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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
A famous and beautiful piece of writing attributed to Chief Seattle in a speech to a delegation of white politicians and military people in the early 19th Century includes these words:
“This we know: The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man did not weave the web of life: he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”
Beautiful, yes. Accurate, no. Chief Seattle, an Anglicization of “See-ahth” or “Si’ahl,” was a Duwamish chief known for bravery and leadership. He was also a great orator. This speech appears in the 1991 “Earth Prayers from Around the World,” has been made into children’s books, pieces of music (one of which, “This we Know,” with music by Ron Jeffers, was sung by a women’s chorus at my dad’s memorial service in 1991), and even appears as Reading #550 in our own UU hymnal Singing the Living Tradition. Surprisingly though, this piece was actually written by Ted Perry as part of the script for a little known 1971 movie called Home.
Our human lives, and our relationship to all things, are sometimes intertwined and interconnected even in ways we may wish they were not. It is ironic that a piece about connections to nature is just another form of misappropriation by a white author in the 1970s who wanted to use a long dead Native American to further the motives of an environmental movement. And yet, these forms of connection – both honest and clear, as well as muddled and misguided – are part of what comprises the messy soup of human race relations that require our attention and deepest intention of goodwill.
Though the history of this piece is inaccurate, the sentiment is valuable. We do hear similar sayings from authentically documented Native teachings. And in his scientific work, the biochemist Mahlon Hoagland describes one biological pattern as: “Life is interconnected and interdependent.” In fact, including both Easter and Earth Day, this is the theme for the month of April. Of this pattern Mahlon Hoagland says:
“Ultimately, everything in the [coral] reef connects with everything else. The survival of the reef shark is closely tied to the survival of the coral polyp, even though the two may have no contact and certainly no awareness of each other. What survives and evolves are patterns of organization…Any successful change of strategy by one organism will create a ripple of adjustments in the reef community. Called coevolution, this is the kind of creative force at work everywhere life has taken hold.”
One truth about being interconnected and coevolving – among humans, plants, or animals – is that we need each other. Different species bump into each other, and we may be either predators or grazers, but ultimately we cannot exist without the value the other being brings to the table. For the month of April, a month of rebirth, let’s consider what value each one of us brings to the table of life.
Moving in Faith,
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.