Back in 2005 I was looking for a side-hustle. Something I could do that was far removed from the civil litigation defense that I was engaged in as an attorney, but with the potential to bring in a few hundred dollars a month that would help pay the bills. At the time I was living paycheck to paycheck, constantly teetering on the edge of financial insolvency due to some poor decisions I had made while attending law school. Most of those poor decisions involved maxing out high-interest credit cards at a number of bars in Williamsburg Brooklyn where I was living at the time.
Law school was where my “under control” drinking started to stray from the twice weekly binge to a more regular and consistent intake of alcohol that lasted more or less unchecked for the next 20 years. My initial foray back into the bottom of a pint glass was fueled, in part, because I realized that despite years of time, a significant investment of money, and exhaustive effort, I hated the idea of being a lawyer. Despite my serious misgivings, by that point I had sunk so much into the enterprise that pulling out would cost me just as much as dragging myself across the finish-line. So, masochist that I am, I continued to jog through the motions as I poured booze down my throat to deaden the soul-crushing realization that getting a job as an attorney wouldn’t solve a single one of my problems. It wouldn’t make me rich, (I didn’t s go to a good enough law school for that), it wouldn’t make me happy, (even poorly paid lawyers work 60 plus hours a week), and it wouldn’t even allow me to live a half-way decent middle-class lifestyle in New York City, (cost of living is ridiculous). So, between student loans and credit card debt, I was starting out in a hole so deep it would take decades to dig myself out. So, I drank. In law school I also used cocaine. That was even more expensive. I was basically compounding the problem, but I really didn’t care. This continued on through the early stages of my legal career.
There’s more to that story, but I was talking about a side-hustle, so let me bring it back around. What, I wondered, could bring in some much-needed cash while at the same time giving me the opportunity to satisfy my desire to run as far from the law as humanly possible. It was around that time when I discovered the Universal Life Church. For those of you unfamiliar with the ULC, let me preach a little about this wonderful organization. The (ULC) is a non-denominational religious organization with millions of members all over the world. The ULC has garnered global recognition for its promotion of universal togetherness and religious expression around the world. Becoming ordained as a minister in the ULC is as easy as filling out an online form and downloading a certificate. According to the ULC website:
“By becoming an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church, you'll be granted all the rights and privileges afforded to clergy members of other faiths – including the ability to perform legal wedding ceremonies. Ordination also opens the door for you to start a personal ministry, preside over other religious and spiritual ceremonies, and much more.”
Bingo! I decided that I would become ordained, start a personal ministry and perform weddings in New York City for cold hard cash. I approached the creation of my “personal ministry” with the cynical outlook of a person who had long ago left any idea of God in the rear-view mirror. This was going to be a ministry based purely on financial transactions; you give me $300, I’ll marry you to whoever you want, whenever and wherever you want. I went ahead and ordered a “wedding kit” from the ULC and got ready to place an ad in the back of the Village Voice announcing that the Rev. Mike Ross was open for business. Before I pulled the trigger, I figured that in order to be convincing as a minister I should at the very least read up on the expectations and duties of actual ministers, as well as familiarize myself with the faith doctrines of various religions. So, I dusted off my bible (I was raised as a practicing Catholic), and ordered a few books on the spiritual life and started reading. Then a funny thing happened. I started to get into it.
I started reading about redemption, salvation and the works of mercy and it reawakened something deep inside of my drunken, cynical brain. I read books by Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and the early church fathers. I reengaged with the Zen Buddhism that I had put aside when I started hitting the bottle too frequently to allow for a real meditation practice. I even started volunteering occasionally at the Catholic Worker on the Lower East Side preparing meals for the homeless. In short, my entire world-view had been turned around because I stumbled across the ULC at a time when my belief in anything outside of myself was at it’s lowest ebb. The ULC, where anyone who can operate a keyboard can become ordained as a minister, actually opened me up to a state of grace and changed the way I looked at my life. For that, I am eternally grateful.
I never did launch that wedding business, but I maintained contact with the ULC over the years and recently I’ve been thinking that maybe I can incorporate some of the ULC belief system into the work I do today with alcoholics and addicts; helping them find the way out of the darkness and into a new life. The beauty of the ULC is that it is truly ecumenical. You don’t need to believe in any particular creed or even in a deity at all. The ULC welcomes you just as you are, whoever you are and hopes to empower you to explore your faith however you see fit.
I’d like to say that my foray into the spiritual (not to be confused with religious) life caused me to immediately stop drinking and turn my life around. Alas, it wasn’t that fast or that easy. It took me another 14 years before I was able to put the bottle down for good. But the seed was planted. It just took a while for it to grow.
Thanks for reading! I’m hoping this can be a regular column here at the RMA site. Feel free to email me with comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. Have a great week!