Dear Future UUCW,
Thank you for being my very own personal Rainbow Connection. When I was a little girl, nearly a century ago, there was a man named Jim Henson who made puppets. Jim Henson’s Muppets became world famous, and for the times they existed in they were pretty revolutionary. They came in all shapes, sizes, and colors of humans, animals, monsters, and even aliens! And, they all managed to connect in harmony despite their hilarious mishaps, misunderstandings, and disagreements. They all still held each other with acceptance and love.
There was a frog named Kermit, and he once sang a song about rainbows. This was right around the time rainbows were first adopted by the gay community as a symbol of the beauty of diversity. Rainbows went on to become a symbol of acceptance in many communities after that. And, I can’t help but think of the lyrics of that song as I reflect on what rainbows have come to represent to me personally:
Rainbows are visions
But only illusions
And rainbows have nothing to hide
So we’ve been told and some choose to believe it
I know they’re wrong wait and see
Someday we’ll find it, the rainbow connection
The lovers, the dreamers, and me
When I first joined UUCW, I got a chance to be a part of a visioning session, and soon afterward a new mission statement emerged.
Grounded in love, UUCW is a joyful community committed to spiritual growth, inclusion, and justice.
It was right around this time that rainbows, and the term “spectrum,” became common words within my own family, along with the word “ally.” It was right around this time that my children and I were learning about what it means to be on a spectrum, in more ways than one.
My family is a racially mixed, neurodiverse, gender non-conforming, bunch. We knew very well what it was like to be excluded, ignored, and bullied. We were often anxious, depressed, and not very grounded in love. Social justice became a passion of ours, as we knew that all too often it wasn’t really we who needed to change to fit in, it was the world that needed to change its heart to simply let us belong.
Of course, now it’s common knowledge that the human spectrum is infinite. But, back in those days, minds were much narrower, and thinking was dualistic and stuck in “black and white.” Often the best that inclusion and diversity had to offer was shades of gray. What was considered “right and wrong” was highly influenced by the particular culture or tribe that a person happened to have grown up in, and their biases were often unconscious.
Around that time, I realized that I had been searching my whole life for my tribe. There had to be people like me who could see in color. People who could see me, accept me, value me, and love me for my authentic self. Somewhere I could live in full color, instead of trying so hard to be a steely gray cog in a machine. Lots of people who were labeled “on the spectrum” back in those days suffered greatly with their mental health because of the lengths they had to go to in order to fit in.
Back in those days, people were considered disordered if they didn’t fit in. A lot of times people existed at the fringes of societies if they didn’t fit in. Back in those days, a suburb in Wisconsin was unlikely to be a place where you’d come across such misfits. Racial and ethnic minorities, as well as people who were openly divergent in their thinking, gender presentation, and sexuality, found themselves awkwardly unwelcome.
Back then, there also weren’t a lot of spaces that were emotionally safe and welcoming to spiritual minorities, addicts, poor and homeless people. Especially those who had once been convicted of crimes. Lots of people barely existed on the fringes of society, largely ignored, and often blamed for their own dire circumstances.
In fact, back then, even people who were neurodivergent were simply considered “crazy” and/or “disabled” People with disabilities were often given meager living allowances and relegated to poverty, group homes, or “special” communities, especially when their own family and friends weren’t able to care for them.
I consider myself lucky to have found a safe space to belong in Brookfield back in those days. UUCW was the only community I knew of that actively invited and celebrated all kinds of diversity in Milwaukee’s Western Suburbs. They were open and welcoming to members and visitors alike in so many ways.
In the beginning, there was a pretty limited range of engagements. Traditional worship services, religious education for kids, and compassionate child care were great. While I felt very welcome and fully accepted, I struggled to find activities and groups that I authentically connected with.
The members were kind, loving, and had big hearts. They meant well, but as a neurodivergent person, it was often difficult to feel comfortable or like I really belonged in typical social gatherings. Even though I looked like I fit in with the largely affluent, white, suburbanites who made up the majority of the community back then, it was not how I felt inside. Neurodivergents call this masking.
I was lucky to find this community though, because one on one, everyone I talked to seemed to appreciate the perspective I brought. I had lots of energy and so many ideas for programs that would focus on supporting the social, emotional, and spiritual needs of “divergent” folks who were so often at the fringes of the typical experience of Milwaukee’s West Suburbs. Together we slowly began to create opportunities for connection with folks who were often unintentionally excluded.
Together, we created this safe space to belong that you enjoy today! For the past 30 years, I’ve enjoyed connecting with so many people with such diverse backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives. Together we harmonized our energies in moving meditations, breathwork, chanting, and sound baths.
We enjoyed special social events where we got to connect with each other in healthy ways that were comfortable for me but might have been considered weird to the average person back in those days. Instead of going out to the bars to meet people under the influence of alcohol and other drugs, I found myself making, sampling, and enjoying healthful non-alcoholic beverages and snacks, such as smoothies, teas, granola bars, dried fruits, trail mix, etc.
In this safe space, I belonged! I found myself sober and still relaxed. I realized I didn’t need “social lubricants” when I was with “my tribe.” People who held me with love, in all of my strangeness, brought out my authentic shine! I found myself playing conversation games with other socially awkward folks at one table, while at another table nearby, others found joy in role-playing games like Dungeons and Dragons.
I found myself learning more about other languages, traditions, and cultures. I found other people who loved to talk about the big questions like I did. We discussed metaphysics topics such as Mind vs Matter, Identity, Causality, Necessity & Possibility, Determinism & Free Will, and Natural Philosophy.
I met folks who were called “experiencers” back in those days. People who had experiences that were hard to describe in socially acceptable terms. Science was very focused on provable reality back in those days. Most experiencers were written off as “crazy” and largely disbelieved. The only other folks who were safe to discuss those topics with were others who had also experienced those things firsthand.
I found a safe space to share my strange experiences and stories, and I listened to other’s experiences and stories of uncommon realities. We held each other in love and without judgment. I heard folks describe their near-death experiences, spiritually transformative experiences, alien abductions, and visits from deceased ancestors, ghosts, demons, and angels. Some folks even had experienced alternate realities from other universes! They were, as was I, grateful for a place to be safe to speak openly and honestly about such things. Such topics in those days were apt to get someone labeled “crazy” in other spaces.
Of course, nowadays, it’s common knowledge that there are many paths to “truth,” and no two human experiences are the same. Now, we understand the interconnected nature of humans with other beings on this planet, and throughout the Universe. That wouldn’t have been possible if communities like ours weren’t open to having respectful dialogue around divergence.
I like to think that UU’s were pioneers of those times. Especially with their “ask me anything…” program. I thoroughly enjoyed volunteering at those events and inviting honest and open questions around what it’s like to be “atypical.” For example: What’s it like to be non-conforming to gender? What’s it like to have Autism? What’s it like to have a psychotic break? What’s it like to be a survivor of childhood traumas such as homelessness and rape?
Radical honesty in those conversations helped to create community and connection around alternative perspectives and experiences for myself and others. Being able to lead and participate in alternative spiritual practices that promoted balance and overall wellness helped me create and maintain a meaningful life. I found a way to join my mind, body, and spirit/soul in ways that I was never able to find in Christian or other traditional churches
In this community, I discovered and shared Books & Authors, Blogs, Podcasts, YouTube channels, Classes, and all kinds of other avenues to expand my knowledge and understanding of the world I lived in. I watched the community grow as these programs attracted interest from visitors to UU and more and more people flocked to this unique community. They felt the same love, connection, and belonging that I began to feel.
I met psychic mediums, energy workers, and all kinds of other spiritual folks. I met Jews, Muslims, Christians, and Buddhists. I met all sorts of people of color, indigenous Americans, African Americans, and immigrants from India, Pakistan, China, South America, and Mexico. I also met talented artists of all kinds! Poets, musicians, painters, sculptors, actors, and dancers. And, I met doctors, scientists, and philosophers. I found that we all had one thing in common. We were all somewhere on the spectrum of human experience.
Sometimes I’m tempted to take for granted the abundance, peace, and freedom we enjoy nowadays. Sometimes I forget how hard it was to survive as my authentic self when I was a child, how hard it was just to be me. Sometimes I forget all the wars, the crime, and the fear perpetrated by people trying to force others to conform. I forget how toxic relationships and exploitation were so prevalent in the world I lived in only a few decades ago.
It’s hard to believe now looking back how a simple thing like love and acceptance could make such a big difference. I forget how hard it was to believe that dreams of peace were possible. That someday we’d find it, that Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers, and me.