Friday, April 21, 2006

Where the Unitarians Are

Recently I ran across a Map Gallery of Religion in the United States - that is, the distribution of people belonging to different faith groups by county throughout the country. Here's the map for UUs.

It's no surprise that the highest concentration is in the northeast, with pockets along the west coast. I was interested to see the little enclave in northern Colorado and Wyoming. Of course the highest concentration of UUs by county is only 1.5 percent of the population, compared to 10 - 50+ percent for Catholics and Baptists.

Another interesting map is this one showing percent of religious adherents, ranging from the Bible belt (which seems to stretch through the middle of the country from Canada to Mexico and the Gulf) to the godless northwest.

Something is missing, however. There are maps for Judaism and Islam, but that's it for non-Christian (except UU, of course). So what about the Buddhists and Hindus? According to estimates based on polls conducted by the City University of New York in 1990 and 2001, there are around a million Hindus and 1.5 million Buddhists in the U.S. today, compared to about 890,000 UUs (and I don't know where they got this figure - the official UUA count is about 159,000).

I think it would be more accurate to call this project a "Map Gallery of [Abrahamic] Religion in the United States."

Monday, April 17, 2006

Permanence of Memory

Yesterday during one of her reflections, our minister spoke of Easter as a time for remembering those who have died in the past year. I like that idea: those who die, like anything in nature, make room - and indeed provide a foundation - for existing and new life.

Another powerful idea is that death is the ultimate expression of the impermanence of life, and thus of all things. I've contemplated that a lot lately.

This started last month when I learned about the death of Tom Fox, a civilian member of a Christian Peacemaker Team who was killed in Iraq after being held captive for four months.

I never met Tom, but I believe he was a person who lived his calling trying to bring something good to a terrible place. It's painfully ironic that he died doing that while I escaped my time in Iraq unscathed, serving in the military that contributed to the environment that led to his capture and murder. Maybe that's why I'm so compelled by his action, his witness, his life.

I've learned more about Tom from my Quaker friend John, who knew Tom both through their Meeting and as a co-worker. I have great respect and affection for John, and seeing and feeling the depth and strength of his regard for this man makes me believe that Tom Fox is someone I really wish to have known personally.

And this brings me back to impermanence - or in this case permanence: Tom is still as alive as he ever was to me, being someone I knew only by reputation and mutual acquaintance. He will always be this alive to me, so in one way at least this transcends the impermanence of death. Can I apply this thinking to people I've known directly who have died? Can I see that the impermanence of their physical lives is meaningless compared to how they live on within me? Can my life speak of the way I am touched by all the people I know? Will my (impermanent) life touch the lives of others and lead to my own permanence in memory?

Maybe there are such things as immortality and resurrection.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

spring, suddenly

white pear explodes in snowy blooms
cherry veils in roseate lace
oaken limb grows verdant fingers

serving up a feast for the senses