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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

"Who Done It" -- Memo by Rev. Barbara Merritt

To my knowledge, I have never made the acquaintance of murderers. (There was once a homeless man who came into my office and said (and I quote), “It’s not true that I murdered all those people in Vermont.” I gave him the benefit of the doubt.)

I have known and buried far too many people who have been murdered by violent individuals, by drunk drivers, by terrible accidents. There is hardly any greater tragedy than having a life violently and abruptly ended. Sadly, those who murder themselves through suicide have also participated in the same violent assault, only against themselves rather than towards a stranger. Murder is always a horrible way to die.

Which makes it all the more puzzling that my chief means of escape this summer (and now continuing on into the fall) is the murder-mystery novel. I am astonished that such stories of the breakdown of human relationships has become my recreation, my consolation and my refuge.

I can come up with some plausible explanations. I love to read stories with happy endings. And I haven’t yet, nor do I ever hope to encounter a detective novel where the bad guys don’t get caught, where justice is not administered and where the innocent are not completely exonerated. (As my own life descends into increased chaos, it is comforting to read about a world blessed with order.)

There is a strange universalism in the Agatha Christie novels I have just started reading. Pretty much all the characters are considered “likely suspects” at the beginning. Everyone has a motive. Everyone has a secret. No one is as they appear to be. As Miss Marple explains in The Murder at the Vicarage, “Normal people do such astonishing things sometimes, and abnormal people are sometimes so very sane and ordinary.” There is something quite wonderful about following a narrative where right up to the end, the reader doesn’t know how the plot will resolve itself. (Can I travel the narrative of my own life happily not knowing how the story will end?)

Agatha Christie brings the added bonus of often making me laugh out loud as she describes the quirkiness of human nature. I am quite taken with detective Hercule Poirot’s method of finding out who the murderer is, using psychology and a genuine depth of understanding about what motivates human behavior. After spending time with Poirot, I am beginning to observe those deadly attributes of most murderers: fear, anger and arrogance.

The fear is toxic and pervasive; the murderer is sure that they cannot get what they need, that certain destruction awaits them, that they cannot trust that there will be adequate resources. The anger is almost always that of a victim: “I’ve been cheated and abused, short-changed and oppressed.” It is inevitably their arrogance that brings about the ultimate capture of the murderer. They are certain they are clever enough not to get caught. They’ve been able to justify the most violent of acts, so they also go on to justify even more reckless behavior. Their pride disables their ability to ask for needed help and assistance. (Fear, anger and arrogance are the greatest disabilities any of us face.)

Human beings seek escape from daily stress in all kinds of creative ways. Some go on board sailboats and head out onto the open seas. Some bury their heads in a good book. Some hike up mountains. Others focus on making quilts or listening to great music or weeding the garden. We seek out places where we can encounter harmony, predictability and the glorious liberation from the worries of our own minds.

On our travels we will encounter both the heights and depths of human nature. May we return to our daily lives energized, refreshed and again ready to take on the mysterious demands of our own unique existence.



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