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In the Spring of my religious life, it was time of wonder. When I was eight years old, winter of 1995, I had a dream. At the time, I was going to Sunday school in the Catholic Church. I had become an altar boy. I was an ideal Puerto Rican Roman Catholic. And I was budding in my love of sci-fi fantasy. One night in a dream, myself and 11 others were simultaneously Apostles of Jesus and superheroes. Trying to protect Jesus/superhero leader. In the dream I was a particular mutant who happened to be a Catholic German character who could teleport and wielded a saber with his tail, like a pseudo pirate or musketeer. Somehow to stave off Jesus’ death we were able to teleport to the future. It was a complicated dream. In reflecting on my past, I have deemed this dream a seed in which fueled my calling to the ministry. This key to my spiritual identity has been a driving force in my life in ways that I did not fully comprehend until twenty years later while I was in seminary.
If there’s anything I want everyone here to take away today is that we need to reflect on the paths we have taken and not taken in our lives. Reflecting on these can help us continue our discernment process- we can try to figure out or intuit the purpose and meaning of our lives. If we remain curious about the mystery of our lives, our personalities, and our dreams we can learn much. After all, I do not feel the universe wastes anything. Humans do, but not nature. I would even say that for Unitarian Universalists, in the quest for truth and meaning, we should take time each spring season to look at the seeds and branches of your life. Do they still call to you?
I was in the army for eleven years- 6 of which were active duty. I joined right out of high school. In my last year I was deployed to Iraq, and besides rocket attacks, it wasn’t as dangerous for me as it was for many others. Being in military intelligence I was relatively safe, however the nature of the “Global War on Terror”, no one is ever truly safe. At home or abroad. I had issues with how the war was fought, after all at that time I was still right wing, and had no issues with the never ending war on terror. Yet my deepest injury was a moral injury. Seeing millions of dollars wasted, and lives lost – in that order – shook something in my then patriotism in America. Such was my then lack of reverence for life that money came first. Coming home to visit my family as I did every year- seeing the immense amount of homelessness shook me to my core. The army could waste resources that would have been better spent dealing with the issues of poverty. This began the crisis of conscience, the crisis of spirit within. I realized my supposed calling to the warrior’s path was either a lie or did not feel right anymore. Realizing it was my last year in active duty military I wondered what to do with my life. In discussing with my friend, I remembered a dream. My superhero Jesus dream. It was the seed planted in my long term memory. I had felt the call to ministry.
From that moment I planned the long road to ministry. And that dream kept me grounded throughout the past eight years. Mind you I’m 30 years old. From the age of 14 to 22 I felt lost, rootless and abandoned, ironically since I left the Catholic Church but truth be told I felt abandoned by all I held holy. But I had my love of nature. When I stopped being Catholic I happened to discover Wicca, Neopaganism and New Age thought. Wicca is a nature oriented spirituality rooted in European traditions, although some are drawn to polytheism from Ancient Egypt as well. Joining the army at the age of 17, which is majority protestant Christian, as an ex Roman Catholic and as a Wicca was a hell of an experience. Truth be told other Wiccans I met were… well I can’t say I got along with them. And trying to explain Wicca to those people whose faith heritage includes the expulsion and burning of heretics and witches, I did not feel safe and comfortable. As a full-time Soldier, as a teenager growing into adulthood- I felt outcast. Sure it was my choice to live on the margins, but there was no love or acceptance at the margins. I felt the truth of nature and the spirit of life present in the whole of the universe. This was part of that emerging seed.
At 22, when I found Unitarian Universalism, I joined the choir, and since I missed community service work like in the Catholic Church, I tried to get involved with projects when possible. I realized I was not meant to be a solitary practitioner but to be in community. I cried at my first UU service, and it was a wondrous music service led by a trio of American Indian women who sang a Capella with grace. Considering how at that point I only cried once every two years, you can see the impact of that moment. Six months after discovering Unitarian Universalism I was deployed to Iraq to fight in what I now would say was an unjust war, but that’s a conversation for another time. I left active duty and it was my issues sleeping which showed me that I was troubled. My spirit was disturbed by something it would take years to sort out. Then I transferred to the reserves so I can do army stuff one weekend a month, two weeks a year, and finish both my bachelor’s degree and complete my master’s degree. In my sophomore year of college I had a crisis of spirituality from hell. It was when I felt the full force of betrayal from the military, when I learned from reputable sources that the weapons of mass destruction in Iraq were based off of lies. Having read those reports with my top secret clearance my world came crashing down.
As a student and part time soldier, in that time as a Unitarian Universalist my theology changed from Wiccan to atheist to pantheist. I could not reconcile an understanding of this universe without the spirit of life. That creative force permeating myself, humanity and nature. I could not confront the idea of creation without some sort of creative force which I feel is the fluid spirit of life, the Dao, the Brahma, the universal spirit both chaotic and orderly. This creative force which I feel in my soul is a truth of reality kept me from remaining atheist. In wondering my place in the universe- this childhood superhero religious dream, along with constantly witnessing poverty and homelessness- guided my path. I felt that constant tug of the spirit to continue studying about empires, colonization, patriarchy, racism, sexism, classism, etc all forms of oppression. That dream of mine as a superhero trying to save Jesus stayed with me even in my most militant anti-Christian moments. My childhood kept calling to me.
As a child I also wanted to do everything. In the spring of my life I wanted to be a scientist, astronaut, lawyer, Soldier, a mechanic and train operator. Like I said, spring time can be a season for discernment, as well as a metaphor for childhood. The leaves are coming back, the frost of winter starts to leave. Of course climate change sometimes delays or makes the process early. When did we let go of our childhood desires? In seminary I had to reflect on my life constantly, facing my old archnemesis myself. In the end it came down to patriotism and GI Bill that I chose being a Soldier. But instead of being a priest, I’m becoming a minister. And gratefully so as I am now a married man, and yes my wedding and honeymoon were epic. It was a glorious week of Hindu celebrations and no I did not ride an elephant of horse, I opted to use my own two legs. We may even be featured in a wedding magazine! My wife Chandni Jessica and I are excited over this.
What were the paths not chosen in your life? Ultimately what internal, and external forces helped to shape you into the vibrant being you have become? I feel every spring time as I have my annual Star Wars Movie marathon, usually on Easter- I feel I have to take an account of my paths, traveled, explored and not taken at all. This year I did not have that marathon because of my wedding but I’m ok with that! There’s always next year or Saturday mornings when she sleeps until 10 am and I wake at 5 or 6am. What influenced your paths? For me it was family, friends, society, Star Wars, and a dream. I had a
What paths/branches did we not take that still calls to us in our core? It took me years and grace to discern that emerging grace of my calling, that emergence of a dream seed in my paths in life. How can we discern our future path whilst reflecting on our past? In my opinion it takes the intentional emergence of personal reflection, which can take many forms. It certainly did in my life. I used journaling, singing in the shower, poetry, essays, and even some classes dealing with spirituality in undergraduate and of course every single class in seminary required intentional reflection. Truth be told I feel personal reflection is an essential part of being a UU because of our 4th principle; it is a major aspect of the free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
After all, we are formed from things which may seem silly or small, but we emerge into who we have become and still to who we will be until the day we die. We then plant the seeds in future generations throughout our lives. Freud and Jung and every psychoanalyst agrees with this, in talking about human development. They both did much work in trying to interpret dreams. In that dream, why was I trying to save the savior? Was I just trying to save myself? Dreams are a part of many major religious traditions. Yesterday- April 14 this year, or to be accurate, 27th day of Rajab- the 7th month of Islamic year is a celebration for many of Muhammad’s dream/ vision to heaven. Its year 1438 according to that tradition. It was said in Surat 17, or Chapter 17 of the Qur’an where the Prophet Muhammed took a journey in the sky from Mecca to Jerusalem and then through the heavens to see the major prophets-From Adam to Abraham, Moses- and also the angel Gabriel. It is a legend like the three wise men of the bible. It’s a few sentences, but whole traditions and legends have formed off of it. Whether a dream, a vision, or an actual event- this was key to founding faith traditions under the umbrella of Islam which now has over a billion who identify with it. We can identify and use a dream as a seed to guide us. In Judaism, in a dream Jacob wrestled with an angel, In Buddhism, the mother of Siddhartha Gautama had a dream of a white elephant predicting his birth as a great leader.
Dreams impacted me tremendously. I couldn’t be a minister or a religious person without them. My faith and path were dependent upon the dreams of my parents, and even the dreams of those like Martin Luther King Jr and Rosa Parks. I know that a dream, whether that of equality, world peace and justice for all; a vision of the divine or prophets; or that of a young child can have a major impact. Without the dream of love and hope of wondrous life, I wouldn’t be married after four years of long distance relationship. Spring time, is a time of renewal, a time of blossoming, and a perfect time to see what roots you have and how will your branches blossom. In our responsible search for truth and meaning, let us not forget the dreams of our past. They maybe the collective unconscious, they could be the spark of the divine, they could be just wild imagination. Nevertheless they are important seeds in our lives. They may say you are a dreamer, but here in this blossoming beloved community, you are not the only one.