Archive for November, 2010

November 30, 2010

We’ve finished our work and we’ve finished our play, and now we say, “Shalom!”

So that’s that. Thirty posts on Religion, church, discernment, and the occasional something else. One for every day in November.

That was fun and infuriating. Some of the time, as I’m sure you could tell, I couldn’t come up with a effing thing to say.

I don’t have internet at my house right now. I mean, sure, if I sit in the corner of my room and don’t move my computer I can steal internet from the house across the street (dude, “password1234” is not an original password) but it’s a weak signal and really only useful for checking my email and even that is really slow. So for any practical purpose I don’t have internet at home.

So my normal procrastination technique was shot: I couldn’t just google or poke around online until I came up with something. If I wanted or needed to read something beforehand I had to do it while I was at the library or the democratic offices. I had to plan ahead.

It was a great exercise. In one post I talked about how I was having trouble talking to people about my discernment process. Logical-me wanted to, basically, shut down and not talk about it anywhere. By giving myself this rule, this goal, I forced myself to think through a lot of what I was feeling. That was so fantastic and necessary.

It also helped me put out of a lot of feelings I was having toward churches around here that were upsetting me or making worship hard.

And a lot of things came to me during conversations with friends about my blog. People who read what I had to say and said “I think it would be interesting if you wrote about this!” Or conversations with friends would drag something out of me that had been nagging for awhile:

And I somehow got noticed by the UU website “Interdependent web” which forced me to notice them. What a great resource!

Lastly this let me learn. “I think that this is a great idea!” would lead to comments that let me know I was not the only person who thought that. It made me learn to pick my words more carefully. To choose not to say something when I really wanted to. To phrase things a little more delicately. To not respond at all, at times.

It taught me that I sometimes just have to shut the hell up.

But also that I should usually say what I want to.

And it taught me that I’m maybe not quite as bad at writing as I thought I was.

November 29, 2010

Can I gather a Clearness Committee via text message?

Yesterday I went on a google journey. You know how that goes – something triggers you to search for one thing, which gets you interested in something else, and 45 minutes later you are knee deep in articles and blog posts and web forums and newspaper comment threads about something almost completely unrelated to the original search.

I don’t remember what I originally looked at, but I ended up reading a Time Magazine article from June 2009 about the Obama’s picking a church. The article was somewhat boring – I really don’t care much about the First Family’s personal life. One part stood out to me, though, and it got me thinking. Here’s the snippet:

My first thought? “Wow, I do not pray enough to be president.” Bush? Well, I guess I get that. He was Bush. But Clinton had prayer advisors he met with weekly during the Lewinski scandal? And Obama has people he calls for prayer? Really?

I had no idea.

Maybe this is all well known stuff and I’m completely out of the loop. One of my minister-friends introduced me to the concept of a clearness committee – gathering (by phone in the case she was talking about) a group of people to help “reach clarity on how to respond to a concern or dilemma.” That’s really one of those things that it would never strike me to do. Ever. Even after hearing about it I was like “wow, really? Yeah… not so much. Can I convene a clearness committee via text message? What about Facebook chat? No… damn.”

November 28, 2010

No church for me

There isn’t a church for me

I live in Small City Maine.  In Small City there is the UU Church of Small City (UUCSC).  An hour away there is the UU Church of Medium Town (UUCMT).  40 minutes away there is the UU Church of Other Medium Town (UUCOMT).  And 45 minutes in a different direction there is UU Church of Bigger City (UUCBC).  I was a member of UUCSC until recently.  I have been to UUCMT and UUCBC and I have heard the minister from UUCOMT and I just don’t mesh with him.  And I have heard from more than a few people that the congregation is all pretty old, and small, and similar to the church I just left.  The minister of UUCOMT is actually the former part-time minister of the church I just left.

And those are my options for churches around here.  I just don’t mesh with any of them.  An hour, or even 40 minutes, is a long drive for something you don’t love.  It’s a long drive in the winter, in often bad conditions, for something you are having a hard time being committed to.

There’s not a church around here for me.

The last three weeks I have gone to UUCBC.  It was OK.  The minister seemed a little off to me.  The church wasn’t very welcoming.  The order of service didn’t really lead you through the service very well.  Not one person greeted me during coffee hour except a woman I already knew.  It seemed like a somewhat closed off community.  And aside from all of that there are church dymanics that I’ve heard about from more than one person that lead me to believe that it’s not a super place for me.

UUCMT is far.  It’s an hour away.  It’s not a drive I would want or be able to make every week.  The church has a full time interim minister which apparently means that two Sundays a week she preaches and the other Sundays are lay led.  I think I’ve had enough lay led services for quite awhile.

UUCOMT is not as far, but I just can’t see going there.  Like I said, the congregation is old and small, I am not crazy about the minister’s style (he works, and works well, for a lot of people.  Just not for me.  I’m not saying anything negative about his ministry).

So what do I do?  I know that there’s the CLF.  I know that I can just… not go to church.  I was really good at Not Going To Church for a long time.  But now it feels weird.  After just a year of church it feels weird to decide not to go.

The church I just left felt right when I first walked in.  It felt like a place I wanted to be.  And when I visited the UU Church in Cambridge, MA it felt welcoming.  Some places just feel right.  Some don’t.  UU Phoenix felt like a place I would want to attend services (if it wasn’t, you know, 2,500 miles away).  These places near(ish) I have visited just didn’t feel right.  I wish I knew why.

If I had a few more friends I’d try to start some kind of songs and candlelight and readings service.  But I don’t have those friends, I don’t have that community.  I don’t have the ability to do that here.  I don’t have the people, the space, the experience.

So I guess that’s it.  I guess I just won’t go to church for now.

November 27, 2010

I breathe in god.

We reclaimed Church earlier this week, let’s reclaim god today.

I have no taken extensive classes on theology. I have read many of the world’s holy books – I spent a couple years in middle school reading the Bible, Torah, and Qu’ran, and I’m sure annoying anybody who would listen with facts about their similarities and differences. I am fairly sure I was the only 7th grader from my school who did their “compare and contrast” book report (take two versions of the same story – compare and contrast) on the torah and the old testament. After I gave up on Christianity I went on to read books on Wicca, Buddhism, Ba’haism, Atheism, Agnosticism, etc. I have taken a smattering of classes here and there – world religions, feminism and fundamentalism, today’s Islam. And when opportunities arise to attend lectures on religion or other religious services then I go. But I would not say that I have studied religion in-depth. I feel I have, at best, a cursory understanding of many religions and a somewhat-more-than cursory understanding of Christianity.

I give this build up because I know I’m going to piss some people off with my lack of knowledge and I want to make sure that everyone knows I am coming at this from a lay person’s grasp of theology.

That said? Let’s reclaim god.

Before all my atheist friends start screaming at me – stop. You do not have to believe in god. There is no moral high ground stemming from belief or nonbelief. I am not saying that we need to make a god that everyone believes in.

Seriously. I Do Not Care.

But for those of us who do believe in something but have a problem with the old testament, patriarchal, damning, omniscient, omnipotent God of the Christian mega churches that are everywhere? I think it’s time to take a step back and realize that that God is one of a very narrow definition.

If you are comfy with the idea of god being some old guy sitting up in the clouds with a beard then, hey, have at it. If that works for you then that’s fine.

Many reading this blog will have heard the song “Jerry Falwell’s God.” If you haven’t it is definitely worth a listen.

Why would I want a God that could hate me for almost anything? God that most mainstream Christians believe in seems pretty anxious to dislike us. And, honestly, I get that that works for some people. It works for my little brother pretty well. It doesn’t work for me.

But, unlike a lot of my friends, I also don’t feel like I can just give up on God. I don’t believe in an old testament, creater of the universe, smiting people here and there kind of God, but I do believe in a god that loves. A god that cares, that is compassionate. God is like… Santa. Not in that he’s a big fan of home invasion, but that after you stop believing in Santa you can keep believing in the spirit of Santa. Of doing good, of giving without expecting to receive.

I may not believe in some all powerful deity, but I believe deeply in the spirit and idea of love, and peace. When I breathe in, I breathe in the energy of this great big world, I breathe in the prayers for peace all over the world, I breathe in the caring and compassion of the universe. When I breathe out I sent love and energy to everyone, because this loving god is for everyone, not just for me, and I breathe out compassion, and I breathe out all the pain and worry and hurt and I surrender.

I can’t take on the world on my own. I can’t ask somebody else, one somebody, to take on the world for me. I can’t do it alone. We can’t do it alone.

We need to believe. In goodness, and in love, and in hope. And in all those things that my lowercase-g god is. Not what my lowercase-g god STANDS for, but what my lowercase-g god IS.

Let’s reclaim god as something that can help us move forward into a just and compassionate planet full of love and expressive drumming.

Because when I breathe in, I breathe in peace. When I breathe out, I breathe out love.

November 26, 2010

Frantic, squeaking mice and shitty first thoughts

I just can’t stop asking myself “is there a place in ministry for me?”

I know that there is a place in me for ministry, but I don’t know if it’s mutual.

I’m trying to turn off all my frantic squeaking mice of negativity (thanks for that analogy, Anne Lamott) and just focus on me. But while that may work for shitty first drafts, it doesn’t work for something that is, at its essence, all about other people.

November 25, 2010


Today I am sure I am thankful for something.

But in the course of the past 3 hours I have broken my coffee mug, dropped a chair on my foot, cut my hand on aforementioned broken coffee mug, fallen *up* the stairs, and banged my knee into the door frame.

So I’ll get back to that thankful thing when I’m slightly less injured.

November 24, 2010

Swing Dancing with Autism

I read this piece as part of a service on the 2nd principle. The names have been changed. I have permission from “Madi’s” mom to post this.


“Good try! Watch my feet, ok?”

“yes” she says, staring out the window

“Madi,” I say, waiting for eye contact that will be fleeting, “are you all done?”


“Do you want to keep dancing?”


She stares out the window.

“rock step step pull step pull” I intone, holding her hands lightly as I do the steps slowly.

Seemingly without ever looking at my feet she perfectly mimics my moves.

“Hey, good job!” I say, probably over enthusiastically, “you did a really good job”

“yes” she says, her only reaction to my words of praise.

Then she flops on her bed, clamps her hands over her ears and starts rocking back and forth on her back.

I turn off the CD player, “are you OK?” I ask, and she reaches her hand out to pull on my arm. No response. She grabs my shoulder and starts squeezing it. “Madi, use a sentence.” “touch.” “Madi, use a sentence.” “I want touch arms” “I want…” I repeat, “I want you to touch my arms” “Good job asking, Madi.” and I start to give her a shoulder massage, which is really what she was asking for the whole time.

Her words all run together, she often drops the last syllable of what she is saying, and her syntax is wacky to say the least. “I want you to touch my arms” sounds more like “iwanyouatouchARMS.”

Madi has pretty severe Autism. I love all the kids I work with, really!, but there’s just something particular about Madi that really captures me.

Part of it may be that she is willing to do things like learn swing dancing.

Please let me clarify – she is not a good student. She doesn’t have much motivation, she tends to clamp her hands over her ears and start digging her nails into her skin if the music is too loud, too soft, or too anything else. In the middle of a dance she will stop, flap her hands by her sides for a minute, and giggle. She never makes eye contact for more than a few seconds. And, while she’s ok with holding hands, she’d really much rather be squeezing your upper arms or, better yet, she’d rather you squeeze hers. She also loves back scratches, the ball pit, joint compressions, and foot massages. She LOVES foot massages.

She’d also much prefer if we could swing dance to Backstreet Boys. But even I have my limits.

I have worked with children and adults with autism, hearing and vision impairment, down’s syndrome, and various psychiatric illnesses, as well as myriads of developmental delays, some with names and some marked NOS – not otherwise specified. At some point it just became routine for me to deal with teenagers peeing their pants, no eye contact from kids, and waiting long pauses for a response to something. I became fluent in the language of behavioral psychology, learning to use PEC Scheduling, language prompting, deep pressure proprioception, and a thousand other little tips and tricks to prevent kids from freaking out. I learned to listen to kids, and to decipher, and when planned ignoring should be employed and how to tell a verbal tic from an attention seeking behavior.

Mostly I learned patience, and how to make a really awkward situation not awkward. After all, the kid doesn’t see it as awkward. That’s ALL me. I learned to say things like, “Wow! Good job not licking the door handle,” with a straight face and, even more impressive, total sincerity. I learned not to think, “this 16 year old can’t put in a load of laundry” and instead think “wow, we made it all the way up the stairs and she didn’t scream once. Awesome!”

My jobs have been strange. And I don’t deny that many are unable to do what simple years of experience have taught me. I’m not magical or amazing, but I do have a deep respect for the children I have worked with. One of my favorite shirts says, “Keep Autism Weird.”

Autism is weird. Swing dancing is maybe not the most perfect activity to teach a teenager who is unable to legibly write her own name. But everyone does strange, weird things. That’s called being human.

Autism is just being very, very human.

“Do you want more dance?”


“Great! Stand up”



“I want you to touch my arms”

So we’ll dance some more. Or we won’t.

November 23, 2010

Being “Christlike” in college

I find colleges fascinating. State colleges with huge sports teams and hundreds of people in a lecture, tiny colleges in the middle of the desert where “butcher” is a work study job, colleges with strong family histories, colleges where virtue __ is said to be prized over all. Colleges are fascinating.

Right now I am completely obsessed with Fundamentalist Christian universities. This is not necessarily a recent development; I have found them fascinating for years. But it’s an interest that ebbs and flows and right now I’m reading all about various Christian universities and the rules they have. It is absolutely fascinating.

The two schools I have looked into the most are Bob Jones University and Pensacola Christian College, both unaccredited Fundamentalist Universities. They are fascinating. I can’t imagine learning in the environments that they purport to offer. There’s a strict dress-code, a complicated system of demerits, no physical contact allowed between male and female students, no headphones for music, bedtimes, graduated privileges, permission needed for everything. Mandatory prayer meetings, daily room inspections, no movies above a G rating, no video games above E10. No tattoos or body piercings, no long hair on men, no short hair on women. The people who attend these colleges have fewer privileges than your average sheltered middle schooler.

It’s unbelievable to me especially when I think about my own college experience. My college where, in essence, the only real rule is don’t be a Republican. As RAs we were specifically told not to look for people breaking rules. Most people drank on campus and many did drugs – it was just expected that you’d do it somewhat quietly. We’d run around at all hours of the day and night. Sometimes residents would inform their RA if they were leaving for awhile, but not always. We cuddled for hours watching movies during long winter nights, going to classes in our pajamas after staying up all night talking about the meaning of life and how our composting toilets worked. And we were not, under any circumstances, to automatically respect authority.

The point of all of the rules is to create a Christ-centric body and mind. I certainly would hesitate before labeling very many people at my college Christ-centric (though there were some) but by and large they are good people. It isn’t like we have no rules so all people do is drink and smoke and listen to foul music. You’re more likely to hear bagpipes or Gandalf Murphy and the Slambovian Circus of Dreams as you are anything hardcore. Usually there is at least somebody on campus dressed like a pirate, and sword fights happen pretty often in the spring. There’s an ongoing rivalry about a “yield” sign that was stolen a few years ago – it travels between houses, getting stolen in the middle of the night. A couple years ago a giant paper mache penis was constructed and left on the lawn of one of the dorms, after that dorm had filled the penis-constructing dorm’s bathroom with news paper. That is what you do at college. It is ridiculous and stupid and fun and you never get to do it after college so why the hell not?

But most of that stuff would never be allowed at these Christian colleges. With their bedtimes and their dress codes and their focus on submitting to authority. Those things could get you kicked out of school, while at my college they were laughed at by administration. Every spring an email is sent out reminding us that our bodies are beautiful but that the dock is not a clothing optional zone. Not that any of us pay attention do that, but the email is sent all the same. My college felt safe and welcoming and let people be whole. These schools… don’t sound that way. All the structure and rules they have put in place seem to form an environment of fear and domination not of respect. They don’t treat the adults who go to these schools like they are adults.

November 22, 2010

Transgender Day of Remembrance Speech

Not my finest piece of writing, but sometimes you get what you get at 4am.

I delivered this speech at the Bangor Transgender Day of Remembrance held on November 21st, 2010 at the Hammond Street Congregational Church in Bangor, Maine.


In the end it is all about love.

We can talk about moving beyond tolerance to acceptance, beyond acceptance to embrace.  We can talk of how to be a good ally, how to learn, how to look at your own privilege.  We can talk about how to educate and how to respond to hatred or violence.  We can talk about a thousand things relating to the transgender day of remembrance, and why it is necessary.

But in the end it is all about love.

Loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Doing unto others as we would have others do unto us.  Following the rules of kindergarten classrooms everywhere.

My name is Andy Coate and I am 23 years old.  I have been doing activism for 11 years, trans activism for 5 of those.  I have lobbied at local, state, and nationwide levels speaking of the importance of legislation to protect me and my trans siblings.  I use fancy words when I lobby, explaining to important people why a proposed piece of legislation is really important; it’s about the youth!  It’s about the disproportionate number of trans people who are unemployed!  It’s about partner benefits, it’s about safety, it’s about children of trans parents, it’s about a million different things.

But it all comes down to love.

We have been hearing a lot about how it gets better.  You may have seen the few thousand Youtube videos expressing that sentiment.  I have watched videos from broadway stars, ministers, parents, children, teachers, the secretary of state, the vice president, and the president himself.  They would all like me, and you, to know that it’s going to get better.  These videos take the word “cheesy” to levels that have not even been explored, and there has been some criticism that they are superficial, that they aren’t really doing anything, that they aren’t useful, or that they are flat out lies because it doesn’t get better.  And to an extent I had some of those feelings.  It certainly doesn’t all get better on its own.  We need to work to MAKE it better.

We, society, need to work.  We need to put in the effort to make it better.  We need to stand up and say, “enough!” we need to say “that is NOT OK.”  We need to write letters and go to meetings and give testimony.  And more important than that we need to welcome our trans family and friends into the full life of community, not because they are trans but because they are family and friends.  We need to look past their identity and see them for the full, complete, awesome person that they are, that every human is.

Hateful rhetoric doesn’t help.  Hateful rhetoric widens the schism between side A and side B.  When we see something online or hear something on the news that is hateful or misinformed it’s our first instinct to lash out and say bad things about the person who spoke.  That doesn’t help.  If you can teach, then teach.  If you can donate money to an organization like GLAD or Trans Youth Family Allies then do that.  If you can post a counter-argument somewhere then do that.  And if you can have conversations with people about why what you saw upset you?  That’s the best thing of all to do.  Show you want for society to change with kindness and love.

And now I am going to ask you all to do something that you will internally groan at.  I am going to ask you to stand up, find somebody you didn’t come with, and thank them.

Stand up.

Find somebody who you did NOT come with.

Thank them.

Thank them for being here, for standing for a cause that you stand for, for loving their fellow humans enough to show their support.  Thank them for what YOU want to thank them for.  Shake hands if you like, hug if you want, but say thank you like you mean it.  Because you do.  I know you do.

And now I want to say thank you.  Thank you for coming out today and being here and showing your support and your love.

Thank you for loving me, and welcoming me to your community.  Thank you for being present and thank you for knowing what is right and what is just.

There is a campaign called the Standing on the Side of Love campaign.  Their goal is equality and justice by way of love.  And they have a song by a wonderful woman named Amy Carol Webb.  The chorus goes, “I will stand with you, will you stand with me, and we will be the change that we hope to see.  In the name of love, in the name of peace, will you stand, will you stand with me.”

So let’s stand together in this fight.  Let’s stand together in grief as we remember those who we lost to senseless violence and hatred.  And let’s stand together in determination for a better future.  Let’s stand together in peace for an end to all violence.  And let’s stand together in love for all humankind.

November 21, 2010

Reclaiming “Church”

Reclaiming “church.”

When somebody asks if I want to do something on Sunday my response is usually, “sure, I’m free after church. Any time after noon works.”

That’s because I go to church. I do not go to society, congregation, or association. I go to church.

I am starting to learn that a lot of people seem to have a problem with the word “church.” I know that the UU Church of MyCityHere is or was looking into becoming the UU Congregation of MyCityHere. I have heard the arguments as to why, but I don’t buy into them.

Because I go to church.

It’s a loaded word. A lot of people don’t like Church.

Church was mean to you in their childhood. It was boring and your parents forced you to play with Church and once it pushed you down on the playground and took your lunch money.

Or maybe you didn’t meet Church until high school, and Church was great and fun until Church didn’t want to be friends with you anymore because you told Church you were gay.

Some people came to know Church because a spouse or partner became friends with Church. And Church changed that person and made them not the awesome person you commitment-ceremonied. Maybe Church even got between you and your lover and took them away.

Possibly you’ve never even met Church personally, you just heard some pretty nasty things about Church from your friends or the internet. Church may have been kind of mean to a group you belong to, or maybe given money toward a law that you are just against in all kinds of ways. Or maybe you heard that Church abused people and that is clearly wrong.

My god, why would you want to hang out with Church? Church is terrible!

But I think most of the folks reading this blog know that that’s not true.

Because Church is not the problem here, things done in the NAME of church or the NAME of religion are the problem.

Why not reclaim church?

The idea of “reclaiming” language from what society has turned it into really works well for me. The segments of society that I place myself in or am placed in, by virtue of various aspects of my identity, don’t all have a super favorable outlook on Church. Church is far too stodgy and authoritarian for my hippie friends, it’s caused far too many problems for my queer friends, it carries too many yucky, boring memories of being dragged out of bed on Sunday for most recent high school graduates, and then there is that whole problem for my atheist, agnostic, or otherwise not-Christian friends of Church being the place where you Worship FatherSonNHolyGhost-God. Why would they go to church?

I don’t think the answer is to say, “You’re right, church is icky. Let’s call it something else.”

Let’s reclaim Church! Let’s make Church work for the purposes of good instead of evil and let’s make sure we tell people that Church is on our side! Church isn’t going to steal your lunch money or your lover or tell you who to love. Church will love and nourish you! It’s a pretty sweet deal. Church might make you be on a committee, though. Or cut out 150 3” tall silhouettes of people for a stewardship campaign. Or make bagels at 4am.

I didn’t say Church was perfect.