Thursday, September 18, 2014


I was waiting at the Philly airport a few weeks ago after returning from my first trip home to Kentucky. I'll be doing a lot of this. It was a pleasant evening, and the safety officer was jovial and conversant.

Suddenly, a burst of noisy engines signaled the arrival of several souped up motorcycles. The riders parked, hopped off, and left the bikes at the curb. A bit indignant, but curious, I wondered, what next? 

The friendly officer strode over and offered explanation to me and the elderly woman sitting next to me: "These are the only people we allow to break the rules. They're veterans, and they come to welcome families who have lost a loved one in service."

I turned around and saw saw the four men and one women, variously clad in leather, denim, chains, and Harley insignia, encircle, embrace, and generally envelope an arriving family.

Clearly, they had a purpose. 

My younger sister, with whom I live while working here in New Jersey, rescues Great Danes. She can't say no, especially to the old ones and the ones with special needs. The guy on the bed above is L.J. He's not that old, but has kidney failure, and is probably only going to be with us a few more days. She's had him for 5 years. Right now there are four dogs, counting the Jack Russell, and three horses! 

The animals take a lot of care, time, money, and energy. But she never seems to get upset -- at least not at the ones who are sick or needy. This is her purpose.

Do we find our purpose or does it find us?

About five years ago, it became clear that my husband Eric and I were going to become parents again in midlife, to a four year old with special needs! (later diagnosed with high-functioning Autism) Seth is my sister's grandson, but needed consistent parenting and a stable home. We have been  Mom & Dad since then. I would never have imagined or named this as my purpose for this chapter of my life... but there you have it.

It's been frustrating, challenging, hilarious, touching, infuriating, and very rewarding.

Here's Seth with a few of his cousins.

Twenty years ago, upon entering the ministry, I thought my purpose was to be a stellar UU minister, to do amazing social justice work, to help eliminate racism, to end child abuse... I had so many dreams! I had to scale back my big ideas one after one. I'm satisfied now with the work I've done, and I'm at a turning point as I enter a new decade and a new form of ministry. Now I'm a little more willing to let my purpose find me, and to be willing to listen when it does.

Thursday, September 04, 2014

CALVARY: Going To the Cross for Childhood Sexual Abuse.

At first, I skipped the listing for this film. The actor in the promotional photo, who played a priest, looked like a military officer, and I thought it was a movie about the Civil war. But when I read that it had been filmed in Sligo, Ireland, I was in. It had good ratings and promised scenery from my favorite part of Ireland, the stomping grounds of Yeats, Ben Bulben and Innisfree and the rugged northwest coast. What could be better on a rainy Sunday?

I’m still befuddled as to how this film could be listed as a comedy. Dark humor does enhance its storyline, but the subject matter is not funny. A priest in a small village is warned in confessional that he will be killed within the week, not because of anything he’s done, but because the erstwhile killer seeks revenge for having been serially raped by another priest as a young boy, a man who is now deceased.

This is an absolutely beautiful and also devastating film. I could not move for several minutes after it ended. Other critics have written about how the movie endeavors to show both the futility of religion and the necessity of the priesthood at the same time. Yes. I think most clergypersons would get that immediately. Although the majority of the characters were either doubters or atheists, the human need for ministry and even for the professional ministry rang clear and true.
In the simple love and loyalty of the priest for all of his people, from the most heinous sinner to the most pious churchgoer, the viewer sees that there is God come to earth. When he tells another priest that he has no integrity, he adds, that is only the worst thing I could say about you. This is a man of integrity, and the title is accurate, for he is set up as a type of modern-day Jesus, going to the cross for sins he didn’t commit. I think critics, and especially theologians, are going to find flaws in this, but I want to speak to it from a more personal angle.

As someone who has lived with the knowledge of childhood sexual abuse committed by a family member, as well as a clergywoman who has listened to countless stories of childhood victimization, I am deeply aware of the toll of this transgression upon the victims. I actually understand the rage that could be so all consuming it could make an otherwise peaceful person resort to violence.

People who sexually abuse children are pretty horrendous. Most of us would agree that they are sick. This is actually a very difficult condition to treat, and these people probably ought to be pitied. But that’s difficult, because they also tend to be deceptive, manipulative, and often charming and successful.  They fool people who then enable them to get away with their crimes for decades while dozens of children are added to the list of the walking wounded.

In our family’s case, the perpetrator is now in his sixties, and, as far as I know, no one but me has confronted or made accusations toward him.  Since he was not yet an adult when the crimes I know about occurred, we don’t have legal recourse. All we have are suspicions and the silence of those who won’t speak up.

The world is full of so much terror and grief. I hate war but I understand how it happens. I loathe terrorism but I can see how it gets started. Gangs and drugs and even robbery all make sense at some level, although I wish they didn’t happen. But sexual abuse of children? It’s just so incomprehensible. 

Viewers will walk away from this movie wondering how this protagonist could give his life for sins committed in the past, by others. What I ask now is that some of us, victims and allies, commit acts of courage to save the lives and the futures of children from sins that have yet to be committed. We all have to tell what we know, to someone safe, now. Please.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Everything that Dies Someday Comes Back... and then it goes the other way, too, Boss.

Remember the Springsteen song, Atlantic City? When it came out, it was a resurrection song, a good one too.

That wasn't too long before I left New Jersey for seminary, the ministry, and pursuits that took me to places hither and yon. I paid very little attention to what was happening in A.C.

But I hadn't paid much attention before I left, either. Casino gambling arrived whilst I was in my early twenties, and my first husband and I went to the casinos a total of two times. We saw Frank Sinatra, who was paunchy and testy and sang about four songs before setting down his glass and walking offstage. Still. What an amazing thing to think about now!

I have never gambled. At least, not with money. Never bought a lottery ticket, not once. What can I say? I am so utterly opposed to a system that lures people who can ill afford it to place their hopes on some pie in the sky day when they will be happy just because they hit it rich. I believe so strongly that we must endeavor to be content in this moment with what we do or do not have that I can't endorse or take part in gambling. 

I've supported efforts to keep Kentucky from having legalized gambling. We do have horse racing, but so far, no casinos.

So... strangely enough, here I am, serving a congregation just a few miles from what was the Casino mecca of the east coast!

Before I knew I'd be back here, so close to home, Hurricane Sandy had me riveted to the news, as it did most of the nation. I saw with great relief that my beloved Long Beach Island as well as A.C. was spared the worst of her wrath.

Nonetheless, I find that other forces have conspired to lay the once burgeoning resort low. Casinos have been suffering, it seems, for quite some time. Plans have fallen through, competition has arisen in neighboring states, and major investors have pulled out. Most recently, three casinos have closed or are about to close, leaving hundreds unemployed.

This is alarming. Perhaps to those who have lived in its midst, it does not seem shocking. You've had twenty years to watch the demise of the patient. All that's left is to sit back and see what the collective wisdom will come up with to make the place work.. or not, going forth. 

I am so delighted that the UU Congregation of the South Jersey Shore has already signed on to take part in an interfaith initiative to house families who are displaced or homeless. This will go a long way toward a hands on involvement. I suspect there is more we can do, as well. These outreach efforts are not just charity. They help us learn about the "other," those who get squeezed between the forces of exploitation, greed, and convenience and who are merely trying to meet their day-to-day needs. They help us develop compassion, wisdom, and soul.

Everything that comes back, and everyone, still dies. In the in between, let us grow in understanding and faith. Amen