25 June 2013

At Last, Old Enough

Just got back from attending the 52nd annual General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association.  Though I only began attending in 1978, with three exceptions, I have attended every one since.  A total of 32 so far. 

I do not currently serve a UU church so sometimes people ask why I go, but I still identify as UU, going back four generations.  I have my clergy 'license' with the UUA, am also a member of their church without walls called The Church of the Larger Fellowship (CLF) and am an elected official of the UUA on their Board of Review.  I describe myself as a UU minister on detached service to Fountain Street Church, much as members of the military may be assigned to other branches from time to time. 

My point is not to explain why I go, though.  It is to explain why, even though I do go, there is one thing that always always annoys me. 

At least once a day during the major sessions (plenaries) we are asked (told) to hold hands and sing.  This is the home page image for the UUA, taken at a previous GA. 



I hate holding hands with someone I have not met.  I hate even more when someone I do not know with a sweaty palm grabs mine and begins swaying like some unreconstructed Woodstock veteran.  I hate most of all being to told to hold hands. Conscripted intimacy is presumptuous and insulting.

Thankfully, I am now of an age (60) when being cranky looks acceptable, though I have felt this way since my twenties.  Not that I disapprove of intimacy.  Far from it.  When I see old friends there, the only time I see most now, to embrace is marvelous. 

I believe intimacy must be earned not assumed, though.  Just because I belong to a religious community does not mean anyone has a right to touch, hold or grab me.  Much as I still call someone by their last name until we are acquainted, I think we need to respect each other's solitariness, as Whitehead referred to it.  Rilke spoke of love as two solitudes that protect and border and greet each other.  Those great minds knew something.  For a faith that honors the individual mind, you would think that it would extend the same to individual bodies. 

We all know the term Namaste, a Hindu greeting that means, roughly, the divine in me greets the divine in you.  Lovely thought, and Hindus say it with hands held palm together like praying, against ones one chest, with a bow. 

Great lesson.  We should practice some 'veneration' before moving on to 'penetration.'  At least so it seems to me.

Rant over. 



15 June 2013

Why I Was Almost A Musician

Long ago, in the far away galaxy called youth, I was going to be a musician.  On some days, when my fingers know where keys are, it seems possible for a few measures.  But the reason I wanted to be a musician was because music literally enthralled me.  Certain works and passages convinced me life was worth it.  Music imparted hope, even faith. 

Today, HBO is re-running their new series "The Newsroom" in preparation for the next season.  It is a fine show, but what sold me was the theme music.  If you don't know it, you should listen to it before reading on.  The rest of this post is about it, so stop and listen. OK?

Here it is.

No, it is not Bach or Beethoven, but there is something hopeful in it that takes me back in time, before my hope of a musical life.  Back to being a boy in Washington DC. 

Maybe it was the 1960 election, or the inauguration in 1961, or being at the tomb of the Unknowns for Memorial Day in 1959, or something else that has vanished from accurate memory, but for a time I truly believed something wonderful was going on there.  The city quivered with significance and hope, and I was there. 

Then we moved away to Baltimore.  Then I graduated high school and went to college in St. Louis, and seminary in Chicago.  I married a high school friend, we moved to Massachusetts for ten years, Texas for four, New York City for eleven, Michigan for 8, had four children and buried two. 

Now I am sixty and hearing this music and remembering what it felt like to hope without doubt.  There is the parade coming down Pennsylvania Avenue; the new president's smile is visible on the tenth floor where we are watching.  Flags snap smartly around the Washington Monument.  The air is significant, smelling of the secular temples with their columns and pediments.  Just a few feet away, behind those windows, earnest men (mostly men then) looking like Efram Zimbalist Jr. or Jimmy Stewart are shaping the world, and I am there, too.

I want that again, to feel that sort of hope in my country, and in myself.  Most days it is vain, but then I hear that music and it seems possible.  And what is hope if not possibility?


10 June 2013

You Decide...

Should I share my reading list, which surprised me both in size and depth?  Of should I tell you of the nearly calamitous error I almost committed (AGAIN) and left me wondering what sort of Freudian hangup I have?

Well, when it comes to books I was surprised that I had read as many as I did, because it seems I never have time to read books.  A quick count of those I have read since arriving here, an arbitrary line but clear, lands at 8 a year roughly.  Not enough of course, but I favor fat ones - The Odyssey, Theodore Rex, War and Peace, Les Miserables, Grapes of Wrath.  Or chewy ones - Aquinas's Logic, Paradise Lost, the Will to Believe, Confessions of Augustine, Christianity and the Social Crisis.  Gary Dorrien's three volume history of liberal theology was both fat and chewy. 

There were a few fun ones - February House about the bohemian Brooklyn digs where Auden and Britten and Gypsy Rose Lee and others lived during WW2.  I indulged all of Patrick O'Brian's sea stories.  Pollan's Omnivore's Dillema and H. L. Gates' memoir Colored People, and Ambrose's Undaunted Courage which is about the Lewis and Clark journey.  For some reason I read a first person account of man who moved to a small town, very small, hence the title, POP. 485.   

Most were classics in their area - Thucydides, Voltaire, Kundera, Waugh, Wolfe, Fennimore Cooper.  Or about momentous subjects - Mozart, Beethoven, the Holocaust, Joseph Priestley, The Civil War, Krakatoa, women in the Developing world. 

And it pleases me that I can remember so much of what I read. 

Which brings me to my near calamitous mistake, and its antecedent.  Let me start there:

A year or two ago we arrived a day late for my annual convention of co-religionists.  This is a highlight of our little band of eccentrics, being spread so thin across the land.  For some reason I mis-remembered our hotel reservation by a day so that when I arrived it was gone.  Because it was a convention, there was not a local room to be had.  I was livid, at myself, but livid. 

This evening, as I began to assemble all the data for this year's late June event I was utterly startled and then horrified at myself again, because in my head it was a week later than it was. Yes, a whole week.  Yesterday in plucking weeds I disturbed an ant's nest.  They immediately swarmed and swirled and looked quite agitated and frightened.  That's how I felt this evening. 

I shall adapt of course, and all will be arranged, but my trust in my own mind is measurably less.  For someone who usually plans travels very well, though, that I have twice made errors for this one trip makes me wonder a bit.  A third error on a similar professional trip - again a scheduling mistake that cost a night's lodging - gives me pause.

It is after nine p.m. now, and my new practice is to read a psalm in English and Hebrew (halting and partial) and then meditate for 15 minutes.  Having made such a mortifying confession I will now go do that.