The Rockford UU Church designed by Belluschi
This Saturday, February 24, 2018, is scheduled for the memorial for Alan Deale, which is being held in Rockford, IL, where he so much enjoyed his prime years — as much when riding the lawnmower as collaborating with architects to build a church. When I knew Alan he was in Portland, urging that church into the future. When I decided to enter seminary, part of which was Clinical Pastoral Education, a grueling summer of service in a hospital, a penitentiary, or some other high pressure setting, I asked for Alan's advice on where to apply and naturally he said Rockford.
Throughout the summer — as throughout my four years of seminary (’78-’82) — I sent out a weekly one-page single-spaced essay in a sort of proto-blog. I have those pages in two binders at my side right now. I’d been thinking about quoting these materials and this seems a good time to do some of that, maybe for a couple of days.
As student chaplains, we visited room-to-room with patients, responded to emergencies, did a lot of reading, and sat in a circle to discuss it all and plumb the depths of ourselves — not theology. And the looming issues of parenting. One author, a man named Elliott, suggests “that there are basically two kinds of human love: the kind of unconditional love, equal love that a mother gives, and the kind of respectful love that can only be earned by performance . . . If a person has been forced to try to earn love, his life will be marked by a kind of chronic anxious insecurity. On the other hand, if a person had been illicitly given respect without having earned it . . . he may well (have an) inability to know how to gain appropriate respect from others and from himself. . . “ This idea has become near-dogma for a lot of people. Elliott suggests that the cultural problem of the time was weak and absent fathers, perhaps connected to the death of God, which was actually the death of the WWII culture of Generals in wartime, the death of heroism.
There was another death, at least an attempt to strangle pride. I sort of addressed it this way. “I — like many Unitarian-Universalists — have very high standards of behavior. I rarely drop out any of these “rules.” I still find it very important to be on time, honest, chaste, hard-working, etc. And as I’ve come more and more into contact with modern psychology, I have only added more rules: self-acceptance, congruence, the ability to be a limited human. This leaves me with a Catch-22: how to be brilliant and humble at the same time. How to cover all the bases without getting myself stretched so thin that my personality starts to crack."
"I’ve been very hard on myself. But I’ve also been hard on patients who wouldn’t try, peers who seemed to be underachieving, nurses who shirked, and — more than anything else — authority figures who were neurotic and bumbling.”
“. . . it’s been very hard for others to accept my almost punitive idealism. If a minister has an obligation to be an exemplar — and I believe he or she does — then what freedom do I have to choose my own way, particularly if it is so rigorous that others are intimidated instead of inspired? Must I lower my standards in order to be good enough to be a minister.” (I left congregational ministry in 1988.)
This is pretty amusing — the grandiose pretentiousness of it — but it becomes more relevant when considering our present politics. The Reverend Harris Riordan, who was with us at Meadville but then transferred to Union in New York City, was pretty hip to a lot of things. (She’s been the minister in Boca Raton for many years.) She had a theory. “Every woman she knows who has been a little older, a little experienced, and the veteran of a little therapy, has had a very bad time with CPE. Harris believes this is due to the fact that CPE was originally designed for ministerial candidates who were very uptight young men whose mothers had carefully taught them never to have “bad” emotions.. For them, CPE still works. In fact, many of the supervisors are uptight young men who fell in love with the opportunity to get angry, sad, or ecstatic — because they hadn’t known it was an option before. For them to face a raging forty-year-old, who has read more books than the supervisor has, is to be thrown into the teeth of a dragon.”
My supervisor said I was “the angriest, stubbornest, most complicated and resistant person he’d ever met.” If you consider this in terms of the ethnic women now coming into the UU realm, refusing the authority of white males, this is rather explanatory. I doubt this supervisor knew many Latino or black women.
While I was in Rockford, I “house-sat” in three different homes. The first was Leny Van Roojen’s, the second was David Weissbard’s, and the third was the Oehlke’s. The family included a small boy named Kahn, who was adopted from Vietnam. Last night I googled everyone and was shocked to see that Kahn is now forty! Leny Van Roojen has passed on. They tell me that Rev. Weissbard is enjoying a bit of pulpit supply though he’s observed his fifty year anniversary of ordination.
The Oehlke house had a swimming pool — not a fancy gunnite one, but rather a cement block dugout with a vinyl liner. Nevertheless, it had the immense luxury of raspberry bushes that grew out over the water, so that one could float and pick berries at the same time. And the fireflies, those magical insects, abounded. It was magical.
This was the first time I’d slept in a waterbed, heated to blood temperature. The bedroom was an upstairs screen porch, open on three sides to treetops that rustled all night in the breeze. In memory I connect this house to a night I was on-call, sleeping in a chilly basement room in the hospital in order to respond quickly to emergencies. The Rockford hospital was a regional hub for babies so desperately in trouble that they arrived by Life Flight.
On this morning before dawn a baby came with her father who wanted her to be baptized immediately in case she died. The mother was too ill to travel so we didn’t know her wishes. Brushing aside dogma about UU’s not baptizing, the father and the nurses on duty in infant ICU made a little circle around the isolette. There was no stone font of Holy Water: the nurse handed me a sterilized cotton ball dipped in distilled water.
Just as I squeezed a few drops onto the tiny wizened creature, the sun burst over the horizon and flooded the room with light. I said, “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us be glad and rejoice in it.”
In a while I went home to that near-amniotic floating bed in the treetops and gladly slept. (The baby survived.) That was in Rockford, IL., a place where I touched the Sacred.