Friday, July 31, 2015

New Life

You may recall a couple of weeks ago I bowed out graciously from my legal action in which I sued my Monthly Meeting. It seems that careful study on my own behalf has opened up a new option. It's called Small Claims Court. But like Pharaoh from Old Testament days, I am potentially being stonewalled by those opposing me, thought this does not deter my courage or my decision to see the matter until there are no matters remaining.

A few situations need to be explained. And I will define them to you as I did the five people being sued on Healing and Reconciliation addition to the clerk of the Meeting. Being that I am my own counsel for the duration, meaning I need to be my own lawyer, mostly because pro bono work for civil trials is almost impossible to find, I want to get across a few salient points. And because I was given permission by their counsel to speak to them truthfully, I speak my mind freely.

This legal action was never about money. Regardless of what some may have thought, I did not see myself as some cheap extortionist using fear to accomplish my aims. I much preferred the idea of a letter of apology given to me freely. That seemed the fairest way for both parties to get some of what they needed, to put together the best and fairest form of Quaker process, compromise. Though it has been rejected twice, the offer stands on the table.

We are headed for a period of small claims litigation, our final stop. Though I can ask for up to $5000 in retribution, I will ask for no more than $20. However if their counsel wishes to structure their defense as such, small claims is a smaller version of a full trial, without the immense expense and simplified for those like me like me who might need to serve as their own counsel. What monetary gains they might get, split five ways, will be minuscule, should they lose, and the same will be the case should I win.

I know their lawyer is working pro bono, but it is customary for him to take his cut of the gains, and he may find himself receiving little more than the price of a lottery ticket. He seems to be a principled person, but he still has to pay his side's court costs, which are somewhere around $300-$500 pre-trial and perhaps even to subpoena an uncooperative witnesses or two, which could cost as much as $50 a head. But with so little at stake, is there much difference between winning and losing?

Because my income is substantially less, I can get most of my court costs waived if I speak to the judge first. At minimum, he and I may be wasting a day of our time, walking from department to department, and his counsel for the trial and I might waste another jumping through all the hoops and filing the paperwork. A I mentioned above, I will probably need to pay to represent myself, which I am prepared to do. I may also need to pay $75 for a jury trial, which I am also prepared to do.

I urge the committee again, plus the clerk of the committee, to consider mediation. I would be satisfied with a letter of apology, then to be done with what has dragged on to over two months. I have made my intentions plain by filing suit and by leaving my former Monthly Meeting. I sent their counsel half of the medical paperwork that has recently taken place in my life. I wonder if they received it?

Though I do not obviously have the sworn testimony of a doctor or medical expert attached (though it could be easily produced), the evidence is powerful and strong on its own merits. I have had four surgeries in five years, plus developed five new chronic illnesses in four years. Whether you believe that correlates to your own observation, it's quite feasible to make a case for myself.

Court, even for one day, is a hassle for everyone. Having to plow through the evidence once more will be emotionally exhausting. And, be it known, I never sought to force my former Meeting to pay my medical bills. While my prior counsel did informally assess my medical bills at $50K, many people don't realize how expensive surgery and hospitalization are. The cheapest surgery I have ever had was $14K. The last hospital stay cost $12K a day. Out of pocket, for this year alone, my prescription drug bills have been $8K. Honestly, if I were to demand a true claim, as I was considering prior to full trial, I would ask for $100K-$150K.

I'm not asking for much. Perhaps a compromise is possible. Whether you believe it or not, I honestly believe seven years of living in the company of my former Meeting created many health problems. My therapist believes that I was re-traumatizing myself and encouraged me to leave long before I did. I have felt more at peace since I left two months ago and I do not regret my decision. The legal system is a blunt instrument, and I know that now. I may have needed to learn it for myself. The reasons I left need no further retelling, except, perhaps, at court. I do not wish any of you ill and never did.

Talk among yourself and, I urge you, please work out a settlement both parties are satisfied with at the end. I do not wish to become the sort of man with a grudge and manifesto who passes out mimeographed pamphlets to disinterested people at rail stations. When I share this continuing story with you, it is merely to educate those who want to know how litigation proceeds within Quaker settings. I have changed since my first post. I am no longer angry.  

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Religious Ideal

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. Matthew 10:14

God never promises the perfect house of worship, city, and demographic makeup. Our own founder, George Fox, wandered for years in eternal search for those very things. My father's mother, the daughter of a Pentecostal minister, dragged my father from one preacher to another, hoping to find a cure for her numerous chronic illnesses. And yet her faith never wavered, though I would question the tactics employed by those who claimed to heal with Jesus' steady hand.

I had dreams, too. I wanted to be a trusted elder, in the best sense of the word. I wanted to see a generation of children born, reared, sent off to college, and hopefully to return when it came their time to be mothers and fathers. I wanted to be weighty in the best sense of the word, too, a person whose opinion could be trusted, whose wisdom was impeccable.

My dream is the dream of many. One of my Friends wishes she could live in a tight-knit Friends community roughly 200 years ago, a place where every child was known by name, as was every adult Friend. And here we could be peculiar together. Here we could be plain together. Here it didn't matter that we stuck out to the outside world.

What is your religious ideal? Have you experienced it in your own life? If you have, you've been extremely fortunate. Most people I've talked to have experienced times of great discord within their own Meeting, no matter how small, no matter how large. It might be foolish to believe in this ideal, and yet we yearn for it. For a while, we see it, we fall in love with our Meetings, just as much as we would another human. But within a year or two, the honeymoon is over and everything has cracks in it, cracks large enough to peer through. And the most ambitious of the reformers begin work there. Some succeed. Many fail.

In my own life, it's a matter of proportion. Like plants, those plants that flower beautifully must be able to choke out, or at least rescind the growth of the weeds. I believe what all know what weeds are. And without a spade or hoe or shovel, and, even more crucially, the willingness to use them, weeds take root very easily. There was a time we tended our gardens. But then we confused flowering plants with blight, and our numbers shrank.

So we over-corrected. We pretty much let anyone join and instead of ripping the roots out as needed and pruning, we let them grow wherever they wanted to grow. And others came, infested with weeds. These were allowed to stay as they were. And eventually, there were more weeds than there were healthy plants. But an army of weeds can overrule the robust plants, and so they did. We were no longer a healthy garden.

And this is a familiar story I hear from Friend to Friend, though perhaps not in those exact words. And reformers who fight weeds take aim against an uphill battle, seeking to undo the permissiveness that we created for reading out Friends for not marrying other Quakers or bidding farewell to those if they fought in the Civil War. We created both problems, which has complicated efforts of those who fight today to make changes.

This might not be a very popular sentiment, but I think that sometimes things either are or are not. I don't mean gay marriage or Republicans versus Democrats. I couldn't care less about political or ideological issues in a religious context. To me, these are secondary issues. Instead, I care about the fate of the Religious Society of Friends, and being afraid of exclusionary policies to the point of paralysis is one such issue. I'm bisexual. There, I said it. Should I be not allowed in Worship? Of course not. But tolerating any people who are the weeds in our garden, the toxic ones, they should be eldered (gently, with civility and love), and if they don't respond, they need to go.

Some years ago I was clerk of Ministry and Worship. A man was sharing too frequently during Meeting for Worship. Devising a way of confronting him was difficult. He didn't join a committee and never went downstairs for coffee. So I sat next to him and when it came time for shaking hands, I asked him if we could briefly step outside.

He agreed.

"Friend," I said. "Would you please consider spacing out your vocal ministry? What if you spoke only every other week, not every single week?"

He got nasty nice at me. He asked me under what authority I spoke. I identified the committee to which I belonged. Then he accused me of being the Meeting police, got huffy, left, and never returned.

That was never my intention. But when we do not tend our garden, weeds feel entitled to be there. He felt entitled to be heard, week in and week out. But weeds do not intend to beautify their surroundings. They are there for their own reasons.

Too many Meetings are full of weeds. They discourage flowering plants or force the genuine article to the side, away from the action. They make committee service a chore, rather than a pleasure. This is to say that every Meeting has its share of weeds. But when the healthy flowering plants are in control, so too is God's hand at work. God's purpose for our lives is at work in those situations.

Don't worry that a garden spade is a weapon. Don't confuse pacifism with passivism. Any garden needs pruning now and again. On work day, consider bringing your own tools, the ones that exist between your ears. If you don't do it, no one else will. No one's asking you to be a Southern Baptist. We deserve nothing less than our Religious Ideal.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

When Stalking Laws Fall Short

Editor's Note:

One day early. I lied.


Stalking has been a pertinent, highly publicized concern for women at least for the last twenty years. It has become many woman's personal nightmare, and paired with sexual assault, women's rights activists have pressed for legislation to strongly address it. It needs to be addressed, yet we lament a woman's very right to live in peace, one that could be under threat by deficient legal language, especially one not written for the internet age, but there is a problematic wrinkle to several particular pieces (and very crucial) legislation that already exists. The current statues are too clever by half.

Much like the phrase "rape", "stalking" is a loaded term that retains its ability to shock. One of the strongest anti-stalking law exists in the District of Columbia. It criminalizes any repeated communication to or about anyone, assuming a person you knew or even should have known would cause them to suffer emotional distress. Sometimes a scalpel can be used in place of an ax. This particular statue and what it legislates are often never cited when topics of this nature are brought in for the discussion.

D.C. Attorney GT Hunt, lawyer for three clients to follow, summarizes the legal situation like this.

Who could possibly oppose an anti-stalking law? Certainly not an elected official. The voting public is well-acquainted with stories of persons, usually women, who live in terror because someone, usually an ex-spouse or a rejected lover, is stalking them.

Often we learn of the stalking only after the victim has been murdered or seriously harmed. The stories fascinate, and are often terrifying, tragic, and outrageous. So every jurisdiction in the country has passed an anti-stalking law in the last two decades, and few officials or commentators have raised questions about their wisdom. But perhaps they should.
22 DC Code 3133(a)(3)(C) has been used to convict even polite, genial men who know better than to refuse to disregard boundaries. It has been used to convict an eccentric, but perfectly harmless man who left a series of polite messages for a D.C. Council employee, messages inviting her for lunch or coffee. It was also used as well to prosecute an ex-Scientologist activist involved in the Anonymous movement, a man who peacefully and consistently picketed their headquarters on 16th Street NW.

While motivated by good intentions, as Mr. Hunt suggests himself, I’m not happy with the notion that it’s a crime to ever hurt anyone’s feelings. This country was founded on the right to free speech and hurt many peoples' feelings. They called it the Declaration of Independence.

Passed into law in 2010, statue § 22–3133 refers specifically to Stalking. While some aspects of the law are clear, many others show some grey area. Emotional distress is a particularly difficult charge to make in court. Others are more cut and dry, but certain sections depend entirely upon interpretation. This is often what happens when we think that legislation is absolutely essential and called for by a clamorous public demanding judicial retribution. What this statute sought to protect was noble, but on at least two occasions, an overzealous interpretation completely missed the intent of the law. A difference exists between annoyance and fear. The statute confuses the two completely.

The Church of Scientology in Washington, DC, located at 16th Street NW, used this law to prosecute a particular zealous protester, anonsparrow1 AKA Brian Mandingo, who is one of the members of the Anonymous collective. Peaceful protest is freedom of speech held under the Constitution, and not meant to, in effect, stalk those who have a right to express their opinion. Fortunately, the judge threw out the charges against anonsparrow1, but a jury trial would have convicted him under this DC statue.

Charges filed against Jeffery Davis, also of the District of Columbia, are closer to the statue's original intent. Mr. Davis made five polite inquires, asking if a young District Columbia Council would have coffee with him. His first attempt was unsuccessful, though cordial, as all subsequent correspondences were. Later attempts were reported as stalking, though it should be noted that Mr. Davis was consistently pleasant in his persistence.

He was eventually arrested and tried under §§ 22–3133, the defendant stating that the young worker feared for her safety. This was not the judgment of the justice of the peace assigned to the case, who retained an audio copy of every inquiry Davis made towards her.

To say again, in both of these cases, as in the case made by our founding fathers to create this nation, it has never been against the law to hurt someone's feelings. While well-intentioned, § 22–3133, extremism in defense of liberty is indeed a great vice. At no point is the Violence Against Women legislation part of an anti-stalking piece of legislation. Instead, the stalking bill is a popular reform tacked on to pending legislation that upon further glance seems to legislate very little with a modicum of only a few words.

Read it for yourself.

(a) It is unlawful for a person to purposefully engage in a course of conduct directed at a specific individual:
(1) With the intent to cause that individual to:
(A) Fear for his or her safety or the safety of another person;
(B) Feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
(C) Suffer emotional distress;
(2) That the person knows would cause that individual reasonably to:
(A) Fear for his or her safety or the safety of another person;
(B) Feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
(C) Suffer emotional distress; or
(3) That the person should have known would cause a reasonable person in the individual's circumstances to:
(A) Fear for his or her safety or the safety of another person;
(B) Feel seriously alarmed, disturbed, or frightened; or
(C) Suffer emotional distress.
(b) This section does not apply to constitutionally protected activity.
(c) Where a single act is of a continuing nature, each 24-hour period constitutes a separate occasion.
(d) The conduct on each of the occasions need not be the same as it is on the other

We live in a climate saturated by fear. Cable networks peddle it. And then there are the violent movies and video games which we watch and our children watch. It doesn't take much of either men or women to constantly fear for their personal safety, to say nothing of the legitimate fears women have always faced. And while I'll admit that the rates of violence against women are certainly much too high, flawed statutes like these only cause resentment and defiance, perhaps even non-compliance.

Indeed, I am under the cross-hairs myself for being no one but me. I'm a large man, of a large build, with an intense personality. In these irrational times, someone might well accuse me, baselessly, with their own honest fear, of being the next workplace shooter. This is a reality I must face, as I attempt to smile more and be more jovial, when neither are my natural state of affairs. Fear often affects only the person who is said to be blamed.

And it should be emphasized as Robert Frost wrote in "Mending Wall", Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out/And to whom I was like to give offense.

Quote of the Week

"You can't make poetry simply by avoiding cliché- Theodore Roethke

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Video

Ain't got no home, ain't got no shoes
Ain't got no money, ain't got no class
Ain't got no skirts, ain't got no sweater
Ain't got no perfume, ain't got no beer
Ain't got no man

Ain't got no mother, ain't got no culture
Ain't got no friends, ain't got no schooling
Ain't got no love, ain't got no name
Ain't got no ticket, ain't got no token
Ain't got no God

Well what have I got?
Why am I alive anyway?
Yeah, what have I Got?
Nobody can take away

Got my hair, Got my head
Got my brains, Got my ears
Got my eyes, Got my nose
Got my mouth, I got my smile
I got my tongue, Got my chin
Got my neck, Got my boobs

Got my heart, Got my soul
Got my back, I got my sex
I got my arms, Got my hands
Got my fingers, Got my legs
Got my feet, Got my toes
Got my liver, Got my blood

I've got life, I've got my freedom
I've got life, I've got my life

And I'm gonna keep it
I've got my life
And nobody's gonna take it away
I've got my life

Friday, July 24, 2015

Something Big for Monday

The hospitalization threw me completely off, and has left me unable to read for long stretches of time. But I haven't lost my ability to write and am working on something massive for Monday. Thanks for being patient. Saturday Video and Quote of the Week will be posted, as always.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Quote of the Week

About Jesus Christ and the Church, I simply know they're just one thing, and we shouldn't complicate the matter.- Joan of Arc

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Mental Illness: To Tell or Not to Tell

I've heard a variety of conflicting opinions about sharing my mental illness within a Meeting. In the best case scenario, I am lifted up as a symbol of courage in the face of adversity. In the worst case scenario, I am pitied in a condescending sort of fashion. My perspectives are discounted and the only thing people can view about me is my illness. The same is true often when I speak about my sexual orientation. And generational mindsets matter. I was once in a psychiatric ward with an elderly man who refused to admit the nature or existence of his malady.

Let me paste in an anonymous conversation I had over e-mail earlier this week.

I am afraid that anything I write will upset you and truly I don't want to do that, but it is an upsetting situation, of course. Do you have good medical advice? I do think you have very wide mood swings that cause some of the problem.

While I appreciate the Friend's concern, if this is the bellwether of larger trends, I have a lot of work to do in my new Meeting home. I am in wait and see mode, which is probably the best thing to do before rising to stand and expressing a desire to get more involved.

Here, I respond to his reply.

It is interesting that you immediately noted that you were concerned for my mental health. Anyone who gets to know me truly as I am will find it to be a very small part of my life. I have been struck by how wrongly people have taken me, as though many years were only a few. I've written about bipolar disorder to reduce the stigma, not to be treated with condescension or further misunderstood.

If people truly took the time to get to know me (or, for that matter, others), this would have been entirely unnecessary. That's the sad thing. I see a lot of people who are afraid of being vulnerable, when being vulnerable is the only way to reach greater growth. And I guess that's why they want to hang a label around my neck.

My mother has also told me to keep my bipolar disorder a secret. I've proposed a compromise. For people 45 and over, I'll stay silent. But for those younger, I'll talk about my illness openly. Still, there is a need to reduce the stigma of mental illness in houses of worship, to speak to the vast amount of misinformation I mention above in the fragment of conversation I shared. My mother has also told me to keep my bipolar disorder a secret. In my lawyer's parlance, I should have kept my big mouth shut. So I've proposed a compromise. For people 45 and over, I'll stay silent.

But for those younger, I'll talk about my illness openly. Still, there is a need to reduce the stigma of mental illness in houses of worship, to speak to the tremendous amount of incorrect information I mentioned above in the fragment of conversation I shared. Even if we don't talk about it in older adults, it still exists.

I'm not sure why people are afraid of it. Do they fear they might develop it somehow? Do they lack the particulars and fear what they don't understand? Do they envision a schizophrenic at the bus stop talking to himself? It could be all of these and more, but for me it's what I call a life. My best friend growing up had an alcoholic father, and I grew up knowing the particulars, the behaviors. I am no longer uncomfortable in the company of those with alcohol and substance abuse problems.

I recognize many don't have those sorts of life experiences. Many more lived in WASPy families where problems were not dealt with directly, submerged instead with distraction. My father had a background in counseling, and we confronted everything directly. I happen to believe that this is the best possible way of dealing with problems, but others do not. My parents knew the signs of bipolar disorder and did not run from them. And it is their proactive approach that kept me alive.

I am thankful that they sprang into action and were willing to do whatever it took to make me well. I will be forever grateful. A less proactive family might well have contributed to my death and I say that with truthfulness. They intervened directly and I am still here as a result of their hard work.

Friday, July 17, 2015

The Final Curtain

And in the end, the odds were too long. It didn't make sense to continue to litigate, to sink thousands of dollars of borrowed money into a court case where I had equal odds of either winning or losing. The argument I made is that the Meeting itself is so prone to schism and hostility that a trial would destroy it. They didn't see it that way because they chose not to see it. But it would have caused massive fissures though I know not everyone there is beholden to wrong behavior.

And if I had been a more vindictive person, I could have produced that effect. Everyone kept daring me to sue, foolishly not realizing what they would create. Who knows what I have left behind in my wake. Hurt feelings, probably, and resentment as well. A Meeting member told me that certain people were very hurt, and if that speaks for the Meeting as a whole, I have accomplished my intentions.

By this I don't mean that intended to hurt anyone, but rather to teach lessons and hard truths. Some people go immediately for the money. This was never my aim. If I could have settled this for some honest discussion and a vow on their part to do better, that would have been sufficient with me. As I wrote earlier, I really wasn't after any kind of monetary compensation, but the system focuses on money as a unit of bargaining.

The charges (and I write this with no small discomfort) about women being afraid of me do not sit well. Five years ago, I went through an stressful episode where I very badly overshared and opened up to everyone. One of my closest F/friends is a woman about my age who, when I told her about these allegations, said that I had a tendency to be very needy in my daily dealings with her. It never bothered her and she was glad to retain our friendship, but it made me think. Not everyone acts with such generosity.

A calmly mediated talk between all parties would have been the best solution. But they never did it that way.

What I did was certainly not criminal, but the Meeting treated it as such. I was supposed to cc a particular committee handling the affair any time I contacted someone new. This was a ridiculous request and was, in part, why I sued in the first part. But as I've had space and distance from this former Meeting, I've realized that the stress and tension had re-traumatized me. I'm already vulnerable and they weren't smart enough to see that a toxic atmosphere like this was traumatizing everyone, regardless of past experience. And this happened by refusing mete out discipline to anyone.

I was singled out for calling out the problems and not letting them be brushed under the rug. But it took them five years to reach that point. This is symptomatic of their Meeting and it is no longer my problem. But in the meantime, changing the mind of people who don't want to change is an impossible matter. But walking away from the table is often the smartest thing a person can do.

Saturday Video on Friday Afternoon

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I'll say it clear
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain
I've lived a life that's full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Regrets, I've had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

I've loved, I've laughed and cried
I've had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way
Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way

Yes, it was my way

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

This Video Gives Me Faith for the Future

Way wiser and smarter than I was at 20.

Lawsuits Among Believers

You might say I've taken some serious flak from some corners, as my title suggests. And there is some validity to the sentiment expressed. The problem is, as you will read below, that I did take it before the saints, and could not get my point across to them. I wish I could tell you what is going on behind the scenes, but I am forbidden to share anything but the most cursory details. And it's probably not a good idea under any circumstance to have anything up beyond the vague.

When any of you has a grievance against another, do you dare to take it to court before the unrighteous, instead of taking it before the saints? Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases?  Do you not know that we are to judge angels—to say nothing of ordinary matters?  If you have ordinary cases, then, do you appoint as judges those who have no standing in the church? I say this to your shame. 
Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another, but a believer goes to court against a believer—and before unbelievers at that?
In fact, to have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be defrauded?  But you yourselves are wrong and defraud—and believers at that.- 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

What I will say is this. Our legal system is probably the least Quaker institution I can possibly imagine. One might as well toss the Testimony of Integrity out the window. Bluffs, dares, charges, counter-charges, bargaining, intimidation, fear. I've participated reluctantly, wishing there had been some other way, some means of getting my point across by any other method.

When compromise breaks down and boundaries aren't respected, one has few other options. Some people have privately expressed their concerns that the emotional strain might get to me, that it might exacerbate existing illnesses. But like Lester Burnham in the movie American Beauty, I'm really just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose. And if that ever changes, I can leave the table with the satisfaction of knowing I proved to myself I could do it, that it was a personal challenge and an intent to right the wrongs that had held so many down.

It's amazing how quickly people turn tail and flee, e-mails go unanswered, and people quickly change the subject when the mere mention of lawsuits and litigation are raised. My plan initially was not to go this alone. This house of worship has claimed many victims over the years. Much schism and turbulence have been observed. I was hoping to find one or two people who might join me. I found lukewarm support, fear of the unknown, and the only person I did initially attract had her own cause to advance and didn't much care to sign on for mine.

This is why I stand alone today. I've heard a thousand pleas for intervention in years of involvement, pleas that something major might teach a few bullies a lesson. I guess you could say I'm tired of talking and am more interested in doing. Even if I have to use a system for the duration which I find, frankly, immoral, I will get down in the dirt temporarily and start digging. I would not have done this for any other cause or for any other house of worship.

I received a word of advice the other day, and it's quite sound. Continue forward, but always look within yourself. If it ever becomes a matter of revenge or a matter of money, step away. I can say with every ounce of honesty I can muster that this isn't about me or money. It is the people much less motivated than me and perhaps too scared to stand beside me. It is about the reformers who stood in my position today over decades who either choked down what they were force-fed or who left in sorrow.

The legal system tries to make it about money or revenge. I suppose this was true even in the first century A.D., when my opening passage was written. Sad to say, I'm afraid to say that though houses of worship and religions encourage people to be nice to each other, they are rabidly political and often extremely unwelcoming. We live in an age when people my own generation and younger are drifting away from church, but few of those experiences come from direct experience, more as a kind of cultural dislike of organized religion.

Why did I choose to file suit? Partially it's because religion gets enough of a bad name already. Another reason is that I think that people need a periodic dose of life lessons and moral teachings to remind us that we constantly fall short. This isn't meant to humiliate us, merely to express that we often fall short of the mark, and while that's no one's fault, it is our obligation to start again at our beginnings. And those lessons, if genuinely applied, would not have injured me and others.

My calling is to bring people back to God. In that regard, I am no different from any other prophet, though I would never assign that term to myself. In a different era, it is true that people went to church with greater frequency, but I think the amount of true sincerity among believers probably hasn't changed much. Instead of saying we act one way and doing another or playing pious, today we don't disguise our real feelings. This is to say that I know I am speaking to some and not to everyone.

People of faith, let's really talk about the truth and the bodies we keep buried. An increasingly skeptical age needs convincing and needs to know that there is some reason why they ought to be in attendance. To conclude, I filed suit because I see how tenuous that balance is and how corrupting the wrong sorts of personalities can be.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Quote of the Week

"I do not in the least underestimate bisexuality... I expect it to provide all further enlightenment."- Sigmund Freud

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Saturday Video

Look at the sky turn a hell-fire red
Somebody's house is burnin'
Down down down down
Down down yeah

"Well," I asked my friend
"Where is that black smoke comin' from?"
He just coughed and changed the subject
And said "uh, well I think it might snow some"

So I left him sippin' his tea
And I jumped in my chariot and rode off to see
Just why and who could it be this time

Sisters and brothers daddies mothers
standin' around cryin'
When I reached the scene
the flames were making a ghostly wine

So I stood on my horse's back
and I screamed without a whack
I say "oh baby, why do you
burn your brother's house down?"

Look at the sky turn a hell-fire red, lord
Somebody's house is burning
Down down down down

Look at the sky run a hell-fire red, lord
Somebody's house is burning
Down down down down

Well someone stepped from the crowd
He was nineteen miles high
He shouts "We're tired and disgusted
So we paint red through the sky"

I say "the truth is straight ahead
So don't burn yourself instead
Try to learn instead of burn
Hear what I say"

So I finally rode away
But I'll never forget that day
Cause when I reached the valley
I looked way down 'cross the way

A giant boat from space
Landed with eerie grace
And came and take all the dead away

Look at the sky turn a hell-fire red lord
Somebody's house is burning
Down down down down

Look at the sky turn a hell-fire red lord
Somebody's house is burning
Down down down down
Look at the sky turn, look at the sky turn a hell-fire red

Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Emotional Drain of Litigation

I want more than anything else to have my life return to its normal rhythm. I've talked a good game about lawsuits and legal actions, but the process has been emotionally draining. I can't imagine how it must be for a celebrity, a person who lives in the spotlight every minute of each day. My legal struggles have been small potatoes, one person seeking what is fair and decent. It might be said that in the very normality of this act comes its power to inspire.

Activism is an easy line to spout until it becomes your life under the microscope. And in the end, you pray for a few good allies here and there to bolster your case, to push you from anonymity into greater prominence. I have my allies in this fight, too, but most people run from litigation. Chasing people down for affidavits to be filed later, all attesting to my good character, this takes time and emotional energy.

The Gospel of John shares an account of Nicodemus, a secret follower of Jesus, a man who only surfaces at the end and when there is much less for him to lose. Those have been my supporters in recent days. Should these be your struggles, you will see your own. And I do not imply that I am Jesus, probably most likely a very mortal being like John the Baptist.

As I said in my last post, in accordance with the wishes of my attorney, I had to go offline for a week or two. Now pre-trial deliberations have concluded and that ban has been lifted temporarily. If I opt for a formal trial, back will go my need to keep the trial proceedings and my reflections away from publication in any form. I've worked hard to build a blog audience and I don't want to take it offline for any reason.

The issue facing me now is money. My opposition has found a well-regarded lawyer. He has agreed to take on the case pro bono, which I find to be incredible, as he would be forgoing an ungodly amount of money and tying up his time in the process. Someone with connections must have cut a deal. I have not been around these parts for quite as long and haven't had years of working hand-in-hand with someone to make those connections.

They were never going to concede me an inch of turf without a trial and I knew to expect that. That would concede they were culpable in their flaws that led to one physical ailment after another, and the kind of self-reflection and humility that goes along with it is not exactly a common trait. But be it said that I knew that the odds were against me from the minute I hired a lawyer because our civil trial system is built on income and insider connections. Some idealistic so-and-so might represent me in a criminal matter for free, but not in a civil trial. As I said in my last post, I consulted two older men, both attorneys themselves, before I hired this latest attorney to give me some idea of the lay of the land.

And that, my activist friends, lawyers-in-training, and those involved with causes, is the bitterest lesson to learn. Do you have the emotional, psychological, and mental stamina to manage it, day after day? When your name ends up on a court docket, can you stand upright and say your lines when needed? In this particular case, which is a matter of personal injury, could you undergo the indignity of a lawyer or lawyers digging into your private life, with any and every topic above boards? Could you take being dressed down, to have your past conduct built to a false conclusion by trained professionals that leaves you looking deranged, crazy, and not credible at best?

This is an exercise in sadism and that we even dignify it is problem enough. I have much more respect for those who have been the whistle-blowers and the ones who stand out on purpose. We say we are civilized, but that is an untruth. Now we fight with business suits, not spears and daggers. And even pacifists like me who find the concept distasteful, and have set our swords aside deliberately, we have to observe two trained gladiators doing our fighting for us.  

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Civil Legal Actions within Houses of Worship

This post is, I must admit, one of my most difficult to write. The most painful portions are not even my own words. While a recent bout of poor health has kept me sidelined from regular posting this past month, I've been simultaneously involved in heavy litigation and instructed not to put anything up here. While I plot my next move, I briefly share where the last month or two has taken me.

The problem with being a writer of any sort, or a person used to being highly independent, is that the court system simply isn't drawn up that way. Should I hire the services of a lawyer, as I did, he or she is now my mouthpiece. I can't talk to the other side's attorney directly and my own private wishes must first be vetted by my own counsel. I suppose it might be easier if we had no concept of what law is supposed to be, no years of television programming and movies distorting the real process.

Two occupations could not be any different. I have found it a difficult challenge to give in to a system that I don't understand and avoid creating problems based on technicalities. Yet, I think it worthwhile that everyone goes through civil litigation at least once in his or her lifetime to see how we, as a society, have chosen to resolve our grievances.

Much of it turns my stomach, and I this I say with my apologies to the lawyers reading this, but it is the system with which I find fault, less so the personalities. Two very honorable and knowledgeable attorneys gave me advice before I began this excursion. In fact, one of them kept me from stepping into the middle of what could have been some financially injurious quicksand.

I have told about my beginnings. To follow is the guts of the legal action. Sadly, all of the allegations I've alleged about them are true, and I say them knowing that some will use this particular circumstance as further proof of the damaging impact of organized religion. But in reality, this is only one very bad Quaker Meeting. Many houses of worship are loving and compassionate, not mirthful and hateful, as is the case here.

Here is one of the letters my attorney filed to theirs. Be it known that as a writer I would have written this much differently. I've blocked out all identifying marks to protect confidentiality.

Dear Mr. :

We represent Mr. Kevin Camp, a Quaker pacifist, who joined your Church in 2008. He expected Christian love and understanding but received extreme hostility from many Church members.
One member made statements that Mr. Camp was “crazy,” a second stated that he was “gay,” and the Healing and Reconciliation committee indicated that he had mistreated female members of the congregation. He never expected such behavior from members of a Quaker Church.
These acts were intentional, causing my client emotional distress. As a result, Mr. Camp endured pain and suffering, including high blood pressure and headaches, and had to undergo two operations on his stomach.
Mr. C was forced to leave the Church because the members were very hostile to him. For example, he participated in a Christian group full of people who were supposed to share their life experiences as a house of worship.
Mr. C shared his own experiences with the group during Meeting for Worship, and a member claimed after a vocal ministry that Mr. C caustically noted that he was sharing too much without a name tag on his body/person.
NF, a member of Healing and Reconciliation, acted as a mediator between my client and the Church.
Mr. F stated that the women at the Church claimed they were afraid of Mr. Camp. My client was dumbfounded why anyone would be afraid of him and asked for Mr. F to explain precisely what these women were afraid of. Mr. F refused to answer the question.
The Church also distributed slanderous letters about Mr. Camp to a listserv, stating that Church members were afraid of him and that he should stop participating in Church activities.
Mr. Camp’s medical bills resulting from the stress created by the Church are more than $50,000. The Church is wholly responsible for this amount, and my client demands that he receive proper restitution for the pain and suffering he has endured over the last seven years.
  Thank you for your consideration and attention to this matter.
Respectfully submitted,
Too much here cannot be unpacked in a few words alone. A person encounters a history with others over the years. Seeking to explain them all at once is foolish and couldn't be done in any case. My intention is not to seem like a misanthrope. This legal action was a decision I did not arrive at easily, or as we Quakers put it, without proper seasoning.

Read this letter in one setting, if you wish, and see if it pushes any of your buttons. It may push a few. Remember you can only read this without any context, so your immediate emotional response is probably going to be where your understanding rests first.

I mentioned earlier that I had some issue with the legal system. Here is what I mean. Trials and formal litigation are expensive. I do not have the system on my side. While they have the benefit of gold standard pro bono representation, I do not. It has been my understanding in recent days that the lawyer you get is usually the lawyer you pay for, except for a few who love the fight enough to take the underdog role, beating the favored team at its own game, over and over again.

I may have my way with crafting words, but they give me more satisfaction than putting a case together. Too much work, not enough payoff. Unless I'm writing short fiction or non-fiction, I usually see my works end and start within a few hours. I would grow restless otherwise. And after a while the constant conflict would wear on me. It's been difficult enough to go through a single day without a phone call or an e-mail of the day's progress.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Quote of the Week

H. D.,

O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.

Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.

Cut the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Saturday Video

I can't do a thing today
I can't see anyway
I haven't eaten all day
In love is so tough on my emotion

I can't listen to what you say
I can't understand you anyway
I haven't spoken all day
In love is so tough on my emotion

Feeling good, feeling bad
Feeling happy, feeling sad
I'm so happy, happy, sad
In love is so tough on my emotion

I don't need your feelings
I do not need you

Thursday, July 02, 2015

When Demanding Your Freedom Backfires

I don't think I'd be able to write a column like this a few years ago. My annoyance and sarcasm would have destroyed whatever good intentions I might have had in crafting this essay. I would have opened myself up to substantial criticism, which would have made me feel even more defensive, and less tolerant. Those days are gone, fortunately, for everyone involved.

During my recent and mercifully brief hospital stay, I made friends with a fellow patient. He identified as transgender and preferred to use male pronouns. Fine by me. Only a month ago I returned from a workshop that talked specifically about gender-neutral pronouns. I wrote my own preferred set down on my nametag with a black sharpie marker, as did all the other participants. That act was part of an exercise and talk by a speaker.

I learned a lot of interesting, eye-opening information at that conference, but this education and training was presented in a spirit of calm and love, not defensiveness. Without sounding condescending, age probably makes a great deal of difference in situations like these. The transman I spoke to was only eighteen and barely out of high school. He was clearly still processing who he was, which is why he was so insistent that everyone use the correct pronoun in his presence, even though pronouns are an ingrained part of our speech that we learn at a very young age.

I'm glad that at that age, eighteen, people are now able to make the connection. I'm glad they know who they are and know what transgender even is. That would never have been the case in my own Gen X existence fifteen years before, which is really not that long ago. I didn't know what transgender or transsexualism was until I was twenty-four years old. And I didn't really understand it until about five years ago.

As is often the case for people who have been consistently misunderstood and marginalized by society, he grew instantly angry if his wrong pronoun was used, though sometimes this happened quite accidentally. If I'd been constantly reminded that my real gender was not the gender I'd been labeled by everyone else over the course of one lifetime, I'm sure I might get a little defensive at times myself, though if I could have dispensed my own advice, it would be that this anger was little more than wasted energy.

I cut this person a degree of slack. His gender identity is clearly very important to him, but if the passage of time has taught me anything, it's that priorities eventually change. I may confess to being bisexual and genderqueer, even if they make me uncomfortable to think about from time to time, but neither are they the center of my universe as they once were. They may always be sensitive topics, but my approach is more of immediate shame than it is anger. Everyone responds in different ways, but nothing has the power to offend like anger.

The problem, among many, is that attitudes like the ones displayed by this transman can come across to some as selfish and entitled. And what I saw in this fellow patient was sometimes focused purely on the ego, not on consensus-building with allies or constructive dialogue. He was not willing to meet his audience halfway. In a much larger sense, it is where this stereotypical perception of humorless killjoy feminist begins. To echo what I said earlier, though I am far from old, I recognize that part of the issue here is age and maturity.

But neither do I want to come across as some great all-knowing, sentient being. I make my own mistakes from time to time, as do all of us. Observing him, I realize I am not a Millennial, time has passed in my own life, and that I have made a tremendous amount of progress towards self-acceptance. What I'm seeing in front of me in the person of him is likely insecurity and angst, two qualities I possessed in ample quantities when I was in college.

I bother to share this anecdote to warn all of us, regardless of gender identity, how we can wrongly come across in our desire to be taken seriously and to be validated as to who we are. This man will likely be very different when he is my age, fifteen years from today. Discussions about gender and the appropriate terminology are relatively new. In another decade, I will bet you that we'll be talking about something different. I noted in a recent post how obsessed we were in the 1990's regarding young girls with eating disorders, and though those problems still exist, they're not given the same stress today.

Encountering people like the transman mentioned above makes me feel resentful, which, as an ally, I don't want. But it seems that in this society we increasingly institute social reform 150% or not at all, both of which creates backlash despite our best, most altruistic intentions. It might take a momentary period of saturation to make the changes we need, but I need a break from trans issues for a while. I will return to them eventually, but not for a while.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Unexpected Detours (Updated)

I ended up in the hospital for three days and was discharged yesterday afternoon. I know the last month has been full of light posting, but I ask you to bear with me for now. Let me catch my stride again.

So the final score at the end of one year of play is Surgery 3, Kevin 0. Kevin hopes for the end of surgery season. My mother will be flying in from the Deep South on Saturday and staying long enough to assist with my care. When I have time and energy, I will blog.