Appearances and Apparitions

Sunday, October 18th, 2015— Sermon Lincolvnille United Christian Church, Lincolnville, Maine 9:30 am
Saturday, October 24th, 2015—Sermon, First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY 220 S. Winton Road 4:30 pm
Sunday, October 25th, 2015—Sermon, First Unitarian Church of Rochester, NY 9:00 and 11:00 am
Sunday, October 25th, 2015—reading and signing, 3:00 pm
Sunday, November 22nd, 2015— Sermon, Lincolnville United Christian Church, Lincolnville, Maine 9:30 am
Sunday, December 13th, 2015—Sermon, First Church of Boston, 66 Marlborough St. 11:00 am

Note: it is possible to hear the sermons Kate has preached at First Church in Boston by going to their website and scrolling down through the archives of what are, we admit, a whole lot of other pretty spiffy sermons offered by some fine preachers. If you are in the Boston area and want to listen in on the day-of, Emerson Radio WERS 88.9 FM carries the service live on Sundays.


Doubting Faith

Doubting Faith

This year, as a spiritual discipline, I decided to make a deliberate effort to think about things and engage the world from a radically different perspective. In my case, as a liberal, I am trying to see the world through the eyes of conservatives. This project leads me to read books I never would have read, seek out information I didn’t know existed, and participate in conversations with people I previously assumed weren’t worth talking to on subjects I assumed were no longer open to discussion.
This has been a fascinating and humbling experience. Among other things, I have begun to doubt former certainties, and find new ways and new reasons to have faith.

Not long ago, my youngest daughter Woolie and I were crossing a street together. I stepped off the curb into the crosswalk, and leaned out so I could see beyond the line of parked cars. As I did so, I reached back, to keep my darling daughter from walking before I could be sure it was safe.
My daughter was 21 years old. She was a police officer. She was wearing a uniform and carrying a gun.

In the Gospels, there are three kinds of people—-well, four, if you count Jesus himself. There are the ones who believe without evidence. There are those who see the evidence and then believe. There are those who see evidence—-irrefutable evidence!—- and still don’t believe; who instead despair.
And then there is the one who actually knows. Remember eloi, eloi, lamas sabachthani?—- there were moments before his death where Jesus himself had a little trouble believing without seeing. By the time of the story of Doubting Thomas, however, he knew what he needed to know in order to have no doubts at all.

Thomas, I think, need not be our symbol merely of doubt. Doubt is human, and it’s important and necessary, lest we all get suckered into wasting our time and energy attempting to save the world by the wrong methods.
Doubt is a needed prophylaxis against credulity, since credulity—-mindless belief—-is not what Jesus asks of us. Credulity is not faith.
But there is a temptation that Thomas was in danger of falling prey to—- the temptation to despair.

Not long ago, I heard a very well-educated, highly- intellectual guy named Andrew Harvey, give a talk entitled Transformative Action in Dangerous Times.
The professor had an English accent, which made him sound even more intellectual—-wish I could imitate it, but I can’t—-and he was very passionate.
“We are now,” he said. “Living in Dangerous Times. A self-conscious conspiracy between corporations, politicians and the media are deliberately producing an unprecedented global cataclysm,” with wars, famine and the extinction of the snow leopard.
“We must stop denying the truth of this catastrophe, stop clinging to our comforts, utterly transform ourselves in body, mind and heart!” and then we’ll help the poor and presumably the snow leopard too.
The professor sounded intelligent, as I say, and passionate but not especially optimistic. Makes sense: the chances are extremely good that we won’t utterly transform ourselves in body, mind and heart, and so the poor and the snow leopard, and all of us really, are doomed.
It is actually a lot more fun to give a fire-and-brimstone sort of sermon than a “things aren’t all that bad” sermon.
“We are all sinners in the hands of an angry God!” really wakes up the folk in the back pews. “ God is gazing down upon the seething cauldron of sin that is Lincolnville, Maine and surely He will send the fire this time?”
Maybe it’s just the human attraction to melodrama that makes despair so tempting?
Or maybe it’s that, if the world is about to end, we might as well fly to Jerusalem or Davos or Aspen and party with the other pessimists?

You may be more familiar with religious predictions of apocalypse, but secular apocalyptics, are at least as common.
The secular apocalyptic will see a plastic grocery bag caught in a tree, or a traffic jam on I-95 and grimly declare that there are too many people using too little birth control and too many fossil fuels ….the end is near.
The secular apocalyptic will, however, be offended if you point out the similarities between her point of view, and that of the preacher who thinks same-sex marriage is what will provoke God to send the fire this time.
The secular apocalyptic after all, is rational and well-educated. She is drawing her conclusions from history, from science, from facts. And so she, of course, is right.

In 1968, a very smart, rational, educated guy named Paul Erlich, a professor of biology at Stanford University, wrote the following about the state of the world:
“The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s, the world will undergo famines—-hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.” He made this prediction in a book called The Population Bomb.
Another book, written around the same time by William and Paul Paddock agreed—- “By 1975, a disaster of unprecedented magnitude will face the world. Famines, greater than any in history, will ravage the undeveloped nations. The swelling population is blotting up the earth’s food and, they confidently added, “Our technology will be unable to increase food production in time to avert the deaths of tens of millions of people by starvation.”
I was about six years old when these books were published. My parents read them, along with a whole lot of other Americans—-they were big hits, best-sellers.
For the young people here—-Caleb, I’m talking to you—- perhaps I should explain that no, the world didn’t experience mass starvation in the decades between my birth and yours. Our technology was, it turned out, more than able to increase food production in time to avert disaster.
In fact, the percentage of people living on the edge of starvation has fallen by 80 percent since 1970. When I was a kid, more than one in four people around the world lived on a dollar a day or less—-the standard, adjusted-for-inflation measure of starvation-level poverty. Today, only about one in twenty live on that little.
As the economist Arthur C. Brooks declares, “This is the greatest anti-poverty achievement in world history.”

Yet 86% of Americans surveyed think global poverty is getting worse, not better. Until very recently, I was one of those Americans, even though the evidence, like Woolie’s uniform, was available for me to see, Google or go visit. More than two-thirds of us—-again, I include myself—— do not believe it is possible to substantially reduce extreme poverty in the world in the next few decades—-even though, in the past thirty years, we’ve been doing just that. Oddly enough, the well-educated are no exception.

I would like for us—-everyone here—- to be the exception. I want to inoculate myself, you, our children and our grandchildren against the temptation to despair.
Self-centeredness and self-indulgence are tempting enough without adding in the notion that any effort made on behalf of others is doomed to failure, and any gifts of service are meaningless.
Maybe there would be some excuse for giving up hope if the world really was coming to an end, but it isn’t. The world is not getting worse, it’s getting better, and it is getting better through the hard working lives of all those “excess” human beings the secular apocalyptics will tell us the world would be better off without.

Good news! We need not—-indeed, should not—-gaze upon those teeming masses in Africa or India or New Jersey or wherever masses teem these days and despair. Human beings are not the end of the world. In all our billions, we are the ones Jesus gave his life to save, and despite his doubts he was not foolish or wrong to do so.

Resurrected, Jesus, no longer doubtful and definitely not despairing, gazed upon the evidence of us, and smiled and blessed us.

Who are we to do otherwise?

September—All Maine!

Thursday, September 10 7 p.m.—Camden Library, reading and book signing
Friday, September 11, 10 a.m.—Skidompha Library (Damariscotta, Maine) talk and book signing
Sunday, September 13, 9:30 a.m.—Lincolnville Community Church service
Thursday, September 17, 6:30 p.m.—Gray Library, reading and book signing
Sunday, September 20, 10:00 a.m.—First Universalist Church of Rockland service
Tuesday, September 22, 6:00 p.m.—Yarn Sellar, York, reading and book signing

Grace in a Brighter Season

A new book—ANCHOR & FLARES! Was launched on Tuesday, with an excellent party thrown at Belfast’s Left Bank Books.

Friends, family and, most touchingly, a couple of folk whom I first encountered in the midst of tragedy, as the chaplain called when someone they could not bear to lose was lost to them.

A sudden loss isolates a moment from the flow of time. Though time resumes (unwelcome resumption!) the memory of that moment and all that it contained remains inscribed within ones mind, the hard bright line that separates “before” and “after.”

Present at the scene of an accident, a suicide, or homicide I represent God’s love and the human love that waits just beyond the horizon of a tragic hour, familiar arms outstretched. it is my privilege to serve as a proxy for the ones who love and don’t yet know, to be with the bereaved on behalf of those too far away to hold and console.

And I am there as an embodied promise: love not just was but is. “Soon, soon, your friends and family will arrive, bringing food to share with shared grief and then you will hear your lost beloved’s name, sounding as it sounds only when spoken by a mouth familiar with its shape. You will be with the ones who can remember him—literally, re-member, with their stories bringing the lost one back into membership among those who knew and loved him. All the strangers— game wardens, paramedics, volunteers, and the chaplain—will clear the scene, once you are with the two or three or more who, when gathered, really can provide the sense of Presence that you need.

At the scene of a tragedy, I am not enough and I know it. I depend very heavily upon grace.

And here was grace! WinterChaplain

On Tuesday evening, there were the mourners, the first moment of their grieving having flowed into a year, two years, three years. Somehow my presence at the scene of their loss was not just recalled, but had been translated into a wider sense of shared community; ah yes! Kate Braestrup! I know her. She was with me on that day.

How good it was to see these lovely souls again; upright, smiling and willing to seek out the chaplain who had been there as the hard bright line was drawn, and by their presence invite me to step across it with them so we could be together here and now.

My Boy’s Band on Tour!

Peter is drumming all over the east coast this summer with his band Five of the Eyes. Those of you who are younger and hipper than I am can check it out!

The following is what Peter sent me:

“Hi mother dear. I love you.
Here’s the link to our website:

here are all the concerts we have in the coming months.
6/14 Old Port Fest , DISPATCH stage 2PM.
6/19 Boston [ PA's Lounge (GEPH, Titans of Industry, Robot Knights)
9PM $5 - 21+ ]
6/20 NYC Newburgh Festival [ STAGE 3 - 4:15 setup - 4:30-5:15 show - must be in town by 3:15 LATEST ]
7/15 Boston – Middle East Upstairs – (The Shills, 2 TBA)
7/16 NYC – Map Room (The Vigilance Committee, ITPOW)
7/17 Philly – Bullshooter’s (In The Presence Of Wolves, TBA)
7/18 Baltimore – RatScape – Deaf Scene practice space (Deaf Scene looking around for us)
7/20 Greensboro NC – New York Pizza (BlackSquares/WhiteIslands, Bare the Traveler (maybe), JaggerMouth (maybe))
7/21 – DAY OFF – laundry day
7/22 Asheville NC – The One Stop
6PM : (The Dr. Van, The Lowdown). Need poster.
Second show at 9PM: (JaggerMouth, 5OTE, Squidlord)
7/23 Charlotte NC – Waiting for JaggerMouth to secure a venue.
7/24 Savannah GA – The Wormhole (Star Period Star, Broken Glow)
7/25 Atlanta GA – Masquerade – HELL STAGE (Blazers, The Organ Machines, Surrogates)
7/26 Murfreesboro, TN – House show in the works, looks good.
7/27 Covington,KY -not confirmed (Expeditions, TBA)
7/28 Buffalo – INFRINGEMENT FESTIVAL – Mohawk Place (Dollar Diplomacy)
7/29 Toronto – Johnny Jackson’s (The Quiet Things, Fat As Fuck) – People Put Out Productions
8/14 Boston – Cantab (GEPH, DENT, TBA) $8
8/21 Burlington VT – Monkey House (TBA)
8/22 Montreal
8/28 Empire (Deaf Scene)

Tongue of Fire

Kate Braestrup
This is the Sermon I offered for Pentecost, Sunday, May 24th, 2015 at the Lincolnville Church. The readings were the story of the Tower of Babel, and ACTS 2:1-11

If you knew you’d be cast away on a desert island and could only take four books with you, what four books would you take?

I think it was Mark Twain who said he would bring four blank books—-which was my answer, too, for a long while. Now, I think I’d take three blank books—-as thick as I could find—-and a Bible. Not because I’m pious, (though I guess I am) but because then I’d have a whole lot of people (long-dead prophets) to argue with…

But I’m cheating, really, because the Bible isn’t a book, it’s an anthology; a library, even. It it, we find poetry, hagiography, myths and history, instructions for building an ark, rules and laws and folktales.

There is a particular genre of folktale known as the Just-So story, after Rudyard Kipling’s famous series—- “How did the elephant get its trunk?” and “why is the rhinoceros’ skin so wrinkly?”

The Just-So story is an answer to an implicit question. Usually it’s a question about a very ordinary phenomenon, something you don’t really think all that much about until a little kid pipes up: “Mama, why is the sky blue?”

If you hear a just-so story, you’ll be able to come up with the question that inspired it. Here, for example, is a Danish Folk Tale:

There was once a little boy by the name of Hans. As his parents died while he was very young, his grandmother, his Farmor, took care of him. Farmor was good to Hans, and they always had plenty to eat.
One day, his Farmor said, “Hans, I am old. I may not live long. You have always been a good boy, and therefore you shall have my only treasure.” She brought forth an old, and rather battered coffee mill which was always kept at the bottom of the kitchen cupboard. “This coffee mill will grind coffee, but it will also grind anything you wish for. If you say to it, ‘Grind a house, little mill,’ it will work away, and there the house will stand! Then you must say, ‘Tak, Tak, thank you little mill,’ and it will cease to grind.”
“Tak, tak!” Thank you Farmor!” Hans said. His Farmor died soon afterword. After the funeral, Hans packed the coffee mill into his knapsack and went off to see the world.
When he had walked a long distance, and needed something to eat, he placed the coffee mill on the grass by the side of the road and said, “Grind some bread and butter, little mill.” Very soon Hans had all that he needed. “Tak, tak, little mill!” Hans said, and the mill stopped.
The next day Hans came to a large seaport, and when he saw the many ships, he thought: I shall sail away to foreign lands! He boarded one of the ships and offered his service to the sailors. As it just happened that the captain needed a cabin boy. As soon as the ship was out of port, however, the sailors began to be really mean to Hans. They made him work very hard, and didn’t give him anything to eat. He bore the harsh treatment as well as he could, and of course, the coffee mill ground all the food he could eat. The sailors wondered how their cabin boy was managing to stay so fat and happy. One day one of them peeped through a hole in his cabin door and saw Hans with his coffee mill. “Grind me a sandwich!” Hans said, and the coffee mill ground him a sandwich.
‘Wow!” said the sailor, and rushed off to tell the others.
Now the sailors offered a large sum of money to Hans if he would sell his treasure. Hans refused, however, because the mill had been a gift from his Farmor. So the sailors seized the coffee mill, and they set Hans adrift in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean! You will be happy to hear that Hans eventually drifted ashore on the island of St. Croix, and lived happily ever after, even without his coffee mill.

But back on the boat, the sailors needed some salt. “Grind me some salt!” they said, and the mill began its work. Soon they had enough.
“Stop!” they said… but the mill didn’t stop. The sailor who had peeped through the hole into the boy’s cabin hadn’t waited long enough to hear Hans say “Tak, tak, little mill,” so they didn’t know the formula. They kept shouting more and more desperately at the mill, but it kept making more and more salt until at last the ship was full of salt and sank under its weight. The mill went down to the bottom of the sea, where it kept grinding salt. It is down there still, grinding away…

What’s the question this story is meant to answer?
Right: Why is the sea salty?

Once you get the formula, you can recognize stories in the Bible that may well have begun as Just-So stories.

Which story might have begun as the answer to: “Mummy, why is their a rainbow in the sky after it rains?”
How about: “Papa, why are there two sexes?”

The story of the Tower of Babel may have begun as a Just So story too. Ancient Israel, like modern Israel, was both blessed and cursed by its geography. Trade routes between Eqypt to the South, and Assyria and Babylonia to the North wound through Israel, avoiding the desert to the West and, to the East, the depths of the Mediterranean, so Israel’s essentially agrarian and pastoralist economy was supplemented by the ancient equivalent of a hospitality industry, providing meals and lodging to merchants, traders and the occasional military expedition. Foreigners, in other words, were a common feature of life in Israel—-Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, Mesopotamians and Egyptians, Cappadocians, Phrygians and Pamphylians, all of whom spoke in their own native tongues.

So we can imagine a little Israelite child, perhaps the daughter of an innkeeper listening to the hubbub in the coffee shop one morning and asking “Mummy, why are there so many different languages?”

“Well, once upon a time the whole earth was of one language, and all the people spoke it. One day, they said to each other, let’s build a city and a tower, whose top reaches all the way to heaven…”

Folk stories have a way of evolving according to the interests and priorities of the storyteller and her listeners. In the original version of the Danish folktale about little Hans, the cruel sailors throw Hans overboard where, presumably, he drowns. Since the charm of any story is diminished, for me, when a child gets murdered, I changed it.

The story of the tower of Babel may have been changed when its tellers thought to incorporate a Babylonian tower temple sited north of the Marduk temple, which in Babylonian was called Bab-ilu (“Gate of God”), Hebrew form Babel, or Bavel. The similarity in pronunciation of Babel and balal (“to confuse”) led to the play on words in Genesis 11:9: “Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth.”

If you are an atheist, you may be grimly gratified to hear that the story of the Tower of Babel is “just” a folk tale. If you are a fundamentalist, you will hotly insist that no, there was an actual building project undertaken by the descendants of Noah for the purposes and with the materials described, and on a specific day at a specific time God halted construction. With all due respect, I think either runs the risk of missing the point —-I believe the story is in scripture because language is a problem. And it is especially a problem for a religion that has been complex and paradoxical in its theology, and intentionally evangelistic in its ambitions right from the start—-language a problem, that is, for Christianity.

The story of the Pentecost is the story of the un-doing of Babel: a devout Jews from any nation under heaven was able to hear of the mighty acts of God in his or her own language. Like the descendants of Noah, they were “confused” by the power of God. It was a miracle but, like so many of the Bible’s miracles, a sadly temporary one. The early Christians like later Christians and like Christians today must struggle with the problem of language—-and not just whether we are speaking English to one another, but whether the words that mean one thing when they leave our mouths are subtly or outrageously distorted by the time they reach the ears of our listeners. Distorted, that is, by history, or culture, or the mood of the crowd.

Danes back in the day could tell each other a story about a coffee mill that created riches, and they were okay with the part where child is thrown overboard. Danes in the old days weren’t as squeamish as we are—-thank God—-today, but it is generally considered okay to alter a folktale on the fly. While you can’t really edit the Bible, still in deference to the same modern squeamishness, a Christian eagerly describing the birth of the Son of a loving God to a potential convert nowadays might delicately skip over the part in Matthew where Herod murdered all the little boy babies in Palestine so that the prophecy in Jeremiah 31 might be fulfilled.

—-“A voice was heard in Ramah,
Lamentation, weeping, and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children,
Refusing to be comforted,
Because they are no more.”[a]

And that’s before we even get to the problem of how a Priest accompanying the Spanish Conquistadors could explain the concept of the Good Shepherd to native Americans who not only did not speak Spanish, but had never seen a sheep?

Swords were involved.

But the earliest Christians, lacking the power to convert at the point of a sword, and who spoke various actual and spiritual languages, nonetheless made converts—-a lot of them. How did they do it?

The earliest Christians in the Roman Empire were known not by their spiritual consistency—-there were a lot of versions of Christ’s meaning and message floating around back then—- and not for their swordsmanship, but for their charity, the kindness they showed to one another and to strangers as well. This was the language that impressed people.

A second century Roman was so surprised by the behavior of the Christians in his vicinity that he described it in a letter to a friend: Christians, he said, make meals and share them with everyone, but especially the poor. Christians marry just like everyone else, and they beget children, but they don’t throw out their unwanted babies with the garbage—-a common practice at the time. In fact, Christians will sometimes be seen at the dump picking up unwanted children and taking them home!

This, ultimately, is the universal spiritual language isn’t it? Charity, compassion, kindness?

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I was imprisoned and you visited me.

Here is the powerful language—-the tongue of fire—-Jesus spoke so beautifully and worked so hard to teach to his disciples. In our polyglot world as in theirs, deeds of charity, kindness and practical compassion are the universal logos, the Word, the language that speaks powerfully and eloquently of the truth and power of God.


My mother’s show of sculpture was reviewed in this week’s Portland Press Herald…
With her usual, dry humor, my 74 year old Mom celebrated her first bona fide art review with: “Well, I always said it was a mistake to bloom too early…”

My son Zach—whose nom de plume is to be W.Zach Griffith—had had his first book accepted by Skyhorse Press. It’s a terrific piece of journalism/history about the exploits of a band of Maine National Guardsmen who were sent to Abu Ghraib to clean up the mess in 2004, and the working title is MORTAR CAFE. I’ll keep you posted as to the date of publication.

And my son Peter’s new band is pretty spiffy too:

New Events!

My new book, ANCHOR AND FLARES will be in bookstores JULY 14th, 2015

Stay tuned for book tour information…
My son, W.Zach Griffith’s first book has been accepted for publication by Skyhorse Press—this PROUD MOM will keep you posted on developments there!
In the meantime, I’ll be preaching at various Maine churches, and you are welcome to attend any of these Services, including more at the Lincolnville Center Christian Church (LCCC), located right in the heart of bustling downtown Lincolnville, Maine!

(I love walking to the church in my cassock…very Father Brown-ish).

Sunday, February 15th LCCC—Sermon “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”9:15 a.m.

Sunday, March 22nd—United Church of Christ, Rangeley, Maine

Sunday, April 12th—First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church, Portland, Maine

Sunday, April 19th—LCCC 9:15 a.m.

Sunday, April 26th —Unitarian Universalist Churches in West Paris and Norway, Maine (back to back services)

Sunday, May 24th—LCCC 9:15 a.m.

Sunday, June 21st—LCCC 9:15 a.m.

May 30th, NPR’s The Moth Radio Hour is coming to Portland, Maine and I’ll be telling a story during the show (on stage, no notes, live audience—gulp!). I’ll try to post a link when tickets become available.

And check this out: My son Peter’s band has just released what I would’ve called a “record album…”

Upcoming Events

Worship Service: Sunday, October 12, 2014 May Memorial (Unitarian-Universalist) Church Dewitt, New York
Worship Service: Sunday, November 2nd, Unitarian Universalist Church of Concord, New Hampshire

Minns Lecture Series, Boston, Mass. “Men, Women and Children: Loving One Another in a Complicated World”

Friday, Nov. 7, 7 pm
King’s Chapel, 58 Tremont Street, Boston

Saturday, November 8, 10 am
First Church, 66 Marlborough St. Boston

Saturday, November 9, 12:30 pm
First Church, 66 Marlborough St. Boston

Sunday, November 9 11 am
Concluding Sermon “Unkissing Judas”
Kings Chapel, 58 Tremont St. Boston

Free! more info and to register:

Friday, November 14 Samoset Resort APEMS Seminar “Beyond Death Notification” for first responders
Sermons in Lincolnville, Maine
At Lincolnville Center Christian Church
9:30 am

Six Sundays: September 28, October 26th, November 23rd, December 21, January 25, February 15

This is Hope and Faith

For those who didn’t know, Thursday the 25th of September was the national Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims. When I told friends that I was slated to speak at the annual gathering sponsored by the Maine chapter of the group Parents of Murdered Children, the reaction was one of horrified sympathy. Surely this was going to be really, really depressing?

Actually, there is probably more hope and encouragement on offer for the average minister from this group than any I could imagine. This, after all, was a roomful of miracles: Fifty or sixty people of various ages, races and backgrounds who have been through (are still going through!) an unimaginable nightmare. And they somehow managed to get out of bed and, nicely dressed, went to a meeting where they smiled at one another, made friendly, supportive conversation and gave every evidence that they are somehow, in spite of everything, still upright, alive, and fulfilling the great commandment—”love one another.”

The chapter’s coordinator, survivor Arthur Jette, asked me to say a few things about memory, particularly the way in which the memory of how a loved one dies can intrude upon and obstruct happier memories.

For any mourner, memory is a tricky thing: Important…and intrusive. Excruciating…and sacred. I remember the day my husband died. I can give you a countdown of what he did and we did in the days, hours, moments before he died, because I go through it every year in April. Still, my children and I were lucky. Though too many American police officers are murdered every year, Drew wasn’t one of them. He died in an accident.

To most people, the announcement that I consider myself lucky because my husband was killed by a truck rather than a person sounds strange… but it makes perfect sense to the families of murder victims. They know: Murder is different. I could have discussed the difference in terms of trauma psychology, but I’m a minister.

It’s my job to study scripture, not only from the Christian tradition, but from others as well, and recently I compared the description of the death of the Buddha to that of the death of Jesus.

Siddhartha Gautama—the Buddha—lived a long time. He was an old guy, by the standards of his day, when one evening, at supper with his disciples, he ate a piece of pork that didn’t agree with him. He died of food poisoning, or at least, that was the diagnosis at the time. The whole story is about “yay-long,” like the shortest obituary in the local paper.

All four gospels in the New Testament, on the other hand, take pages and pages to describe Jesus’ death, giving a day-by-day, hour-by-hour and, at the end moment-by-moment account.

Why the difference? Jesus was murdered.

So if one who mourns a murdered family member or friend feels unable to “get past” the memory of how the loved one died, he or she is in good company. Jesus’ disciples couldn’t get past it either. Arguably, they created a whole religion incapable of getting past it, one that remains obsessively focused on the day and manner of the death. Given murder, this isn’t just natural, it’s good—up to a point. It is certainly human: We are driven by love to grieve a loss, and driven by murder to seek justice and find meaning, and to figure out what can be changed so that others won’t have to suffer what we have suffered. All these motives are present in the New Testament and in Christianity.

Still, there is a truth that bears repeating: Whether you’re Pontius Pilate, Heinrich Himmler or a perpetrator of domestic violence; if you commit a crime, you reveal much about yourself. If you murder, you reveal yourself to be a murderer. Being the victim of a crime, on the other hand, reveals nothing about you as a human being other than that you were, at that moment, vulnerable. The character and worth of the victim is not revealed (even a little!) by how he or she died, but only by how she lived.

This is why, I think, for all the attention paid in the Bible to the events of Jesus’ murder, Christians have traditionally set aside one day—just one, Good Friday—in which to remember his death. The rest of the time—364 days out of every year—we should remember his life: What he did and said, whom he fed, taught, comforted and healed throughout his mortal days, and remember all the ways he continues to live in love (his love, our love, God’s love) forever.

Jesus has been dead for 2,000 years. I hope it doesn’t have to be that long before each of the family members of beloved murder victims I met (and all the many more they represent) gets to have 364 days of good memories every year. This isn’t just a compassionate hope for them, by the way: It’s also a hope for myself. I am now the mother of a law enforcement officer, after all. Luck and only luck so far prevents me from being the Parent of a Murdered Child, and while I’m grateful for luck when it comes, I don’t trust it.

What I do trust is love. Being with the families of Maine’s murder victims let me hope and trust: If there is enough love to keep these folk alive, sane and still seeking justice and meaning, and still supporting each other every day, then there is more than enough love for any and all of us to see, know and remember that even those whose lives are cruelly taken from them are not defined by cruelty, not defined by murder. This is the good news: We are not defined by death but by lives lived in love—my love, your love, their love, our love, God’s love.