Something happened the other day that kind of caught me off guard — having not written anything for awhile, the stats for this blog were toodling along slowly. Then, suddenly, something I’d thought would happen in 2011 happened about a week into the new year — the “stats” counter on my blog went wild and I shpt across the 5,000 + line. What that means is that, since July of 2010, five thousand people have checked in this blog!
It breaks down to: 5122 views, 176 posts over 29 months or — on average 29 readers for everything I have written, some far more and some far less. In case you’re curious, these are the Top 10. Posts in general have more than the numbers listed there, because “home page” — whatever was posted that day– has about 1,800 hits. Still, here they are:
The reason I tell you all this is that I like numbers. Numbers are facts. Numbers are markers. Numbers are somehow more real than feelings, thoughts, etc, even if they are not more important.
So what does this have to do with recovery? 47 years ago, when I was 4, some God-awful things happened to me that kind of turned my mental world upside down. I don’t find any reason to say more than that, because, as of Tuesday, January 10,2011 — when the numbers hit 5, 000 — I am officially back from those events.
The long and short of how it all affected me is this: My good side became my “Shadow” and I unwittingly hung out an invisible “kick me” sign, which people have taken the opportunity to use over the course of my lifetime. For those of you not acquainted with the concept, Carl Jung coined the phrase, “Shadow” to describe the part of ourselves which we don’t acknowledge or accept. So, for about the last 47 years, I could acknowledge that there was Good in the world, but mentally I couldn’t accept that it could come from me. This blog — your readership — helped me change that. So, for everyone who ever cared enough to read my work, I owe a profound “thank you”.
For probably the first 10 years after what happened, I was the kid that people (I think) loved to hate. I was awkward,” too smart” for some, too nerdy for others, too greasy and too smelly for others, too “gay” in Junior High (I didn’t like to beat people up and –more often than not — couldn’t). And somehow, it all made sense to me, because I was those things. If it was bad, I was it. Everybody said so, so it must have been true.
An experience with God and my mother’s insistence kept me interested in church, and I almost had a girlfriend — (a girl who didn’t laugh at me when I hung out with her in the nursery, named Lynn Anderson), but I remained — for most kids — “weird”.
Freshman year in High School promised much the same thing. Even the kids no one would hang out with wouldn’t want to hang out with me. Then the world changed. We moved to Wilbraham, Mass (in the suburbs) just up the road from Springfield (the city, where we lived), which was just up the road from Chicopee (the poorer, smaller city where we had lived for my childhood). School wasn’t really different, but the Wilbraham United Church certainly was. There was a healthy, fun-loving Youth Group and short curly-haired Youth Minister named Bob Kyte.
One day, Bob showed up at our house and asked my mother if it was OK that I go to “Leadership Camp”. As recently as a few months ago, I thought that Bob was BS-ing my mother. Today, I consider the possibility that he might have actually seen something. In any case, that visit to the house sent me to Deering, my spiritual and emotional home for all-time. The Deering Camp and Conference Center’s Sr. High Camp #2 stunned me. I honestly didn’t know what to think for the first few days, because I had never seen such a community. They didn’t think I “had five heads”. The campers and the staff treated me like an actual human being. They loved me — not because I was this or that, not because I earned it or didn’t. They loved me simply because God created me and that was good enough for them. I don’t remember a person, for the entire week, picking on me. Not one. While I probably thought I had five heads, they wouldn’t have cared if I did. In addition to my call to ministry happening that week with the wonderful Peter Wells there, I cam across a book that would change my life: Peoplemaking by Virginia Satir, which I somehow connect with Mike Gatchell (maybe he brought it there or something. I don’t know). Satir’s book changed my life because it said that families could be whatever they wanted and they could be happy. I had experienced a new world at Deering, and I could dream about a new world via Peoplemaking. (Yes, I’m sure I thought the book was about sex. What else does a 14-year-old boy think about?)
From that time on, I knew there could be Good in the world, and I was determined to make it be that way. But my spirit remained the way it had always been: There was Good in the world, but somehow — no matter what they said — it didn’t apply to me. I could soak up the holiness at Deering, but in my heart of hearts, I “knew” I didn’t fit there, with those wonderful people.
But I made it to seminary, Gordon gave me a good recommendation, and I was on my way. I didn’t really fit there, either. I wasn’t female enough, gay enough, foreign enough, Black enough or whatever to understand what life was “really like”. I was, as Charlie Crook and I used to say, “The White Male Oppressor”. But, for a guy who was racist, sexist, homophobic and whatever I was believed to be, I suddenly had friends — Todd Farnsworth (who was really holy) and Joe Tripp and I became fast friends. Without really knowing what I was doing, I was leading the biggest prayer group on campus — and the only one, I gather for years before that. I thought that’s what you did at seminary, and so it’s what we did at seminary. And I knew in my heart that I wasn’t any of those “isms” because I had learned about Women’s Liberation and Men’s Liberation ten years before that at Deering. And I knew what health looked like from Satir’s work.
But I still believed I was weird — lucky to be surrounded by friends — but generally weird. My first internship confirmed that, but I sent my first bunch of kids to Deering and they were changed, just as I knew they would be. I had done something right.
I talked with my friend Leigh McCaffrey (from Prayer Group) one night about the dreams I’d had every night since I was a kid, when she said, “That’s not normal” and my past demons sprung to life. All the love that Deering-ites had shown me was now being changed with something new — honesty. While Deering folks would have liked me if I had five heads, I didn’t like myself having them. I wanted to be “normal”, whatever that was.
For a year I was out of the Parish and wrestling with those demons while attending school and being miserable. I was ready to drop out. Maybe I was wrong about God’s call. Then Gordon showed up and gave me perspective. Later, Todd called me from his former internship and asked if was interested in a staff position at Centre Congregational Church in Lynnfield. This, too, changed my life. Having done some good for kids prior, I was confident I could do something there. The staff there was wonderful. Mark Strickland let me do my own thing. Marilyn the Associate Pastor didn’t “get” me, but she realized she didn’t have to. The kids and I clicked and I have been absolutely blessed to have them and their families in my life since then. At my ordination, they were there. At my wedding, they were there. When they go married, I was invited. Bob, Derek, Dawn and the rest of the Cunninghams, I owe you soo much. Rob and Bill McCarthy, I can’t imagine life without you. Matt and Camille Utterback , the same. Lisa Dodge, Ken Warnock, wherever you are, I have been soo blessed by you, especially at my first church in Upstate, NY when you came up to visit. Oh, and special “Hi!” to Shawn Murphy and SAC. In seminary, when my peers told me I wouldn’t be a good minister because I didn’t think like they did, that Youth Group proved otherwise. They were changed and I was changed by that ministry — by the grace of God, not me, but God in me. And, yes, they too made the Deering connection and were changed.
In my last semester at seminary, a woman from one of my classes — Mary Dean-Lee pulled me aside and said, “I’m sorry to have missed you before this. You’re not who people think. You’re going to be a great minister”. And my outlook about myself — because she had nothing to gain from that comment — began to change.
I had my first church and — somewhat because I wasn’t used to “normal” — I failed. Looking back on it, the church was working through a trauma of its own and I made every possible mis-step I could. But the Youth Group was wonderful. The Sloths, the Christensens, (all of them), the Ripleys and Lisa’s family were great and remain treasured friends to this day.
A few years after that, in Rochester, I came into contact with AA and the 12-Step model and began to realize that God could forgive whatever I done in my lifetime — whatever that was, and I was sure I’d done something.
Years later, I went to grad school, tried a new-church start, and in each place, my sense of self (my IALAC sign, for those in the know) got stronger.
I wrote a book (Thanks Liz and Leigh. I sold another one this month!) and later decided to write a blog. With Liz’s and Cathi Chapin-Bishop’s help, I began doing this. I thought I’d write one thing, get it off my chest, and go on with life. Alas, it didn’t work out that way. People began thinking I knew what I was doing as a blogger!
In 2010, something changed, finally. I had begun to write this blog around that time, and I found myself with my very own “in-care student” (someone on their way to becoming ordained). Char Corbett is a fantastic, holy person and yet, here she was coming to me for guidance. I began to think that I might actually have something worth giving. After all, you can’t give what you don’t have. When Char got ordained, the blog had continued to grow. Now, after all those years in the parish, I was a minister. Thanks to Char who never realized what I secretly believed — that I had nothing to offer her, because she was a better minister than I was.
And the blog grew. Bob and I fought. Val and I agreed. Bob and I agreed. Rob wrote in. Cathi wrote in. I was someone, sort of, and not just in my own head. The numbers proved it.
Then my friend from California, Craig Hames, called and told me that I was some sort of holy person to him — the person who said the right thing at the right time, even if I didn’t know it. A while later, I figured it out. While I was never going to be the Gordon Sherman, I fit the same function for Craig: the one God sends to help when in trouble. I wasn’t the real Gordon, but I was somebody’s “Gordon”. All of these things integrated into my being and I was nearly recovered after 46 years of trying. I was blessed, fresh on the heels of my triumph wih Char, with Carrol Cyr as a new “member in discernment”. And the blog continued our development. She could argue with it, get mad at it, agree with it, “wonder where that came from” or whatever, but we both grew because of it. In a few weeks, Carrol will probably get to be a Commissioned Minister in the UCC.
Finally topping off the ministry thing was Susan Townsley at Ron Brown’s installation. I had known Susan from Bridgeport where — while I did some good work, I felt like a colossal failure. She had been on the church and ministry committee when they had put my standing “on the back burner”. There were two possibilities here: 1) They were organizing and had to because I was out of state or 2) I really was a bad minister and they were trying to cover themselves by politely withdrawing my standing. That day, she was there and gave me a hug and seemed generally glad to see me. She gave no sense of “ooh, what an idiot”. Maybe I’m conflating events, but I think that members of the Bridgeport Church were actually there that day, and they were happy to see me — or at least didn’t vomit or run away. However good or bad I had been, I had not been evil or destructive. I hadn’t destroyed God’s gift. If I wasn’t evil and I was doing something good in the world, maybe I was a good person. Maybe I did fit in the church. Maybe I did fit in with the Deering folks — and what could that mean but that I was a human being after all?!
The Deering Reunion this year and David Hauser’s just simple acceptance made me know that it might be true. It turns out that David was in my very first living group all those years ago and he remembered me as a seemingly normal person –even back then! If I have even some of the spark within me that Paula Richards and Sue Tatem and Buzz and Gary have, it’s possible that I’m way more human than I would have guessed. It astounds me that it’s taken me this long to figure it out, but that’s what abuse does, I guess.
In any case, I was ready to say I was back to full human status at the end of last year because people thought highly of my blog when I ran out of steam at year’s end. Then something happened that I didn’t expect — even without writing, the stats took off. Somebody was reading this. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I hit the 5,ooo mark! Looking back, my wife has liked it, my friends have liked it, Helen Caldicott liked it for goodness sake! Ed Smith said some nice things the other day. Clients have seen it and liked it. People I don’t even know have liked it — not always, but that’s to be expected.
It shouldn’t take 47 years and 5,000 people reading this blog for me to get over my past, but it did. For those of you who have read it, each little click of care, every good comment, every reasonable argument or simple “huh?” meant my ideas and I mattered. Every passing comment of “I like your writing” or “I like your blog” put back a piece of me. And so, I thank you, for all you have meant to me, readers.
And as it has been for me, I remind you that no kind word, gesture, or action ever goes un-noticed. It may confuse people. It may even, when people are really twisted, anger them. But it never, ever goes un-noticed. Know that all your kindness, your care, your support have helped me like myself and feel human. For people that already start off as human, your words, your kindness, your caring propel them into the stratosphere of love. You are truly miracle workers in my life and the lives of others. I’m good for awhile. Whether you ever read this blog again or not, keep up the good work.
P.S. Since they weren’t explicitly mentioned in here, Thanks to my best friend Alan Bercovici for all the golf games through the years and thanks to Tony Briand for always being sane during High School. My brother’s a great guy and my sister rocks. And my kids love “Florida grandpa”.