REFLECTIONS ON THE SUMMER OF ’99

SEPTEMBER 12, 1999
R.M. FEWKES


It is hard to believe that we have all come through the last summer of the 20th century. The summer of ’99 was a good one for us. It began for me in late June at the UUA General Assembly in Salt Lake City. Salt Lake City is a beautiful city surrounded by hills and mountains. The weather in June this year was quite bearable, though in the high 80s to low 90s there was always a breeze blowing and the evenings were cool enough to turn off the air conditioning in our hotel room and open the windows to the night air from the mountains.

The Mormon Tabernacle and Temple area with their gorgeous gardens was a beautiful sight to behold. It was interesting to learn at a workshop that the founder of the Mormon Church, Joseph Smith, was baptized as a Universalist in New York State where his father was a member. Moreover, the golden statue of the Angel Moroni, which is attached to the top of the Temple, was designed and sculpted by a Unitarian. The Mormons also teach a kind of doctrine of universal salvation (except for a recalcitrant free) and the notion that human beings have the potential to evolve spiritually all the way up to the level of the divine—but the similarities with UU-ism stop there. When it comes to structure and organization the Mormon Church is hierarchical, patriarchal, and authoritarian in nature in contrast to the religious diversity and freedom of belief characteristic of Unitarian Universalism.

It is also interesting to note that some 40% of the members of the UU Church in Salt Lake City are Mormons in transition. Most UU’s today are in transition from one faith tradition or another into a tradition that teaches freedom, reason and tolerance, and encourages its members to seek moral and religious truth from many sources—Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Pagan, and our own conscience and experience. It is a journey no one of us can accomplish alone. We need one another to become whole, and loving and free.

After a relaxing week and a half at our place on the Cape I spent a week with Judy Campbell and our colleague, Elaine Bomford from Ashby, at the Psi Symposium Conference at Ferry Beach in Saco, Maine. The theme of our conference was "Mysticism in Human Experience." We learned about mystical traditions in Judaism (the Kabbalah and the Tree of Life), Christianity (Hildegaard of Bingen), Islam (the Sufis and the poetry of Rumi), and then we spent a morning learning Sufi dancing! We had a ball. It was good to see Karen, Phil and Becky Brown (our former DRE and family) who spent the week with us, along with Helen Casoli, Dave Ganong, and Ron Harris from First Parish in Norwell. And Deanna Riley came up for the week purely for R and R and joined us each day for the Happy Hour. A couple of weeks later, during the first week in August we spent a week at the Kitchenham’s A-Frame home in Sanbornton, N.H., with some friends from Middleboro. Between the majesty of the White Mountains and the gorgeous lakes in N.H. it is impossible not to be inspired and renewed in both body and spirit. As Thoreau once said, there is no better tonic than the tonic of Nature.

I did manage to see a few good movies this summer, but the only one that truly caught my fancy was "The Sixth Sense" starring Bruce Willis and a wonderful child actor named Haley Joel Osment. That kid should win an award for an outstanding performance and Bruce Willis was the best he’s ever been. You all know of my interest in the so-called "sixth sense"—the mystical faculty, extra-sensory-perception or ESP. This is a movie about a young boy who is quite different than other young people. He has a secret that he eventually reveals to a child psychologist, played by Bruce Willis. His secret is that he sees dead people. Some of the dead people don’t even know they’re dead. It is a fact, whether you believe it is true or not, that there are some people who believe they can see dead people. They’re called psychics and mediums. Some of them became aware of their sixth sense at a very young age. A lot of people, other kids and adults, thought they were crazy and weird, and discouraged those with a sixth sense from talking about it. And so they kept their thoughts and impressions to themselves like the young boy in the movie.

In the course of our growing up we’ve all had to struggle with the fact that each of us is different from everybody else. When we were young we feared being made fun of, thought weird or strange, by our peers and classmates. And so we did everything we could to be like others, wear the same clothes, talk the same lingo, or we did the opposite, and tried to be as different from the crowd as we could be. As adults we still struggle with the tension of sameness and difference. In the UU Church we try our best to help our young people and one another be accepting of different ages and lifestyles, sexuality, social/political and religious beliefs. We try to teach self-respect and respect of others, or as Jesus taught, to love your neighbor as yourself. We don’t always succeed by any stretch of the imagination, but we try to make this attitude the bedrock of any curriculum we teach.

As for people who think they see dead people we offer you an opportunity to meet some of them from time to at our monthly our Psi Symposium meetings. Some of my best friends are mediums and psychics from the Spiritualist Church, and some of them are members of UU churches. As a matter of fact, Kevin Coan, from the Spiritualist Church in Salem, will be back for a return visit on the first Wednesday evening in October. And the British Medium, Matthew Smith, who was so popular a couple of years ago, is going to be in the area for a couple of weeks in October. I am trying to line up a date for Matthew to come back for a 4th visit. By no means are mediums and psychics always a hundred percent accurate in their readings, but most of them are well meaning and honest, and have often been uncannily on target in their messages and impressions. They may seem weird and different to others, but we can all learn something from those who are different, even people who see dead people. And as for dead people, who don’t know they’re dead, I have met those who are spiritually dead and don’t know it. But I also believe in the possibility of spiritual renewal both here and hereafter.

As it says in our service of membership:

WHEN YOU JOIN THIS CHURCH…YOU BOND YOURSELVES TO A FELLOWSHIP OF RELIGIOUS SEEKERS IN QUEST OF MORAL AND SPIRITUAL TRUTHS TO LIVE BY. OURS IS A LIFELONG QUEST. WE RECOGNIZE THAT WE ARE NEVER TOO OLD TO GROW IN RELIGIOUS THOUGHT AND CONSCIENCE. IN OUR JOURNEY WE HAVE THE HERITAGE OF THE AGES TO GUIDE US AND THE TESTIMONY AND WITNESS OF OUR OWN REASON, CONSCIENCE AND EXPERIENCE. WE MAY NOT ALWAYS AGREE, BUT WE PLEDGE TO EXPRESS ALL OUR AGREEMENTS AND DISAGREEMENTS, IN THE SPIRIT OF TRUTH AND LOVE, WHICH IS THE SPIRIT OF GOD WITHIN US. AS IT IS WRITTEN, "IF YOUR DAYS ARE DARK, OUR LIGHT MAY HELP YOU. IF YOUR DAYS ARE BRIGHT, WE NEED THE HELP OF YOUR LIGHT."

Welcome to the UU Church where you can be you. If you have not already done so, I hope you will become part of this extended religious family. It is good to be together again after the respite of the summer.