Minister’s Message

Dear Holy Ones,

We celebrate Flower Communion in  early June because that’s when Rev. Capek first celebrated it with his congregation Unitaria in Prague in 1924.  The words with which we consecrated the flowers Sunday will be the words he wrote and used for the ceremony.  Rev. Capek celebrated Flower Communion for the last time in 1940 under the watchful eyes of Hitler’s Gestapo.  Nazi Germany had invaded Czechoslovakia on March 15, 1939 and Rev. Capek had remained at his post, declining an offer from American Unitarian Association president Frederick May Elliot for assistance leaving the country and financial support on arriving in the United States.
Rev. Capek’s wife Maja was already on a speaking tour in America, having departed shortly before the Nazis invaded.  When they said their good-byes, they both knew it might be the last time they ever saw each other.   Sadly that was the case.   Rev. Capek continued to hold Sunday services and run his church’s weekly education and other programs with German soldiers present, first subtly and then more overtly speaking out against the German occupation and taking part in the resistance.
Capek’s biographer Richard Henry writes:
“One can only marvel at the moral stamina, the spiritual toughness Norbert Capek was able to summon under such circumstances. Heartsick at the absence of his beloved Maja who was speaking before audiences several thousand miles away about his work, trying to rally support for the cause of their prostrate nation, he somehow managed to project an indomitable spirit amdist the enveloping gloom (239).”
Rev. Capek is an example of courage you and I will most likely never be asked to call forth.  We cling to our Unitarian Universalism as a spiritual refuge; as a safe house in what can sometimes be a religiously unfriendly atmosphere.  But how oppressed are we really?  Think of the Prague congregation Unitaria.  Think, would I come to church with the Gestapo standing at the door and in the sanctuary, looking, taking names, knowing that I would be on the list when the oppression got worse?
The oppression got worse in Czechoslovakia on Oct. 28, 1939 after a violent protest against the German occupation.  Unitarian services were routinely under surveillance.  In June of 1940 Capek turned 70 and the congregation gave him a short wave radio.  The radio came with the mandatory tag from the German authorities that listening to and/or relaying information from foreign radio broadcasts carried the penalty of death.
Capek listened and relayed anyway, of course.  Capek was first brought in for questioning on in October 1940. He was released.  He wasn’t so lucky the second time.  The Gestapo raided Rev. Capek’s home on the morning of March 28, 1941 and spent hours tearing the place apart, confiscating sermons, writings, letters, books and other belongings.  Capek served the officer in charge coffee, refusing to be intimidated or denigrated.
Rev. Capek and his youngest daughter Zora were both arrested and charged with listening to foreign radio broadcasts.  Capek was sent to the concentration camp at Dachau on July 5, 1941 where he was issued prisoner number 30323.  Rev. Capek was sent to Hartheim Castle, near Linz Austria on October 12, 1942 where he was gassed.
Of all the stories of all the famous Unitarian Universalists we tell, Norbert Capek is my favorite.  If we had saints, he would be mine.  He was a former Catholic who became a Baptist and then a Unitarian, seeking until he found a religion broad enough for his own spirit and ideas.  Then he spent his life making a religious home for others who needed one. And finally when called to stand on the principle that there is no such thing as a lesser person, he stood and spit in the eye of the Third Reich.  He had the chance to escape to America and he remained separated from his wife, with his congregation, living under the type of situation you and I know only from history books and movies. The story of Rev. Capek is why I am a Unitarian Universalist.  I wanted you to know that story this week, because the beautiful Flower Communion ritual comes to us through a beautiful person – a real person of conviction and compassion.  The type of person each of us is called to be by this faith tradition called Unitarian Universalism.
Rev. Capek’s vision and theology is summed up so well in his Flower Communion ritual – that we are all uniquely equal.  There never has been, is not now, and never will be again, anyone just like you.  You are a holy gift, so is your friend, and so is the person you’re not getting along with so well right now.  Each of us is singularity, a sacred treasure in our uniqueness and what we have to offer, yet we are all equal in what makes us fundamentally human.  We all share the same human condition, the same general strengths and weaknesses.
A single flower is lovely. A bouquet is astonishingly beautiful and grand.  Flowers can be extravagant in a garden or bouquet all of a kinds.  A rose garden for example, or a bouquet of roses, but more extraordinary still is a garden or bouquet of mixed flowers, arranged just so, or my favorite, a field of wildflowers.
There is always a force in the world it seems that doesn’t like the mixing or the wildflowers, that insists on uniformity and treating the outsider or the other differently.  It seems there is always something at work that wants a scapegoat or an enemy to rally around in order to gather the flowers into roses, and tulips, because no wildflowers are wanted here.  Sometimes it’s hard to see what that force is because it’s easy as human beings to fall prey to it.
People ask, how? How could Hitler have come to power, how could so many people have gone along with genocide and prejudice? Is it really that hard?  Our country is in the early stages of this process now – undermining the validity of the press, the legal system, law enforcement and normalizing crude, racist, hateful behavior.  The process of totalitarianism happens like author John Green’s theory of falling in love: gradually then all at once. This process of dehumanization and social control It happens among children and adults in schoolyards and clubs and groups and governments everyday.  It happens whenever an us is created against a them instead of remembering there is only a we.   When people feel intimidated about speaking up for what is right, even in small groups, in any situation, in an office, on a playground, us rules the day, ” they” are wrong, inferior, stupid and weak, and worse – evil – and woe to anyone who dares stand against us.
This is what makes people like Norbert Capek so admirable to me.  His ability to live what most us only talk about as our values.  His ability to live out the practices described in the poem
“Outwitted”  by Edwin Markham.

He drew a circle that shut me out —
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But Love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!

This is the great transformational and saving power of Flower Communion, and of Unitarian Universalism.  Many Paths, One Living Tradition.  Many flowers, one bouquet.  Unique, but equal human beings.
This is the real religious work; the hard religious work.  Who among us hasn’t been shut out, left out, excluded, especially religiously or spiritually?   Who among us hasn’t been told, “You don’t belong in this bouquet, your flower just doesn’t go with the arrangement?  That feeling can make us wither and die.  That feeling can produce hurt and resentment that can last a lifetime.  But the turning point is when we stop flouting, when we turn and take our lives as a marker and draw the broader circle, start gathering other uniquely equal flowers around us – no more war, no pain, no more prejudice and hate.  Draw the circle and include even the people who left us out of theirs.  That’s the work Rev. Capek would have asked us to do, not because others may have been wrong in their arrogance or their hate, I can feel safe in saying Rev. Capek would not have given the Nazis a free pass for their crimes, rather continuing to focus on our own hurts, hates and betrayals only ends up hurting and wounding us in the long run, not the people who have hurt us.  And it keeps us from our higher goals and purpose.
In a sermon titled “Something to Think About” Rev. Capek said:
“There is in every soul a thirst for something that is higher and greater than all science and all art….We call it by different names but in essence it is nothing other than a hidden cry for…harmony with the Infinite.  Strong is the person who is conscious of the fact that the divine seed in them wants to manifest of the possibilities the great prophets and geniuses of mankind have brought to light!”
We can’t be at our best when drowning in how others have cast us out.  We must draw circles to bring others in.  We must see the beauty in all the other uniquely equal flowers, all the other uniquely equal people in our lives.   This is what it means to be loving people and a loving community.   Beyond pain and hurt, there is rebirth.  The flowers teach us this as well and in the song “The Rose.”

Just remember in the winter
far beneath the bitter snows
lies the seed
that with the sun’s love
in the spring
becomes the rose.

Rev. Capek knew this. He preached this and taught this. His most widely read book was titled “The Sunny Shore.”  It’s what we  would call now a self-help book.  Rev. Capek knew what Unitarian Universalism still holds out to the world – with sun, and care, we can all flower and bloom and create a beautiful world.

Rev. Tony

Rev. Tony would love to hear your feedback. Give him a call (508-344-3668), send him a letter, or fill out this online form.