My Theology

ExPluribusUnum, or "one from many", is the Shortest Way to Describe My Theology.

I believe that we are all mere human beings trying to make sense of our existence; so we should keep that in mind when we interact with one another. We are one people, composed of many persons. "God" is found in the love we share. The only way to get to that holy place is to practice more love!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Do Black lives really matter in America?

If, God forbid, I were to be killed by an officer of the law, I wonder what types of things would be alleged about me in public conversation.

I wonder what sorts of opinions would be shared by the public at large. How would my character be maligned? What misjudgment would I have made that would turn out to be the ultimate cause of my justified killing? How would everyone come to believe that it was my fault? Because, of course, it would be my fault.

Some parents advise their children just to be themselves and act naturally if they have an encounter with the police. Other parents, black parents, have to teach their children that acting naturally is dangerous and can get them killed. Black youth have to learn to be character actors in order to survive. Literally.

“But A – you don’t have anything to worry about. You aren't in a gang, you aren't a thug, you don’t commit crimes. You’re respectable, you’re well-liked, you don’t get into trouble.”

Does it matter? No. Black skin is threatening. Black speech is threatening. Black culture is threatening. Shoot first, ask questions later. If I ever found myself “in a situation”, would I live long enough to play The Part? Would I live long enough to play that role that we – Black children – are all taught, and convince a scared cop that I am not in fact dangerous?

You see, all Americans grow up in a racist society. You may think that you are not a racist. Indeed, you may not be a bigot with overt racial prejudices spilling from your lips; but the institution of racism is alive, well and thoroughly embedded in our society and culture. Each of us is taught to fear The Black Man. The Black Man is a savage beast. The Black Man is a wanton criminal. The Black Man must be kept in check. The Black Man is a menace to society – his number must be closely managed. We are all taught to fear The Black Man.

We have all been raised in a society that has taught me to fear my own reflection. I watch you cross the street when walking toward me on the sidewalk at night. I watch you women clutch your purses a little closer. I watch you stare straight ahead and walk sternly forward, ignoring my “hello, good evening”. But it’s OK, I understand. I’m dangerous, and you’re just using common sense – the sense of self-preservation that every good American has. I do the same thing if I’m approached by two or more black men that I don’t know. Obviously, they are up to no good. Otherwise, they wouldn't be walking together, right? What business do two or more black men have prowling around like that? It’s unseemly. Obviously, their “hello, good evening” is a pretense to get my attention so they can taunt me, rob me, or beat me, or tauntmerobmebeatme all at once. Right? Obviously. What in the world could a random Black Man that I don't know –  a stranger – have to say to me on the street? Nothing good, obviously. Black culture glorifies violence, right? I mean, there's so much else for the average Black Man to focus on, right? So much sunshine and rainbows...right?

How much deeper the fear for someone who doesn't look anything like me at all? How much more afraid must someone be who doesn't have an insider’s knowledge, who doesn't know any “good” Black Men (what are those?).

None of this makes any sense. Am I just rambling? How do we make sense of race in America? How do I make sense of my existence? Do you have to make sense of your existence? Do you have to think of excuses to explain why you are? Do I have a right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? Am I still only 3/5 a person?

Do you ever have to ask yourselves these questions? Where do the answers come from? Are there any answers?

You, America, you brought me here against my will. I have played by your rules. I have been a slave. I have been a servant. I have been every sort of subservient, impoverished, groveling not-quite-a-man (in your eyes, my eyes, reality?), and I can’t win. And now you don’t want me here. Where can I go? Where is home? Who am I? When I stand up for myself, you beat me down. I beat myself down, because I have been taught that it is too dangerous to speak when I haven’t been spoken to. When I stand up for myself, I am playing the race card, because after you've suffered injustice for long enough, is it still injustice?

Or is it just Life?

Even when I am successful, I cannot win. “That’s pretty impressive, for a Black Man! You're so well-spoken! So articulate!” Sounds like, “Wow, I didn't know monkeys could talk!” Yes, the successful Black Man is a trained monkey. Right? When will I be allowed to be fully human? When will you respect me, America? When will I be able to stop looking over my shoulder? When can I stop carefully monitoring what I can say, what I can do, how I can move in the world? Because the world was made for You, and I’m an ingrate of a guest in your house. Of all the possible outcomes to this game, is there any where The Black Man can win?

I’d settle for a draw.

But still, I wonder what America would say about me if I were to be cut down before my time. Do you ever wonder about such things? When will I stop fearing my own reflection? How will you help me? What more must I do to help you?

Do Black lives matter? How can you tell?

Monday, June 9, 2014


During the work week, I usually set my alarm for 5:30 a.m. My commute is a rather long one, generally lasting at least 90 minutes, but more often than not around 2 hours or more. Each way. I try to use all of this travel time productively—by reading, listening to interesting podcasts, meditating, writing, learning new's time well spent! And I love my job, so it's all good. In any case, I usually hit snooze several times before I actually drag myself out of bed and get going. But today was different.

Last night, I went ahead and set my alarm for 5:30 and realized that I would really have to get up when it went off. Why? Because I was made aware that members of the Westboro Baptist Church would be traveling to Tenleytown to protest at Wilson High School, a school that I pass almost every day on my way to work in nearby Chevy Chase, and I wanted to show up in support of them in their loving counter-protest. So at 5:30 this morning I forced myself out of bed, showered and dressed, and headed to DC.

I had intended to wear one of my yellow "Standing On the Side of Love" t-shirts because the student organizers asked that people representing others groups and organizations wear identifiable (and hopefully colorful!) clothing, and also because it's become sort of a habit for us Unitarian Universalists to wear this uniform when demonstrating for a cause. However, my brain was not quite awake when I left the house, and I left the t-shirt at home. Oops. Once I finally arrived in Tenleytown I did indeed see some "love people", and I went over to them and introduced myself. I was happy to note that there were other people of different faiths present as well, witnessing to the reality that love really is greater and broader than the hate espoused by the WBC.

But the most amazing thing of all, and the most inspiring, and the most hopeful, is that this significant event was organized by and realized through the efforts of students at the high school. The high school version of me from the mid-90s could not possibly have imagined a world in which not only would it be possible to be out about my sexuality, but that I would have the support of my school, my neighborhood, and my broader community as a gay young man deserving of respect and of love. But this is the reality for the teenagers who attend Wilson High School (and their principal!), and for students in others schools with GSAs—including my alma mater, which I hear has begun a group in the past few years. When I recall the dark depressive moods I would endure, obsessed with thoughts of suicide but never willing to attempt it (thank God), my inner teenager weeps with joy for the possibilities available to high school students these days. That younger me didn't think I would ever make it past the age of 20, much less that I would grow into a happy, loved adult, and that I would be able to marry the love of my life legally. These kids don't have to wonder as much. For them, the possibility of future and present happiness is very real, and they know it. It truly is amazing how much the world has changed in this relatively short time.

And in the midst of all the chanting and the cheering and the general merry-making, there was one young lady with a simple sign that read "Christian values equal LOVE!" So simple. And so not the message of vitriolic hatefulness promoted by the Westboro Baptist Church. I'd choose the message of the students at Wilson over the WBC any day. These students get it. They can teach the world a thing or two.


"Christian values equal Love!"

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

I Got A New Name

Until 2008, when I formally requested that the state of Florida issue a corrected birth certificate, my legal name was not Adrian. Never mind the 29 years before then when everyone called me Adrian. Never mind every single form of identification I have ever had in my life. Never mind the fact that someone very obviously made a typographical error when issuing my original birth certificate (not to mention that my parents never thought to have it corrected!). No, my birth certificate prior to 2008 very clearly says that my first name was something other than Adrian. Or was it?

Before September 11, 2001, all I had to do was tell people there was a typo on my birth certificate, and they would use my actual name. On occasion, I would show a driver's license or other document to prove my sincerity. When I moved to Maryland in 2003, the Motor Vehicle Administration here simply transferred the information from my old New Jersey license onto a new Maryland one. I don't know why there was an issue, 5 years later, when I went to renew it. They insisted that all documents had to match; and because they'd begun scanning and storing this information, I would have to provide a birth certificate that matched, exactly, all of my others IDs. And so I requested that the state of Florida change my name. To Adrian. So that a piece of paper reflected reality. Weird, right? I know!

Today, for only the second time—and the last—I have legally changed my name. This time, the last name. It's one of those things I didn't really consider at first. All those years of struggling to gain access to marriage the beginning, it was purely a fairness and justice issue for me. I was single, with only the hope of one day finding the right guy and no viable prospects around. Having to change my name was least of the things I thought about when dreaming of marriage equality. Fast forward several years from then—I remained a committed activist but also became half of a committed couple. Once gay couples gained access to marriage rights in Maryland, what would I do with my name after getting married?

I fantasized about many different options, some more realistic than others. What if we both changed our names to something different? What if we combined our current last names...just smoosh them together and take a few letters out? Hilliham? Grilliard? Would we hyphenate? If so, whose name would go first? The younger one's? Would we put them in alphabetical order? What would the new names sound like? Joel has a PhD, so he's earned the right to be called "Dr."; how would my name sound with a title, should I ever get one other than "Mr."? What would it look like in print, if I ever publish anything, as he has? If we had the same name, would answering a land-line phone, should we ever get one at home, be impossible? (Which Mr. do you want?!?) Well, we decided pretty early on that Joel wouldn't be changing his name, so the theoretical change would be up to me if it was to happen. After all, we wouldn't be required to change anything...many people don't these days! The choice was mostly mine then.

I did not want a hyphenated name. That just wasn't appealing to me at all. The next best option in my mind was just to have a double last name, so the choice became whether my name should come first or his. I chose to have mine first, and immediately after being married I updated all of my social media profiles to have my new name: Adrian Hilliard Graham. I read somewhere that Maryland considers actual usage when determining the legitimacy of a name change (outside of the whole marriage process), so I began using Hilliard Graham everywhere.

But people still called me Mr. Graham. And I didn't mind. When Joel and I checked into our hotel suite the night before the wedding, I asked the guy at the front desk to look up the reservation under Hilliard. He couldn't find it. I took a deep breath so as not to get frustrated—we had a wedding block staying there, of course we had a reservation!—and then I asked him to look under the name Graham. Eureka! "Adrian and Joel?," he said. "Yes!," I exclaimed. He checked us in, told us to call if we needed anything, etc. And then he said, "Have a good evening, Mr. Graham." For a split second, I wanted to say "No, it's Hilliard. His name is Graham. And it's Dr." Why? Because I was exhausted, and feeling snarky, and I have grown accustomed to correcting confused people. But instead, I paused and let his words sink in, and I realized that I would be getting married the next morning (!), and this man's "mistake" gave me a visceral understanding of what that could mean. Starting a new life...taking on a new identity as a married man...taking on a new name...

Being a gay couple comprised of one white man and one black man, we, by default, bring a lot of diversity to our relationship and we present such to the world at large. Some day (no, not this year!) we hope to adopt children, and who knows what their ethnic or racial makeup might be. The world we inhabit being such as it is, our children will already have certain challenges to face simply because of who their parents are. Of all the reasons I could come up with for a unified family name, this was the best. Both Joel and I want to ensure that no matter the background(s) of our future children, there's something concrete that ties us all together and gives us strength as a family. The first thing that will do that is love, because love is most important of all. But the next thing will be our name. Of course, having the same name doesn't mean much at all without love; and the presence of love can overcome even differences in names to create the bonds of family. But every little thing helps!

So I let all of that sink in and soaked it up for several days. A few weeks, actually. It was only a few days ago that I settled on moving my last name to a second middle name and adopting his last name as my own. I was still considering the double last name thing, telling myself that I could use both or either, depending on the circumstance, and I didn't want to feel like I was losing my identity altogether. I guess I could still use both, but my legal last name will be the same as my husband's. In Maryland, you first have to acquire a certified copy of the marriage license showing both names, then you have to go the the Social Security Administration and have them update your name in their records and issue a new card, then you have to go to the MVA and have them update your state-issued ID, and THEN you can change everything else. I'd hoped to get everything done today, but apparently the SSA needs 48 hours to completely update their records electronically, so I have to wait a few days before I can get a new driver's license. In the meanwhile, I will begin tackling the rest of my life.

It feels good to have come to this place. It feels...legitimate. And legitimizing. I would never admit to needing legitimization, but having received it I can say however that it feels really good! Of course my activism does not stop here; there are so many more battles to be fought. But I can pause for a while and savor the moment, for as long as possible! And yes, I am still glowing! It feels good to be married. It feels good to wear my new name. It's going to take me a long while to get used to it, and to get other people used to it, but it feels damn good.

Adrian L. H. Graham

And for fun, an April 2013 video from Billy and Pat!