Granddad’s Eulogy


Granddad’s Eulogy -Daniel Buchanan

It’s hard to sum up someones life in words, much less in only six pages, but here goes:

My Granddad, Ralph Hendrix, was one of the most influential men in my life, if not the most strong reason I am how I am. He was very particular about most things and always did things “The Right Way.” From a very young age, he taught me how to speak, how to walk, how to swim, how to ride a bike, how to save money, how to treat people, and many other important “how to’s” I can’t remember today. His voice is the one I hear in my head, especially when I’m about to mess up, which I sometimes do on purpose, only to see his look of disapprovement mixed with anticipation at how I’ll try to fix the mess I’ve made. He’d say, “Now Dan, What’s next on your schedule? What’s next? What are you going to do about that?” And he’d let me try to figure it out myself, giving me gentle nudges in the right direction. He taught me how to figure things out for myself and rely on common sense and detailed research both, to make a good decision.

But most importantly, he taught me how to be a grown man in America: 

  • be thoughtful and careful, 
  • family-oriented, 
  • detailed, 
  • loving in actions and 
  • accurate in words, 
  • prudent with money and 
  • always taking care of things. 

For 40 years, he’s been in my life and I’m so blessed to have had a Granddad so involved with my family for 40 years! I have a 15 year old Sena and a 10 year old son named Daniel II. Granddad and Grandma were at everything they did from day one. Matter fact I think they were at the Lisa Ross Birth and Women’s Center waiting patiently with all of us when they arrived . They wouldn’t miss Grandfriends day or birthday parties, baseball games or band concerts, or any other special occasion. They made time together a special occasion we enjoyed. Whenever I showed up alone to their house, it was always, where’s Little D and Sena? I’m pretty sure they loved those great grandkids much more than me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Granddad’s love for children extended to his donations to charities, which we found he was doing a lot of towards the end. He loved children and he loved giving. He gave to many catholic charities and donated to my kids college fund. As a matter of fact, the college fund Grandma and him setup for me helped me pay for college at UT when I attended. He’s setup that same fund for my kids and funded it since birth.

Granddad pushed me to be more always. After I graduated from college, first in my family, I was lauded with praise and affection from the family. But Granddad, always pushing me, was the only one to ask me, “What’s next? Grad school? Law school?” So now I badly want to ask him, “What’s next? Where have you gone granddad and what do you see now?”

In my mind, he’s finally back with grandma, stolen from this world in February 2018 from Granddad’s arms. I can see them now, flying in some tiny single propeller engine plane or driving some fast little sports car along heaven’s highways towards the beach, showing young orphans in heaven how to ride horses and train dogs, grandparenting every little lost child sent to heaven without grandparents as special and as dear as mine. So What’s Next? Grandma and Granddad are back together, they will be sorely missed, but they will live on in our hearts forever. 

One last thing: I don’t think a person can become at one with someone else until they pass, because until then, they’ll always be “over there.” Well from now on, Grandma and Granddad will always be in here and a part of me. I love you Granddad, thank you for all you’ve done in my life and the lives of my wife and children, tell grandma I said hello and we miss her, and I’ll see you later when I get to those golden shores, we can all walk down that beach together again.


Part 2: When Daniel Started Meditating


So if you’ve been with me so far, you know I’m a bit scattered. I’m sort of an adventurous type, especially when it comes to getting into things, commitments, the like. So recently, I made a big new commitment to myself: I’m meditating twice a day for 20 minutes.

This decision came a few months back in February when I took Bob Eklund’s meditation class at The Oasis Instutute in Homberg Place in Knoxville. I didn’t think there was anyone in Knoxville doing something as cool as “spiritual meditation,” but I was wrong. The thing about the UU church is, while encouraging ecumenical and cross religious interaction, I felt I was still missing something deeper and more fulfilling in my life: a communion with God. Let’s just say I found it.

Spiritual meditation, Bob explained, is different from non-spiritual meditation. Non-spiritual meditation is more concerned with the mundane: the breath, my body, nothingness, things we could realize as true and deal with now. Spiritual meditation is an attempt to raise the consciousness of the meditater. I was hooked.

I was taught three “rules” of the mind:

  1. The mind always needs an object
  2. The mind can only focus on one thing at a time
  3. Whatever the mind focuses on it becomes

Those three realizations led to only the natural conclusion that I should focus on a good idea, they called it a mantra, and that could raise my consciousness! I was skeptical to say the least, but I was in the class with my wife Cyndi, so we were along for the ride on this thing one way or the other. We were charged with meditating once a day for 10 minutes. No problem, I could do that.

The first week was not that hard, 10 minutes isn’t a long time. However I started to have some pretty amazing things happen to me, from the get go! Early on, I started to feel a strong sense of love and compassion for the world. I’ve always been tuned into loving others, but I was told

Love Is All There Is

I believed Bob, love could very well be the ground of existence in this world, at least for our spiritual bodies. Its hard to argue with such a positive affirmation. I dwelt on the sanskrit translation of the phrase above and started to notice how much I felt comfortable around new people, how much I wanted people around me to be happy and peaceful, and how much they weren’t.

Virtual Spirituality: Technology as a Means of Spiritual Growth


Virtual Spirituality: Technology as a Means of Spiritual Growth

Sermon given on July 2, 2017 at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, TN by Daniel Buchanan

Before I say anything I want to say how much of an honor and a blessing to be able to speak to you today. I love this congregation and I consider it a bright chalice in Knoxville, leading people to truth and peace. It gives me great pride to be considered among your numbers and I so grateful to be here in meatspace.

My name is Daniel and I’ve been a nerd since I broke the family computer back in the 7th grade and had to fix it. I spent middle school and highschool tinkering and building computers and playing with computer hardware. I love using technology and I think it empowers people to do more than they could alone. Technology is a tool; how we use it is up to us.

So how can we use technology to further our UU agenda?

I think one thing we can all agree on today is the fact that religion brings people together. It is one of the primary functions of a religious institution to bring people together and form communities. Its one of the things I love SO much about TVUUC, and you folks are who keep me coming back. So how can we use technology to build loving communities and nourish healthy relationships with people?

Social media is the most advanced way we have to communicate.Social media connects us to everyone all at once, at any time. Social media allows us to share pictures, video, and words of encouragement with the world. From anywhere in the world. With only an internet connection, we have access to connect with people from all over the world. We can build communities online with social media, and we should.

We have our tribe in real life, and we have our tribe online. If we can, we stand to gain so much by way of garnering support outside of our immediate sphere of influence. The internet and social media allows us to communicate on such a large scale, we can change things from anywhere!

So how do we do that? Well one way we can make positive change online through social media is by sharing ideas and videos of things we believe. There is no reason not to do this. This is how you can support, literally support, the groups you believe in. By sharing our posts online from TVUUC and from other organizations that do good work and have a positive message for the world, you can be a messenger of goodness and positivity.

Also, another way to get involved on Twitter and Instagram is through Hashtags. This isn’t a technical idea. A hashtag is just a word with a pound sign or number sign in front of it. This establishes a dialogue online. Click the hashtag and you can read everything people have written using that hashtag. In other words, it indexes ideas around words. Try it today, search for hashtag #TVUUC and see what people have been sharing. Better yet, take a picture of the church and the people we love and use that hashtag to share it online. Find new hashtags, new words, and see what’s been said. As with all dialogues, we have to listen first, before we speak. A hashtag is a conversation, so see what’s being said, address others and get involved in the community.

I found a site called UU planet ( and they have a uu hashtag directory.

Another way is by giving reviews. By giving 5 star reviews and “Liking” pages that hold a view you like, you’re able to vote for the values you hold most dear. You’re able to personally join in the voices of people around the world, and in your community, as they support the organizations they love. By the end of the day, I want everyone here to give an honest, 5-star, review of TVUUC on whatever social media they use. Google, Facebook, Yelp, are some of the popular ones.  It will help the church (almost as much as your offering contribution!) That’s right, I’m sure Pastor Buice would kill me, but we need your likes and 5 star reviews as much as we need your financial support.

Okay I’m done spamming.

But seriously, everyone in here has a smart phone. By a show of hands, who here has a smart phone?

Who has a phone that is NOT online?

We have a pocket computer that we’re carrying around that can help spread our church’s message AT ANY TIME! We can get the Facebook app and share our church’s status updates and events out to our UNIQUE circle of friends!

Your mobile phone can help you connect in every way with people in your community. It can help build community in the places you are, with the people you’re with. Mobile devices are a miracle of technology. You have a more powerful computer in your pocket than the one that went to the moon. So let’s use it to spread love in Knoxville and East Tennessee!

Record your thoughts. Record the audio with a sound recorder and share it on Soundcloud. Record the video with your phone’s video camera, which is AMAZING by the way, and share that video on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and every other place that will take it. What you have to say is important to this generation, and to speak it to them, you need to put it where they are. And if you can’t get it there, you need to ask them how to do it. It will open up a dialogue you need to have with a young person. The way to communicate in today’s world.

I want to watch your video. Your friends want to watch your video. You family wants to watch your video. Be who you are, and you’ll attract people like you. Open up, be a person, and tell us what you think. The world needs more honesty and wisdom in this land of fake news and fake people.

Your smartphone is a tool for creation. You can draw pictures on it, whether or not you have a stylus. You can record music and loop it. You can make drum beats. You can play guitar on it with Garageband. You can also play piano and drums on it with Garageband. Make music now. Your heart wants to sing and your phone has a way to do it now.

Take and share more pictures. You know what plant that is. Take a picture of its discerning feature and point it out. People need to know and it is interesting. This generation isn’t shy and being outspoken is a trait that needs to be emulated. There are so many naturalists in this congregation who go out and hike and view nature. Share that with my kids. I want them to see it. Share that with me.

The most advanced way to communicate is with video. Video has a special power that is of presence. The ability to communicate with video is stronger than with any other media. Nothing captures a person like video. And you have the best video recorder in the world on your phone. Turn it on, set it up, and record yourself giving messages to the world. We want to hear what you have to say, and it’s important. Tell us the truth.

So I wanted to end on a futuristic note. I’ve had a chance in the last 5 years to get REALLY into virtual reality. I’ve done VR as basic as slapping an old phone on my head, and I’ve got two of the most advanced VR devices available. AT&T just flew me to Silicon Valley to tell them about VR (like they didn’t already know). Believe me, the irony of a good old east Tennessean traveling to the valley to teach vr was not lost on me!

This technology is here now and it will be the next way folks will communicate, work, and play. Virtual reality is a place where magic can happen. If you can imagine it, you can achieve it, in Virtual Reality. And it has never been so easy to get involved in making simulations and experiences in Virtual Reality that can capture the imagination of so many.

My grandma is one of the most technical people I know. She used to do office work for the theory group at Oak Ridge and was personally responsible for getting the theoretical physicists papers written up. One of my best recent memories of her is watching her paint in light and color in Google Tilt Brush. As she colored the air around her in virtual reality, we watched the colors appear on our TV behind her. She was like a kid again, so happy at this virtual reality painting simulation.

Virtual Reality is a portal into what existence is. What does it mean to experience the world? How close to reality can a simulation be? Can you forget what is real and what is virtual? The line between virtual and actual reality is blurring further by the day. As our digital selves become born and we live more of our life online and plugged in, we are transforming into a virtual Avatar of ourselves.

What is our ideal self? You can build that in VR and be it, even when you’re sick and in bed, or awake and on vacation. That ideal self can become you, to more people than you can meet in real life. You can interact with people around the world, passing pictures back and forth, and traveling to virtual experiences in 360 videos and photography.

My friend Jeris Miller is working on a 360 video of the standing rock protest over the Dakota access pipeline. She went and got into the protest and got some great footage, this is the camera she used. As you can see, its large and unwieldy, but she knew there was an experience there to share.

Virtual Reality is making it possible to have “presence” with people all over the world, from your living room. I build systems that allow you to go on Facebook in VR, play games in VR, watch movies in VR, and the possibilities are growing every day. More and more, people are becoming immersed with virtual worlds and becoming plugged in on a more permanent basis.

Now we can be skeptical of this technology. We can decry its siren song as fleeting and artificial. Or we can embrace the future and become what I believe is the next evolutionary step of humanity: digital lifeforms with electronic consciousness, sharing love and ideas at light speed.

So mote it be.

So I bought a huge VR gaming laptop

Picture of Alienware laptop with a bottle of sriracha

For about 4 years, I’ve been a hypocrite. I’ve been running a company called GetMorePC in Knoxville, TN, helping small businesses get their technology up and running, quick and efficient. I work on a Dell PC at home and a built PC at work. But when I go out to meet with clients, I bring my 15″ MacBook Pro. You heard that right: GetMorePC uses a Mac mobile.

Now let me be straight with you, this isn’t my main machine. Every time I turn it on, I’m stuck in update Hell for at least 30 minutes and yes, it happens on Macs too when you don’t use them often. My most frequented PCs at home and the office are used and abused on a daily basis, but they always take a lick and keep on ticking. Being PCs, they are upgradable. So I have upgraded the video card in my home PC to an NVidia GTX 980 to run my Oculus Rift and my HTC Vive. Runs like a champ. My only complaint is that Office 365 forces me to login like 20 times per activity I’m trying to accomplish on my account with Onedrive or Sharepoint. But I digress.

Picture of Alienware laptop with a bottle of sriracha

Sriracha for size

My Macbook Pro still runs great, I’ve even got a virtual PC running in VirtualBox on the Mac, for when I’ve just gotta run Visual Studios or something else not cloud-based. It will not run VR hardware, past my Oculus Rift Developers Kit 2. So I need an upgrade. I started searching for a suitable laptop that would run VR hardware and what that equates to in essence is a gaming laptop. In my mind, there is only one great brand of gaming laptops: Alienware.

Imagine to my surprise when I journeyed to Best Buy last night with the intention of only perusing their wares and I saw it: a 17″ Alienware laptop with the 7th generation Core i7 processor, 16GB memory, and a GTX 1070 graphics card. It was exactly what I’ve been looking for. I wanted to buy it locally in case I had problems that required a trip to the retail outlet. I was on the fence as to whether or not I should get it, but the sales guy told me I’d have 14 days to return it if I didn’t like it. I was sold.

I got this monster home and started setting it up, essentially plugging it in. Its very neon. The touchpad and sides of the display light up with neon colors that I can specify with their builtin app. Showy, but I liked it. One of the reasons I went with Alienware is that it didn’t look like a gaming laptop. There is no pretentious “Republic of Gaming” badge on the back or even a smirking gamer face, only a metallic low-key alien head.

It runs Windows 10, so of course I had problems setting it up out of the box. It had multiple updates for Windows and Alienware (Dell) that had to be installed before I could do anything with the laptop. Much to my surprise, the wireless was flaky from the get go. I noticed their Killer Wireless app was popping up and asking me to set a bandwidth limit. Okay, that gets turned off. I noticed it kept going offline while I was downloading updates. Off to download more drivers. All in all, I spent about 3-4 hours performing updates on the new laptop just to get it working like it should out of the box. Not what one expects with a $1800 laptop, but it is a PC.

Killer Wireless throttled my wireless out of the box and did not work. This killed me for a new laptop, so name checks out.

Now that I have it setup, I’m trying to download a few games, Assassins Creed Unity, Mass Effect Andromeda, and Grand Theft Auto V. I’m not getting dropped wireless anymore since I manually downloaded the latest Killer Wireless (because it dies often?) drive, directly from the Killer Wireless site. The official Dell drive failed to work properly and still dropped internet connection. This could be a how-to article on its own, since there is no documentation on the Dell site on how to get the wireless working out of the box.

So I bought a huge VR laptop. I haven’t tried the VR out on it yet, but the GTX 1070 should have no problems running the Oculus rift. I am short a few USB ports, but I’ll be able to use a USB hub (powered) to get the amount I need. I’ll give you a follow up in a week or so and let you know if I still own it. I want to love it, I really do, but I’ve been spoiled on this Macbook Pro.

Mansplaining in 2016: An Apology

Mansplaining is talking down to someone about something obvious.

I learned a new word today: Mansplaining. Before today, I thought the word meant explaining male things, things only a guy would know. I was wrong. Mansplaining is the act of explaining something obvious in a condescending way. Imagine a guy telling you about his sports team. His ideas rock. He’s got the best arguments for his way of thinking. You’re wrong.

So mansplaining is explaining something obvious; what can we do with that knowledge? Well for starters, I am knowingly not going to explain things to people anymore without their consent. Just the question, “Do you want to know more?” might be enough to ward off potential Mansplaining. I’m sure I’ve been guilty of it and I’m sorry.

Mansplaining is talking down to someone about something obvious.

Now this is tough for me because I’m an IT guy. We already have the reputation as being condescending. A client told me early on that I seemed different when I delivered IT services, fixed a printer, installed Quickbooks, backed up a server. I explained things to them in ways they could understand and they like that. Who would have though that understanding the concept of metaphor and being a storyteller could help in Information Technology?

So I’m coining a new word: Proascension! Proascension is talking up in a positive way to a person. It’s the opposite of con-descend, its pro-ascend. So if I started talking up to you and asking you questions, I really want to know the answers. I’ll try not to interject my two cents worth and find nice parallels in my life. I’ll let this just be about you.

Lucky Nineteen


Joseph Young was only 16 when he married his first wife, Sarah, a nice girl who had given him eyes all through Sunday service. Much to her father’s complaint, they had dated for about three months and gotten married just South of their hometown of Smithsview, Missouri. She was pregnant in less than a month. It was the summer of 1911.

Joseph was a Latter Day Saint. At first, the Mormons practiced polygamy out of necessity for believers. Now, the church looked down on polygamy for legal reasons. Joseph believed God’s law was supreme; he should marry many. Sarah had not been keen on the idea at first.

“Another wife?” she said. “Am I not enough?”

“Honey, God wants me to free the souls in the pre-existence.” This hadn’t worked as well as he’d planned. She had burst into tears the moment Joseph had introduced her to Angela.

“We don’t have to do this, Joe,” Angela had said.

“Yes, but I love you. It’ll take some getting used to, but eventually we’ll all be one family of God.”

He’d had trouble finding a preacher to perform the service. Finally he located a Rev. Donald Sweezy, native to East Iowa. Sweezy had been excommunicated by the Church for plural marriages back in 1906, but he’d continued to perform the services out of the back of his garage for a small fee. Sarah cried the whole time.

On the way back, Joseph showered Angela with kisses and affectionate talk. Sarah sat in the back of their black Model A and sulked at their giggles.

“Can’t you wait until we get home,” Sarah said.

“Shhh,” Angela said. “He’s trying to drive.” She shot an angry look at Sarah and licked Joseph’s neck. He laughed loudly and swerved off onto the shoulder of the road. The car passed over an unseen nail and punctured a tire. The loud Flump-flump-flump told Joseph something was wrong.

He got out of the car and began jacking the side up. The women stood around outside of the vehicle.

“You know he loved me first,” Sarah said.

“Yeah but he loves me now,” Angela said.

“I love the both of you,” Joseph said. “Equally. With God’s eternal love.”

“Well God loved me first,” Sarah said. Angela rolled her eyes. By this time, Joseph had let the car down and the three got back in and drove back to Missouri. They rode back in silence.




Wife three had angered even the easy-going Angela. Her name was Theresa and she was only 16 years old. Joseph had met her at church and bartered with her father for her hand in marriage. Her father was a bit skeptical and wondered if three wives would be too much for the Joseph, who was barely 21.

“I am doing the work of God,” Joseph said. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. I’ll be fine.”

The drive to Rev. Sweezy’s old garage had been tense. Angela and Sarah sat in the back of the Model A, both staring out of opposite windows. Theresa was fascinated with Joseph’s independence.

“How can you just take off and leave the state like that,” she asked. “I’ve barely been out of the house.” He laughed.

“You’ve just gotta go,” he said.

In Iowa, Rev. Sweezy took Joseph’s money and performed the ceremony. There were no witnesses except Sarah and Angela, who cried the whole time.

“Wife number three,” Sweezy asked after the service. “Getting on up there, huh Joe?”

“Lemme tell ya’,” he replied. “It sure ain’t easy. It’s my duty though and I’m not a man to fall short of his responsibilities.” Joseph tipped his hat at Rev. Sweezy and got back into the car to drive home.

Joseph eventually acquired 18 wives, all of different sort. He had fat ones, thin ones, cooks and cleaners. Wife number 15 could sew a mean crochet and several of the girls were good with the children. As soon as Sarah and Angela had gotten pregnant, Theresa had been quick to follow. All in all, the family had 26 children by Joseph’s 40th birthday, the day he resolved to stop getting married.

At first, the wives had a hard time getting used to the way things worked. The bickering eventually subsided, however, and the house hummed along like a fine-tuned machine. One woman’s weaknesses balanced out another’s strengths, giving Joseph quite the formidable working crew. He assigned them various chores and arranged their weekly duties, leaving the house clean, warm and quiet.

One day as Joseph was walking back from Sunday service, he noticed a young girl with curly blonde hair and shining blue eyes.

“Hey,” he said, smiling. “Who are you?”

“I’m Langley Parker’s daughter, Melissa,” she said. “We just moved into the area a week ago. I’ve barely gotten a chance to meet anyone. Who might you be?”

“The name’s Young, Joseph Young. I do maintenance work for the Mormon Church here in Smithsview. Do you attend services?”

“No, my parents are atheists. My father is a doctor and my mother is a midwife.”

“Hmmm,” Joseph said. “Would you like to have lunch with me?”

“Well sure,” she said. “Let’s eat in the park.”

Joseph looked the young girl over on his way to the creek next to the oak tree. She was right pretty in his eyes. He heard the voice of The Lord in the babbling brook telling him this was to be his next wife.

“Yes Lord, I hear your word,” he said out loud.

“What’s that?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said. “Would you marry me?”

She blushed and looked away. “Why ask me such a forward question? I’m only 22.”

“It just seemed right,” he said. “A girl your age needs a husband.”

“No man has ever asked me to marry him,” she said. “I’m sorry if I was harsh. I’m just really careful when it comes to lifelong decisions.”

“I understand,” he said standing up. “Let me know if you change your mind.”

As he walked back towards the house, Joseph began to chew at the inside of his cheek. He saw Sarah standing at the driveway holding a bag of what smelled like dirty diapers.

“Michael and Peter have chicken pox,” she said. “Luke and Brigham are starting to develop a mean cough. I sent Emily to her room early because she didn’t eat her lunch.”

“Okay,” Joseph said. He looked towards the field behind their house and noticed the shed door swinging open. He thought about Melissa’s eyes and the way they never stayed locked with his. “Is dinner almost ready?”

“Yes,” she said. “The girls are finishing up the mashed potatoes right now. We’ll eat at five.”

“I’ll meet you inside,” he said. She walked back towards the house as he walked towards the backyard. He heard several children running upstairs and listened as the windows rattled. Melissa’s words kept running through his head. He stood at the swinging shed door and looked inside. Assorted shovels littered the floor alongside a stuffed rabbit. Joseph picked up the stuffed rabbit and threw it out into the yard.




The next day, he saw Melissa walking from the Post Office. Her long red dress shined in the sunlight. He walked up to her.

“I have 18 wives,” he said. She looked at him.

“Do you? That’s quite a feat.” She walked on.

“Does that not tell you that I’m a good husband?”

“No it doesn’t. How could you get to know 18 women at the same time?”

“Well it kind of happened over the course of about 20 years,” he said, thinking of Sweezy’s garage services.

“Are you happy with them?” she asked. Joseph hesitated.

“Well of course I’m happy. I’ve got what every man dreams of: women to cook, women to clean house, and women to raise the children. I get to devote all of my time to the church.” His voice trailed off.

“Women can do more than cook and clean, you know,” She smiled while looking at a tall man walking by with dark hair. The tall man smiled back and kept walking.

“I can’t stop thinking about what you said about making lifelong decisions. I’ve never met anyone like you.” He looked down at the ground of muddy clay.

“Maybe you’re just upset because I didn’t give you the answer all the other girls did,” she said.

“Maybe,” he replied.

“My parents taught me to ask questions and to never be satisfied with the answers until they make sense. Your question didn’t make sense, but it does now. I really have to get going. Goodbye, Joseph.”

He said goodbye and waved as she went down the road. He returned to his house and Sarah was standing by the street again.

“Several other children have gotten the chicken pox, I think,” she said.

“We’ll need to quarantine their room,” Joseph said. “We’ll keep them together until they’re better.”

“Okay. Emily didn’t eat her lunch again today. She complained that she was fat. I told her she wasn’t. I don’t know where she get these ideas.” Sarah went on.

“She’s not fat. I’ll talk to her later. I’m going out back.”

“Okay, but dinner’s almost ready.”

Joseph walked towards his shed. He heard the loud running of the children through the house and a woman’s voice screaming for them to stop. Suddenly a tiny body fell through the window just to his left. The glass fell away from the house in shards. The boy hit the ground hard and didn’t get up.

“Are you alright, Joseph?” The child yelled as Joseph tried to roll him over. Several of the children looked out the second floor window in awe. Joseph knelt down and felt the boy’s arm. It folded in the middle of the wrist like it shouldn’t. The boy cried harder.

“I think your wrist is broken, we’re going to have to call the doctor.”

He pulled the boy’s body upright and carried him into the house. After calling for the doctor, Joseph sat by the boy and listened to him cry. The other children all gathered around and stared as tears ran down his reddened face. When the doctor arrived, Joseph noticed Melissa was with him.

“Hello. I’m Dr. Watts and this is my assistant Melissa. Did you say the boy has a broken wrist?”

“Yes, I think its broken. Hello, Melissa,” he said grinning sheepishly. “The boy is right in the living room.”

As the doctor looked the boy over, the family crowded around to watch. Joseph watched as Melissa held the wrist bone in place while Dr. Watts made a cast. Joseph thought she was beautiful in her white nurse’s outfit—not unlike an angel. When he was finished, Dr. Watts told the boy how to treat the arm to take care of it.

“And don’t be rough with all of your friends here,” he said smiling.

“These are not my friends,” the boy said. “These are my brothers and sisters.”

Dr. Watts’s forehead crinkled. He grabbed Melissa’s hand and stood up.

“Well that’s interesting. Come, Melissa. We must be on our way.” The two hastily stood up and walked out the door. Joseph handed him 20 dollars.

“Its all I’ve got,” he said.

“It will be fine,” Dr. Watts replied. “Just keep that boy inside.”

The two left the house as Joseph waved goodbye. He went back around to his shed, ignoring the questions of Sarah and Angela about the doctor.

“I’ll be in shortly and I’ll tell you then,” he said. The house was quiet.




It was two months before Joseph saw Melissa again. He had been doing less work at the church and it showed. The door to the Sunday school room was about to fall of its hinges, several pews had broken arms, and the grass had grown up in the churchyard. He stopped going to meetings, but he still felt the children should go. Each woman took her own children to church every Sunday while Joseph stayed at home.

One Sunday when Joseph had been sitting in his shed, a familiar figure appeared at the doorway.

“I thought you might stay back here,” Melissa said. “Why aren’t you at church?”

“I can’t go anymore…” his voice trailed off. He looked like he was about to cry.

“What have you done?” she asked.

“The Lord’s work!” he yelled at her. “Since day one, I’ve only sought to further His cause and His Kingdom.”

“And in doing so,” she said.

“I think I’ve been left behind.”

“You can always start over.”

“How,” he asked. “I’ve already done all this.”

“I don’t know, but nothing is final but death. I think you might find a way. I’ve been accepted to medical school in New York. I’m moving next week. I came to say goodbye.”

Joseph’s eyes widened. “You can’t leave. You’re the only one that seems to know what’s going on. You’ve got to help me.”

“Joseph, I can’t.” She turned to walk away and he grabbed her arm.

“I love you. Let me go with you.”

“Joseph…” she looked into his eyes. He built up the courage to kiss her. Their embrace lasted only a second. She pulled away and walked out the door, not looking back. Joseph sat crying in his shed until the family came home.

Sarah called him into the house for dinner. They ate at the long table in silence.

Pick a Path: A Critique of Pure Universalism

paths to the mountaintop

Good Morning! I want to start with a quote from Hunter Thompson:

No man is so foolish but he may sometimes give another good counsel, and no man so wise that he may not easily err if he takes no other counsel than his own. He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.


Hunter Thompson, an American Journalist and Writer.

Being a storyteller, I want to propose a temporary suspension of disbelief today. I’m going to make some claims that may not be true in every case, but please try to discern the spirit of what I’m saying. Just ride with me for a few minutes and let me drive.

Today’s sermon is Pick a Path: A Critique of Pure Universalism. Now you might ask yourself, Why criticize Universalism? As Socrates said, the unexamined life isn’t worth living, so we question. I mean, isn’t that what intolerance is: a fear of questioning and finding answers? We want to know the truth, that’s why we’re here. We fight the status quo. That’s what we do, we’re rebels. Nothing is off limits and dissent is in our blood. We’re heretics because we dare to practice the heresy of choice. We can change our minds about our spiritual path.

Spiritual Paths

The path we take is special.

But thats not why I’m here today. I’m here today to speak of the virtues of NOT changing your mind about your spiritual path, but rather, of Picking a Path, and following it a bit longer than feels comfortable. I don’t want to kill universalism, I want to make it stronger.

Now I guess I should define elephant in the room, “Universalism.” So what is Universalism?

Universalism (wikipedia – universalist dictionary) refers to religious, theological, and philosophical concepts with universal application or applicability. Universalism is a term used to identify particular doctrines considering all people in their formation.

I would call it a Religion concerned with finding Universal Truths that apply to everyone. It is the search for Universal Ideals from all religions and a harmony of pluralism, a multitude of ideas. A diversity of beliefs all working together towards a better humanity. My Papaw, the Reverend Ernest Huskey, was an independent and reformed baptist preacher. He told me early on in life that all religions were hubs to the same spoke. He used a Hindu metaphor.

All Religions are Spokes to the same Hub

All religions are spokes to the same hub, a universal truth and the beginning of education.

Ultimately this implies an equality among religions, a universal application of religious and spiritual truths across boundaries. Its all Good! Thomas Starr King, another Unitarian and Freemason, said: Universalists believe that God is too good to damn people, and the Unitarians believe that people are too good to be damned by God.

Thomas Starr King

The famous Californian Thomas Starr King was both Unitarian and Freemason, a rare combination these days.

And for those of us with fundamentalist friends or family who think Universalism is unbiblical, Here is a passage from the Christian bible. 1 John Chapter 4, verse 7-8: “My dear friends, let us love one another, since love is from God and everyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. Whoever fails to love does not know God, because God is love.”

We dare believe that like Christ said, God is Love, an equalizing force that embraces us and moves us all equally, despite racial, cultural, economic, or any other defining trait of a person. I, and other Christian Universalist propose that: Christ died for everyone’s sins, not just the Christians. So knowing that, what should we do with our lives? This is the idea of Universal Reconciliation that comes out of the Universalist Christian Tradition, our tradition.

Another perhaps more rational way to arrive at a similar conclusion is through scientific reason. Thankfully we have the scientific method as a way of arriving at universal scientific laws that apply universally. The law of gravity works everywhere, regardless of religious preference or spiritual path. I have fallen in love with the idea of rational scientific inquiry into the mysteries of the universe with Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s Cosmos. The opening scene compares all sort of macro items, like nebulae and satellites with micro forms, like the human eyeball or the seeds of a dandelion. In the occult studies we have a saying, “The macrocosm mirrors the microcosm,” and nowhere is this more present than in the natural sciences, where we are constantly faced with new visions that remind us of ourself.


We notice similarities between ourselves and nature and we put our numbers and symbols over top of natural patterns and discern fractals and geometric patterns that are universal and genetic. Its like mathematical laws are universally seeded in our planets DNA and we are starting to understand that.

The beauty of religion and the beauty of science both tie back into the beauty of the people that live on this planet. We see reflections of ourselves in the math that we create, however we can quickly slide into scientific determinism. If all are so similar and there are these underlying truths, then what do we have as individuals? We run the risk in trying to find universal truths of homogenizing everything into a blob. One time we left a bottle of gummy vitamins in our car, only to find that days later, it had all melted together. What were once individual pieces of vitamins and minerals separately were combined into a poison. That giant gummy bear blob of vitamins contained more iron that a person should have and would have caused an overdose if anyone were to eat it. This isn’t a metaphor, iron is dangerous and children would love to eat a huge gummy bear.

Melted Gummy Bears

Melted gummy bears are probably the best food in the universe. That is a universal truth unto itself.

We are those children and I dare say that the melted gummy bear of all the world’s faiths runs the risk of killing our individual faith traditions today. Here is a Universal Truth from my mystical gummy bear, to start with,

All are One

How boring is this? I know, I know… it is a mystical truth among all faiths, the mystical union of the individual with the whole, but I like me! I want to be me, not necessarily as one with all, but separate and individual. I’m not sure I’m ready to dissolve my ego all the way just yet, I still have some stuff to do on Earth! Besides, the idea of a universal one offers no diversity, no identity, no differences, no variety and no spice! I’m not ready to be assimilated into the Borg collective!

There is a Swahili word I came across in my journey: UBUNTU. It means “I am because of who we all are.” It does not mean I am because we all are. There has to be identify and uniqueness for something sacred to emerge.

Now I want to examine more closely Universalism under the microscope of my reason. I speak for myself, not on any authority other than my own, so take it for what its worth. With Universalism, how can humanity ever know anything? Sure we have scientific inquiry, but does that leave room for spiritual growth and the following of a path? Where do we get our spiritual authority? Early humans looked to religion, later we learned of philosophical inquiry, and now we have direct observation of the natural world to derive our own understanding of reality. We meditate and walk in nature to learn directly the secrets of Mother Nature, so there must still be Universal Truths to be discovered, they aren’t all found yet!

Listen closely to the sound of the wind blowing,

Listen closely to the sound of the wind blowing.

Another question I have is, How can we be so cautious and comfortable as to homogenize everyone? There is an inherent danger in naive universalism. Is the person you’re standing in front of just like you? How do you know? We continue to discover, through discourse and through inquiry that they are in fact very different from us, so how dare we try to make universal declarations about what is and what isn’t? There is constant change in the air, and that change has to start with us today.

Finally, If Universalism is adopted, how can we continue to increase in knowledge? Do we already know everything? Universalism is a sort of final chapter in religion, we all know that, but maybe this story has another chapter. I am not ready to discount the mystical experience of an individual as invalid to my experience, especially if that person has a message for me and offers words of encouragement. I’m not quite sure I’m ready to write the final chapter and rise in abstractions to the level of the Universal.

UU Chalice

We believe in all faiths having wisdom.

With these examinations, I am hinting at an underlying structure to universalism that I want to take apart. So what kind of polarities can we find in Universalism?

How about Us and Them? In so many instances the us and them we build in our head is false upon further investigation. About a month ago, I did my first Pridefest Parade in Knoxville. I was so glad to stand in solidarity with my LGBTQ siblings and my large human family in all of its diversity and distinction on that day. I got out of my comfort zone and discovered another group, like me. We are all us together, so maybe us and them doesn’t work so well anymore.

Lets talk about Liberals and Conservatives. We all know the terminology, but do we understand the polarity. What we call liberal in this country is more of a conservative ideology in Europe, especially with healthcare and education. We’re way behind, even the progressives in this country! I’ve also been told that 20% of people identify as Liberal, 20% of people identify as Conservative, and 60% of people are smack dab in the middle just looking to get by and don’t necessarily identify as either extreme of the scale.

Okay here’s another weird case of polarities gone awry: cool and uncool churches. Think about this phrase, “I go to the coolest church on the street.” How many people here believe that. I know I do, but I did at the last church I went to as well! How many other parishioners up and down the street also believe the same? Everyone justifies their church as the coolest, but that can’t be true because they’re teaching/preaching a lot of different things. So how can there be differences if all are one?

Cool Church

No church will ever be this cool.

These polarities don’t work for me. We want to put people in boxes, we want to call people names like Liberal, Conservative, Man, Female, etc, but every name we call is just a signifier, a symbol, for a unique person. There are as many polarities as people in the world, 8 billion polarities, all shifting and changing all the time, because there is no static. Change is the only constant. When we try to oversimplify complexity, we lose a lot. We lose more about people that makes them special and we put them in a box.

Now I want to outright criticize universalism, this belief I love, because I want to make it stronger. We have barely scraped the atmosphere into our solar system and we declare ourselves universalists. We barely know what a universe is, and that idea keeps changing and getting bigger as our understanding grows and changes about it. Maybe god lives on another planet? Maybe there are higher beings on another plane of existence that we can’t understand? How dare we call ourselves universalists when we haven’t left the solar system. How brash of us to be so bold and prideful to call ourselves universalists. We should repent of this hubristic pride and acknowledge the fact that our knowledge is very limited, although growing, before we look for truths here on Earth.

If somebody'd said before the flight, "Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?" I would have say, "No, no way." But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried. -Alan Sheperd

If somebody’d said before the flight, “Are you going to get carried away looking at the earth from the moon?” I would have say, “No, no way.” But yet when I first looked back at the earth, standing on the moon, I cried. -Alan Sheperd

I also worry that in Universalism, we don’t allow for innovation, no new religion or spiritual formation is allowed. No special revelation would ever be allowed in our service, except for one within a faith tradition accepted by our congregation, or one of the world’s major religions.

There are NO UU prophets, because we would shut them down. I could hear us now, “Well that’s true for you, but that isn’t true for me,” or “we need to form a task force to verify these claims.” Can we not still find universal truths and tell each other about them? I hope you hear what I’m trying to say. I’m not saying that I have some holy message, but I might, and if I did, I would want to tell people about it at my CHURCH. That should be our new definition of universalism: something I discovered that applies to others. But that might get some of us in trouble as others might not want to hear it.

To tout universalism is to distill down the complexity of human experience to pithy truths and make altruism as the end all be all. Now I love altruism as much as the next UU, but there has to be something more. Something intangible, something real, beyond words and symbols! I want the next thing. I want an eternal all pervasive energy to become the ground of my being and to permeate the existence of this congregation. I want a Spirit of Life, not a dead prophets observation.

paths to the mountaintop

To get to the mountain top, you have to at least pick a path.

There is an Ancient Japanese Saying that says, There are many paths up the Mountain, but the view of the moon from the top is the same. This is ultimately our Universal Truth in this congregation: that we all have different paths, but the same goal. I can’t say what the path should be, and I can’t say what the goal is, but I can say that if getting to the mountain top is your goal, then you have to Pick a Path. Pick a Path! We as UU’s have the power to chose. It is what makes us the lovable heretics we are: we dare to practice the heresy of Choice, but we have to make that choice to get started on the internal work that we have to do.

The opposite of love isn’t hate, the opposite of love is apathy.

Helen Keller: Science may have found a cure for most evils; but it has found no remedy for the worst of them all—the apathy of human beings.

I agree with Helen Keller: apathy is the worst human evil. How can we not care about the most important decision we have to make in our life? What to do with ourselves? To not make a decision is a decision after enough time, so bear that in mind if you want to table the decision for a while longer. I’m here to encourage you to pick a path and to share your experiences of that path with this congregation. I for one want to hear about it. Despite what you’ve heard, our human journey up the mountain is special and unique and individual to us. I am not happy knowing that we’re all moving in the same direction, I want to know how we’re different as well. And I want to affirm our differences together today in Love.

Paul Thompson: And what is most remarkable is that the closer they come to the summit, where the One sits, the closer they draw to each other, the closer their paths come, and the fewer and fewer are the distinguishing features of the “many” paths, until they know — at last — unity in the One. Only in the One.

Another Paul Thompson speaking directly to us universalists: So do not make a creed or an idol out of “many paths”! Keep your eyes upon the One.

So I’m here to help us all Start Back Over and suggest today that we want a temporary suspension of disbelief! We want to turn off the critical part of us that is on autopilot and complacent and I want to challenge you to take an intuitive leap of faith. Today I ask you to set an Intention and Purpose in your life to go up that mountain with us at TVUUC! Let’s agree that there is a goal bigger than us at the Top of the Mountain and all agree to support each other in our respective paths. Individuals. Going Forward. Together. Unique. Loving. So Mote it Be. Amen.

This Part Gets Me the Most


The last story I heard was ended with a disclaimer:
this part gets me the most
tacked on like proof of extraterrestrials or demons,
when in “reality”, none know the revival of reverant rangers.
None really know about the prisons,
surrounding hair’s palace,
which girds them like sick panda sumo wrestlers,
cut off from bamboo, their only source of food.
this part gets me the most:
The road to heaven is paved with bad intentions.

Big Town, Small Town


This weekend I had the unfortunate pleasure of visiting my grandmother’s family in Griggsville, Illinois. A pleasure because I genuinely had a good time meeting and getting to know my out-of-state family and the people of the small 1200-person township in South Western Illinois, about 50 miles west of Springfield. Unfortunate because I had to make this homecoming under the purpose of a family death; my Grandmother’s brother had passed away and she had to go up there to take care of family business

I’m not going to lie, it’s a long trip. I went up through Lexington, KY, up past the confusing jumbled mess that is Louisville, KY, the bottleneck of the nation. I drove three times around the city before finally getting pointed in the right direction and progressing up towards Indianapolis, IN and then West towards Springfield. Get a map if you need to. I’ll wait.

My Google Navigation on my wife’s traded Incredible 2 got me to the front door of the bed and breakfast where we stayed, unbelievable to my Grandma. I made the trip in 10 ½ hours. The first things I noticed when I got to the farm were the stars. In Knoxville, we must have many more lights and clouds and trees covering up the stars in the sky. Up in Griggsville, it was as if the sky were opened up and we were standing directly underneath it unimpeded. I swear I could see the Milky Way galaxy, a darker, almost cloud-like swath of white, on a clear night. The picture I tried to take looks like a fully black canvas, or unexposed photo paper.

Griggsville, Illinois was founded in 1833 by my 6-great grandfather, Daniel Dean. He founded the town and he was the first mayor. A fiery bearded man, he was a farmer and made a community of farmers to share resources and help split expenses up among the township, or something like that. I really don’t know what he did, but I know what he didn’t do: shave. The man had a beard on him like an 1849 gold digger: rough and unkempt. His picture was paraded down the streets of Griggsville accompanied by the words, “Remember our Heritage.”

Arriving for the first time in downtown Griggsville, the town of my family, the town of my ancestry, felt like a homecoming without the singing, which really isn’t much of a homecoming at all. For the first time in my life, I feel like I’m someone, like I’ve got a place here, like I can make a difference. The small population doesn’t concern itself with modern luxuries like computers and wireless Internet, much to my disheartening. I had to settle for Verizon’s extended network, which still did allow me to make and receive calls, and use data. We’ll see if they hit me with a roaming charge.

Making my way around downtown Griggsville was lonely. I walked off on my own, away from the family, to get a feel for the small town. There weren’t many people walking around, but those who were seemed to know each other. I noticed a girl walk a long way to briefly visit a bar, then go off on her way again, which I thought was odd. What happened in those brief minutes? Why come such a long way if only to stay for such a brief time? Somethings not right here.

When I saw my great-uncle Norman’s house, it was much more modern than I expected. I envisioned a white farmhouse, surrounded by rows of cornfield. There were plenty of those in Griggsville, but not this house. This was a basement rancher like any other suburban house in a semi-dense downtown neighborhood. The sidewalk sat up closer to the house than I thought it should. People shouldn’t get that close to their neighbors. And it’s not like there is a lot of traffic to warrant a health fear of walking near the road. I glanced over once and saw two young teenagers enjoying each others company, then kissing. Young love is so sweet, I thought, and here of all places must be heaven.

My great uncle Norman was a collector of antiques. The antiques he had were old machines and inventions used to make a man’s job easier in times before computers and electric implements, things like a popcorn shucker, made smaller to handle the tiny kernels of popcorn shaved off into eager bowls for popping. The littlest things make for the most beauty, relatively speaking.

The receiving of friends is a blur. I met so many people I can only tell you about the one’s that stick out distinctly. First and foremost is my Grandma’s cousin Robert Sleight, who has visited me in Knoxville recently, which I found to be most agreeable. Hanging out at Bob’s house felt like Griggsville could even be home, like this could happen for me, and for the family. We found a front quarter of deer meat on his golf cart turned hunting cart, painted black to hide better.

It was open season and hunters were migrating to Griggsville to pick off the deer that roamed the corn fields and surrounding forests. There was a whole economy in serving the hunters, hotels and lodges. My own bed and breakfast had been often home to a weary hunter, sure to leave his muddy boots outside the door. The owners of the house and adjoining apartment were a late middle aged couple who were part time farmers and hospitality hosts, bringing in out-of-towners to stay in their home for the night. They had original breakfast items, always good and always plentiful. I ate well of pancakes and hard boiled eggs, washed down with orange juice and coffee.

Griggsville was the Purple Martin capital of the nation, claiming purple street names as a nod to the mosquito-eating bird. The Purple Martin could devour up to 2,000 mosquitoes in a day, making me thing that a health population of these birds would be nice for Knoxville on a hot summer day. Their tall birdhouses decorated the city square and surrounding houses, offering nesting places for the birds, absent the weekend I was there. I was told that there was a place in South America that all of the Purple Martins retired to every fall and winter, which was the capital of the world in population of these birds. Maybe this distant retreat encompassed the world’s Griggsvilles, the world’s homeland of ancestry and heritage. Maybe this bird devoured the record of any historical authenticity and created a haven of second place small towns, one for every nation, so no one felt left out.

Small towns can be big business if you’re in the business of making money. Griggsville, I was told by my grandfather, had several millionaires, made with good seasons and and high corn and soybean prices. But no one seemed wealthy. The most obvious tell of well-to-do farming families were nice sunglasses, used to hide the faces of wives wanting to avoid the hot, arid sun, beating down on hot October days.

The gift and the curse of the curious is the need to ask questions. Wherever I go in life, I bring my curiosity desire to learn, and farmland is no exception. I had several misconceptions corrected during this trip, most of which had to do with important things like nutrition and a farmer’s responsibilities. I had heard corn had no nutritional value. I don’t believe that any more.

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