April 1, yet again…

I think that April 1 (April Fools’ Day) has always been something of a holiday, even a holy day.  This became even more the case when, 8 years ago, I signed the book at Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas.

I had been a member of All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church in Kansas City, MO for over a dozen years.  There were aspects of that church that seemed then, and a few of them that seem now to give All Souls a homey feel.  I had joined All Souls on the Sunday nearest the feast of All Souls, which I took as an auspicious sign.  In my Catholic upbringing, I had a special place in my heart for All Souls (November 2) Day, even though it was All Saints (November 1) Day that we got a school holiday.  In my youth, Catholic schools closed for all Holy Days of Observation (days where you had to go to Mass even if they did not fall on a Sunday) that fell on a school day.  Of course, we all had to go to Mass, but there was a 6:30 and a 7:30 Mass every day, which left the whole day free to do whatever.  I appreciated the day off, but it seemed a bit like overkill to me that All Saints Day would get holiday (holy day) status.  The focus on that day was of all the saints who didn’t somehow get on the Calendar of Saints with their own Feast Day.  As a kid, I figured those saints, though they didn’t get the recognition of a particular day dedicated to them, got the greatest reward of all — they were in heaven.  They had got the prize.  I figured they didn’t need any particular kudos coming from me.

But All Souls Day was dedicated to the dead, and especially those dead who likely had not yet made it to heaven, but were in Purgatory.  The expectation was that most people (and I grew up in Irish Catholic Boston) would need a long stay in Purgatory before they were ready for the Pearly Gates and beyond.  And on All Souls Day, we were supposed to pray for the souls still in Purgatory, including and especially those recently dead whom we knew.  Those poor souls I figured needed my thoughts and prayers (and a lot more in all likelihood) and so every All Souls Day I spent some time thinking about the souls in Purgatory, even if that meant taking some time from my studies at school, with my mind thinking of the poor souls, while my eyes were apparently fixed to the Math lesson.

And so, to get to go to a church called All Souls — well, it seemed just the place for me.  And for over a dozen years, it was.  I still have fond thoughts for the place and many who are still there.  But troubles brewing in that church, exacerbated by a struggle over an Interim minister, led some in the church to act in a way that lacked a spirit of toleration, of good will, of love, with some people near and dear to me (my wife included) rather badly treated.  I stayed at All Souls when most of those members who had been badly treated had left.  Many came to Shawnee Mission and are still there.  I stayed partly to see a reconciliation process through (it was largely ineffective) and to see the new minister, Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons, voted in.  That job done, I chose February 29 (Leap Day) to leave that church, taking a leap of faith, in a way, and taking a break too.  I began this blogsite, which I kept up for some time, but now only occasionally make posts there.  The name All-Soulo was intended to speak both to All Souls (the day) and All Souls (the church) and to the fact that I was now on my own.  I was all solo.

My wife was puzzled as to why I didn’t join Shawnee Mission church at that point.  Well, partly I wanted a break.  But partly, seeing that April 1 was a Sunday that year, and I could join my new community on April Fools, I figured I had to do that.  I shared with no one but Thom Belote, then the minister, my desire to sign the book on April 1. It came as a great surprise to Carla when I got up and headed to the front of the old church to sign the book.  It was even more surprising in that I chose to wear a t-shirt with question mark on the front and exclamation mark on the back.  So I was taking off my dress shirt as I headed to the chancel, revealing the t-shirt surprise within.  I think that even Thom was rather taken aback.  But the question mark seems a sacred emblem or totem in the UU movement, as it should be.  The questioning aspect of Unitarianism may be its primary draw for me.  And the exclamation point — well, if you’re going to do something, do it with enthusiasm.  I feel this is more important in religion than in some other endeavors.

I chose to join SMUUCh because Carla had asked me, because I felt it was important to be part of a community of faith, and because it would mean that Carla and I attended church together.  But I have stayed here (rather than going back to All Souls) because I feel that it lives its love with a bit more fervor, and perhaps is more careful not to bruise others in its pursuit of spiritual truths.  It does better to welcome the stranger and make the stranger feel at home.  It may be that All Souls has gotten better at that than when I attended the church.  All Souls still has a homey feel to me when I visit, but SMUUCh has become my home.

One final point — why April Fools Day?  Doesn’t that undercut the seriousness of my religious commitment or faith?  I don’t think so.  First of all, I take comedy seriously.  I think that comedy goes much further to speaking truth than any other medium.  Second of all, I look to religion to keep my mind and heart and soul focused on the good.  I think we were built for joy and celebration.  Of course, there is trouble and pain in life, sometimes quite a lot, but it is joy I generally hear calling.  And so, of course, April Fools — a time of new beginnings (April) and a celebration of foolishness, with all of its optimistic openness.  That is where I choose to be.

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