Normally, I try to keep the blog to dinner friendly conversation – following the old adage of avoiding religion and politics. It creeps in on occasion if for no other reason that I do have strong opinions on current events that occasionally delve into those realms.
This past weekend was the Coming of Age ceremony at the new Unitarian Universalist congregation we are investigating to possibly become our new spiritual home. C.O.A. is a UU program in which a congregation fosters the transition of its youth into their spiritual adulthood through a process of self-discovery working with a mentor to begin to define their personal beliefs. There are many parallels between the living tradition of COA and the rituals of other religions like Bar and Bat Mitzvah, catechesis Conformation, Rumspringa, Ji Li and Guan Li, Amrit Sanchar as well as social conventions like Quinceanera, Seijin-no-Hi and others but COA is not limited by ritual in-and-of itself.
Generally, UU is regarded as a “chose your own spirituality” belief system in which a shared sense of seven broad values, known collectively as the the Principles and Purposes in the UU bylaws, guide the mutual binding of its members rather than a framework of dogma and formal ceremony. Thus, for COA UU youth are encouraged to define their own credo or statement of beliefs in a way that reflects who they are as individuals, as part of the faith community, as part of society as a whole and within the context of the human condition.
This wasn’t my first time participating in a COA community affirmation and the of the many opportunities for special worship during the year it is among my favorite experiences. It is invigorating intellectually, challenging spiritually and enlightening socially to hear their points of view and this year’s experience with a new fellowship was no different.
What I find most amazing is how absolutely mature these young people sound in expressing their beliefs. These are not just reading words because that’s what is expected of them. They painstakingly crafted these words for themselves to reflect who they believe they are. They are not just reciting them out of rote ritualism. They are passionately delivering them because this is what they truly believe. They are not just teenagers making the kind blind proclamations one might associate to one’s adolescent years bustling with prattle about the trials one typically endures in their adolescent endeavors. They are expressing their innermost ideas and concepts in a way that will help them define the prospects of how the will conceptualize belief as they continue to grow, experience and learn.
Personally, I don’t know many UU who have been with the faith since their youth. We are primarily lapsed believers of our childhood religions and as part of our spiritual searches found our way to Unitarian Universalist concepts and found fellowship among our wanderers in-kind. What I have found though, is although we didn’t go through a formal COA program as adolescents, at some point during our faith journey we we through a similar process of defining our beliefs, even if we never formalized them as the COA youth project participants have.
We were discussing this after the congregation dismissed and it made me think further about my personal statement of beliefs. What is important to me? What do I expect out of myself in life?
Obviously, part of the allure of UU was some of the core principles already align to this:
We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to 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 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.
The official statement of Unitarian Universalist principles describes the “sources” upon which current practice is based:
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 confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our 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.
and I would add based on experience
…And, other teachings, philosophies and beliefs which aspire to overcome the limits of the human condition in ways that effectively support the UU Principles and Purposes regardless of their origin
So, what does this mean to me?
Well, generally, I would say given a year to research and write such a document as the youth are given, I would find a year to not be enough. Not because I couldn’t carve out the time, but because I would be too easily distracted even with defined hours to be able to include every defense of my beliefs I would aspire to include. And, generally, they’re limited in their presentation time, which I’m sure I would find entirely too short, being I’m a wordy motherfucker who basically given the opportunity writes at over a 20,000 word a month clip just for the blog
I feel as if there are three broad, overarching concepts that define if for me – as if the yearly definition of these maybe needed more definition. This is the CEO version of my pre-40 year year of my life:
1. Education is a lifelong process that everyone should be afforded the ability to pursue.
Learning should not end because formal education subsides. From the secular perspective many stop learning when school ends at whatever point their station in life dictates that. From a spiritual perspective, for many people, their education ends with the culmination of their dogmatic coming of age ceremonies. From a traditional perspective humans on a stereotypical whole will only learn that which necessity in the moment.
To limit education to these types of parameters becomes limiting to the human condition itself.
Personally, my father will often quip that if something tickles my fancy I will attempt to become an expert in it. And, it’s not entirely untrue.
I liked music as a kid. My parents made me a drummer, I became an undergraduate educated percussionist and I continue to learn new styles as I can. I didn’t want to be just a drummer and despite trying brass and keyboards and not being very good at them I studied heavily theory and became versed in several styles. I didn’t want people to think I was a one-trick pony, so I know metal, punk and hardcore because that’s where my career took me and I continue to spin a radio show for, but throughout my music involvement I’d done work in jazz and fusion of which I’m an extensive memorabilia collector and working to be an amateur historian, romantic and classical era orchestral lover and supporter, and so on. It was equal parts compounding experience, human interaction, historical investigation and personal application. I continue to share as I can every amount of that knowledge with everyone who will share it and I hope to find my way back into performing groups again soon.
I liked cooking. My parents showed me what they knew, I learned those lessons. I didn’t want to be limited to just that so I delved into my heritage recipes and learned about Portuguese and French and Canadian cooking. I didn’t stop there, I learned about colonial offshoots of each of those including Cajun which is one of my favorite styles, and I learned about the history of my heritage going well beyond just where the family stories left off. I investigated it from books but moreso because it’s such a unique lineage pretty much anyone who would also talk to me about it and just going out and trying new things for the sake of trying them. I love learning recipes from people I meet and sharing the little bit I feel I know at any time I can with anyone who wants to experimenting preparing food with me.
I liked business, particularly marketing. I didn’t know that was what it was called when I first found out I was kind of good at it as a youth, but by the time I got through high school and into college I was knee deep in student leadership roles that leveraged it and on my way to a minor in it during my undergrad. I couldn’t stop learning so I followed through to my masters was in marketing and with an emphasis in organisational management (as a nice throwback to student leadership). I challenged myself to learn business law and intellectual property law as a certification degree because of how they affected my career in marketing. I was an award winning marketer who was part of a number of different national organization’s annual conferences year after year which kept me on my toes and allows me the opportunity to pass along my learnings as a mentor and teacher.
Also, and importantly, I liked learning and marketing has a lot of touch points to other ‘business’ fields. As an undergrad I did work on operations management and I continued the interest during my grad degree although I ran out of money before making it a dual emphasis. However, I took up project management as a certification degree in traditional and agile, and took product classes in both traditional and technology as part of my transition into Product Management as a career. I also extended my coding skills from 80s basic to html to learning some java and what most would call introductory level rest-API understanding. At the same time I transitioned from music to technology, particularly web and early mobile, and eventually into native apps. The parallels working in aggressive music and early stage mobile gaming are amazing but I knew now deep they were because I dove head first into the gaming industry as part of the transition and became a speaker and mentor there as well for a time.
I liked visual art. I used to draw a lot as a kid. I never drew like a normal kid. At first, I copied all my dad’s works and then did lackluster interpretations of other peoples for a long time but truth is the creative mind I have isn’t in drawing but through a lens. When I got a camera I began framing images in ways that just weren’t normal to normal people. As I came to find out, my interesting tiling the camera 45 degrees at level, changing level be upward or downward from plane of more than 60 degrees, using natural filters including white out or high glare, reflection and refraction from ponding, or finger clipping and other darkening sequences were actually art and it drove me to research more and more and experiment more to the point I actually began attempting to sell my pictures. i want to learn more about manipulating the visual and how I can bridge my different backgrounds in it but also how to explain to others who are curious in expressing themselves how I was able to transition my own journey to finding photography which I find exceptionally relaxing and expressive.
And, now owning a house, I’m experiencing new challenges to what I think I know, what I want to know and where I want to take my learning from outdoorsmanship to woodworking and restoration on a 75 year old building that has some serious semi-original pieces.
I firmly believe I am able to relate to the diversity of the human condition because I continue to challenge myself by learning as much as I can about anything and everything (these were but a few examples) that I come across but moreso, I encourage those around me to explore that which interests them as well and because I have such a broad interest set I am most prepared to assist and challenge those around me to learn more as well as be open to new opportunities for myself to learn something new.
2. Respect is something that should be afforded to everyone at every point they can experience it.
This is a two fold experience and aspiration for me:
Expectation of Equality.
The first part comes down to perception in which case the common ground of equality should be given to all. Everyone should expect to receive equal treatment. Equal is a problematic term because defining equality is as much a definition of your own reality as anything else. I am not necessarily an advocate of long term “perception is reality” because I believe that is an excuse for individuals and the human condition as a whole to deflect personal responsibility to systemic abuse which is probably not the circumstantial case and thus prescribing non-equal ends as means to equality whatever your definitions of all could men.
The moment at which any given minority or individual feels they are not given respect they are not receiving said fair treatment in that respect is the grounds for inequality. Minorities, as by definition of the human condition will almost always feel this way even in the most “fair and equitable” attempts by society to overcome it. Part of the nature of human condition is as the lower most Maslovian hierarchy of needs are met our innermost differences will be allowed to surface counteracting the existing equity structure in place.
Getting to a point where the basic Maslovian needs are met is still a huge challenge but in a more interconnective society than ever the upper echelons of Maslovs needs are exposing themselves “prematurely” as the human condition is allowed to seep into the lower tears more freely in the post-industrial internet society. This will only become more complex and less stratosphied from here on out – trust me as technologist, the expressionist levels of Maslov are exposed long before their needs ranks would be given in the traditional pyramidal structure of pre-modern humans – humans are being bread to expect an equality that pre-modern man wasn’t.
The problem lies within the expectation that some of the most vulnerable people don’t expect to be treated with respect. And when one of us is not treated with respect, ultimately, none of us are. There are too many differences to be exploited be them of the human condition’s most basic elements like race and ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification or from higher elements like creed, faith, political affiliation, or socio political strata to name a few.
I don’t always think I grew up with respect. Not always from my extended family and those peers who I chose to be around, or those who society charged as my teachers and mentors or even otherwise forced me to be around. I was fortunate to receive a lot but I know even from my limited experience in disrespect in the multitude of was I was shown it that it hurt and had a lot of negative impacts (and perhaps many more possible ones that I was fortunate enough to have mitigated in one way or another for any number of reasons many are not as fortunate enough to experience)
Execution of expectation.
In the second half of this it is the juncture of saying and doing. It is one thing to expect equality within the context of the human condition, it is quite another to surrender yourself to your own failures, as well as the failures of others, and still act within the scale of being equals.
3) In the end, execution of equality in its truest charge requires self-humility and forgiveness which comes full circle to the education perspective.
If you don’t know, you cannot do anything about it.
A person needs to acknowledge their strengths and not overplay then and their weaknesses but not be hindered by them