, including membership, hiring practices, and the calling of religious professionals.

Engages in outreach into the b/g/l/t community in its advertising and by actively supporting b/g/l/t affirmative groups.

Offers congregational and ministerial support for union and memorial services for b/g/l/t persons and for celebrations of…family definitions.

Celebrates the lives of all people and welcomes same-sex couples, recognizing their committed relationships, and equally affirms displays of caring and affections without regard to sexual orientation.

Seeks to nurture ongoing dialogue between bisexual, gay, lesbian, transgender, and heterosexual persons and to create deeper trust and sharing.

Encourages the presence of a chapter of Interweave.

Affirms and celebrates b/g/l/t issues and history during the church year.

Attends to legislative developments and works to promote justice, freedom, and equality in the larger society.

Speaks out when the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people are at stake.

Celebrates the lives of all people and their ways of expressing their love for each other.

Confronting prejudices in a non-judgmental, non-threatening group allows the exploration of their origins and offers an opportunity to replace those prejudices with knowledge. Understanding prejudices leads to personal spiritual growth and congregational unity.

The Flaming Chalice


A flame within a chalice (a wide-lipped stemmed cup), like that which you can see at the top of this blog, is a symbol of the Unitarian Universalist (UU) faith.  At the opening of Unitarian Universalist worship services, many congregations light a flame inside a chalice. This flaming chalice has become a well-known symbol of the denomination. It unites its members in worship and symbolizes the spirit of their work.

Hans Deutsch, an Austrian artist, first brought together the chalice and the flame as a Unitarian symbol during his work with the Unitarian Service Committee during World War II.   To Deutsch, the image had connotations of sacrifice and love.  Unitarian Universalists today have many different interpretations of the image. To many, the cup represents religious community, while the flame represents ideas including the sacrificial flame, the flame of the spirit, and more.

The flaming chalice image has changed many times over the past 65 years.  There is no single interpretation of today’s flaming chalice symbol.  Modern chalice designs often join two overlapping circles which, for many people, represent our Unitarian and Universalist heritages.  Other images include added elements, some of which are merely decorative and others which are very meaningful.

If you would like to learn more about the history of the chalice in UU congregations please visit http://www.uuworld.org/ideas/articles/2442.shtml

Spiritual Life

I began this blog with my favorite UU hymn, “Spirit of Life” by Carolyn McDade.  It is UU Doxology, or perhaps the UU “Amazing Grace.” Many congregations sing it every Sunday, or at least enough to know the words by heart. Sermons have been devoted to this one song.

In six short lines “Spirit of Life” touches so much that is central to our faith—compassion, justice, community, freedom, reverence for nature, and the mystery of life. It finds the common ground held by humanists and theists, pagans and Christians, Buddhists and Jews, gay and straight among us.

 

Solitude

 

“Lift us, we pray thee, to thy presence, where we may be still and know that thou art God” – Book of Common Prayer

Sometimes, it’s as though I’m in the center of a bustling city, and then decide to leave. As I travel toward the more peaceful suburbs, there are fewer and fewer people. Finally, the city is behind me, and I’m alone. And since I can’t live in two places at once, I enjoy the pleasure of solitude by visiting the suburbs and pay the price of loneliness.

It’s the same when I leave behind the noise of my own thoughts and travel inward. By traveling inward, I’m referring to meditation and times when I just listen to myself; to listen to what my inner voice may be telling me. It takes courage to face solitude, a courage which the Universe gives to me only when I want to find what I can’t find when I’m surrounded by people or even just with my partner. Peace, inspiration, rejuvenation, nurturing, enlightenment, and strength – these are just a few of the gifts of solitude.

Beyond the loneliness, and the longing for others, I find the satisfaction of my company and the company of the Universe. I need these as much as I need the company of other people, and so I always seem to receive what I need to take the risks of solitude. You will too. There is nothing to fear in solitude. We may feel alone, but we never are.

Related Articles

Prayer and the Spiritual Journey

Prayer is our humble answer to the inconceivable surprise of living.”                   — Abraham Heshel

Prayer can mean to some, “a conscious contact with God as we understood him,” which is important in one’s recovery or quest toward personal growth.  There are many ways to pray and each of us has a style that uniquely expresses our spirituality.  Meditation or even the singing of a hymn are examples of any number of ways in which people pray.  Once we open ourselves to the Universe and the concept of something out there larger than ourselves, we can get comfortable with our own way of praying.  It may mean leaving past ways behind.  Maybe we’ve been used to prayer that relied only on words.  Perhaps we used to pray for what we wanted, making sure we told God precisely what was best for us and everybody else.  Or maybe we didn’t pray at all because we didn’t know how to, or were afraid.

I remember growing up in the Lutheran church, Missouri synod and having to attend confirmation class every Saturday morning, grades 6 through 8.  I still remember our pastor teaching us “how to pray.”  According to this pastor, we first had to tell God how sorry we were for all of our sins, original (sin that comes along with every human) and those we knew we had committed. Then we were to humbly ask for God’s forgiveness.  Next we had to praise God; tell him how wonderful we knew him to be and how much we loved him.  Finally, we could ask for what we needed, with the understanding that only God knows what is truly best for us.  Lastly, we were to thank God for all he has done for us and that which we hope for him to do in the future.

No other song, no other prayer, no other piece of liturgy is so well-known and loved in my Unitarian Universalism church home as “Spirit of Life” by Carolyn McDade.  In six short lines “Spirit of Life” touches so much that is central one’s need to communicate with our Higher Power: compassion, justice, community, freedom, reverence for nature, and the mystery of life. It finds the common ground held by humanists and theists, pagans and Christians, Buddhists and Jews, gay and straight among us.

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
Move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

Thankfully, we don’t need to worry about how to pray; the Universe shows us how.  We must however, be willing to move from the everyday world to a place where it is just the Universe and us. It is an exciting part of one’s spiritual journey to develop new ways to pray, trusting our relationship with the Universe to deepen the experience.  What matters most is that we give ourselves to it.  When our prayers are from the heart, we know it, and are at peace.

Make Every Attempt to Live Life by the Golden Rule

“My life is… a mystery which I do not attempt to understand, as though I were led by the hand in a night where I see nothing, but can fully depend on the Love and Protection of Him who guides me.” – Thomas Merton

When I laugh, God laughs. When I weep, God weeps. When I need, God says, “Yes.”

 

I have come to know that there are many ways to express spirituality and know that the Universe is showing me my way. Spirituality is not defined only as religion. Spirituality is the yearning of the heart toward something larger than ourselves and the wish to leap the chasm that divides us from the infinite to the eternal.

For some, spiritual expression is a shout of gratitude and praise. For others, it is a journey through a desert, darkness or frozen tundra. For still others, it is a search that happens unconsciously, without their really being aware of it. As I continue to grow personally, my progress depends on a spiritual life lived each day and must be true to my spirituality. I must trust it, no matter how difficult the journey. Nothing is too great for the Universe’s unconditional love – not addiction, not fear nor unwillingness. One’s happiness matters to the Universe, who loves us and leads us through life.

Life is a Question Mark

 

“Therefore, will I trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”  — Thomas Merton

I am experiencing one of those times when I don’t seem to know where I am going.  There are many changes going on around me and great insecurity which have caused me to feel far away from the love of the Universe and I don’t know how to find my way back.

During times like this, when I have no answers, is it enough to simply just ask questions?  My inclination is to be in control, to put my mind to work and figure things out.  But I am finding that some things simply can’t be dealt with only with logic.  All I can seem to do is ask the questions, have faith in the answers as the Universe reveals them to me, and let go.

I’ve been told that I’ll find new faith by working through these situations where I don’t have the answers right away.  Part of life’s wonder is its mystery.  It takes faith to not only accept the mystery, but to embrace it and love it.

Indifference and Apathy: Disease of the Spirit

mask-of-indifference

“The worst sin towards our fellow creatures is not to hate them, but to be indifferent to them; that’s the essence of inhumanity.”  — George Bernard Shaw

Hate is the other side of love and shows at least energy and passion.  Probably most of us feel surges of hate at some time or another,  especially toward those we love the most.  We can deal with this if we realize that these moments will pass and be forgiven.

But indifference and apathy can become a disease of the spirit so pervasive that their darkness envelops everything.  Then life is stifled and throttled at the root.  If we don’t value the people around us,  they will feel our lack of caring as striking at the heart of their humanity.  If we have no time for life, then life and those close to us will drift away from us.

The world is a place of splendor and love.  We can connect with it if we reach out beyond self-concern and replace indifference and apathy with the energy of living and loving.

To Have a Right Relationship with the World Around Us


“[Man] thinks of himself as a creator instead of a user, and this delusion is robbing him of the earth.”
– Helen Hoover

Helen Hoover was a writer about nature as well as being a metallurgist. She died in 1984 at the age of 74.

President Obama has in the last two days, begun to rectify some of the environmental mistakes made by the Bush administration. California and some other states will be able to set their own, higher emission standards. Yesterday, my minister at the Unitarian Universalist church I attend discussed how we can have a right relationship with our environment and interconnected web of existence.

I began thinking that sometimes, in my grandiose view of myself and the world, I think I have all the time and space I need to do my will. But in reality, our resources are limited, and already we are losing needed material and precious species that will never return to our planet.

Let us remember we are here only for a short while, but others will come after us. We need to take care of our earth just as much as we need to take care of ourselves. If we think only of our own pleasure, we are likely to become selfish and live destructive lives.

Those of us who have chosen a path of personal growth probably realize how much we have squandered our energy and dissipated vital forces. We may have tried to impose our fantasies and our wills on other people and we abused those who needed our love and trust. We thought we were little gods and that the world was here just for us. We can still learn how to have that right relationship with the world that surrounds us. It is good to be aware of all that is special in this world, including ourselves.