There is a formula that supposedly can predict the age at which you are likely to die. (How is that to launch an essay on change?) You add the ages of your parents, divide by two, and consider that number of years as the number you will live. By that formula I have just two months left on this planet. My obvious plan at present is to prove the formula wrong.
As William Holden says at one point in the movie Network, “I am closer to the end of my life than the beginning.” Since turning 60 almost three years ago, I have become preoccupied with my mortality. I have started seeing former work colleagues and friends in the obituaries in the Los Angeles Times, and three friends of mine, all around my age, all male, died within several weeks of each other recently. For those of you well past my age, I am probably providing somber recognition or even a gentle laugh, and those just behind me, perhaps some unintended chills.
As morbid as this all sounds, aging has also given me a new perspective on my life. With a limited amount of time ahead of me, I want to focus more on the positive than the negative. I want to think less about what I lack and more about what I have: a vibrant church community, wonderful friends, two four-legged children, my health, my wits, about a thousand books, a piano and the ability to play it, a well-paying job where I am valued and appreciated, and a home and small town where I feel fulfilled. Once you make such a list, the negatives seem meager in comparison.
We all have so much to celebrate in this church community, but I have noticed that the positives get obscured during a time of intense transition. In my role as president I hear from some people, “There is too much change.” “There is too much change too fast.” “I don’t recognize my church.” “What will happen when Stephen Grimm leaves?” These are deeply felt and honest statements based in concern, and sometimes even fear and pain.
And I know what it feels like. I had to walk away from my first choice of a career because I realized after 20 years it was killing my soul, and from the irreplaceable love of my life because of his mental illness. And yet – I chose to look forward, and look where I am. Offering my brand of optimism about the church’s future is sometimes met with looks of disbelief or annoyance, but sincerely, I don’t know what else I can offer. It’s genuinely what I believe: all these changes are leading us to somewhere wonderful.
Stephen Grimm is leaving us, but do not forget he was once the new kid in town and some members of the church were his fiercest detractors: change. The new director, whoever that may be, will be carefully chosen, but is likely to meet some resistance as well: change. Rev. Hannah Petrie is now consulting minister at the UU Church of Studio City! Change. Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson will be honored on April 8: change. Rev. Lissa is a new mother: change. A friend of mine in church, a man in his seventies with incredible spirit and humor, and I were talking about the general feeling about change, and he said almost mischievously, “Change is inevitable.” Inevitable. INEVITABLE. So is aging. Do you fight it, or do you live with it, even embrace it?
I happen to love some of the changes at present. The necessary dialogues about true inclusivity in our church, fostered by the Neighborhood People of Color and White People for Racial Justice, have been the most exciting dialogues I have engaged in at church in a long time. I am thrilled to be a participant and to see where these take us. One direction already defined is a proposal for new bylaws addressing inclusivity and put together by a task force appointed by the Board. We owe considerable thanks to Dinandrea Vega for conscientiously asking for parity in hiring and Board appointments at last year’s Annual Meeting. Irene Burkner’s call to us to recognize our past in the naming of the Millikan Room sparked another powerful dialogue that engaged the church and challenges us to reflect on our spirituality and values. All this work as our stalwart friend Corinne Grant recently stated will help the church to “walk its walk.”
I have also been privy to the incredible work our Green Council is doing to bring the church to Net Zero status that will impact the campus so positively and also help us “walk our walk.” This will be more fully revealed at the Annual Meeting on May 20.
I will deeply miss Stephen Grimm, and as a member of the tenor section, do not for a second take for granted his genius in directing a choir, playing the organ or piano while singing and conducting, and just being totally fun to know. While this change is daunting, it can be celebrated too, as it will be for Jim Nelson on April 8, and for Stephen and Audrey Vaughan on their retirement on April 29.
Another vital change to welcome is that our mortgage will be paid off in June. That enables the church to refresh its reserves tapped deeply by the CUP in our first year without a mortgage, and beyond that, we can start looking at an assistant minister.
This month Rev. Lissa returns with a whole new world view as a new mother. The church will be posting job descriptions for a new administrator and Stephen’s successor. Our vital dialogues about inclusivity, our past, and environmental justice continue. I am optimistic and as someone who is not always keen on change, embracing it…I hope you will consider this stance as well, if you have not already. There is so much more to our remaining years together than focusing on lack, loss and what has been.