Thou art a man. God is no more.
Thy own humanity, learn to adore.
Recently, while stopped at a red light, I noticed a woman near the curb on Lincoln Ave. She, like the seemingly growing numbers of desperate people standing on street-corners, was seeking a handout. What drew my attention to her was her cardboard sign. Instead of “Please help,” her message was “I am human too.” As I pondered her situation and whether I should pass a few bucks to her, I thought of First Unitarian’s “unity creed.” Do I share a common humanity with her? Do I even want to think about it?
Her story and the stories of those around us matter. As a member of the First Unitarian's communications committee, I have agreed to interviewing church members and sharing their stories on the church website. It is through our shared stories that we discover the “unity that makes us one.” When someone says to me, “It is good to see you,” I often respond by saying, “It is good to be seen.” Behind every face that enters the door of the church, there is a longing to be seen and heard. If we were to be honest with ourselves, each one of us, like the woman on Lincoln, is carrying a sign that reads, “I am human too.”
For my first interview, I invited Rob Slentz to share some of his story. Rob was the first person with whom I connected at FUSD. For some reason, I immediately felt that we had something in common. I was new to the church and standing alone in the community room. Rob was a “stand-alone” as well. We “stand-alones” need to talk. So we did, and so we do.
While talking with Rob, I discovered that behind his reserved demeanor is a great sense of humor. Rob was born and raised in Kansas City. He attended the University of Kansas and received a degree in Business Administration. Following his graduation, he rented a horse stable and provided boarding and training for horses. His first post-graduation business endeavor provided Rob with a “near death” experience.
One horse, while undergoing training, “threw me off at least 100 times,” Rob said. On one occasion, the horse had apparently had enough of human engagement. He removed Rob from the saddle and declared his displeasure by charging, kicking with all four feet, as Rob rolled on the ground to avoid the sharp hooves. After what seemed like an “eternity,” the horse stopped. Rob looked up at the horse and asked “What the hell was that about?” The answer: “Ok, now that you know your place, I will cooperate.” An era of peace and good-will between the horse and the human had begun.
After 10 years in the horse business, Rob returned to the University of Kansas and received a degree in mechanical engineering. Around the time of his graduation, the “Reagan Recession” occurred. As a consequence, engineering jobs were being outsourced, making a career in that field difficult to access. This was and is an all too human experience in our so-called “economy.” Is our economy fit for humans?
Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.
Rob grew up in the “Country Club Christian Church” (no kidding). The Disciples of Christ congregation was a “bit stogy.” However Rob liked the pastor who was “very personable.” His religious language made use of metaphor, in contrast to literality. From that experience, the transition to Unitarianism was not a huge leap for Rob. He describes himself as a “humanist.” For him, religion is grounded in human experience. “No matter what we believe, it is still us.”
His most memorable experience at FUSD was when the church had about 50 members (The minister said 80, but sometimes ministers exaggerate (no kidding—again). After church, the “Yellow Bellies” volleyball team played all afternoon and into the evening, winter and summer. And then, late into each evening, it was potluck and wine at someone’s house. Some of the “established” church members, according to Rob, may have frowned on this frivolity. But it could be that to Unitarians “too much fun” is, well, too much.
What to others a trifle appears
Fills me full of smiles or tears.
Rob describes himself as one who seeks creative solutions to mechanical problems. Recently, he built a garage. Now, in that garage, after researching the subject and discovering material published by the University of New Delhi, he is using components from an electric warehouse tractor to build an electric car. “It is something I have always wanted to do.” “The big question,” he says, “is what will happen when I plug it in.”
“The goal of life…is not to become something we are not—divine,
but to become what we truly are—human.”
--Walter Wink, The Human Being