Friday, December 12, 2008

It makes sense

I have always thought that a response to the various ballot initiatives and referenda that have been proposed to curtail the civil rights of homosexuals would be to start an initiative to outlaw synthetic blend clothing. (After all, Leviticus 19:19 tells us not to wear clothing made from two kinds of fiber.) Here's a video with a different message but the same point of view.

May sanity one day prevail.

in Gassho,


Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Bringing it (and us) all together

A while ago (July 14: Strangely Moving) I posted a video of Matt Harding dancing his way around the world--one person, one strange dance, hundreds of different countries and people coming together.

The video below seems to me to tell the same story of our human community yet in a very different way.

You can find out more about the incredible project that gave birth to this video at the website of Playing for Change


In Gassho,


Thursday, December 04, 2008

Which Moves--the Train or the Station?

One of my goals in life has been to be the kind of father that was in the old Calvin and Hobbes comic strip--the kind who is always messing with his kids' heads. This past week we were all in Boston and took our first ride as a family on the T.

I told them, "You know what's weird? It's the stations that are moving. We're just sitting here while everything else moves around us." And, of course, with a certain perspective that's just how it seems.

My kids, of course, immediately recognized this as one of Daddy's "jokes," yet I've been finding myself thinking about it more seriously lately. I've been reading a number of books all of which have made at least passing reference to the idea that the passage of time is something of an illusion. The past, as it were, is only a memory and the future is only a dream. This moment--right NOW--is all that exists. And even the sense that this moment flows into the next "this moment," that one NOW passes into the next NOW moment is an illusion. There is only NOW.

So do I "move" through time or does time "move" around me? Is NOW a series of moments, like stations on a line, through which I move, or is there only NOW, still and stationary, like a train that remains motionless while the stations move past?

No wonder I liked Calvin and Hobbes.

In Gassho,


Monday, November 17, 2008

Sometimes You Need No Words

I've been trying to decide how to respond to the "other" news from election night. I can add nothing to this:

In Gassho,


Thursday, November 06, 2008

And now . . .

It happened. The forty-fourth President of the United States is going to be a young, inspiringly articulate, keenly intellegent, African-American father of two.

Over and over again I find myself returning to the creation myth J.R.R. Tolkien wrote for the Silmarillian. In it--and this is the short version--Illuvatar, the One, sends out a chord which the Ainur (think angels) turn into a harmonized melody. Again and again, as Melkor introduces dischord, Illuviaar sends out new chords which incorporate the dischord, and on and on the Ainur sing.

At the end of all their singing, Illuvatar tells the Ainur to open their eyes, to see what their singing created. They behold the universe--their song made manifest. And then, of a sudden, all that they have seen vanishes from their sight. "Now go," says Illuvatar, "and make what you have seen."

Barack Obama's election shows us--many of us, at least--a vision of what the future of America can me. But we cannot rest in that. The success of the ballot initiatives in California, Arkansa, Arizona, and Florida which restrict the rights of lesbians and gays are stark reminders that it is not simply "a new day for America."
The vision which many of us see through Barack Obama's election is both beautiful and powerful Yet President Obama will not be able to fulfill this vision, will not be able to realize the dream on his own, just as Senator Obama was not able to bring about his remarkable victory without a groundswell of support.

We must now go forth and make what we have seen.

If we want affordable healthcare for all, we must work for it.

If we want civil liberties for all of nation's citizens -- and not just the ones who look like the majority, or love like majority, or think like the majority -- then we must work for it.

If we want the United States of America to be a shining example to the world of what a multi-racial, multi-ethnic, truly diverse society can be, then we must make of our lives--each one of us--such an example.

Barack Obama is not the Messiah. (And even the one who holds that title didn't "magically" make "everything okay.")

We must realize the dream.
WE must realize the dream.
We MUST realize the dream.

In Gassho,


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I Can't Resist

I was going to write a serious piece this morning, but I came across this clip and just can't resist the urge to do what little I can to help it get seen as widely as possible.

I love the satrical online "newspaper," The Onion, "America's Finest News Source." Their foray into "TV" is equally inspired. As an example, this report:

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

If that tickled your fancy, here's another:

Obama Runs Constructive Criticism Ad Against McCain

My work for the day is done.

in Gassho,


Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Good? Bad?

There's a well known Taoist story about a farmer and a series of events that bring his neighbors out to alternately console and congratulate him. He loses his only work horse; the horse returns with several young wild horses. His son breaks his leg while trying to tame one of the horses; the broken leg saves him from being drafted into a battle in which every other young man from their village is killed. At each turn of events, as the neighbors weigh in on how "good" or "bad" the situation is, the farmer replies only with the words, "good news, bad news, who's to say?"

I thought of this story when Colin Powell came out as endorsing Barack Obama's candidacy. Here he is, a standard bearer for the Republican party, a decorated general, former Secretary of State, National Security Advisor, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying that, McCain's rhetoric aside, he believes that Barack Obama is the man with the right stuff to lead this nation. At one time Powell, himself, was discussed as a possible candidate for the Presidency, and Democrats and Republicans alike were excited at the prospect.

So this is good news, right? Well, who's to say? During the lead-in to the Iraq war Powell was excoriated by liberals as nothing more than a mouthpiece for the Bush Administration. His reputation as a man of principles, a reputation earned during the first Gulf War, seemed to have been permanently obliterated. And yet here we are, a few years later, celebrating his endorsement of Obama. Is Gen. Powell a good man? A bad man? It's hard to say.

And let's not forget that John McCain himself was once the darling of the Democrats. A straight talking maverick, he was seen as a potential running mate for John Kerry in 2004, and the possibility electrified many. So is he a good man or a bad man? It's hard to say.

I'm not advocating for a complete moral relativism. I am wanting to remind us--myself included--that in our rush to judge people "good" or "bad" we generally, usually, almost invariably, overlook the myriad shades and hues between black and white. Simple answers are almost always wrong; oversimplifications always are.

In Gassho,


"Out beyond concepts of right-ness and wrong-ness there is a field. I will meet you there."
~ Rumi

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Springer-fication of the Electorate

This morning I sent out this letter to the editor to a number of local and national papers. I thought I'd post it here as well:

I am frightened for my country.

Economically, we are in the midst of what many experts are calling the worst financial crisis since the great depression; not just here in the US but around the world economies teeter on the brink of disaster.

Militarily, our nation is involved in two wars, and our foreign policy over the past eight years has significantly reduced our standing in the world making us less, rather than more, safe in these troubling times.And culturally, here at home, we're seeing what I've come to think of the "Springerfication" of the electorate.

Think back to the Democratic National Convention--throughout you saw people looking up at the dais through glistening eyes which revealed a spirit of hope and inspiration that permeated the convention hall.

Think of the Republican National Convention--all loud booing and derisive laughter that conveyed a mean spirit, an angry spirit. And in recent days some people at rallies at which Gov. Palin has been speaking have shouted "terrorist," and "Obama bin Laden," and "kill him" when Senator Obama's name has been mentioned. I feel like I'm watching the Jerry Springer Show.

Are Senator McCain and Gov. Palin responsible for the actions of the people who attend their rallies? Of course not. But they must take responsibility for not immediately and in no uncertain terms condemning such behavior. And we, each and every one of us, Republican and Democrat, must take responsibility for ourselves. We are America, and if America is to continue to be the great nation it boasts of being we must be a great people. Let us look for the best in one another and stop calling for blood.

In gassho,


Thursday, October 02, 2008

Happy Birthday Gandhi-ji

Today is the 139th anniversary of the birth of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, known in his day as both Mahatma (Great Spirit) and Bapu (Papa). Once, when asked what his message was to the world he replied, "my life is my message."

I once preached a sermon of that title, noting that Gandhi was not always the fearless figure of modern memory. In his young adulthood, as he studied at a London law school, he broke strict Hindu custom by eating meat and drinking alcohol. (In his autobiography he said that he had noticed that all of the British boys of his same age were much bigger and stronger than he was, and he thought meat might be their secret. The alcohol? He said he just wanted to fit in.) He smoked cigarettes. He even flirted with becoming a Christian.

And the first time he got up in a courtroom was a fiasco. He said that he became so terrified, so panic stricken, that he could think of nothing to say and ran, sweating, from the room. His client lost.

Yet at his death Albert Einstein uttered these memorable words: "Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this in flesh and blood did walk upon this earth."

His autobiography, The Story of My Experiments with Truth, makes clear that we should not dismiss Gandhi as some sort of superhuman saint. "What can be done I will try to do," he said, and his life--his message--is that much, much can be done by those who are willing to try.
Two sites worth exploring:

In Gassho,

Friday, September 26, 2008

Would You Step Over Here Please?

Shortly after speakers at the Republican National Convention, including Vice Presidential nominee Sarah Palin, made sport of (get ready to chuckle) community organizers, T-shirts appeared bearing the message:

"Jesus was a community organizer;
Pontius Pilate was a governor."

That got a laugh out of me, as well as the encouragement to stop and think for a moment. Many moments, actually. I'm still thinking about it and what it says about the state of our nation today.

I haven't written in a while -- I've been acclimating to the dynamics of my new life working for the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. One thing that's new, and is taking some getting used to, is the three hours of commuting by bus (round trip) three days a week. But it does give me time to think.

Yesterday I was thinking again about that Jesus/Pilate thing when I remembered this picture. It is an artist's rendering of what Yeshua ben Miriam might have looked like. A forensic artist from the University of Manchester used the 2000-year-old skull of a Jewish man from Israel to recreate the face, and based the hair and skin color on third century frescoes of Jewish faces. All of this was done for a Discovery Channel documentary about the historic Jesus. That's right, this is an artist's rendering of what the actual Jesus might have looked like.

And not only was Jesus a community organizer, but if he were to walk through an airport today the screeners might well ask him to step out of line.

Again and again I find myself facing the same question: with whom am I standing? It's a question that comes up in my personal life; it's a question that comes up in my work life; and it's a question that echoes in my head as I listen to the politicians and pundits this election season.

It's a question for you, too.

In Gassho,

Rev. Wik

Monday, July 28, 2008

Love, love, love, love, love

Yesterday I was bathed in it as I preached my last sermon from the pulpit of the First Parish in Brewster's pulpit as their senior minister--and my last sermon anywhere, for a while at least, as a parish minister. We laughed, we cried. I ate fire. It was lovely.

Yet while this love-fest was going on, a man entered our congregation in Knoxville, TN, took a shotgun out of a guitar case, and started shooting. (Here's a link to a recent Associated Press story about the incident.) He killed two people--including one who apparently purposefully put himself between the gun and other people--and wounded several others. According to a letter apparently found in his car, one of the reasons he went to the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church was because of that congregation's support of liberal policies.

My first response was shock. Then, admittedly, relief that it hadn't happened here. Then outrage and sorrow mixed together. Then incredulity--how could someone do this? Protest, sure. Rail against, okay. But shoot people because of what they believe in?

Of course, this is not a rational act so it will no doubt be futile to look for rational explanations. But it does reinforce for me the message in the sermon I delivered yesterday, that the words we use, the categories we create, the labels we apply (to ourselves and others) are just that -- words. What matters is not liberal or conservative, gay or non-gay, white or black -- what matters is that we're alive on the same planet, related to one another, breathing the same air. What matters is that our hearts beat to the same rythms.

I'm reminded of the poem by Alice Walker:
Love is not concerned with whom you pray,
Or where you slept the night you ran away from home.
Love is concerned that the beating of your heart
Should kill no one.

That's it, isn't it?

In sorrow, in hope, and in gassho,


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

leaf by leaf

If you looked up the word "spartan" and checked out the antonyms, you'd find a picture of my office. Virtually every space has something on it or in it -- icons, photos of my kids, a collection of batmobiles from various eras, my two-foot tall talking Yoda. I suspect that some people have made appointments to see me just to check out my stuff -- to see if they can get a handle on me, perhaps, or just to find out where I got my "Believe in God Instantly" breath spray. (It was a gift from a friend.)

And while all of these tchochkes actually do have meaning to me--and might well give a Jungian analyst insightful keys to my psyche--the thing which in many ways matters most to me is the wall of books. Literally. One of the things I loved about this office at first sight was that it has built-in book shelves covering an entire wall. And I had no problem filling them up. To overflowing.

My library is as eclectic as everything else: from my old friend Chuck Crisafulli's Go To Hell: A Heated History to the Underworld, to the six-volume "tenth completed edition" of the works of William Ellery Channing and a first edition of Emerson's Divinity School Address, to my friends James Ishmael Ford's Zen Master Who? A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen, Paul Rasor's Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century, and Peter Richardson's Four Spiritualities: Expressions of Self, Expression of Spirit. Lots in between.

I am a collector of many things--books foremost among them. If I read a book I like, I buy others by the same author. If I hear an interesting interview on public radio's Speaking of Faith I go to and buy the book. And one book, or one author, leads me to others, and my library is the case wherein I display this collection of ideas.

And now I'm packing it up. The shelves are emptying and the boxes are filling as I'm preparing to exit my role as Senior Minister of First Parish in Brewster and take on my new job as Worship and Music Resources Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association. And I find that I'm resisting this work.

To be sure, I'm tremendously excited about the adventure awaiting me as part of the staff of the Association, yet I'm also realizing the losses associated with leaving my long-held role of "parish minister." As I'm packing up my books on the religions of humanity, for instance, I'm realizing that I won't be unpacking most of them in a new church office. Except for the ones dealing with worship and celebration they'll remain packed, along with my books on small group ministry, and the ones on pastoral care. And many of the books I've held on to "because someone might be interested in that" or "I might one day do an adult ed program about that" will be going to the second-hand book store down the street from my house, never to be unpacked by me again.

As each books goes off the shelf and into the box I feel as though I'm a warrior removing one piece of my armor after another. Or, to use a less militaristic metaphor, as though I'm removing another brick in the persona I've so carefully crafted over the past fourteen years--Erik Walker Wikstrom, parish minister.

Who am I if not the guy with the big collection of books on Buddhism, and Jesus, and management theory? Who am I if not the person who can put his hands on a book where this quote or that thought can be found? Who am I without this wall of ideas around me? Well, that'll be interesting to find out, won't it?

And that's one of those questions, isn't it? Who are we without the things we have or the things we do which so often are the ways we define ourselves? "Becoming who you already are," is one of the ways the Christian monk Thomas Merton described the spiritual life. It's one of the things I hope to do during this next phase of my journey.

In Gassho,


Monday, July 14, 2008

Strangely Moving

I've written before about the guy who attached helium balloons to his lawnchair and flew--three times, as of recently, and for several hundred miles at aircraft altitude. I wrote about the guy who made a lifesize sculpture of Jesus out of chocolate. And I've said that just knowing that people like these exist in our world gives me hope.

Well, today a friend e-mailed me a link to this video. It is, apparently, something of an internet sensation, but this was my introduction. Anyway, I found it oddly moving; it honestly brought me close to tears--what my kids and I call "happy tears." I can't articulate why. So I offer it to you. Perhaps you can tell me what moved me so. Or what, if anything, moves you.

It looks so much better in high defination, and I can't figure out how to embedd that version on this site so, if you want, click here to go to YouTube and watch it again. Before playing the video select "watch it in high definition" (under the video box). To find out more, go to wherethehellismatt?.com It loads slowly, but it'll give you more information about this guy and his long strange trip.

In Gassho,


Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Wisdom from Freddy and the boys

This winter I "discovered" Queen. I'd heard Bohemian Rhapsody, of course, but they were all a little too glam for my taste and at the time I tended to eschew anything that was too popular as a matter of principle. So I missed the Queen bandwagon.

Having discovered them now I have a number of their tunes loaded onto my iPod and I like to listen to them while working out in the morning. This morning a lyric from the song "Play the Game" caught my ear:

This is your life. Don't play hard to get.
It reminds me of a line from that famous passage by Marianne Williamson--the one that's often erroneously attributed to Nelson Mandela--"Your playing small does not serve the world."
Why is it that so many of us so often find it so easy to sell ourselves short, the shift into "I can't" mode before ever really even exploring the possibility of "I can"? Why do we find it easy to nod our heads at the "wisdom" of the great poster that's attached to this posting?
In one of his books Frederich Buechner writes of the Christian story that far from being too good to be true it's "too good not to be true!" Perhaps that's true of us as well. Perhaps, if we spread our wings, we'll find we can soar. Perhaps, if we stop playing small, we'll discover how large we actually are.
This is your life--don't play hard to get.
In Gassho,

Monday, July 07, 2008

Leave No Answers Unquestioned

It has been said that there are three kinds of people in the world--those who are good with numbers and those who aren't.

I've said that there are Four Questions, but I really could just as easily--and just as correctly--said that there are eight, or eighteen, or eighteen hundred and eighty-eight. In fact, it seems to me that there are no end to questions; that life itself is fundamentally a question or, to put it another way, that our living of our lives is fundamentally a process of questioning since the heart of existence is Mystery. (Not a mystery, mind you, but Mystery itself.)

The Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard reportedly asked seven questions:

"Where am I? Who am I? How did I come to be here? What is this thing called the world? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted? And If I am compelled to take part in it, Where is the director? I want to see him."

Perhaps the most well known quotation about questions comes from Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet:

"...I would like to beg you dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer."
May we all.

In Gassho,


Thursday, July 03, 2008

Question FOUR

So here we are, the question at which so many religious traditions--or, at least, so many religious professionals--usually begin the conversation: Whose am I?

The traditional theistic response, of course, is that we belong to God. As the 100th Psalm puts it, "It is God who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are God's people and the sheep of God's pasture." (NRSV, adapted) So that provides a tidy answer for those who believe in God, no help at all to those who don't, and yet only addresses one possible layer to which that question could point.

John Donne aside, are you an island entire unto yourself? In other words, do you belong to yourself, or do you belong (at least in some sense) to your family, or your community, or to the human family, or to the planet?

Driving in to work I listened to a bit of conservative talk radio and the host was saying that he was tired of being told that he should have a smaller house and fewer cars and give more of his time and his treasure to help others who have been less fortunate. He, no doubt, would say that he--and all of his stuff--belongs to himself. And, too, that these "less fortunate folk" belong to themselves and should take care of themselves and stop asking for handouts.

On the other hand there are folks in the environmental movement, for instance, who say that we belong to one another and to all living things on the planet and so even if I could afford a gas-guzzling SUV my behavior is not entirely up to me because I do not belong to myself alone. Or progressive economic justice folks who say that because we belong to one another we are obliged to help one another. (Ghandi once said that he tried to weigh his actions by their impact on the poorest person he could imagine.)

Answering this question, then--whose am I?--can help us navigate our way through the myriad of confusing options and opinions we'll meet on a daily, hourly, and moment-by-moment basis. Worth pondering.

In Gassho,


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Question THREE

The third question we all must answer--that is, if we want to live the "examined life"--is "Where Am I?"

When I was in Japan I asked my friend Takeo how to ask this question in Japanese. He said that you can't, that no Japanese person would ask "Where am I?" because the answer is so obvious -- you are here. Doko des ka?, he said, doesn't really mean "where am I?" it means "Where is here?"

So, where is here--this place where you live? This could bring us back to the question I lifted up last week--is this a friendly or unfriendly universe? It could also lead us to examine the nature of the natural world--do I live on (in) a material world whose resources are ripe for my picking, or do I live within an organic whole the care of which is my charge?

It could also lead you to explore the current realities of your life--where is here in my life's journey? What is the terrain of this place in my life, it's contours and features? What is the flora and fauna of this moment in my life? What are its resources and its points of interest?

Good questions, all.

In Gassho,


Monday, June 30, 2008

Question TWO

If the first question we have to answer is, "Who am I?" one that comes in pretty close afterward is "With whom am I?" Another way of putting this is, "Who are my people?" Or, "Where do I belong?"

One answer which might be especially comfortable for progressive folks--and, perhaps, especially for progressive, well-educated, male, European-American, non-gay people--is "I am part of the human family! All of the world's people are "my people" and I belong wherever I am!" And this is, certainly, true in a sense. There is, in a deep way, only one human race and, as it says on the header of my blog, "we are one human family, on one fragile planet, in one miraculous universe, bound by love."

And yet we are also particular people. In the incredible documentary by Lee Mun Wah, The Color of Fear, an African-American man asks a European-American man what it's like to be white. When the man can't answer, the African-American man asks, "Don't you think that's strange?" And it is strange, yet the closer one is to the "cultural norm"--and as a straight, white, well-educated male I'm a veritable poster-child for the dominant culture's norm--the more one is encouraged to see one's own experience as "universal." But a lot of what I've experienced as "universal" has not been the experience of gay people, or black people, or women, or poor people, or people with physical handicaps, or . . . well . . . it turns out . . . most other people!

So yes, of course, we belong to the human family, but this question encourages us to examine the question of who it is with whom we identify, who it is we connect with--who is our particular family within the larger human family? In Richard Bach's wonderfull book, Illusions: adventures of a reluctant messiah, the character of Donald Shimoda carries something called "The Messiah's Handook" (which can now be purchased as a stand-alone book), and among its pithy wisdom is this:
The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy
in each other's life. Rarely do members of one family grow up under the
same roof.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. makes the same point in one of his works--that our real network of identity is far more vast and complex than simple bloodline. But as Jane Howard wrote,
"Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a
family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one.”

So Question Two encourages us to ask, "With Whom Am I?"

In Gassho,


Thursday, June 26, 2008

Joe Bless You, George Carlin

Since learning about the death of George Carlin I've been trying to figure out a way to pay my respects. I grew up on his comedy and think that besides being incredibly funny he also fulfilled many of the important aspects of a true prophet--charging in to challenge, speaking truth to the Powers (whichever "powers" were being particularly stupid at the time.) I never met him, yet in that odd way that happens when celebreties die, I know that I will miss him.

Then I read the UU Blogger Peace Bang's tribute, which essentially consisted of a link to a video clip of one of Carlin's routines about religion that (while having some language some might find offensive) absolutely cracks me up. Maybe you, too. And while I don't agree with the theological conclusion he draws, his analysis of traditional (Christian) religion seems to me to be right on the money.

So check it out for yourself. And may I say,

Joe bless you, George Carlin. Joe bless us all.

(You'll know if you watch the video to the end . . .)

In Gassho,


Question ONE

Okay, so yesterday I implied that the only question we need to engage is, "is the universe friendly or not" or one of its variants. And in some ways I believe that that's true.

I also think, though, that there are at least four questions we need to look at or that, at least, we find ourselves drawn to over and over again in our lives and in the recorded history of our species. So maybe we only need to answer the one, but we sure seem to want to answer the other four. Here they are:
  • Who Am I?
  • Whith Whom Am I?
  • Where Am I?
  • Whose Am I?
People often answer the first question with a list of their activities and engagements: I'm a Unitarian Universalist minister; I'm a husband and father; I'm an enthusiastic video viewer; I'm a juggler. But these are really answers to the question, "What do you do?" and we're often reminded that "you are not what you do." (You've no doubt seen the bumper sticker, "We are human beings not human doings!")

So going a bit deeper we then usually bring out our relationships: I am Erik, son of Walter, grandson of Frank; husband of Mary; father of Theo and Lester; brother of Patrick and Paul; child of God. And that gets closer, but is it as deep as we can go. Would "I" still be "me" if any of these relationships changed or ended (or never existed)?

At its deepest, I think that this first question--who am I?--really encourages us to explore human nature itself. Here are some other ways of getting at this question:
  • Am I good or evil, free or determined, some of both, or a blank slate?
  • Am I the center of the universe?
  • Does life—my life?—have a purpose? (If so, what is it?)
  • What do I value?
  • What gives me strength and solace and what depletes me?
Try answering these questions sometime. Tomorrow we'll move on to Question Two.

In Gassho,


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

THE question

Albert Einstein once said, "I think the most important question facing humanity is, 'Is the universe a friendly place?' This is the first and most basic question all people must answer for themselves." He continued:
"For if we decide that the universe is an unfriendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to achieve safety and power by creating bigger walls to keep out the unfriendliness and bigger weapons to destroy all that which is unfriendly-- and I believe that we are getting to a place where technology is powerful enough that we may either completely isolate or destroy ourselves as well in this process.

"If we decide that the universe is neither friendly nor unfriendly and that God is essentially 'playing dice with the universe', then we are simply victims to the random toss of the dice and our lives have no real purpose or meaning.

"But if we decide that the universe is a friendly place, then we will use our technology, our scientific discoveries and our natural resources to create tools and models for understanding that universe. Because power and safety will come through understanding its workings and its motives."

Thomas Merton once said, "Either you look at the universe as a very poor creation out of which no one can make anything, or you look at your own life and your own part in the universe as infintely rich, full of inexhaustible interest, opening out into the infitie futher possibilities for study and contemplation and praise."

The good people at Despair, Inc. have created this wonderful pessimist's mug so that you'll know the exact moment at which the glass becomes half-empty. Of course, this assumes an answer to the perennial question--that the glass is half-empty rather than half-full.

And yet, as I've written before, it's both. And, no doubt, the universe is both friendly and unfriendly, a "very poor creation" and "infinitely rich [and] full of inexhaustible interest." We live in a both/and universe--where light is both wave and particle and only "becomes" one when we look at it that way. Which way will you look at life? At your life?

In the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 30, God is remembered as telling the people, "I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. . . . I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses," and God then encourages them to "choose life."

Which do you choose? Which will you choose right now?

In Gassho,


Monday, June 16, 2008

The Girl Who Silenced the World at the UN

This video recently came to my attention, and I absolutely must bring it to all of yours. I've written before about people who've inspired me by their courage in "speaking truth to power" and in standing up and doing the something that they can do. (One of the Greek terms that is usually translated in the Christian Scriptures as "sin" actually means, "lying down when you should have been standing up.")

Born and raised in Vancouver, Severn Suzuki has been working on environmental and social justice issues since kindergarten. At age 9, she and some friends started the Environmental Children's Organization (ECO), a small group of children committed to learning and teaching other kids about environmental issues. They traveled to 1992's UN Earth Summit, where 12 year-old Severn gave this powerful speech that deeply affected (and silenced) some of the most prominent world leaders. The speech had such an impact that she has become a frequent invitee to many UN conferences.

Please listen not only to this young person's words, but to the deeper message in the fact that a 12 year-old is speaking them to the United Nations. What could you be doing?

in Gassho,

Rev. Wik

To get a text copy of the speech, click here

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Why I'm Voting Republican

Things have been a little tumultous at First Parish in Brewster, since the announcement of my resignation to take a job at the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston. I'm very excited about the new position--and will write more about it anon--but it has set me off my blogging schedule.

This doesn't quite make up for my missed posts, but since I've now learned how to embedd these YouTube videos, I'll share this one with you as well.

in Gassho,

Rev. Wik

After all these years . . .

I just can't resist posting this so that you, too, can finally learn the answer to the mystery that has plagued the ages . . . just what the heck was Joe Cocker singing at Woodstock in 1969?

A word of warning. This may change the way you hear the song forever. It may also get you interested in probiotics. (Watch, and you'll know why.)

in Gassho,


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Rev. Wright in a Different Light

The following was written William A. Von Hoene Jr. and published in the Chicago Tribune on March 26, 2008. I think it needs a wider audience.

As a preacher myself I know that I've said a few things over the years that, if pulled from their context, would sound far different than they had when I preached them. I've even preached some things that if they were heard in their totality would be controversial.

Why is it so hard for some people to understand that you can be angry--really volcanically angry--without that being all you're capable of? I think of the wonderful scene in the movie The Apostle, in which Robert Duvall's character prays, "I'm mad at you God. I love you. But I'm mad at you." I think, too, of just about every parent I've ever known who at some time(s) or other just wants to kill their kids yet who still love them with every fiber of their being.

Anyway, here's William A. Von Hoene Jr.'s column:

During the last two weeks, excerpts from sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., pastor for more than 35 years at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side, have flooded the airwaves and dominated our discourse about the presidential campaign and race. Wright has been depicted as a racial extremist, or just a plain racist. A number of political figures and news commentators have attempted to use Sen. Barack Obama's association with him to call into question Obama's judgment and the sincerity of his commitment to unity.I have been a member of Trinity, a church with an almost entirely African-American congregation, for more than 25 years. I am, however, a white male. From a decidedly different perspective than most Trinitarians, I have heard Wright preach about racial inequality many times, in unvarnished and passionate terms.In Obama's recent speech in Philadelphia on racial issues confronting our nation, the senator eloquently observed that Rev. Wright's sermons reflect the difficult experiences and frustrations of a generation.

It is important that we understand the dynamic Obama spoke about.

It also is important that we not let media coverage and political gamesmanship isolate selected remarks by Wright to the exclusion of anything else that might define him more accurately and completely.

I find it very troubling that we have distilled Wright's 35-year ministry to a few phrases; no context whatsoever has been offered or explored.

I do have a bit of personal context. About 26 years ago, I became engaged to my wife, an African-American. She was at that time and remains a member of Trinity. Somewhere between the ring and the altar, my wife had second thoughts and broke off the engagement. Her decision was grounded in race: So committed to black causes, the daughter of parents subjected to unthinkable prejudice over the years, an "up-and-coming" leader in the young black community, how could she marry a white man?

Rev. Wright, whom I had met only in passing at the time and who was equally if not more outspoken about "black" issues than he is today, somehow found out about my wife's decision. He called and asked her to "drop everything" and meet with him at Trinity. He spent four hours explaining his reaction to her decision. Racial divisions were unacceptable, he said, no matter how great or prolonged the pain that caused them. God would not want us to assess or make decisions about people based on race. The world could make progress on issues of race only if people were prepared to break down barriers that were much easier to let stand.

Rev. Wright was pretty persuasive; he presided over our wedding a few months later. In the years since, I have watched in utter awe as Wright has overseen and constructed a support system for thousands in need on the South Side that is far more impressive and effective than any governmental program possibly could approach. And never in my life have I been welcomed more warmly and sincerely than at Trinity. Never.

I hope that as a nation, we take advantage of the opportunity the recent focus on Rev. Wright presents—to advance our dialogue on race in a meaningful and unprecedented way. To do so, however, we need to appreciate that passion born of difficulty does not always manifest itself in the kind of words with which we are most comfortable. We also need to recognize that the basic goodness of people like Jeremiah Wright is not always packaged conventionally.

The problems of race confronting us are immense. But if we sensationalize isolated words for political advantage, casting aside the depth of feeling, circumstances and context which inform them, those problems not only will remain immense, they will be insoluble.

William A. Von Hoene Jr. of Chicago is a member of Trinity United
Church of Christ.

Our popular culture does not seem to do well with complexity and nuance. Life, on the other hand, seems to have pretty much nothing but.

In Gassho,


Monday, March 31, 2008

The Wisdom of Willie Nelson

A while ago I had the idea of preaching a sermon series called "The Wisdom of . . ." with each week focusing on the wisdom of another figure. The idea came to me one day while I was cleaning the house and having my CD player shuffle through a number of different artists. "Wow! There's a sermon in that!" I kept thinking again and again and again. So I imagined preaching on the Wisdom of Stevie Wonder, the Wisdom of Sting, the Wisdom of Chris Williamson. You get the idea.

The closest I've come to seeing this idea reach fruition is a sermon I called "Willie Nelson and the Non-Toothache," in which I took a stanza from a Willie Nelson song and linked it with a teaching of the Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh about the state of "non-toothache."

Simply put, this teaching is that it's worth noting that most of the time we don't have a toothache. That may not seem overly important, but take a minute to think about that! When we DO have a toothache we're crying and moaning and saying, "If only I didn't have a toothache . . ." Well, unless you have a toothache right now (in which case you need the non-charlie-horse meditation) you are presently in that longed for state. Are you aware of that? Are you appreciating it?

There's a great Willie Nelson song called "Good Times" in which he reminisces about times past that were the kinds of moments from a life that you remember as the good times. The last verse goes like this:

Here I sit with a drink and a memory. / I'm not cold, I'm not wet,
and I'm not hungry. / Classify these as good times. / Good times.
I'm not cold, I'm not wet, and I'm not hungry. I don't have a toothache. And neither, probably, do you.

In Gassho,


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Can you believe your eyes?

Isn't this amazing? In actual, objective fact this is a static picture. Yet our minds create the sense of movement in it. (If you really want to get it spinning, click on the image to blow it up. You can get it to stop if you stare at one point for a couple of seconds. )
Do you know what's even more amazing? The computer screen on which you're looking at this, the desk on which the computer screen sits, the chair on which you sit--you, yourself, if you want to go all out with this--all seem to be static objects and yet, in actual, objective fact are collectives of infinitesimally small bits of energy whirling and swirling around mind numbingly huge expanses of empty space
I went to see Horton Hears a Who the other day and was reminded of all those late night conversations I had in high school and college about whether or not our whole universe is really a microscopic organism in some giant's big toe. And I recently read an article in a popular science magazine about the lively conversation among scienctists about concepts of a multiverse in which our universe is but one of an infinite number of universes.
What is "real"? Am I, as Chuan Tzu asked, a person dreaming I'm a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming I'm a person? Am I a concrete independent person or a swirling pattern of energy? Am I a static two-dimensional image or a moving picture?

in Gassho,

Monday, March 24, 2008


There might be some who would say that Eastertide is the wrong time to be writing about ephiphany. But "epiphany" is not only the Christian holy day twelve days after Christmas. AN epiphany is defined as, "a sudden manifestation of the essence or meaning of something," or, "a comprehension or perception of reality by means of a sudden intuitive realization." For those who remember their Robert Heinlein, an epiphany is extremely similar to the Martian notion of grokking, which means, "to understand so thoroughly that the observer becomes a part of the observed." (That's from Stranger in a Strange Land.)

An epiphany could be described as a spiritual realization, one in which you do not simply understand something new but through which you and the world around you become something new. Once experienced, things are forever different.

I thought of this recently when I found myself musing on an experience I keep having since my partner gave me an ipod for my birthday. I've downloaded a number of songs that I'd listened to growing up, and I keep hearing things--bass lines, drum rhythms--that I hadn't noticed before. Now that I've heard them, though, I can't not hear them, even when I'm listening to my old LPs in less than perfect conditions. What once was inaudible to me, now that I'm aware of it, sings out crystal clear.

And that reminded me of those old optical illusions in which two images are together in one picture. Is this an image of a young woman with her face turned away from us, or is it an elderly woman with her chin tucked into the fur of her coat? Usually people see only one or the other at first. Sometimes it takes a real (and oft times frustrating) effort to see the other. When one does, though, it becomes virtually impossible not to see the image--sometimes to the point of it being hard now to see the image one saw at first.

And so it is with the spiritual realization. What at first was unseen or unheard--what was in the background is now the foreground. Take, for instance, the idea that the real question of Eastertime is not "do you believe in the resurrection of Jesus" but "have you experienced resurrection in your own life?" The most important thing to consider this season is not whether or not a Jewish teacher of some two thousand years ago got up and walked out of his tomb, but whether or not you have ever gotten free from the "tomb" of your own experience.

Perhaps that "tomb" was a depression, or the crushing end of a relationship, the loss of a job (or hope), the death of a loved one, an encounter with your own mortality. The real question raised by Easter is whether or not you have ever risen from your tomb, whether you've ever been raised to new life, renewed life.

Once we realize that these ancient stories are our stories, are pointers to our own lived experiences, you and the world around you become something new.


In Gassho,


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Let’s Just Follow The Rules

In this campaign season politicians and commentators on the Right are continuing to maintain that the United States was, is, and always should be “a Christian Nation.” Folks on the left seem to be falling over themselves to establish their own bona fides as God fearing religious women and men. Whether or not this is a good thing is open for debate. It is, however, the way things are. Religion and the religiosity of the candidates is clearly and firmly on the table for discussion. And since this is the way things are, I have a suggestion to make to all of the candidates and all of their supporters: let’s just follow the rules.

I want to be clear, from my perspective as a Unitarian Universalist clergy person I am not talking about the rules laid down by the RNC or the DNC, by the Federal Elections Committee or even the US Constitution. I’m suggesting that the candidates follow THE rule, the so-called “Golden Rule,” the rule that says, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” That’s the Christian version of this rule, but it shows up in just about every one of humanity’s religions. Buddhism says, “hurt not others in ways you would find hurtful.” Islam says, “No one of you is a believer until you desire for your brothers and sisters what you desire for yourself.” Judaism says, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellows.” The British Humanist Society says, “Don’t do things you wouldn’t want done to you.” From Bah’ai’ to Zoroastrianism there are numerous other variations, yet among them all there is a remarkable consistency in the core message.

And it translates well, I think, into the political realm. So, for all of you candidates—and all of your supporters—for whom being religious is so important, here are some translations of the rules into terms appropriate for you:
  • Do not run such ads as you’d call “false” and “misleading” if your opponents ran them about you.
  • Do not distort statistics in a way that if your opponent did it you’d call it unfair.
  • Do not present your opponent’s positions in ways you’d not want them to do of your own.
  • Do not present your own positions in ways you’d begrudge your opponent. (See again the rule about statistics, for instance.)
  • Do not decry behavior in your opponent which you yourself (or your supporters) are doing.

This does not mean, of course, that you can’t point out real differences. It just means that you shouldn’t do it by means you wouldn’t want your opponent to use. Naturally you will highlight your strengths and try to obscure your weaknesses. And so will your opponent. It’s human nature. So don’t waste time and energy complaining about it when they do—especially don’t accuse them of being misleading or dishonest, since you know you’re doing it too. And when you do it, don’t do it in a way that if they did it you’d have something to complain about. Follow the rules.

The popular wisdom may be that all that we, the electorate, want is drama, but the truth is that what we’d really like is the solid information we need in order to make a truly informed decision come November. Show us who you really are and not who you think we want you to be. Forget the pretty packaging, and show us the truth. Forget manipulating the data and tell us who you are—warts and all, strengths and weaknesses both. We may dream of a perfect President, yet we know we’re going to have to settle for a human being. So show us who you are, and if you really are the best candidate—with both your flaws and your greatness in place—we’ll know. After all, if you’re elected we’ll find out soon enough.

It’s one thing to be seen showing up at a church or other religious buildings and to put religious words and phrases into your stump speeches, but that’s not what being religious is really all about. As the Jerry Rubin once put it, “Don’t tell me what you believe. Show me what you do 24 hours a day and I’ll tell you what you believe.” If you want to convincince me that you’re a religious person, then run a campaign that follows the rules.

In Gassho,


Monday, March 17, 2008

Tell Me Where The Miracles End

I have told the story many times in sermons of a walk in the woods I took once during a silent retreat. I came across a piece of quartz sticking out of the ground--it was about the size of a human head, and it was in a clearing so that it had been soaking in sunshine all morning.

It seemed like an auspicious site to me, so I sat down to meditate. At some point I "heard" the words (that's the only way I can describe it), "Take off your shoes, this is holy ground." I did as I was told, I reverently removed my sneakers and set them aside.

When my meditation was over I decided to continue my walk and was about to put my shoes back on when I suddenly realized that I couldn't tell where the "holy ground" stopped and the regular old ground began. So I kept my shoes off for the rest of the walk.

When I got back to the retreat center I was about to put my shoes back on but wondered why the ground outside was "holy" but the floors inside were not. So I kept my shoes off. I'd like to say that I never put my shoes on again, but I did. Still, to remind myself of this experience I do take my shoes off whenever I preach or lead a workshop. Everything, I'd learned, is holy ground.

Yesterday I was flying back to Cape Cod from a conference I'd been attending in Kentucky. I love to fly, and while I understand the physics of flight it never ceases to be a magical, a miraculous experience for me. During my flight yesterday I started thinking about other magical, miraculous experiences. I started thinking about how amazing our "horseless carriages" are. Or that we can press a button and suddenly see moving pictures . Or that we can flick a switch and have light. Or that we can eat food and turn it into body parts. Or that the energy that makes our hearts beat comes from the Big Bang itself.

Oh, for the most part I understand the science behind these things. Yet tell me, where do the miracles stop? Albert Einstein said that we have a choice between two ways of living in the world--as though nothing is a miracle, or as though everything is.

In Gassho,

Rev Wik