Rev. Tom: Well, Steve here we are talking about the Christian holy day Easter.
Steve: Yes, you know we might want to tell that story. You know Unitarian Universalist religious educator, Sophia Lyon Fahs, wrote a Unitarian version of this myth.
Rev. Tom: I remember it.
The people who followed Jesus were brokenhearted after he died. They struggled to understand why God had allowed their teacher to be killed. Surely someone so connected to God, so overflowing in goodness, did not deserve the punishment of a criminal or rebel. As these women and men gathered day after day in each other's homes, they began to recall the wonderful experiences they had had with Jesus. They told one another of times when Jesus was wise, and times when Jesus was kind. The very tone of Jesus' voice and the look on his face would come back to them so vividly that it seemed, sometimes, as though Jesus were again right there with them.
Some of the people had dreams in which Jesus seemed so real that the dreamers could not tell whether they had been asleep or awake when they saw him. Some declared positively that they had seen Jesus again. He had talked with them! The rumor spread that Jesus had actually come out of his coffin, that two of his disciples had seen him, and that several of the women had talked with him. They would see him only for a few moments, and then he would mysteriously disappear again.
Finally, several of them dreamed they saw Jesus rise up from the earth—higher and higher—until he disappeared entirely. They believed he had gone to heaven to be with God. And after that, their dreams of seeing him and talking with him stopped.
People who had these experiences believed that Jesus was different from other people. Some believed that Jesus was so holy and great that he would come back to earth and save the world. That is one reason Christians call Jesus "the Savior.”
The years passed by. The people who knew Jesus died. Their children and their children's children also died. But Jesus did not come back. It has been over two thousand years and Jesus has still not come back. There are those who still hope he will come back to life again.
Others, including Unitarian Universalists, believe that this Jesus will never again live on earth. His body is not coming back. But, his spirit never needs to die. His spirit is in his words and deeds which still offer us wisdom today. For example, when he was alive, Jesus taught and popularized. The Golden Rule: Treat others the way you want to be treated. Jesus gave the Sermon on the Mount, where he said that people who are poor, hurt, and struggling are loved by God and therefore, we must love them, too.
When someone's physical body dies, the people around them who loved and valued them will keep their memory alive—just like the followers of Jesus have remembered his teachings and his spirit, long after his death.
Steve Cooper: You know we have been talking about butterflies in this service; I bet all those people gathered out there in the congregation wonder how butterflies and the story of Easter relate to one another.
Rev. Tom: You are right. How do butterflies and the Easter myth relate to one another?
Steve Cooper: Well, the word I would use to describe the relationship is transformation.
Rev. Tom: What do you mean by transformation?
Steve Cooper: Well, think about the butterfly in Gideon’s Dream. He went through a big change from a caterpillar to a butterfly. That was a big change, right?
Rev. Tom: Yep that was a big change.
Steve Cooper: Well in the myth of Jesus, Jesus changed; Christians believe he was a person who was killed and raised from the dead becoming a spiritual being. Another possible way of looking at transformation in the Jesus story is you could say that Jesus changed from a normal person to a spiritual leader; and his way of living his life and his teachings led to a religion that transforms people leading them to live lives of compassion, love, and devotion.
Rev. Tom: So how does transformation relate to us?
Steve Cooper: Well, we all go through big changes in our lives.
Rev. Tom: Yes, I understand. Something big might happen in our lives or we might learn something new that changes how we see the world or changes how we choose to live in the world. Hopefully these changes lead to a larger and more compassionate world view and a more helpful or valuable way of living in the world. Steve have you experienced this kind of change?
Steve: Well, I have not always been a religious educator. My degree is in Software and Electrical Engineering. During my college and post college years I was involved with several projects that I was proud to be a part of. I wrote software that did something. Let me explain that. Back in the eighties I was part of a small team creating a collision avoidance system proposed for private and possibly commercial aircraft.
Nothing like this existed in the private sector and what commercial planes had was suspect. This was before wide coverage cell phones, before GPS, before laptops.
We tapped, with permission, into the military’s radar system and sent the data to a satellite and then beamed it back down to earth. We had a special antenna strapped to our plane that would track the location of the satellite so it could get the constant stream of radar data. Using the plane’s navigation system, we knew our location and displayed this on a computer screen. This way a pilot could fly and see on the screen the other planes, landmarks and weather in the vicinity and be alerted if necessary.
I also wrote software that collected data and images from vehicles equipped with an array of lasers and video cameras to determine the conditions of roads and highways and then provide city and highway engineers with cost benefit analysis to determine which roads need to be fixed, how to fix them, and when it would be most opportune based on cost.
I wrote software to control all of the functionality of making cardboard boxes. My software talked to every component of these ¼ mile long machines to make the cardboard from rolls of paper to gluing, drying, cutting, slitting and stacking the completed boxes all based on the orders downloaded from the main office.
The work I did was satisfying because it was going to help people out in the world. Either though safety, comfort or providing function. I loved seeing my work functioning, doing things. But it was missing a big component for me. I was missing the direct impact.
At some point during all this our family joined this church. For me it was for the community and the religious education program for our kids. During our first year one of the religious education teachers could no longer teach and our then DRE, Marcia Jett, asked if I would help fill in for her. “Absolutely.”
The following year I was asked to be on the Youth RE committee and the next four years after that I was co-chair of the committee and continued teaching. I worked my way through all of the grades including high school youth group. I was then asked to be on the board as Vice President of Programs so I left the RE committee but felt so attached to teaching that I taught 2nd & 3rd graders during the first hour and high school youth group the second hour.
I like to teach people new things whether it’s about computers or the seven principles. I like it when I feel like I made a change in somebody’s life. So when our DRE, Marcia, died unexpectedly I felt it was my calling to step in and maintain the program that Marcia had established. I came in saying let’s give it a year to figure out if this is truly what I want to do and give the congregation a year to figure out if they wanted me to continue as the new DRE.
In the ten years that I have been doing this, it never ceases to amaze me and humble me when I hear a youth talk about how something I taught them or did for them transformed them and made a difference in their lives.
Steve: How about you Reverend Tom? Gone through any changes?
Rev. Tom: Yes, I have gone through a lot of changes in my life. Here are some pictures of me before my call to ministry.
And then my call to ministry, and I changed inside. And some might say a little on the outside as well.
Here are some images of me in my many roles as a minister over the years. As prophet, as preacher, and as leader within our denomination. And so now I am here on this chancel as your minister. These first slide of me, I guess you could say I was in my catapillar stage, and now I stand before you a butterfly, an experienced Unitarian Universalist minister. But here’s the thing, Steve. I am always a catapillar preparing to change and I am always a butterfly having gone through a change.
I have been the minister here for almost 20 months now. I came here thinking I had some idea about how to do ministry and how to preach, and I did. I have not been an active, non-minister member of a Unitarian Universalist Church for over 15 years. How quickly I forgot what it was like to be a member of congregation, not a minister to a congregation. Last weekend I went back to my home church, Bay Area Unitarian Universalist church. I was just another member of the church. I wasn’t treated as a minister. I remembered many things that I had forgotten about why I kept coming back to my home church. Being part of a thriving men’s group, enjoying the fellowship of our church dinner group; joking with Butch Cockrell about past ministers; discussing Afro-Cuban religions with Mary Ann Clark; reuniting with the Search Committee that I chaired; talking with Jane Ebone about the kaledescopes she gave me so I could remember to see the world in a new and different way. The fun we had together; the joy in sharing inspiriational experiences together; the sharing of life’s ups and downs with one another.
I am going through another change. I am transforming. Again
I want to make sure what I preach and how I minister includes some of what I cherished when I was a member of a Unitarian Universalist church. So Steve you may notice me doing some different things, maybe doing some more experiencial things in service and being a little more playful up here as well. I have been sharing more of my life in my preaching this year, and I will continue to do this. But I also want to share some of the joy and wonder that kept me coming back to the Unitarian Universalist church.
Am I a butterfly now or back to a caterpillar? Or am I both?