Thursday, May 12, 2022

A DON BLOG

And the class of 1975 continues to get smaller.

I saw on social media this week that a high school classmate passed away last Thursday. The post contained the name of course. It also had what I assume was a recent photo of him. It took me a bit of time before I could reconcile the name with the image. Having moved away from my hometown more than forty years ago most of the people from my schooldays remained fixed in my memory at the age I last saw them. I am quite certain that if I had seen the photo without the name, I would not have recognized him.

After some pondering, I saw a familiar glint in the eyes, even if there were many wrinkles around them. I felt waves of sadness in my heart both because Don had passed away, and because I have no idea what his life had been like. I recognized that my day-to-day life experience will not be different because of this death. And yet the fact that he is gone leaves an inexplicable void from which I write this missive.

This missive is my feeble yet sincere tribute.

Don was in my graduating class, though I barely remember him from high school. My clearest memory of him is from the eighth grade. Don was cool. At least in my perspective. He was so much cooler than I was. He was more worldly. More confident. Sophisticated, though how sophisticated can one be in the eighth grade. Handsome. Savvy. He moved through the halls of junior high with swagger. Seeing him filled me with a combination of admiration and fear.

The memory that most stays with me most confirmed my admiration even as it would come to dissuade my fears.

Gym class was for me the worst of all nightmares. I was and am totally devoid of any athletic talent, at least in traditional ways. The only place that I despised more than the gymnasium was the locker room. I can smell it to this day. Irish spring and mildew.

Group showering was torture for me. I had major body issues. Major. I felt sick every day when I realized it was a gym day. Literally sick to my stomach. I just knew something terrible was going to occur. My athletic ineptitude would be on full display, as would be my shame-based body.

I had started being bullied in elementary school and it only gained velocity when I got into junior high. The playground had been bad, but the locker room was infinitely worse. There was no direct supervision, and the bullies had free reign over people like me. It was a study in vulnerability. Naked both emotionally and physically I felt like prey.

Now Don always swaggered confidently around the locker room. His self-assuredness was unsettling for someone like me. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand it, and I feared it. I secretly prayed he wouldn’t notice me on during my failed attempts at sports. And I wanted to remain invisible to him in the locker room.

He never did seem to notice me.

Until.

One day after gym class and after showering I hurriedly dressed, relieved that the torment was coming to an end. One of my choral classes was next and that was my safe zone. That was where I excelled. If there was such a thing as vocal swagger, I could have employed it there.

I was half-dressed when one of my chief tormentors approached me at my locker. He began to verbally threaten me as he had so many times before. He then got me into a headlock. He was inches taller and much heavier than was I. In my thirteen-year-old mind I was sure this was how it all would end.

Until.

With the smell of Irish spring pervading and the chokehold tightening I suddenly became in my peripheral vision of the familiar swagger of Don strutting by my impending murder. I saw him stop. I sensed him take stock of what was occurring. And what happened next was nothing short of shocking to me. It has stayed me these more than fifty years.

While I do not recall the words that he used I vividly remember the feeling in my heart. Don demanded that the bully let go of me.

Immediately.

Now.

He demanded that the bully let me go and do it now.

The boy that I had prayed would never notice me, noticed me. He took compassion on my suffering. He used his swaggering confidence to put an end to the bullying. And it was the last time I was tormented by outside forces on the court or in the locker room.

So, on social media all these decades I saw his name, and the experience came rushing back. The smell of Irish spring and mildew engulfed me. I felt the chokehold, and the humiliation of once again being exposed as the “sissy” I indeed knew I was. Yet bigger than all of that was the feeling of being rescued by the swaggering, confident, and surprisingly kind boy who became a man I never knew. A man that now is gone.

What a memory. It reaffirms for me how a momentary act of kindness can stay with someone for an entire lifetime. I highly doubt that Don would have remembered such an insignificant moment in time. Insignificant for him. Monumental for me. So very memorable at a felt level. As a bullied sissy I had felt seen by the swaggering, confident, sophisticated guy who clearly had a heart and the caring to use it for good.

I would not have recognized Don from the current time photo. I still see him as a junior high hero that spent one minute of his lifetime helping to release a known sissy from the grip of a not so brave bully. I don’t know how Don spent his life. I don’t know what held meaning for him. I do know how meaningful that one encounter was for me. It is a part of my fabric. I remember it vividly to this day. Someone saw me and intervened for me. I will never forget that no matter how many years I live beyond Don.

I never got to thank him. It felt too awkward at the time to say much of anything. I do believe he sensed my gratitude. And though we had little direct connection throughout the remainder of our schooling, and no interaction since our graduation, that act of kindness lives on in me today.

While I never got to thank him while he was alive, I am using these words to thank him now. It is most likely that no one from our shared experience will see this. I am okay with that. I write this for Don, and I write this for me. I remember, and I am grateful. It meant something then, and it means something now.

Thank you, Don. Swagger on in the cosmos. And know that this once bullied sissy still remembers what you did.

Thursday, May 5, 2022

ONE NATION UNDER GOD

“One nation under God.”

If only that were true.

I smile as I recall a controversy that erupted in the church that my family and I attended during my youth. The challenge was over how the congregation was reciting the Pledge of Allegiance. It was an issue over what amounted to an emphasis and a comma.

Right?

The minister admonished the congregation for reciting the pledge with a notable comma between “One nation, under God.” This had the effect of placing the emphasis on “one nation” as opposed to “under God.” His invitation, which felt way more like a demand, was to take away the comma and thus the pause and to declare “One nation under God.” From that Sunday on the pledge was recited with the desired and forceful emphasis in place. No comma. No pause.

This might seem slightly silly to address with those who comprise my readership today. And yet I still vividly recall the feeling of the controversy over fifty years later. It clearly had an impact.

On this National Day of Prayer, I ponder how much an emphasis and a comma might change the way we are living as a country.

From my perspective we as a country and a culture do not live as “one nation under God.” We do not really live as “One nation, under God” either. If truth be told, we live as a divided nation that has placed God under us.

Now, let me clear that even as a minister I am all about the separation of church and state. I do not relish having a pledge to religious conformity as something that all Americans must blindly adhere to. I do not embrace demanding that all American people have to claim a belief in a “God” whatever the emphasis and with or without a comma. I personally place liberty and freedom above conformity and oath. That for me is at the very heart of what remains a possibility for democracy. A possibility that is yet to be a reality. And that just might have something to do with an energetic comma that skews a rightful emphasis.

God is one name for a Universal Principle that is the Source of All that is. It is the One thing that is actually indivisible and forever united. Geographic borders and nationality boundaries are relative at the deeper levels of experience. When religious liberty is compromised and reduced to a national demand division can be the only outcome. When one or any religion is legislated it will be used against those who do not dwell in the majority.

Source is First. Source is Causal. Source is priority. The greatest potential is in Source becoming a priority. We clearly do not have that as a guiding priority. Unless you believe in a God that divides and demands that one religion be enforced for all people. That is not my Source and will pledge no allegiance to it.

Human beings, all human beings, are relative effects within the One Cause. We are “Godlings.” God is a name, one name, for what we actually, essentially, intrinsically are. Or more accurately, IS. God is One and we IS One within It. When we forget that and live out of integrity with that Truth no good can come from it. We are seeing effects of that One Source amnesia everywhere. We could recite the Pledge of Allegiance with commas, without commas, with varying and wavering emphasis, or even standing on our heads yet until we remember that we are called to live under the authority and governance of a superior Source we will flounder, and we will fight. All people will not have equal rights. All people will not be equally honored. A pledge will take precedent over a shared humanity. A flag will wave for only a privileged some while others are diminished and maligned. They are not in the right club and so do not count.

“One nation, under God.”

“One nation under God.”

From a macro and metaphysical vantage point it is a beautiful potential.

“With liberty and justice all.”

For all.

Not for some.

Not just for those who recite the Pledge of Allegiance without a comma and with the proper emphasis. Not just for those who believe in a Christian God. Not just for those who by birth and by race are part of a privileged race and class.

One shared humanity Sourced, sustained, governed, and guided by that Source. All living in a literal Reality that All is One. All ensuring that every single person is treated with reverence, dignity, and respect. All living under the guidance of “God” and not putting “God” under the confines of ideology and even bigotry. When ideology supersedes authentic spirituality, it obscures any true liberty. Division splits apart unity. What is divided will eventually fall. It must. And we are seeing that now.

So, while I would not personally call it as such, I am all about “one nation under God.” I am all about letting Source be my governing Force. I will pledge to that without hesitation. I will not allow false gods of politics, ideologies, race, class, gender, religions to split me off from what is Essentially One. I pledge to that today and every day. I commit to pausing, comma or not, before letting any false separation divide me from what is my One Source.

We will never agree to any one religious’ form. I do not think that is even desirable. Yet perhaps we can agree to common values, governing morals, unwavering ethics, and a high-level treatment of each other that is “God-like” in its expression.

And perhaps we can agree to hold a prayer, whether or not we agree to that term, that we will awaken to the Truth of Being that we are indeed One. That freedom and liberty are indeed the birthright of all people. That we can pledge allegiance less to a flag and more to a shared state of being. That we salute each other as Godlings within this great mystery that many call God.

On this National Day of Prayer and every day.

One nation under God.

A concept becoming a reality in me.

To this I pledge.