Fathers

Victor Carpenter

[Rev. Victor Carpenter] 

I learned yesterday morning of the death of my mentor, Rev. Victor Carpenter.  He was my internship supervisor in 1998-99 at the First Church of Belmont, MA, and truly a ministry “father” to me.  He was the same age as my dad, and taught me all the practical ins and outs of life in the ministry, especially a ministry infused with a passion for justice. But the best gift he gave me was his expression of belief and confidence in me–through Victor, I felt I could do everything!

I was ordained at the Belmont church on Fathers Day, June 20 in 1999.  Victor preached the sermon at my ordination, and I was grateful that my dad was also among the many people who participated in the laying on of hands that blessed me for my work in ministry.  That work took me away from the Boston area, so I only saw Victor during occasional visits after that internship year, but his love and belief stayed with me through all the years of my ministry.

I should say a little more about him for those who do not know him.  Victor was a graduate of the Harvard University Divinity School class of 1959.  Along with Belmont, where I knew him, he served churches in Norwell, Massachusetts; Philadelphia; Arlington Street Church in Boston; and The First Church of San Francisco.  He also served The Free Protestant Church of Cape Town, South Africa; perhaps pivotal in shaping his own passion for social justice. After retirement, he was an interim minister in Dorchester, Carlisle, and Hingham, MA.

He received an honorary Doctor of Sacred Theology degree from Starr King School for the Ministry in 1987. In 2011 he received the Unitarian Universalist Association Distinguished Service Award.  (You can read more about his amazing ministries at that website.)  He was active for racial justice, peace in the middle east, access for people with disabilities, and an end to oppressions of all kinds. He was also kind, funny, savvy, and did I say passionate? He was a mentor and support to many others in ministry.

Today I am thinking about his wife Cathe, who herself has been a fierce and loving advocate and educator, and his children and grandchildren, and all of us who were touched by his life and ministry, and feel his loss.  I am also pondering this unlikely juxtaposition for me personally–his death occurring in the very same week as my own dad’s death.  I had known that Victor was terminally ill with cancer, so it wasn’t a complete surprise.  But I feel the double loss of these two father figures in my life, in many ways so different from each other, yet each so pivotal in my spiritual journey. I feel so grateful for the gifts I received through their fathering.

 

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Hidden Mysteries

Hidden Mysteries One

I walked to the cemetery ponds yesterday, and was sitting on a log. I suddenly noticed this strange creature in the water. Very quickly, they disappeared. How often do we walk by unaware of the mysteries hiding almost within our sight? Because I knew the snapping turtle was there, I could see enough to take this next photo, where they are barely visible beneath the water, in the shadow of the log. Can you see it?

Hidden Mysteries Two

How many other mysteries do we miss, how many beauties, how many blessings, lurking just beneath the shadows as we quickly pass by? May we slow down, may we pay attention, may we see what is all around us today.

Do You Believe in Rocks?

Beach RockThe word spirituality comes from the Latin root spirare, which means to breathe. When we breathe, we are alive. We are in relationship, physically, to the world around us, to all other breathers of air: all the human beings, all the animals and the birds, all the trees and the plants. It is first of all a very material, chemical exchange. Breathing is life shared among many beings. When we stop breathing, we die. Breathing might be called the first prayer. Spirituality is first of all about what breathes us into life, what inspires us.

But this word spirituality also comes with a lot of baggage. It has been associated with dogma and religious doctrine. It has been understood as separate from the earth and the body and our physical reality, and also declared more important than our physical reality. Some people have been repelled by the idea of spirituality because they associate it with the irrational and the supernatural, something that requires accepting beliefs that don’t make sense, that don’t fit the facts.

However, spirituality doesn’t have to carry all that baggage. In fact, it may be critical to our lives that we unpack that baggage and find a definition of spirituality that can breathe again. And here is one place to start: spirituality is not about our beliefs, but about our experience. Spirituality is our experience of the larger reality of which we are a part. Spirituality is our experience of connection—our connection to this living earth and all its creatures, our connection to other people, our connection to all that is mysterious and beautiful at the heart of life.

Spirituality is like breathing. Just as the invisible air enters our lungs and brings oxygen to each cell, so spirituality—as experience—brings the outer reality that is so much bigger than we are into the inner feeling of it. Each person’s inner experience may be different from that of their neighbor. When we emphasize experience rather than require certain beliefs, our religious communities can include spiritualities as different from each other as Pagan and Atheist, Christian and Jew. Each person can follow a path that fits their own experience of reality. We are not asked to believe in a particular spirituality, but to be open to the possibility that people’s spiritual experiences have validity, even if they are different from our own.

Now, some might ask, “How can atheists have spirituality?” If we understand spirituality as our experience of the larger reality, then atheists have spirituality when they experience, in their own meaningful way, that larger reality of which we all are a part. Perhaps that experience is mediated by science or skepticism or meditation. That’s fine. Spirituality does not require a belief in God or Goddess or heaven or hell or any of the ideas that have become associated with spirituality. It is not about belief, but about experience.

Pagan writer, Starhawk, describes this distinction between beliefs and experience in regard to her experience of the Goddess. She says:

People often ask me if I believe in the Goddess. I reply, ‘Do you believe in rocks?’ …The phrase ‘believe in’ itself implies that we cannot know the Goddess, that she is somehow intangible, incomprehensible. But we do not believe in rocks—we may see them, touch them, dig them out of our gardens, or stop small children from throwing them at each other. We know them, we connect with them. In the Craft, we do not believe in the Goddess—we connect with her; through the moon, the stars, the ocean, the earth, through trees, animals, through other human beings, through ourselves. She is here. She is within us all.

Starhawk, The Spiral Dance