Story 9: Born into Covenant, by Rev. Dr. Rebecca Parker
Rev. Rebecca Parker tells the story of when she first became president of Starr King School for the Ministry, one of only three seminaries in the world specifically for Unitarian Universalists. She remembers feeling very proud of herself as she moved to California to take up the job. She had charted her own course, was captain of her ship, she had first become a classical cellist, then a minister, and now an educator; president of a seminary!
When she got to Oakland, she discovered she had a distant passel of cousins she had never met, and they decided to have a sort of a reunion to get acquainted. She wrote:
Inside, over Jello salad, homemade rolls, and tuna casserole reminiscent of every church potluck I had ever attended, we said hello to on another. Here was Jane, a minister of religious education and graduate of the Pacific School of Religion. Here was Mike, a professional French horn player and high school music teacher, and Eldon, a seminary dean, and David, a United Methodist parish minister. Every single one of my distant cousins was a musician, a minister, or teacher, and several were all three. Not only that, the ministers were all liberal activists with an intellectual bent, and all the musicians were classical.
Apparently, (she writes) I had never made any choices at all! I did not make myself; my life was given to me. And this is how it is: We receive who we are before we choose who we will become. As human beings, our lives begin and never leave the soil of this earth that shapes us through blood, kinship, genes, culture, associations, social systems, networks of relationships, and extended communities. Even when we do not directly know the people whose lives are linked with ours, our lives unfold in relationship to theirs.
This is how it is with covenant as well. We are born into relationships before we shape them with our conscious intention. We inherit covenant before we create covenant. We are given the gift of life, the gift of the earth that sustains life, the gift of one another and of all the generations leading up to now.
Story 10: The Farmer's Horse Ran Off (A Chinese Folk Tale, this version is adapted from here)
This farmer had only one horse, and one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came to condole over his terrible loss. The farmer said, "We’ll see.”
A month later, the horse came home--this time bringing with her two beautiful wild horses. The neighbors became excited at the farmer's good fortune. Such lovely strong horses! The farmer said, "We’ll see."
The farmer's son was thrown from one of the wild horses and broke his leg. All the neighbors were very distressed. Such bad luck! The farmer said, "We’ll see."
A war came, and every able-bodied man was conscripted and sent into battle. Only the farmer's son, because he had a broken leg, remained. The neighbors congratulated the farmer. "We’ll see," said the farmer.
Bonus Story: The Blind Men and the Elephant (as recorded by Branches - Truth by All Souls, Tulsa)
A long time ago in the valley of the Brahmaputra River in India there lived six men who were much inclined to boast of their wit and lore. Though they were no longer young and had all been blind since birth, they would
compete with each other to see who could tell the tallest story.
One day, however, they fell to arguing. The object of their dispute was the elephant. Now, since each was blind, none had ever seen that mighty beast of whom so many tales are told. So, to satisfy their minds and settle the
dispute, they decided to go and seek out an elephant.
Having hired a young guide, Dookiram by name, they set out early one morning in single file along the forest track, each placing his hands on the back of the man in front. It was not long before they came to a forest clearing where a huge bull elephant, quite tame, was standing contemplating his menu for the day.
The six blind men became quite excited; at last they would satisfy their minds. Thus it was that the men took turns to investigate the elephant's shape and form.
As all six men were blind, neither of them could see the whole elephant and approached the elephant from different directions. After encountering the elephant, each man proclaimed in turn:
'O my brothers,' the first man at once cried out, 'it is as sure as I am wise that this elephant is like a great mud wall baked hard in the sun.'
'Now, my brothers,' the second man exclaimed with a cry of dawning recognition, 'I can tell you what shape this elephant is - he is exactly like a spear.'
The others smiled in disbelief.
'Why, dear brothers, do you not see,' said the third man -- 'this elephant is very much like a rope,' he shouted.
'Ha, I thought as much,' the fourth man declared excitedly, 'This elephant much resembles a serpent.'
The others snorted their contempt.
'Good gracious, brothers,' the fifth man called out, 'even a blind man can see what shape the elephant resembles most. Why he's mightily like a fan.'
At last, it was the turn of the sixth old fellow and he proclaimed, 'This sturdy pillar, brothers' mine, feels exactly like the trunk of a great areca palm tree.'
Of course, no one believed him.
Their curiosity satisfied, they all linked hands and followed the guide, Dookiram, back to the village. Once there, seated beneath a waving palm,the six blind men began disputing loud and long. Each now had his own opinion, firmly based on his own experience, of what an elephant is really like. For after all, each had felt the elephant for himself and knew that he was right!
And so indeed he was. For depending on how the elephant is seen, each blind man was partly right, though all were in the wrong.