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09.09.05 12:28 a.m.

To be rooted is perhaps the most important and least recognized need of the human soul.  

-Simone Weil


Previously in Xenology: Xen and Emily were good little heathens.

Living Under Universalism

We arrived to the Unitarian church ten minutes before services were slated to begin. Emily had been feeling a need for a more regular spirituality and a Unitarian Universalist church seemed to fit the bill as a broad and largely non-denominational group. We had been interested in the Unitarians since we lived in Walden, but the two most proximal churches were thirty miles in either direction. Spirituality will have to take a back seat to gas mileage.
Universally pleased

Unitarians, while originating as a sect of Christianity, have long since divorced themselves from naming that to which they focus their worship. That one believes at all seems to be enough, thought I have the niggling suspicion they would not be in the business of turning away a humanistic atheist. They specifically espouse to believe in the oneness of God (I use the uppercase spelling, though I cannot guarantee they would) rather than the traditional Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Most American Unitarians no longer consider themselves Christian, having long joined with the Universalist Church, though they are hardly opposed to Christianity. The point, it seems, is that they are hardly against anyone.

To supplement my research that revealed that this branch hosted a Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, I called Conor's mother Elizabeth. I remembered faintly that she forced Conor and his sister Margaret to sing at Unitarian events, thus more than slightly suggesting that she would be a good source of information on the church. She told me that she was a devout Unitarian and acknowledged that this was a contradiction in terms.

"Are you looking for a congregation where you can get married?" she asked. I had revealed to her that I was engaged only moments before entering into this conversation. She had asked to whom I was engaged and being pleased to hear it would be Emily, which is still more than her son likely knows owing to his inability to be reached.

The parking lot of the church was contained only two other cars, which was off-putting. How non-devout did Unitarians tend to be, I wondered? I couldn't quite accept the idea that it might just be Emily and me dealing with only two or three other Unitarians. Such would make it nearly impossible for us to hide and observe undetected.

We entered the building that to Emily looked like a synagogue built in the seventies, less any religious symbols beyond the stylized torch. There were a few older people milling about and plainly sizing us up from a respectful distance, slightly more so when I discovered the rack of pamphlets and fondly called Emily over to "read the propaganda". The literature spoke of how welcome homosexuals and Buddhists were and otherwise leaned toward political and social liberalism, which suited Emily and me just fine. We looked like benchmarks for these ideals, having dressed with our distinct personalities in mind.

After we wandered around the antechamber for ten minutes, a man approached and asked if we were from Vassar in such a way as to make clear he thought we needn't answer.

"No, I'm a teacher and she is a graduate student. Not at Vassar."

He recalibrated his tact. "Oh, then are you just visiting Unitarians?"

"No," Emily answered for the both of us, "we live in Wappingers Falls." She purposefully evaded labeling us as Unitarians, as we had yet to sit through a single service. Though, owing in no small part to the openness of the church, I have been an ordained Unitarian minister since 1999 through an internet branch of the church. Zack is a Unitarian minister as well. As is Melissa. And my cat Seltzer. For five dollars, I could ordain myself as the pope or nearly any title I would prefer instead of Reverend. When I e-mailed the internet church and asked if I could become an Angel, they did seem slightly peevish and denied my request unless I donated an unspecified sum. There goes my hope of Plenary Indulgence.

Eventually a few other people arrived to the antechamber, which looked like the main room of a YMCA. None of the newcomers seemed less than twice my age. All of the women at the meeting reminded me of librarians with whom I have worked in the past. I know it is not wholly reasonable, but it is very human to want people with whom one can identify to already be a part of any group one considers joining. A few of the suggested Vassar students would not have been unwelcome and would have gone a long way to assure me this was going to be a Sunday morning well spent.

We were led to a room containing three people setting folding chairs up into a circle. When last I had seen the inside of this room, it was improvisationally decorated as though it were a medieval castle for a Renaissance Fair. It had been at least seven years since then, as Kate was the one that brought me here. Now it was a round, wood-paneled room with a large glyph of the torch emblazoned in blue on the far wall. There was no pulpit and nothing to distinguish the front of the room beyond one's door of entrance, which could be any one of three. The other two large doors were open to allow the burgeoning autumn air inside the room.

"Damn," Emily whispered to me, "I wanted to hide in the back."

"I had a feeling they wouldn't let us do that," I said. "But this might not be so bad. The Quakers have a similar set-up to emphasize that everyone is equals and we like Quakers. And egalitarianism, at that." Still, this wouldn't offer me the best vantage point as an objective observer to discover if this interested me.

Emily and I seated ourselves to the left, as we it didn't put us too close to the minister or the door that opened into the rest of the building.

The topic of the sermon, as spelled out on a board, was "Living Under Fascism." This is an auspicious beginning and certainly a topic we could get behind. However, the entire service was political without a solitary mention of the spirit. One of the ministers read a sermon he found on the internet about the fourteen points that describe fascism, all of which were precisely applicable to present day America through no coincident. Then a microphone was past around the circle so people could respond and overwhelmingly agree. No one really seemed to hear anyone else's points and were just waiting for their chance to speak. When the microphone got to Emily, she spoke about ours being a young country. Countries this young are supposed to undergo revolution and she considers the current state of America to be the chaos before a paradigm shift. I think no one really processed what she said, hearing "revolution" and shutting her off as being too radical, ironic given that they warned against explaining the point of this service using such a loaded and accurate term as "fascism."

While intellectually stimulating, Emily and I were not looking for a political action group; we already belong to those and are not in the market for a new one. The saving grace was that this was the last service of the summer session. Next week, thing are supposed to be completely different. I have my doubts, but not doubt enough that Emily and I will not be paying them a visit.

On our way home, we passed a sign saying that there was a lemonade stand up ahead with all profits going to hurricane relief. Emily did not have to ask if I wanted her to stop. I darted out of the car with three dollars Emily had given me and approached the boy who could have been no older than five.

"How much is your lemonade?" I asked, smiling.

He looked a little startled, as though he wasn't sure why he was there and even less so why I was speaking to him. His parents had done a good job of indoctrinating in him that he mustn't speak to strangers. Seeing that I wasn't going away, he answered, "Fifty cents?"

"I would like two glasses," I said, handing over the three dollars. He stared at them and tried to calculate in his head what was wrong. There was too much money, of that he seemed confident. "Keep it," I assured him.

He still stared at me, making no effort to move.

"I'll just serve myself then, shall I?" I made two glasses and bid him a quick adieu as his father ran out of his house to ask the boy why he wasn't wearing his paper hat reading "Lemonade" with far too many intentionally backward letters.

The lemonade was tartly divine.


"You were on constant 'orangutan' mode," Emily informed me with a giggle. She had established that I frequently am just a bit out there and needed a safe word to reel me back in. Safe words cannot be obvious, like "stop," "no," or "bad," thus she chose "orangutan" as something she was unlikely to say in a normal context and something that would give me enough pause.

"Why didn't you say anything?"

"I didn't want to make a fuss," she stated.

"I was really that bad? I mean, I did make that Salieri crack about Zack playing the piano, but that was pretty funny I thought . No?"

"That was fine. Just that coupled with everything else you said for the past few hours." She wasn't but passing serious, of course, with is why I was only as passing chagrinned. She was not one to much talk, as she had spent the entirety of the drive to Cristin's home speaking in Bob Dylan-esque rhymes. When I chided her that she was the incarnation of Sylvia Plath, she retorted, "But I've got my coven, so I won't have to stick my head in the oven."

The party was informally a Labor Day party but everyone, including Cristin's father, treated it more as a welcome home for the recently returned lovers.

In the midst of the guests was this boy named Dan Kessler, whom I will have to call by his full name because there are already enough people named Dan in this little story and because his name lends itself to being said in its entirety, a conditions known as the "Jordan Catalono Effect". When Zack described him to me earlier, I enthusiastically stated that I like that guy and wanted him to be my new best friend, having encountered him a few dozen times between attending Dutchess and New Paltz. The problem was, I am not wholly sure the boy to whom I was introduced was actually the boy I had in mind. Dan is more than fine and a very good guy, but how does one broach the subject as to whether we had met and spoken before? If it was him, his hair has grown less red, or maybe is hair in my memory was simply exceedingly red.

Soon in Xenology: Apple picking. Xoch. Job hunting.

last watched: Starved
reading: Candyfreak
listening: Chantal Kreviazuk

Thomm Quackenbush is an author and teacher in the Hudson Valley. Double Dragon publishes four novels in his Night's Dream series (We Shadows, Danse Macabre, and Artificial Gods, and Flies to Wanton Boys). He has sold jewelry in Victorian England, confused children as a mad scientist, filed away more books than anyone has ever read, and tried to inspire the learning disabled and gifted. He is capable of crossing one eye, raising one eyebrow, and once accidentally groped a ghost. When not writing, he can be found biking, hiking the Adirondacks, grazing on snacks at art openings, and keeping a straight face when listening to people tell him they are in touch with 164 species of interstellar beings. He likes when you comment.

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