The Epic of Gilgamesh, for your viewing pleasure

In 2017, I adapted the epic of Gilgamesh (written by Sîn-lēqi-unninn) to a Ministerial closing ceremony. We don’t have a video of the original epic of Gilgamesh (first performed about 2100 BCE) but we fortunately, this version survives. Starring Rachel Priest, Rach Bourke, and several Unitarian ministers who were very good sports…

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Exist

Lately, I’ve been putting prayer on the to-do list.
I know, I know: there’s something spiritually amiss about this,
a lack of authentic devotionality, a careless mix-up of
the self-help priorities.

Worse, it’s sometimes sixth, or seventh on the list.
Some days, I don’t get there.
Some days, not quite getting my work done,
and staring endlessly at the tube,
or at the infernal, lithium two-by-four,
exhausted and aimless,
will have to count, somewhere, as prayer.

My son does me one better: he took the family calendar –
on the internet these days –
and wrote “exist” across every day,
Sunday to Saturday. That’s my kinda life goals.

So, today, I breathed in, again,
and out, once more. I’m here.
Not through any valiant effort, personally,
though the atoms in me have
coursed across vast space, planting cellular gardens
that defy the flaming sword of time.

Later, maybe, I’ll pray. Which isn’t as much as it sometimes sounds:
I breathe in, and I breathe out, and in snatches, I meet my maker.
I exist. I mark the calendar, and look at the sky, I’m here.
To-do list accomplished, another day, thanks to me and mine,
in the win column.

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An Alien Astronomer Reports on System B^DX4-2

System B^DX4-2 is a promising one. A single mid-size star, with a number of planets in orbit – 6 visible. Gravity tables put the likely total at somewhere between 8 and 16.

Star 1-B^DX4-2 is just post-midlife, stable ordinary. Nothing much to report. Of the planets, 2 stand out as being particularly interesting. B^DX4-2.# has a number of rings, presumably made of ice, rock, or plechs. It’s a stunningly beautiful planet. B^DX4-2.” is a nicely-sized storm ball, with terrific colours, pressure stripes, and a gradually diminishing anticyclonic formation. It could keep an avid astronomer watching for days, in quiet pleasure.

The other planets are small, presumably rocky, and difficult to say much of.

B^DX4-2 lies firmly within the life-sustenance vectors, and so there is the distant possibility that it hosts organic matter. While the probabilities are always slight to nothing, they are not nothing, and further study is required. Any life is more than likely microbiological and rudimentary. Still, we know in theory evolution could happen on other planets, just as it has here. Perhaps, they too have their astronomers, skurlling out from there anomedizers in our direction, and imagining what form they take. Perhaps they too enjoy long lunches, batamize in the evenings, and write poetry. Though it may be doggerel from our perspective, nevertheless, how humbling it is to be watched, in the mind’s kur, by the imagined watcher. We must never lose hope of the diminishment of our self-importance.

The files for System B^DX4-2 are stored in the database and available on alternative Tuesdays for inspection.

Respectfully submitted,

Chip

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The Trick

The trick
is to open your hands
wide enough
to hold the sunrise

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The 21st Century Congregant, Part 2: How Congregations Can Adapt

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece called “The Century Congregant: A Profile”. I wrote about what we might expect from a typical attender to our chapels and fellowships and churches – aware that none of us are completely typical, but trying to get a broad sense of what the needs and interests are of those who arrived at our doors.

If you don’t want to read the whole essay, here’s the short version: many of our congregants these days are spiritually curious; are open to different beliefs and complexities of thought; are painfully aware of injustice, power imbalances, and our ongoing ecological catastrophe; tend to move around frequently in life, both geographically and philosophically; spend a lot of time online, for better or for worse; may have grown up unchurched and aren’t really interested in the “mechanics of church” such as committees and annual meetings; may be unable to feasibly attend Sunday services regularly; is feeling stretched thin by life and economic precariousness, and yearns for authentic community.

Does any of that ring true for you? It’s a composite picture, and not an exact picture by any means.

At the end of that essay, I promised to follow up “probably in a week or two” (it’s now a month and a half – I’d say that’s close enough!) with a sequel about how the implications of the 21st century congregant profile on how we “do church”. So here we go.

I begin with the assumption that congregations often have somewhat limited reserves of energy and enthusiasm. In our Unitarian and free Christian movement, we are blessed with incredible volunteers and talented ministers. But our congregations are on the small side, and most don’t tend to have the wherewithal to launch twelve-point plans with multi-staff teams. Furthermore, I don’t believe we need to. A congregation of four loyal people, who can put in an hour to help every now and again, can accomplish some pretty impressive things, I have found over the years. Here’s what I suggest.

  • Focus on the why, more than the what. Keep reflecting on what your congregation is all about. Why does it exist? I recognize not every congregant is a navel-gazing, frustrated philosophy graduate like myself (I pity you 😊), but these ruminations don’t need to be complicated. What do you like, and what do you value? “We like to be together, see each other’s faces, get to know each other.” Great – if that’s the case, obviously finding time for social gatherings and getting to know each other is going to be a priority. “We feel a sense of connection to the generations in our historic sanctuary.” Amazing, start from there, think about ways you might connect even deeper on your history. “The growing inequalities in our society have us fed up, and the way the homeless outside our sanctuary are treated breaks our hearts.” YES – acknowledging this is powerful and holy. Talk about it, pray about it, call an organisation that deals with poverty, talk to your neighbours.
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On a Grey and Rainy Morning

Everything under the sky gets ruined,
broken by raindrops,
whispered suggestions by the passing gales
that soon become promises.

The ten thousand things are busy
being destroyed utterly
this grey morning.

Even now, your bitterness, regret,
sorrow and care,
your hatred and pain,
your worst moments, and the clumping
of shame against your chest

Are being gently destroyed.
All of it already doomed.
All of it, flowers.

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Idiot Wind

Listen, he said, it’s like this.
Some idiot farmer has thrown your plans into the wind, like seeds.
God knows why.

On the highway, 18-wheelers roar continually
over several of your dreams.
Don’t worry, the birds are cleverer than those monsters,
they’ll get there, eventually, somehow.
But, buddy – you won’t.

The best of your hopes? The very cleverest ones?
Shooting up behind FastSaveMart.
You can go see ‘em now if you want to,
sunlit and lanky, proud little nothings.
Get there quick, though – tomorrow they dry up. Done.

An expectation gets lucky, sometimes,
finds a nice bit of soil, moistened by an upturned soda can,
and vigorously becomes a bolder version of itself,
so courageous amidst the cardboard and twist ties,
only the weeds are stronger.

Most mystifying of all, perhaps,
are your successes: exploding from the tilled earth
rising above our heads in glory,
like a jewelled sceptre, or a middle finger.

That’s just how it is, he said.
And how could a fool live in a world like this?
And what numbskull is taking score?

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Breathe

When things go wrong, and wrong again,
And disappointment sets up camp
Upon your spirit:
Breathe. Breathe in the moment’s damp
And heavy-laden wisdom, sent

From higher places to your cell,
A missive seeping to the bone.
Take it in, hear it,
Let prayer, that holds all things unknown,
Open hands and confidence expel.

When hope is lost, and rests at ease;
When meaning falls upon its sword
And you are humbled,
Breathe. Breathe out a quiet word
that speaks no lies, and grows oak trees.

The stars worked years to bring our way
A little of the very stuff
That thrives and crumbles,
So let us live with it enough
To praise, and praising, make the day.

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The 21st Century Congregant: A Profile

In my first few weeks as Congregational Connections Lead for the Unitarian General Assembly, I’ve had many fascinating conversations with congregational leaders about how congregations are adapting to an uncertain future. Congregations large and small (OK, medium and small – we’re not a giant movement) are thinking in innovative ways about what being a community of meaning is all about.

Even before this pandemic, the landscape of congregational life had changed massively over the last fifty years. The drop in attendance was perhaps the most obvious change – but there have been countless societal changes as well. As congregational leaders, merely adapting to where we are now makes our heads spin – and we know the future is going to be different still.

I thought one fascinating way to consider the possibilities facing our congregations, might be to give a description of the typical congregant who might be a part of our congregations in the present or near future. What follows is a generalisation of the type of person that I think is either already participating in Unitarian and Free Christian congregations, or will be interested in Unitarian and free Christian congregations in, say, the period between 2021 – 2030. (“21st century congregant” is a snappy title – I like how it sounds a bit like “the six-million-dollar man” – but I’m really mostly focussing on the next decade).

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The Morning Gets Her Skates On

Last night, Dawn sensed
you were having a rough one.
So she laced up her boots,
and stepped gingerly out onto the sky.
Tottering at first, on golden legs,
she breathed into the strength of her own centre,
then, after sharpening her edges on the nearest mountain ,
she rushed to you.

She crossed the sky beneath your feet as if she were
an Italian grandmother crossing herself,
a swift and unpremeditated motion, arising
from countless years’ hard-won wisdom.

There were rumblings in the antipodal clouds last night,
because of you,
as the day pounded on its determined course,
somersaulted over the upturned gaze of a terrapin,
relentless. Entire continents
gave up the early hours
to the dolorous sigh of noon,
knowing full well
you were lodged firm in her racing heart.

She arrived, at your door,
her angled blades kicking up a frost,
breathless and keen.
There she was, again,
as we both claim to be so used to by now.

Human beings fail
to show up for each other, time
and time again.
It is the same
with morning: one day her fingers
will falter, her attention will drift off
at the last eyelet,
and her boots will have made their last journey
to your side of the rink.

Do not judge the dawn too harshly:
she whose limbs are sore from their love of you,
she who could not rescue you,
no matter how hard she tried,
but sped across the night
to greet you with what warmth
she had collected along the way.

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