September was a month of challenges for our little community and for the wider world.
After a joyous weekend that included our much-loved hymn sing service and Cabaret rehearsals, we lost Chalice member Morgana Mlodoch on September 26 to a heart attack. The day before, I introduced a visitor to Morgana, and the visitor hesitated over whether to address Morgana as “he” or “she.” Morgana laughed it off gracefully, responding “Well, I’m a 6’2” baritone in jeans and a t-shirt, so I don’t make it easy.”
But she did make it easy. Morgana listened more than she spoke, and when she spoke, it was always thoughtful and thought-provoking. Her warm, grounded nature made her approachable even to those meeting a transgender person for the first time. As we rehearsed together for Cabaret, her joy and wonder with this new experience were infectious.
The week before Morgana’s passing, I reviewed the immigration files of three young men who sought to murder random strangers in their community in the name of their faith. Three times in one week. Five victims dead, 38 injured, countless devastated families, four communities forever scarred. All three immigrated as children; all three were U.S. citizens at the time of the attacks. I looked at their files and their families’ files, and tried to find in all the dates and connections something that would allow me to understand how these young men become so alienated from their communities that they were drawn into the archaic and simplistic ideology of fundamentalism. How did they lose sight of the fact that a young man’s despair can be temporary, something to be addressed with education or training or treatment, something requiring a response less than murder?
One answer is that the nature of electronic communication provides a place to seethe and rage in isolation without a touchstone, someone to call us out face to face when we stray too far from reason. Fundamentalism uses this, targeting the young, the disenfranchised, the alienated, the mentally ill, and isolates them further by giving them an alternate community, one that is always ready with simple answers to complex issues. In today’s political climate, we see this seething and raging everywhere, and sometimes despite our better natures, we get drawn in.
Unitarian Universalists are a gentle, angry people. There is injustice in the world, and so much work to be done. But calming the rage that is consuming our nation requires listening to one another. Morgana had studied the art of listening, and she did it well, calmly and with intention. I hope to cultivate the same skill.