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.