My Spiritual Journey, or How I Came To Be Here
By Chris White
March 15th 2006
Iíve been a member of this Church for a few months over two years now, Iíve had ups and downs, Iím sure we all do, Iím really happy I joined, and want to thank everyone for the welcome from which the happiness comes. Because of that I think it is time to tell you something about who I am, where I have been, and why someone with the background I have would come to be a part of this Unitarian church. You see, for a long time I was an associate of LaRouche and his organization. I was a specialist in finance and economics. So this is a Ďcoming outí story, or at least, part of it is. Carol and I shared that life. This though is my account, so Iíll talk about me.
Some may know things about LaRouche. Others, younger, newer to the area, may not. LaRouche was convicted back in 1988 for running a criminal scheme to defraud financial contributors of his organization, which is headquartered here in Leesburg. The funds were used to operate a network of cultish political and publishing fronts, which spread lies to stir up interest, and raise more money. It may seem strange perhaps that someone with that kind of background ended up among the Unitarians?
Let me ask you to try look at what Iíve told you from another point of view. I was with LaRouche in the U.S, under some very brutal and difficult circumstances, from the beginning of 1974 until a life threatening health crisis in 1991. My life didnít begin in 1974. Just as the Larouche organization in 1972-73 was not what it became later. Much of what I have found affirmed and strengthened by joining this church was part of me way before I joined up with LaRouche.
There is a lot more to be said about this. This is not the time, or place, for that in my view. Except that I would like to do more for and with the church and have come to the view that keeping such things quiet or hidden may not be for the best. I thought hard about whether to do this. It has been more than ten years since I left. It would have been more than 15 years by now, as long as I was in, if the two of us had had a way of dealing with health insurance. I thought I had to say this to you. On Oct 24th 2004, the Washington Post magazine, some of you may remember, ran a story by April Witt called ĎNo Jokeí. In the article she quoted me, I think from a more than 30 years old New York Times article, saying I had been brainwashed and sent to the US to assassinate LaRouche. It wasnít true in 1974, or 30 years later. To me it meant that this all would keep on. That efforts to build a new life would not succeed. That I would be a permanent entry under assassin in government computer data bases, and thus a subject for surveillance. That I couldnít expect to become a citizen. It was one of the main reasons I resigned from the board of the Church early in the next year when I learnt that John our previous minister was to leave.
I hope you will understand if I say that today I would like to attempt to be more affirmative and talk about some of the ways we try to give meaning to our lives and hope to continue to grow as we work on finding our way. My life is here. My wife is here. Iím not leaving. I would like to be able to make amends if I can, and atone where I can.
Let me tell you a story which illustrates what I will be talking about, the way our short-term daily decisions and actions have really long term effects in our lives. I hope youíll follow with me as I try to show that by thinking about the longer term questions of who we are and where we are going that we can try to free ourselves from the consequences of the ways in which we often try to deal with lifeís daily challenges.
This story is about a crisis in my family in England which took place during February, March and April of 1972. Iím sure the patterns will be quite recognizable. Then I would like you to join me as I go back a bit further still and share with you where I think some of the more positive things in my life came from, before trying to make sense out of how I think we can try to keep an integrated view of our life as a whole out of the most profoundly conflicted episodes and incidents.
Back in 1972, I was working on a PhD in French history, at the University of York in England. I spent a lot of time in France. My father was dying of the bone marrow cancer myeloma. As his condition worsened, the family consensus was that I should keep working on my thesis even if it meant being away from home and out of the country in France, because there was little or nothing I could do at home that would help anything, or anyone. My father died on March 10th 1972. He had suffered for a long time. His bones disintegrated slowly from the inside.
As you may imagine the family consensus was somewhat different after he had passed away. My mother wasted no time in letting me know what my fatherís last words about me were. ďThat boy will never amount to anythingĒ is what she in her grief said that he in his morphine eased dying agony, had conveyed to her. Not really credible in retrospect, but what I have kept until quite recently as the way to shape how I looked at my immediate family and my relations with them.
This was pretty dumb really, but as you can imagine, I wasnít just a hard-working student, I was also a long-haired hippy type. The family conflict deepened when I took off for the US chasing after my French girl friend who promptly dumped me. I found the LaRouche organization at one of the last really big anti-war demos in NYC. I met Carol. She later came to join me in England, and our marriage provided both of us with strength that helped us survive some of the ugliness and viciousness that came our way, after we got tricked into coming back to the U.S. at the end of 1973. The LaRouche organization and my marriage added another twist to the spiral. It was a conflict which spawned endless variations of recrimination and guilt. My guilt made mumís stories credible. As I looked at the world through those eyes what I did was to cut my life into two pieces, a Ďbeforeí and an Ďafterí my fatherís death. In the Ďafterí it was possible to do things that had not been possible in the same way before. What happened Ďbeforeí wasnít really real.
What I had really inherited before from my father was very different, his love for music, for painting and other forms of the arts, and for history. It took me a very long time to get back to that view.
Music, for example, my father loved to sing. That means in context that he was a tenor in his church choir wherever that church happened to be at the time because his job moved around quite a lot. From about the age of seven we started going to Christmas and Easter performances of Bach Passions or other choral type pieces and, to Handelís Messiah. I never became a singer like he did, though I did take some classes once from a Mexican teacher of Ďbel cantoí who thought I might be a useful baritone if I could get the placement right. I did keep my fatherís love for music.
Similarly with painting, for some reason he had a thing about Vincent van Gogh, and for as long as I can remember we always had a huge version of one of the sunflower pictures somewhere in the house. Thatís hardly unique though is it? With history it is a bit different, but it was always there, in the form of books and help with learning to read, visits to castles and cathedrals and stuff.
When he died, I think I was too young to have talked to him about such spiritual bequests and where he got them from in any serious way. Iím pretty sure it wasnít from his family. It may have come, in part from his Air Force service in World War II. More likely it came from the Officersí Training Program he went through as he began to move up the ranks of His Majestyís Prison Service. It may have come simply from who he turned out to be as a person and where his curiosity led him.
The other thing, of course, about having such a conversation is that you really do have to know it is something important to do. It is not the kind of discussion someone in their mid-twenties is going to have with someone on their death-bed. Maybe it is, and that is just my strange view, but somehow I donít think so. I think you really have to find your way through life to a point where you can find out that those are the subjects which are the important ones.
Does it seem strange that the kinds of questions which should have come up in such a discussion would also have been bound up with love, and life and death, sickness and health? I donít think so at all. The subject would be whether there is a purpose to human existence or not, whether we are here for a reason or not.
Please donít get me wrong. Iím just saying such questions give us a way of thinking about this which can help us deal with the daily challenges and extricate ourselves from results which can be potentially deadly. People often donít like to think about these things. When we are younger, like I was in 1972, we think we are pretty much invincible. It is never going to happen, so we donít have to deal with it. As we get older such things become more real, and assume a greater weight in how we think about the world, and our role in it. Especially as the children grow and begin to move out on their own, and we turn to thinking again about how we can contribute best, now that our own best has become self-starting. We begin to face the fact that we know it will happen, whatever we think about it. The physical limit of our life span helps us face up to and reconcile with the truth, I think, that there is more to our lives than we may like to think as we go from day to day, and crisis to crisis, or blunder to blunder, on our journey through life.
We all find lots of by-ways and detours to take on the path. I know I have. Some of them have been much worse than others. Some of them have been almost fatal.
19 years later in 1991, I began to be able to think about getting out of what I had gotten into in 1972 because I got sick enough that my life had to change. If on November 30th that year Carol had not called the doctor when I was feeling ill with what both of us thought was no more than a miserable case of the flu, I would have been dead in a bit more than 1.5 days. If we had not gotten to the hospital by six the next morning, if we had had a different doctor, I would have been gone before lunch time. When they opened me up to take out the appendix they thought was the problem they found my whole gut was either gangrenous or necrotized. They searched for viable bits and stapled and clipped me back together again, protectively not telling Carol till a week later that I might not make it though the week.
I could begin to think about leaving LaRouche except, I was no longer fit to work, and health insurance was not portable, and boy, did I need health insurance.
As with my fatherís death, turning points often come upon us when least looked for or expected. By accident, circumstance, even sometimes by design, we can find ourselves back on the main path. It doesnít just happen. It happens because at points that people recognize as turning points in their lives, and we all have them, we all seem to keep coming back to what we each know in a very profound way to be the source of what we recognize as our deepest sense of self, and our profoundest connection to some kind of idea that though we might be made of flesh we were not borne to live our lives only as creatures of the flesh, but through the flesh which embodies our being.
Thereís a drama in all this, often though what is most profound arises from the mundane. Most often children are the stimulus for the profundity which awakens spirit. From the beginning infants have a way of eliciting, where they need to, the unconditional and unconditioned love which brings us closest to what must be the absolutely indiscriminate promiscuity of a creator godís unconditioned love for the totality of their creation. It is not like some deal or special arrangement. Do this and Iíll take care of you. It is uncontaminated by any concerns other than its own which are more perfect than anything we can conceive.
Those of us without children have to turn somewhere else. We all though do recognize that laws and culture, as also superstition and habit each provide a social, political and historical kind of framework for our daily lives in the form of a more or less articulated sense of belonging, whether to family, community, lay or spiritual, country, world and so on, as a broader kind of meaning in our lives.
Furthermore, we look within ourselves to the voice of conscience, which we come to trust, like the infant trusts, to represent for us the part of ourselves which we choose to consider immortal relative to the rest.
I like to think of us each as a kind of unified but three-fold being, the mortal individual, the product of a relatively immortal human society, with its longer multi-generational life cycles, and the child of the creator. None of these function without the other. Each and all of us, through the language common to us all, in which we express and act on the bonds of community we share, depend on everybody else. Each and all of us are affirmed and strengthened as we have an effect on others who effect still others as we all move forward through through life.
Here, unlike where I come from, these matters were put into a constitution. The discussions around the first amendment assumed that the freedoms of belief, speech, petition and prayer, and assembly represent those aspects of the relationship between the individual and his or her God which no other person or authority can interfere with or suppress. No one can stop someone talking to God if that is what they want to do. No one can prevent someone praying whenever they want to.
Here, it has never been easy to stop people gathering in the woods to worship as they want to do, and feel comfortable doing. The freedoms of speech, belief, assembly, petition and prayer are rights which stand in the same relation to the law and society as the informed conscience does to the individual and their will and volitions. They can neither be affirmatively granted nor taken away by anyone because they are part of what makes us who we are. They are the foundation for the religious freedom which brings us here this morning. Not the result of that freedom. They existed within us before we gave them a form in the constitution, and they will continue in effect whatever the Lords and Princes of this world say.
Children often help focus this for us because one of our basic litmus test is whether we are providing more opportunity and building a better world for them. Their future provides an effective image to unite awakened conscience with the means to willfully bind our present intent to future action, with a view of the future direction of society. I try to look for ways to think about these kinds of questions, and talk and write about them like we are doing now.
I can tell you when and how I began to recognize how this works for me. It was in the summer of 1967. I had taken a year off education. I left high school in December of 1966 and started college the next fall. That summer after saving up some money, and with help from an uncle, I got to Florence in Italy via a brief stay on the French Riviera. The city had been flooded the winter before, mud up to eight feet high still layered centuries old frescoes by Giotto and others. It was a mess, but not the mess it had been in January or February.
I was there for a reason, in my crazy late teenage world view, and some of you also remember the summer of 1967 like I do probably, because it was the summer of Ďif youíre going to San Francisco be sure to wear some flowers in your hairí the summer of what they called Ďloveí, I saw the home of the renaissance as the source of who we are. I had gone in search of art and stuff, and what I found was one of the architect Brunelleschiís earliest buildings. He was the one who figured out how to build the famous dome on the cathedral in Florence so that it would stay up. So heís the one responsible for the name Duomo. It wasnít always one, because for a long time there was just a huge uncoverable hole.
The work on the dome had run into a deadlock because at that time in 1419, there was no agreement on how to proceed. While the deadlock went on the Silk Guild had given Brunelleschi another commission. There wasnít much of a rush on the cathedral, it had been underway since 1275 or so anyway. What they wanted him to build was an orphanage. It became known as the Ospedale degli Innocenti. It was for the foundlings and changelings, the abandoned and the illegitimate, for the unwanted and weakest, and most destitute of all.
It is one of the most beautiful little buildings I have ever seen, built on a square quite close to the Cathedral. It features Brunelleschiís first efforts to make use of the orders and proportions of classical architecture, as he worked to relate the Corinthian order to the proportions of the golden section layered over the arithmetical ratios based on multiples and fractions of twoís and threeís. The construction of the cityís monument to God and his works had ground to a halt, because of human conflict, but the cityís leaders built instead a monument to the despised and rejected, the weakest of the weak. They expressed the durability and quality of their commitment to care for such children in the sheer beauty of the design and workmanship that their workmen applied to the local stone and the decorative features they added.
In 1967 I thought what an incredible way to tell the world what you think your countryís priorities ought to be. Why canít we do something like that? Why should it be an impossibility? What is wrong with everybody? Later I thought that this is really how the ideas of magnificence and renaissance are associated through providing at the uttermost for the very least.
This was my Ďbeforeí, and I think it is what I rediscovered in a new way coming out here to this beautiful little church on the edge of what were the woods. Someone who recognizes the importance of the human spirit, knows somewhere and somehow, that all those profound aches and itches in our soul for love, for beauty, for justice and goodness and truth reflect the workings of some divine, or god-like existence, taking us in hand and supporting us on our way through powers that are probably further beyond our imagination than our imagination can stretch beyond our comprehension.
Not so clear at the time, and for me for quite a good while longer after that, was how all this was supposed to work. The easy route is the one we probably all feel most comfortable with, at one time or another. Letís get involved. Letís do it now. Why donít we just take care of these things? Letís get it done. We can take care of all these things ourselves and build a better world for those who come after us in the process.
But can we? What makes us think we can, other than good-hearted impulse? How do we know what we are doing or acting on? What makes such changes endure? Does love and beauty have to be part of it? Is it so straightforward to love enough to build a work of enduring beauty which reflects something relatively eternal about all of us? Are we so much better qualified than anybody else, not just anybody in the form of some random selection, but anybody as the type and representative of everybody? What would we need to accomplish to be able to?
Now, you see, I sound as if Iím talking like all the people who used to tell me forty years ago, that it was just a phase I was going through and I would grow out of it. Does that mean I did grow out of it? Did I go full circle over 40 years and join up with the grown-us? That I grew out of the vision of a world which could reserve its most significant commitments, in every way, to giving value and worth to those least able to do so for themselves, like the orphans and foundlings of renaissance Florence? Does it mean I became old and tired and cynical? Sometimes it does for sure. Other times it really means a recognition that pretty much all we can really influence, control or change is ourselves, and that the way to make a better world is through trying to make ourselves better people.
In the Ďafterí I used to a big picture person. I thought the big picture was where solutions lie. And they do. But not in the way I thought. I tried to take vision and intent and figure where effort could be applied to transforming the whole world. In some ways you can appear to succeed at this. You can move up the food chain. You can get access to and meet with Ďthe playersí. You can be present when things get done. You can put together studies for people to act on, if only they would understand what you were talking about and you didnít have to compromise with people who want to do the diametrical opposite. Soon the truth dawns on you. As we used to say in the 60ís you are no longer part of the solution, you have yourself become part of the problem.
If youíre wondering if I think thereís a solution, please donít. Ask instead why I came here. Iíve probably told a few people that I came because Carol told me to. There was a certain truth in that. She told me, in her way, she thought I would find a home here. I think she was right. I stayed. I guess I may look at things differently than others do. Here it is to ask what is so strange about that? Donít we all think that about ourselves? Donít we all know that somewhere deep down inside where hardly anyone ever goes, that we are all different, unique special. Donít we all hope that we will find that someone, or that community, which will find a way of telling us what we recognize to be the unspoken truth about ourselves and each other? Thatís why I stayed.
I go a bit further down this line of thought. As persons we are all unique and different, one from another. The uniqueness and difference is what makes us all one. By working to make ourselves better people, each in our own way, we are increasing the uniqueness and diversity that is the active ingredient, so to speak, of godís indiscriminate unconditioned love. We are then all working to make a the one better, in whole and in part. Just how different and special can that be? Absolutely? Uniquely? Or just perfectly ordinary?
Not just different though, different as a community of persons building a space in which the vital spiritual concerns of all can be equally nourished, a community big enough in spirit to grow such a space where there is room for all, and ready always to make room for those, like the orphans, and those who are among the least among us. What a truly special place to be a part of. Thank you.