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,