Fully Human: Camille and Gordon

I know a genius and a mystic who are — incredibly — more than that. Today, while I’m thinking of it, and while I have the chance, I’d like to tell the internet/blogisphere/universe about them.

Yesterday on my Facebook page, came a link to a woman I knew years ago, in my Youth Group in the Boston area, while I was Minister of Youth in seminary. I have followed her career with interest over the past few years because of her brother and my daughter. Camille Utterback’s brother Matt, an incredible person in his own right, years ago told me that his sister, had an exhibit at MOMA — the Massachusetts Museum of Modern Art, that she was living in the Berkshires, and if I got a chance, I should check it out and say hello. Since she was a creative, but starving artist and I had a daughter I thought would grow up to be an artist, I wondered if Camille could show my daughter some things.

My family went to MOMA and saw an incredible museum, but alas, no Camille. We had narrowly missed her and I think she had moved to New York City, but the people spoke highly of her as a person and showed us a post card of her art and I thought, “Wow, an actual professional artist!”

I didn’t know the half of it. One or two years ago, Camille blips up on the radar again, and now she’s a bona fide “genius”. I say this because she won a Genius Grant from the MacArthur Foundation (those people who always give money to PBS to join the “viewers like you” supporting “Arthur” or other such healthy programming). Turns out, that’s a big deal. They only give out so many of those grants a year, and it’s kind of like the Nobel Prize in some artsy way.

Matt sends me a link from the New York Times and I follow it to her own page www.camilleutterback.com and the work is incredible! Here, I mean incredible in the literal sense — un- believable. You look at this stuff and you think to yourself “How does she do that?”. “Is that even possible?” What Camille’s art does, as far as I can tell, is that it interacts with people via some funky computer technology that I think she invented! These big, huge, public art things like the area in front of a civic center or museum or theater catch the viewers eye by moving with the viewer. You move this way and it becomes a color or a pattern. You move another way and something else happens. You can catch falling virtual letters with her art … and hold them as if they were real! Her art, much like Camille herself, takes you into consideration!

I don’t know if Camille understands wave forms and physics or reads auras or what it is, but however it happens, Camille and her art make things happen that seem to attach people’s energy to a computer program and make it shine through in some new and beautiful way. You see your own beauty — the beauty I would say God created within each of us — come to life out there somehow. She also does things with time and space in her art that show what makes her a “genius” — she considers such things with a quiet, understated, yet understanding, intelligence on her web page (Yes, that’s her voice describing the projects).

Any of that would make her a person I admire. All of that makes her incredible as a person in some third-standard-deviation-from-the-norm kind of way. Camille asks herself (and us) questions the rest of the world probably won’t ask for hundreds of years. She is that “off the charts”. To say that I actually know a person like that is like knowing a genuine celebrity or historical figure.

But here’s the cool thing about Camille — that transcendent moment when I saw all of who Camille is. Shortly after my wedding, Camille and I were hanging out in a park, sitting on the swings, talking about all the changes that we saw happening — me in “adult” life, and her in college — when she said she was struggling with the people in her life. She knew the “Engineers” clique and the “Artists” clique and she didn’t “get” why they didn’t talk to each other. More to the point, they didn’t “get” why she did. The engineers (nerds in earlier life, hurt by the popular kids for being so involved with their brains) disliked the artsy types (“weirdos” in earlier life, hurt by the popular kids for being so involved with their hearts). They would ask Camille how she could possibly hang out with those people.

The artsy types disliked the Engineering types for being so “cold, aloof, and being “so mechanical” and asked Camille how she could possibly hang out with those people. Both groups considered Camille to fit right in and both groups couldn’t understand how it was possible that someone they liked could possibly be with someone they disliked so much. After awhile, though, the two groups began to consider each other and relations thawed because both groups saw how cool Camille was and they figured she was onto something.

What they didn’t know was the running joke about Camille: As her brother Matt says, “Camille is perfect“. She is fully brain and fully heart at the same time. Her father teaches (taught?) at MIT and her mother was gifted in the arts, if I remember and she got the best from both to make up her soul. The result? Loving artistic intelligence that sees and reflects the beauty in people.

Statistically speaking, Camille has ruined it for the rest of us. In order to have one person like Camille, there have to be thousands of heartless people and thousands of idiots just to have the bell curve of humanity.

I encourage you to check out her work online, in person, and where ever you can find it. Knowing that there is art out there — and more importantly, people out there like Camille is an incredible gift of hope and grace to all of us.

But enough about Camille. Somewhere in a hospital bed in New Hampshire as I write this is a man that even Camille sees, I think, as a giant among people. He is, in my experience, the warmest mystic I have ever known. His name is Gordon Sherman. Gordon and his wife Cy used to run the Deering Camp and Conference Center in Deering, New Hampshire where I went as a teenager and –when I had the chance — sent Camille as a teenager. I believe they worked together at camps in Massachusetts after I moved away from the area, so some bunch of kid out there were in the presence of both of them at one time, witnessing and learning from both of them — yet another generation of hope to do my heart good.

Deering was an incredible place — and still is. It’s being run by an old camper from my days there now, and he’s done his best to keep the land as sacred and holy as it was. But he’s not Gordon — and frankly, no one is.

Gordon is unique in some sort of spiritual way that I don’t “get” (but stand in awe of), and a spiritual way that I do “get” (and stand in awe of). After my days as a camper at Deering and before my 1 year on Camp Family at Deering, Gordon went off in a direction that I can’t explain very well, but have experienced it, I think.

Gordon was into the writings of Richard Bach, the guy that wrote Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Gordon liked Jonathan but he really took off with Bach’s next book Illusions which is way more New Age, kind of Eastern-philosophy-meets-quantum-physics- in a short novel. After that, Bach got into beaming himself across the universe spiritually and connecting with other people [There’s a name for it, but right now I can’t think of it] including meeting his wife. Gordon really liked that, and then got into a book called A Course in Miracles, which I think is sort of the same thing, but I’m not really sure. Whatever Gordon learned there, he used and internalized so that he could be even more in touch with the universe than he already was.

Gordon already was spiritual when I was 14 years old. He’s had 36 years to become more spiritual and he’s apparently used the time to do just that.

As I understand it, Gordon used to teach kids Bible Study at his home church on Long Island when one day he said to himself, “I wonder what it would be like to actually do life like this (like Jesus)”. He then started trying and stuff started happening that transformed him until he became the Gordon I met at 14 at Deering.

AA has a thing where they try to “make conscious contact with a loving Higher Power as [they] understand it”. Gordon is perhaps the person in my life who has had the most conscious contact with a loving God of all the people I have ever met. He used to read spiritual books every morning, spend time in prayer and meditation, and then just go about living life as the director of Deering. He introduced me to Brother Lawrence’s book The Practice of the Presence of God in which a monk writes that all life is prayer, and goes about doing everything in prayer. Gordon did this — and asked Camp Family to do the same. When we set tables, we were supposed to say a prayer or think of God as we put down the knife, then the fork, then the spoon and so on.

I don’t know if other people did this regularly, but I know that Gordon did and pretty soon (or after awhile…) Gordon got in touch with the energy of the Universe on a fairly regular basis — thus the Richard Bach stuff, and the Course in Miracles stuff. I have never read A Course and thought the Bach stuff was nice fantasy, but I always got the sense that Gordon actually experienced it.

Here’s what I’ve taken from it (and Taoism– an Eastern philosophy): God has a plan for the universe. There’s a way the Universe works (according to that plan) and a way it doesn’t. This way the universe works is kind of like a river or wind blowing. If you live your life a certain way (and understand God, you get in the middle of it (“in the groove”) and you go quickly to whatever cool place God wants you to be in life. There’s no harm in trying to fight the stream or run against the wind, but it doesn’t work. So, you can know God and go with the stream because you trust God or you can not…and not. Gordon and his little God-raft seem to live in the stream and run the rapids of Compassion all over the place. Most people I know, with any sense of spirituality, stumble onto the river once, twice or three times in their life. My friend Todd knows how to find the stream as well, but Gordon has more experience with it.

Which leads to me, again and again. At times when I have been most dis-spirited in my life — in those times when I most needed to hear God, Gordon showed up. In seminary and overwhelmed by a million things including finances, work, school, etc, Gordon appeared because he was there for a conference and my life changed as I put things into place one-thing-at-a-time. I still do that today — when I do treatment planning or when I help a client become less overwhelmed. It occurred to me this morning that if my clients feel half of what Gordon imparted to me through this exercise, I’m doing a pretty good job for them — hope gets passed along in another part of my life.

When I was emotionally a wreck after a girl had broken up with me, and I had no money, and no job, I took Gordon at his word that I was welcome at Deering anytime. He welcomed me, never said a thing in the way of discouragement and I stayed for about 6 months, I think.

When my I got ordained, Gordon gave the sermon or one of the Charges to the Candidate. My congregants from New York finally had their eyes opened about my ministry. I also received a chalice that I use to this day — a replica of a chalice that Desmond Tutu received when he visited New Hampshire. I treasure that cup to this day, and passed on the spirit of it in a friend’s ordination recently.

Gordon is the gift that keeps on giving. Recently, I posted something on Facebook about the amount of people that Gordon has touched and another friend said “thousands”. He was right.

Now, all of this is something that can only be experienced — words can not describe the indescribable. The describable parts of Gordon’s life are the balance that make him (like Camille) fully human.

Gordon believes in limits. He didn’t watch tv for a while because the news was too overwhelming and he didn’t
want to get depressed. So he said, “what God wants me to know, he’ll send me”.
When my first Youth Group went to Deering, Gordon came in a spoke to them. As he left, they said, “Did you see that guy? He flicked his cigarette ashes into his hand!” — a habit I had forgotten all about. Gordon always smoked (I don’t remember if he still does). Gordon was (and still is) always thin as a rail, with a sneaky-but-loving grin on his face and a waxed mustache that he twirls when he’s thinking. And there’s nothing like sight of Gordon roofing.

In addition, there were parts of Gordon’s life that simply weren’t pretty. If you ask, he’ll tell you so himself. These make Gordon far more balanced and compassionate as a human being. Gordon’s long-suffering wife, Cy, kind of reminds of the scene in the movie Gandhi were Gandhi is at home and his wife talks about his chosen celibacy or when he throws her against a wall in anger. Here’s this spiritual guy and she has to feel the quiet ramifications of his life on real people.
I don’t think Gordon ever physically hurt Cy, but Cy has had to cope with a man with a sense of the Spirit. Cy has always grounded Gordon, and welcomed his life and people like me because — well, because she’s that kind of person — and a missionary in her own right with a family history of missionary work in India. Gordon and Cy picked up “strays” — lost people like myself at times — while at Deering and brought them back to themselves.

Gordon has two sons in ministry — one more conservative and one more liberal, one heterosexual and one gay. He and Cy also have a daughter Claudia who is pretty darned spiritual and compassionate herself.

Gordon (and Cy) are involved in PFLAG (Parents and Freinds of Lesbians and Gays) all over the country. After their own struggles, they became incredible help for others. Not like Deering wasn’t enough chance to change people’s lives, PFLAG is like another lifetimes worth of changed lives.

As I write this, Cy waits with Gordon to learn about whatever consequences of a recent surgery are happening. I write today because Gordon — and others — always taught me to make the most of a day and say “I Love You” to the people that I could. I wanted to do that for him today. I hope he reads it as I go off to work doing the things that he taught me. Around the UCC, in India, all over the country, people are doing the same thing because Gordon affected their lives. He (and Cy) are truly incredible people, and Gordon is a one-of-a-kind personal mystic.

So, today, I tell the world about a genius and a mystic — two incredible people that you and I share a planet with. You probably know some yourself. Take the time to tell them how much you admire them. I’ve got to go to work.

Peace,

John


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