Campus Tours & Cultural Racism: 50 Years Later #truthfultuesday


I’m just realizing that I was born in June of the year MLK was assassinated – 50 years ago this year. For my parent’s generation, this assassination was on the level of the Challenger Explosion or 9/11. We all remember where we were on the day when…

I remember my mom telling me that she was taking a tour of the campus at Purdue in Lafayette when the news unfolded about the assassination. I realize now that she told me this story several times over the years – it’s etched in my memory.

But I realize now she was talking about the assassination of President Kennedy – not MLK. My dad was going to Purdue for his PhD in Chemical Engineering in the early 60’s, which is why my sister was actually born in Lafayette, IN! So, mom was definitely talking about President Kennedy when she told me that story.

In fact, I don’t remember my parents ever talking about the assassination of MLK in any memorable way. And yet, they both were on the same level in terms of national and cultural significance.

That observation struck me this year for some reason. I think it’s the turning 50 thing 😉 It helped me see things I hadn’t noticed before about my cultural upbringing. It was a stark reminder that my cultural upbringing was pretty white. Most of my cultural references are therefore related to and biased towards white American history. A lot was left out in the history books, but also in the conversations we probably had around the dinner table, at Scouts or in Sunday School.

I imagine that was a difficult and confusing time for my parents – as it was indeed for a generation…indeed, much like it is today, for my generation. I know a little about the families in which my parents were raised. We had our share of colorful characters and family stories. Like it or not, they shape who we become and how we think about the world in which we live.

So let’s be truthful. We all live with prejudice and bias. I face it many times a day. Sometimes, I’m aware of it and catch myself. Most times, I’m either tired or unconsciously aware. So, the question isn’t “Do I have prejudice thoughts about another human being?” The question is, “Am I aware of my learned bias and prejudice? How do they affect my actions and decisions?”

Bias is learned. And it can be unlearned.

I’m confronted with this almost every time I interact with another person! My life experiences around gender, race, religion, sexuality, etc. affect how I think of others – which is very subjective based on my experience. The reality is my thoughts are likely not the complete – or accurate – story! If I’m not careful, it’s very easy for me to act on my preconceptions and assume things about others that are likely not true.

And we know what they say about assumptions…

I’m better off assuming that we more similar than we are different – then acting off that assumption and not my first reaction!  Not easy, but that’s what I’ve learned is important for me.

I wish I could talk with my mom more about that day when she heard the news. I think I always let her comment about being at Purdue be the end of the conversation. That’s probably because talking about topics like race makes me uncomfortable. Looking back, I regret not opening up that up for deeper discussion. There are a lot of days I’d like to ask her about…but never found the courage or time to do so. With her gone, that ship has sailed. Such is the circle of life.

My dad celebrates his 80th birthday this year. I’ll be with him on his birthday in Florida. I have lots of questions that I want to do a better job of asking now, before the experiences and memories are lost with a generation…

#truthfultuesday

‘When You’re Accustomed to Privilege, Equality Feels Like Oppression’

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Where to Start: Christianity or Medical Marijuana?!?


I’ve been pondering where to start with my “This I Believe” journey. Which topic or belief should I tackle first? Two that seemed timely in my life are my spiritual beliefs, and my thoughts on legalizing marijuana for medical use. At first, these might strike you as odd ones to bubble to the top. But, given my life story and key influencers or mentors along the way, these actually make a lot of sense to me. 

Christianity

I grew up in what I suppose one would call a mainstream Christian family. Going to church every Sunday, participating in church youth groups and other activities was a big part of growing up. Looking back, I think my parents went through this ritual because it was a healthy social outlet for kids and exposed us to faith & spirituality in general. I can’t say we ever had deep spiritual conversations about our beliefs – nor did we ever actively talk about or explore other spiritual paths. So, while we weren’t evangelical Christians, there was clearly a gently bias towards what was probably considered “normal” in society at the time. Moving around quite a bit growing up, I can see how a church connection gave me some stability and social connections. In that sense, it was helpful. Beyond that, I’m not sure I consciously “chose” Christianity nor could really articulate what I believed.

Fast forward through being in a Christian cult at college and exploring the “ex-gay” movement, it took me a long time before I felt comfortable stepping foot in a church. Even when I did in my 30’s, it was more for that same social outlet – as a way of making friends and meeting people in my community. When I got into recovery for my addiction to meth and other substances in my 40’s, I found the concept of a Higher Power – or the Universe – to be a lot more acceptable and helpful. In the 12-step programs, we are encouraged to recognize and find a Higher Power “of our own choosing” – which, as a gay man, was a lot more inviting and helpful than some of the Christian dogma I faced throughout my life. In more recent years, as I’ve become exposed to the flow arts community with my fiancĂ©e, I’ve expanded my explorations into other spiritual belief systems and world views – probably for the first time in life. And, it’s been comforting, challenging, exciting, and scary. 

At this point, I don’t know that I can say what I believe. But, there are things I know I don’t believe. For example, I don’t believe Jesus is the Son of God – or that Christianity is any better or different than any other man-made religion. That’s the first time I’ve ever said that out loud – or in this case, shared with the world!  Kathunk….

Having said that, I can’t say what I’ve found – if anything – to replace that deep-rooted belief system. After 40+ years of blindly accepting something at face value, I’m only now beginning to question and explore. It’s only in the past 7 years that I’ve really begun to challenge my world view – so it’s just the start. And, I’m ok (for the first time in my life) not knowing what I believe for the most part.  I’m not sure I’m any better or worse off than before. I couldn’t say that I really believed anything – just blindly accepted it and didn’t make waves because – I’m a rule follower.  But, I’ve reached a point where that no longer works for me.  

What I do know is, I’m still learning and my beliefs around faith and spirituality are evolving. I believe we are spiritual beings, just as we are physical, emotional and intellectual beings. Each aspect is an integral part of who we are – and to ignore any one seems unhealthy to me.  But beyond that, I don’t know which parts of religion, spirituality and faith are important to discern. There is probably some subconscious clarity that I expect will begin to emerge as I write, discuss and explore further.

Medical Marijuana

For me, this is a relevant topic in my life for a variety of reasons. With the changing laws across America, it’s becoming a relevant social and political topic. At some point, I’ll probably live in a State where marijuana is legal for medical purposes, and possibly for recreational purposes. I’d like to know what I believe before that occurs – so here we go!

Having worked for a pharmaceutical company for 20 years, I’ve largely believed only in “FDA-approved” health solutions -mainly for the same reasons I called myself a Christian. It was the mainstream, socially acceptable position to take. But, like the sometimes blind and narrow-minded aspects of religion, I am finding that this narrow-minded, Western view of how the mind, body and spirit heal has also run its course for me. In the past, I would have discounted acupuncture, herbal medicine, yoga and other mindful practices that clearly have medical value – physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually – despite what the FDA or other “authorities” might currently say. So, why are they “right” about pot? Clearly, they’re not.  So, what do I believe?!

At this point, I also can’t say with certainty what I believe and why. There is a lot of rhetoric out there, and I know the 12-step community is pretty black and white on this topic.  But, I’ve also learned that life is not black and white. So, I’m trying to be open to other possibilities for my own physical and mental health. I’m determined to educate myself more on the health benefits of marijuana. Given the reality of corporate greed and politically lobbying, I’m less inclined to accept what the government or corporate America wants me to believe – and and more included to go learn for myself. So, I’ll be looking for books, articles, TedX and other talks on the changing tide towards accepting marijuana as having medicinal value.  

For me, this seems to be the proactive and responsible step to take – as and before the laws change around me. So, if you’re reading this, and have any suggestions on where to start, I’m open to research and studies that speak to the medicinal properties  marijuana!

 
So, for now, I’ll close.  This is a little bit of “This I Believe” – but more an acknowledgement of what I don’t know.  And, for now, I’m ok with that!

Thanks for listening!

Top 10 things I learned at a nudist colony


My fiancĂ© and I just spent a week at a nudist colony. Having grown up in a Puritanistic society, I’ve grown up with that society’s rules, stigma and shame about the naked body.

B has opened my eyes to many mindful practices, including the freedom, body awareness and self-love associated with naturist practices. This was a first for both of us – spending a week at a gated community & resort for fellow nudists.

My reflections from our week include:

  1. Pan is the new bi
  2. The only thing you really need to pack is sunscreen – truly!
  3. Fake boobs look weird, just saying (granted, I’m not a boob man…)
  4. Not all nudists are naturists
  5. Naked transsexuals are beautiful too
  6. Spinning poi naked can be a little more dangerous
  7. Nudism isn’t about sex – but keeping it real, the two sometimes co-exist (just saying)
  8. Men generally do know how to give better head, from the observations I was able to make
  9. Being a nudist or naturist doesn’t always translate into open minded or gay-friendly
  10. The human body is beautiful, in all of its shapes and sizes; and the eyes are still windows to the soul

And my favorite “live life better” quote, from Dragonfly and Eric, is “Don’t yuk on someone else’s yum.”  @pureorgasmlove

Words to live by…