Happy International Archives Day!

On this year’s theme of “Archives, Citizenship, and Interculturalism”, we offer some images from our Unitarian Universalist Service Committee collections. 

From the UUSC’s website: “The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is a nonsectarian human rights organization powered by grassroots collaboration. We work anywhere rights are threatened – by natural disasters, armed conflicts, genocide, forced migration, and systematic injustice.”

The images above represent the UUSC’s work in Europe during WWII in aiding displaced people, their partnership with the Awo Omamma village in Nigeria, and their help in spreading Archbishop Oscar Romero’s message of human rights violations in El Salvador.

Pastoral Care

Pardon my verbosity but I had to share a story that happened this morning:

A part of my job is what is called “pastoral care”. Essentially, it’s listening and counseling congregation members and sometimes people outside the church too. Today was an exercise in pastoral care and a bit of a turning point on whether I should pursue ministry or not. It was also a moment of clarity and seeing healing and faith in action.

Our board president came into my office first thing this morning and I could tell he was caught up in something negative. He’s a very laid back, compassionate man, someone I love dearly as a friend and fellow UU. So, naturally, I asked him what was wrong.

He went on to tell me about this other member of the congregation and how he was almost driven to violence towards this man. Now, that’s not within his character at all. Period. To know he was affected so deeply told me that something horrible had gone down. I asked if he wanted to tell me more and he said that he felt he had to get it out. I made us some coffee before we continued and settled back into my office with the door shut.

This other member of the congregation is dying. He has no pancreas and the drug therapy his wife is administering (as a doctor of medicine and a biologist) is made up mostly of steroids at this point. He is on borrowed time and knows it so he is throwing himself into his work and has been driving a community project at a frantic pace at the church for the last six months. The board president was part of this and said congregation member was in a frenzy from the start, becoming more and more demanding with each passing month. He is facing his own mortality and speaking from experience, it is a very frightening thing. So, he is acting out of fear and being on borrowed time.

It got to the point where the volunteers who were helping couldn’t stand him and started to leave. The minister got involved due to his erratic behavior and he basically screamed in her face, walked out and started sending her numerous nasty emails throughout the following days. On the next project meeting, the board president asked him what was wrong and he started lacing into him about how “the volunteers are too slow and individualistic for the work we are doing… except this lady who is not too bright and can at least not question what I need done”.

He essentially called one of the sweetest ladies I know at this church an idiot, despite the fact that she was a paralegal and lawyer for thirty plus years for the federal government. Insulting her was the final straw. My friend exploded, pounded his fist down on the table and told the project lead “to stop being such a fucking asshole and to get the hell out before he put him on the floor”.

He gets up and leaves without another word. The board president is shaking in anger and the rest of the team sort of just files out of the room, leaving him there to sort himself out. This was yesterday so when he came to me, the rage was still fresh. I could tell it was eating him up too - hell, he told me that point blank. He hadn’t slept at all. He just wished (in his words and said with a volatile rage I had never heard in so gentle a man), that “this bastard would just die”.

I just looked at him for a moment before getting up and hugging him. I said that his words were coming from a place that is not him, a place of pain and anger. I told him that he was a gentle person, a compassionate man and someone who was meant to help heal rather than harm. I could hear the same words coming out of Rev. Amy’s mouth because they were hers to begin with. She had been the one who had helped teach me how to properly do pastoral care but I had never really “felt” the meaning behind them until that moment.

My friend cried hard for a good long minute. I held him and just let him. He stopped after a moment and pulled away gently. I hadn’t realized it but I was also crying a bit. Emotional moment and all. He told me I was right and that this wasn’t him. I knew where he was coming from though and explained as much and told him that he should go home and just do something that gets him away from such negativity. He needed to find a grounding point and distract himself while the situation plays out. It was out of his hands now and he nodded, hugged me again, told me he loved me and left.

Needless to say, I was a bit shaken by it all. My poor friend has a past of growing up in an abusive household, coming to terms with his own sexuality, teaching in a field that had only begun to start helping children with disabilities and “fighting the good fight” for so many years before finally seeing progress. He’s in his late sixties now and just tired of having to give and give and give to people who don’t want to be kind. So, he had to walk away and it left him rattled.

An hour later, he called my office. He spoke hurriedly but passionately into the phone, “You won’t believe what happened. I had to tell you because this just reaffirms my faith and …well, me."I asked him what had happened.

The troublesome individual ran into him outside of his house. The man was waiting for him. My friend got out of his car and that flight or fight instinct kicked in. He was ready to deliver on his promise of violence but it didn’t come to that. The first thing this other man said to him was "I’m sorry. I violated not only our principles but our friendship. I am so sorry.” This stopped my friend dead in his tracks and he was speechless for a few moments before he nodded and invited him inside to talk things over.

The conversation turned to the man’s pain and his fear of dying. He was afraid he would have “no legacy to leave behind” after so many years of work (this project he was heading was the culmination of his life’s work) and effort. He said he had lashed out because he knew the medication was changing his mind and that death was coming for him soon and he didn’t know what was beyond this life. He had lashed out at the very people who wanted to help make his dream of a lasting legacy possible, the very people who comforted him as he took those last few steps on his journey through life. He let his thoughts flow, kind of like the board president had done to me this morning.

And at the end of it, he told my friend that he wanted the project to go on but he would do better, be a better person. He didn’t want to be remembered as “a demon of his own creating”.

So, what did my friend do? He forgave him. He said he would not stand alone in those dark moments. He acted on the first principle for the Unitarian Universalist faith: “The inherent worth and dignity of every person.”

They are going to talk more. My friend wants to make more time to come talk to me and/or the minister to work through his own thoughts and it continues down to the line.

So why the hell am I telling you all about this? Because it’s a wonderful feeling to be a part of that chain of interconnection and healing. It showed me that I could maybe do this minister thing in the future and be okay with the responsibilities it brings. It showed me that maybe I am a decent listener. I honestly don’t know all the reasons but it felt like I had to share. Perhaps this is my part of “getting it out” and you all are being my listeners or giving me “pastoral care’.

For whatever reasons it may be, thank you for reading such a long, rambling post.