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Monthly Archives: August 2014

The sky has one more guiding star today


Yesterday we lost a great man.  My uncle Gene died.  And when I say my uncle I really mean my husband’s uncle but in this chosen family of mine I was happy to call him uncle.  And, I think, he was happy to call me niece.  The reality is we had kind of lost him a long time ago.  He had Alzheimer’s and it had slowly sapped him of the thing that was him.  I and my family are glad that he is not suffering any longer.  And we will choose to remember him as he was just a few short years ago.

The picture above is of 4 generations of Navias men and one of my favorite. The photo seems to capture just each of their spirits.  Gene is the man in the blue striped shirt.

When I met my, as not yet, husband he at one point told me that his uncle was a Unitarian Universalist minister.  I being a UCC minister at the time laughed.  At the time I thought the idea of a UU minister was funny – how can one be a minister without a God.  How can you have a religion without a creed?  UUs to me were people who just could not commit.  And this is what the Karma fairy taught me – be careful what you laugh at.

My, as not yet, husband graciously did not respond to my pomposity.  For he knew that I would meet his uncle and I would understand.  He learned a lot of his graciousness from his uncle.

The man I met, who would end up marrying Geoff and I, and dedicating our two children, was a man formed in the UU faith.  He taught me so much about what it meant to be welcoming.  When I came to this faith and was greeted with some very sharp anti-Christian sentiment (much of it earned but still hard for a Christian like me who does not identify with the reactionary part of Christendom) it was Gene who could talk to me about it.  It was he who knew the history and had seen the shifts and changes.  He could connect the dots for me.  And he could lift up our Universalist heritage that has sometimes been so not heard.  He showed me what it means to be radically hospitable and hold your ground at the same time.

As an example I share this story.  When Geoff and I were first living together we hosted the family for Thanksgiving.  It was a wonderful exhausting experience.  All the family members contributed food and took turns cooking and cleaning.  Gene and his partner Stan took us all out for dinner one night (what a gracious reprieve from all the prep and cleaning).  I in my innocence  asked him, “So how did you and Stan meet?”  His eyes twinkled and he smiled at me – if you knew him you know that look – and he said “Well that can be quite a question to ask a gay male!  You never know what kind of answer you might get and if it can be shared in a setting like this.  But in this case it can Stan and I met at a meeting of folks who had a family connection with South Africa.”  He said this in a way that was warm and caring, not pejorative or finger wagging.  He answered my question and gently let me know that the way I asked the question belied my hetero-normative assumptions and privilege.  And he loved me in spite of it, or maybe because of it, or maybe both.

He was a wonderful support to me as I went through the process of becoming fellowshipped as a minister with the Unitarian Universalists.  He respected and affirmed all that I was my Christian faith and my desire to broaden that faith experience.  He never in any way expected me to leave some part of me at the door in order to be a UU.  And for me that is one of the powerful cores pieces of this faith of ours.  Each of us is welcome in our totality – we are not expected to hide some part of us.  We do not need to leave some part of ourselves at home.  We can be who we are fully.  And that is hard because sometime the person who I fully am does not like or get along with the person who you fully are.  Uncle Gene taught me that it isn’t about liking or agreeing, it isn’t about competition, winning or losing.  He taught me that it is about looking beyond our differences, looking beyond our similarities to the spirit of love that resides in each one of us.

In my own small way I hope I can carry on some part of that loving hospitable presence that Gene had.  He is missed.  But he lives on when we practice that open hospitality that Gene so easily shared.

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Recently in the Patheos webpage this article entitled “I Want My Religion  Back You can Keep the Ugly Baggage.”  You should read it.

The article is written from within the Christian tradition.  I resonated with it because I am a UU-Christian. But it is also a good article for any UU to read – we simply need to substitute “Religious” for “Christian.”  Let me show you what I mean in this excerpt from the article

“I don’t like telling people I’m a [Religious].

It’s not that I’m ashamed of being [Religious]; I’m not – at all. It is just that the word “[Religious]” comes with so much ugly baggage.

Telling someone I’m a [Religious] means I must immediately follow it up with, “but not that kind of [Religious].” It’s like saying, “Yeah, sure, these are some mind bogglingly ugly suitcases, but I’ve got the coolest stuff on the inside of them. No, really, I do.”

I have had this kind of conversation sooooo many times.  I hear so many times – “I’m not religious – I’m spiritual but not religious.”  What does that mean really.  I think it often means “There is more to this world than I can see and touch, but I do not want to be getting up early on a Sunday morning to gather with a bunch of cranky people, who aren’t very friendly so I can be told how I am doing things wrong.”  There are many religious conservatives who are loudly yelling at folks about how they have done it wrong.  But let’s be clear here there are many on the relgious left, the liberal religious tradition who get all judgey too.  We don’t yell as much mostly it is socially acceptable quiet glares of steel, well placed condescension in a conversation, or simply non-engagement – a kind of quiet shunning.

But. We. Are. Better. Than. That.

The author goes on to point out the the religious right has hijacked the word Christian and religious. With all this religious baggage around, the author points out, it is as if the conservative religious folks have shown up with the lime green baggage on the carousel.  No one notices the sensible shade of grey piece of luggage (that would be the mainline Protestant model).

“If we want a [Religion] that doesn’t come so unnecessarily cluttered with all of this ugly baggage, we are going to have to start standing up more consistently and begin challenging these power plays wrapped in religion.”

We don’t need to yell back.  We don’t need to feed the binary either/or thinking.  We can lead the move to a both/and way of being religious in this day and age.

And we UUs we are set for this.  We are standing up.  We are Standing on the Side of Love.  On the religious baggage carousel we have the old beat up piece that someone has duct taped a SSL sign to.  You aren’t going to miss that one.  That may not be the prettiest shade of orange – but man is it ever visible!  When we pick up this baggage people know who we are – we know who we are.  We are the People Who Stand of Love.  Come stand with us