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Love is My Religion

Sunday, February 18 @ 10:30 am - 11:30 am

Love is My Religion

Details

Date:
Sunday, February 18
Time:
10:30 am - 11:30 am
Event Categories:
,
Join Us:
https://tinyurl.com/ESUCWorship

Venue

East Shore Unitarian Church
12700 SE 32nd Street
Bellevue, WA 98005 United States
+ Google Map
Phone
425-747-3780
View Venue Website

“He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him In!”
― Edwin Markham

Unitarian Universalism centers love in the shape of social justice. We nourish community, value relationships, care for the suffering, and practice love by breaking through labels and divisions. What are the challenges and lessons of being a welcoming congregation? How do we find our way back when we miss the mark? How do we widen the circle of care and concern? Rev. Dr. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa will be preaching.

 

How to Attend

Today’s Bulletin

We encourage masks in all buildings. Read more about our In Person Guidelines here.

• To virtually attend, please Zoom in using room number 989 3107 9078, passcode: chalice.
• To phone into the service, call 669-900-6833, Meeting ID: 989 3107 9078.

For those joining, please mute as soon as you enter the room, so everyone can hear. Please note, the services will be recorded, but at this time, there are no plans to share the recording.

More Information

Religious Education for children and youth happens during worship on Sundays. Children and youth arrive in the Sanctuary for the just a little bit and welcome in Sunday with a story and song. Then, they attend their own programs in the Education building. Learn more here!

If you don’t have a chalice, but want to light one, check out our Making a Chalice at Home page.

In person services are followed by coffee hour.

Sermon Audio

Love is My Religion

by Eric Lane Barnes & Rev. María Cristina Vlassidis Burgoa

Sermon Text

​Love At the End: Eric Lane Barnes

“I have always liked a cup custard.” I’d heard my father say that numerous times over the years. It could be that liking custard is a genetic thing, for I too love a good custard. I can’t say that I’ve ever had a bona fide cup custard, though. I’ve had crême brulée, pots de crême, custard pie, and any number of thick, sweet fillings in countless pastries. But never have I seen ‘cup custard’ on a menu, nor has anyone ever presented me with a round ramekin exclaiming ‘Have a cup custard!’ My mother never made cup custard that I recall, nor had my father (the only thing he cooked was coffee and fried eggs.) But the phrase ‘cup custard’ brings up an immediate image: a cozy little bowl filled with a golden creamy substance, a merry amount of nutmeggery on top. There is a doily involved, and most likely a sprig of mint. The mouth of my mind has tasted this image a myriad times. But never my waking tongue.

This is one of many things that have been coming to mind as I am here in Elmhurst, Illinois, spending time with my father in home hospice care. When I walked gingerly into his room on Saturday I saw my father sitting up in bed, wearing striped pajamas, hunched over in a coughing fit. He looked thin and fragile, his face whiskered with gray. (I hadn’t seen any beard on him since his 1970s mega sideburns experiment.) When he saw me his eyes brightened, and he said, ‘Well hello, Eric!’ the greeting he always gave me every time I called. His voice was as thin as his collarbones, but it had all of the dadliness in it that I have come to love.

I wasn’t close with my father growing up. He was a hard worker (four kids, a stay-at-home wife and a mortgage by the time he was 34) and was a basic no-nonsense kind of guy. I’ve seen a meme go around on Facebook that says ‘You can’t hurt me. I used to hold the flashlight for my Dad.’ That meme has my Dad stamped all over it. He insisted that we all do our chores, and do them properly. He and my mother always provided a unified front in the strict way (their choice of words) they raised us kids. We had plenty to eat, we wore nice-enough clothes, we took many a family vacation, we had excellent birthdays and Christmases. But we were not a cuddly family. Our terms of endearment were expressed in jokes: laughter was the safest language for us to speak at home. Observations of absurdity and word play got the highest marks. Dirty jokes got the lowest, although I did get a charge out of my Dad’s shocked laughter when I told him an utterly filthy joke I’d learned at college (and no I won’t share it here) (but ask me in person and I might.) Jokes that masked resentment and cloaked rage? Quite common in the Barnes household. But no hugs, no cuddles. No ‘How you doin’, bud?’ or any such Mayberry talk. I didn’t think families ever shared those kinds of moments outside of TV.

I grew up acting, and often believing, that I didn’t care if my father liked me or not. But deep down I was a pretty normal boy. And I think every boy wants his father to approve of him, to be proud of him. To love him.

A flash: my brother and I are in a little blow-up pool at the bottom of our yard. This was in the old house, so we couldn’t have been any older than 5 and 6. This pool was the kind you get at the five and dime and have an adult blow up who then brings the hose over and you hop from foot to foot watching and waiting FOREVER as it fills up. To us, this pool was huge, a summer luxury of splashing and sun. My brother and had been playing and splattering in this pool when we heard a wild whoop from the back door. Startled, we looked up to see our father, in his swimsuit, running full tilt toward the pool. As he got closer and closer it became apparent he wasn’t going to stop. My brother and I dove out of the pool onto the grass just in time for our father to jump and land in the middle of the pool. In my memory (I was 5) all the water splashed out of the pool with him. Had my brother and I been cartoons, question marks and exclamation points would have danced over our heads. Why did Daddy do that? Daddy jumped in our pool and he didn’t fit! And then my father, having achieved this goal, simply walked back into the house, leaving my brother and me in in a fit of confused giggles.

A flash: I came home from college one weekend with the sole purpose of coming out to my dad. I’d already told my mother on the phone (“I know, honey…”) and both my sisters. I was nervous about telling my dad. He was just so heterosexual. He was teaching Sunday School at the little Christian church my parents had been going to and who knew what kind of abominations the pastor was railing against from his pulpit? I took my dad out to dinner (although he paid) and kept putting the moment off. ‘After the salad,’ I said to myself, and then ‘after the entree’ and then ‘after dessert’ and then ‘after the bill’ and then there were no afters to wait for, the coffee and the bill and the paying and the thanking having been deployed. So I told him, in one plain sentence. ‘Dad, I’m gay.’ He paused said, ‘Well, I can’t say I understand it. But you’re my son and I love you, and this doesn’t change that.’ I suspect my mom had told him, and he’d had time to research and rehearse the right thing to say. Because that was the right thing to say. Did we hug? Did we exclaim, ‘I love you, dad/son!’ No, we did not. We got up and shook hands and parted for the night. A week later, back at college, I got a card in the mail from my Dad. It was a basic dumb ‘Thinking of You!’ kind of Hallmark thing. He signed it, ‘Love, Dad. PS: Are you getting any?’ I read that and said out loud, ‘Dad! I just told you last week I’m gay!’ And then it dawned on me: he knows. And he’s telling me it’s okay for me to act on it. Sly bastard.

A flash: my father buys a set of weights and a bench and announces that he is going to teach me to lift weights. Every other night after dinner he comes to my room, dressed in embarrassing shorts and bright white tube socks that go up to his knees and says, ‘Let’s go have a workout.’ Confession: I hated it. I hated it with a passion. But apparently I had no choice in the matter. He taught me bench presses, dead lifts, curls, bent-over rows. This went on for a few years, with him working out side by side with me, coaching me on my form, telling me I can go up in weight, demonstrating how to control range of movement. One night when he came to my room in his shorts I finally said, ‘I don’t want to do this any more.’ He dropped it, and never brought it up again. Fast-forward to my twenties: I join a gym and start lifting weights. I find I remember how to bench press, how to do curls, how to do dead-lifts and bent-over rows. I discover that my 27-year-old body responds to weights readily. The muscles remember. And I gradually change from a human walking stick to a human walking stick with a bit of muscle tone.  

A flash: I’m in the hospital after having undergone lung surgery. I’m 22. I’m in the recovery room, feeling as if I’ve been run over by a lawn mower. I’m under a haze of drugs. My parents walk in. ‘How you doing, Eric?’ my dad asks in an overly loud voice, patting my shoulder. I say, ‘I love you, Dad.’ In my deep Demerol state I think, ‘It’s okay that I say that because I’m on drugs.’ My dad pats my shoulder again.

Flash: the start of a piano lesson with my college instructor, two days after my first composition recital. “Boy, your father sure is proud of you,” she tells me. I’m stunned. “He is?” She looked at me in astonishment. “He cornered me after your recital and would not stop talking about how proud he is of you.” I laughed, bemused. “He’s never told me that.” “Well, believe it,” Dr. Weckler said. And the lesson commenced.

My dad and I have had long conversations these past few days. We’ve looked at old pictures, many of which I’d never seen before. He identified uncles I’d never met, and a woman he knew from his California days in the late 50s. “She was a remarkable woman,” he said, tapping the photo with a frail forefinger. “She was a gay rights lawyer. In the 1950s. Can you imagine that?” We talked about songs – I reminded him of visiting joints with jukeboxes in Milford to help identify the Mystery Song he had heard on the radio. “Do you remember that?” I asked. He did not. “Do you know what the song was?” I asked. He did not. “First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” I said. “Oh what a marvelous song! What a tremendous voice Roberta Flack had.” “Has,” I corrected. “She’s 1 year younger than you.”

“Do you remember working out in the basement?” I asked. “You hated it,” Dad said. “I did,” I confessed, “but you really taught me a lot about form. Those workouts set me up when I started lifting weights in my 20s. So … thank you.” One day he asked me to trim his fingernails – he was too weak to do it himself. As I clip his nails I tell him that Jill and Holly and I are all successful and happy people, each with our own successful and happy families. “You raised kids that grew into excellent adults,” I said. “I think that’s the best legacy anyone can hope for.” Dad agreed. We talked about death as well. “I came back here to die,” he said, “And I haven’t achieved that yet.” All I could say was, “I’m so sorry this has happened to you. I hate seeing you in pain.” He laughed and said, “You should try feeling it yourself. It sucks.”

At the grocery store I looked to see if there was anything like ready-made custard. In little cups. I didn’t see anything like that, but I did get four little pots of flan. I offered one to Dad. “It’s not quite cup custard,” I said, “but it’s one of custard’s cousins.” He enjoyed it, clearly relishing three good spoonfuls. As I sat there with him I thought: this moment is a tiny grain of love. And that is how moments will be measured now, set against the vast shores of eternity.

My father died two days later. He passed peacefully in his sleep in the early morning. I will forever be grateful for that week we spent together. Simple, poignant, mundane moments, often difficult, but always underscored with love. One of the final gifts my Dad gave to me was seeing how normal death is. My father was downright prosaic about it. ‘I came home to die,’ he’d said many times after his diagnosis. ‘That’s my one last job to do.’ Death wasn’t some huge, monstrous, terrifying presence, standing with a sickle in a skeletal hand. Death was a task, like cleaning the garage, or doing taxes. A task we all have to accomplish. We may not like it, but we do it anyway. Simple as that. 

Thank you, Dad. I love you. 

(Full version with photos available here)

East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
East Shore Unitarian Sermons (Bellevue, WA)
Love is My Religion
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Details

Date:
Sunday, February 18
Time:
10:30 am - 11:30 am
Event Categories:
,
Join Us:
https://tinyurl.com/ESUCWorship

Venue

East Shore Unitarian Church
12700 SE 32nd Street
Bellevue, WA 98005 United States
+ Google Map
Phone
425-747-3780
View Venue Website