My Gratitude to Douglas Gresham

May 29, 2011

I decided to take a risk this week.  Being the unofficial start to summer, I took a new look at something that has been a sacred  part of my summers since I was at least thirteen.  I decided I was ready to watch the movie version of The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

What could possibly be risky about that, you might ask?  Well, for one thing this is a Unitarian-Universalist blog, and C.S. Lewis was a Christian who strongly defended the theology of the trinity. I still feel a bit like an usurper when I use Mr. Lewis’ writings for my personal spiritual guidance.  I find I have to pick and chose what I am moved by and truly believe with what I have to just accept that I can’t quite agree with. I don’t know if Jack, as he was called by his family and friends, would appreciate the uses to which I have put both his apologetic writings or his fiction.

But, as I have said, Narnia moved me in a way that the Bible, and even later theological works by brilliant Unitarians and Universalists never did. In that way, I have something in common with Mr. Lewis who explained the same sort of feeling when he read ancient mytholgies compared to the New Testament.

It took me over five years to be able to watch the film version of the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, because I knew a Hollywood retelling would never match the visions I created when I was a girl.  I can forgive this in most book to film translations, but not Narnia.  Narnia was sacred.

The short version of why this is so is that these stories were my only comfort as a teenager when I started to suffer months and eventually over a year-long stretch of insomnia.  It was something I tried my best to hide from my family, but most nights I just laid in bed trying to concentrate on anything aside from the flashbacks of an event that occurred while I was thirteen, and the creeping depression that was starting to consume my life.  The hours between when I was expected to be asleep and when I was confident my mother and step-father were unconscious and unaware were the hardest.

But, in the midnight hours, I would be able to escape into Mr. Lewis’ magical world that I had first visited as a child.  There I would find some real comfort. I’d average one to one-and-a-half books a night, so it is no exageration to say that I have read the Chronicles (all of them) at least a hundred times. The advantage of rereading these same stories even when I had gone weeks without sleeping was I also didn’t have to necessarily *see* the words through my bleary eyes.

It was years after those sleepless nights, when I was somewhat recovered, that I saw the film version of Shadowlands for the first time.  Thus, I was introduced to C.S. Lewis’ stepson, Douglas Gresham, through a Hollywood retelling of his childhood.  Though not exactly the same, I could relate to the tragedy of Douglas watching his mother die of cancer, because I had been about the same age when my grandfather (and the only father I had) died of the disease.

Two images from this film pierced my heart deeply. The first is early on, when young Douglas spies a wardrobe in the Oxford professor’s attic.  The wonder and hope on the boys face is almost painful, even before we witness him knock fruitlessly on the back of the wardrobe and hear him tell C.S. Lewis, “I knew it was just an ordinary wardrobe.”  Second, in the near final moments of the film, when young Douglas and Jack are sitting next to each other and confessing for the first time their sorrow at losing Joy, mother and wife to the two of them.  The pain is so real it was like watching myself as a young girl explain that I wished I could speak to my grandfather again.

Douglas Gresham went on to become a writer himself and is co-producer of the film series.  I know these seven books *very* well, so any detail that was changed from page to screen would not go unnoticed.  I waited five years to see the first film, because I was afraid of changes that might be unforgivable.  But, in the end, I broke down and watched it out of curiosity and hope that I could trust in Mr. Gresham’s oversight. After all, he had more at stake with this book than I did.  So, although I know Mr. Gresham is not the only person responsible for how wonderful The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe movie is, I would love to be able to thank him personally for not only his part in the film, but for showing me that the young boy who lost his mother and his stepfather at such a fragile grew up to be a man who carries the true spirit of love and triumph from Narnia in his heart.

There are dozens of details in the film that I was impressed by.  Surprisingly, those that most impressed me were actually changes from C.S. Lewis’ original text.  I rejoiced in these changes either because they managed to stay true to the spirit, if not the words of the book, or they fixed something that was wrong.  Here are some, which fittingly for Memorial Day, all speak to he Horrors of War:

C.S. Lewis began his story explaining that four children were sent to the country “because of the air raids.”  As a child who has not learned much or anything about World War II, you could either easily gloss over this sentence, or be confused by it.  The film leaves nothing to be misunderstood.  Showing the children in a house being shook to its foundations and Edmund risking his life to save “Dad” a photo of the Pevensie father who was absent, assumedly in the war himself.

The irony that the children were sent to a house in the country to avoid England’s war, only to find themselves in the center of Narnia’s also bloody and savage fight is not lost on the characters of the film.  There is greater emphasis on the children’s, and especially Peter’s, self-doubt and desire for safety.  As Peter confesses to Aslan, “I’m not who you think I am,” and the Great Lion responds “You’re Peter Pevensie…” So are all great triumphs and tragedies experienced by real people who do not know their own strength.

Even the animals of Narnia are more revealing of their personal loss from the evil of the Witch’s war against nature.  Mr. Beaver’s cry of “my best mate” when discovering a stone statue showed a vulnerability and hurt that the war-ready creature lacked on the page.

Mr. Tumnus also gets his say as to why wars are worth fighting.  While Mr. Lewis revealed Tumnus’ death through Edmund’s eyes when he sees a statue of a faun and wonders if it was his sister’s friend, the film leaves no doubt.  We see Mr. Tumnus alive and still concerned for Lucy’s safety. We share Tumnus’ disgust at Edmund’s betrayal.  Yet, his greatest moment comes when Jadis asks him if he knows why he was her prisoner.  His reply: “Because I believe in a free Narnia.”  Though it is easier to understand the Narnia’s wish for the end of winter and Christmas, which seemed to be the main causes of unrest in Lewis’ text, freedom is really what they were fighting for.  Hooray for Mr. Tumnus’ bravery in stating this fact to the witch, and hooray to whoever wrote the words into the film’s script.

And, one other very significant change:  the character of Professor Kirke.  The film has not one but several scenes which reveal just how much the old man knows about the wardrobe and Narnia.  I realize that even the author probably didn’t know this when The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe was written, but it always bothered me that the Pevensies never seemed to understand who they were talking to, even in the last pages when the professor tells them they’ll know when they see someone who has had a similar experience to thier own. The best correction of this is in the last seconds, when in response to Peter’s statement that he wouldn’t believe where they’d been, the Professor tosses him an apple.  *Wink, wink* to all you Christians and those who’ve read the Magician’s Nephew.

Speaking of which, I sincerely hope they do a film version of the Magician’s Nephew, because I’ve been proven wrong about Hollywood ruining Narnia.  There’s some things they could clean up in that film, too.  I still think it’s impossible to make a film of The Last Battle, however.

For those of you who have never read the seven Chronicles of Narnia, you’re truly never too young or too old to enter this magical world.  For those of you who like me, are holding back on seeing the films because of loyalty to the books, give them a try, and you may be surprised.

For Mr. Gresham, thank-you for your wonderful gift to the world.  Who knew how fitting a film it would be for Memorial Day as we reflect on the horrors of war, and remember those who are no longer with us.

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Why Attend Sunday Services? The Ahh… and the Aha!

May 22, 2011

Sunday morning and I am sitting alone in my office.  A copy of the latest edition of UU World lies next to me and a cyber-universe of sermons, blogs, message boards and more is at my fingertips.  Plenty to help me feel connected to my chosen faith.  Yet, I feel a pang of longing and loss for what I am missing.

Across town, the church that was my spiritual home is probably starting to fill with the scent of fair-trade coffee as my minister’s service winds down.  I am not there for a multitude of reasons I’ve alluded to, but have not yet come to terms with enough to blog about. Across the country, there are people who have also received the Summer 2011 copy of UU World and are using it and a plethora of other information to prepare for General Assembly, an event which I have never been able to attend.

And here is the crux of the questions that led me to start my blog:  What’s a UU to do to stay true to her faith if the experiences that define our faith just don’t fit into her life?  Can I be a UU if I don’t go to church or any UUA event? How does Unitarian-Universalism fit into my life?  Is it a luxury I can treat myself to when everything else is taken care of?  Or is it the essence of my day-to-day existence, impossible to relegate to just a few hours on Sunday or a trip to some event that I may never be able to make?

Back in April I pondered why any of us go to church.  There are plenty of sociologists, psychologists and church consultants who will tell you that the best way to build a strong community is to recognize that individuals will have varied needs they want met by that community.  A 2007 gallup poll asked people of various spiritual traditions who attended church regularly why they did so.  The responses were:  For spiritual growth and guidance: 23%; Keeps me grounded/inspired: 20%; It’s my faith: 15%; To worship God: 15%; The fellowship of other members/The community: 13%; Believe in God/Believe in religion:  12%; Brought up that way/A family value/Tradition: 12% Other: 4%; No reason in particular: 1%.
See the poll here: http://www.gallup.com/poll/27124/just-why-americans-attend-church.aspx

Right off the bat we can see that over a quarter of the respondents may have difficulty in a UU congregation since they are looking for some connection to the “g” word. There is also a reason conspicuously absent from this list that is often stated as reason for UU’s to attend services: intellectual stimulation.  But, perhaps I should examine the laundry list from gallup to see if I can better understand my own spiritual needs.

Reason #1: Spiritual growth and guidance
This is right in key with the third principle of UUism: “Acceptance of one another and encouragement of spiritual growth in our congregations.”  However, what I feel is unique about the Unitarian-Universalism I want to practice is that spiritual growth does not just take place for an hour on Sunday.  The faith I want to live is present in every experience of my life.  For example, the fact that ethical eating is being examined at this year’s General Assembly confirms my belief that the hour I spend grocery shopping is just as spiritual as the hour I might have spent listening to a sermon and singing hymns.
The second part of the gallop poll answer is very tricky for UU’s: guidance.  When’s the last time you got a straight-answer from a UU on what you should do when faced with a prickly spiritual question?

Reason #2:Keeps me grounded/inspired.
Having a time every week set aside to centering yourself through worship, i.e. “worth-ship,” deciding what is important in your life, is vital to keeping your spirit healthy.  I know I need to take stock of what I’ve experienced in the past and what I want from my future. But, do I need church for that?  Certainly it helps to know I am not alone.  But, what if I don’t feel grounded or inspired by modern dance or breathing exercises, and that’s all that is being offered on a particular Sunday?
My first solution was to look beyond the sermon and seek out inspiration from my other congregants.  And for a while it worked.  I was awed by those who devoted themselves to their families or some social justice cause, which I learned about while sharing coffee and conversation after the “worship” service.  So, really, reason #1 came to me through another category of motivation for attending church.  This answer did not show up on the gallup poll, but is often quoted by UU’s as their reason for attending services…

The “Other” Reason: Intellectual Stimulation.
This reason has become somewhat of a dirty word in some UU circles.  Some see it as a sign that we are moving away from being a religious or spiritual organization, and instead become a country club of over-educated political liberals who think of themselves as a religious movement, but are not.  One of the most articulate arguments against intellectual stimulation came from Michael Durall in his book: The Almost Church Revitalized: Envisioning the Future of Unitarian-Universalism.  In fact, he lists it as the first of his “five  helpful heresies” in which he questions the current path of our denomination.

Durall writes, in part: “intellectual stimulation from the pulpit…sidetracks the rightful purpose of UU congregations.  … Unitarian Universalism rarely views the congregation’s primary purpose as assisting people along life’s journey or deepening their faith.  Rather, Unitarian Universalism has focused on intellect, a method of information gathering that too often results in conversations about religion rather than defining a UU way of life by which people live in community.” [pgs 72-73]

I agree with almost all of Mr. Durall’s points and recommend his book to all UU’s (see note below).  However, I feel there is a flaw in his logic with this particular conclusion.  He suggests that intellectual stimulation moves us away from spiritual connection.  In my own experience, the intellect is the only way through all the blocks of disbelief that I encounter when trying to worship.  I can only experience the connection to others and decide what is worthy of praise in my life if I consider, ponder.  I grow my spirit by learning more about how the world works and different points of view.  Intellectual stimulation is my spiritual practice and I can only live in community when I challenge myself to understand that community more fully.

Case in point: I felt lost when I was spending an hour each Sunday listening to sermons in which the minister told me what to feel.  I am beginning to reconnect to my spiritual strength through the intellectual exercise of writing.  I feel greater joy and satisfaction from my life after I write this blog, because it forces me to use my intellect to examine whether my life’s journey is headed toward the correct destination.  I’m still missing that outside stimulation that will provide spiritual growth through broadening my mind, but I’m sure I’ll find something to fill that need.  And when I do, I’m certain it will be a spiritual experience for me, though some would call it intellectual.

For me, the “aha” of learning has always been hand-in-hand with the “ah!” of reverence.  I am more spiritually connected to the awesome power of a thunderstorm though my experience of learning about the scientific phenomenons of weather.  If you told me that a lightening bolt came from a god called Thor or even yahweh, that does not stir my religious passions the way descriptions of energy in air masses fires my brain and makes my heart race.

Perhaps someday I can recapture all those other pieces of the religious experience that I am still missing.  But, I’ll have to learn to worship side by side with those feel the “aha” is in conflict with the “ah!”  And, that will take some more pondering.

NOTE: If you Google Michael Durall, you will probably first come to the website for his CommonWealth Consulting Group: vitalcongregations.com.  If you didn’t already know that Mr. Durall was a UU, you might not guess this from his homepage, which features a picture of a sign post listing other Christian denominations. This is another sign that makes me worry about the future of our denomination, but that’s for another blog.


What Happiness Is and Isn’t

May 14, 2011

It’s been a tough week.
Not that the outside world has thrown me any particularly onerous challenges, but I’ve had a harder time than usual dealing with what I’ve had to deal with.  After more than half a lifetime battling clinical depression, I’m fairly used to this.  I recognize that there will be days or weeks where all the normal tasks of life seem more difficult or fruitless. There will always be times where I feel the gnawing beast of despair trying to tear me apart from the inside.  There will always be periods of my life when the internal voice that tells me I’m worthless is louder than usual.  There will always be times that the voice will not stop telling me that I can’t do anything right, that all who come in contact with me think little of me or despise me, that there is nothing that will ever make it better.
But, after years of experience struggling through this mire, I feel fairly confident that it will pass.  I just need to live through the suffering.
When I was a teenager I decided that I couldn’t live through the suffering.  I came very close to ending my own life. I can look back at that time realize that over half of my life up ’till now would have never happened if I had killed myself.  And, it was the better half.  There was so much joy waiting for me that I wouldn’t have believed it had someone told me.
What have I learned that makes me able to face weeks like this one, confident that they will not destroy me, but will serve to make the good ones even better?  Is there anything I would say to that former self, if through some techno-miracle I could send an e-mail back in time or transport an image of myself like something out of Star Wars to the torn up and battered soul of my fifteen year old self crying in her bedroom?
These questions are at the root of the seven-month old “It Gets Better Project” started by Dan Savage.  As a faith that proclaims to support both youth and the LBGT community, I wish that I saw more connections between this admirable project and the UUA.  You do get an impressive number of hits if you google “Unitarian It gets better,” including The UU Growth Blog by Peter Bowen: http://uugrowth.com/2010/10/12/it-gets-better-make-it-better-unitarian-universalist-videos/
One of the better messages out there is from the youth ministries office of the UUA that promises that there are people working to make it better now.  Both promises are needed: that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that there is a real effort to ensure that there is a safe passage through the darkness.  Because, unfortunately there will always be people who will attack those who are different because they can’t understand and appreciate the differences.  There will always be sorrow in the world and in our individual hearts.
So what does spirituality, religion, and specifically Unitarian-Universalism have to help those who follow it through the darkness?  Despite the fact that the symbol of UUism is a flaming chalice, I don’t think we’ve come up with a uniquely UU way of throwing light onto dark times.  More often, our members say they relied on wisdom of world religions when they were most in need of spiritual help (the third source of UUism).
I tried to find a path to the light through other faiths, including Christianity and Buddhism, and was discouraged.  It seemed that could only promise that there was a reason for suffering, not any relief from the suffering.  Like Dan Savage’s project, they only made the promise that there would be something good waiting for me if I could hold on, whether it be heaven or enlightenment.  It left me feeling frustrated and alone.  What good is the promise of some vague future when your trouble is here and now?
The truth is that you need to find a way to be happy in the moment, no matter what the circumstances you are facing. I used to think that happiness meant getting what you want, but realize now that true happiness is appreciating the greatness of what you have. It means living in the moment, and not wishing to be in the future or in the past.  I had to remind myself of this many times this week as I struggled through the long hours at my two jobs, wishing that instead of looking at a spreadsheet or stocking the shelves of the video store I could be taking a hike somewhere and enjoying the too-short-lived beautiful weather.  Wishing I could be doing something else was only making it more difficult to get through the task I had to do because it was not only making me less productive through my distraction, but making the time pass more slowly.
One of the most helpful concepts that I’ve come across was actually from the Buddhist leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler.  I picked up The Art of Happiness at Work while I was in a miserable job, hoping it could give me some insight. In this book, Dr. Cutler describes the concept of flow, which he borrowed from Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  As described in the book: “To be in flow means to be totally absorbed in whaterver one is doing at that moment.  It occurs when one is fully present and completely focused on the task at hand … While in flow, we find ourselves engaged in the activity for its sake alone, not for any external rewards we receive. The task is intrinsically rewarding, in and of itself.” (pg 79.)  This book was extremely valuable to me at that horrible job and the better ones which followed, so I recommend you grab yourself a copy on amazon.
I’ve been able to apply this reasoning to work.  If you truly submerge in the task, appreciate the physicality of reaching for high shelves, the mental challenge of making numbers transform into meaningful patterns, the task becomes an end to itself and is therefore joyful in its own way.  Despite the Dr’s assertion that we should not think of any external rewards, it is also helpful to me to think of where I would be if I wasn’t lucky enough to have these jobs, and how many people are unemployed or underemployed.
So, can I take the same skill and use it to find happiness in my whole life, as well as just the portion of my time in which I earn my living? Can I find happiness by absorbing myself in the now?  Can I find joyful music in the hum and heat of my old and temperamental computer as I sit here. Is there any peace waiting for me in the stack of bills at the corner of my desk that I must sort through to decide which I am able to pay and how to handle those I can’t?  I know that there will be no peace or satisfaction in ignoring those things, so why is it so hard to fully engage in all facets of the now?
Happiness is appreciating the greatness of what you have.  Which is why I get so frustrated with those who insist that angels are waiting to scoop them up to a place in the clouds, or those who feel the only way to accept suffering is to become detached from their lives through meditation or modern dance.  I want to scream “You’re missing it.  This is the best part.”
One of the hardest moments of the past week was an interaction with a person who has obviously chosen to detach himself from his life.  I was doing my best to get into my own flow at my second job, multi-tasking at helping customers and getting some dvd’s ready for rent.  But then a young person came in who demanded my full attention, yet made me wish that I could change the circumstances of where I was and who he was.
The young man had come into the store to sell a video game system.  My co-worker and I recognized him and remembered that he had already sold the store the system only to buy it back (at a higher price than we had given him, of course) several times.  He informed us, quite happily that he understood that he’d be paying a higher price for it later, but needed the money now.  Uncomfortable with the situation, we reminded him that he might not be able to buy it back at all if someone else bought it. The conversation went on as we did the necessary paperwork and helped other customers.
At one point we had one of those telepathic communications with another customer who was clearly as horrified as we were by the young man’s assertions that he loved video games and weed, but loved his young son more, which was why he was hawking his system to buy diapers.  I could see in the other customer’s faces their disgust and horror, her desire to make the young man see that if he wasn’t so concerned with detaching himself from reality, he could give his family much more than he was currently.  I could tell that the other customer was torn between running from the store to avoid being in the same area as him, or opening up and telling him what a fool he was.  She met my eyes and at that moment I felt pity for both customers: the man and the woman who were obviously so different in the life circumstances and choices, but both human and deserving of the ability to make those choices, no matter how foolish they were.  I was silent, but with my eyes, I told the woman “I know how you feel, but the best we can do in this moment is feel pity for him. This is a sad situation we are witnessing.”  In that moment I saw her jaw relax and her eyes widen from their tense positions.
Yes, we wanted the situation to be different at that moment.  But the only way to achieve peace in the moment was to live through it and accept the reality of that moment.  I expected to repress the incident, but instead I am blogging about it.  Perhaps what I really wanted to do in that moment was tell both customers the message of Dan Savage’s project, “It gets better.” Yet, the only way to make that message true would be for someone to do some real social justice work: vocational programs to help the young man and/or eventually his own child and political action to make those who are able to help understand why they should.
The Buddha began his spiritual search after being shocked by reality of a poor, sick man in the street.  His parents thought they could keep him happy by sheltering him from the painful realities of suffering.  But, in the end, he had to see the truth and find his own way of dealing with it.  The Buddha’s path relies a great deal on detachment.  But, my own experience has been that trying to fully detach leads to unhappiness.
So, perhaps the answer is that we must consider every moment of our lives as “on the job” in making ourselves and the world better, and trying to get into flow in this work. Those moments at the video store when I wished I could have been anywhere else or could have been someone else were not my best self, and I definitely wasn’t in flow.  It made me think of those who work in the social services who I’m sure are often disheartened when they are unable achieve their goals.
But, we all have to find a balance between engaging in an imperfect present and remaining hopeful for a better future.


My Universalist Response to This Week’s News: Osama and Obama’s Souls

May 8, 2011

It seems truly inevitable that anyone with a blog will end up writing something about Osama Bin Laden this week.  I am no exception.

It was really only hours after Barack Obama made the announcement before the media began its own tug-of-war between covering the story itself and finger-wagging at the pundits who covered the story from too biased a perspective and even their own audience’s response to the news that an almost unanimously vilified human being was now dead.

Here is a real-life, immediate example of the kind of moral questions we begin to ask ourselves when we challenge the black and white nature of good and evil.  And, as often the case when we try to apply hard and fast judgments onto real-life circumstances, the results are much more grey.  The AP’s Brock Vergakis has published an article on how both Christian and Islamic clergy are addressing this topic:http://apne.ws/m0ZpiA

My own response took me somewhat by surprise.  Somewhere in the hours following hearing the news that a Navy seal shot and killed Osama, the conscious thought came to me in an unanwerable question: “I wonder how Osama will get into heaven – what will it take?”

As quickly as the unbelievable thought came into my mind, I did not treat it lightly once it was there.  I wondered if I could have thought such a thing if I had personally known anyone who died on September 11th.  I wondered how those bizarre words could come to me when I still cannot bring myself to fully believe that god or heaven exist.  I wondered if I was just being over-congratulatory to myself in thinking perhaps I am morally above those who chanted “USA” at the news that a human being died.  I wondered how many would hate me for just applying the word human to a man who committed such atrocities that it is questionable how much humanity he had left.

Our Universalist forebearers taught that all are saved.  No exceptions.  In the past, we may have challenged this concept will historical figures such as Hitler.  In Bin Laden we had an example in living color and recent memory, someone who stole away the futures of so many with loved ones whose lives were forever altered one autumn day in 2001. A person who not only seemed unrepetent for that crime, but committed to doing it again – all for the sake of dolling out what he felt was punishment for the way some lived.

Unrepentent, unremorseful, jubilant.  It is how Osama bin Laden appeared in the video in which he claimed responsibility for the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  It is how many Americans seemed in their celebration after the news that Osama bin Laden was dead.

And there was my question: “how in the world can such a person ever enter heaven?” And the question that came later: “how will there ever be peace in the world when any of us are able to celebrate the death of another?”

Perhaps it is impossible in this world.  But if there is something after this life, it has to be better than that.  As I noted before, real life does not often present us with yes or no questions or black and white realities.  So, it is probably not that surprising that the only way I could wrap my head around these questions was by remembering a fairy tale.

JK Rowling invented two pieces of magic that relate to this question. The first is a charm to create a horcrux: a magical object that gives one immortality but can only be created by murdering another person, by tearing one’s soul in half.  The second is the method of repairing one’s soul after doing such a heinous thing.  In the word’s of Rowling’s character Hermoine Granger: “it would be excruciating painful … remorse. You’ve got to really feel what you’ve done. There’s a footnote. Apparently the pain of it can destroy you.” [Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows]

Osama bin Laden tour apart the souls of many, but hopefully he did not damage any beyond repair. If there is anything we can wish for the survivors of that horrible day and the friends and families of those who perished, it is that they are still able to find meaning and love in their own lives that go on.

As for Osama’s own soul, the only way I can imagine it becoming whole again is as Rowling describes.  He must feel what he has done.  Drop for drop the pain he inflicted on not only those who died, but the loved ones he left behind.  Do I imagine Osama suffering in the afterlife as he witnesses and experiences the pain of his crimes?  Yes.  But it would be more merciful than what he wanted to do to his own enemies.  It would be pain with a purpose, the pain of transformation.

In the Christian tradition, they may call this purgatory.  That is another concept I rejected long ago because I could not accept a god that required us to suffer in order to be reconciled in the afterlife.  But, perhaps that was because the idea was presented as pain for punishment.  I may not have been so quick to reject the concept if instead it had been described to me as C.S. Lewis explained the problem of pain in our lives: “we’re like blocks of stone, out of which the sculptor carves the forms of men. The blows of His chisel, which hurt so much, are what makes us perfect.” [Shadowlands]

It is not how we treat our friends and allies that defines our morality, but how we treat our enemies.  In this way, I agree with those who say that killing Osama bin Laden was its own crime.  I believe that those involved in that event, from the President who gave the order to the Navy Seal who pulled the trigger, will have their own debt to repay to the damage to their souls.  But, I also believe that even in the moment of apparent triumph in when President Obama announced Bin Laden’s death, part of him felt remorse as well. I believe that Mr. President chose the path of action that he felt would inflict the least harm on the world, and willingly took on damage to his own soul for the sake of saving others.

Osama bin Laden was killed because it was judged that he was incapable of finding the remorse that would save him in this world.  One can question whether that judgment was fair or whether it was any individual’s judgment to make. One can question if there is anything beyond this world that is waiting for any of us.

For myself to have hope in this world or the next, I must believe that the painful truths of his own actions are waiting for Osama bin Laden to feel, and that there is some purpose to that pain as well.


Two Thoughts on Happiness and Fate

May 1, 2011

There is a four-letter word that causes me to cringe whenever I hear or say it: plan.

An ugly word, don’t you think? I cannot forgive this word for almost never living up to its promise, despite my love of paradox. To plan is to think you can exercise some control over the future, which in my experience seldom actually happens. It seems we can exercise about as much control over the future as we can the past. And we can no more change what will happen strictly by our force of will than we can imagine our way to undoing a past mistake. We can paint pictures in our head, but those pictures never really capture the reality.

For instance, when I started this blog I planned to use it as a substitute for attending Sunday services at my local parish.  The reality on this Sunday morning is that I’m typing away after listening to a lay led service, which interestingly enough hit all the points that I was pondering this week.  I planned on not getting anything more from my church, and was once again surprised by fate that I did get that feeling of connection I had been missing for so long.

Does that mean I’m giving up this blog?  No.

But it does mean I’m a little short on angst to dissect and analyze on this beautiful May day. So, I’ll just put two thoughts out there in the void.

One is a poem that I think perfectly encapsulates my feelings about the god-human relationship, if there is indeed an all-knowing higher power.  I think it was printed in UU World a few years ago, and can be found on Garrison Keeler’s public radio site: http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2007/10/10

I’m not copying it into the blog because I don’t want to break any copyright.  If the link breaks, try searching for The God Who Loves You by Carl Dennis.  (BTW- I find it ironic for a person who loves to skewer UU’s as often as Mr. Keeler does on his show, Praire Home Companion, how often you could use one of his quotes or favorite poems to define our faith.)

The second is a response to the national news story of the week, i.e. the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton.  The blogosphere has been buzzing with partisonship over whether this was a story of love and hope or whether it was a sign of a dying empire and our own society’s self-destructive worship of glitz and glamour.  I’ve borrowed the format of one the readings found in the UU hymnal, so I also owe my gratitude to Margaret Gooding for her wise words on Christmas.

Why Not a Wedding?
They told me that fairy tales end with a bride and groom living happily ever after.
When I was very young I had no trouble believing in wondrous things; I believed in the bride and her prince charming.
It was a wondeful story of the miracle of love, foretelling the ending we were all to hope for.
They told me of the tragic end of the real life fairy tale: that the princess was unhappy and eventually killed by those who would not stop following her story.
When I was older I believed in democracy and justice. I believed there was no place for princesses her true love.
But I was unwilling to give up on the wedding, the day of joy and hope that still brings family and friends together.
The wedding redefined became love understood, not predestined of an end to itself, but the beginning of the real story.
Why not a wedding? For even in the midst of our wars and famines, our hatred and greed, there is the miracle of love that binds two people together.
Who knows whether each bride and groom will fulfill their promises?
Who knows what uncommon love will transform those who share vows and those who witness for them.
But we must celebrate and give love a chance.