Dear Cedars Community,
A month has passed since we left our beloved home on Bainbridge Island, and we write to say we are doing well and hope the same for you. As you may recall, the first few weeks of our four-month sabbatical included travel to Southern California and to Florida. The week we spent in St. Petersburg, FL, was particularly memorable among over 400 other clergy at the second biennial UU Ministers Association Institute for continuing education, where we had the opportunity to worship, study, and engage with many of our stimulating and fun colleagues. (The beach there was nice, too, although it was warm only for a few days and then turned pretty chilly.)
While Jaco spent the week learning about and experiencing Bhakti/Kirtan chanting, I had the opportunity to study preaching with the Rev. Dr. James Forbes, eminent minister emeritus of Riverside Memorial Church in New York City. Among other things, he challenged us to look at preaching and worship as healing arts, and to find ways to gently speak truth to power.
In particular, Dr. Forbes invited us to imagine what we might say to President Obama ahead of his State of the Union Address. In a seminar exercise, we had a very short opportunity (about 3 min.) to address the president in sermonic form. Some of us could offer this message via their congregations in the weeks following the conference. But since I was to continue on sabbatical, I had to think of another way to contribute my ideas to the president.
And so I wrote a letter, which is below. I sent it to President Obama before the State of the Union Address, and though I have no way of knowing if he actually read it, I’m still glad I sent it. I hope you’ll read it, too.
After a road trip up the southeast coast with my sister Mary and her husband David, we are now happily living with them for a few weeks in Richmond, Virginia. While here, we are reading books (Jaco’s already digested Malcolm Gladwell’s first two books, The Tipping Point and Blink), enjoying family, walking a lot, doing some writing/editing, and, in my case, learning how to use Dragon Dictate (speech-recognition software). We’ll send another update in March, as we embark on our big trip to England, Israel and Ireland.
Please be assured that even as we appreciate this enriching time for travel, rest, study and growth, we do miss you all very much and look forward to our return in mid-May.
Dear President Obama,
I’d like to invite you, Michelle and your daughters Sasha and Malia to make a stop sometime this year on your way to Hawaii. If you were to fly into Seattle, you could make the short drive on I-5 to the point where I-90 crosses it. There, on a small hill, is a beautiful place called East Shore Unitarian Church.
Many years ago, your grandparents brought your mother to this place. I think your daughters might learn something about themselves if you took them to it.
If you came, as you walk into the church, you’ll see a mosaic based on the Tree of Life. This mosaic was made many years ago and graced the outside of the church when your family would’ve walked into it the first time. They might have been surprised to see this symbol on a church. Yet, what a beautiful image it was and still is! The Tree of Life represents for many of us the deep and abiding connections we share with all creation, our Oneness with all that is. This is the heart of Unitarianism and I believe its message touched your mother in powerful ways.
Though I never met your mother, I know people who have, and they spoke to me of her strength of character, her willingness to stand up for what she believed in, and her fierce loyalty to those she loved. I know you have taught your daughters to remember their grandmother. If they were to enter into East Shore’s sanctuary, they would sense her presence and spirit. For, I believe, she learned at least some of those qualities in this special place.
Why do I know this? Many years ago, when I was a young woman starting out in ministry at age 25, I came across the country (I grew up just a few short miles from where you live in the White House) to serve as an Associate Minister at East Shore. In this beloved community I met people like your grandparents—strong, independent, fine people who taught me to be the woman I am today. In service to them, I learned how to be a faithful and caring minister. More, I learned to be a strong woman in a world where strong women are not always easily accepted. I think your girls would get a sense of this if they came to this church and saw the place it was for your grandparents and mother, and the place it still is today for a vibrant and diverse community.
I understand that some people have scoffed at your Unitarian heritage, blaming your liberal values on your family’s “exposure” to our “heathen” religion. I would gently challenge you to accept it as the gift it is. Unitarian Universalism is a religion that blesses the world with its acceptance of religious diversity and its commitment to the values of Unity (Unitarianism) and Love (Universalism). Our country and our world could use such values, don’t you think? Within the walls of any of our congregations you will meet Christians, Jews, Muslims, Atheists, Buddhists, Pagans, and others. While we differ in specific beliefs about God, we agree with what my late friend and great religious thinker Forrest Church once said about our shared faith. “Unitarianism proclaims that we spring from a single source; Universalism, that we share a common destiny”
In closing, I want to reiterate my invitation to you and your family to come visit East Shore and see the kind of church that helped shaped your grandparents and your mother, and through them, you and your daughters. Though I no longer serve as their minister (I am in a church nearby these days), I’d be happy to meet you there, introduce you to their wonderful ministers, and give your daughters a taste of what the religious life can offer women who are strong and independent.
You will be in my thoughts and prayers as you prepare for the State of the Union address. Thank you for all you have done for us as a nation.
In Unity and Love,
The Rev. Dr. Barbara Wells ten Hove
Co-Minister, Cedars Unitarian Universalist Church
Bainbridge Island and North Kitsap County, WA 98110