My mother’s mother was named Elvira Jackson. She was born on July 17, 1896 and lived in Mobile, AL until she died in 1963. We called her “Mamma Vera”. She had a total of fourteen children. Six survived past their first birthday. One of her sons, Herbert, drowned in a swimming accident when he was 14 years old. Mamma Vera’s husband, Vivian Raymond, was killed fifteen months after my mother was born in 1934, on December 5, 1935. He suffered a fatal head injury after falling from a garbage collection truck. Mamma Vera received no insurance payout or pension from the trash collection company he worked for. There was no social security at the time. My grandfather Vivian was one of those “expendable” human beings that Karen Baker-Fletcher wrote about in Sisters of Dust, Sisters of Spirit.
In one of the crown cities of the Jim Crow deep South, Mamma Vera raised six children as a single mother during the Great Depression. She worked as a maid for white people. Meanwhile, her own daughters kept house and looked after the younger siblings. My uncle Vivian Raymond Jr., was the oldest boy. He quit school in the sixth grade and went to work doing anything he could to make up for the lost income caused by his father’s death. It was said that Vivian could, and would, do any kind of work. He would bring all of his money home, except for enough to buy pound cake and buttermilk from Pullman’s Bake Shop (which has been in continuous operation since 1918).
Mamma Vera was gentle, loving, and kind. She was a remarkable person. I knew that about her... and she knew that about me. She would say to my mother “I don’t know what he’s going to be when he grows up, maybe a preacher, but I know he’ll be somebody special. Look at those little ears... that’s one way you can tell!”
In the early 1960s my father was stationed at Brookley Air Force Base. As a young sergeant with a growing family and a small paycheck, we needed an affordable place to stay so we moved into Mamma Vera’s house while she lived with my uncle Leslie and his family. She continued to work hard until just before she died of pancreatic cancer. We stayed on in her small house afterward.
At that time I was about 6 years old. I wanted to go to the funeral. I wanted to understand what happened to Mamma Vera, but my parents did not allow me to see her. My mother told me that Mamma Vera had turned into dust.
The house we lived in had a small front living room that faced to the Southeast. The sun shone through the curtains in shafts of light, especially in the morning when the light was metallically crisp. There, suspended in the light, is where I would see Mamma Vera in the dust. From that time on, whenever I see dust sparkling in a shaft of light I say hello to my grandmother. She always answers by twinkling at me.
It has always interested me that my mother's cursory explanation of death has had such a profound impact on me. It was my introduction to the mystery of life. Instead of the typical Catholic explanation of death as a way to go back into the bosom of God/Jesus/Spirit, my mother inadvertently propelled me headlong into a personal theology that links the earth and its elements to the human spirit. It just made sense to me that the connection between my beloved grandmother would be constantly reaffirmed by such a simple and ever-present bond.
It was not too much later in life that I rejected outright the Catholic heaven and hell version of religion, along with what seemed to me the nonsensical mythology of original sin. What was essential to me is love, and its child creativity. The God that others seek is, in my mind, a love that is absolutely essential and primary to the sustenance of all existence.
Quantum physics now appears to support my contention that consciousness is one of the building blocks of the universe, along with space, time, energy, and matter. The inclusion of consciousness as a key component of the fabric of reality allows scientists like Robert Lanza, Roger Penrose and Stuart Hameroff to theorize that consciousness actually defines how matter acts at the quantum level. Lanza, famous for coining the term “Biocentrism”, believes that everything we experience is created by our consciousness, and that space and time are tools used by our minds to interpret the universe.
Creativity is the expression of infinite love (consciousness). To me it manifests multi-dimensional planes where matter is constructed and energy, in all its forms, exists. Those forms include everything that exists in the universe of universes, all life, and all levels of intelligence. Thus, all worlds and the lifeforms that inhabit them are the product of creative energy. All matter and energy are inextricably linked together. Indeed, physics informs us that the two are fundamentally interchangeable.
So on the deepest levels, our planet and its inhabitants share consciousness. We are constructed from the same elements of matter derived from the stars. The intelligence that has emerged from the design of our brains is immersed in the field of infinite possibility that, on the quantum level, brings forth all things that can be conceived of and/or manifested. Eco-theology is but the study of self-apparent truth: the science of God manifested as a living system to sustain life.
Any act of constructive creativity is the most pure form of interaction with the eternal love that sustains us because, unlike prayer, it does not invoke activation with an object of worship. Instead, creativity is an act of ever-present participation in the joy of connection we share with all things. When we separate ourselves from this divine presence we suffer. I believe we have harmed our planet because we have erected systems of economics, government, and society that separate ourselves from each other. The connections between us have been severed, so a fog obscures recognition of the essential consciousness that is the earth.
This truth of connection with the earth is revealed in dust, which we strive to hermetically seal ourselves from. We do not value the primordial need to dig our hands into soil, in the way many of us do not recognize that we must drink water, and so spend our days on the verge of dehydration. Studies show that we benefit physically and emotionally by walking barefoot on the ground and connecting with the earth’s magnetic field. Instead, we use shoes to shield us from that vital interaction.
I invite you to do as I will, immediately after I write this last paragraph. Take your shoes and socks off and find a patch of grass outside in the sun. Stretch your arms out. Put your head back. Open your mouth wide and suck in clean air (if you can), then breath it out slowly. Now look for our Mamma Vera. I will share her with you. She is never far away. Say hello. She will twinkle back at you. We are all connected.
Below is a paper that I completed for the Starr King School for the Ministry on May 12, 2018.
1Barna Group, “Church Attendance Trends Around the Country,” Barna Group, 2017, https://www.barna.com/research/church-attendance-trends-around-country/.
2Christana Wille-McKnight, “The Problem of Retention in Unitarian Universalism – Yet Another Unitarian Universalist,” The problem of retention in Unitarian Universalism – Yet Another Unitarian Universalist, July 11, 2011, https://www.danielharper.org/yauu/2011/07/the-problem-of-retention-in-unitarian-universalism/; Daniel Burke, “Can Unitarian Universalists Make It Another 50 Years?,” Huffington Post, August 29, 2011, sec. Religion, https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/29/unitarian-universalists_n_887267.html.
3UUA, “Unitarian Universalism’s Six Sources of Inspiration and Spiritual Growth,” UUA.org, February 19, 2015, https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/sources.
4Linda Woodhead, Christopher Partridge, and Hiroko Kawanami, Religions in the Modern World: Traditions and Transformations (UK: Routledge, 2001). pp 71-2.
Harlem Voices is a musical I have been composing that is set in the 1920s. Harlem Voices explores present-day issues of racism, LGBTQ issues, inept leadership, African-American military service in WWI, and racial profiling (among many other issues). It is about a brilliant young black vocalist who was traumatized by the Rosewood, FL massacre of her family members by the KKK. She is conflicted by falling in love with a white patron of the racially segregated club where she works in Harlem called the Black Jay Club.
Make A Contribution to This Project Now
I am seeking funding to complete the musical, which is, at this point, approximately one quarter of the way done. I am writing the “book” (play), libretto, and music... the entire creative product... and would like to be financially supported during the approximately 12-month period of its creation. You can make tax-deductible contributions to through my Hatchfund.org site.
I've been working hard this morning. I just stepped out of my front door to take a break and was immediately overwhelmed by the beauty of our walnut orchard and the blessings of my exquisite life here!
If you don’t care to read the musings of an old black man about race relations in the United States, please go somewhere else. This post is not for you. Go back to sleep.
On Sunday, my wife Carol stood up during the time in our church service for “Joys and Concerns” and talked about a streaming video we watched of a young black man who was unjustly detained by a policeman in PA. It was clear that the officer was looking for a confrontation with the driver, who had the presence of mind to stream this stop on Facebook and to call 911 when it was clear the officer was harassing him. Carol also talked about the events in Charlottesville the previous day and how she was afraid for me personally, and our country at large.
I then stood up and told the congregation that I would never own a firearm, and certainly would never have one in my car. I also said I’d never used drugs or have them in my car... just in case this ever became an issue. I’m afraid I was a little too obtuse. Two of my fellow UU members (bless their hearts) asked me what I meant after the service. These women were genuinely shocked when I told them that I have been stopped by police multiple times in my life, that I have been provoked by them, and that I have narrowly escaped from life-threatening situations with police by finding a way to psychologically disarm them. “You!”, they both said, aghast.
Whenever events like Charlottesville occur I do what I call “Racial Calculus” to illustrate to my white friends how I, and other black people feel. Imagine that a group of 500 black men gathered in Charlottesville, and that a great number of them were armed to the teeth with automatic assault rifles, and semiautomatic handguns. Imagine they were also wearing riot gear, camouflage uniforms, and bullet proof vests. I cannot think of what it might be, but imagine they also waved flags and wore recognized symbols of violent hatred towards white people on their clothing. Those men would be exercising their constitutional rights to assemble, enjoy free speech, and bear arms. Let’s admit it... that scene would seem insanely dangerous, terroristic, and threatening to most people. But why? Why is the thought of nearly 500 armed and ideologically dangerous black men so much more terrifying to most than the specter of 500 armed and ideologically dangerous white men? The answer is that unless “Racial Calculus” is applied, most of us simply do not see the explosive reality of racial hatred, and its corrosive effect on us all.
Oh yes – and imagine we had a black president who refused to acknowledge (truly acknowledge) that black people represented by these extremist groups pose a threat to our values and our way of life. It is hard to fathom that such a president could be worse than the one we elected eight months ago... but we did elect such a president. Trump may actually believe that race relations in the United States will be improved by “more jobs”, revealing a staggering ignorance of the subject. He apparently does not understand that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson (both slave owners) differ historically from the slave owning generals who attempted to secede from the union and plunged our country into a civil war. But what else can be expected from such a simpleton?
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!