September 30, 2008

Froggie Went A Courtin’

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , at 12:43 pm by Rev. Thomas Perchlik

Last Night, as I was listening to the sound of frogs from a cool website, my wife stepped outside to feed the dog.  “There is a frog!” she said.

“Its on the computer” I explained.

“No, it is here,” she replied, “in the garden room.”  And so there was: small and brown, very quiet, not too happy about being picked up, but it sat very still in my hand, looking at me with round black eyes.

How this relates to ministry is that every year at our All Church Retreat, beside Lake James in Northern Indiana and out in the open beneath a towering cottonwood, I conduct a worship service centered on one of the First People.  In my words I honor Native American traditions.  However, I also make it clear that I am not telling people about Native beliefs but am using my versions of Native stories (as well as words and images from around the world,) to tell about Unitarian Universalist beliefs.  This year I spoke of Frog, Water Woman, Old-Pond-Splasher, and her many relations including brother Toad.  Her message was that we are all rich, powerful, and beautiful, as long as we understand these adjectives rightly.

One thing I love about these services is that people come up trough the next few weeks to share with me stories of their encounters with frogs, or coyotes or bison, whatever the totem of the year is.  This year I stood with a friend outside of the church, one night after choir practice, listening to the many frogs in our church woods singing above us in the trees.  The other day I heard of a decorative pond that had become filled with tadpoles, and another person recounted childhood memories of catching frogs down by the White River.

I also love how I begin to notice the animal more often.  In Indiana I had never seen any vultures until I spoke of them. Then one afternoon as I drove past a deer carcass only a few miles from my house, a red-headed turkey vulture rose up unexpectedly, flying before me then turning and spiraling up into the sky.

This year was the first time in eight years that a frog had hopped into our back room when the door was ajar.  Raccoons, robins, sparrows, mice and insects a plenty have visited over the years.  But last night, as I listened on my computer to the many songs and strange sounds that can be heard in Indiana wetlands, a beautiful frog hopped up to my home as if to say, “Thanks” and “I love you.”

I whispered “It was good to see you” and safely set her back out in the rain soaked night.

April 21, 2008

Words from the Woods

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 11:23 am by Rev. Thomas Perchlik


Like the Lorax of Dr. Seuss we like to speak for the trees, to protect them and affirm their verdant lives. In another way that the trees also speak for us, reminding us of who we are and what we should be. In the 96th Psalm of the Jewish and Christian traditions the poet proclaims that “all the trees of the forest will sing for joy before the Lord.” Yet we know the trees have no voices, no language like ours, and no words in the sense of consciously chosen sounds that confer specific meaning. Those of us who pay close attention know that the trees make sounds: the susurrus of wind in the branches, the water-like rush of leaves rustling against one another, the creaking and rattling of wood. Other sounds are brought from them, such as the hammer of a flicker’s beak on bark. Much of their conversation is silent, using pollen, scent, and light on leaf. They communicate with water and sunbeams and shade. Their long lives and growth speak volumes.

So it also is with the UU approach to religion, our greatest truths are unspoken. Certainly, our choice of words is important, especially as to whether we consciously include all genders, races, or orientations in our services. Our ideas must spoken so as to be exposed to the light of logic; they must be able to endure the acid of doubt that “eats away the false.” We argue, rightly, about if we are a ‘religion’ or if we are ‘Christian,’ or what we mean by the term ‘liberal.’ But our faith is expressed more powerfully in how we live, how we treat others, who we spend time with and to what ends we use our money. One of the core affirmations of our church is that Ultimate Truth is beyond all labels and names and thus is affirmed or lost in each moment of our living. Use of the word ‘God’ is rare in our worship and yet, for me, the reality to which that word points is always present. We affirm something by what we are. For example it is rare to see a wooded lot like ours in Muncie, though trees were once the norm in this area; nearly unbroken forest stretched for hundreds of miles in every direction. Thus we are less of an odd alternative and more of a testament to what could be normative and what is of highest worth: human beings living in harmony rather than in domination of, the web of life. To paraphrase the 19th Psalm, with the skies and stones and rivers, ‘Day after day the trees pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.’ Who among us can understand what they are saying?