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Moving in Faith
A UU Minister's Blog on Running, Relocation, and Reverence
A UU Minister's Blog on Running, Relocation, and Reverence
Moving in Faith
Once again we come to the end of the calendar year, moving through the holiday season with feelings that range from joy or dread to eagerness, resignation, awe, frenzy, delight and excitement. As we come full circle, this season often calls us to remembrance, ritual and reverence. It is a season that brings the rituals of tree-trimming, candle-lighting, cookie-making, gift-giving and well-wishing. It is a time that invites us to recall our lives a year ago, and encourages us to wonder what our life will be like a year from now.
Our worship theme for December, using the lens of biology, is that “Life Works in Cycles.” Mahlon Hoagland, the biochemist who describes sixteen patterns of life, says “Life loves loops. Most biological processes…wind up back where they started. The circulation of blood, the beat of the heart, the nervous system’s sensing and responding, menstruation, migration…the cycle of birth and death – all have the habit of looping back for a new start. Loops tame uncontrolled events. One-way processes, given sufficient energy and materials, tend to ‘run away,’ to go faster and faster unless they are inhibited or restrained.”
Hoagland goes on to use the example of a steam engine and the governor (a device that monitors and controls the steam input) as a system that self-corrects, and that when such self-generated restraints occur in small steps, the overall system appears to maintain itself in a steady state.
In poetic terms, local musician Peter Mayer says something similar in his song, One More Circle:
We have raised our fists in anger and we've tried
To work it out
That we need each other, we cannot deny
There is no doubt
So let us weave another dream in outer space…
On this planet home that holds our human race
We still are learning, but all in all
I’d say this year in flight together has been fun
What say we make one more circle around the sun?
It may not be that we can quite say this past year has been “fun.” It has been a challenging year for many of us, personally and in church. A year ago we finally received our reimbursement settlement funds from our lawsuit with the city – but that brought on a huge reality check: that we would actually have to construct the building the congregation dreamed about as far back as 2005. We also went through membership changes, and we continued working through governance changes…and each issue brought up new challenges about our direction and purpose and ability to work together.
And yet, without question, I remain firmly convinced “that we need each other, we cannot deny.” Like the governor on a steam engine, we need each other, and clearly understood structures, to tame uncontrolled events. With compassion and the sense that “we still are learning,” we build strong relationships and the beloved community with feedback loops and honesty. When that occurs, when we move from feeling like struggling isolated individuals to feeling like partners working together, then “all in all” it does begin to feel fun.
Loops tame uncontrolled events. This season, as we engage one another, as we gather with family, and as we strive to live our faith in the world, may we remember our path around the sun. May our annual planetary circular journey be a meditation for us, reminding us of the patterns and rituals in our lives that are most important and meaningful, and reminding us of our deepest reasons for being together.
Moving in Faith,
CHARLOTTE JUSTICE SALESKA (1935-2012)
The Ministries and Faith Development staff offers our condolences to the family and colleagues of the Rev. Charlotte Justice Saleska who, after being diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2003, died on December 28, 2012. She was 77 years old.
Rev. Saleska was born in Marion, IN on August 16, 1935 to Olive (Heel) and E.E. Justice. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Taylor University in 1957. She then went on to attain a Master of Arts from Hunter College in 1964. Finally, in 1988, she earned both a Master of Arts in Religious Studies from the University of Chicago Divinity School and a Master of Divinity from Meadville Lombard Theological School. As a student at Meadville Lombard, she helped create and implement the first women’s studies course at the seminary, and led a call for the school to hire female professors to the all-male faculty.
Rev. Saleska was ordained on June 6, 1988. She was first called to serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities in Davenport, IA (and was the first and only female settled minister there) from 1988-2000. She then went on to serve as interim minister at the First Universalist Unitarian Church of Wausau, WI from 2000-2001. She also served as interim minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tampa, FL from 2001-2002. In 2000, she was bestowed with the honor of Minister Emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities.
Rev. Saleska brought her diverse background to her work as a minister. She was a social worker at Head Start Families in Milwaukee, WI from 1968-1975. From 1975-1980, she was the sole coordinator of the Inter-Urban Health Careers program affiliated with several Milwaukee area school districts. While her husband, the Rev. Charles Saleska, was serving the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Gainesville, FL, she served as the Fellowship’s Director of Religious Education from 1983-1985. During that time she also taught high school honors English literature to juniors and seniors, first at Dixie County High School near the Gulf of Mexico, and then at Alachua County High School. When her husband was diagnosed with a terminal illness in 1983, her women’s group encouraged her to follow her call to ministry, and in 1985, at the age of 50, she entered Meadville Lombard.
During her tenure at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of the Quad Cities, she formed the Interfaith Theological Symposiums with Edwards Congregational United Church of Christ and Temple Emanuel, both also located in Davenport, IA. Conveying a strong interest in social issues, Rev. Saleska worked at length with women's issues groups and abortion rights groups, and worked diligently as part of an interfaith clergy group to bring a Planned Parenthood clinic to the Quad Cities. Rev. Saleska also helped guide the church on a building expansion project that, for the first time, created more classroom space and meeting space for the congregation.
Rev. Saleska was a passionate advocate for women’s issues, and for claiming and reclaiming the story and role of women in religion and in human society. Her passion originated in the home as she guided and taught her two sons to respect, speak out, and feel compassion for women and women’s issues; and expanded later to include her engagement in seminary, social justice, and ministry. She also loved deep discussions of any kind, especially book discussion groups and movie discussions. Because of her background in English literature and her love for Shakespeare, she was able to quickly recall and expound on literary references, metaphors and poems, and gave voice to them in her sermons and discussions. Arising from her childhood on an Indiana farm, she loved to garden in her younger adult years, and in later years her house was full of green and growing plants of many kinds and varieties. Rev. Saleska also loved to travel, and during her years of ministry she took trips to Transylvania, Germany, France, and Italy – and when she could, she also traveled to Chicago and New York to visit friends and attend the theater. One of her favorite activities before and after retirement was to drive to Spring Green, Wisconsin, to meet her sister Carol and Carol’s husband Dave to attend Shakespeare plays by the American Players Theater.
Rev. Saleska is survived by her sisters, Carol Jones and Carmen Wilks; brothers, Warren Justice and Sam Justice; son, Scott Saleska, his wife, Kirsten Engel and their daughter, Helene; son, Kent Saleska, his wife, Heidi Saleska, and their children, Parker and Mirek. Her husband, the Rev. Charles Saleska, died at age 55 in February 1991.
At this point, we are hoping to have a memorial service for my mom sometime in March in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I grew up for the first 14 years of my life, and where my family has long-time roots. That planning, though, has yet to be finalized, depending on the availability of the church we want to use, and on the availability of the minister we get to officiate.
So much to plan. So much to remember. So much sadness and so much to celebrate.
Having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, [the Magi] returned to their country by another route.
When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”
When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:
“A voice is heard in
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.”
How long, Lord, must I call for help,
but you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.
The perversion of justice shows up so many places in our culture. I am angry that some of our best computer minds are being used to create ever newer and more complicated and more realistic video games where the players, many of whom are children, rack up more points the more people they kill. I am angry that violence is both glorified and deemed to be more appropriate to show on television and in the movies than naked bodies making love. I am angry that access to guns is easier and more available in this country than is access to health care. I am angry that the National Rifle Association continues to defend their gun manufacturers and their bloodlust with the childishly irresponsible mantra, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” And I am angry that so many people and so many politicians defend that mantra as well.
I am angry that people like former governor Mike Huckabee get to go on national television and say that we have so much violence in our schools because we have systematically removed God from our schools, and that as a result, we shouldn’t be surprised that our schools would become places of carnage. These outrageously insensitive words are not just cruel and false, they also victimize the families of the dead with a second round of verbal and emotional violence.
In Friday’s shooting, it was reported that two of the guns found were a Sig Sauer pistol and a Glock pistol. The slogan for the Sig Sauer gun is: “When it counts.” The slogan for the Glock gun is, “the confidence to live your life.” So I am left to wonder what counted at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and what unfathomable form of confidence did the shooter need to have when he went there?And of course, ultimately, I am so angry and so saddened by the deaths of 28 people, most of whom were children. I can’t imagine what it must be like to wait in a holding area not knowing the fate of your child. I can’t imagine what it must be like to wake up this second morning since Friday to once more be reminded that your nightmare continues whether you are sleeping or waking. 13 years ago I worked with teenagers and opened the paper to read about Columbine. I just sat at the breakfast table sobbing. More than a decade later I have a son in kindergarten, and on Friday, as I kept turning to my computer in my church office to read and hear updates about the kindergarteners in Sandy Hook Elementary School, I had a similar reaction. I feel like Rachel, weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because her children were no more. So that we do not just remember the shooter, we need to remember the children and adults. For each person – child and adult – I have a candle here. If you feel comfortable, I invite anyone to come forward and (as Greg plays the music for “O come, O come, Emmanuel” ) light a candle in memory as I read off the names of the people who were lost on Friday:
This afternoon many of us here in our church are involved in the radio play production of the “Miracle on 34th Street.” Each December I give a sermon that is a letter to a Christmas character. This year, partly because it’s a character in our show, and partly because I have not yet written a letter sermon to a female character, I wanted to write this year’s letter sermon to Doris Walker, the divorced single mother of the story who is trying to raise her child in the best way she knows how: with as much realism and as few illusions as possible.
I was looking forward to writing that sermon. A divorced single mother in the 1940s was highly unusual. Not only is Doris Walker not a sad character deserving our pity or a caricatured character easily dismissed, she is strong and loving. She wants to raise her daughter in a way that will prevent her daughter from suffering the pain of shattered illusions, and the resulting anger and resentment that inevitably follow.
Sitting in my office on Friday, I felt I couldn’t write that letter sermon. Instead, I felt the need to somehow address the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Yet as I wrote this sermon and participated in the rehearsal for the show yesterday, I couldn’t help but identify the similarities in Doris Walker’s conflicted feelings about raising a vulnerable child in a world full of pain and disillusionment.
In the midst of my own anger, I am reminded that I can get just as angry as the next person – and that if I let it, I can let my anger turn into rage. And if I allow my self-righteousness and rage to run amuck, then I create defensive walls, attempting to protect my own pain by directing anger at others. As a result, I develop the capacity to inflict the kind of violence I normally condemn. This is where I need my religion, my faith, a faith bound together and emerging from both Christianity and Judaism, to prevent the emergence of rampant anger.
Two thousand years ago, much of the Mediterranean world was occupied and oppressed by Rome. The people of that time in particular sought a savior, someone who would throw off their oppressors and allow them to be free once more. I believe we are living under similar oppression today – only this time, it is an oppression of the spirit. The heavy hand of empire is upon us, an empire of spiritual emptiness that lures us into fear, reactivity, consumerism and addiction.
“Your body is so ugly,” says the emptiness, “that the only way you can be beautiful, or even acceptable, is to lose weight if you are fat, gain weight if you are skinny, straighten your hair if it is wavy, curl your hair if it is straight, dye your hair if it is grey. And since these efforts will never be enough,” says the emptiness, “spend even more time and money and emotion on these unattainable efforts.”
“Your life is so empty,” says the emptiness, “that the only way you can fill it is with more toys, bigger houses, smaller phones, more pills, more alcohol, more sex, more adrenaline rushes. If you are not happy,” says the emptiness, “then watch more TV, play more video games, drink more beer, get more and more angry and point your finger at someone else as the cause of your unhappiness.”
“The world is such a scary place,” says the emptiness, “that the only way you can be safe is to buy a gun. And if you don’t feel safe buying one gun,” says the emptiness, “then go buy another gun.”
In the great empire of emptiness, the forces of fear become so powerful and dissonant that they scream for no restrictions whatsoever because for them the protection of gun ownership, the so-called “freedom” of gun ownership, is more important than healthcare, or the education or the protection of our children. In this Orwellian cacophony, I can almost hear the doublespeak emerging that stops calling them “killing sprees” and instead, begins to call them “freedom sprees.”
I don’t want to live in a world like that. Do you? I don’t want to live in a world where doublespeak trumps common sense, where a lie repeated often enough becomes a truth. Do you? From my faith, I need to hear the call of deep peace and profound love cut through this nonsense. It will not help to turn over the responsibility of raising my children by blaming the video game industry, or blaming Hollywood, or even by blaming heartless politicians or inadequate gun laws. In the bleak midwinter, when everything is gray and rainy and foggy, the future is not clear. Definition is difficult to determine between near and far, between up and down, between danger and safety. So in the bleak midwinter, in the fog of our anger and pain, in the mists of our desire for retaliation and blame, when it seems we’ve lost our moral compass and our sense of direction is out of whack, we call for the birth of a savior. We sing, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel.”
“Emmanuel” means “God with us.” When I talk about a “savior,” though, I’m not necessarily talking about God, or a god, or any external supernatural being coming to perform magic on us. I’m talking about how we discover our brilliance and share it with the world. I’m talking about how we dig deep to find our light that will give us the strength to overthrow the oppression of emptiness, and then walk together, with one another, as images of The Holy for one another, to bring forth that light to live our lives in balance and wholeness. As the song says:
In the words of our opening song, “In the bleak midwinter, in this world of pain, where our hearts are open, love is born again.”
In the face of unspeakable tragedy, let us not become numb, but remain open. May we remember that however we may name or not name God, compassion and love always show up only in the way we show up. May we remember that however we may name or not name God, our hands are the hands that reshape the world, call on our politicians to draft laws of peace, and work to prevent violence in our lives. May we find ways to hold one another with grace, and to remember to feel and to be present for our children. May we behave in ways that let them know they can talk to us about anything. And may we never forget to hug them and tell them how much we love them.