The Once and Future Ordination

It has been almost 20 years since my ordination on May 3, 1998. This year it will be our congregation’s privilege to host the ordination service for Jon Coffee, our former ministerial intern and chaplain of pastoral care. The ceremony will be here at TVUUC on April 7 at 4 pm.

Jon Coffee

As part of the process of preparing for Jon’s service I have been looking over the order of service for my own ordination and reflecting on the meaning of the ritual. The congregation I served as student minister in Oxford, Ohio ordained me. They literally “called” me to the ministry through a literal phone call, “Would you consider being our minister?” I had preached there a few times as a seminary student but was surprised by the request. I sputtered a reply, “I am not ordained so I can’t be your minister.” The congregation called the Unitarian Universalist Association and in fairly short order I was the minister of the congregation as my official UUA internship site.

Ordination vows are kind of like wedding vows. You don’t really know what they mean until 20 years later or more. The words “for better or worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health” are abstract when first uttered. Decades later the same words speak to specific stories and challenges encountered along the way. I was present on Jon’s wedding day and I feel blessed to also be a part of his ordination and look forward to witnessing his vows.

So, as I’ve said, I’ve been reflecting on my own vows in preparation for witnessing Jon take his. In that spirit, I’d like to share with you the words I spoke in Kumler Chapel, Oxford, Ohio. Almost twenty years ago.

“To the members and friends of the Hopedale Unitarian Universalist Community I say I accept this ministry which you have done so much to nurture, encourage and support. With humility and reverence I accept the joys and responsibilities of this most sacred mission: to make my life’s work a ministry of reconciliation, a ministry which forever seeks the reconciliation of all people to each other, to the Creation which nourishes us and so many other diverse forms of life and to the God in whom we live and move and have our being. And rest assured that wherever I go, wherever I am called to serve I will gratefully carry the spirit and the blessing of this community with me.”

Let me say for the record that I was a young man on that day but I’ve earned every white hair I’ve gotten since then. On April 7, 2018, at 4:00 pm our congregation will ordain another young man. I hope you will plan to be there. We may not even begin to know the full meaning of his vows until 2038 but we can be there in the beginning and we can send him the message that wherever he goes, wherever he might serve, he will carry the spirit and the blessing of this community with him always. May it be so.



The Black Panther and the Dark Side of the Force

I don’t think I’ve experienced a film phenomenon like The Black Panther since 1977 when I stood in a line for the first Star Wars movie. Recently I went downtown for the matinee of the new film only to find that the next two shows were sold out. I bought a ticket for the third. The line for my show was so long I worried I might not get in the 300-seat theater.

I am a fan of the Star Wars movies but it is fair to say that The Black Panther gives new meaning to the concept of the dark side of the force.

The Black Panther

I recently heard the Reverend Chris Battle give a presentation on “White Jesus and Black History.” He spoke about how our dominant culture tends to make darkness and blackness synonymous with evil. Because he is adept at audiovisual presentations a picture of Darth Vader appeared on the screen behind him as he said this.

Rev. Battle then showed an image of an anthropologist’s reconstruction of a first century Jew reminding us that the historical Jesus was a dark man. In the Vatican, the Louvre and other museums, Jesus is often portrayed as lily white even though evidence suggests otherwise. The history of Western religious art supports a vision of white supremacy whereas anthropologists remind us that Jesus was an embodiment of the dark side of the force.

Jesus according to anthropology

Sometimes Star Wars seems to reinforce dualism, the idea that light must destroy darkness. After all Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia wear white. The evil emperor and Darth Vader wear black. However, in the latest movie The Last Jedi there was a lot of emphasis on bringing balance to the force, balancing light and darkness, in much the same way that every 24 hours is a balance between night and day. This balance between night and day, winter and spring, is what makes life flourish and all things grow.

Without offering any spoilers let me say that The Black Panther has similar insights into the need to move beyond a strictly good/evil, darkness/light, black/white paradigm. Sometimes the hero does the wrong thing. Sometimes the villain has a valid point. The force is strong in both of them. As Dr. King once said, “There’s some bad in the best of us and some good in the rest of us.” In the 1960’s the Black Panthers was an activist group that many white people feared. Today The Black Panther is selling out in theaters across America and could well be the top grossing film of all time.

In America angel food cake is light and devil food cake is dark. The Black Panther turns the tables by meeting white supremacy with Black Power. Where the dominant culture tells us we must choose between black and white The Black Panther reminds us that we can have our cake and eat it too.