Just the Right Amount of Strange

Have you ever met someone and clicked with them instantly because they’re the same kind of weird that you are? Isn’t it great? It’s such a relief to feel understood and accepted.

Recently someone pointed out to me that there’s really no such thing as normal. Good point. I’ve never known anyone who hasn’t felt at least a little bit “out there”.

Personally, I’d find it rather creepy if we were all alike. The implication would be that we had no free will or independent thought. I can think of no better definition of hell.

That’s why I’m instantly repulsed by people who tell me that the only way to get to heaven is by subscribing to a specific creed. That sure doesn’t sound like heaven to me. I don’t want to agree with everyone all the time. I don’t want to check my brains and my personality at the door. I would die of boredom. You keep your Stepford Wife Heaven to yourself. I’ll have no part of it.

I like to let my freak flag fly, and enjoy having it fly with plenty of crazy company!

crazy_people_640_35

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

“No, it’s because you’re a jerk.”

A few years ago, I was downtown in a large crowd of people, anticipating a huge fireworks display. The weather was mild, and everyone seemed to be in a festive mood. One guy was a little too festive. Extremely intoxicated, he started screaming and cursing at his family. And this was a big guy. Everyone was intimidated by him.

There were no cops in sight. His horrible behavior was putting a damper on everyone’s spirits. It was as if someone had poured toxic waste into an otherwise crystal clear pond. People actually started moving away from this guy, even though there was very little space left.

The matriarch of his rather large family finally said to him, “You are embarrassing us.” And the guy looked around at the staring crowd and paused. But full of liquid courage and liquid stupidity, he shouted, “What? You got a problem with me? It’s because I’m _________, isn’t it?”

I am intentionally leaving that space blank because I’ve seen this play out before, and any word would fit. Young, old, black, white, male, female, Lithuanian, Laotian, Christian, Islamic, short, fat, ugly, straight, gay, left-handed, French speaking… it could have been anything. It would have been just as stupid.

We all have qualities that set us apart from the people around us. Sometimes when people react negatively toward you, it’s not because of those characteristics. It’s because you’re acting like a fool. Unfortunately, bad behavior transcends race, creed, religion, gender and orientation.

So next time people look at you with disdain, before you go there, ask yourself if you’re in fact being a jerk. Yes, prejudice exists in the world, and it’s wrong. But often the most simple answer is the correct one. There’s every possibility that you’re just an a**, plain and simple.

[Image credit: liquidmatrix.org]
[Image credit: liquidmatrix.org]

On Being a Unitarian Universalist

For most of my life I was without a spiritual home. My mother was a member of the Congregational Church, but I can only remember setting foot inside one a handful of times as a child. As devout as she was, as a single working mother her time and energy were limited. I remember her trying to get me to go to Sunday school one cold Connecticut winter day, and we walked about a block and then turned back. It was too cold and I was too resistant to the idea. I think my mother gave up on the concept for me at that point.

Even with my limited experience with Christianity, I knew it wasn’t a good fit for me. It just never felt right. It didn’t feel logical or like a valid part of my everyday life. It always seemed out of date and based on the knowledge of the world as it was 2000 years ago. We know so much more now. What did the words of Jesus, however wise they might have been, have to do with a world in which we’ve walked on the moon and can talk instantly to someone on the other side of the planet?

That’s the thing, though. In many religions, including Christianity, I do find pearls of wisdom. In many ways that only adds to my confusion, because I’ve also seen the dark side of religion. The intolerance. So many religions assume that theirs is the only way to salvation. If you don’t believe exactly as they do, then you’re not one of the chosen, and you’re going to hell.

I can’t subscribe to the notion that a Bushman of the Kalahari, for example, who follows the religion of his parents, is condemned to hell by virtue of the fact that he was born in the “wrong” place, to the “wrong” people. I just can’t buy it. And if it is true, it’s not something I want to be a part of.

Why does my spiritual path have to be the only right one in order for it to be valid? That seems too simplistic to me. There’s too much variation in nature for there to be no room for a variation in philosophy.

So I cast about aimlessly for many years, feeling kind of alone in the wilderness, until finally I found Unitarian Universalism. In this conservative religious world of ours, I find a liberal, all-inclusive church to be a refreshing change indeed. The UU Church believes, as I do, that there are many paths to the divine. On any given Sunday you might find yourself amongst UU Humanists, UU Christians, UU Pagans, UU you-name-it-they’ve-got-it.

For me, most of all, Unitarian Universalism seems to be a place where people who have experienced mainstream religion and have been turned off by it, but still want community and fellowship, can find a home.

And lest you think we’re some lunatic fringe group, here are some Unitarians, Universalists, and UUs you may have heard of:

  • Presidents Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft
  • Writers Louisa May Alcott, Charles Dickens, Horace Greeley, Ethan Allen, Kurt Vonnegut, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Ray Bradbury, Margaret Sutton, Herman Melville, E.E. Cummings, Margaret Fuller, and William Carlos Williams
  • Other recognizable names include Paul Newman, Rod Serling, Adlai Stevenson, Linus Pauling, Paul Revere, Arthur Schlesinger, Albert Schweitzer, Daniel Webster, Pete Seeger, Frank Lloyd Wright, Neville Chamberlain, and Clara Barton

So what is a typical service like? There isn’t one, really. We often discuss various religious philosophies, cares and concerns, current events, or basic concepts about everyday living. Here’s a list of topics that were discussed in various UU churches recently:

  • The Communion of Life: Climate Change and the Unitarian Universalist Response
  • How Do We Know?
  • The Neurobiology of Compassion
  • The Road Not Taken
  • Moderation and Balance: An Islamic Perspective
  • America’s Religious Experiment
  • The Origin of Love
  • Questioning
  • A Glimpse Into the Heart of Terror
  • Joining the Drum Circle: Ancient Rites
  • Celebrating Community
  • Ground Hogs, Possums, and Mockingbirds. Reflections on the human need for control and certainty in a world where there is little of either.
  • Effective Altruism: Saving Lives from the Comfort of your Desktop
  • The Hidden Face of the Divine Feminine
  • The Adventure of Forgiveness
  • Lies My Government Told Me About Immigration

One thing that can be quite disconcerting about a UU Church is that rather than adhering to one dogma or creed, rather than being expected to conform or walk in lockstep with all the people around you, we UUs can’t seem to agree on ANYTHING. But the beauty is that we respect each other’s right to disagree. Here is something we all agree on, however. The seven UU Principles.

  • 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 our congregations.
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our 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.

Because most Unitarian Universalists find it unpalatable to recruit people, or risk being perceived as trying to convince people to change their ways, you won’t hear much about our religion. Not from us, anyway. We are loathe to cram anything down your throat. But you are always welcome to come to a service and form your own opinion. To find a congregation near you, go here.

uu

Weather, ’tis Nobler

Whenever we are at a loss for something to say or things are on the verge of getting awkward, we talk about the weather. That’s because it’s the one thing that we all have in common. All of us have experienced some form of extreme weather, whether it be storms or extreme heat or extreme cold. We all have our stories.

If you think about it, the weather is the Switzerland of all conversation topics. On this one subject, we can remain neutral. We can discuss it without regard to race, creed, or culture. The weather cares not one whit about our politics, our bank accounts or our sexual orientation. The rain falls on us all.

PredictingTheWeather03

The weather is also our constant companion. We can try to avoid it by staying indoors, basking in front of a roaring fire, cooling off in the air conditioning, or vacationing in a nicer climate, but it’s still there, surrounding us, taking us into its sunny or snowy or windy or wet embrace whether we like it or not. And as much effort as we put into trying to predict it, the weather still tends to surprise us on a fairly regular basis.

Many of us change our lives for the weather. People retire to Florida or the mountains for a reason. Death Valley and Antarctica are generally deserted for a reason.

blog102505c

I guess the whole point of this ramble, other than the fact that I couldn’t think of anything else to write about, is that we manage to live peaceably with the weather, despite the fact that we have a love/hate relationship with it, and it looms larger than anything else in our lives. There may be a lesson in there somewhere.

My Recipe for Peace on Earth

Have you ever noticed that the most prejudiced, judgmental, belligerent people are often the very ones who have had little or no exposure to the groups that they are complaining about?

Many years ago I decided to travel to Puerto Rico with my boyfriend at the time. Upon hearing of our plans, his mother completely freaked out. She was convinced that he’d wind up in some Puerto Rican prison and she’d never see him alive again. Please understand that we weren’t even going to be leaving our own country, but…”those people” speak a different language! Gasp! She was fine when we went to Canada. There would hardly be a culture change; no language barrier; therefore, in her mind, safe for her baby boy. (You should have seen her face, years later, when we went to Turkey.) The fact is, it’s much easier to fear that which you do not know.

If I were queen of the world, the first thing that I would do is require that every student, at around the age of 17, spend at least 4 months in a foreign country, preferably one that is extremely different than the one in which they normally live. I had the good fortune to be able to do this, and it really opened my eyes. I lived in Guanajuato, Mexico. It was one of the high points of my life. Not only did I learn a great deal about myself and make some wonderful friends, but I also learned lessons about the wider world that I will carry with me forever. For example, I am MUCH more resistant to the “us” and “them” arguments. We are all in this together. I no longer immediately assume that “our” way is the best way. Instead, I think that our way is one of the many ways of doing things, and that perhaps we might be able to learn a thing or two from each other.

Since that time I have traveled to 18 countries, and have discovered that the vast majority of the people in the world are decent and kind, regardless of their race, religion or creed. It is important to know that people are not their governments. Do you agree with every single thing your government does? Then why do you assume that other people do? Do you honestly think that most people WANT to live in a state of war?

When I think of the racist, anti-immigration comments that come out of the mouths of so many people these days, I think of the friends I’ve made in Mexico and I just shake my head in sadness. When I hear blanket statements about Islamic people and how they are all full of nothing but hatred toward the west, I think of the old woman who saw me crying on a street corner in Turkey. The last bus had gone, it was getting dark, and I was about 20 miles from my hotel in a small town. She couldn’t speak English, I couldn’t speak Turkish, but she knew I was crying and that distressed her. She hugged me. She sat me down. She brought me tea. She dried my tears. She found someone who spoke English, and after understanding my situation, she got someone to drive me to my hotel, and they would not accept any money. I will never forget that wonderful woman. I think if more people had experiences like this, there would be less war, less prejudice, and a great deal more understanding in the world.

According to an interesting article in the Huffington Post  ( http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-d-chalmers/the-great-american-passpo_b_1920287.html ) less than 5 percent of Americans traveled overseas in 2009. I think this is a crying shame. I also think it says a great deal about the fear of the outside world that seems to be spiraling out of control in this nation.

Instead of listening to the opinions of others, instead of fearing the unknown, go and see for yourself. Find a way. Do without cable TV for a year. Skip the morning Starbucks run. Make travel a priority. Only then can you truly draw any sort of a rational conclusion about the people in the wider world.

Wishing everyone, everywhere, a peaceful holiday season.

In the spirit of international communication, if you liked this post, please share it with as many people as you can, especially those in other countries. My blog has been viewed by people in 17 countries as of this writing. Every time a new country is added to my viewer list, I get excited. Everyone is welcome! Lets send this blog around the world!