Dealing with Dementors

This past Sunday was Balloon Sunday at First Parish Church in Taunton.  My story was inspired by this article I found by Chris Crass.  It’s amazing what can be found on the internet by plugging a few words into your search engine.

The Harry Potter stories have lots of mythical  and magical creatures – some nice and wonderful, some not so much.  One of the least nice of the creatures are the Dementors.  According to Professor Lupin of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Dementors “drain peace, hope, and happiness out of the air around them… Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you…You will be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life.”

And the worst news is…Dementors are real.

In real life, Dementors are not wispy, dark ghosts floating around us.  They are the people that we meet from time to time who tell us that we are not smart enough, that we are not pretty enough or strong enough or skinny enough.  They are the people who tell us that we should quit trying to do great things because we are not good enough.  They tell us that we shouldn’t even try to bring good things into our lives because we are not worth it.

Expecto Patronum!


We know how to deal with Dementors, though.  In the world of Harry Potter, they use the Patronus charm and that is how we deal with Dementors in real life, too.  We whip out our wands and shout, “Expecto Patronum!”

Not really.  Although that sounds like a lot of fun and I might just try it some time.

The key to the Patronus charm is not the wand or how loud we shout the magic words.  The true strength of the magic is in our happy memories.  The hope and love in our hearts is what protects us and drives away the Dementors.

So when we meet Dementors – and we will meet them –  we must remember to fill our hearts with happy memories, loving thoughts and hope.  We strengthen those memories and thoughts by filling our lives with people who love us, who support us as we grow into wonderful people and who help us do great things.

It would be way more fun to whip out our wands and shout, “Expecto Patronum” at some Dementor who has been putting us down.  However, as two young girls at church reminded me on Sunday, Dementors can often be driven away by simply ignoring them or telling them that we don’t like what they are saying.  And then go get a piece of chocolate.


My Easter story

Easter window

from New England Church Project

I have said many times that some stories are true, some are not and some are a little of both.  Many of our sacred texts are like that.  Often we spend a great deal of time trying to prove that a particular story is true or not true and miss the fact that there is truth to be found even in the most fantastical stories.

Today is Easter and Christians around the globe are telling the story in the Christian bible about Jesus dying and then, three days later, rising from the dead.  My reasoning mind tells me that people who are dead do not come back to life.  I have never known of someone who is dead, coming back to life, so I don’t believe that this bible story is factually true.  However, from my personal experience, I know that when someone we love dies, we can often feel them, see them and hear them long after they are gone.  My father died four years ago.  I still see his face when I look in the mirror.  I still hear his voice coming out of my mouth.  So I can believe that Jesus’ friends and family felt him, saw him and heard him.

I can believe that a man named Jesus walked around teaching people to love one another and that there is more to life than just grinding out a living.  I can believe that there were people who felt threatened by this and killed him.  I can believe this because there are other people who have done the same and faced the same fate.  Martin Luther King went around trying to teach people about justice and love for all people.  Some folks really did not like that and killed him for it.  Gandhi went around trying to teach people about peace and freedom.  There were people who didn’t like that either and he was killed.  So, yes, I can believe that a man named Jesus was killed for preaching about love and salvation.

Church window

from New England Church Project

I can also believe that Jesus’ message endured well beyond his lifetime.  I can believe that his message of love so inspired the people who heard it that we continue to preach this message and work to bring love and peace to the world thousands of years later.  I believe it because I see people every day who have been inspired by powerful messages carrying on the work of those who have fallen.  The messages of King and Gandhi could not be silenced by their murders.  Susan B. Anthony never got the chance to vote but she and others inspired a movement that could not be stopped, not even with her death.

For me, this is the truth in the Christian Easter story.  We are engaged in a struggle between Love and Fear.  And Love always wins.  Because Love is stronger than Fear.  Love is stronger even than Death.

Without receivers there can be no givers

Last week I celebrated my birthday.  I had all the usual birthday type traditions – family and friends, cake, ice cream and presents.  I was the center of attention, opening envelopes and tearing open wrapped boxes.  As I paused to make a wish before blowing out the candles, I thought about how uncomfortable it can be to be the center of attention.  I thought about how much easier it is to be the giver than the receiver.  I reminded myself of the message I delivered at First Parish Church in Taunton at the Flower Communion in 2011.

Flower Communion is a wonderful service originated by Norbert Capek, the founder of the Unitarian Church in  Czechoslovakia.  During the service, each member of the congregation places a cut flower in a communal vase.  At the end of the service, each person takes a flower home with them.

That is another story.

It is often said, “Tis better to give than to receive.”  It’s true that we are often more comfortable giving than being the one given to.  But, where would the givers be without anyone to do the receiving.

In my message entitled “The Other Half of Giving”, I asked,

Why are we so uncomfortable with receiving?  Why do we not value accepting as much as we value giving?  Maybe it has to do with how we picture people who give and people who receive.  We have a bad habit of thinking about giving and receiving as about “us” and “them.”  Giving is considered a noble act.  We associate it with words like charitable and generous.  We see taking and receiving as more about being needy or dependent or indebted.

In preparing for the service, I read a quote from Shakti Gawain at “receiving and giving…are like inhaling and exhaling.  If you can’t inhale, soon you will have nothing to exhale.”

After reading the children’s book,  “The Giving Tree” I concluded that giving and not receiving is the path to becoming an old stump.  Giving and receiving is the path to gratitude and that is a very good place to be.  We can’t be grateful if we don’t embrace receiving.

Back to my birthday.  In the moment before I blew out the candles, I looked up and saw how happy everyone was.  All these happy givers.  I remembered what a wonderful feeling it is to give to someone else – giving a gift or giving praise or giving encouragement.  In a way, by being a grateful receiver, I am also giving a gift – the gift of that wonderful, happy, warm feeling we get when we see how happy we have made someone by giving to them.

I wished that I would have many more birthdays, filled with family, friends, cake, ice cream and presents.  That I would be a grateful receiver and allow others to be happy givers.

Then I blew out the candles.  Then we ate cake.  And I had the first piece.

Birthday Candles

Finding spiritual inspiration

Many sources brings a richness to our faith

One of the things about Unitarian Universalism that I really love is our willingness to search for inspiration from a wide variety of sources.   Rather than limiting ourselves to one sacred text or one set of traditions, UUs seek out inspiration from all the world’s religious expressions – Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, pagan and other earth-centerred traditions – as well as Humanism, the words and deeds of inspirational men and women and, of course, our own direct experience of the sacred.

As a religious educator, I see my role as sparking a curiosity about the many religious traditions and spiritual expressions in the world.  At First Parish, our children have learned about Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Paganism, in addition to our own brave and powerful history of committed social justice work.

This past Halloween, I delivered a message entitled “Wisdom from Monsters” at First Parish.  Having a bit of fun, I talked about the diverse sources of spirituality that Unitarian Universalism honors and then pushed the envelope a bit further.  What are your favorite monsters and what can we learn from them?  Do movie monsters like werewolves and Frankenstein’s monster have something to teach us?  Click the link below if you’d like to have a listen.

Wisdom from Monsters 30oct11

Regrettably, I neglected the sixth of our sources – Spiritual teachings of earth-centerred traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.  Now I feel better.

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