The last time I prayed—and really meant it-- I was a teenager. I’d lost my parents’ car keys.
I found those keys right away. But I never prayed again.
It just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t kick the church-going habit, though, so I tried this one and that, looking for love in all the wrong places, I guess. Meanwhile, I was discovering the foundations of my Unitarianism elsewhere.
From being a journalist, I learned skepticism, but NOT cynicism. In public relations work, I saw the diversity of people. From a career in academe, I learned rationalism and humanism.
And, from being a husband and father of four, I learned reverence and gratitude. Also, a little patience.
For years, we lived in Rhode Island, inspired by a statue atop the State House dome called “The Independent Man.” I also liked Rhode Island’s official state motto—“Hope….” Probably because Hope is also my middle name.
So, by early middle age, I became a “hopeful skeptic.”
After living in mountainous New England for half our lives, Joan and I wound up in Bowling Green, Ohio, where the natives are friendly but have 14 words for “flat.”
In 1987, we discovered MVUUC in its very first years. It was the church we’d been looking for. Back then, it was only a few brave but hopeful skeptics meeting in a rented hall with folding chairs and a cannon on the front lawn. We didn’t have much, but we had each other, although sometimes it felt like the “Church of the Improv.”
But we loved it and love it still, and yet... it was only Chapter 1, and now we’re in Chapter 2, still growing inch by inch, but with a new vision, from the amazing Reverend Lynn: to become the vibrant religious voice in northwest Ohio.
“I can see the mountaintop,” as MLK would say, “But God’s not finished with me yet.”
We can reach the mountaintop Inch by inch, but this year’s annual pledge drive is our chance for a “great leap forward.” In the current pledge drive, it’s up to you, my beloved hopeful skeptics, to be extraordinarily generous to this extraordinary place. To keep us, if skeptical, always hoping.
Did I say “God,” in whom I do not believe?
But I do. For thousands of years millions of people, awed by the Universe and the wonders found in themselves—wisdom, courage, love, generosity, joy—have idealized those qualities in a mysterious being they called God, someone you have to call long-distance. Often with the help of an operator.
But I believe the wonders of God actually reside in everyone, waiting to be cherished and nurtured by each other. I think God is not UP
THERE, but right here, in each of us, not only in THAT Lynn [Kerr] but in THAT Lynn [Israel], and THAT Steve. In some sense, in our joy and wisdom and deep caring for each other, each of us IS God
…although in some cases, work remains to be done.
Joan and I know for a fact that God is HERE, not THERE. And we have proof.
On a May evening in 2006, police came to our door with a message. A police chaplain offered to lead us in prayer. Politely, we replied, “We don’t pray.”
Then we headed back east, to New Hampshire, to a little white church, filled with mourners, for a memorial service for our youngest son. It was led by two Unitarian ministers and we sang, “Spirit of Life” twice.
Carrying Dan’s ashes, we returned to Bowling Green, cold and numb, and here we were wrapped in the warm and loving arms of this congregation. And have been, ever since.
We never prayed, but we knew where God was—and is. (And we DO pray, but in our own way.)
Years ago, a song writer wrote these four lines:
If only tears were laughter,
If only night were day;
If only prayers were answered,
What would we hear God say?
Ever wonder what God would say?
You’re sitting next to her. You could always ask her.
I’m Jim Bissland and that is why I belong.