Full Moon Over Denver

The 86-year-old Rev. Sun Myung Moon came to Denver yesterday to address an audience of the faithful and the curious in the ballroom of the Renaissance Hotel. It was quite a show.

I had been invited to the event by my cousin Jim, a longtime member of the Unification Church. He and his Japanese wife, Kinuyo, were married by the Rev. Moon and have four wonderful kids. To be honest, I have never been able to square my admitedly negative impression of the Reverend with my admiration for Jim and his family. So I was eager to see the man in person. I joined a throng of nearly 1,000 people for a tasty buffet of salmon, chicken, and salad with apple pie for dessert. I sat alone at first, and then found Jim and his son Davis, a student at DU, and Jim’s brother Bruce, an agnostic entrepeneur who makes avalanche survival gear in Boulder. We fiddled with our ear buds and radio transmitters during the warmup speeches, getting ready to switch to the English translator for Rev. Moon’s address, which was in Korean.

Father Moon, as he was sometimes called, is looking good at 86. He spoke forcefully and moved athletically around the stage, chopping his hands and arms in the air. He wore a dark suit, white shirt, big red tie and a huge Christmassy corsage.

“Do I look ugly?” he asked. He mugged an ugly face and said, “I was labeled with all sorts of names.” Among them, he said later, was “King of Brainwashers.” Well, I guess I had heard that one, because one small part of me worried about going in a civilian and coming out a “Moonie.” I purposefully put one of my AA annniversary coins in my right pocket to touch, in case I needed grounding from whatever charms might be cast. I wasn’t the only one with such thoughts. When the MC invited us all to stand and drink the little containers of grape juice on the tables, I caught Bruce’s eye and found a look of mock alarm. I knew it wasn’t Kool-Aid, but I palmed my container anyway, hiding it later, undrunk, under a napkin.

Rev. Moon began by asking the audience if they wanted him to simply read his prepared text, which was distributed in English, or to depart from it. To each of these call-and-response bits, there seemed to be about 50 or maybe 100 firm voices giving the desired answer, which in this case was something like “Go long, Rev!” Which he did. After two hours, Rev. Moon still had nearly half of his written speech left. I saw Bruce rise and whisper in Jim’s ear. It was 9:30 p.m. and I figured this would be my best shot at getting home before real late. I rose too and caught a ride back to LoDo with Bruce.

I will admit that I was creeped out by all the Messiah talk, as in “He is the one, and we need not look for another,” a statement in the introduction by an archbishop listed as co-president of the American Clergy Leadership Conference. And Moon himself was not shy about making shocking claims for his authority. Some samples from quotes written down from the translator: “I declare these [points] because I absolutely know God’s will.” “I searched the entire spirit world and saw Jesus and Buddha, and I challenged God, which is when I received the annointment as True Parent.” “I have the title of Savior, and Messiah…and the Lord of the Second Advent.”

What made such claims more tolerable was a sort of wink, wink that came with some of them. After “Messiah” in the previous quote, he noted that “Messiah in Japanese means restaurant owner.” And he then said, “I don’t want to be called the Savior.” So he’s kind of an aw shucks savior, and he also compared himself to a Grandpa, asking if there was anyone in the room older than 86. There being none, he said he was free to talk to us like a Grandpa.

The other way I end up cutting Moon some slack for his Messianic tone is to admire the breathless scope of his aspirations. He is literally working for world peace as if it’s an attainable goal. Along the way, he is promoting the creation of a new, spiritually based United Nations and the construction of a tunnel that would link Alaska and Russia. (“You will be able to drive from Denver to Moscow–it will be a long drive, yes.”) He is working on the unification of the Koreas, the end to the North Korean nuclear threat, and the ending of the conflict between the body and the mind. I found myself achingly uplifted by the world peace bit, to hear someone actually dare to offer this as a doable goal. It made me realize how I have somewhere along the line simply accepted that we are headed for doom and no one can stop it. Is there really any hope of the nations coming together? What sort of person would actually take on a mission of such scale?

Well, probably an unusual person, and one with a fairly large sense of himself. As in a Messianic sense of himself. So if that’s what it takes for this survivor of Communist gulag camps to get up each morning of his 87th year and fly to another city (he’s scheduled to speak in 100 cities all over the world on this tour), I can go with that. We all create a story of ourselves that motivates us through our lives. Father Moon’s is a bigger story than most.

I don’t want to leave without noting that Rev. Moon’s frequent reminders of how much he has been persecuted struck me as a poor fit with a truly spiritual leader. Those are the ones who simply seem to have forgotten themselves in the service of God and humanity. The electrifying humility of such leaders seemed to be less evident in the Rev. Moon than I might have expected if he is who he says he is. Instead, he wanted to remind us of how the CIA and the KGB have tried to do him in, but he’s still here. The CIA even sent a woman to try and seduce him in San Francisco. Well, maybe. This is not to take away from the real persecution he has been through, especially in the prison camps. He just might have used his time more effectively by talking about his message more and about himself less.

So I’m still a coin-carrying member of AA and a true believer in the complexity of life. But I’m glad I had a chance to see this remarkable personage in the flesh.

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