These past five months have been a time of frequent vivid strange dreams for me. You, too? Neurobiologists are tell us that we’re experiencing especially vivid dreams during the pandemic, due to a combination of stress, poor sleep patterns, and isolation.
Many of mine have involved death, or events that likely would lead to death, like zombie invasions and armed robberies and alien invasions. Not topics I normally remember dreaming about. Those dreams have caused some self-examination. For example, I’ve decided I want to take art lessons and learn how to be more accomplished with watercolors (well, and painting in general!)
These thoughts, in turn, led me to the big questions in life. I am in the middle of a class on Unitarian Universalist Theology, and over and over again, our best, most prolific theologians explain how the historical roots and current practices of our faith tradition call us to build a better world. The dreams of alien invasions and zombie apocalypses have me pondering what I’ve accomplished so far, what still remains to be accomplished, and where I should head next in my lifetime to help build that better world.
Forrest Church, one of our 21st century Unitarian Universalist theologians, thought and wrote about living a life worth dying for. He defined religion as “the human response to the dual reality of being alive and having to die.” Absorbing this message from class, pondering its meaning in the midst of a global pandemic, has me sitting up and paying attention.
Simultaneously, in an online book discussion, I learned that one of the participants had never been to a demonstration, vigil, or protest. I was intrigued, because they are and have been a regular calling for me since college days, when I started attending demonstrations against nuclear power plants. I raised my children, bringing their dolls and battery candles and handmade signs, on the weekly vigil protesting the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and they’ve joined me for Climate marches, Women’s marches, and Black Lives Matter vigils and marches as young adults.
At one point, during the protests and marches against military action right after 9/11, their father begged me not to take them to a march in New York City. He was worried about risk, and to be honest, I was glad that day that they hadn’t accompanied me because the police were aggressive and nasty and pushed back physically, and many people experienced injuries. I was grateful to only need to worry about myself and not three young children.
I’m thinking hard this summer, since all the shootings and the increased attention to Black Lives Matter, about living a life worthy dying for. Until the first vigil after George Floyd’s death by police, I hadn’t been out in public since March. But that clarion call to action brought me out, into a crowd, protecting myself as much as possible with social distancing and mask-wearing, my daughters surrounding me to keep other people away. But it felt too important, worthy of risk, so we showed up when called. So did many of you.
We have Unitarian Universalist ancestors who literally gave their lives for their beliefs. What would I give my life for? I’m thinking about the big life-changing ideas that will build a better world, not the obvious ideas like family. Which of those am I ready to give my life for? What kind of life is worth dying for? I am being called. You, too?
God language can tie people into knots, of course. In part, that is because ‘God’ is not God’s name. Referring to the highest power we can imagine, ‘God’ is our name for that which is greater than all and yet present in each. For some the highest imaginable power will be a petty and angry tribal baron ensconced high above the clouds on a golden throne, visiting punishment on all who don’t believe in him. But for others, the highest power is love, goodness, justice, or the spirit of life itself.
― Forrest Church (1948-2009), Unitarian Universalist minister, author