Weekly Message from T. J. - Archived

Away They Go

“My. People come and go so quickly here.” — Dorothy Gale, The Wizard of Oz.

Well, it’s happening again. I’ll be saying goodbye to another friend on Friday. Someone whose life is taking them, as usual, in exciting, wonderful, and newly life-giving directions…elsewhere. I only eclipsed one year here on the island a few weeks ago. But already the warning of my friends, that people will come here often, and then leave here often, has come to be true. What people say most often is, “This is a transient place.” And that always makes me smile a little.

One of the very first things anyone aspiring to the Unitarian Universalist ministry ever reads is the sermon, “The Transient and the Permanent in Christianity” by Theodore Parker. Parker was a gifted writer. He spoke about the arc of the moral universe always bending toward justice, and that idea was used to vastly greater effect by Dr. King and then President Obama. Lincoln even cribbed from Parker’s prose for the famous “Gettysburg Address.” Parker was also known as the Unitarian minister who chose to combat the horrifying Fugitive Slave Act by hiding those fleeing slavery in his home and shooting at anyone trying capture a “fugitive” and return them to the southern states.

His sermon stirred up a lot of controversy…more than his defense of those migrating northward did. In fact, by intimating that among those things that are transient in the faith he professed were the authority of the bible and the even the authority of Christ, he became thoroughly unwelcome in Christian circles. He compared every earthly aspect of his faith—churches, books, rules, creeds etc.—to the growth and then decay of a plant, to the lifecycle of an animal, or to a passing cloud. He called these the transient attributes of the underlying permanent laws and forces of nature. And then his friends and colleagues shunned him. They left him alone.

In my more philosophical moods, I understand Parker as well as I understand the near constant diffusion of people in and out of this tiny cell in the ocean. Many of us have in our midst the sense and the attributes of transience in our lives—whether we work at jobs that move us from classroom to classroom, whether we host travellers in our homes, whether we simply observe the tourists. It is part of life here. It is part of life everywhere. It is part of life.

But in the feeling of sadness as my friend prepares to depart I find the truth that Parker spoke. The transient and the permanent are not opposites—they are not listed in separate columns somewhere or categorized. Those fleeting, changing, moving things in life are pieces, attributes of an underlying truth that we are more connected than we realize. I will mourn the moveable, but I will rejoice in the joining of my soul to another. And when the passing clouds close around my friend’s flight, I will delight all the more in the times, the fleeting times, we shared together, those transient moments that show me the permanence of love.

And may it always be so.

Rev. T. J.

7 Responses to “Weekly Message from T. J. - Archived

  1. I made t-shirts for my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary that said “May we always remember our precious moments together”. I don’t think people really got it. My parents did not get along. They stayed together for the kids and then out of habit/practicality. Those centering, connected fleeting moments with someone are cherished.

  2. For some reason I don’t think of this as a transient place, but then my friends are mostly elsewhere anyway, and that probably influences my view. I’d never heard of Theodore Parker, but I do love the ideal that the moral arc of the universe bends toward justice. (I hope that’s true…it seems very cyclical to me.) I was struck by your description of Parker’s views, though….it’s funny how “Buddhist” his Christian views are. 🙂
    One of my family members is taking the most permanent of journeys at the moment. I will reflect on your beautiful message to help me through the challenge of saying goodbye.

  3. As a brand new empty-nester who had kids at home for what seemed like forever, T.J.’s message speaks to me. It is really hitting home how “permanence” is an illusion, though, yes, the love I have for my children, and they for me, is permanent and not an illusion.❤️

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