The Power of Teamwork

I’ve lived in Texas, Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri. In those places in the United States we had lots of rain or snow each year.

But for almost twenty years now, I’ve lived in California.

Like many places in the southwestern part of the U.S., we’re in the midst of a very bad drought. We’ve been told to severely cut back on the amount of water we use for outdoor plants, grass, and trees.

My neighbors and I love our plants, grass, and trees. They add beauty, shade, and peacefulness to our apartment buildings. So we decided to join forces to save our green spaces.

We’ve gone back in our history to find an old solution to solve a different problem: a bucket brigade, originally used to fight fires, can now be used to save water.

Several hundred years ago, “bucket brigades” consisted of two lines of people stretching from the town well to the fire. People passed buckets of water to those at the fire, and sent the empty buckets back to the well to be refilled. Later, with the invention of the hand pump, bucket brigades were used to keep the pump filled with water.

Thanks to the History of Fire-fighting article on the Merrimack (New Hampshire) Fire and Rescue website, I learned that in the early days, most fire companies were volunteer or privately operated. Fire-fighting equipment in the colonies was rudimentary at best. Leather buckets, hooks and chains, swabs, ladders, and archaic pumps were the tools of the trade in the early days.

Fire buckets in colonial towns had the owners’ names painted on them. Laws often required residents to purchase them and keep them in repair. In the 1680s in New York, the number of buckets a home or business needed was determined by the assessed fire risk. A baker was required to have three buckets on hand and a brewer had to have six in case of fire.

Firefighting finally got an edge with the invention of the hand pump, or hand tub. The foreman of each pump company would use a large “speaking trumpet” to give orders and urge his crew on.

As we know today, a bucket brigade was certainly not the best solution to fight fires back in the 1600s. But it’s the solution they had at the time. And the old technology of a bucket brigade can be put to good use in the 21st century to fight a different problem.

To save as much water as possible, my neighbors and I keep a bucket in our showers to catch the clean water that flows out while we wait for the water to get warm. We also keep one in our kitchen sinks to catch the non-soapy water from washing vegetables and fruit, or water that has been used to boil corn or steam vegetables.

This practice is allowing each of us to contribute many gallons each week to water our outdoor plants and grass and to keep a birdbath filled for our feathered and squirrel friends. We are making use of what we already have to help keep our shared green spaces alive while also adhering to water regulations. It gives us great satisfaction to know we are doing something to be the positive change we want to see.

It’s a small thing all of us can do to help conserve clean water, one of the most precious resources we have. So let’s join forces.

You can use a bucket and do the same. Even if you live somewhere that is not experiencing a drought, every drop of water everywhere is precious.

Together we can lead with our heart and use the old bucket brigade idea to help solve a different problem.

Look Outside the Box

“Hey Giorgio, the peanut butter box is here,” says Ralph, a huge St. Bernard who is looking out the window when he excitedly calls for his little Chihuahua buddy to hurry over. They live together in a home with a large picture window that gives them a view of their owner’s porch and front yard.

Tiny Giorgio jumps up onto the stool by the window and looks out. He sees that a box has been delivered from

Big Ralph knows that soon after a box like this arrives, their owner gives them peanut butter. So he thinks it’s a peanut butter box. But little Giorgio patiently explains that the box contains their flea and tick medication, which their owner will give them later with peanut butter. Despite the explanation, Ralph still considers it a “peanut butter box.”

If you live within delivery range of the online pet store, you may have seen their very popular commercial, “The Peanut Butter Box Is Here.” It rivals the touching Clydesdales ads during the Super Bowl. It’s one of my favorite commercials ever. So clever and cute, and the title — “The Peanut Butter Box Is Here” — is a phrase I catch myself singing to my dog Ruby when I coat her medications in peanut butter.

Go ahead and admit it, pet parents, you sing it too.

It’s such a warm and fuzzy (pun intended) commercial. And, in addition to being clever and cute, I find the exchange between Ralph and Giorgio a lesson in how we often only see what we want to see and don’t consider there may be a bigger picture to what we see. Like big Ralph’s focus on the “peanut butter box,” while Giorgio sees the box but goes beyond to acknowledge the flea and tick medications that are inside.

How often do you and I focus on only one aspect of what is in reality a much bigger picture?

For example, we see someone (partner, politician, preacher, etc.) as who we want them to be rather than who their behavior tells us they really are.

A friend of mine has an unmarried adult daughter who became pregnant. My friend felt no stigma around her daughter’s pregnancy; however, she had a problem with her daughter’s boyfriend, who psychologically tormented, manipulated, and was disrespectful to her daughter. She also had difficulty with his mother, who defended her son’s abuse.

The daughter also excused the boyfriend, saying she loved him. She refused to listen to her mother or sister, both of whom asked her to see the man for what his repeated behavior revealed was the truth of his character. Their words fell on deaf ears, because her infatuation with her boyfriend was blind. She did not want to see beyond the box of her infatuation.

But doesn’t infatuation see what it wants to see? Limiting our overall view?

With every fight, the daughter complained about how badly her boyfriend treated her. Each time, her mother and sister reasserted she had to end the relationship. The young woman repeatedly refused to let the man go. But my friend looked beyond her daughter’s infatuation.

She knew the young man’s abusive treatment of her daughter was not love. In this case, my friend exercised a tough-love option. Since her daughter lived with her, she asked her daughter to leave her home. My friend knows love is always positive, even when it seems to act in the opposite way to stop enabling negative behavior. She knew as long as she allowed her daughter to stay, the young woman had a place to return after each mistreatment and argument.

When this option was removed, her daughter was faced with a choice. Either continue to take and excuse the man’s abuse (see what she wanted to see) or begin to care for herself and admit she was being treated unacceptably. This was a choice only she could make. No matter how much my friend loves (cares for) her, even as her mother, she was still powerless to change the behavior, perception, or self-esteem of her daughter.

After living with her boyfriend, my friend’s daughter had a change of heart. She finally saw beyond the box of her infatuation to admit how she allowed herself to be mistreated by her boyfriend and his mother.

Over the course of life, I’ve learned the boxes we create about people, situations, and belief are bigger than we often allow ourselves to admit. Take the idea of what God is.

We are told what God is, but the truth is, we really don’t know. We see what we have been told to see, often without opening the box of belief to expand our understanding. Yet, if we were to take a drinking straw and look up into the night sky through it, we would see about 10,000 stars within the tiny circumference. Multiply the objects in that small space by the entire night sky and the number of stars, planets, and universes is beyond comprehension.

How can God be put into a specific box of gender, form, religion, or set of beliefs?

Wouldn’t an out-of-the-box, expansive view of God be the universal acceptance necessary for us to stop fighting one another over God, our differences, and religion?

I believe so. Likewise, imagine the kinder world we will create when we expand our view of other people beyond the tiny box of a preconceived idea.

One time my uncle’s car broke down on a sparsely populated stretch of two-lane highway. This happened long before cell phones, and he was stuck in the middle of nowhere. He had to depend on the off chance that someone would come along.

After a while he heard a soft buzzing that sounded like a swarm of bees heading in his direction. As the noise grew louder, he watched the horizon. Soon a group of motorcycle riders crested the hill.

Even though my uncle had not personally encountered bikers before, he was terrified at the sight of them. He had formed a critical conclusion of motorcycle riders from others’ opinions and harbored a preconceived idea that they were all dangerous. He feared they would rob and possibly harm him. With nowhere to hide, he felt completely helpless as he watched them approach.

I’ve known several tattooed biker guys with scraggly beards, do-rags, and wallets on chains, and I realize how they might seem ominous. Yet, I know from experience that we cannot accurately measure the true character of any person or group of people based on a stereotype.

Most of the motorcyclists waved as they passed by my uncle. Two riders stopped and politely asked if they could be of help. They discovered the problem and repaired it, and soon my uncle was back on the road with a new perspective on people who ride motorcycles.

From partners, to God, to stereotypes, every day in many ways, we are presented with opportunities to get outside the box of limiting belief and expand our perspective.

It’s something that Giorgio and Ralph remind me to do. And of course, they also remind me to smile and take pleasure in the little things. Like how delicious I also find peanut butter to be.

It’s Time to Unfold Our Angel Wings


I’m gay and that’s okay with God. But my being gay is not okay to many Christians who proclaim to love Jesus who told us to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Including those who attend The Door Christian Fellowship, a nondenominational church in McAllen, Texas, that performed the Broadway musical Hamilton on August 5th and 6th with edited lines to reference Jesus Christ, according to viral footage of the production circulated over social media. A sermon was also added to the production in which a speaker likened homosexuality to drug addiction, alcoholism, and financial struggles.

The specific homophobic line added to the play was: “Maybe you struggle with alcohol, with drugs – with homosexuality – maybe you struggle with other things in your life, your finances, whatever, God can help you tonight. He wants to forgive you for your sins.”

As you can imagine, Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton scandal) is not pleased his 2016 Pulitzer Prize­–winning play was altered to include words of religious judgment against members of the LGBTQ2+ community and those who struggle with addiction or other life challenges. I’m not happy either, because this sort of hate-filled misinformation about gays and those deemed to be “other,” “less than,” and “sinners” is widely spread by people who twist their distorted religious ideas of an omnipotent being to press agendas of inequality, control, and prejudice. It is always some “other,” like me, who is the focus of pretend “Christians,” those who don’t consider, or care, what Jesus would say to them if he were sitting in the pew.

I knew I was gay around age five. I cannot tell you how I knew so young. Yet it is not uncommon for some gay, bi-sexual, and transgender people to know at such an early age. Naturally, being gay was a secret I kept as long as possible. I dared not tell anyone. I knew exactly what would happen. In church, and within society, it was made clear how much my kind was despised and feared.

At age eighteen, I could no longer deny who I was and I told my parents. With the intention of changing me, they sent me to a physician who sexually molested me. Then I was locked in a psychiatric hospital because they thought I was depressed. Sure, I was depressed. I had just been sexually violated and the two people who were supposed to love me, like Jesus would, told me I was going to hell and had broken their hearts.

Sadly, my parents’ Christian religious experience taught them to detest gay people, while at the same time they had to make sense of contradictory messages, such as Thou shall not judge and Treat people as you want to be treated. So when I confessed my big secret, they faced their worst nightmare, too.

I am certain they believed their motivation was love. Maybe they wanted me to be viewed as “normal,” whatever that meant. Possibly they believed changing me to heterosexual would save my soul and I would be free from eternal hell-fire and damnation.

I am also convinced my parents desired to escape being ridiculed and shunned themselves if my secret got out. Their words to me, “You’re a business risk,” and I ought to “Go live at the Y.W.C.A.,” revealed their concern about how my being gay would look to their business associates, friends, and church congregation.

There is a happy ending to this part of my story, as Mom and Dad are now two of my biggest fans and best friends. Faced with the truth of who I was born to be, they eventually came to a place of unconditional love by bravely questioning their beliefs. When they did, they found love to be stronger than fear. What other people and the Church think of me is no longer important to them, as they know my integrity through the honesty, kindness, and responsibility of my words and actions.

But there remain countless numbers of people who proclaim a devotion to a loving and inclusive “Christ” who point the finger of blame outward, rather than turn the mirror of honest assessment around to ask themselves: “If I don’t listen to the stories of those impacted, or care that my beliefs wound people, isn’t this living in a consequence-free ivory tower of self-righteousness?”

A Bible teacher at my parents’ church lectured the class about how gays are worse than drug addicts. I mean no offense to anyone challenged with addiction; I am only saying I know well the commonness of religious prejudice and the ignorance of those who attempt to compare biologically determined sexuality with substance addiction. This self-righteousness and holier-than-thou hubris have allowed many “Christians” to abuse me in the name of their God. I have been spit on, verbally accosted, and physically threatened by those who use their dogmatic beliefs to defend their egocentric and spiritually ignorant hatred of my being different.

Here’s the truth: I am gay and that is okay with God. Yes, even though there are seven “clobber” verses in the Bible about same-sex relations. We all need to fast-forward to the 21st century and remember, Biblical times were light-years different from our own time. Anyone, anywhere, who represents Jesus or professes to follow him, has the soul-advancing duty to educate themselves about ancient beliefs that were the basis for Bible verses that continue to be used today to shape and defend Christians’ judgmental view of homosexuality.

The Religious right is wrong about me. No matter what is written in ancient texts, people who profess to be “Christ-ian” — the religion founded in Christ’s name — have the spiritual responsibility to Jesus, to God, and to their fellow human beings to challenge any and all hurtful beliefs. Pushing against the status quo is exactly what Jesus himself did. Questioning beliefs such as homosexuality is sinful, or a choice, or an addiction, is spiritually prudent, particularly since science now provides evidence for biological and environmental causes.

The people at the Door Christian Fellowship in south Texas and countless others on the religious right need to open their heart to who Jesus actually was. They need to update their understanding of the Christ who taught us to love our neighbor as ourselves. They need to accept the world has transformed in countless ways since Jesus’ era. Yesterday’s knowledge, understanding, and technology always yield to todays. Jesus would not want us to ignore scientific discoveries about human sexuality, vaccines, the environment, and so much more.

Modern science and research matter if we want to expand our understanding. We can’t simply deny science when it conflicts with a religious belief.  It is these conflicts that give us the opportunity to learn and grow. Sure, questioning long-held, generational religious indoctrination is challenging work. But to deny scientific indications that human sexuality is genetic and biological, yet accept other scientific evidence that personally validates us or a loved one, is hypocritical, illogical, and self-serving thinking.

Do we believe Jesus was hypocritical, illogical, or self-serving?

I am gay. As Lady Gaga says, “Yes, we are born this way.” Sexuality is not a choice we make or something we learn. But hatred is learned. Prejudice is learned. Abuse of religion is learned. Using Jesus’ name to justify hatred and prejudice is learned.

To be right with Jesus, the Church and all who profess to love him should be the solution and teach all children, by example, how to walk in his footsteps. One way to do so is to show children how to distance themselves from the bullies and religious extremists of the world. We must refuse to allow our children, and ourselves, to be influenced by people who mistreat and persecute others, including those who do so in the name of God. We must bravely defy bullying and exclusive behavior wherever it arises, in order to courageously side with a supportive and inclusive Jesus.

That means those who profess to love Jesus must truly act as he would and get up and walk out of red-hot preaching, or any religious service or political rally where leaders or their followers defend the hatred of our brothers and sisters who are LGBTQ2+. Or where they denigrate believers of different religious faiths. Or women and girls. Or those of any other race than theirs. Or they use their influence to press biased political agendas that limit people’s human rights. Or they lie to us. Or they steal from us.

What if everyone who identifies as Christian, or as a fan of Jesus, courageously moves themselves out of atmospheres of irresponsibility, hate, and disinformation? 

How many “Christians” unfolded their angel wings and got up and walked out of the Door Christian Fellowship’s performance of Hamilton? None, I suspect, but I don’t know.

What I do know is that Jesus, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I would have unfolded our angel wings. We would have joined hands stood up, walked out, and made it very clear to the religious right they are wrong about me. Jesus would tell them they are wrong about who he was – an ambassador of inclusive and non-judgmental love. He would say the Bible and their judgmental religious beliefs should never be used as a weapon against anyone when he was an ambassador of love.

Listen to Understand

Through e-mail, I agreed to pick up and return my friend Katherine to the airport. Two weeks before her arrival, something came up that required me to change plans for transporting her back to the airport. Still through e-mail, I assured her I would find someone to give her a ride.

She arrived and I was there to greet her. After some time together, I confirmed I was unable to give her a ride back to the airport. The news came as a shock. Nothing I said could convince my friend I had sent a second e-mail two weeks earlier; she was convinced I was lying.

I can be stubborn, and I can be argumentative. But for too many years being obstinate and confrontational did nothing to resolve my conflicts. And clinging to the notion I had to be proven right only added fuel to the fire in the disagreements I had with others.

It was not easy, but the truth was no matter how much I wanted validation from Katherine, there was absolutely nothing to be gained by arguing with her. Leading with our heart is caring more for friendship than pride, so I chose to let go of my ego’s need to be recognized as right. I did not want to be angry with her, nor did I want our time together to be uncomfortable. The only option I saw to ensure my peace of mind was to be patient, accept what was, and allow the situation to resolve itself.

A few weeks after my friend returned home, she was having repairs made to her computer when several mysteriously lost e-mails arrived in her in-box. Among them was the one I had sent. However, for several days Katherine was distant. She was embarrassed for not giving me the benefit of the doubt. She was upset at herself for allowing hurt feelings to invent reasons to justify turning her back on me. She was also angry at herself for discounting my history of honest and loyal behavior. She was frustrated for permitting herself to invent ego-illusions that somehow my actions were a personal attack.

I am pleased to share that in the end Katherine let go of beating herself up because she realized she was also right! She had not received my e-mail before she left. We were both right and that fact did not result in one of us having to be wrong. Yes, there were two sides to our story but there was only one truth between them.

The everyday interactions we have with loved ones, and even strangers, present countless opportunities for us to defend ourselves in egocentric ways. However, when we stop and think about it, we realize in the overall design, you and I are only alive for a very brief period—much too short to waste time holding a grudge or settling for drama, fear, and sadness. We can appreciate the fact that when we place more importance on being proven right than we do on maintaining healthy, respectful relationships, we have, in essence, donned flowing silk robes and placed ourselves in the middle of a dense rose garden. Life situations and interactions with other people become masses of twisted thorns that rip and tear at the fragile material. No matter how painful the thorns are or how deeply they tear at us, we are uncomfortable shedding the robe of our prideful self-image.

With pride at stake, we do not stop to question the cost of having to be proven right. An egocentric mind does not care about the feelings of friends, family, or strangers. Wounded ego is not content unless we are proven right and someone else is proven wrong. And on the occasions we are the one who is wrong, our ego is not interested in voluntarily confessing our guilt; we are fine remaining quiet as a mouse sneaking off with a piece of cheese.

To lead with our heart, we let go of the need to be acknowledged as right—even when we are. While there may be two sides to every story, there really is only one truth between them. Truth has a way of surfacing eventually, making our relationships – even those with strangers – worth much more than egotistically defending our personal pride.

Of course it is not possible for us to agree with everyone all the time about everything. But I believe it is possible for us to stay agreeable when disagreeing. And simply because we disagree with someone does not mean that person is wrong.

Imagine how a willingness to listen to one another to understand both sides of a story will change our relationships and world for the better.