The DuPage Unitarian Universalist Church exists as a beacon of liberal religious thought and practice. Amid the challenges and changes of a chaotic world, we aspire to proclaim and embody the possibilities of meaning in human life, of freedom in human thought, and of peace and justice in human community.

Monday, March 18, 2013

and it was at that age.... DUUC arrived

(In case you didn't get the reference in the title, the poem, by Pablo Neurda, is at the end)

We arrived in Naperville from a small close knit community in Ontario just over 10 years ago. My children, at the time, were 5, 7 and 9 years old (pictures above, Graham with his new shirt). In the community we moved from we knew our neighbours, all our kids' friends families, the teachers and staff at our public school,  basically everybody. Our kids moved from home to home almost seamlessly.  At the school there was just one class for each grade. Our friends and neighbours (yes, that's how it's spelled) didn't own guns, were really causal about religion and generally were liberal in their outlook. It was a nice place and a nice life, and then I found out 'we' were being transferred to the United States.

The thought of moving to a country at war, a country with no gun control, a country with the death penalty, a country that was big and loud, homophobic, materialistic and dangerous, well let's just say the thought was very frightening. That I was bringing my young children into this gun loving, war mongering country was terrifying  Okay, so I might have made some gross generalizations and assumptions about 294,043,000 people (2003 US census), but that's how it felt to me at the time.

the willow tree was their favourite thing about the new house
We arrived by plane in O'Hare and drove on the interstate to Naperville, past billboards advertising gambling, drinking, strip clubs and personal injury lawyers. I wanted to cover my children's eyes. Naperville itself was big suburban community. It was, and is full of expensive homes and cars, shopping centres like I've never seen before. It is competitive, it is conservative, it is ostentatious. There were people driving around on motorcycles without helmets. I never let my kids on a bike without a helmet.

America as a country is big, loud, conservative and competitive. If the world were a house, America would be the teenager who stays locked in his room blaring the stereo  eating processed food and throwing the wrappers in the hallway and out the window.

I will not spend this whole blog slamming America, because, in this big, loud outrageous country I found some of the warmest, gentlest and kindest people I've ever known.

When we had been here about six months my youngest child, Elizabeth (I was still allowed to call her that then) wrote a note to God. By this time I was quite experienced helping Santa - wrote with big cursive letters in gold ink, and the Tooth Fairy - wrote with very tiny sparkly pink printing, respond to my children's letters. The God note was on an 8x10 piece of lined paper. It was about a paragraph long, taking up about half the page and asked the usual existential questions, where was heaven, what happened when we died, where do you live, and what's your favourite colour? The other half was for God to write a reply. She taped it, words facing out, to her bedroom window and went to bed. 

There was no good way to handle this, I had no idea what to do, also, I had no idea what colour ink God wrote in, or if God printed or wrote in cursive. I left the note blank and went to bed feeling like I'd failed some important parental test. When she got up in the morning Elizabeth went straight for the note and was very sad to see it still blank. She asked me why God didn't write back, and I had to tell her "I don't know". This was the first of many "I don't knows" that I have since said to my children. When they are young, its lovely to be seen as knowing all the answers, but as they grow up we both found out that they would have questions that I could not answer. I still can't answer the questions in her note, I don't if there is a heaven or where it would be, I don't know what happens after we die, nor do I know God's favourite colour, but suspect it is red, because Red is Best.

And it was at that age.... DUUC arrived.

Standing on the Side of Love
I had to find a community that my children could ask these questions and there would be someone there who was qualified to answer them. I looked at local churches and they did not share many of the values that I held dear. Values about the inherent worth and dignity of every person, of every person. To me that included homosexual people, people who wanted reproductive choice, people that believed science and religion were not opponents, people who questioned and thought about the nature of life, the universe, and everything. This included people who would encourage my children to grow spiritually, to think and develop their own views, people that understood the importance of not just talking about doing good, but who rolled up their collective sleeves and did good, not because they would be rewarded with an afterlife in heaven, not because they would be kept out of Hell (a place I don't believe exists), but because that's what people do for each other.

And what do you know, I found it. We have been going for 9years, and every Sunday my now teenagers insist - yes, I said insist, on going to church. Through DUUC my children have found bedrock. They have formed life long and life changing relationships. They have been told they are loved, they are important, they can accomplish great things. They have had mentors, teachers, leaders, peers and friends surround and love them, and just as important, they have been all of these things for other people. In difficult times DUUC has been a place of of Love and Acceptance, somewhere they could go when they felt that there was no where else they could go and be accepted. 

This is something I am profoundly grateful that my children have.

And you know what? I have found all those things for myself as well. Not a bad deal.

and this is us now


And it was at that age ... Poetry arrived
in search of me. I don't know, I don't know where
it came from, from winter or a river.
I don't know how or when,
no they were not voices, they were not
words, nor silence,
but from a street I was summoned,
from the branches of night,
abruptly from the others,
among violent fires
or returning alone,
there I was without a face
and it touched me.

I did not know what to say, my mouth
had no way
with names,
my eyes were blind,
and something started in my soul,
fever or forgotten wings,
and I made my own way,
that fire,
and I wrote the first faint line,
faint, without substance, pure
pure wisdom
of someone who knows nothing,
and suddenly I saw
the heavens
and open,
palpitating plantations,
shadow perforated,
with arrows, fire and flowers,
the winding night, the universe.

And I, infinitesimal being,
drunk with the great starry
likeness, image of
felt myself a pure part
of the abyss,
I wheeled with the stars,
my heart broke loose on the wind. 

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