Dear Earth

My mom used to look up at the mountains of the Olympic National Park as if her own personal proof-text.

How can anyone look up at that and not believe in God?

She’d ask, as we’d drive along, at least on the days when the peaks were in clear view.

They were beautiful, awe-inspiring, and mysterious, but to be honest, I never totally got the link.  How is beauty proof of divinity?

I assumed when she asked me these questions, that what my mom actually meant, was that the perfection of these mountains, and the feeling it gave her, had to indicate a God that had designed and created such things, with intention.  Created this moment, with intention. I just didn’t see how one proved the other.

And yet, I admit there are times, when I’m driving up and down I-25 and seeing the whole Front Range of the Rockies on display, or when I’m hiking within those Rockies and staring across a valley up until the next incredible peak, or when I catch the sun just right, just finding its place nestled between the jagged rocks – I think to myself exactly what my mom used to ask: What else could describe holiness better than this, here, now?

I don’t know precisely if my mom meant to be asking about God as creator, or God as an expression of divine transcendence – but I have to believe that in both of our understandings we were pointing to an experience of divinity that we felt, there, in the presence of so much beauty, so much grandiosity – these mountains that represent time in a way that we can’t possibly grasp, these places of danger and risk, but also a signal of home, and belonging.

This experience is always available to us – this feeling of being at home, surrounded and even overwhelmed by beauty.  Will we have eyes to see, ears to hear? Will we be able to receive this grace that is offering itself to all of us, every day, in this life, here and now?

 


 

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Max Adolph Kapp (1904-1979) was a minister, theological school professor and dean, and a denominational official. He played a significant role in the education of seminarians and the revitalization of the Universalist Church of America during the period leading up to its consolidation with the American Unitarian Association.

The Right Kind of Person

Up until his 9 year old birthday party, our son’s passion for nerf guns seemed within a “normal” range – not quite as extensive as his love for monster trucks, which was fine. We can do monster trucks.  Nerf guns, on the other hand, cause some….feelings.

Up until his party, we’d managed these feelings pretty well – probably because he had 2, maybe 3.  But, this year we held his birthday at Battlezone Arena – which is something like laser tag, but with nerf guns.  He was in heaven, and his friends all took this as a clue, and each bought him a new nerf gun for his birthday.  Which is how, at this very moment, I have a giant plastic bin, filled with nerf guns, sitting in my dining room.

Every day after school, and on the weekends, every kid that comes over goes to the bin, picks out one of the guns, and pretends to, or actually shoots it, or analyzes its effectiveness, or lack thereof, or listens to my son share his own analysis, or watches as he gives an actual demonstration.

Each time this happens, I look at my son’s dirty-blond hair, and lighter skin, and even though I don’t entirely like that he’s playing “battle” with anything, even nerf guns – I give thanks.  I feel terrible even writing that, but it’s the truth.  I give thanks because I realize in those moments, that that no one will confuse his nerf guns for the real things.  Or to be more direct, I give thanks, because he doesn’t look like Tamir Rice.

Tamir Rice, that baby-faced 12 year old who was playing with a toy gun, and then was shot by the police because they thought it was a real gun.  I can’t even begin to know what to do to fix the fact that my kid can walk around with his buddies (all white-appearing) with toy guns, and feel safe and generally clueless – even while kids of color his age are starting to learn not to.

Our Universalist faith proclaims that it doesn’t matter what sort of kid, or what sort of person you are – it doesn’t matter your race, your gender, your sexual orientation…anything.  No matter what, you are equally worthy of love, of belonging, of being received as a Child of God.  It is this commitment that has me grieving in these moments, for Tamir Rice and every other child.  And it is this commitment that has made me realize that this grief, and my accompanying gratitude, is not enough.

If we really mean it – that we all go together, then I’ve got to move away from empathy for others, and their pain, and instead uncover the ways that my son, and his friends, and I, are equally caught and injured by these same forces – that in the context of racism and injustice, we too cannot fully receive or give all the love we have, all the love that we are meant for.  As the great Dr. Vincent Harding used to tell us, racism injures us all.

This insight doesn’t mean I know exactly what to do, but it has changed my prayers.  Instead of just gratitude, I’ve moved to praying for help – help that I can keep waking up, help for my son be a part of this great awakening, help for all of us, that we might truly understand what Martin Luther King Jr meant when he imagined us all as sharing a “single garment of destiny.” All of us, together.

 


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Nancy McDonald Ladd is the Senior Minister at River Road UU Congregation in Bethesda, MD.  You may know her as the minister who recently preached a sermon about “fake fights” at General Assembly, inviting our UU congregations to assess what is truly worthy of their time, and what is not.