Monday, June 25, 2012

IMAGINATION & the spirit (and the church)



Here’s a story:

In tenth century Scotland there lived a Princess with her mother & father, the Queen and King. When presented with  a bow and arrow by her father, she becomes herself, a regular “tomboy”, riding her horse, Angus, throughout the countryside. Still her mother has a traditional fate I mind for her: marriage to one of the buffoonish sons of the related clans. When they come calling, much chaos ensues. Merida runs off, breaking with her mother, meets up with a witch, and wishes her mother changed. Her wish is granted, but her mother is changed.. to a bear. Merida must try to help her mother return to human form, and the two must all the while deal with the truly evil bear that lurks in the forest, the elusive witch and will o the wisps which led to her, the three younger brothers who have also eaten the potion and become baby bears… well, it’s a mess!
You can find out what happens by going to theatre or waiting until this charming movie, called BRAVE, comes out on DVD.

It’s a film that does what all the PIXAR movies do: blends humor, enthralling animation,  original musical compositions, and details about human nature that capture the hearts and minds of any human, from 6 to 96. While Seth was gleefully following the journey of the wild crimson-haired lass and waiting for the impish red-headed triplets to reappear, I was immersed in what genius it took to weave into a kids’ movie a whole subplot about family systems: how you can’t separate yourself from family by geographical distance (cutoff) and another Jungian/symbolic plot about motherhood: the Queen Elinor had to accept her “bear” nature and with it many aspects of herself that ultimately left her a more complete and evolved woman.

Creating this sort of magic onscreen takes vast amounts of work. At Pixar, teams of technical, creative, and everything in-between humans meet daily for months, even years, going over every tiny detail of the film, often trashing entire sequences and even starting from scratch with a whole new concept when it becomes clear they have failed. Failure at PIXAR is nothing but motivation to keep going, it would seem. Steve Jobs said of TOY STORY 2, “WE killed ourselves to make it. It was tough; it was too tough. It took some people a year to recover.” Of course, we all know that although Steve Jobs did recover from TOY STORY 2 , he passed away too young after a remarkable life, one most of us couldn’t imagine.

Or could we?

In a recently published book, titled IMAGINE (not the most creative title!), the author deconstructs this aspect of humanity which sometimes seems as elusive as the will o the wisps that Princess Merida chases through the woods.

What is imagination? And, most importantly, how can we harness its power to enhance our spirits and our communities of spirit?

William James described the creative process as a “seething cauldron of ideas, where everything is fizzling and bobbing about in a state of bewildering activity.”

But for eons, even though humans were obviously having these seemingly miraculous interactions between the brain and their surroundings (which of course is the essence of imagination)…. Creativity was attributed to something supernatural: the muses, the mystery. (Inspire) Even today, most people believe that only a select few are truly creative.

But I would side with Picasso, who once said, “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”


I truly believe that our humanity gives us a sheet of paper with many blanks spaces upon which we write our own story. So many of what we perceive of as constraints or setbacks are actually materials for our imagination and growth if we but understand them.  I know this is true because I have seen it work in unremarkable human beings time and again, humans who have made a master-work of their lives, even if they never become Steve Jobs.

We now know that certain parts of the brain are responsible for this activity, even though we don’t fully comprehend it; and we know a great deal about what brings it on and what inhibits it. The piece that still strikes us as miraculous is the moment of inspiration, the moment when we just “know” what to do, see the path clearly, understand ourselves and others, and have a clearer notion of what lies ahead, perhaps a whole new vision for our lives and our beings.
For example:
·    Every creative journey begins with a problem.
·    Most creative geniuses are familiar with sadness (80% writers~~ depression) As Keats wrote, “Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?” Yet it is when happy that creativity flows! So we need both.
·    Creativity is a delightful product of the combination of a relaxed mind and focused attention. Einstein said: Creativity is the residue of time wasted.
·    The act of invention is really an act of recombination. (philosopher David Hume, in An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding, described this talent as the essence of the imagination:   All this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing the materials afforded us by the senses and experience. When we think of a golden mountain, we only join two consistent ideas, gold, and mountain, with which we were formerly acquainted).
·    Constraint kills imagination! “The lesson of letting go is that we constrain our own creativity. We are so worried about playing the wrong note or saying the wrong thing that we end up with nothing at all, the silence of the scared imagination.” 
·    COLLABORATION is key~~ 

It’s not hard to see how we have both succeeded and failed to utilize imagination as we have crafted our lives thus far. A spiritual moment is one when we say, These are the time I did create something positive, focus upon those with joy and gratitude, and endeavor to have more of the same, be they moments or  decades.


So.. what of organizations? I actually think it’s easy to apply the same general principles to liberal/progressive (or, it turns out rather regressive with progressive beliefs) organizations, and these are the only sort I have been deeply involved in. The failure of most organizations to grow, thrive, and succeed as a business like Pixar or an artist like Picasso does is not due to the recession or the ennui of its members!
What we have here, friends, is not so much a failure to communicate as it is a failure of imagination.

Let’s just talk about churches, since that’s what I know best: We do some bits of the imagination/creativity dance very badly. BUT, we also have right at hand so many of the essential elements that it is indeed an exciting moment.

NOT SO GOOD for creativity?
·    Too much brainstorming-type collaboration. MYTH of consensus.
·    NOT ENOUGH RISK! (“chutzpah”)
·    Not enough “outliers” esp. YOUNG
·    Not enough REM time/play
·    Don’t allow for sadness
·    WE often CENSOR imaginative ideas because of the TRADITION
REALLY GOOD ELEMENTS
·    CHAOS! We have it. But we need the discipline to channel it.
·    “third” place, like coffeehouses, bistros, etc. Great potential. PLACE
·    Different ideas. DIVERSE
·    TALENTS: “There is talent everywhere. The only question is whether or not we are taking advantage of it.”


Lehrer ends his book IMAGINE by talking about cities and how, although they ought to have been the most horrible places for creativity and imagination, they have been the best. There are many reasons for this, but among them is what he calls the ballet of the city: many different people, forced to cross paths, many stimulants for ideas and the senses, many interactions per day.

But not every city is teeming with imagination! He actually mentions my former home, Riverside, CA, which is one of the fastest growing (spreading…) but least productive cities, along with Phoenix. Why? What’s needed is not suburban sprawl, anonymity, but diversity, chaos, the jangle and messiness of the urban ballet.
What’s interesting is that this urban dance cannot be choreographed in advance or controlled from above. Instead, the creativity of the metropolis is inseparable from its freedom, from the natural chaos of a densely  populated ZipCode.

I ask: Can we realize this freedom and refrain from taming the chaos just enough to be truly imaginative about our future, as an organization, and as human beings, each on a path filled with potential and pitfalls, to wholeness??





(Quotes from Jonathan Lehrer, Imagine, 2012)

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Our Fathers, Who Art....


Robert Hayden


Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

Robert Hayden, “Those Winter Sundays”


Discernment is key to the religious life.
The roots of the word  dis/cern mean to divide, to separate. To decide, what to keep, what to let go of.
Whatever our beliefs, whatever our faith tradition, we become mature in faith when we practice discernment….we become self-differentiated, no longer at the mercy of every thought, memory, and impression. We discern. We decide.
This is maturity. This is faith.


We live in a  time when the patriarchy has died, or is dying, at least in Western society. Where it isn’t defeated, it’s doing a clownish dance, like the American Bishops who are trying to bring the nuns back in line, (can you say GO SISTERS!) but the power struggle has shifted, away from male/female; to have/have-not, or at least the 99%/the 1% with far less regard to gender. What does that mean for Fathers?

In my lifetime…. Fathers, who were ALWAYS RIGHT, aligned with God/Santa Claus/the President/the Pope and the preachers/ the military/everything powerful and productive, have been  unseated, attacked, demeaned, examined, analyzed, prodded, put in their places, and thoroughly mocked. Once “Father Knows Best,” proud and parental, dads are more like father of the bride, Steve Martin style, buffoon-ish and berated.

What happened?
We grew up.
We got educated.

The UU church and other faith traditions began to question the patriarchy that had ruled for centuries. In our tradition it started with programs like Cakes for the Queen of Heaven, where women and men learned that it was not always this way, that once women had power, prestige, and authority. Women became ordained in most denominations. Women are no longer understood to be the property of their fathers, or their husbands, at least in this culture and in Western, European culture, and we surely trust this evolution will continue.

Question: In rejecting the patriarchy and its control and demeaning of women, which we women internalized, must we reject and even despise our fathers?

I am speaking most directly to women and men of my generation and a bit beyond, women forty and over, whose dads still strove to be the traditional “father,” the last of what has become a dying breed: we didn’t know it, but we were the daughters and sons of men who were confused by a shifting and turbulent future and who were fighting to maintain and preserve what they saw as their duty and their obligation as men in an increasingly chaotic world.


My dad was nothing if not the quintessential twentieth century father.
He was stern, quick to judge, had very high standards, and was never, ever, ever, not once, not even one time ever in my whole entire life! ....was he questioned. 

He had to raise twin five year old girls and a seven year old boy after the sudden death of his wife. His answer was to marry very quickly, someone whom he saw as able to do the task. His work at an executive job in Philadelphia and later stiff drinks and many outdoor hobbies and pursuits filled his time enough that he never examined that choice, or, if he did, never discussed it with us.

My own life has been a long series of choices, many of which I now see were attempts to please my Father. If he was pleased, he never said so. He said two things that I should have let go of long before I did: one was, “You could be Miss America someday!” (we always watched it on our B&W TV). The other was, “Why go to college when you will just get married and have children?” 

I stayed in my own first marriage longer than I should have, just because I didn’t want to admit any failure. But he was still living when I divorced and I did something I will never regret. He was in his eighties then (he was nearly 50 when I was born, having led a long and colorful bachelor /sportsman life) and had suffered some health problems. I went to his home every week and took him out for lunch, then spent the afternoon talking with him. I asked him lots of questions about the grandparents I’d never met, his childhood, his life before we were born, my mother. What I learned could fill … an index card. He usually changed the subject. 

Still, having tried to make this contact, I finally stopped longing to please him. I began to understand that his own mother had been a demanding perfectionist. I didn’t have to carry that forward within myself, or with my own children.

I’ve done a fairly good (but far from perfect, which is just fine) job of incorporating many, many good aspects of my father into my own being. That’s how I honor him today, Father’s Day, and almost every day.
Just a few of those are:
·        He was scrupulously honest, hated lying, deceit, and manipulation.
·        He had no toleration for fools (shotgun)
·        He loved the outdoors: plants, trees, birds
·        He was a great cook, and a passionate eater and food connoisseur
·        He was a great reader, and loved music, although not a musician himself
·        Loved thunderstorms and sitting on a screened porch
·        Fresh cut flowers, hated anything plastic
·        He had a good sense of humor and warm heart
·        He would have loved to travel more.. life’s circumstances prevented that, so I feel he’s with me when I do!
·        He admired and cultivated order, symmetry and simple beauty



I am 100% certain that he loved me. This I choose to keep; the rest I can let go.
He lived to see his granddaughter whom I named after his beloved wife, my mother Marjorie. He held her when she was just a month old and looked at her with such tenderness and said something I have told her many times. I think it showed that even though he had to live through almost ninety years in which fatherhood went from being on the pedestal to being in the dustbin, and even though he must have been facing the end of his own life rather confused about the future of the family and of humanity, not being a person of traditional religious beliefs. He said, not, “She will sure be pretty,” or “I hope she finds a good husband,” or, “She’s my granddaughter,” but:  “She will be a strong woman.” And, she is.



I hope you carry the best of your father or forefathers within you today and every day. 


AMEN

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer's Coming... Are You Ready?

6/10/12



Fern Hill

By Dylan Thomas

Now as I was young and easy under the apple boughs
About the lilting house and happy as the grass was green,
       The night above the dingle starry,
               Time let me hail and climb
       Golden in the heydays of his eyes,
And honoured among wagons I was prince of the apple towns
And once below a time I lordly had the trees and leaves
               Trail with daisies and barley
       Down the rivers of the windfall light.


And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
       In the sun that is young once only,
               Time let me play and be  
       Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
               And the sabbath rang slowly
       In the pebbles of the holy streams.


All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
       And playing, lovely and watery
               And fire green as grass.
       And nightly under the simple stars
As I rode to sleep the owls were bearing the farm away,
All the moon long I heard, blessed among stables, the nightjars
       Flying with the ricks, and the horses
               Flashing into the dark.

And then to awake, and the farm, like a wanderer white
With the dew, come back, the cock on his shoulder: it was all
       Shining, it was Adam and maiden,
               The sky gathered again
       And the sun grew round that very day.
So it must have been after the birth of the simple light
In the first, spinning place, the spellbound horses walking warm
       Out of the whinnying green stable
               On to the fields of praise.


And honoured among foxes and pheasants by the gay house
Under the new made clouds and happy as the heart was long,
       In the sun born over and over,
               I ran my heedless ways,
       My wishes raced through the house high hay
And nothing I cared, at my sky blue trades, that time allows
In all his tuneful turning so few and such morning songs
       Before the children green and golden
               Follow him out of grace,

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
       In the moon that is always rising,
               Nor that riding to sleep
       I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
               Time held me green and dying
       Though I sang in my chains like the sea.


Dylan Thomas, “Fern Hill” from The Poems of Dylan Thomas





What happened to summer?

Do you recall when summer was long and open and abundant and ~ most of all~ free?
Sometimes now it seems that all we have of summer is the dread of higher utility bills and the scurry of arranging activities for kids, some of whom will never know that expanse of unstructured time that we took for granted.

It’s not just global warming ~ my summers in New Jersey were quite hot and way more humid than here. It’s not just that summer seemed better when we were young. It’s not just technology and the economy, although each of these is a part of what happened to summer.

The word “summer” evokes any number of memories, images and associations. Most good: fairs and festivals, beaches and boats, gardens and golden afternoons. We recall summers with delight because our senses were heightened and we had the space  to be present. Even the adversities: mosquitoes, sunburn, poison ivy, heat with no air conditioning, do not seem to have been as bad as the darkness and dullness we associate with deep winter.


What I think has happened is that we have culturally lost the ability, or even the motivation, to create space for reflection, for conversation, for wilderness, for FREEDOM.

It’s as if our souls were once vast uninhabited forests and we had multitudes of ideas and dreams and resources. It’s as if we have collectively torn down the forests and built artificial, programmed, ugly and dominating structures and sidewalks and stadiums that keep us from ever experiencing the mystery and joy of the soul-forest we knew. We have cooperated with those forces that mitigate against freedom: unrestrained capitalism and all of its component parts, including, it would seem, permanent war; materialism and technology; addiction and greed.

We are no longer free. Or, if we even have a glimpse of freedom, it terrifies us.
Freedom is what Dylan Thomas is celebrating in Fern Hill.

For me, it was my family home in New Jersey. We had about five acres and a really big old house. No air conditioning. My dad was an erstwhile gentleman farmer, and there were innumerable nooks and hiding places. We spent all day every day out of doors. We rarely went anywhere in the car;  there were too many of us, especially when all of the stepbrothers were there and my little sister came. We were eight kids, infant to age sixteen, when I was ten. We had a huge vegetable garden and cats that had kittens in the barn and we made things out of nothing: forts and restaurants and villages and gizmos. I found shady places to read and be alone. We never, never, never wore shoes.

The joy I feel when I evoke these years is not beyond my grasp. It was not merely youth or innocence that allowed me to be present and aware and in the moment. Indeed I was a fairly serious child, painfully shy and with no permission or tools to grieve a mother’s death.
Dylan writes of time as that which took his freedom and joy:

Nothing I cared, in the lamb white days, that time would take me
Up to the swallow thronged loft by the shadow of my hand,
       In the moon that is always rising,
               Nor that riding to sleep
       I should hear him fly with the high fields
And wake to the farm forever fled from the childless land.
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
               Time held me green and dying…

I don’t buy the premise that time will inevitably steal this joy and freedom we wistfully recall.
So,  how do we return to a summer-like place in our spirits and in our living?

It was Camus who said "In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer."
Remember, it was also Camus, existentialist, who evoked the myth of Sisyphus to express his philosophy. This notion of the poor guy rolling the heavy stone up the steep hill over and over only to have it roll back down is so familiar to many of us who have succumbed to the wheel of karma.

But Camus also ended this seeming tale of despair with the words: “We must imagine Sisyphus happy!”
He wrote, “"Then Sisyphus watches the stone rush down in a few moments toward that lower world whence he will have to push it up again toward the summit. He goes back down to the plain. It is during that return, that pause, that Sisyphus interests me. A face that toils so close to stones is already stone itself! That hour, like a breathing space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock."

First, do not assume that there is no freedom available.
That said, freedom, which is our real topic here, will not be given you again in the same way it may have been when you were a child and your caregiver said: Go outside in the woods (or down the block, or to the fields) and don’t come back till dinner time.”

We must find, claim, and seize our own freedom. It is within almost every one to do this. I know because I have witnessed human beings with what may seem insurmountable challenges practice freedom of the heart and mind, and experience joy. Everything does not have to be perfect for this to happen. You do not have to buy anything or go anywhere or pay anybody.  You don’t have to be happy even. For example, I am deeply unhappy about some things beyond my control just now. But today I will experience joy and freedom.

Yesterday, I participated by invitation in the second ordination of a woman to the Catholic priesthood to be held here in Lexington. Both were performed here in the room. Right now a huge melodrama is playing out over in Rome at the Vatican over this. These women, as well as the women religious and many male priests, are standing up to the domination and hierarchy of the Catholic establishment with courage, conviction, and mutual support and love. This would never have been granted them. They had to take it.

Dylan Thomas ends his poem:
Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
               Time held me green and dying
       Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

His poem is a lament, a wistful evocation of what is lost. Unlike Camus, he does not offer a solution to the “chains” he sees imposed by time and its inexorable passage.

Audre Lorde wrote these words:
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.

She was talking, in a seminal address, about racism, homophobia, and sexism. But as Lorde taught us, all oppressions are linked. Even the way we allow ourselves to be chained, the ways we take on the oppressions and make them our own.

Interdependency between women is the way to a freedom which allows the I to
be, not in order to be used, but in order to be creative. This is a
difference between the passive be and the active being.

While I love “Fern Hill,” I think there is a passive acceptance there that I question.
We can practice freedom in hearts and minds and spirits. It’s not that hard. We must

1)    Decide to do so and acknowledge our part in our own bondage.
2)    Take actual steps: making time, letting go of things, learning to be present,
3)    Ask for help and support.

I wish for you the invincible summer that abides within us all. May it come to you today, and even if briefly, every day for the rest of your time on earth.

Monday, June 04, 2012

FLOWERS & FREEDOM: A Story of Our Faith


THE FLOWER COMMUNION: A Story of Our Faith
June 3, 2012

SUNFLOWER SUTRA (excerpted)

I walked on the banks of the tincan banana dock and
    sat down under the huge shade of a Southern
    Pacific locomotive to look at the sunset over the
    box house hills and cry.
Jack Kerouac sat beside me on a busted rusty iron
    pole, companion, we thought the same thoughts
    of the soul, bleak and blue and sad-eyed,
    surrounded by the gnarled steel roots of trees of
    machinery.
The oily water on the river mirrored the red sky, sun
    sank on top of final Frisco peaks, no fish in that
    stream, no hermit in those mounts, just ourselves
    rheumy-eyed and hungover like old bums
    on the riverbank, tired and wily.
Look at the Sunflower, he said, there was a dead gray
    shadow against the sky, big as a man, sitting
    dry on top of a pile of ancient sawdust—

….Poor dead flower? when did you forget you were a
    flower? when did you look at your skin and
    decide you were an impotent dirty old locomotive?
    the ghost of a locomotive? the specter and
    shade of a once powerful mad American locomotive?

--We're not our skin of grime, we're not our dread
    bleak dusty imageless locomotive, we're all
    beautiful golden sunflowers inside, we're blessed
    by our own seed & golden hairy naked
    accomplishment-bodies growing into mad black
    formal sunflowers in the sunset, spied on by our
    eyes under the shadow of the mad locomotive
    riverbank sunset Frisco hilly tincan evening
    sitdown vision.

Alan Ginsburg.





This day, June 3, in 1870, Norbet Capek was born in Bohemia. Capek is known to Unitarians world-wide as the one who introduced the flower communion to us and the composer of over 90 hymns, as well as the founder of the Unitarian movement in Czechoslovakia, a movement the numbered over 8,000 members in his day!
How did he do it? Through LOVE & TRUTH.

After all these years of leading one of our own Unitarian rituals, the Flower Communion, I discovered I’ve been doing it wrong.  We’ve been doing it wrong, and I’m guessing 99.9 % of UU congregations have been too. 

Actually, it was in about 2000 that a letter, written by Norbert Capek’s widow, was circulated among UU clergy, a letter that stressed the importance of making the Flower Communion replace Easter traditions. 

"Delighted to hear that there are intentions of releasing a pamphlet on the Flower Communion. While I do not care what and how the individual churches perform this service, as I told before, I was a bit dismayed recently over the fact that some churches (the San Francisco one included) use it as a substitute for Easter or any other myth. Norbert never meant it to be this nor was it ever and is not to this day held at Easter. ńĆapek's only motivation was to stress and bring about BROTHERHOOD. As a symbol he used flowers because in the name of a floweror flowers no wars were waged as was the case with the Cross or the Chalice. The flowers are used as symbols of the gifts which each person can make to the church and through the church to other persons. Because of the large variety each person is able to express his individuality. The exchange of flowers means that I shall walk, without reservation, with anyone - regardless of his social status, or his former religious affiliation, as long as he is ready and willing to go along in search of truth and service to man."

When I heard about this letter, I encouraged this church to move our Flower Communion to the early weeks of summer ~~ even though our church does not disband for the summer, we do take a breath from the relentless pace of church year activity~~ and the church agreed!

But I didn’t read far enough. Capek, who introduced the Flower Communion in 1923, in his congregation in Prague, was the founder and promulgator of the Unitarian Church in what was called Bohemia when he was born, then Czechoslovakia, now Czech Republic. He wanted the ex-Catholics and former Jews in his congregation to have a ritual which would give them everything ritual does: symbolism, hope, a larger purpose, but would not remind them too closely of those former rituals, like bread and wine, with which they had grown uncomfortable.

But Capek also encouraged the members of the congregation to choose any flower as they left, "just as it comes without making any distinction where it came from and whom it represents, to confess that we accept each other as brothers and sisters without regard to class, race, or other distinction, acknowledging everybody as our friend who is human and wants to be good."

This is a Humanist ritual.

Today I suggest we shift our ritual a bit to incorporate that part, perhaps the most important part of all. What I see too often is that we do the first part well: celebrating the bouquet of diversity, but we are way too picky and discriminating about which “flowers” we take home, eschewing those who aren’t like us: poor people, working class people, uneducated (but not necessarily unintelligent) people, Hillbilles, rednecks, the gypsies among us, Republicans.

It is the great challenge of this faith to practice, over and over, the flower communion in our hearts and minds. To challenge ourselves to accept and walk beside all of our fellow humans, with one small exception.


·        

We don’t have to accept without question Nazis, KKK members, God Hates Fags sign holders, or any stripe of people who abuse, or perpetrate injustice upon the weak and innocent, especially children. As Capek even said, 

 "...as long as he is ready and willing to go along in search of truth and service to man
·        who is human and wants to be good..."

It is written that Capek’s faith was a “sun-drenched, pre-Holocaust faith…” There is evidence that even when he was arrested after preaching one Sunday in Prague in spite of Nazis standing in the back of his congregation, then tried and sent to Dachau as an invalid age 72, he led church services among his fellow victims, sand and composed hymns, and kept alive some vestige of faith and hope even in that most evil and despicable of environments. 

What he said that Sunday in 1942 was this:
We all know that this is the worst winter in our history and the ground is terribly frozen. We also know that the Spring must come, and the seeds now buried will sprout and bloom again.
The Nazis saw through the symbolism … it was not winter, after all, but early Spring…. And the next morning at 6AM he was arrested at his home. His death was a horrible one in the gas chambers and he was, furthermore, a victim of the dreadful medical experiments performed at Dachau.

It is said by liberal Christians that you cannot have the resurrection without the crucifixion. What that means is that a faith not tempered and earned by devotion in spite of hardships is no true faith. It is no more significant than a belief in fairies or a Pollyanna –ish optimism that denies the very real presence of evil and violence and despair. You can’t have LOVE without TRUTH.

A shallow faith is Mac Donald’s compared with the slow food meal of organic produced cultivated locally. It is a bouquet of plastic flowers or roses grown on mega-farms in Columbia by workers paid $39 a month, compared with locally grown seasonal wildflowers. It has no roots and it will not make any difference in the world or in your own soul. 

Our movement (NOT our faith) has two major weaknesses. It is, like much liberal thought, too complacent and somewhat too optimistic. It does not call evil when it sees it. It practices a sham of love, a love without discernment or truth. 

At the same time, liberal movements are too insular. We can be self-congratulatory and and elitist, and in our isolation, fail to see our true interconnectedness. That’s truth without love.

 symbol of the Prague church

Subscribing to no theological system, Norbert Capek celebrated the "hidden cry for harmony with the Infinite" in every soul. "Every person," he wrote, "is an embodiment of God and in every one of us God struggles for higher expression." "Religion," he said, "can never die because human beings. . . cannot but be religious regardless of the form of [their] religion." Religion should, before all else, provide that "inner harmony which is the precondition of strong character, good health, joyful moods and victorious, creative life."

"It is my ideal," he wrote, "that unitarian religion in our country should mean a higher culture. . . new attitudes toward life and practically a new race. . . . In short, unitarian religion should mean the next advanced cultural level of a certain people." The church's task, he felt,"must be to place truth above any tradition, spirit above any scripture, freedom above authority, and progress above all reaction."
Capek himself points to both of these challenges we face, as a congregation, as a movement, as liberal people in an increasingly fear-driven world. 

The first: to continue to celebrate all that IS  good in humanity and the world. That’s LOVE.
The second: to face and speak the truth, fearlessly, freely, and sometimes forcibly. That’s TRUTH.

The flower that symbolized the Unitarian Church in Prague was the sunflower. Of course, Capek did not survive to read Ginsburg’s poem, The Sunflower Sutra, written in 1955. But especially given what we  must call a post-Holocaust, post-September 11th, faith, I think he might have approved. For Ginsburg names in his poem, literally and symbolically, all of the things that dirty the sunflower: greed, exploitation, inhumanity, waste and destruction. Still he sees with delight that the sunflower stood its ground through all of these. A kind of victory.

The motto of the church was Veritas Vincit. Truth is victorious. It was changed to Latin from Czech to fool the Nazis, but it has been the deep core of our religion since Servetus was burned at the stake, and even today when we stand for immigrants, against bullying, when this church hosts a WomanPriest ordination or the first Gay Pride prom, and whenever we act with clarity and love TEMPERED with TRUTH.

This is our challenge.. may we meet it, individually and collectively, with joy and hope.