Friday, April 29, 2011

Atheists Don't Have No Songs

Every year, my church has a talent show called "Kaleidoscope" which is a fundraiser for our music scholarship.  Every year I try to do a number with two friends, Jim Haines and Phil Hoskins-Helm.  We call ourselves "the 4-H Club" (Haines, Hayes & Hoskins-Helm) and generally have a lot of fun putting something together.  Last year we performed "You'd Better Pray To The Lord When You See Those Flying Saucers," a 1947 tune by the Buchanan Brothers and the Georgia Catamounts.  (You can hear it on the "Monsters Vs. Aliens" soundtrack, or in the "Brain in a Box" sci-fi music boxed set.)  This year Jim took Steve Martin's song, "Atheists Don't Have No Songs," and arranged it for three voices (instead of five.)  I hope we do it justice.  The show is tonight and tomorrow night, at 7:30 PM at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg.  If you can come, please do.  For the most part, it's more than you would expect from a church talent show and for a ten buck donation (which you can get back on your taxes!) you can, if I dare say it, have a pretty good time.  Here's Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers with the original:

Sunday, April 24, 2011

An Atheist At Easter

Today I had the pleasure of being the lay liturgist for the Easter services at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg.  For those who heard and asked for the text, and for those who missed it, here it is:

Good morning!  Happy Easter!  I have to tell you -- as an atheist in a pulpit on Easter, you can feel a little bit like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.  No matter what direction you take, you need to be very, very careful.  Even before I got to where I am now on my Faith Journey, Easter was not my favorite holiday.  I’m allergic to chocolate, and I think those marshmallow chickens are creepy.  And everybody knows that Santa can lick the Easter Bunny with both of his mittens tied behind his back.  But I digress.  And I am not here to disrespect Easter.  Qute the contrary.  One criticism of atheism which I see frequently on the Internet says that, because you don’t believe in anything, no day is any more special than any other day.  I assume this refers to Sundays and religious holidays, but...this is ridiculous.  I certainly don’t go through life steadily measuring my progress one day at a time until my inevitable demise.  OF COURSE some days are more special than others.  The day my daughter was born.  The day I married my beautiful wife.  The day I heard my first Unitarian sermon.  And if I can appreciate a birthday or an anniversary or even a total eclipse of the sun as “special” then I can certainly appreciate an annual celebration of rebirth and renewal like Easter.  I can’t speak to the “miracle” of Jesus coming back to life.  But I can surely appreciate the new, green life that springs forth from the tomb of a seed’s dark shell.  That’s a miracle.  In the spring, a simple flower is its own death and resurrection.

I try to live a life that notices the wonder of these miracles.  Another one that comes to my mind, especially on Easter:  when I look up at the night sky, light from other stars comes across an unimaginable distance and interacts with my eyes, with my brain.  With me.  That star may not even exist any more, but its light still lives in my sight.  When I was a boy I used to dream of going into space and maybe someday walking in the light of another sun on another world.  This was something that, once I became an adult, I thought I could never do.  Now I realize that to walk in the light of other suns, I only have to step outside on a clear night.  It’s miraculous.

And while I can’t speak to the resurrection that we spell with a capital “R,” I can speak to the fact, the pure fact, that everyone in this sanctuary this morning is made of resurrected stars.  Carl Sagan used to say, “We are all made of star stuff” because all of the more complex elements of which we are made were formed in the hearts of exploding stars.  Think about that.  Stars died so that we can be.  We all stepped out of a supernova.  How’s that for sacrifice and rebirth?

Those are the miracles that I celebrate this and every Easter.  Because of them, these every-day miracles, I have come to believe that morality is not something that I need to get from outside.  I believe that the drive to a moral life is inside me, and inside all of us as human beings.  It grows all on its own, like a seed or a star.  It is why, and how, we love one another.  It is why the ideals of the Golden Rule, of humility, of charity, of honoring your family, are so important to me.  I don’t need the Eternal Reward of Heaven to live a good life.  I try to do good things simply because they are good things to do.  Besides, like Garrison Keillor said, Heaven is not for Unitarians.  We don’t like gated communities.

So I plan to use today to think about the miracles that I see all around me.  I will try to treasure the new life that I find both around us and within us.  Celebrating miraculous possibilities is what gives Easter meaning to me.

If the work of this church has meaning for you, an offering will now be gratefully received.  Thank you.

Friday, April 22, 2011


As I mentioned in an earlier post, Dr. James Haines of Elizabethtown College asked me for some words that he might make into a hymn, to add to the Unitarian repertoire of song.  He has crafted some very beautiful music to some words I wrote, which I am posting here for the first time, as a poem.

I think it's appropriate to put this out here today, Good Friday 2011.  I hope you like it.

We Are All Made Of Stars
     © 2011 by Tom Hayes

We are all made of stars.
Stars that died so we could be.
Every atom of every element
Had its fiery birth
In the heart of an exploding sun.

This resurrection surrounds us every day,
A part of every person that we meet.
If we must speak of sacrifice
and of rebirth
Then let us speak about the stars.

We are all made of stars
Stars died so we could be
Every atom, every element
Had its fiery birth
In the heart of an exploding sun.

The light that once burned in a cold, dark place
Now shines from us in all the things we do.
At night we see our origins and destinies 
So let us speak about the stars.

We are all made of stars
Stars died so we could be
Every atom, every element
Had its fiery birth
In the heart of an exploding sun.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Goodbye, Sarah Jane

It is with a heavy heart that I post the sad news that British actress Elisabeth Sladen, who played the role of the Doctor's companion Sarah Jane Smith on the long-running BBC science fiction programme "Doctor Who" has passed away after a battle with cancer.  She was 63.  Details can be found at:

Ms. Sladen was a wonderful actress and has quite literally legions of fans for her performances in "Doctor Who" and its later spin-off series for younger audiences, "The Sarah Jane Adventures."

She will be missed by so very many of us.

Monday, April 18, 2011

"It's Been a Quiet Week..."

It really has.  No great thoughts have crossed my mind, so here are some brief updates:

• My daughter's friend Clare is back home safe from Japan.  She can't wait to return.
• Speaking of my daughter, I could not be prouder of her and her peers at the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg.  They put on the best Palm Sunday Youth Service yet.  Awesome job.
• We continue to look at dorm and meal plan options for this fall at U. of Pittsburgh.  I don't know what I'll do with myself when she leaves.
• I continue to work on my Easter "swan song" Member Reflection from the pulpit next Sunday.  I've decided it's time to let some others in on this opportunity for personal growth.  The text of that reflection will probably show up here next week.
• Dr. Jim Haines continues to work on the hymn for which I've written lyrics.  I never imagined my words would get to wear such pretty clothes.
• This past week our basement leaked for the first time in, well, ever, during the most torrential rainstorms we've ever seen.  I have to learn masonry, fast.

That's about it.  Enjoy Spring if you can!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

In Memoriam Elizabeth Taylor

I have been going back and forth on whether or not even to make this entry.  I've decided to go ahead with it.  If you dislike it, please let me know by clicking on the appropriate button below.

I added a Theater major halfway through my undergraduate career at the University of Virginia.  (I was already majoring in History.)  When I graduated in 1976, I worked for several years as a journeyman actor.  I did stints of dinner theater and children's theater, I did summer outdoor drama, and I even had bit parts in a couple of films.  And like most actors, in between jobs I usually worked as a waiter or bartender.

Except for one summer in south Florida.

It was 1978.  I had just finished a gig in Miami Beach at the Marco Polo hotel's experiment with dinner theater, playing in a British farce called, "Move Over, Mrs. Markham."  Instead of opting for my usual interim job as a waiter in Key West, I answered an ad for a delivery position ... with a singing telegram company.

A brief sidebar:  I'm sure you've heard the joke about the guy who ran away to join the circus.  The next year, when the circus came back to his home town again, his friends saw him bringing up the rear of the circus parade, cleaning up after the elephants.  His friends asked him if he wouldn't rather leave the circus and come back home again.  He replied, "What, and give up show business???"

It was like that.

Every night I would load up the car with props and t-shirts and flowers, suit up in my red circus ringmaster jacket and black silk top hat, and deliver birthday wishes in song to usually unsuspecting victims, clearing about five bucks per telegram, plus tips.

Just like pizza delivery guys, I got my share of phony delivery calls.  One night I was sure I had gotten yet another one.  I was handed a request from someone in California to deliver a telegram to one "Elizabeth Taylor" who was staying incognito at one of Miami's more luxurious hotels.  I was given the suite number and the name under which she was supposedly registered.  I was sure it was another prank call, but ... one never knew for sure, and if you assumed the worst and failed to deliver a telegram that turned out to be legit, it would cost you your job.

So I went.

I knocked on the door of the suite, which was answered by a large scary-looking guy and a woman who looked like the classic Hollywood librarian.  I told them that I was there to deliver a singing birthday telegram to a "Jane Doe" who was actually Elizabeth Taylor.  I was actually getting ready to apologize for intruding and leave as quickly as possible when the woman asked me who the sender was.  I told her, she asked me to wait there for a moment, and she left for an interior room, while I waited in uncomfortable silence with the large scary guy.

After about ten minutes -- the longest, slowest ten minutes I can remember -- the woman came back out and told me that Miss Taylor would receive me now.  I just about lost it.  I went into the suite, and there she was.  Elizabeth Taylor.

She would have been in her mid forties.  She really did have violet eyes.  Blue so dark it was almost indigo, with just a hint of underlying red to take it into violet.  I was momentarily dumbstruck.  She was wearing a white dress and heaven only knows how many thousands of dollars of diamonds on her ears and fingers.  I did my schtick, sang the stupid song, and gave her a rose.  She was a delightful audience.  She was polite and mirthful and applauded generously at the end.  I did the deep bow with which I usually ended the performance, and left the room.  As I was heading out the door to the hall, which was being opened by the scary guy -- I'm sure it was his job to make certain that I left -- the other woman stopped me and gave me a very, very generous tip.

I know that much has been made of Miss Taylor's personal life and choices, her marriages and her friendship with Michael Jackson, and blah blah blah.  But she was one of the first to raise her voice for AIDS awareness, and I will always remember that night, with her alone with me in a hotel suite, her eyes sparkling as I sang this terrible TGI Friday's-worthy birthday song.  She was gracious and charming and absolutely delightful to me, and I mourn her passing.

Monday, April 4, 2011


I couldn't call this blog "Citizen of Oa" without putting in a link for the latest trailer for the upcoming Green Lantern feature film.  If for no other reason than the fact that it gives us our first good look at Hollywood's interpretation of planet Oa.  Now even folks who don't know Green Lantern from the Green Hornet can get a taste of why I'm so excited for this movie to come out!!!

Come out on June 17th and see what is shaping up to be the best popcorn flick of the summer!!