Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

A Disappeared Family

December 18th, 2014

A college chum made his family vanish in his self-written obit. A wife and four daughters vanished in his detailed recap of life and kin.

I feel a double connection. I introduced, really connected, him and the woman he’d marry….first Then over 20 years later, he’d ask me to be a witness in the bizarre and hypocritical Roman Catholic annulment tribunal.

It’s not my thought to demean any religion’s dogma or processes. Yet from a post written at the time of the declaration-of-nullity proceeding, I clearly was stunned at the acrobatics involved. Likewise, reading the obit he wrote, I marvel at the duplicity.

His second wife, also Roman Catholic, insisted on an annulment, so they could marry in their church. Her will be done. Meanwhile, while he pressured me to fill in the complex tribunal questionnaire from the Savannah diocese, I was and remain uneasy.

As requested in the tribunal cover material, I did check the papers and answers with a local priest. He heads one of the region’s largest parishes and certainly understands his church’s rules, if not MA history.  He nimbly clarified the how and why of the process. To this UU, he was an animated FAQ on nullity. While I still see it very much as a game and a fund raiser, annulment is not otherwise part of my life and that is not my church.

The puzzlement comes when the theater extended to my friend’s death statements. The RC Church is careful to claim a nullified marriage did in fact exist when it occurred and that any children resulting did not become illegitimate as a result of the declaration. With his heart conditions and knowing his end was at hand, he could not drop the ruse.

The longest paragraph in his obit lists his relatives, sort of. His second wife’s folk abound. She is “the great love of his life.” Her parents, children, grandchildren, siblings and appendices all appear. On his side, his late father appears in the previous résumé-style paragraph. At the very bottom of the survivors he mentions his late brother.

Invisible are his aged mother, his very alive sister, his first wife and his four daughters. I can surmise that he was estranged from his family, perhaps as a result of his leaving, divorcing and getting that annulment from wife #1. I can imagine wife #2 insisting he drop contact with his birth and previous family.

I’ll likely track down and call his first wife. That will mean confessing my role in the nullity process, which she may already know. That would probably be good for my psyche.

My erstwhile chum seems to prove the idea in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Last Tycoon that “There are no second acts in American lives.” My old buddy avoided the complications and development of his personal play, going directly to the resolution, comfortable if delusional.

 

Living out 17-year-old’s words

September 13th, 2014

high school yearbook text and imageTruth be told, my high-school-yearbook description referred to ovines not congregants. We got to write our own and in my 17-year-old cleverness, I included “A future shepherd.”

This Saturday, I have performed my first marriage since my ordination. Those who follow my original marriage-equality and political blog, Marry in Massachusetts know I have already officiated at (solemnized in MA lingo) five weddings.

The others have all been under MA General Law Ch. 207 § 3 9,which lets any adult petition the governor’s office for the right to marry one couple in one town on a specific day, one such per year. Unless they discover in their cursory look at that you are trying to do something nefarious, like an immigration scam, you get approved.

I’ve enjoyed the formality, elegance and touch of theater in being a one-day solemnizer. Petitioning the governor, indeed.

This time an aunt of a family friend asked me to perform the ceremony. Not sure of the timing and a wee fatigued of the one-day process, I figured it was time for the online ordination. I could be ready to marry folk at will without waiting one to three weeks to get the solemnization certificate in hand. That has to go with the signed marriage license to remain on file at the issuing city or town hall.

Nominally, the Universal Life Church Monastery ordination is free. You don’t have to attend divinity school and don’t need to fellowship or intern. Practically though, depending on where you want to conduct marriages, funerals and such, you have a couple of tasks.

The first is getting the right materials. The ULC, known to itself as The Monastery, does ordain for free, but profits from its store. You’ll want proof of ordination and such. The various packages of range from $30 to $100 and include all manner of certificates, wallet cards and even parking placards. The shipping fee is $12 to $18 as well.

I got caught by not knowing that my state is one that requires a separate registration process to perform marriages. After any ordination in any recognized church (including the Monastery), you need to apply to the secretary of the commonwealth, and include a copy of the ordination certificate and an original letter of good standing from the church. Oops, all of a sudden there’s a wait of a week and another $30 for letter and shipping/handling.

The secretary’s office didn’t inform me I was set. However, I called a week after applying and learned I was on the approved list.

By the bye, in most states, you don’t need the additional registration. If you decided to go The Monastery way, you should check with your state, probably the secretary of state, before ordering your goods. You might suppose the ULC site would have a table with per-state requirements. I haven’t found that.

Part of me has long been cynical about online ordination. I knew of folk who did this mail order in days before the web as well. Yet over the years I’ve also noticed that many ministers are either self-ordained (called directly by God to ministry). Others are instant clerics by mutual agreement. I think of one megachurch here in Boston where the father self-ordained, then promoted himself to bishop and then named his son as a bishop as well. They’ve had decades of success, industrial level.

Certainly The Monastery at least offers a veneer of approval, control and record keeping. Also after all, performing marriage or funeral ceremonies is not exactly the more demanding counseling aspect. Moreover, while most ministers have one or two wedding they do repeatedly, I customize the ceremony and vows for each. I’ve had good reviews…satisfied customers.

The humor to me is that over the years several ministers, some UUs as I am, and others, have asked whether I am a minister, then whether I have considered becoming one. They tend to say I am suited to the profession. Future shepherd indeed.

Fractured Methodist Tales

March 11th, 2014

Nearly 34 years ago, I sat in an unpadded pew of the Old West (Methodist) Church in Boston on the Sunday when my firstborn was to be Christened. Subsequently, my later two sons were named instead at the Arlington Street Unitarian Universalist Church, which had horse-hair stuffed cushions. That day though, I had brought my wife and son to the prearranged ceremony at the denomination of my childhood, youth and young adulthood.

umc_crossflameThat day actually was the end of that religious association. I opened the hymnal to the Apostle’s Creed. I didn’t have to read it. I had memorized it long ago and the phrases have become seminal. That version differs slightly from that of many other churches, in that it leaves out mention of Jesus descending into Hell at death. Otherwise, it has the heavy baggage of doctrine and even bureaucracy that produced its carefully crafted message.

I sat there with my baby in the crook of one arm, looking at the page. I realized that I didn’t believe it, any of it — no Father Almighty, no virgin birth, no bodily resurrection after three days moldering, no judgment of the quick and the dead, no universal (lower c catholic) church, no saints, no forgiveness of sins, no resurrection, and no everlasting life.

Done, done and done. You have had your Methodism and you aren’t compatible.

The last I had felt any sort of communion with Methodism was before it went sour during the Vietnam war era. I did hang around the Methodist youth center building sometimes at the University of South Carolina. I could delude myself by subscribing to the excellent Motive Magazine. It was anti-war and pro-integration among other virtues (and had great poetry). It was in the mold of 18th Century Methodism founder John Wesley, a strong prison reformer and abolitionist in England and the Colonies.

Quickly though, the bishops (its governance was not by elders as the Presbyterians but Episcopal [by bishops] from its roots in Wesley’s Anglican communion) tromped on Motive. They had no patience with pinko, pacifist junk. They turned off a generation of thinking, feeling members.

That was not new to them. They had driven away what became the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion Churches’ members. In the early 19th Century in Philadelphia and New York City, the racist and exclusionary practices made it plain to black members they were inferior as far as clergy and church pols were concerned.

Today with mixed feelings, I read in the NY Times of a Methodist bishop dropping the persecution and prosecution of a minister. His alleged violation of church doctrine was to perform the same-sex marriage of his son.

With my strong stance here and elsewhere in favor of marriage equality, I had long been disgusted by the United Methodist Church’s regression into anti-gay dogma and rulings. That they were defrocking their clergy who dared perform same-sex ceremonies was pathetic if not a surprise.

A year and one-half ago, at 80, the Rev. Thomas Ogletree performed the ceremony. He said, “I actually wasn’t thinking of this as an act of civil disobedience or church disobedience. I was thinking of it as a response to my son.”

I relate. I have performed five wedding ceremonies, one for my eldest son. That was to a woman, but two of mine have been same-sex couples. There is nothing more moving than performing the marriage for your child. Three of my ceremonies were of long-term friends and very powerful, but your own child?

The NYT piece linked above concludes that the decision in this case is far-reaching. It includes:

Bishop Martin D. McLee “who oversees about 460 churches in lower New York State and Connecticut, agreed to drop all charges against Dr. Ogletree; in exchange, he asked only that Dr. Ogletree participate in a dialogue about the church and its stance on matters of sexuality. Promoting dialogue, the bishop said, could be a model for other United Methodist bishops to follow.

“While many insist on the trial procedure for many reasons, I offer that trials are not the way forward,” Bishop McLee said in a statement attached to the resolution of Dr. Ogletree’s case. “Church trials result in harmful polarization and continue the harm brought upon our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters.”

That level of compassion and rationality is what I expect in UU churches and what I grew up with what was then my Methodist church.

I do hope that the United Methodist Church takes advantage of this offering from Bishop McLee. It has been divided on homosexuality long before being faced with dealing with marriage equality. Its bishops too are old now, at the moment when the nation has some to see same-sex marriage as the present as well as the future. Methodists in general have not been leaders here, but perhaps they won’t be the last to get there.

Little Guides

June 20th, 2013

geminioutlineMy maternal grandmother, Mable, had a few odd yet predictable routines. While she was quite bright, in at least two areas, she went gut and hope.

The closest the eastern panhandle of WV had to a local but city newspaper was the Cumberland Times, from 28 miles away on Route 28. While a silly and slim rag, it had area news as well as comics, advice columns, word puzzles and of course a horoscope.

If you are an astrology believer be aware that I am not and never have been. I looked through my usual combination scientific and experiential lenses. I don’t see any value with the possible exceptions of entertainment and reinforcing what you want to be so.

It’s been many years since I even looked at one, other than the spoofs in The Onion. As yesterday was my birthday, that somehow inspired me to look. The result was:

TODAY’S BIRTHDAY (June 19). In the past, you’ve had fewer options, but now you’ll find yourself in a position to be discerning and selective. What happens in July makes you more interesting and also more interested in others. A certain someone or something enthralls you in August. September brings a self-imposed challenge and a well-won victory. Capricorn and Sagittarius people adore you. Your lucky numbers are: 3, 22, 39, 42 and 15.

That’s vague enough to fit almost anyone. The specifics about my adorant one-sixth of the world was a coincidental nice touch, as in that my long-term wife was born under Capricorn.

Yet come each morning, Mable would read her horoscope and seem to get some satisfaction. As far as I could tell, she remained rational enough that she did not alter her behavior or feel any trepidation.

Later in the day, she also sat solo at the dinner table with her Bible and The Upper Room. That wee weekly magazine has cites some scripture and has a homily on it, along with some pretty specific steps for being cool with Jesus. She’d read and meditate. She was always calm and composed afterward.

We were a Methodist family and she certainly was a believer. Among other credal tenets, heaven was one she fully accepted. She fully expected a personal identity after death, including eternal bliss. Unlike say Presbyterians with there predestination, Methodists were of the good deeds and thoughts got you right with God and in line for a spot in this heaven.

I see anything destructive or particularly negative about Mable’s two foibles. The horoscope did not control her or upset her. The devotional may in fact reinforced positive thoughts and deeds.

Neither was rational, rather emotionally, a.k.a. faith, based. So what?

 

Benny Stays Responsible

February 11th, 2013

I am not Roman Catholic, have never been and don’t even play one on internet radio. Yet I have more than passing interest in Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, 25 years running the Roman Inquisition (formally the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), and widely known in ecclesiastical circles as God’s Rottweiler. benny

It may be unfair in some emotional ways for a non-RC type to criticize him, but he’s long been a foe of marriage equality among other good trends. He’s also done his damnedest (most blessed?) to shrink the Church. He’s made it plain that he only wants to truly devoted and obedient congregants.

So, he announced that he’s stepping down on February 28th and has called for a conclave to replace him in March. The last time a pope resigned was 598 years ago, when Gregory XII stepped down to heal a major succession schism.

I confess, if I may use that term in its common meaning, that I admire and appreciate his reasons. Unlike many predecessors who literally limped along when they were ailing and both physically and mentally enfeebled. he admitted he doesn’t have the oomph to do papal duties. As he put it, … “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry…”

He brother Georg Ratzinger said the Poper was having increasing difficulty walking and that his resignation was part of a “natural process”.  “His age is weighing on him. At this age my brother wants more rest.”

I of course hope for a new, improved version, one less doctrinaire, more compassionate, and more believing in using the Church’s resources for social action.

Dye, dye, dye

April 10th, 2012

To us non-Catholics (Roman or Eastern Orthodox), the fixation on Christ’s blood, wounds and suffering may well seem bizarre. While raised as a devote little Christian,  I was a Protestant and without all the figurative and literal gear.

Yet, many years ago, I picked up a dye envelope in a Greek grocery and reveled in the true blood color it produced on eggshells. In contrast, the silly pastels in my childhood Easter baskets were insipid and unmemorable.

This year, I swung by the West Roxbury’s Greek International Food Market (great place). Selecting a basket of cheeses, olives, taramasalata, retsina and bread, I was pleased to see dye packets by the register.

Alas, with my eggs handy, I was stunned to find the offering was pink, pink I say, in the water. Even had I used a small portion of the water it called for it would not at all resemble blood.

I ended up with eggs that had a color that likely never appears in nature. I have to admit though, the pink is so garish we all liked it.

Next year, I’ll shop around a bit and make sure to get the blood version.

On Ripping Off Relics

March 4th, 2012

I confess, but only as a figure of speech, that relics and reliquaries seem ghoulish to me, a non-Roman Catholic. As matter of faith, I likely shouldn’t find them so. I was a devote little Christian, one who believed in transubstantiation during communion, which I took many times.

Along with hormonal floods, puberty brought dousing of knowledge and analytic thought. I got better.

Today the news from Dublin includes the discovery that somebody made off with the heart of Saint Lorcan Ua Tuathail, later known as Laurence (or Lawrence) O’Toole. That’s a big deal, as he is the patron saint of Dublin.

The relic had been in a wooden box in a square iron cage in the cathedral. It was no impulse pilfer either, the thief/thieves sawed through the bars and  forced the cage free to get the treasure. The church dean said, “It has no economic value but it is a priceless treasure that links our present foundation with its founding father.”

Yet we also have to wonder, as parts of saints have been bought/sold/swapped/stolen for centuries. Some allegedly are duplicated in multiple locations. Other religious artifacts, such as pieces of “the True Cross” whereon Jesus died, appear in so many churches that wags have said there are enough around to build Noah’s ark.

To  believers, even beyond Ireland, such tangible links to holy folk are sacred in their own right. Many supposedly have innate powers — healing the sick if prayed to and beside, and other such miracles. Nearly six years ago, many gathered in Boston to peek at the visiting heart of a saint lent by a French church and briefly displayed here. I joined them.

To us less faithful, we are wont to insult folk by speaking of worshiping a finger bone in a filigree tube (available at the Cloisters in NYC, for one) and such. Catholics are quick to point out that there’s a huge difference between praying through a saint to God and worshiping a body part.

For the best treatment to the relic world concentrated on the whole bodies, I recommend Magnificent Corpses: Searching Through Europe for St. Peter’s Head, St. Claire’s Heart, St. Stephen’s Hand, and Other Saintly Relics by Anneli Rufus. She was fascinated by relics, particularly whole bodies of the incorruptibles — corpses on display allegedly never decomposing, thus proving their holiness. She visited numerous shrines to observe both the saints’ remains and the visitors.

St. Lorcan lived in the 12th Century. There are trails and tales of his body parts too, including buried, disinterred and stolen bones. Even before his relics were shared and disappeared, he was on a fast track to sainthood. Many claimed miracles by praying to him in the months and years following his death (natural causes and not martyrdom) both at his tomb and through his intercession.

He apparently led a saintly life of humility and abstinence, replete with hair shirt, prolonged fasting, forgoing meat and stimulants and such that other prelates enjoyed. Now whether a figurative pure heart translated into a literal holy one, I suppose, is that matter of faith. Regardless, ripping off a religion’s palpable symbol is a terrible act.

Taking a Pass…Twice

November 21st, 2011

Flat out, I don’t have a personal story of childhood sexual abuse. To those of us who don’t, the number we read or hear directly is stunning. With the infamy of the Penn State cases, more moving, inevitably confessional tales broadcast, such as the poignant one by a Notre Dame law professor in today’s Slate.

An oddment is the very brief moment of jealousy in not having a story, very similar to the feeling of us boomer men who did not get thrown into jungle warfare in Vietnam. It is all too human to want to share in the zeitgeist of your various eras. Something seems amiss and missing when you don’t, like those moments when you feel your soul is off somewhere else.

Dispassionately, of course, there’s no reason to visit horrors on yourself. Yet, we want to feel both that we are a part of our times and that we are the sturdy stuff of heroes.

As a very mild expression of these needs, many people I knew in high school, college and my 20s embroidered their shared experience samplers. They were hippies, they smoked pot and hash, they tripped on acid and more, they were sexually profligate, and of course, they protested and rioted on their campuses. All gross exaggerations and outright lies…in the name of shared experience.


Non-Nam


Many of my male chums past and current did go to Vietnam. Some sat on ships or in offices, while others fought, including some who died and others physically and emotionally maimed. Much like those of my father’s generation who killed and who saw the horrors of war, those who did don’t talk about it and if pressed say those who did not were much better off.

There was that pesky military draft, in which I had a very low number. My draft board made a relentless effort to get me, but finally seemed to give up, going for easier pickings.

While in Cambridge on a grant to look at a couple of underground newspapers, I found my board decided I wasn’t technically a full-time college student, so they had a place for me to go. I replied that I would not carry a gun, but I would go as medic, photog or reporter if they needed me in Viet Nam. They responded with CO papers and a notice that I could not pick what I’d do. I sent back that under their absurdly tight CO definition, I didn’t fit, but they could take my deal or send me to jail. They sent another batch of CO applications.

Eventually, they sent me a deferment they gave to fathers of multiple children. Eh? Some vets are positive there must have been someone  at the board looking out for me. A more likely story was through a friend whose father was on the board. He said in such cases, they went after guys who didn’t cause so much trouble and paperwork.


Unabused


Nearly all my best friends and quite a few women I’d kept company with in my single years have tales of being fondled or raped as small or teen kids. A few times, it was strangers they had just met, but more typically, it was a father, brother, cleric, teacher or camp counselor.

The stats sexual abuse prima facie don’t see so terrible, until you read deeper. Start for example from the Wikipedia entry and follow the references to places like Health and Human Services reports to first see that 15% to 25% of girls and 5% to 15% of boys were physically molested. From what I have heard directly and from learning that many of these stats are reported cases, and those percentages are very low.

In retrospect, I wonder whether our itinerant life protected me. We moved every couple years throughout my childhood. It seems that those I know who were abused either were in situations where the perpetrator had gained trust of the family and child, or in which they were in stereotypical abuse hells like boarding schools. It probably helped that my sister and I were not physically abused at all at home by beatings as most of my peers said they were. We were not taught to be submissive. The atmosphere of child as chattel was not part of my life. I also surmise that my willful personality may have acted as a shield.

Motivation for sexual abusers seem clear enough. These tend to be crimes of opportunity. The children are younger, smaller, weaker and often under the older child or adult’s control. Also, there is a strong correlation between having been abused and abusing.

If my second-hand knowledge is accurate, such abuse is never something simply gotten over. There seems to be a spectrum from those who live in victimhood perpetually to those who discuss it was friends or shrinks to those who sometimes shock into recollection to those who sublimate. Yet to those of us who lucked through childhood without being sexually abused, what is astonishing most is how common such behavior is.

This area is another good pointer to humans as not being all that evolved.

After it all, where is evidence of our better nature if we prey on the weakest of us as wild mammals, raptors and even insects do? Where is our alleged striving to be like angels or our god? If the cliché that character is what we are in the dark is true, what does it mean if so many of us even create the figurative dark for our evils?

The First Lowell (Rather 25th)

July 31st, 2011

There’s one last day at this year’s Lowell Folk Festival. As usual, we were there and recruited a pair of first-timers for this one.

Also, as usual, we heard a long-time favorite and found a new-to-us gem. This is really the best, biggest free music around. Channeling Mr. T again…I pity the fool who misses this.

Some highlights follow.

Pix Trix: All images are Creative Commons Attribution 3.0, use ‘em with credit. Click on a thumbnail for a larger view.

A new treasure was Greenville, MS’ Eden Brent. She’s powerful, raw, funny and romantic simultaneously. She does serious boogie-woogie. eden1
eden Brent’s mentor, Boogaloo Ames, nicknamed her Little Boogaloo. He’s dead, but boy does she carry on.
We’ve heard Shemekia Copeland from her first visit here. It’s fabulous that she still comes by even when she’s well established. She alone is worth a trip to the LFF whenever she appears. She gives loud, passionate and believable blues. copeland
clevelandfiddle I’m not huge on bluegrass, unless it’s great. Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper is. These guys are highly skilled, blazing fast on most tunes, and present the best of the genre from way back. They seemed to have more fun than any other act.
Most years, the LFF includes at least one a cappella gospel master group. This year’s Birmingham Sunlights were high energy and alternated sweet and rocking. sunlights

Where Is Thankful?

July 27th, 2011

preacherwifeSurely I have read and seen too many horror entertainments. A massive double tombstone in Hyde Park’s Fairview Cemetery stopped me.

On the left side of the marble book, Rev. Elisha B. Bradford was noted to live from 1811 to 1895. On the right, his wife, Thankful T. Faunce, was born in 1818…

He was a Methodist minister known for his powerful preaching on the circuit. However, we have no reason to believe there was an on-the-third-day miracle here. We can be sure we would have gotten the word if she were still walking around at nearly 200.

Where is Thankful?

If you pardon, I am thankful for the internet and its trove of obscure data. We can learn:

  • There is a biography in an old Methodist Conference book that Google digitized.
  • Elisha was a seventh-generation direct descendant of MA Gov. William Bradford.
  • Smart and ambitious, he started in manufacturing with the aim of wealth.
  • He heard his God ask him, “Are you willing to become poor for Jesus sake?” and he resolved that he was. He chose the demanding life of a Methodist, riding among churches.
  • On May 30, 1838, he and Thankful wed and remained so until his death.
  • They had a happy life, with one major exception. Their first-born and only son died at six months. That was “Brother Bradfords great grief, and on that really shadowed his whole life.” Two daughters grew to adulthood and outlived the parents.
  • Thankful lived with one daughter after Elisha’s death. She died at 93 in 1912 (date from the Mormon genealogy site).

That daughter remained local. I found no record of Thankful’s interment. Yet, I surmise that she almost certainly is there by her page of the marble book. Discarding the notion that she walks among us, I wonder then did New England frugality win out and no carver was contracted to fill in the right side of the hyphen?