6.18.23 (I’m sorry our internet connection failed to capture this Sunday’s lesson on-line. It was a pretty emotional sharing that may not be fully captured with just the script - but here it is for those of you interested in reading it. Blessings, Rev. Vicky)
I’m happy to see some Father’s here. Traditionally church attendance expands on Mother’s Day and declines on Fathers’ Day - I’m glad we’re defying that trend! (Also - we give out flowers on Mother’s Day… so as not to discriminate… we’re giving out homemade cookies today.)
And, just as we acknowledged that we can experience a myriad of feelings around Mother’s Day, we know the same is true for Father’s Day – we can feel love and joy; grief and regrets; anger, sadness and/or confusion; gratitude and admiration; and even more feelings…
Because we each have our own stories around having and/or being fathers; and our own experiences around being fathered, whether by our biological parent or a diversity of others who helped fulfil that role in our lives What makes it somewhat more different however, is that on Mothers’ Day, we seem to more easily rise above our variety of experiences and feelings to embrace the “divine mother” attributes of love, nurturing, caring and warmth… Whereas some of us, unfortunately, have a more troublesome relationship with the “divine father” idea – due to early-formed images from Bible stories & teachings that present God as authoritarian, aloof, judgmental, angry, punishing, even bullying.
Fortunately, we now have a more scholarly and progressive understanding of the Bible, beginning with the realization that the Bible is a collection of writings (not a single comprehensive book) reflecting often conflicting works and views of many human authors within diverse historical contexts (vs. the inerrant word of God).
Meaning the Bible actually reveals less about God – and more about how the various authors experienced and described God over time. So we find stern and vengeful images, especially in the earlier part of the Hebrew Scriptures.
And, later, we see images of a God who cares for the people. E.g., the God of Psalm 23 or Psalm 139. “Lord, you have searched me out and known me. You know my sitting down and rising up. You understand my thoughts from afar…”
And by the same token, what we see in the Bible can also be like holding up a mirror to the sacred text, finding that it reflects ourselves…and the meaning WE (you and I) as individual readers, both bring to, and find within the texts today…
For example, I approach the Bible from a solid framework of God = LOVE… more specifically, a non-binary expression/power/force of the highest form of unconditional love, truth, healing, support, guidance, and compassion…"Infinite God beyond us, Intimate God beside us, Inner God being us…divine love in action.”
And I seek & find an abundance of evidence supporting this foundational faith…as well as historical contexts that help explain or dismiss scriptures that seemingly miss this mark.
For example, regarding the very difficult story of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac – to prove his faith…and Abraham agreeing. I vacillate between explaining the story through a more primitive historical context wherein such behavior was expected (many sacred traditions involved human sacrifices) AND/OR reading it as a kind of parable. (Fortunately God releases Abraham from the obligation before he carries it out.)
As Rev. Nigel Bunce of St. George’s Lowville Anglican Church suggests: “Perhaps this story is a kind of parable. A moral dilemma, not a real event. To disobey God is a sin, yet to kill the innocent Isaac is clearly immoral. Should Abraham obey God and lose his child, or preserve his child and disobey God? In our own lives we often get caught between competing principles. If we only ever had to choose between a morally good and a morally bad option, there would be no dilemma in the choice.”
(Admittedly, it is still a story I struggle with…but as I hold the Bible as inspired by Spirit, but nevertheless the work of human consciousness, I can set this story aside, or interpret it as a parable as noted above.)
Rev. James Trapp (Spiritual Life Center - Sacramento), in his eblast message this week, offers another view or interpretation of God the Father, in his exploration about what Jesus’ statement, “I had to be about my father’s business” might mean in today’s world.
Trapp shares a personal story of being given an elementary school homework assignment to write a poem. Having little or no interest in poetry, he felt incapable of completing the assignment. He was adamant with his father that he simply could not do it.
At some point his father asked, "Deep down don't you believe, at least a little bit, that you can do this?" James, after considering the question told his father, “Absolutely not. I don't believe I can do it.’
And then his father said something James would never forget. He said, "Then believe in my belief that you can do it." That is all it took for James to believe he could do it. His father then helped him write a poem about his favorite sport, baseball. And it was good enough to be published in a magazine for young writers.
Trapp notes how blessed he was to have a father who had that kind of belief in him – aware that some, perhaps even many folks haven’t experienced that kind of paternal support (for a variety of reasons).
He then goes on to remind us that our “master teacher, Jesus, gave us another perspective on fatherhood, when he said, ‘Call no one your father on earth; you have one father – the one in heaven.’
Trapp explains our Unity understanding that Jesus wasn’t referring to heaven as a place – but to the Divine Idea of EVER-EXPANDING GOOD in our lives and world… concluding that to be about our Father's Business is “a reminder that we have a divine mandate to express heaven (or ever-expanding good) in our daily life…i.e., to live at our highest and best.
So, as we think about Father's Day (or Mother’s Day for that matter), Trapp concludes, “not only do we appreciate those earthly fathers or parental figures that support or have supported us, but we also remember that even if we did not have that earthly support, there is a presence that can never leave us or forsake us and is seeking to express in and as us. Most importantly, it always believes in us even when we don't fully believe in ourselves, because we are of the same substance.
I’ve shared numerous times that I too have been truly blessed by the fathers and fathering in my life. My own dad was the epitome of unconditional love, so much so that he made it easy for me to experience God as absolute good and pure love…As well as to hear and embrace my calling “to support all people to know God’s love.”
It was also a blessing to share parenting our 3 children with my late husband, partner, and soul-mate, Rory. Over the past few months, a number of you have told me how you wished you had been around to know Rory, and would like to know more about him.
I decided Father’s Day would be a good time to share about Ro…because becoming a father was the divine calling of his life…and the path of his greatest healing and growth (building on his life-on-the line transforming journey through cancer).
Without going into a lot of detail, suffice it to say that Rory had a challenging childhood.
His mother and father divorced early-on, neither one of them prepared or able to be effective parents. His maternal grandparents adopted him at the age of 8. His grandfather (by marriage) never had children of his own. The result was an overly controlled, rigid & strict environment (what we would call abusive today). And, to make matters worse, Rory was sent to parochial school where corporal discipline was generously administered and Rory was a regular recipient. As he says in LL, “I learned at a very young age to take care of myself, and not to depend on others because it was too painful to be disappointed over and over again. I rebelled throughout my teen years – seeing everything and everyone a challenge – constantly trying to prove my worth – while “doing it MY WAY.”
Rory graduated from St. Mary’s College, and became a juvenile probation officer in Southern CA. He was skilled at relating to troubled and rebellious youth, having walked that path himself.
From there he became a Youth Services Officer with the Rohnert Park police department, establishing trail-blazing relationships between the police and the schools to address a growing crisis of school violence.
In 1980, he joined the newly formed CA Attorney General’s School Safety Center that was part of a larger newly formed Crime and Violence Prevention Center…And that is where we met…
Less than a year later, after a routine physical, the doctor called Rory and matter-of-factly said, “you have lung cancer; you need to make an appointment as soon as possible so we can take the necessary course of action.” He was a month shy of 32 years old.
Again in his own words (from Life/Line): “By most standards, being diagnosed with a life- threatening disease that had semi-successful (30-50%) odds of survival, and that involved painful test, surgeries and treatment, would be considered anything but a miracle. The journey I was about to embark on, however, became a powerful, positive and, in retrospect, life transforming experience.”
In short, cancer had broken through the thick walls of protection Rory had created… He said, “Fortunately for me, experiencing a total state of breakdown was exactly where I needed to be for the biggest transformation in my life to occur. There was no time to intellectualize or rationalize the situation. My self-deception was over and I was in for some major metaphysical (as well as actual) surgery. I now had the life-on-the-line opportunity to examine and restructure all of the conversations I had created about myself and the world. I found myself in the midst of a spiritual emergency.
I share all of this as it is essential to truly knowing Rory His journey of transformation defined him… turning the “Die-agnosis” of cancer into a “Live-agnosis” of healing and love…
During his treatment and recovery time, Rory and I became closer friends. We discovered A Course In Miracles, and then Christ Unity Church in Sacramento. Both of us (for different reasons) were seeking a spiritual path, and we both found it in Unity.
Over the next few years, Rory beat the cancer odds and our friendship evolved into a soul-ship as, for separate and related issues, we both got divorced, and fully embraced the spiritual journey of Unity.
I don’t want to imply that it was a smooth ride to health and wholeness. In Ro’s words, “Opening up my vulnerability and getting really close to Vicky, and then her daughter Bri, was a two-steps-forward, one-step-back process. Vicky remained undaunted by my retreats and supportively invited me to carefront my fears, my pain, and my conversations. As I healed each layer within me, I would begin the process again, going even deeper. We worked at rewriting our old relationship conversations for two-plus years before we decided we were ready to make a deeper commitment to one another and get married. (Which also involved creating a family with my 7-year old daughter, Bri, who I shared custody of with my ex)…
Ro wrote, “As I healed my adult self––physically, emotionally, and spiritually–– it became time to begin healing my inner child, whom I had locked deep within me. Buried with my inner child was my spontaneity, freedom and innocence, replaced by control and protection.”
“As divine order would have it, Vicky had a seven-year-old daughter, Brianna, who became part of my life when Vicky and I came together. Bri was the first child I had ever interacted with on an ongoing basis. At first it was difficult for me to relate… but eventually she opened the door to my own lost childhood and help me rediscover my inner child that was just aching to get out.
“With the emergence of my inner child came all the joys of being a child, as well as the pain of my childhood. Thus I began site began yet a new level of carefrontation and pealing back more layers––revealing and healing my childhood traumas and learning how to be child-like vulnerable again.
We were married in 1987 (with Bri as my bridesmaid) while expecting Travis in early 1988. (And Kyle came soon after in 1989.)
In Life on the Line, Ro speaks to “Children – the Divine Teachers,” saying: “Parenting has proven to be the most demanding, most rewarding, and most challenging process I have ever elected to experience. Author E. B. White summed up the experience aptly when he wrote to a friend, after the birth of his first child, “I feel the mixed pride and oppression of fatherhood in the very base of my spine.”
“Becoming a “new age” father, determined to nurture and father my children in ways that I had not experienced, constitutes an ongoing growth curriculum that facilitates the continuous process of peeling away my layers of mask-ulinity. I am creating a new identity – separate from jobs, titles, and doing… grounded instead in beingness and love.
“I had experienced other marker-events in my life, but none that so radically had me come to terms with the development of my complete self: healing the past, shifting gears and reassessing my life. Daily, I am opening up to new boundaries, experiencing new role–reversals, as well as physical, emotional, career and financial adjustments.
“Holding Travis and Kyle as infants, feeding them, carrying them, feeling their hugging and grasping and the safety and warmth of our embraces made me feel life-giving in a new way. Layers of my hardness began melting, and I began healing my childhood wounds by locating and actualizing the feminine/nurture/healer within me.
“As I learn to parent my children with love, I am reparenting myself as well – breaking the patterns of my dysfunctional past. Vicky’s childhood experience of unconditional love and family support provide a stark contrast to my experiences of abandonment, abuse, and independence. Her family has provided me with a new, functional model of unconditional love.
“Moreover, releasing my child-within has allowed me to play and explore and adventure more; giving up self-consciousness and the constant need for structure, order and answers––for being spontaneous and in the moment. I continue to practice and integrate these traits into my new identity.
AGAIN - it wasn’t always a smooth or easy journey… Rory continues…
“This time of fatherhood continues to be one of integration – of taking all my parts and creating a new whole – without comparing to, or seeking the approval of others. I am learning to discover what is truly important to me, and having the courage to take a stand for it. Often, the greatest challenges are my own conversations and scripts about what it means to be a “success.”
“While I know––and act on––the fact that creating healthy, loving and whole children is the greatest measure of success any man or woman can claim, I still struggle with some of the choices I have to make in the process. Having spent most of my life with my career as a single focal point, and my standard of achievement demanding that I be the best at all costs, I have found balancing more than one major priority to be quite difficult. And I have come to appreciate what women have been experiencing in their struggle to “have it all.”
Explaining to our kids that I was sharing about Rory this morning, for the folks who never got to meet him, I asked them if they would tell me about how they experienced their dad… (so you can hear the results of all Ro’s efforts at healing and growth). Bear with me as I try to share these without crying… I’ll start with Bri – since she was in on the earlier years. (Note: 6-yr old Bri decided she would call Rory – RY early-on in their relationship, when I insisted she choose a name for him besides “weirdo”.)
She shared: “Some thoughts on Ry as a dad;”
“RY had the greatest laugh…He was the go-to dad to teach driving, calm and patient, even when I almost ran into a mailbox, and even with Shana’s wild driving! (Shana was Bri’s best friend who he also taught to drive, along with both of my nieces, and eventually T & K)He was curious and interested in young people’s thoughts and perspectives; He was a good listener; He worked hard to reject the abusive model he grew up with; He wasn’t attached to being a perfect parent, and he was able to acknowledge and talk about his shortcomings.
Trav & Kyle responded to my text-request with this: Patience––he could hear/experience something and not have the gut-reaction that most would. (I’m sure he had his moments of immediate reaction, but I remember the patience more.) That was a good thing for a parent to have, but an even better thing to impart to a child. It extended to times of us being in trouble/learning moments and not flying off the handle; to helping us with our own emotions when something didn’t go our way; to things like teaching us how to drive and play golf.
Everyone who met him specifically as our dad––teachers, coaches, friends, parents––immediately gravitated to him. People, to this day, who maybe met/talked to him a few times, still talk to me about how nice and approachable he was.
Unconditional love––to us sure, we always felt that and it was very special. But he felt that way about complete strangers a lot of the time too. I remember you guys taking us to an underground like soup kitchen or something in downtown Kansas City and him interacting with people who were in real bad ways. He interacted with them, made them laugh, humanized them. This is just an example, but he did that with most everyone. “Look at them with love first before you form any judgements or options, if that becomes your default approach you’ll see the world in a different way.” And he did. And he passed that on to us.
And then I found the sharing Trav offered at Rory’s Celebration of Life: “As I stand here today and look out at this crowd, I see so many different faces from so many places all around the country, and the world. And it does not surprise me. That was who my dad was. His aura was so big that he left his mark everywhere he went.
He was the most dynamic person I’ve ever known. How many people do you know that can lift probation officer and minister on the same résumé? Whatever the situation called for, my dad could handle it. He had endured more physical and emotional pain and anyone I’ll ever know, but you never know it behind that gigantic smile. His presence was big and powerful, but always gentle and caring. If you wanted to feel better, you need not do anything else but stand by him and his ambience would lift your spirit.
I learned everything I know from him. He taught me how to form my baseball glove, and the shade, and how to tie a tie. He taught me the difference between a good joke and a bad joke, but how to make people laugh regardless. He taught me to be proud of who I am, my heritage, and where I came from. He taught me charm and wit, presence and charisma. He showed me the importance of respect, generosity, compassion and forgiveness.
He was the perfect father, husband, son, brother, cousin, minister, fan. Every question I’ll ever need answered, all I have to do is think about what he would’ve done. He showed me how to love, and make sure everyone always knew it. I’ll get married someday, and have a family of my own, and know exactly what to do because I’ve already seen it done right.
I will make sure my children know of their grandfather and how I am the person I am today because of him. I only hope I can be half the person he was.
I stand here today, on the doorstep of the rest of my life, and sure of what the future holds. But I am not scared. I know he is forever with me, because I can still feel him in my heart. I know I’ll never be alone, because even in the darkness, his soul stands next to mine, protecting and guiding me. My dad told me I can be anything I want to be as long as I reach for the stars and never give up.
So I promise, I swear on my life I won’t stop until all my dreams are fulfilled and I have done everything I ever wanted, because as long as you’re by my side nothing is impossible. You’re in a better place now, where there is no pain, no sadness, no anger, where you can rest in peace and await the day we’ll see each other again. I know you and grandpa will be teeing off every morning on the greens golf course you’ve ever seen, and I know one day I’ll join you, but not yet. Dad you are my best friend, and my hero, and I love you so much.
So…I hope this has helped those of you who never me Rory to know him a little more…and celebrate with me the legacy of love his has left through our family and through UMB…where he also touched so many.