The other day I mentioned this sermon to a friend. First sermon after five months, after everything. My friend said, “You have some ‘splaining to do.”
Because I’ve come back with a different name! Anthony David Makar. M-A-K-A-R. You’ve known me for six years as Rev. David, but now, as we move into what will hopefully be another six years, it’s different. No more Reverend David. Reverend Makar, from now on.
Which naturally and reasonably leads to the question, What the heck did your sabbatical do to you, Rev. Makar? Were you on drugs? Wha happened??
The name change represents something from the private side of my sabbatical journey, and I will definitely get to this in a moment. But first I want to share something from the more public side. So much has happened, so much to say…
Best to do this with some pictures. I have a bajillion I could inflict on you, but I’m gonna restrain myself.
1. One of the high points of the public side of my sabbatical was a trip to the land of chocolate.
A two week trip to Switzerland, working with our sister Unitarian Universalist congregations in the cities of Basel and Geneva.
2. This person is Lara Fuchs
One of the key leaders in the Basel Unitarian Universalist Congregation. My host, with her husband Michael, when I first arrived.
Swiss fondue for my first night there….
See the theme developing here? Chocolate. Cheese. Mmmmm…..
3. The scene from my apartment window
Rented at a generously low rate from members of the Basel congregation
Let me tell you, the Unitarian Universalists I met in Switzerland were amazingly hospitable and generous people. It’s just another reason why I am so proud to be a part of this faith community which I’ve now experienced as international in scope. Our choir had this experience during their Transylvania trip last year, and now me.
4. Here are the owners of the apartment
Lorraine and Bernhard Rytz. Bernhard bought me flowers for my apartment—one of many delightful Swiss traditions of hospitality.
Met them at the Basel congregation, where I preached my first Sunday in Switzerland.
After the service, I learned something very important about Unitarian Universalism overseas—how success requires it to shed its American cultural blinders.
I was told a story about an American minister who came over and preached about the Declaration of Independence—to a group of Swiss and French and German folks! I was told about how materials from the UUA are rife with American cultural references that don’t speak to European sensibilities….
If Unitarian Universalism is going to thrive in Europe—catch the imagination of a population that is leaving traditional churches in droves—then we need people who can speak Unitarian Universalism in a distinctly European idiom. This became very clear to me.
5. One Billion Rising dance flash mob in Basel Market Square
Lorraine was one of the organizers of this local expression of an international effort to raise awareness of violence against women.
A flash mob! So exciting to be there for this….
And it led to another learning—or I should say reminder—that just like here in Atlanta, so in Basel: You never know what the Unitarians have their hands in.
They always seem to be in interesting, progressive places, leading the charge or at least helping to make change. It’s very cool.
6. This is Marie Pajik, giving John Calvin’s chair a piece of her mind
Let me back up a bit….
First, to say that this slide and the last one come from my time in Geneva, where I preached the second of the two Sundays I was in Switzerland.
Marie is this incredibly sweet and smart nine year old, daughter of Deborah and Mike Pejic, members of the Geneva congregation and one of my hosts for my time there.
As for John Calvin’s chair. Marie and her mom took me on a quick tour of Geneva, and one of the places we went to was John Calvin’s church, the one he preached in, with the chair he actually sat in. I asked Marie to give that chair sass because it was John Calvin who had burned one of our Unitarian heroes at the stake: Michael Servetus. It had happened right there where I was, in Geneva.
I just had to keep pinching myself. This is real. It had happened here.
You know, we come from somewhere. Real history, real places, real people, life and death at stake. My hope is that we will be faithful stewards of this legacy. Not sit on it, but grow it and spread it so that more and more people in Atlanta can be blessed by it…. Five months away from this place, and I am more grateful for my faith community than I have ever been. More grateful to be a minister of this faith. We have such good things to give the world.
Don’t even get me started on my experience, after I came back from Switzerland, of church hopping. Went to all sorts of churches, here in Atlanta. Saw all sorts of things. Made me so lonely for you guys.
But now I’ve gone on a tangent.
Back to the slides—the last one from Switzerland:
7. Saturday night meeting with key leaders of the Geneva congregation
It was at this incredibly good Italian restaurant. But expensive like crazy—I think my lasagna cost 45 American dollars….
One of the issues we talked about that night was how to maintain the congregation in a primarily ex-pat community, with people coming and going all the time. How to preserve consistency of leadership and vision? Later I found out that members of the congregation had never come together like that before. They’d been in existence for 30 years but meeting together over dinner for fellowship had never really been one of their practices!
The blond haired woman is Karin Holm-Randal, and she, with her family, was my second host for my time in Geneva. This is an email I received from her after the Saturday night dinner and the Sunday worship that I led.
Dear Rev. Anthony, Thank you so much! It was a monumental weekend for me personally as a UU and for me as part of our UU community. What a transformational agent you are! What an honor it was for us to have you in our midst and in our home.
I think we were all drawn closer by the experience and you gave us so many great affirmations, directions to go on, and specific suggestions to follow that I am sure we have momentum to move ahead.
I was totally impressed by your ability to listen so acutely to each person with whom you conversed and acknowledge you understood them with a summary phrase that affirmed and encouraged them and how you spread positive feelings and hope and fun in every setting.
This is why I LOVE UU! Blown away by UU awesomeness! Your kindness and generosity to us will be put to good use!
Now, I don’t share this email to toot my own horn, but to give you some sense of what it meant to these people for you to share your minister with them, at least for a short time. This is not MY success but OUR success. Every time one of your ministers and your staff goes out into the world wider than these walls and makes a difference, this congregation gets part of the glory because your generosity makes it possible. You let us go. Thank you. Thank you for my amazing sabbatical opportunity. I’m so grateful.
And I’ve come back changed from it. More excited and energized by Unitarian Universalism than ever. This sums up what the public side of my sabbatical has meant to me.
But now let’s turn to the private side….
Here’s where our reading for today really speaks to me. Listen to Martha Beck again:
We want to be DONE with things: the chronic pain, the haunting doubt, the bad relationship patterns, the grief of loss. We want to solve the maze and get out, to the place where we imagine there will be no problems to solve.
This is so good, so rich. We want to be DONE with things…. with all the aspects of our lives that are imperfect, out of our control, without a clear end in sight. I certainly do, being the human being that I am—especially, for the past five months, a human without the regimens of work to distract me from my emotional world which, as you know, was recently rocked by the end of my 21 year-long marriage. Doesn’t matter if divorce is absolutely the right thing to do. Doesn’t matter. It brings lots of change, and change can be challenging, even good change. Some of the changes have been fast, but many have been slow like roots secretly growing down in fertile soil, and you don’t know what’s happening until the first green sprouts shoot up…. Soul growth take time. Soul healing takes time.
During the past five months and all its changes, one thing I’ve definitely learned is that my spirit animal is a chipmunk. It’s Martha Beck’s too, so I’m in good company. Why a chipmunk? Well, like she says, chipmunks (apparently) spend their entire lives hiding food, but they have a memory span of only 3 minutes. So they’re constantly having to rediscover things they’ve forgotten.
What this means is that during my sabbatical time of most everything in my personal life changing like crazy, I constantly prayed this prayer:
I forgive all the ways in which my life appears to fall short
I trust that whatever I truly need will find its way into my world
I am grateful for what I have
I’d pray this prayer and feel like I had strength to go on. But then, after only three minutes, just like the chipmunk, I’d forget. Forget the words, forget the sense, fall back into the agitating buzzing frustration or the swirling dizzying anxiety or the overwhelming soul-sucking fear. All that was left to do was to pray the prayer again. Every three minutes. Every three minutes. Pray it again. Chipmunk that I am.
Any chipmunks out there, like me?
Now I know I’m not just anyone admitting this. I am your Pastor admitting this. Mr. Big Shot Senior Minister. I guess this is something else I was able to reflect on during my sabbatical. What it means to be a minister who is only human and just cannot do the Jesus thing and walk on water and raise the dead. I came to realize that as a Unitarian Universalist minister, the gift I can give is not perfection, but compassionate authentic humble presence. Of course, I have special training and skills and unique years of experience—that’s part of the gift too, of course. But above and beyond that, the essence has to be about being the kind of person who knows first-hand the complex messy truth of being human and is not dismayed, is still willing to embrace it, still longs for aliveness with all his mind and heart and spirit. The essence has to be about being the kind of person who seeks to help people live in the truth and connect with their own longing for aliveness. The essence has to be about being the kind of person who models this in his own life with honesty and integrity and creativity. The minister might not necessarily the best or smartest person in the room, but he or she is the person in the room you can count on to get in the trenches with you, with compassion. Ministry can mean many things, but this is one meaning that came alive for me in the past five months…
“We didn’t enter life to get it done,” says Martha Beck. “There is no place not worth revisiting. We double back to find the pieces of ourselves that still clutch the same issues like a baby clutching its pacifier. Compassion invited us to this unbearably repetitive, slow, complex path of self-discovery. […] As Proust wrote, ‘The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeing new landscapes but in having new eyes.’”
This is exactly how the whole name change came into play. Changes in my world leading me to double back to find older and lost pieces of myself. Changes in my world giving me new eyes to see old things….
Here’s an old thing:
8. Birth certificate
Anthony David Makar is actually my original name. I dropped the Makar part when I was 22 years old, right before my marriage. My former wife’s last name is Keys, and we had talked about hyphenating our last names, but where would that have taken us if I had kept the Makar name? Think about it. “Makar-Keys.” Or “Keys-Makar.” Can you just imagine the purgatory of automobile related jokes that would have followed us the rest of our days?
But that’s not really why that painfully young 22-year-old legally changed his name, dropped the Makar part and let his middle name stand in as his surname. Together with his marriage, it was his way of declaring independence from his birth family situation, his Mom who was mentally ill (borderline personality with bipolar and OCD tendencies) and his Dad who loved her but was simply incapable of responding effectively when he was home, although he wasn’t home very much because he was a workaholic doctor. The situation was chaotic, oppressive, sad, crisis-driven, secretive, isolated, grim. Drugs, guns, violence, cops coming to the house in the early hours of the morning, death threats—that’s the kind of stuff I saw in my family.
And I’d had enough. Mom and Dad appeared incapable of understanding my outrage. When I objected to the way things were, they demanded that I shut up and get back in line, get with the status quo. And that was something I was not going to do, any longer.
So I cut off the Makar. Cut it right off. Became the man with two first names. Anthony David, David Anthony. That’s who I’ve been for the past 24 years, all throughout my career as a college professor and now as a minister.
But ever since my Dad’s death in 2001 and my Mom’s death in 2007, I’ve been reconsidering things. I’ve been questioning the bold act I took as a young man. When I saw my Dad’s tombstone with Makar on it, it got me thinking…. What was going to be on MY tombstone? David? But what larger family connection does that name suggest? What larger history and legacy? “David” as a surname started to feel more and more flimsy for me, untrue. Makar is Ukrainian—I am Ukrainian in ethnic origin. (Say you have some good perogies and holubti to serve, and I will follow you anywhere!) But “David” obscures that fact, makes me rootless, a nothing.
Add to this my increased sense of humility over the past 24 years. Life is complex and good people can find themselves in crazy circumstances doing unhappy things. I look at a picture of my parents like this:
9. Picture of Mom and Dad
…and what I feel now is a sense of solidarity. Compassion. We are all thrown into this world way too young. This is not to excuse all the drugs and guns and violence and all that stuff. It is, rather, to stand with my parents in basic appreciation for the fact that they did the best they could, just as I have tried to do the best I could. It is to acknowledge that, even when you try and do your best, mixed results are inevitable. They are part of the deal.
They are also a part of the reason why spiritual faith is so critical to sanity. To believe that we live in a universe capable of taking our efforts, however flawed, and turning them to some good: that is a saving belief. And it is true belief. The minister who stands before you now is a product of mixed results. And so are we all. And we are enough and more than enough for what the world needs. A sentiment we need to repeat every three minutes, over and over again, chipmunks that we may be.
Thank you again for my sabbatical. I come back to you with nothing less than a new name. Rev. Anthony David Makar. In the days and weeks and months ahead, I ask that you help me get used to it. And that we all see it as symbolic of the new journey ahead for us. Let’s get to know each other again, as if for the first time. Let’s look at old things with new eyes. Let’s reclaim our roots so we can grow taller than ever before. Let’s uncover hidden potentials and possibilities. Let’s get excited about this thing called Unitarian Universalism which we love and want more of for more people. A new journey. New eyes.