First Unitarian Church of Worcester

Sermons, Memos and other writings from the newsletter and worship services of the First Unitarian Church of Worcester. The First Unitarian Church is located at 90 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01608. Our phone is 508-757-2708 and our webpage is A audio CD is produced for almost every one of our regular services. Call our office or send a note to the office at our website to request that one be shipped to you.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

"A Killer Wallet" By Barbara Merritt

My oldest son Robert, on a brief visit home from West Africa, showed us his wallet. He said that it had killed a man in his village of Kanfarande in Guinea. As my eyes grew wide, he explained that the wallet (and his belt) had been made from the skin of a boa constrictor.

This particular snake had laid in waiting by the river. And when a man (we’ll call him “Bouba”.) came down to the river to work, the snake attacked. As is the practice of these reptiles, first he squeezed “Bouba” to death. Then the boa unhinged his jaw and swallowed him whole. Unfortunately for the snake, once you have consumed a meal that large, you can’t move for several hours.

When “Bouba” did not return from the river some villagers went looking for him. On the river bank they noticed the boa constrictor with a Bouba-size bulge in the middle. So they killed the snake and made quite a few wallets and belts and purses from his skin. Robert, as a respected teacher in the village, was presented with both a wallet and a belt.

Lifting my jaw off the ground, I re-assessed my own worries. The dangers that most of us face in America from the natural world (poison ivy, mosquito bites, hay fever) pale in comparison with life and death battles for survival in the wild. The relative security of the city and the suburbs protects us from the sudden attack of the tiger, or the deadly constrictions of a snake.

My son brought home to his family and friends a suitcase full of West African gifts and asked us to choose a few things we’d like. When I first saw a small purse make from a boa snakeskin, I shuddered. This was not my esthetic, nor my style. But after I heard the story of the wallet, I grabbed that purse for my very own. I now have it sitting on my desk. My intention is that this purse will announce to all the snakes of the world, “If you crush, hurt or swallow my child or any child of God, you will become an accessory! We will tan your hide and sew you into articles of clothing and fashion. Do not harm humanity! Go away…NOW!”

I freely concede that very few boa constrictors will be passing through my office to see their brother or sister snake fashioned into a clutch purse. But it makes me feel better. It occurs to me that there are many symbolic actions where human beings post announcements. These declarations may not change the planet, but they do serve to express our priorities, intentions and values.

Picking up a piece of litter on your morning walk does not clean all the streets and beautify the entire city. But it does improve one small section of the sidewalk. Recycling a plastic tray that held your fruit from the grocery store will not have any measurable affect on global warming. But it makes you aware that resources are finite. With our small actions we announce that we want to conserve and care for the earth.

What I love about the prospect of “In-Gathering Sunday” on September 10, at First Unitarian Church is that our corporate worship is also a kind of announcement, a “Post-it,” of values and commitments. When we assemble for worship and fellowship, we proclaim to the world:

v We are meant to be together, not alone.

v We are meant to sing and to hear wonderful music.

v We are called to be in relationship with all kinds of people: old and young, married and single, gay and straight, Republicans and Democrats, believers and unbelievers.

v We believe that narrow creeds and dogmas and doctrinal conformity will lead us away from what is true and real and sustaining.

v We believe that a spiritual search is best done in circumstances of complete freedom of mind, heart and spirit.

v We want to be of service to all.

Our announcements, symbolic and otherwise, are made in our sacred assemblies. They are also observable in the way we drive our cars down the highway. We might not always be aware, but we are constantly telling one another who we are and what we care about. One of my favorite lines from “The Book of Mirdad” puts it more poetically:

So think as if your every thought were to be etched in fire upon the sky for all and everything to see. For so, in truth, it is.

So speak as if the world entire were but a single ear intent on hearing what you say. And so, in truth, it is.

See you in church!



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