Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Message to the SMUUCh Community

Dear Members & Friends of the SMUUCh Community,

If you have not heard by now, it is with sadness that I share with you the news of the death of Gloria Anderson. Gloria was a founding member of our congregation and has been an active member over the past 43 years. Over the past several years Gloria has battled valiantly against cancer in her digestive system. A recent visit to the doctor showed that her cancer had returned and had spread aggressively.

This past weekend Gloria received the news of the spreading cancer. She passed away in her home on Tuesday, 9/22. While traveling in Peru I learned about Gloria’s death late at night on Wednesday, 9/23. The following morning I made contact with church staff and leaders and also was able to speak with Gloria’s son, David, by phone from Cusco, Peru.

Please know how grateful and impressed I am by the shared work of our staff and church leaders. The original thinking was that a memorial service would be held within a short time frame. Sara Sautter diligently worked the phones to contact Unitarian Universalist ministers in the area to inquire about their availability while remaining in contact with the family. Deb Markum also coordinated many of the communications. Patsy Pierce, one of our trained lay ministers at SMUUCh, was a key member of Gloria’s care team and provided excellent care. Carla Dodge, our Lay Ministry Coordinator during my sabbatical, continues to be involved in determining how we might best care for Gloria’s family. Let me state how deeply impressed I am with the shared work and ministry of our members and staff. Their cooperation and communication is a shining example of our congregation’s core strength. Please take a moment to thank them for their compassion and vigilance.

Since I became SMUUCh’s Minister in 2003 I have visited with and spoken to Gloria on many occasions. Still, I only got to experience one chapter of her life. Those who are long time members knew her over a greater portion of her life. I remember Gloria for her quick and agile mind. Gloria was sharp, attentive, and wise. She also deeply loved her children. She talked about them with great warmth. Gloria was predeceased by her husband several years ago. In his memory, the church was given the gift of a chalice that served us faithfully each and every Sunday for over a decade. At a moving worship service in May, 2007 we marked our 40th Anniversary by celebrating our founders, our present, and claiming our hopes for the future. At that service we “decommissioned” the Anderson chalice and dedicated the new chalice that we use in our services today. The Anderson chalice will be lit in memory of Gloria and will be on display over the next several weeks. The June 2007 issue of the DrumBeat included a picture of us honoring Gloria.

Our current plans are to hold a Memorial Service celebrating Gloria’s life on November 14 at 11:00 in Fellowship Hall. This is a date that works best for all of Gloria’s family to attend as several members of the family live out of town.

Unlike other religious traditions that instruct that a funeral be held within a certain number of days, Unitarian Universalism is quite flexible. It is not at all unusual for a Memorial Service to be held two or three months after a death. The timing of a memorial service takes into consideration several factors. One factor is the simple fact that in our contemporary society relatives are often quite dispersed and the logistics of getting everyone together can be tricky. Another factor that is considered is whether the Rite of Passage is mainly designed to address a powerful grief or to celebrate a life. Services designed for the latter purpose are often pushed back to allow the family the time to assemble photographs and other items used to remember the life of the person who has died.

(Oftentimes, a more immediate service is held when family have already gathered for a vigil for a family member who is in the process of dying. Such was the case when I was at General Assembly in Ft. Worth in 2006, received a call that a church member had died, drove eight and a half hours on Friday morning, met with the family Friday afternoon, and officiated at the service on Saturday. The family had gathered around him in his final days and wanted a service within a few days since they were all together and that was most convenient.)

Again, I extend to Gloria’s family and to the SMUUCh Community my deepest condolences, expressions of sympathy, and my abiding love and care.

With Lovingkindness,

Rev. Thom Belote
Saturday, September 26, 2009
Lima, Peru

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

List #14: 9 Most Intimidating Police & Security Officers in Quito* (Plus Two Stories)

Here is a list from the most to the least intimidating police & security forces in Quito:

#1) Ecuadorian Secret Service (?)

Even though I’m not sure of their official title, the police who guard the government buildings are the most intimidating. Yes, it is definitely their machine guns.

#2) Ecuadorian Military Police

Note: I am talking about the guy on the right. In light camo uniforms these guys always look tough.

#3) Ecuadorian National Police

These guys are the sharpest looking of the bunch. With grey camo, black boots, black helmets, black bullet-proof vests, and motorcycles. These guys look tough.

#4) Ecuadorian National Police (brown uniforms)

I don’t know why some of the national police go without the tough looking camouflage, but these guys always look pretty darn tough.

#5) Tourist Police

Don’t let the neon yellow vests fool you. Quito has a special police force that is charged just with looking out for tourists. (And they pack heat.) Earlier this morning I talked with a young woman who is staying with her mother-in-law at the same hostal where I am. She said that Quito is much safer than it was five years ago. There is some local controversy over investing money to increase tourism that gets poured back into increased funding for this department.

#6) Quito Metropolitan Police

You can recognize them because they are always wearing dark blue and they prominently display the nightstick.

#7) Transit Police

Don’t let the yellow vests confuse you with the Tourism Police. The transit police attempt to control the crazy local traffic.

#8) Public Transportation Police

These officers serve and protect the city’s bus stations. I’ve only observed them being extremely helpful to people (like me) who have difficulty getting the machine at the entrance to accept my quarter. (It only costs 25 cents to ride as far as you want to ride on the city’s busses.

#9) Private Security Guards

This ranking is somewhat conflicted. Some of the security guards I’ve seen (at banks and in front of stores with expensive merchandise) look extremely tough, replete with bullet-proof vests, prominently displayed weaponry, and a very distinguished uniform. There seems to be a hierarchy of for-hire security guards. There are top notch firms, lower echelon firms, and independent contractors. You have to take a look at the uniforms closely… here is why:

As I was plotting out this exercise in photo-journalism I thought that I would have to take these pictures furtively and clandestinely. Then I ran into Phil from Chicago who was traveling with his Swedish girlfriend Lina and their Polish travel buddy, Tom, they had met at their hostel. Phil told me two things that are pretty crazy. Phil and Lina had just come from Colombia where Phil said he had stumbled upon a uniform store for security guards. The crazy (and scary) thing about the store, according to Phil, was that you could buy pretty much anything, including an authentic looking police uniform. You could even buy bars and stars if you wanted to seem to have a higher rank. Phil said this is the place where you go if you are a security guard, especially if you are working as an “independent contractor.” Pay attention to the unmatched pants and shirt in #9 above. Or, check out the CIA agent on the left in #2.

Phil told me a second story about Colombia. He said that he was walking through a part of town when he came upon an unruly demonstration with riot police monitoring it. He asked one of the members of the riot police if he could take a picture. According to Phil, who may exaggerate just a tad, the officer handed Phil his shield and helmet and took Phil’s picture lined up with the rest of the riot squad. He claims it is now his Facebook profile picture, but I don’t have any way to verify this. Anyways, Phil told me to just go up to the officers and guards and ask to take their picture. Most of them will smile, puff out their chests, and gladly oblige.

* Aside from being assisted with paying my fare for the bus, I've not had any interactions with any law enforcement agents or security guards in Ecuador.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

List #13: 8 Famous People from Ecuador (According to Wikipedia)

1) Mike Judge - The creator of Beavis & Butthead, King of the Hill, and the movie Office Space. (Judge was born in Guayaquil. His father was an anthropologist and Judge grew up in the United States.)

2) Gerardo - Rapper/singer best known for his one-hit wonder "Rico Suave." Gerardo later became a successful record executive in Los Angeles.

3) Eugenio Espejo - In the late 1800's Espejo was a doctor, lawyer, journalist, and philosopher. He applied his medical knowledge as a hygienist and worked to improve sanitation. However, as a polemical journalist his satirical attacks on the government led to his persecution and imprisonment and fueled Ecuador's separatist movement.

4) Jefferson Perez - An Olympic race walker, Perez has won a gold and silver medal in the 20km event, Ecuador's only two Olympic medals.

5) Christina Aguilera - The world famous pop music star wasn't even born in Ecuador. Her father was. But she is listed on wikipedia's list of important Ecuadorians.

6) Alejo Lascano Bahamonde - This native Ecuadorian was trained in medicine at the Sorbonne in France. He opened Ecuador's first medical clinic at age 27 in 1867.

7) Fanny Carrion de Fierro - poet, essayist, and literary critic. Her work often deals with human rights.

8)Luis Miranda - Perhaps Ecuador's best known painter.

According to Wikipedia's list of notable Ecuadorians.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

UU Blogosphere Fiercely Discusses Covenant

Well, the things you miss when you are in another hemisphere...

In a previous blog post I pointed out that an old sermon I had preached on covenant had been edited and reprinted on the cover of the September issue of the newsletter of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, The Quest.

Blogger and UU minister Victoria Weinstein (PeaceBang), who has never been known to mince words, responded to my piece by saying that UUs who attempt to create covenants that are not informed by the transcendent are guilty of blasphemy. She contends religious covenants cannot be created between people; they must be given to us by God. (I've known Victoria long enough to know not to get too fired up by anything she says.)

However, after posting her response to my sermon in The Quest, Rev. Weinstein stayed off the internet for a few days and returned to find 43 responses and several debates raging between UU bloggers.

Let me sum up some of the responses:

A UU Blogger I do not know who blogs at Celestial Lands partially agreed with PeaceBang but wanted to expand the idea of covenant's vertical dimension. You can read his contribution to the discussion here.

One of the directions the discussion headed was instigated by a post by a blogger who blogs at MoxieLife. In response to PeaceBang's comments, this author wrote about feeling alienated as an atheist.

Patrick Murfin responded with an elegant post, trying to bridge the gap between PeaceBang and MoxieLife.

Blogger Polity Wonk, who lives up to his name, digs into our history to discuss covenants and more.

Are you following all of this? Well, that is only the beginning. Other bloggers asked whether using the concept of covenant is an appropriation of a tradition that isn't ours. But now we are going too far afield.

Finally, I might link to Rev. Phil Lund who stays outside the fray, quotes a paragraph from my original article, and recommends that UUs read it as they start "the church year."


Friday, September 04, 2009

List #12: 8 Warnings Concerning Travel to Ecuador

This entry is cross posted on my sabbatical blog.

On the plane yesterday I took the opportunity to review all the health information and travel advisories that were provided to me by the travel health clinic I visited before I left. Here are the eight that sounded the worst to me.

1) Kidnapping by The FARC: The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia (FARC) have held travelers in one of the northern provinces of Ecuador. Fortunately, my travel plans will not take me to that province.

2) HACE: High Altitude Cerebral Edema is even worse than it probably sounds. At high altitudes your body produces more red blood cells and works harder to get enough oxygen into your body. In the process, capillaries can burst. I am not a doctor by HACE seems to be a kind of brain-bleeding caused by high altitude. It results in disorientation, confusion, lethargy, coma, and death. Guess I’ll have to reconsider my plan to climb Chimborazo.

3) HAPE: Your lungs instead of your brain. With High Altitude Pulmonary Edema your lungs fill with fluid. HAPE can also be fatal.

4) Dengue Fever: Reading about symptoms of this disease (acute hemorrhagic fever, for starters) was pretty scary. Fortunately, the mosquitoes that carry it don't live up in the mountains.

5) Landmines: Fortunately (for me) these are only found in the southern provinces along the border between Ecuador and Peru. This is another place my travel plans will not bring me.

6) Leishmaniasis: Looks like being up in the mountains safeguards me from this one too. The parasite that causes it comes from a bite by a sandfly. The wikipedia article on this disease is especially disturbing.

7) H1N1 Virus: Good thing I brought some doses of Tamiflu with me.

8) Volcanoes: “Volcanoes, including those in areas near Quito, may be active, and news reports should be monitored prior to travel.” Considering that Quito basically sits in the shadow of the Pichincha Volcano, this is actually kind of worrisome.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Rev. Thom Knows Covenant

The September, 2009 issue of The Quest, the newsletter of The Church of the Larger Fellowship, ran an old sermon of mine on the cover. The sermon, which their editors refurbished, came from a series I preached in 2007 on the theme of covenant.

Also included in the issue: a wonderful sermon by CLF Senior Minister Rev. Jane Rzepka on the theme of the Jewish high holy days, and a poem by Philip Booth.

It used to be fair to describe the CLF as a mail-order ministry. Now it is so much more. The CLF was designed to serve Unitarian Universalists who lived in remote areas (or overseas) where they did not have access to a UU church. They continue to serve those members (as well as some UUs who live close to a UU church but don't care for it.) The CLF has also developed a ministry to UUs in the military as well as a prison ministry to those who identify as UU. They maintain some of their old-school services: a newsletter, "church in a box," and a cool lending library. In recent years they've expanded their services to on-line chatrooms, podcasts, and other virtual communities. They recently launched an on-line community for young adults called Church of the Younger Fellowship. CLF also produces a great line of Chalice jewelry.

The picture of me on the cover, by the way, was taken by my friend Emily Minor atop Sandia Peak in New Mexico (altitude 10,378 feet).