Thirty years ago, it was January 1991.. I had just moved from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Boulder, Colorado, with my fiance who assured me that Boulder was the ‘healthiest city in the America…
We had just bought a house and were planning to be married that summer, and Life was opening up. In April, I flew home to Philadelphia to finish off a required weekend seminar for my Masters degree programme in Spiritual Psychology and mom and dad picked me up at the airport on a Thursday night.
As my 3 younger sisters had all moved out from home, I spent a quiet evening with just the three of us..mom, dad, and me. The very next morning, I was jarred awake from a deep sleep by my mother…’Sally, it’s Dad!..’ She had received a call from my dad’s office wondering why he wasn’t at work yet. She then heard the radio playing in the bathroom and found my father lying there, on his back on the bathroom floor…he had died suddenly of a massive heart attack. He was 60 years old…….Last year, I turned 60….
In 1964 I lived in a small town near the top of the Rockies, 60 miles from a town of any size. It was the year I got my learner’s permit to drive. Like most males of that age I took every opportunity to practise driving our new car, our third, but our first with an AM radio. As it was in the top 10 on the charts, I frequently heard Dylan’s new hit, warning that, “The times they are a-changin’”. Even at 15that seemed obvious. It had been only six months since JFK was assassinated. As a country we were still grieving. But whether we were ready or not for more change, 1964 was to be momentous. The Beatles kicked off the year, invading in February. The closest I got to them was watching them on the Ed Sullivan show. Besides, I wasn’t impressed, and thought the Fab Four were just a flash-in-the-pan fad. Little did I suspect I would have in my music library all of their albums by the time I was wondering who would still need me at 64. Nor did I suspect that my next birthday would be celebrated living in LA going to a high school six times larger than my previous one.
To be a Unitarian Universalist is to have a sense of humour, even about ourselves. There are so many jokes about us. Garrison Keeler, of course, teased us constantly. The comedian, Lenny Bruce, said this about us: “I know my humour is outrageous when it makes the Unitarians so mad they burn a question mark on my front lawn.” Somerset Maugham in his classic “Of Human Bondage” said “A Unitarian very earnestly disbelieves in almost everything that anybody else believes, and he has a very lively sustaining faith in he doesn’t quite know what.” On a M.A.S.H. episode the character, Col. Sherman Potter, said: “The General answers his own phone. Must be a Unitarian.”
Then there are the UU bumper stickers; there is lots of folk wisdom condensed into bumper stickers, by the way. One I saw said: “Honk If You’re Not Sure”. Another says: “We have questions for all your answers.”
We have just heard Polonius’ collection of proverbs as advice to his son Laertes, who is off to university in Paris. It contains one of Shakespeare’s most oft quoted lines in valedictory speeches, blogs, music and films, “To thine own self be true.”
Third Lightning Round (Multiple choice:- What does “To thine own self be true” actually mean?
Don’t change who you are?
Follow your own convictions?
Don’t lie to yourself?
All of the above?
None of the above?
I wager that the correct answer is 7. It depends to some extent upon the meaning of “self,” the meaning of “true,” and perhaps even the meaning of “meaning.”
The pandemic is a great rupture. Those who seek hastily to sew up the rupture and return to pre-pandemic normal are seeking to preserve a world where wealth is funnelled to the already wealthy at alarming rates, while millions upon millions pay.
The alternatives to a return to normal are political. It is a cliché that politics is the art of the possible. We are at a moment in the arc of history where what once was politically impossible is possible. We can now perform the art of the impossible. It will take all of us.
My first academic assignment in seminary is still very much a part of my memory. The reason is that it made me wonder if I was cut out for this new path I was taking. I was to write an essay on Rudolph Otto’s work The Idea of the holy. Otto, an early 20th century German theologian, argued that the holy was to be addressed with fear and trembling, which he called awe. I know I was a neophyte theologian but I did not get his conclusions. They did get clearer years later when George W Bush attacked Iraq with “Shock and Awe”. That was definitely an Old Testament kind of holy. But anger, vengeance, oppression, and indiscriminate genocide do not instil me with awe. Ever since then, I have wrestled with the idea of the holy.
One of the more influential, life-shaping memories I store in my dishevelled filing cabinet of a brain, is reading King Lear when I was 16. It may have been my first in-depth encounter with the Bard of Avon. While I can give a basic outline of Shakespeare’s tragic play, it is not the story itself that haunts me, but one particular interchange between Lear and his Fool. The Fool tells him, “Thou shouldst not have been old till thou hadst been wise.”
Te Raukura is an important symbol to the tribes who affiliate to the Taranaki rohe. This symbol is captured in the form of a white feather, or a plume of white feathers. Te Raukura represents spiritual, physical, and communal harmony and unity. It is an acknowledgement of a higher spiritual power, which transcends itself upon earth. It is a symbol of faith, hope, and compassion for all of humankind and the environment that we live in.
There are various accounts of how the Raukura feather became such a significant symbol to the people of Taranaki. One such account refers to a gathering of people at Parihaka who witnessed an albatross landing on one of its courtyards, dropping a single feather before departing. This feather became the Raukura, and was honoured by Tohu Kakahi and Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, the prophetic leaders of Parihaka, and its community.
A couple of weeks before the Christmas of 1849, William Lewis Manly climbed to a mountain pass and beheld “the most wonderful picture of grand desolation one could ever see.” Manly was standing in what’s now southwestern Nevada with an empty stomach and a dry and parched throat.” Manly found himself wandering the desert owing to a series of unfortunate decisions. Hoping to reach the gold fields in Northern California they took a detour that led into some of the most inhospitable terrain on the continent.
“We, the young, are deeply concerned about our future. Humanity is currently causing the sixth mass extinction of species and the global climate system is at the brink of a catastrophic crisis. Its devastating impacts are already felt by millions of people around the globe. Yet we are far from reaching the goals of the Paris agreement.