Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Debriding our wounds in faith community

During high school, college and seminary, I worked in my parents’ home health agency.  One of my tasks would be to procure fun supplies, including wound care products.  I loved browsing product catalogues to see what all these “next generation Band-Aids” could do.  Some contain silver, others contain pig tissue.  Still other wound care products included oxygen pumps or vacuums.  Whatever the specialty bandage would be, the directions included always begin the same: debride wound first.  That means the nurse and client need to agree together to experience some temporary pain before any healing can begin.  In no uncertain terms, the companies that produce these 21st century items state their products will provide limited benefit if the cause of infection remains in the wound.

I’m frequently asked why such emphasis is placed on Adult Religious Education (ARE) in our congregation all of the sudden.  In short: to debride wounds.

As liberally religious people, we come to The Unitarian Society seeking something.  For some of us, we come here because of our inter-religious marriage.  For others, we could no longer say the creeds with integrity; we needed a place that better resonates with us.  Some of us were told we were born with original sin, or that Jesus might not allow us into heaven if our gender matches that of our partner, or that we are unworthy of some eternal reward.   Those of us who had secular childhoods might come to The Unitarian Society for our children.  So here we are together, liberally religious, and sometimes very sensitive to the things that have wounded us in the past.  Our ministers and musicians, and the Worship and Music Committees shape our worship services at The Unitarian Society, which are absolutely wonderful.  Worship often salves our wounds.  The positive effects of attending worship will relieve some of us for a few days, weeks or even months.  Gathering during coffee hour or committee meetings can feel beneficial for us, too.  But those feelings of comfort, too, might have limited benefit if we do not address something deeper.

I’m no doctor, but I have exorcised my own deep spiritual wounds, and I will do so again if I need to.  I feel I can say as a survivor of spiritual abuse, “If pain persists, get rid of the cause of infection. Try Adult Religious Education!”

As a Unitarian Universalist congregation, we can and will explore all Six Sources of spirituality and belief during worship and religious education.  The repeated use of any particular Source does not indicate priority over any other Source but, for the sake of cultural competency, is called to our attention when they play some pivotal role in society at large.  Therefore, let us embrace all of our Sources: let us explore humanism in worship and RE, and let us quote the prophetic words of people such as Dr. King in worship and RE, and let us read texts that celebrate the earth and our relationship to it, and let us read non-UU texts that promote ethical living and love, and let us consider the ways in which UUs can directly encounter truth, and we will explore the Bible in worship and RE.  Failure to do any of the above threatens to make us religiously conservative, exclusive, and precisely what many of us came here to escape: being closed-minded.  When we look at these Sources, we always do so with a critical eye, without creed, in rational consideration, and in order to build-up our entire faith community.  We quote these Sources not to harm those who have been wounded, but in love for the community and to point to some truth beyond our wound.  Naturally, some of us will be attracted to one Source above the other, but our community must never reject even one of these Sources.  And if we are tempted to do so, then we know we have hurt and pain that must still be debrided, then healed.

Consider the Sankofa way.  Said UU minister, Dr. Michelle Bentley, “Sankofa is a West African Akan word and concept that means, ‘We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward: To better understand why and how we came to be who we are today.’”  Instead of rejecting our past, let us strive to become integrated selves are reclaim every virtue in our past.  Instead of living outside ourselves, let us find virtue in the religion of our dominant culture, even if some aspects of the monotheistic West irritate us.  We can’t extract ourselves from our culture, but rather our congregation has covenanted to transform our culture into a unified world community characterized by peace, liberty and justice for all that has or gives life (6th Principle). 

Anyone who ever said “being UU is easy” is wrong.  Being religiously liberal requires putting the spiritual yearnings of the congregation above our own sensitivities.  It requires more than tolerance.  It requires love without condition. 

It is time to confront our wounds and to move forward in faith.  We can go much deeper.  Not everyone will go on this journey, but we should not prevent others from exploring a Source that might benefit them in their moment of need.  My hope is that our ARE courses will bring healing to your soul and allow freedom to enjoy worshipeven when the music or sermon makes reference to a text that once hurt you.   Let us grow and heal and care for the wounds of each other, as one people of faith.  This is our privilege as a liberally religious congregation.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A belated eulogy for Wendi Roper

Today, I learned that one of my best friends passed away.  She had "an accident" about the same time my mother died in a car crash, but Wendi had been in a coma since then.  There is a cloud of mystery surrounding the nature of Wendi's accident (meaning I don't know anymore whether it involved a car).  All I know is that Wendi is gone.  I had planned for Wendi to be in my wedding party next summer, and Kevin and I will certainly proceed with special reflection on the lives of Wendi and my mother at the ceremony.

I have so many thoughts whirling through my mind today.  The tragic news of Wendi's death and the approaching hurricane along the Eastern seaboard where I reside reminds me of the perpetual nearness of mortality.  My life could easily pass this weekend, but that awareness must not paralyze me in my daily activities.  I have to make sure I stay healthy, and drive away from the hurricane if it gets too close, and treat my life with the respect and value it has inherently.

Wendi Roper's life gave me life.  During my junior and senior year at Olivet Nazarene University, Wendi was a steadfast friend.  She loved me when others rejected me due of my sexuality.  Wendi and I were inseparable my senior year: working at Lonestar Steakhouse, quoting Zoolander, taking roadtrips, wondering together what it will be like when we lose our virginity (with someone other than each other), planning our lives together...  I spent so much time with her that I paid tribute to that fact in the activities profile of my senior yearbook.  Look-up the 2002 ONU yearbook; I list "WCBS" among other legitimate campus activities, in honor of an inside joke with Wendi, which I presume she took with her to the grave. 

I remember an unseasonably warm February 19, 2001, when Wendi wished to honor my 21st birthday.  Olivet is "dry" campus, and I had never had liquor anyway (other than sips from my mother's wine glass with her permission).  Wendi cleverly purchased Daiquiri Ice from Baskin Robbin's, a popular Midwestern ice cream chain.  It took me a long time to eat it, so I arrived to choir practice late.  The dirty look and loss of clout gained from our unpleasant choral conductor was well worth the extra time with Wendi.

Wendi also taught me how to respect myself and listen to my body.  She was my first friend to own a pair of "butt jeans," and she introduced me to the tanning salon.  That was a short-lived fad for me, though I think maybe she continued without me.

In every single picture I have from my graduation, she appears in it with my mother and father.  She is my family of choice.

I also remember preaching at her Nazarene church in Peoria for a weekend (three services, I believe).  The sanctuary was very warm in the Sunday evening service, and the people were inattentive.  Yet, Wendi sat in the front pew like a dear family member and complimented me afterward.

The last time I saw Wendy, she was in the hospital.  Like my mother, Wendi had worked in, been a patient in, and died in a hospital.  She worked as an intern, then as an advocate, then as a social worker, also as a patient, and an active participant with a recovery program.  I note irony when health care and social service providers lose their lives in the institutions that once relied on their healing abilities.  In fact, my mother was on her way to heal others at the hospital when her car crashed.  I am still unclear on the circumstances surrounding Wendi's "accident."  Regardless of how it happened, she ended her life a devoted churchgoer, a talented waitress, an empathetic social worker, and an irreplaceable friend.  No one can replace her and who she was for me.

May your coma-tormented body and your larger-than-life soul find peace, and may you family find closure  and rest.  I love you always and will miss you, my dear Wendi.