Rev. Valerie's Reveries

This blog contains personal reflections from Unitarian Universalist minister Valerie Mapstone Ackerman.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Early on September 11, 2001 while at the gym working out on the elliptical trainer I saw the NBC live coverage of the second plane flying into the World Trade Center tower. Like many millions of Americans, I knew immediately that the utter horror we just witnessed would be followed by very unpleasant reactivity. In an instant my mind flooded with knowledge: thousands were dead--terrorists from the Middle East--retaliatory strikes--protracted war--all of it seemed inevitable. A flood of grief followed and then fear that my loved ones were not safe. By that afternoon the church I served had a sign on the lawn that read: "...Dwell Together in Peace..." a partial quote from our Sunday morning covenant.

By October there were calls for my resignation after I made a public statement against militarism, offered a critique of false patriotism and followed with a sermon urging pacifism. Soon I found allies in the community, we traveled to DC for a march in April 2002, we came back and started a weekly silent vigil in front of Tulsa's Federal Building--just me, John D., Janet and Mikey. Eventually others joined us and the movement built, other locations were tried, other actions ensued, films were shown, an organization founded: Tulsa Peace Fellowship.

When I moved to Lancaster Pennsylvania summer of 2003, I took up a place on the line with Women in Black and found myself utterly alone again as the singular pacifist preacher in a sea of "Peace Churches"--even the Mennonites and Amish and Brethren refused to speak up for peace. The world had become curioser and curioser.

Back in Tulsa, in the spring of 2004 I found that the peace movement continued to grow. Dozens stood on the corners and dozens more attended rallies and education programs. Hundreds signed up for an email list. I began to feel a though I was living in slow motion, seeing the impotent words on our signs, feeling the powerlessness that comes with a society's wholesale moral abandon, realizing that hundreds of names on an e-list were potential and nothing more until there was a way to mobilize them.

And yet... Oklahoma City has a Peace House and so does Crawford TX..goodness knows neither community is a hotbed of progressive thought. So why should Tulsa not have an institutional presence for peace?

Now we do. We signed a lease on an old Church of Christ building. The money will find its way to the coffers to keep the doors open of that I am ridiculously certain. If you're in the Tulsa area, let me know and I'll put you on our e-list (announcements only) and if you aren't--go start a peace house in your community. Peace ain't likely to break out unless we build strong movements. Let me know how it's going where you have planted your seeds of peace.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Welcome to my blog.

My friend Leslie long ago urged me to set this up...sorry it took so long!

With the world going to hell in a handbasket---hell being a human condition designed by human mendacity, avarice, vanity and fear-- it is no longer acceptable for compassionate and loving beings to sit on the sidelines wringing our hands. Or worse yet: turning our faces away from suffering to gaze at the beautiful places and beautiful people within our tight circles of care. Should we simply redirect our gaze we will stare into the bald face of human evil. There is too much work too be done, too many people to reach, too many organizations to found to allow silence or comfort or lethargy to win our souls. But you already knew all that.

Some years ago I briefly served as pastor to a church caught in an entrenched dysfunctional system of deceit. When I turned my gaze away from the beautiful trappings of a comfortable life as a well-paid minister only to be confronted by the depths of congregational illness and hatred, I nearly gave up on my calling. I left my version of pastoral life and moved to a farm in rural Oklahoma to fulfill my spouse's version of pastoral dreams. On our 20-acre slice of heaven at the end of a dirt road, he hoped to raise communities of bees and I hoped to avoid seeing how truly awful human community might be. I watched flowers grow and made friends with dogs and cattle. Each evening I lounged on the front porch swing drinking in a westward view of sunlight filtering through oaks leaves, casting inspiring beams of hope and contentment onto the hay field across the road. I dreamed of creating a retreat center where other wounded souls would find the healing I had found in solitude. Then the trailer park moved in.

I've got nothing against trailers as living quarters per se and nothing against people whose meager finances require them to live in houses which WILL blow apart in this tornado alley---it is just a matter of time. As a child I would have gladly moved into such a trailer park and found it luxurious if it had hot water and a bathtub. But last year I simply was not ready to substitute the tranquil verdant view from my front porch for incessantly barking dogs, dozens of perpetually-burning street lights and wounded children who find amusement in throwing firecrackers at cats.

Jolted back to reality by the very social conditions that pulled me into ministry---a socio-political system which punishes the poor and enriches the few, I sunk deeper into a depression that threatened to take me out permanently. Because the only way out is through the pain that's where I went, grudgingly. On the way I found that I could do yoga and meditation without the guilty feeling of self-indulgence I used to experience and I discovered a deeper spirituality than I had ever found in comfortable times.

On the other side of the pain I found hope again, not in swinging on my front porch, but in joining my fate to the oppressed and forgotten people of the world. So that's what this blog will be about for me: bringing a vision of compassionate possibility forged in the crucible of disappointment and annealed through attention to spiritual growth and community ties.

Oh yeah, and I plan to rant too.
I look forward to your responses.