Friday, July 04, 2014


Glacier UU Fellowship

Mary Wellemeyer is a UU minister currently doing an interim ministry with the Glacier UU Fellowship in Kalispell/Whitefish.  We met for the first time yesterday.  She’s four years younger than me, came into ministry late the same as I did, went to seminary at Andover-Newton.  The main difference between us is that she has three grown sons and a granddaughter.  I have one genetic niece. Mary’s sons are here, which is why she’s here and why we were brainstorming ways for her to continue in Montana when this gig is completed.  So we were reviewing the Montana UU history.  In fact, the way we found out about each other was that she began helping to write the history of the fellowship she is serving and someone had a dim memory that some old broad used to roam Montana preaching.

The caption is in Finnish, but according to Google Translate, it says:
"Standing: the right Milma Daniel Lapp, at their baby on your lap; in the middle of the Rev. Risto the Lapps; left Milman sister Ida Väänänen."  I think it means Milma has their baby in her arms.

I was not the first.  The story that really appealed to Mary was the one about Milma Lappala and her husband, Risto, who were serving the Finnish liberal wing of the Lutherans in Red Lodge, MT,  early in the 20th century and sharing a building with the conservative Lutherans. The latter caught dog-in-the-manger fever, so when the liberals came one evening they found a big padlock on the door.  These were tough miners used to working with tools.  They were in favor of just breaking the lock off, but Lappala said, “No.  Go to the hardware store and buy ANOTHER padlock and we’ll put that one on the door as well -- then we’ll talk.”  So now I’ve googled the Lappalas again and find much more stuff than I saw years ago. 

Milma Lappala, "the skirt minister"

The Reverend Carol Hepokowski has been a chronicler of Milma for decades.  A fascinating document is at this curious link at the University of Hong Kong.  “Finnish-American Unitarianism: a Study of Religion and Place”.    I haven’t read it yet.  

Unitarianism is a human frame of mind that runs along in a quiet stream where ever there are people and occasionally breaks out into becoming a “proper” denomination.  The “kind” of this tendency I come from is Prairie Humanism.  The kind the other Mary comes from is the classic New England variety which was transplanted into Montana in the pockets of the early engineers, mine developers, bankers, and even a few “sheepers” like Paris Gibson, who founded Great Falls and began agitating for the development of the water power.    

Besides looking at the past of the UUA version of this impulse in all its kaleidoscopic versions, we were talking about the future.  I’ve come to the end of my patience with ALL institutions in terms of participation.  I am not just a “free” thinker but also a solitary one, which made it interesting to talk to Mary, who is a still an optimistic participant.  She can identify strong women she admires and feels are doing positive work to move the denomination forward.  I’m not in sync with any UU female leader I can name.  My male UU admired persons are mostly dead or retired.  Some of them have been expunged from UUMA rolls.

Mary said she was going to write an article about me and I said I was going to write a post about her.  She took a photo of me but I couldn’t take one of her because my camera was too full of cats.  Luckily, there are photos of her on the Internet. 

The Rev. Mary Wellemeyer

This one comes from  which is an UU initiative that supports demonstrations and t-shirts.  I’m not in sympathy, but that okay.  I’m not in sympathy with a helluva lot that goes on in the world, but in any case I’m more invested in empathy.  I have this stubborn and possibly stupid conviction that if people really understand each other, they will do a lot better job of managing relationships.  I have an accompanying conviction that the way to understand people is to by experiencing the ecology they live in -- what they must do to survive.  The sensory reality of it.  That thing about “place” in the Hong Kong paper.

Mary W. took this photo of me with my book of sermons about the prairie.
The Edmonton Unitarian Congregation published it.

Another high value of mine (I’m gonna resist making a list this time.) is the twinned duty to witness and to testify.  That’s what Mary is doing on the website I’ve linked above.  It helps to have a vid-cam, which combines both acts.  Laws and hearings are all very well, but you can’t get there without evidence and there are rules about which evidence counts.  We’ve become a nation of laws and regulations, possibly because so many congresspeople are lawyers.  But it's not enough -- violence persists.  

There is more witness/testify evidence flooding us now than ever before, about people we may not understand.  Can you understand a man who kills his daughter because she was raped?  Someone so invested in what his culture thinks that ordinary biological attachment to one’s own child evidently never happened?  I can’t even understand a person who lets a Central American kid die in order to protect national status.  So I value Mary’s knowledge and testimony.

I’m working with a four-step understanding of how human beings function, quite apart from any allegiances or genetic variations.  I dumped this on Mary -- she would willingly admit, I think, that I told her entirely too much stuff at once but she was brave and knew I would be pent up.  She promised to come back.

1.  The membrane that separates humans from the reality in which they are embedded is the skin.   Thus, I distinguish between out-skin and the in-skin version of reality which is mediated by the sensorium.

2.  The brain is the dashboard of the entire body, managing every function of every cell and organ.  Luckily, most of this is unconscious or we’d be overwhelmed.

3.  The brain is also the ignition and orders actions of the body as well as consulting the assumptions a person has about reality.

4.  This is my new addition:  that one also takes in, mostly through the eyes and special cells behind and above them, information about the brains of others and uses them to inform and extend one’s own thoughts.  That feeds back into the human being and might change the way the dashboard is set.

A lot of dashboards definitely need re-call.  The totality of how one organizes all this stuff in one's mind -- and draws conclusions from it about what one ought to do -- is “religion.”  In it’s raw state.  Denominations are cooked.  (I was tempted to say “stewed.”)

The Lighthouse Restaurant

So that’s what we were doing, we two Marys, sitting at the Lighthouse over crab salad sandwiches, practicing empathy back and forth across the table.  Sometimes we looked away at serene Lake Francis for relief.  Mary has a gesture of covering her eyes, esp. when we talked about little boys from Central America making their way up to the US, only to end up as bones under a bush or captive toys or labor for . . .   It doesn’t bear much thinking about.  

Even so, people are heading there to witness and testify.  I hope that some of them are not carrying crowbars, but rather padlocks to add to the padlocks already in place, so there can be negotiation.  I don’t really give a damn what they are wearing, but if t-shirts will make a difference, go for it.

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