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WHO OR WHAT IS GOD

Listen to sermon

Gathering Music

Greeting from the Board

Welcome and Announcements

Opening Hymn:

#23 Bring Many Names

Opening words

# 435 Let Us Worship

We come together this morning to

Remind one another

To rest for a moment on the

Forming edge of our lives,

To resist the headlong tumble

Into the next moment,

Until we claim for ourselves

Awareness and gratitude,

Taking the time to look into one

Another’s faces

And see there communion: the

Reflection of our own eyes.

This house of laughter and

Silence, memory and hope,

Is hallowed by our presence

Together.

–Kathleen McTigue

Chalice lighting (unison)

We light this beacon of hope,

sign of our quest

for truth and meaning,

in celebration of the life we share together.

Offering

Story for All Ages

Singing out the children

Cares and Celebrations

Meditation
Bone by Mary Oliver

1.

Understand, I am always trying to figure out

What the soul is,

And where hidden,

And what shapeAnd so, last week,

When I found on the beach

The ear bone

Of a pilot what that may have died

Hundreds of years ago, I thought

Maybe I was close

To discovering somethingFor the ear bone

2.

Is the portion that lasts longest

In any of us, man or whale…

And I thought: the soul

Might be like thisSo hard, so necessary-

3.

Yet almost nothing

Beside me

The gray sea

Was opening and shutting its wave-doors..

I looked but couldn’t see anything

Through its dark-knit glare;

Yet don’t we all know, the golden sand

Is there at the bottom,

Though our eyes have never seen it,

Nor can our hands ever catch it.

4.

Lest we would sift it down

Into fractions, and factsCertaintiesAnd what the soul is, also

I believe I will never quite know.

Though I play at the edges of knowing,

Truly I know

Our part is not knowing,

But looking, and touching, and loving,

Which is the way I walked on,

Softly,

Through the pale-pink morning light

Musical Response:

Readings

from House of Hope

Hymn: Down the Ages We Have Trod

Sermon

“Who or What Is God?” – Rev. Frieda Gillespie

This is the second of a series of sermons about Unitarian Universalist views of religious questions. Does anyone remember the million dollar phrase from last week? This week’s phrase is “process theology”. But I will be talking about that much later.

I shared a story with a Mormon friend about being at Dana Farber for a long day of testing that required fasting. I was craving a wonderful rich meal throughout including NY style strawberry cheesecake for dessert. Jen had to get home quickly after the tests and I was disappointed that we only had time to stop at the Food Court next door. There was a Sbarro there that had a wonderful Chicken Marsala that I ordered. And then, in the case with the salads there was one lone dessert container of nothing other than NY style strawberry cheesecake! It was a heavenly meal. My Mormon friend said that God put that cheesecake there for me to encourage me. Imbedded in this statement is a whole concept of who or what God is. Some of it we can infer from her statement, but it would have to be carefully unpacked to understand completely what she meant.

I have to say that it was amazing to me that the cheesecake was there and it was tempting to think of it in magical terms. Rationally, I don’t think there was any connection between my desire and the cheesecake’s appearance in the case, or my appearance at that restaurant. It was pure coincidence, but still, the fact that it was there did lift my spirits.

I think we are constantly discovering the wonder of who we are as human beings and as individuals. In the early days of learning that I had cancer, I was stunned, unbelieving and afraid. Without any rational process on my part I experienced a falling away of certain old patterns of thinking. Things the kids would do that irritated me, I found myself responding to with great love and affection. When normally I might have had conflict with Jennifer, I didn’t – a new sense of love overriding all seemed to up well in my heart in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. It came easily without struggle. I had no reason to feel this way it just seemed that something old within me had gotten out of my way for a time. It felt like a gift, like grace. Some people might call that a gift from God.

It is experiences like this that make us feel that there is more than meets the eye in our world and that words are not adequate to describe what we are experiencing.

What I’d like to offer today is a very brief look at how humans have thought about God, how progressive religion has changed the way we understand God and what concept of God remains after all of this.

Karen Armstrong has written a book called The Case for God. She talks in the beginning about the ancient Greek concepts of mythos and logos. She says, “Both were essential and neither was considered superior to the other; they were not in conflict but complementary. Each had its own sphere of competence and it was considered unwise to mix the two. Logos (“reason”) was the pragmatic mode of thought that enabled people to function effectively in the world. It had, therefore, to correspond accurately to external reality. …Logos was essential to the survival of our species. But it had its limitation: it could not assuage human grief or find ultimate meaning in life’s struggles. For that people turned to mythos or “myth.” …in the past, myth was not a self-indulgent fantasy: rather, like logos, it helped people live effectively in our confusing world, though in a different way.”

This distinction is important when we consider the Biblical stories and what they are meant to teach us. Many people derive their idea of God from the Bible and there are many Gods there to choose from. There is the jealous God, the God within, the God that loves us, the God that leads, the one that destroys and punishes. But these stories were never meant to be interpreted literally as factual accounts, nor were they meant to be “believed.” They were always meant to be mythos. Just as Jesus used parables to impart teachings, these stories are meant to touch the imagination, the intuition and to address the particular needs of people at a moment in history. To understand many of them, it is necessary to know when they were written and what they were trying to teach the people they were written for.

The rise of fundamentalism, especially in the 20th century has brought about a seeming conflict between mythos and logos that needn’t exist. When the Bible or any scripture is approached literally it loses its meaning, its usefulness, and purpose. The Humanist movement grew out of this awareness and endeavored to counter the irrational claims of religion by affirming that a good and ethical life could be lived without any idea of God.

The new fundamentalist atheists—Dawkins, Hitchens and their ilk –make very good cases against fundamentalist religion and the destruction it can cause. But they become just as fanatical especially in their hatred of Islam and completely miss the perspective of many very thoughtful and intelligent theists who do not take the Bible literally but find profound meaning there that enhances and guides their lives.

A colleague of mine wrote a sermon whose title I love. It is “If By God You Mean…” This is the beginning of an answer to the question, “Do You Believe in God?” I agree with Rebecca Parker that this is a particularly useless question, one that needs a long conversation with lots of explanation. I prefer her questions as to whether there is help available to us in times of need and whether there is anything or anyone that wants us to thrive in this world and has the power to make that possible. Isn’t that the bottom line of what we are seeking when we consider God?

So, let’s look at some Unitarian Universalist views of God and how they have developed over the years. Rebecca Parker sums up this history pretty well:

“For the past two hundred years, theologians have been wrestling with theism—deconstructing image after image of God that has functioned idolatrously and oppressively. Progressive theology has dethroned God as king, undone God the father, exposed the fallacy of God as white, as male, as straight, as able-bodied…and more. As early as the 1960’s, theologians were announcing the death of God.

…Thoughtful people of many faiths hold that if there is a God, God must be worthy of our devotion—not an enemy of what is good in us and not the divine authorizer for acts of injustice, terror and oppression.”

Parker quotes nineteenth century Unitarian Theodore Parker who said, “the goodness of God is manifest in that God has given humanity the power to judge God.”

Early in the 20th century, Charlotte Perkins Gilman in His Religion and Hers offered a feminist view of God. In 1923 Gilman wrote:

“Birth-based religion…would tell no story of old sins, anguish and despair, of passionate pleading for forgiveness for the mischief we have made, but would offer always the fresh sunrise of hope: “Here is the new baby. Begin again!” To the mother, comes the apprehension of God as something coming: she sees [God’s] work as visibly unfinished and calling for continuous service. …As the thought of God slowly unfolded in the mind of woman, that great Power would have been apprehended as the Life-giver, the Teacher, the Provider, the Protector—not the proud, angry, jealous, vengeful, deity men have imagined. She would have been a God of service, not a God of battles.”

Interestingly, it is out of the findings of science, specifically physics that a new concept of God has emerged and one that many Unitarian Universalists embrace. It is called “process theology” and it is based on the new physics. Beginning with insights by mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead and his response to the discovery that the building blocks of matter, are not solid things, but “tiny activities.” The universe is actually “relational, interactive, co-determinate, chaotic, intermittent, and ever changing.”

Whitehead proposed that all beings are “events-in-process.” Can you think of yourself as an ‘event-in-process’? The events depend on “receiving and being affected by the vast network of all existence.” In other words, and if I understand this correctly, we live in a universe of cause and effect. Not in a simple domino like chain but a myriad and complex network of causes that produce effects within us and we are constantly responding in ways that send out ripples into the whole of existence.

Whitehead’s idea of God is that of a process like the rest of us differing only in quality. “God is supreme in sensitivity—feeling everything with fullness. God is supreme in integration—holding everything with “care that nothing be lost,” Whitehead says. God’s feeling for the plentitude of existence evolves moment by moment, in creative response to all that is happening.” That I believe is the heart of this view of God that God is constantly changing in response to all that is happening in the Universe.

Rebecca Parker says, “From the heart of God, alluring guidance flows into the world. God’s imagination and longing, felt by every event-in-progress, invites each particular thing to its potential part in the advance of peace, joy, healing, zest—abundant life.” Whitehead notes that whether this guidance is manifest is up to the decision of each individual which he sees as free to choose to align with God’s aims or not.

What I respond to in process theology is that there is a positive life process that we are a part of, that we participate with and can experience. We are connected with it and therefore experience it from within ourselves and in our lives. Where I differ philosophically from process theology is in believing we have a choice about it. I don’t believe it’s that simple at all. I think we have to be affected in new ways and be changed to choose a new way. And we don’t have control over what affects us. If I had not gotten lymphoma, I don’t think I would have experienced the shift in my heart that I did. I certainly didn’t choose to have lymphoma.

I can have a view of life that is quite dismal, quite hopeless when I think of the capacity of human beings to hurt each other and the whole of life, tragically, out of ignorance, confusion, mental illness, indoctrination, greed, and the lust for power. I often feel this way after listening to the news too much. Life can feel quite meaningless and I feel powerless to change anything.

There are times though when I can see all the same conditions, the good and the bad through a lens of love and at those times, I see how we have been given the most wonderful opportunity to live in these miraculous bodies and minds and that everyone is doing the best they can with what they know and what they are being affected by. That positive change does occur although maybe not as fast as we want it to or in ways or places we expect it.

And we are so fortunate when we can get a glimpse, perhaps just out of the corner of our eye, of something more than we imagined was possible. Like when we suddenly find ourselves noticing someone in a new light and being affected by them more deeply than before, or opening ourselves to something we need and finding it there, or discovering something new about any aspect of life. Even one experience of something new reminds us that more is possible, that life is not limited in the ways we think it is. God for me is that greater reality—and we know so little about it if we’re honest. That we have the desire to reach for it each in our own way is a gift.

Parker talks about a passage in Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. One of the characters, Shug comes “to see God as It, as everything, as the connectedness among all things, as the lover of everything we love, even sexual pleasure.” …Shug says, “It always making little surprises and springing them on us when we least expect.” Like a field blooming in the color purple.

It seems to me that the test of however we think or feel about God or no God is whether our conception helps us to thrive. Does it connect us with others or separate us? Does it feed our soul or crush it? Does it leave us in despair or open our hearts? Does it free us from delusions of the past or does it anchor us there? .

May you find answers to these questions of the heart.

Hymn:
#20 Be Thou My Vision

Closing words

For all who see God

may God go with you.

For all who embrace life,

may life return your affection.

For all who seek a right path,

may a way be found…

and the courage to take it,

step by step.

–Robert Mabry Doss

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UU ELEVATOR SPEECHES

Gathering Music

Greeting from the Board

Welcome and Announcements

Opening Hymn:

#346 Come Sing a Song with Me

Opening words

Chalice lighting (unison)

Come into the circle of love and justice.

Come into the community of mercy, holiness and health.

Come, and you shall know peace and joy.

–adapted from Israel Zangwill

Offering

Story for All Ages

Singing out the children

Cares and Celebrations

Meditation

Breathe in peace

Breathe out love

Musical Response:

Reading from the Pocket Guide

– Kay Montgomery

Hymn:
#113 Where Is Our Holy Church?

Sermon

“The Elevator Speeches” – Rev. Frieda Gillespie

One of the most unusual things about Unitarian Universalism is the difficulty that we have in defining it for others. Someone asks us casually or seriously what UUism is and we are suddenly tongue tied or find ourselves saying things like: “You can believe anything you want.” Or worse, “We don’t believe anything.” Let’s admit it we’ve all said similar things when cornered. I cringe when I hear that because although the UU saying it is referring to freedom from dogma, it can sound like we have no values whatsoever to the person asking. And these kinds of platitudes don’t even begin to do justice to the depth and beauty of our faith.

The seven principles in our UUA by-laws were written in an attempt to explain what UU’s affirm and promote. Beware the trap of relying on these too specifically or we end up much like ventriloquist’s dummies repeating something without really understanding its place in our faith or our lives. I think people sense this when we try and use these as an explanation of our beliefs. They want to know what we get from our religion, why it matters to us. To know this takes introspection rather than memorization.

Perhaps you’ve all heard of an elevator speech. This is the brief description of Unitarian Universalism

that you can give someone in the time it takes to travel in an elevator together. The UUA has a new pamphlet called “To the Point: 15 Unitarian Universalist Elevator Speeches.” They are all excellent. They are as simple as, “We are a church of many beliefs, worshipping as one community, and focused on making this a better world.” Some are more complex: “Our denomination is unique because every Unitarian Universalist has the right to develop a personal philosophy of life, without being told what to believe. We can learn from all philosophies and religions, and also from science and the arts. We explore important life issues in a caring community, united by shared values rather than by shared theological opinions. And no matter what we do believe about theology or philosophy, we try to live a good life and leave the world better than we found it.” Some are poetic like this one: “Unitarian Universalists have different religious beliefs but share a common faith. We know that life is holy, that each person is worthy, and that when we join together to plant the seeds of love, the world blossoms.” And this one: “Our faith is not interested in saving your soul—we’re here to help you unfold the awesome soul you already have.”

These speeches are pretty polished; clearly the authors worked on them, wrote them down and honed them until they said what they wanted to say. There is a terrific class called “Articulating Your UU Faith” that takes you through a process with others of doing just that. To start with you examine your spiritual upbringing and examine what you have come to believe about the big questions in life. You look at how you engage with UUism—what it means to you. And finally you practice sharing what you’ve come to with other people until you can fairly readily say something coherent and even true when asked.

There are many aspects to UUism and while you may appreciate them all, there is often one that is most compelling to you. It may be the rich historical origins of our religion and the many great thinkers and social activists that have contributed to it: names such as Thomas Jefferson, Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Clara Barton, Susan B. Anthony, Dorothy Dix, and many others that any school child learns about because of their great contributions to American culture. Social activism in the past and currently within our denomination may be what is most important to you. Or the search for spiritual development unimpeded by creedal expectations.

Expectations within our faith are communal and covenantal rather than creedal. We covenant with one another to be together and respect each other’s spiritual path. There are no mantras to learn. As Rev. Forrest Church wrote, “In our faith, God is not a given, God is a question. God is not defined for us, God is defined by us. Our views are shaped and changed by our experiences. As we grow, our faith grows. We struggle with what it means to be alive and yet have to die. We probe the depths of our own being for little hints of meaning. We create a faith by which we can live and struggle to live up to it. Throughout, each of us is fated to travel his or her own path. In the larger sense, we have chosen to journey together because we find that it is helpful. We find that it is good.”

Your interest in UUism may be about community. One person wrote: “UUism is a non-judgmental religious home that will accept and support you wherever you might be on life’s journey. ..It’s a safe place to stand out, stand up, and change your mind, particularly during life’s transitions…Our only doctrine is love.”

The thought of answering someone’s questions about UUism is daunting enough. But the more we practice it, the more we gain the courage to initiate a conversation with someone that might be looking for us, something that produces high anxiety indeed. We say that we don’t want to be thought of as evangelical like the ubiquitous TV and radio preachers. Just send in your money folks and you’ll be prayed for and saved. I really can’t imagine how anyone could interpret someone’s elevator speech about UUism as the dogmatic, “we have all the answers” kind of evangelism that we have all heard before. You are not entrapping someone if you are leading them to more freedom.

I think the real challenge is that having to explain to another or offer what we’ve found, encroaches on our complacency big time. We may have been members of the church for many years and gone through many phases of involvement after our initial excitement. Then we find ourselves settling in to a kind of routine, talking to the same people each week and doing more reminiscing than exploring. Talking to new people is challenging because they have questions that may not be easy for us to answer. They represent the kind of force that can break through the heavy viscosity of complacency. We may feel some anxiety but we will also feel more alive.

There are a lot of UU jokes. Most of them, it seems to me, make fun of the tendency to be irreverent, intellectual or passive. They portray our theology as empty and all UU’s as atheists or ignorant of church traditions. There is always a shadow side to any human endeavor. Our shadows tend to be elitism, intellectualism, and lack of ecumenism. Whenever we mock other religions, or think that we are smarter than most people or hide in our intellect we are caught in some of the traps that can keep us from a living faith.

Here are some of those jokes:

What do you get when you cross a Jehovah’s Witness with a Unitarian Universalist? Someone who knocks on your door for no apparent reason.

Why can’t UUs sing very well? Because they’re always reading ahead to see if they agree with the next verse.

A Unitarian is just a Quaker with Attention Deficit Disorder.

You might be a UU if . . .

you have ever been in an argument over whether or not breast milk is vegan.

when you dress for a formal evening out you wear a little black dress, pearls–and Birkenstocks (and your wife thinks you look great!)

you are unsure about the gender of God. the money you sent to the Sierra Club last year was more than you spent on your mother at Christmas.

you think the Holy Trinity is “reduce, reuse and recycle.”

you study the “ten suggestions” instead of the “Ten Commandments.”

the only time “Jesus” is mentioned at church is when someone trips or stubs a toe.

your child says to you before eating dinner at a friend’s house “I’ll remember to say my ‘pleases’ and ‘thank you’s but I’m not going to say that dinner ‘pledge of allegiance’.”

You think a Holy day of Obligation is your turn to do coffee.

You get mail from committees you didn’t know you were on.

You know at least two people who are upset that trees had to die for your church to be built.

Now I’ll tell you a real story that happened in our Sunday school. The Kindergarten class was discussing “prayer”, and the children seemed aware that the way you end a prayer was with “amen.” Does anyone know what “amen” means, the teacher asked. There was a long silence. Then one little boy piped up, with appropriate, computer-age gestures, and said, “Well, I think it means, like, “send”

A little Unitarian Universalist girl was sitting on the curb in front of her house with a sad look on her face. An older lady happened upon her and asked her why she looked so sad. The girl replied, “My kitty cat died.”

The older woman, trying to be helpful, said to the little girl, “I know you’re sad, but right now your kitty cat is with Jesus.”

The girl crinkled her nose for a second and replied, “What would Jesus want with a dead cat?”

What does the KKK do to get rid of UU’s in their town? Burn a question mark on their lawns.

A Priest, a Rabbi and a UU minister were talking about their experiences with a church fire. The Priest said, “It was touch and go, but at least I saved our ancient Bible from the flames.” The Rabbi said, “We were blessed that way too and our cantor saved our Torah just in time.” The UU minister nodded sympathetically and said, “Yes, we too were so happy that Eva saved the coffee pot!”

Ok, that’s enough.

I’ve extolled the virtues of the elevator speech and so the least I can do is tell you one of mine:

10th floor – We are a community of people who value the freedom to explore more than the need to have easy answers.

9th floor – We gather for worship without being told what to believe. We wonder about God more than we believe in a God.

8th floor – Unitarianism comes from the belief in one God not a trinity. God is one. Universalism believes that God is loving and that all souls are saved. God is love.

7th floor – Unitarian Universalism has evolved and expanded to include many people that use many names to describe their faith: atheist, humanist, theist, Christian, Jew, Buddhist, agnostic, Pagan to name a few.

6th floor – We believe in the holiness of all creation which is why we accept people of all races, ethnic groups, sexual orientations and gender identifications. There are no strangers.

5th floor – Everyone has worth and dignity and has within them the gifts, strength and salvation that they need.

4th floor – We are responsible to protect and cherish the earth and all of its inhabitants.

3rd floor – We accept the reality of death and still find life worthwhile and joyful.

2nd floor – We would love to have you join us on Sunday. Please come. You can read about us at nsuu.org.

1st floor – Thank you for asking! I hope to see you at Northshore Church someday.

May it be so.

Closing Hymn:
#121 We’ll Build a Land

Closing words

Be ours a religion which, like sunshine, goes everywhere;

its temple, all space;

its shrine, the good heart;

its creed, all truth;

its ritual, works of love;

its profession of faith, divine living.

–Theodore Parker

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MLK DAY SERMON

Listen to sermon

Gathering Music

Greeting from the Board

Welcome and Announcements

Opening Hymn:

#169 We Shall Overcome

Opening words

Welcome into this place of peace and time of renewal and quickening. Here together this winter morning, we seek refuge from our daily life, take time to make meaning from all that we’ve experienced, noticed or missed. Here you can rest knowing you are accepted as you are. Whatever you’ve done or not done. Whatever you’ve wanted or not wanted. Whatever you believe or don’t believe. Whoever loves you or doesn’t love you. You are welcome here. Let go of what burdens you, for just a little while and come into this circle of peace, renewal and quickening. May we leave today brighter, more alive, and more known. Come, let us worship together.

Chalice lighting (unison)

“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all [people] are created equal.’”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Story for All Ages

Singing out the children

Cares and Celebrations

Meditation

pg.132 in In Between

Musical Response:

Reading from In Between by Mark Morrison-Reed

Hymn:
#1008 When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place

Sermon

In 1998 I was a member of a UU congregation in Carrollton TX. I had confessed to the minister there that I wanted to become a UU minister and he had offered me opportunities occasionally to preach. One Sunday I preached about racism. A couple attended that were members of another local UU church. They were Asian. They spoke to me afterwards and said how important they felt it was that white people talk about racism with each other. “If we talk about it,” they said, “white people feel guilty and defensive.” This is such an important insight. In our reading from Rev. Morrison-Reed’s memoir, why did this woman Mark encountered tell him her story and why at that moment? This is a crucial question and the answer I think reflects an important issue for white people. Here’s why I think she told Mark: black people care about this and white people don’t. I believe, and I have no way to know for sure, that in that time of vulnerability and intimacy where Mark had been of service to her family in crisis, she felt an opening to share a painful story to someone that she thought would care because he is black. The story is just as painful whether she tells it to a white person or a black person, but the unspoken racism in our white culture prevents her from initiating a conversation with a white person about it. Why would the white person care; why would she want to share it?

The fundamental question is whether racism is only a problem for black people or does it crush the souls of white people as well? And if it does, why don’t we talk about it?

In an article about the UUA’s efforts to combat modern slavery, Kimberly French “sorted through the reasons Unitarian Universalists rightfully take pride in our history of standing up against slavery—and through the reasons not to take too much pride.

French says we rightly claim many nineteenth-century abolitionists: Samuel J. May, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Julia Ward Howe, Theodore Parker, and Sylvanus Cobb Jr., among others. Many Unitarians and Universalists of the time followed their leadership, often at great personal risk. Parker himself hid and defended fugitive slaves, helped finance slave insurrections, and delivered fiery antislavery sermons. In 1850 a federal grand jury indicted him for obstructing a federal marshal in the case of a fugitive slave in his congregation. In 1843, inspired by Sylvanus Cobb’s efforts, the United States Convention of Universalists passed a resolution “to bear testimony against the slavery of the African race. . . .”

Yet, most Boston Unitarian ministers supported the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, which set up federal commissioners to catch and return escaped slaves. And many of the Boston Brahmins at the core of Unitarian membership were, in fact, industrialists who profited enormously from slavery: New England textile mills used slave-grown cotton from Southern plantations. As abolition gained ground among Unitarians, many industrialists left the denomination. Many Southern Unitarians—who owned slaves—also withdrew.”

During the late 1800’s and early 20th century there were several black ministers who joined the Unitarian or Universalist movements and worked to create churches. They were not well supported by the denominations because they didn’t have faith that a black Unitarian or Universalist church would be sustainable. It was a serious error in judgment. And it was a long time before African American ministers again graced our movement.

During the Civil Rights movement in the early nineteen sixties, many of our members and ministers stepped up to help sometimes putting their lives on the line. Rev. Morrison-Reed writes in his memoir, “On March 11…a headline caught my attention:

THREE CLERGYMEN ARE CLUBBED IN SELMA, ALA.

“Three white ministers who came here to join a civil rights march were beaten with clubs last night by five white attackers. One was near death in a hospital…All three were members of the Unitarian Universalist Association…”

Reed says, “Unitarian Universalism was my religion, and those three ministers were my people. One of them, James Reeb, died soon after the attack. The Unitarian Universalist Association Board of Trustees, which was meeting in Boston, adjourned and traveled to Selma along with hundreds of Reeb’s colleagues to memorialize Reeb and march with Dr. King. Two weeks later, another Unitarian Universalist protestor, Viola Liuzzo, a white Detroit housewife and mother of five was shot and killed. These events galvanized white liberal support for the civil rights movement, propelled people into action, and assured the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act shortly thereafter.”

Currently, the UUA has been active in India fighting modern day slavery. Again, [Kimberly] French found, UUs have much to be proud of: For two decades the UU Holdeen India Program has been at the vanguard of a new abolition movement.

Contemporary antislavery activists have praised the denomination. “Three groups have been our biggest supporters—blacks, Jews, and UUs,” Charles Jacobs, director of the American Anti-Slavery Group, said at the 2003 General Assembly. “You are an abolitionist church.” And Kevin Bales, a leading slavery researcher and a Quaker, told French: “I have to congratulate UUs. I’m a little embarrassed to say there’s no Quakers Against Slavery. And through UU Holdeen, you’ve been there already for a long time, doing things that really mattered almost before anyone else became awakened.”

Our Unitarian Universalist movement lost one of its prophetic African American ministers, Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley who died of cancer on December 10th, 2007 at the age of 57.

What made Rev. Bowens-Wheatley so appreciated and loved by clergy and lay people alike was her unwavering vision of a multi-racial denomination. As one of the few African American Unitarian Universalist ministers her vision and ideas have and will continue to be been very important to that goal.

One of Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley’s many contributions was to edit a collection of conversations about racism which was published in a book called Soul Work: Anti-racist theologies in dialogue. This was the result of a conference sponsored by the Unitarian Universalist Association of African American, Hispanic, Native American and white theologians and ministers. They each presented a paper for the others to respond to. James Cone was one of the participants. He teaches theology at Union Theological Seminary and has been one of the strongest voices for anti-racist theology otherwise known as Liberation Theology in our country for the last thirty years or so. In his paper he laments the fact that white theologians don’t talk about racism very much if at all. He proposes four reasons for this and although we are not academic theologians, I would like to you to see if any of these fit us in some way.

The first reason is the most damning. It is the fact that we don’t have to have to. Since white people have a position of power in all aspects of society, there is no motivation to talk about it or even notice it.

The second reason is that talking about white supremacy arouses strong feelings of guilt in us that we don’t want to feel.

The third reason is that we don’t want to engage with the rage people of color have about the harm that has been done to them by white people.

And the fourth reason is because we are not prepared for a significant redistribution of wealth and power that would be needed to make things right and just in this country.

Those reasons seem straight forward to me and I’d say Cone hits the nail pretty much on the head. I’d say that these are the reasons we don’t engage in real dialogue with other ethnic groups and cultures in our community or in our churches. All of these reasons have the common denominator of fear–an unwillingness to be discomforted or shaken up.

I wonder though if there couldn’t be an approach that goes beyond those feelings of fear; that would allow us to be more open and build bridges between our “European-centric” way of being and other ways of being.

Part of the confusion we have is that we don’t realize that racism is our problem too. How much attention do we give to the question: What does living in a racist society do to those of us in a position of power and privilege? How is our mind and heart distorted and anesthetized so that we can accept this societal structure? And what does it mean for us to live in so much fear of so many of our neighbors?

The Rev. Rebecca Parker addresses this in her paper. She says, “To come of age in America as a white person is to be educated into ignorance. It is to be culturally shaped to not know and not to want to know the actual context in which you live.” What context is she referring to? Instead of living in reality—all of the realties of our lives, we choose those which support our “goodness” our “all-whiteness.” We do not willingly admit our ability to do harm. Parker says that “at some level we know that our pristine garden has been created by what has been exiled and exploited. This primordial violence lies beneath our sense of privilege and security. We are fearful of this deeper violence being exposed. We feel helpless in the presence of our own violence.”

Martin Luther King said, “We have deluded ourselves into believing the myth that capitalism grew and prospered out of the Protestant ethic of hard work and sacrifices. Capitalism was built on the exploitation of black slaves and continues to thrive on the exploitation of the poor.”
He also said: “I am convinced that if we are to get on right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

Parker recommends work on several fronts. Remedial education is a way to reclaim our knowing. There are lots of resources available to learn about the history of our city our state or our country through the eyes of people of color. We need to be willing to know that history. And to know what is really going on in our community today.

The second is becoming an engaged presence on political and social fronts, noticing and bearing witness to injustice and adding our voice in solidarity to those who would make positive change. Activism builds bridges.

Lastly and most importantly is the soul work that Parker recommends to reclaim and heal the fragmentation of our being. She says, “Whites need to accept the personal task of spiritual healing rather than project onto people of color our own loss of humanity, asking people of color to carry the burden of this loss.”

What is our motivation to do something about this today or any day? It is the very love of and desire for a full life not a partially suppressed or fragmented one, but one which includes all of our neighbors and revolts against the kind of violence that separates us from them. We cannot accept the insulated, walled garden of ignorance and fear when there is a real, full and vibrant life awaiting us, a life where we are needed and wanted.

African American writer Zora Neale Hurston writes, “Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company! It’s beyond me.”

Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley wrote: “Deep in my heart, I do believe that this too can change. Behold, there is a new spirit among us, expanding our horizons. New forms of culture are breaking out all over. Do you see it? Do you hear it? Do you embrace it? Keep the faith!”

May it be so.

Closing Hymn:
#293 O Star of Truth

Closing words

Because of those who came before,

we are;

in spite of their failings, we believe;

because of, and in spite of the

horizons of their vision,

we, too, dream.

Let us go remembering to praise,

to live in the moment,

to love mightily,

to bow to the mystery.

–Barbara Pescan

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IMMIGRATION

Listen to sermon

Gathering Music

Greeting from the Board

Welcome and Announcements

Opening Hymn:

#1031 Filled with Loving Kindness

Opening words
On Being Given Time

It is, perhaps our most complex creation,

A lovely skill we spend a lifetime learning,

Something between the world of pure sensation

And the world of pure thought, a new relation,

As if we held in balance a globe turning.

Even a year’s not long, yet moments are.

This moment, yours and mine, and always given,

When the leaf falls, the ripple opens far,

And we go where all animals and children are,

The world is open. Love can breathe again.

–May Sarton

Chalice lighting (unison)

We gather this hour as people of faith

With joys and sorrows, gifts and needs.

We light this beacon of hope,

Sign of our quest

For truth and meaning,

In celebration of the life we share together.

Offering

Story for All Ages

Ashley Murphy, DRE

Cares and Celebrations

Meditation

I thought of happiness, how it is woven

Out of the silence of the empty house each day

And how it is not sudden and it is not given

But is creation itself like the growth of a tree.

No one has seen it happen, but inside the bark

Another circle is growing in the expanding ring.

No one has heard the root go deeper in the dark,

But the tree is lifted by this inward work

And its plumes shine, and its leaves are glittering.

Musical Response

Hymn:
#1018 Come and Go with Me

Sermon

“Immigration” – Rev. Frieda Gillespie

Here we are a roomful descendants of immigrants and a few of us are immigrants. It would be fascinating to map all the places our ancestors came from and when. It would need to be a three dimensional chart to capture all of the information. It would also be fascinating to know the stories of those immigrants and what they had to endure before they found a place in society where they could belong and thrive. We are the result of their persistence, stamina and resilience as our immigrant ancestors fought for living and working conditions that would allow their families to rise in stature.

Immigration today in the US is complicated by the fact that we have so many illegal immigrants that have found their way into jobs, homes and schools, approximately 11 million in all. They’ve had children who are US citizens by definition and they contribute in many ways to society. They came here to escape from wars or desperate economic conditions some of which we inadvertently have caused.

Up until recently there has been a policy of tolerance among most of law enforcement. Local police in many places did not concern themselves with whether someone had papers as long as they weren’t causing any serious trouble. There was a recognition that the workers who were in the country illegally were vital to the industries in which they worked. The Federal agency in charge of enforcing immigration violations, ICE, looked the other way too in many cases. When President Obama campaigned for election in 2008 he stated that immigration reform was a high priority. And he is right. Without reform, immigrants can be blackmailed into very low paying jobs and abused. And there is nothing to keep the drug wars so prevalent in Mexico from streaming over the border making border towns and states dangerous territories.

When he started in office, President Obama did not find support for immigration reform. He also found many other issues that had higher priority and he wasn’t able to effect meaningful change for immigrants. Because his opposition in Congress insisted that the law of the land had to be enforced before they would consider any kind of reform, Obama decided that enforcement was the only way to go forward. He stepped up the number of officers near the borders, he supported fence building along the borders and his administration initiated the Secure Communities program.

The Secure Communities program was presumably meant to rid the country of criminals who are in the US illegally. Those local police and sheriff departments that bought into the program were required to report the names of anyone picked up for any reason to ICE to validate their citizenship. This was a very quick process through interconnected software programs. If someone was found to be here illegally, they would be immediately sent to a detention camp until it was decided whether they would be deported or not. From the Secure Communities website we have the results of these actions for 2011: They say, “In FY 2011, ICE removed 396,906 individuals. Ninety percent of all these removals fell into one of ICE’s enforcement priorities.” That means that they were either serious criminals, recent arrivals over the border, or frequent immigration violators.

But what of the remaining 10% or 40,000 people who were removed from their homes, workplaces or off the street for no other reason than that the officer who came in contact with them decided to turn them in. These are people who had a minor traffic violation, an accident, who are victims of a crime or a witness to a crime. They are non-citizens and citizens without their paperwork. ICE calls this “collateral damage”.

Since then, the PBS news program, Frontline, investigated what Secure Communities did to families and individuals who were detained. They produced a film called, “Lost in Detention” which you can see online at the Frontline website. Lois Markham, who is the Chairperson of the Social Action Committee here at NSUU, showed the film in parts to a group of us last year.

Imagine you are driving along 95, going to work perhaps, and suddenly the dreaded state trooper comes up behind you with their lights flashing and a short “woop” sound to get you to pull over. The officer looks at your license and registration and then walks back to his car to check you out—pretty standard procedure so far. However, this is a community where Secure Communities is in effect. The officer sends your name and info to ICE and on the spot gets the message that you are to be detained. When he returns, you ask why you were pulled over and he says that you changed lanes without signaling. The officer says that you have to go with him and that you should call your family and tell them you won’t be home. You are taken to a detention center in Massachusetts and told that you’ll be released the next day. The next day you are sent to a much larger detention center near the border of Mexico in Texas. In the detention center you are yelled at, shoved and perhaps beaten for no apparent reason. You are treated as though you are a hardened criminal unworthy of respect and stripped of all rights. The guards are brutally intimidating. One of them sexually assaults you and threatens you with immediate deportation if you tell anyone.

After weeks of this, out of desperation, you beg to be deported. You are sent back to Mexico, back into a very dangerous area. Years pass, and that morning you got into your car to go to work, was the last time you saw your spouse or your five children. Meanwhile your spouse has been trying to find you without any help from law enforcement or ICE. Your children are shocked that one of their parents could just vanish like this. They will never get over it. Can you imagine?

This is a montage of typical stories that the investigative reporter heard from families where Secure Communities has operated in recent years.

Before Secure Communities was mandated by the Federal Government, state officials in Arizona became angry that ICE wasn’t enforcing immigration laws and they decided to enforce the laws themselves at the local level. The sheriff in Phoenix, Sheriff Joe Arpaio was a major proponent of legislation that mandated that Arizona local police were required to check the immigration status of anyone they were even slightly suspicious of. It gave them broad powers to stop and detain people. This law was protested throughout the country and even the Federal government brought suit against Arizona to get them to back off and allow ICE to do their jobs. Some of the most stringent provisions of the law were thrown out in the courts. Mark Kirkorian, Exec. Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, points out in the Frontline video that being in the country without proper papers is not a crime, it’s not a criminal offense, it is an administrative matter. In other words, there are no criminal penalties to be applied. And yet…

The summer of 2011, many UU ministers and lay people went to Phoenix to join in protests and demonstrations to try and get the law repealed. Some of our ministers were arrested as they stood in front of the Sheriff’s Dept. building blocking the entrance. There was a picture in the Boston Globe of Rev. Wendy von Zirpolo from the Marblehead UU church being dragged to jail with a young student from Phoenix. Our UUA President, Peter Morales, was also one of the protesters arrested. They were let out of jail the next day and sent home. Many of them had to return to Phoenix to face charges of disturbing the peace. The judge was sympathetic to the protesters and she allowed Wendy to share a statement with the court. Here is an excerpt:

…”While inside the Maricopa Jail garage, I saw a young Latino man dragged past me and behind some vans, calling out, ‘I am not resisting arrest. I am not resisting arrest.’ When I saw him again, perhaps only 10 minutes later, it was clear he had been beaten. Beaten badly. This, nearly half a century since the horrific instances of racism were brought to a country finally willing to see, to own and to correct, and yet, here we are today.”

This and the reports from the detention centers highlight the fact that Immigration issues are largely issues of racism and classism. Those who claim that it’s merely an issue of supporting the rule of law are either not aware of what’s going on or they are lying.

When our protestors returned they began working in their home states, including Massachusetts to educate people and protest the Federal mandate to implement Secure Communities. UU Mass Action an organization that brings UU congregations together to make their public witness more powerful, holds a vigil outside of the Suffolk County jail on a regular basis. They’ve assisted UU’s in meeting with their local police forces to explain what ICE is doing to immigrants caught in their web. Many police departments have refused to participate because of the damage that it does to the relationship between police officers and the community.

Last June our UU General Assembly was held in Phoenix AZ. It was called Justice GA. The purpose of the entire GA was to bear witness to the injustices perpetrated on Latino and Latina people as a result of Arizona’s oppressive anti-immigration laws.

There is a very large detention center in Phoenix called Tent City. 2,500 UUs showed up to hold a vigil there to highlight and protest conditions. These tents are made of mylar and there are no windows in them. People are locked in the sweltering over 100 degree heat with no air conditioning. Food and water are withheld for many hours at a time. A small group of UUs were allowed in for a tour of Tent City with Sheriff Joe. They were allowed to talk with a few of the inmates who to a person said that conditions had been cleaned up for their visit and who asked for help. They were all dressed like prisoners in black and white striped clothing. It was heartbreaking for those who went in.

The Fall issue of UU World had this to say about what was accomplished by our fellow UU’s in Phoenix.

“Unitarian Universalists twice gathered in Phoenix city parks. After the opening ceremony on June 20, they processed from the convention center to Heritage Square singing “Freedom Is Coming.” Members of local groups that had partnered with the UUA to plan Justice GA thanked UUs for coming to Arizona and told them to take home what they learned. And attendees ate and sang with local families and activists in a Friday night community gathering in Civic Space Park.

Justice GA invited Unitarian Universalists to look far beyond themselves. Six hundred people volunteered to help immigrants complete their citizenship paperwork at an off-site Naturalization/ Citizenship Fair, in conjunction with the Phoenix chapter of Mi Familia Vota and UURISE (Unitarian Universalist Refugee and Immigrant Services and Education), based in Vista, California. They assisted about 300 people with their naturalization paperwork and sent them home with study guides for their citizenship tests. UURISE gave all volunteers information about helping at citizenship workshops in their own communities when they go home. At the same time as the Naturalization/Citizenship Fair, UUs in the convention center filled 130 backpacks with supplies for local school children in need.

But it was at Tent City on Saturday night, June 23, where the UU presence made the most visible impact. Inmates behind the chain-link fences of the outdoor jail could hear the songs and the prayers of the thousands of UUs and community members. And newspapers around the world ran photos of people in yellow “Standing on the Side of Love” T-shirts, waving candles in the dark.”

As Unitarian Universalists we must say “No human being is illegal.” Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The horrific treatment of immigrants has to end and our legislature has to begin to take immigration reform seriously. We will have the chance to learn a lot more about this as the Social Action Committee continues their fine work.

May it be so.

Closing Music:
#1008 When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place

Closing words

As hard as it is to hear

May our hearts remain open to the suffering of others

And may we not fail to do what we can do.

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CHRISTMAS EVE

Welcome Rev. Frieda Gillespie

Prelude BellChoir

Chalice Lighting

Reading Luke 2:1-14

Music Christmas is Here – The Singing Group – by Joyce Poley

Carol #231 Angels We Have Heard on High

Carol #237 The First Nowell

Story The Littlest Angel told by Gail Forsythe-Vail

Music Christmas Gloria The Singing Group

Story The Miracle on Beacon Street by Carl Scovel

Music Jennifer Revill

Carol #244 It Came upon the Midnight Clear

Meditation

Musical Response In the Bleak Midwinter Maria Duggan, solo

Reading Reflections on the Resurgence of Joy by Dori Jeanine Somers

Carol #245 Joy to the World

Reflection Rev. Frieda Gillespie

I got a call Wed morning as I walked into the church from a reporter, Tom Dalton, at the Salem News. He was doing an article about what minister’s in the area were preaching about on Christmas Eve this year. And so, he asked me what I was going to talk about. I admitted that I hadn’t written anything yet. And then I told him what I’ve been thinking about this season. He responded with questions and insights of his own and after the conversation I found myself wishing that someone like him would call me every Wed morning and as that question.

I just think it’s remarkable that we’re all here together tonight. That you decided to come here when you could be doing any number of other things in preparation for tomorrow. There is a sense of great expectation and yet warmth and calm serenity. Here we are, none of us here for presents or special food, but for something. A chance to sing together our favorite carols, to hear beautiful music. A chance to hear the stories of birth, new life, a new way. A chance see the faces of each person lit only by soft candlelight. Tonight we are here to reach for an experience of the holy—to experience peace. And because it happens once a year, we are able to put our full intention into our experience here. And it feels magical. We do this.

Peace is a miracle we create together.

“During World War I the German, Belgian, French and American soldiers created a Christmas Eve or Christmas day truce. The first truce began on Christmas Eve, … 1914, when German troops began decorating the area around their trenches…for Christmas. They began by placing candles on trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols, most notably Stille Nacht (Silent Night). The British troops in the trenches across from them responded by singing English carols.

The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were calls for visits across the “No Man’s Land” where small gifts, were exchanged, such as whisky, jam, cigarettes, and chocolate. The artillery in the region fell silent that night. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, but in some areas, it continued until New Year’s Day.

These men decided to create peace. They did this without permission from anyone.

Peace is a miracle we decide to give each other.

When we’re angry at a spouse or partner, child or parent, friend, we can explode saying or doing things we later regret. Or we can declare a truce and speak our truth in love. It’s never too late to stop the fighting, to reach out and notice who the other person really is.

Peace is miracle we can offer each other every day.

We may not be able to influence the outcome of the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan. We may not be able to stop the genocide in Darfur or the Congo. We can’t get our politicians to stop bickering. But we can bring peace into our own lives and by so doing influencing many. Everything we do, what we buy, what we consume affects the rest of the world. We can notice the effect of what we do and change our actions to those that promote peace and well-being.

Peace is a spiritual practice and a way of life.

It is wonderful to be together to celebrate our capacity for peace. We are strong with peace. We are mighty peaceful. There is no force greater than the peace we create together.

Peace is our miracle tonight.

OfferingThe Singing Group – The collection tonight is for the Minister’s Discretionary Fund – Checks payable to NSUU

Carol #247 O Little Town of Bethlehem (v.1 & 3)

Closing Words The Moment of Magic by Victoria Stafford

Candle Lighting Silent Night, Holy Night Bell Choir

Carol #251 Silent Night, Holy Night

Readings for Christmas Eve

“And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not, for behold, I bring unto you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you this day is born in the City of Bethlehem, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; you shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel, a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will toward men'”.

– Luke Chapter 2:1-14

“The Unitarian Universalist minister Carl Scovel tells a story about the
heating wars in his house, which at the time was the parsonage of King’s Chapel, at 63 Beacon Street in Boston. In his book Never Far From Home, Scovel explains that he grew up in a house without central heating. As he says- “(I) have always felt that a cool house is a healthy house, impervious to colds and conducive to the flow of blood.” His daughters, however did not share this point of view.

One Christmas season, when he refused to turn up the heat, one of them said to him, “Behold, a decree went out from Carl Augustus that all the world should be frozen, and each went to her own room to be frozen.” It just goes to show, you have to be careful how well you teach the children these foundational mythic stories.

The nativity story was told every year in that church; it was a regular part
of the Christmas Eve services of lessons and carols. That Christmas Eve, as he was shaking hands at the end of the night, his worship assistant approached him with a worried look and said, “I think you’d better come down to the chancel,”- which is what they call the front of the church. “Why, what’s the matter, Tom?” Scovel asked. “One of the pieces of the crèche has been stolen,” Tom said. “Which one?” Scovel asked. “The Christ child,” he replied.

“Oh no,” Scovel thought as they walked down the aisle of the church to the
table where the crèche was displayed, “who would do such a thing?”…

They got to the crèche and sure enough, the baby was gone. Scovel looked under the table, around the chancel floor and there was nothing. Then he took another look in the crèche and it was then that he saw the edge of a tiny slip of paper sticking out from under Mary. He slid it out and read this message: “We’ve got Jesus. Turn up the heat at 63 Beacon Street and you can have Him back for the morning service.”

The heat went up at the parsonage. Baby Jesus reappeared.” [The miracle of
Christmas was alive again that year.]

Christmas Meditation

Let us join our hearts and minds together in the spirit of meditation and prayer.

May these moments of quiet lead us to the heart of the season, which is peace.

May we breathe deeply of peace in this quiet place, relax into its warmth, know we are safe here, and let us open our hearts to the evening’s story.

Like the wandering couple, may we find that our greatest joys issue forth from our greatest sorrows.

Like the harried innkeeper, may we find ways to be of help to others.

Like the lumbering beasts, may we be silent witnesses to the unfathomable glory of life.

Like the shepherds on the hill, may we know that we need never be afraid.

Like the journeying wise, may we always have the courage to follow a star.

Holy one, to these prayers for our own transformation we add our prayers for all of those who suffer and grieve this evening. May they find comfort. And we add our prayers for all those involved in war; may they be safe and return to us. And may this season of peace and goodwill nudge our world towards its ideals, for then will Christmas truly dawn.

–Christine Robinson

Reflections on the Resurgence of Joy

How short the daylight hours have now become.

How gray the skies, how barren seem the trees.

A damp and chilling wind has gripped my mind

And made me gloomy too.

But there is that in me which reaches up toward light,

And laughter, bells and carolers,

And knows that my religious myth and dream of reborn joy ,

And goodness must be true.

Because it speaks to the truths of older myths;

That light returns to balance darkness, life surges in the evergreen—

And us.

And babes are hope, and saviors of the world,

as miracles abound in common things.

Rejoice!

And join in the gladness of Christmas.

–Dori Jeanine Somers

Candle lighting prayer

Let us be still in the darkness of our sacred space,

And listen to the quiet around us.

For even in the quiet, there is the gentle being with others.

Let us feel the warmth of our community,

Knowing we are not alone.

For in the quiet shadow is the glow of life within all.

Let us know in the darkness the gift each candle bears,

A small flame, a diminutive light –

Yet the wondrous gift to kindle another’s glow.

Let us be in awe at this moment as we each take up the flame

And the light envelopes this room,

As hope for peace and goodwill fill this night.

So may it be.
Lisa Rubin

The Moment of Magic

Now is the moment of magic,

when the whole, round earth turns again toward the sun,

and here’s a blessing:

the days will be longer and brighter now,

even before the winter settles in to chill us.

Now is the moment of magic,

when people beaten down and broken,

with nothing left but misery and candles and their own clear voices,

kindle tiny lights and whisper secret music,

and here’s a blessing:

the dark universe is suddenly illuminated by the lights of the menorah,

suddenly ablaze with the lights of the kinara,

and the whole world is glad and loud with winter singing.

Now is the moment of magic,

when an eastern star beckons the ignorant toward an unknown goal,

and here’s a blessing:

they find nothing in the end but an ordinary baby,

born at midnight, born in poverty, and the baby’s cry, like bells ringing,

makes people wonder as they wander through their lives,

what human love might really look like,

sound like,

feel like.

Now is the moment of magic,

we already possess all the gifts we need;

we’ve already received our presents:

ears to hear music,

eyes to behold lights,

hands to build true peace on earth

and to hold each other tight in love.

–Victoria Stafford

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THE WISDOM OF HINDUISM

Prelude

Opening words

This prayer comes to us from the most ancient Hindu sacred text the Vedas.
“May there be voice in my mouth, breath in my nostrils, sight in my eyes, hearing in my ears; may my hair not turn grey or my teeth purple; may I have much strength in my arms.

May I have power in my thighs, swiftness in my legs, steadiness in my feet. May all my limbs be uninjured and my soul remain unconquered.”

This is what we are about here, the soul unconquered by dogma and fear. The soul that seeks liberation from oppression, from privilege, from hatred, from anything that keeps us from harmony and peace. Come let us worship together.

Chalice lighting

Hymn:
#89 Come My Way, My Truth, My Life

Story for all ages

THE BOWL OF MILK

There was once a king who lived in India. He was a good king who loved his people, and always tried to be fair and just. He also loved God. Every morning he went to the temple to worship. The king took time to say his prayers and sing praises to God. In the temple was a beautiful statue of Shiva. To share his love and respect, the king would bathe the statue with milk each day before he returned to his duties.

One day the king decided that to show just how much he loved God. He would take the statue of Shiva and place it in a large bowl. This could be filled with milk so that the statue could be covered. In India this would be a great honour. The king’s only problem was that it would take a great deal of milk. He sent messengers to the people who lived in his kingdom that they must bring all the milk they had to the temple the following morning. They must not feed the animals, or the children, but must bring every last drop, and pour it into the bowl around the Statue of Shiva.

Even before the sun had risen, people began to arrive with their milk to show their respect to Shiva. They brought bowls, and buckets and churns full of milk. They brought bottles and barrels and cups full of milk. There were so many people that the king’s soldiers had to show them all where they could queue. There were so many people they had to wait a long time to put their milk into the bowl.

The king was pleased he saw the bowl slowly fill up with milk. He smiled as each person made their offering. But he did not see the sadness in their faces. He did not hear the cries of the babies as they waited with their mothers. For although the adults had water before they came, the babies and young animals could only drink milk and they were hungry. The king was too excited to notice.

As the morning drew to a close, the queue became shorter. The milk was almost at the top of the bowl. The king was pleased. But when the last person had emptied their offering into the bowl, there was still room for more. The king was very sad. He had so wanted to fill the bowl. There must be some milk left somewhere in his kingdom.

Just as he was about to give up hope, an old woman came into the temple carrying a very small cup half full of milk. She walked up to the huge bowl and emptied her cup into it. The king could not believe his eyes. The bowl was full to the brim. The statue was covered with milk. The king sighed with relief. Now God would know how much the king loved him. But he was curious. He stopped the old woman and asked her gently “What is different about your milk? Why did you bring such a small offering.” The woman looked at the king. “Before I came here, I fed the animals and the children first. I am happy to give what is left to Shiva.” She was afraid. She though she would he punished. The king suddenly realised how unkind he had been. He had not heard the cries of the babies, or the animals. God was more pleased with the woman than the king. The king returned to the temple, where he sat quietly to think.

Offering

Cares and Celebrations

Meditation Celebrations
Meditation Listen, Listen, ListenParamahansa Yogananda Singing Group

Reading

From: Huston Smith’s The World’s Religions:

“Religion alive confronts the individual with the most momentous option life can present. It calls the soul to the highest adventure it can undertake, a projected journey across the jungles, peaks, and deserts of the human spirit. The call is to confront reality, to master the self. Those who dare to hear and follow that secret call soon learn the dangers and difficulties of its lonely journey—“the sharp edge of a razor, hard to traverse/ A difficult path is this, the poets declare…” (Katha Upanishad). But they know its deliverances, too. When a lone spirit triumphs in this domain, it becomes more than a ruler. It becomes a world redeemer. Its impact stretches for millennia, blessing the tangled course of history for centuries. “Who are the greatest benefactors of the living generation of mankind?” Toynbee asked; and answered: “Confucius and Laotze, the Buddha, the Prophets of Israel and Judah, Zoroaster, Jesus, Mohammed and Socrates.” The answer should not surprise, for authentic religion is the clearest opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the cosmos pour into human life.

…Being ourselves of a different cast of mind, we shall never quite understand the religions that are not our own. But if we take those religions seriously, we need not fail miserably. And to take them seriously, only two things are required. We need to see their adherents as men and women who face problems much like our own. And second, we must rid our minds of preconceptions that could dull our sensitivity to fresh insights.”

Hymn:
#123 Spirit of Life

Sermon

“The Wisdom of Hinduism”

I think we are all aware of ways in which Eastern traditions have become woven into our culture. Yoga for example is a Hindu practice. How many of you have taken or take yoga classes? Some of you or your family members have followed the teachings of gurus whether from India or the US, who brought Eastern thought and meditation practices to this country. Last year the most well-known of the Indian gurus in America, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, died. Made famous by the Beatles, he enjoyed an at least 40 year long career as a spiritual guide and proponent of meditation based on chanting.

How many of you are aware that there is a historical connection between India, reformed Hinduism and Unitarianism? I will tell you just a little about those connections for there are three generations of stories and more—far too many to tell in a sermon. First I’m going to share some of the philosophy of Hinduism drawing upon Huston Smith’s descriptions.

Where the Judeo-Christian tradition starts with the relationship of human beings to a creator God, Hinduism starts from human beings progressing through a slow process of transformation to the knowledge of God. Where western tradition starts with theology, Eastern tradition starts with anthropology. In that sense, it aligns with humanism.

The first question Hinduism asks, according to Smith, is “What do people want?” Here is the first clue that Hindus are not only practical people, but that their religious philosophy is based on observation and reason. They observed that human beings want four things. The first of these is pleasures. Smith writes, “Having heard that India is ascetic, other-worldly, and life negating, we might expect her attitude towards hedonists to be scolding, but it is not. To be sure, she has not made pleasure her highest good, but this is different from condemning enjoyment. To the person who wants pleasure, India says in effect: go after it.”

So for Hindus, pleasure is the first end in life. Being a practical people, they observe rules of morality and temperance that allow one to have pleasure without being destroyed by it. “Use it intelligently.”

Hinduism says that in the fullness of time, a person seeking pleasure will naturally begin to find that it isn’t enough for them. And they then begin to shift their attention to the second set of desires which are: worldly accomplishments, fame, power and wealth. These too are considered good things and are encouraged within reasonable bounds. But Hindus recognize their limitations: that they are finite, that they lead to competition, and that they are insatiable desires—there is never enough, never a point where there is enough money, enough fame, enough power. Their addictive nature can lead to all kinds of ills including death. In addition, like hedonism, worldly accomplishments don’t satisfy us completely.

The last two wants that Hindus recognize us having are part of the path of renunciation. As we find that pleasure and success are empty pursuits, Hinduism says we seek something that is greater than ourselves.

The first of these desires is “community.” We begin to find joy in sacrificing our own pleasure and success through giving to another or to the greater good. Smith says that this point in a person’s development is the “birth of religion, for all true religion begins with the quest for meaning and value beyond oneself. It renounces the ego’s claim to finality.”

So this third great pursuit is duty and there are abundant Hindu texts and rules about duties appropriate to every age and stage of life. Duty brings the satisfaction of self-respect from doing one’s share, a reward that requires maturity in order to appreciate. Ultimately, Hinduism says that this too leaves us unfulfilled and one more desire arises within us.

The fourth and final destination of life according to Hinduism is liberation or moksha, “liberation from everything that distances us from infinite being, infinite awareness, and infinite bliss.” Smith writes, “This brings us to the most startling claim of Hindu anthropology. That which we most truly want, we can have. As if that were not enough, though, this anthropology adds: you already have it.” Deep within every human being, according to this faith, is an eternal consciousness, buried under all of our instincts, indoctrination, and all that distracts us. This infinite bliss is nothing less than Brahman or God, itself. So, pleasures, success, community and finally liberation into the Infinite are the four occupations of human desire. Until we enter into all four of these we are not whole.

From these basic premises all of the rituals and practices of Hinduism spring forth. There are four ways to the ultimate goal of liberation. The first is the way through knowledge. Not, factual knowledge but through intuitive exploration of the nature of self and the Eternal. This may involve study of Hindu scriptures and the words of sages or mental exercises designed to demonstrate the reality of hidden aspects of our being. This is thought to be the shortest but steepest path to divine realization.

Recognizing that we are driven more by emotion than thought, the second way to God is through love and devotion. This is the most popular and well-known of the paths. It is accessible to everyone to whatever degree they are able to focus on love of the foundation of all life.

I don’t know if it’s struck you that Smith has spoken about the Hindu concept of God as one entity although present in each of us. Often we mistake the multitude of idols or images of God as meaning that Hinduism is pantheistic. It is not. But the way of love called Bhakti Yoga, sees God as wholly “other”, not a deeper part of the self to be found, but a separate being to be adored. This is not unlike God the father in the Christian Gospels. To this end of “seeing” the nature of God in order to engender love, the many and varied myths, symbols and images of Hinduism were created. They are not idols replacing God but a way to be touched emotionally with the power, the majesty and glory of the Eternal One. They represent ideals that one strives to connect with through prayer and adoration much like the Catholic saints or even the concept of Jesus as God. On a tour through a Hindu Temple in TX, our guide said, “In Christianity you don’t believe in worshiping idols. We believe in worshiping idols as a way of knowing God.”

The Hindu temple exists to provide these images for community prayer. But this worship continues throughout the devotees daily tasks.

The third way to God is through work. This is Karma Yoga. One of the Hindu scriptures, The Bhagavad-Gita says, “He who performs actions without attachment, resigning them to God, is untainted by their effects as the lotus leaf by the water.” The goal of Karma Yoga is detachment from ego in ones daily work. Everything is to be done as a service to God.

The fourth way to God is through Raja Yoga, which is a path of psychophysical exercises. They are designed to lead “the inquirer to direct personal experience of ‘the Beyond within.’” Smith says, “Its method is willed introversion, its intent is to drive the psychic energy of the self to its deepest part.” These practices endeavor to elevate the powers of the mind to be able to control ones thoughts and ones body far beyond what we normally experience. If the term, “monkey mind” is familiar to you, this is what Raja Yoga endeavors to overcome.

Now all of this said about the aims of Hinduism, it is important to know that they believe in reincarnation of the soul. So this means that over many, many, many lifetimes a person will evolve through the stages of desire and will naturally gravitate through new levels of yoga. They believe there is not enough time in one lifetime.

Hinduism, more than any other religion, recognizes that people are all different; different in maturity, different in spiritual stages of life. Hinduism has also perpetuated the ancient caste system in India which relegates every person to a particular class and occupation within society based on their family of origin. This, more than any other aspect of Hinduism, is counter to our understanding of the individuality of persons and their potentials. It is only because of the belief in reincarnation, that Indians can justify the morality of this system. Presumably everyone is born into the caste they need to be in to develop to their next step.

Hinduism could be said to be Universalist over many lifetimes as it is believed that everyone eventually reaches God.

I promised to share the connection between Unitarianism and Hinduism. And this is a good place to do that. It is an interesting story.

First, Unitarianism developed independently of American and European Unitarianism in the early 19th century in the Khasi Hills of northeast India. The Khasi people were migrants from Southeast Asia and practiced an ancient shamanistic religion. It was a man named Hajom Kissor Singh, who had been converted by Methodist missionaries to Christianity that began the movement there without knowing anything about Unitarianism anywhere else in the world. It was said of him that, “He felt and declared that the message of election, damnation, and salvation—by going to a certain church and profession of a certain creed—was incompatible with the teachings of Jesus as he read for himself in the Gospels . . . He tried to persuade his fellow Christians that the essence of Christianity was to be found in Christ’s way of life and scale of values and not in any scheme of salvation by blood or faith” . . .

He started a Unitarian church and when he was 25, he met an American Unitarian minister in India named Charles Dall who had formed an alliance with Hindu reform movements there. Singh made many appeals to the American Unitarian Association for support for his fledgling church and although American Unitarians were fascinated by his work, very little actual support was given until after his death.

“There are over 10,000 Unitarians and 32 Unitarian churches and six fellowships in the Khasi Hills [today]” They are at this time, with the help of donations from the UUSC and UU churches in the States, building an orphanage, which they will run to keep Khasi orphans from falling into the hands of missionaries from less liberal religious persuasions.

Going back to the late 18th and early 19th century a number of leaders emerged that wanted to free India from the caste system, from the superstition that surrounds worship, and practices that oppressed women, especially the practice of women being burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyre, called sati. The initiator and first leader of this movement was Rammohun Roy. He, like Singh, learned Christianity from missionaries and his own studies.

These reformers wanted a more rational Hinduism, returning to its basic philosophy and were very much influenced by the great American Unitarian preachers of the day: William Ellery Channing and Theodore Parker. Channing was known for his scathing rejection of the Trinity—and the belief that Jesus was God. Parker at this time was considered radical in the Unitarian movement because of his insistence that all scripture was written by people and was open for rational analysis, rather than handed down supernaturally by God.

Roy was a scholar and wrote a great deal about Hinduism and Christianity and was in turn an influence on the Transcendentalists, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Margaret Fuller and many others. These cultural exchanges and influences were very important to our movement and served to widen our sources of wisdom. In addition to Charles Dall, missionary Jabez Sunderland spent time with Mohandas Gandhi and brought his philosophy of non-violent resistance into our movement.

There is a lot more to the connections between the Khasi Hills churches and various Unitarian missionaries. Some of these early connections were fraught with cultural, political and religious conflict. But the upshot of it all is that there are today a number of Unitarian churches and schools in NE India. There are many American and British Unitarian Universalist connections still with these churches through the partnership church program and the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.

As Unitarian Universalists, we’ve been accused of misappropriating other religious beliefs and practices. And I think we have been guilty of this at times. At General Assembly many years ago in Salt Lake City, I witnessed a performance from Native American dancers at the back of the exhibit hall. I joined the crowd gathered there and as the dances went on, I felt more and more uncomfortable. These were sacred dances to their religion and I felt that they had been reduced to an entertainment for us. I felt badly that we were so insensitive as to have them present in this way. That’s just one example.

But I also know that one of the reasons I remain Unitarian Universalist is because I do not have to limit myself to one story or one set of beliefs. I can draw upon many sources of wisdom and ritual. My use of those sources must be limited to what I see and understand in them and will never be an authoritative or authentic representation of the original source. As long as I acknowledge this and treat the source with respect, I think this is not only ok, but a rich source of learning and imagination.

I am also deeply struck by the ways in which Hindu philosophy permeates many of the teachings that I have followed in my own spiritual journey. I personally believe that there are levels of existence and that as we mature, some of us are not satisfied with accomplishments and pleasures alone. There is a reaching in us for some deeper connection with life and a deeper understanding of ourselves.

I believe that buried within each of us is an essence, a core if you will, that is good and pure in the sense that, unlike a lot of our emotions, can be trusted to know what we really need. I also have found that peace and happiness comes to me more from a sense of oneness with life than from any one experience or circumstance. That sense of oneness does feel eternal or at least doesn’t seem bound by time or place. For me, this doesn’t translate into a belief in reincarnation or even in a separate being that could be called God.

I believe that we are all a part of the same life generating substance, that collectively all that is in the Universe is God. It has no form but is all forms, it has no beginning or end, and its laws of being are necessary not arbitrary, just as are the laws of nature on this planet.

There is a wonderful Hindu parable that I believe illustrates in a practical what I mean:

“The teacher said: “Everything is God—this precept is the ‘End of the Vedas.’”

As he heard this, the adept understood: God is the only reality. The Divine moves in all things, unsuffering, intangible; everything in the world, subject or object is but the veil of Its maya.

he was seized by an enormously powerful feeling; he felt as if he were a huge and luminous cloud, endlessly expanding until it filled the whole sky, and he walked along like a cloud, freed from gravity’s sway. In total self-absorption he kept to the middle of the road when all at once an elephant approached, marching toward him. The driver seated high on the animal’s neck, shouted down at him: “Give way! Give way!” And the bells on the huge animal’s body surrounded its silently heaving form with silvery laughter as it moved along.

The adept heard and saw the elephant clearly, in spite of his ecstasy, but he did not get out of the way. He said to himself: “Why should I stand aside? I am God, and the elephant is God. Is God to live in fear of Himself?”

Fearlessly he walked towards the animal—and at the last moment the elephant seized him, wrapping him up in its trunk, sweeping him aside and depositing him not very gently in the dust of the roadside.

The adept, completely crushed and covered in dust, went to his teacher and told him of the encounter.

The guru said: “You are quite right, you are God and the elephant is God—but why did you not listen to the voice of God speaking to you from above, on the elephant?”

May we be wiser than the adept…

Musical Response

Benediction
May we all see beyond the veil of everyday life to

the eternal connections between us all.

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LONELINESS

Listen to sermon

Gathering Music

Greeting from the Board

Welcome and Announcements

Opening Hymn:

#349 We Gather Together

Opening words

RR#468 We Need Each Other

We need one another when we

Mourn and would be comforted.

We need one another when we

Are in trouble and afraid.

We need one another when we are

In despair, in temtation, and need

To be recalled to our best selves

Again.

We need one another when we

Would accomplish some great

Purpose, and cannot do it alone.

We need one another in the hour of

Success, when we look for someone

To share our triumphs.

We need one another in the hour

Of defeat, when with encourage-

Ment we might endure, and

Stand again.

We need one another when we

Come to die, and would have gentle

Hands prepare us for the journey.

All our lives we are in need, and

Others are in need of us.

–George E. Odell

Chalice lighting (unison)

Come into the circle of love and justice.

Come into the community of mercy, holiness and health.

Come, and you shall know peace and joy.

–adapted from Israel Zangwill

Offering

Story for All Ages
Singing out the children

Cares and Celebrations

Meditation – “On Friendship” Kahlil Gibran

Your friend is your needs answered.

She is your field which you sow with love and reap with thanksgiving.

And she is your board and your fireside.

For you come to her with your hunger, and you seek her for peace.

When your friend speaks his mind you fear not the “nay” in your own mind, nor
do you withhold the “ay.”

And when he is silent your heart ceases not to listen to his heart;

For without words, in friendship, all thoughts, all desires, all expectations are born and shared, with joy

that is unacclaimed.

When you part from your friend, you grieve not;

For that which you love most in him may be clearer in his absence, as the mountain to the climber is
clearer from the plain.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit.

For love that seeks aught but the disclosure of its own mystery is not love but a net cast forth: and only
the unprofitable is caught.

And let your best be for your friend.

If he must know the ebb of your tide, let him know its flood also.

For what is your friend that you should seek her with hours to kill?

Seek her always with hours to live.

For it is hers to fill your need, but not your emptiness.

And in the sweetness of friendship let there be laughter, and sharing of pleasures.

For in the dew of little things the heart finds its morning and is refreshed.

Musical Response

Hymn:
#95 There Is More Love Somewhere

Sermon

“Lifting Loneliness” – Rev. Frieda Gillespie

There is a great commercial on TV. I’ve forgotten what it was for. There is a young woman sitting at her laptop in her apartment talking with us about her parents. She feels sorry for them because they have so few friends on Facebook. She’s going to find them some new friends. She has something like 600 friends she says. As she is telling us this story, we see different scenes of the parents getting out and doing things: meeting friends, real people, for a mountain bike ride or a hike. The daughter tries to call them, but they are not home. They are out having fun. Meanwhile the daughter sits inside alone feeling sorry for them.

Stephen Marche wrote an interesting article for the May Atlantic magazine, called “Is Facebook Making Us Lonely?” He is correlating increased loneliness in people with increased use of social networks and trying to answer the question of which comes first the loneliness or Facebook. In other words, does Facebook by its nature make people lonely or do we seek out Facebook as a remedy or even in order to distance ourselves from others? In the process he’s found out some interesting things about loneliness.

We all know that there are different kinds of loneliness and not all of them involve being alone. Even with others present in our lives there is the loneliness of having secrets, of trauma too deep to speak about, of depression, of shame. When we are disconnected from ourselves by judgment or fear, we feel disconnected from everyone else. Disappointment can be a source of disconnection, especially if we cannot accept that others or life may not meet our expectations. Illness or injury can be a source of loneliness if we let it isolate us from our friends and family.

Then there is solitude that is food for the soul. We may find time alone in nature or at home revitalizing. I’ve often found that going away for a short time can give me a perspective about my life and relationships just because my routine is disrupted and I’ll view it new ways.

So what is loneliness? UCLA has come up with the most recent tool to measure it. It asks questions like, “How often do you feel that you are ‘in tune’ with the people around you?” Or, “How often do you feel that you lack companionship?” In the last 10 years by some studies, loneliness has increased significantly to the point where it’s estimated that 60 million people identify as lonely. One measure that seems good to me is how many confidants one has. How many people among your friends and family can you confide in and how often do you have the chance to talk with them? Therapists don’t count although you can do excellent work with them. Eventually it becomes clear that you are paying someone to be your confidant and while that is beneficial, it doesn’t replace friendships and close family relationships.

Marche writes that “being lonely is very bad for your health. If you are lonely you are more likely to be put in a geriatric home at an earlier age than a similar person who isn’t lonely. You’re less likely to exercise. You are more likely to be obese. You are less likely to survive a serious operation and more likely to have hormonal imbalances. You are at greater risk of inflammation [one of the precursors to cancer.] Your memory may be worse. You are more likely to be depressed, to sleep badly, and to suffer dementia and general cognitive decline…” Now if you were only lonely, after hearing all this, you are probably depressed now too. We are not meant to exist alone.

Jennifer’s grandmother used to live by herself in a house on the Cape. When she entered her 90’s her children started to encourage her to move to a retirement home. She was perfectly happy shoveling snow in winter and volunteering at the senior center to help out the “old people” some of whom were years younger than she was. She had many friends and was often the driver for their outings. She finally agreed a few years ago to move. She lives near us at a Catholic senior living complex—a very nice one. The kids used to go visit her often, but in the last year or so she’s never home. She has yoga, and mass, and many other activities every day there. She’s made new friends. I’m not sure it has the satisfaction for her that her home neighborhood had, but she’s made the best of the move. She’s definitely not lonely.

The world’s leading expert in loneliness, John Cacioppo, found that the greater the online connections someone has, the greater their loneliness. It’s all in how we use it. If we use it to distance ourselves from people or to create superficial relationships as an escape from loneliness, we are kidding ourselves. An interesting correlation is that of narcissism and loneliness. They are two sides of the same coin. When we are absorbed in ourselves we are just as disconnected as when we feel the disconnection from others and more importantly from our self. It may seem like a contradiction. Focusing on ourselves leaves us disconnected. Marche says, “Solitude used to be good for self-reflection and self-reinvention. But now we are left thinking about who we are all the time, without ever really thinking about who we are.” Apparently our relationship with our self has become as superficial as the ones we have with others, especially online.

It seems clear that the remedy to loneliness is increased depth of connection with ourselves and others. If that is not one of the purposes or indeed the primary purpose of our church community, then I think we’ve missed a huge opportunity.

Anna Quinlen in her new book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, a memoir about her life in her 50’s, writes about the importance of her close women friends. She says, “We’ve all prevailed on the individuality front, know without thinking that we are distinct, specific, perhaps even at this time in our lives a little on the eccentric side. So we’re free to embrace community, that sense of being part of something bigger and more powerful than ourselves. Or perhaps it’s that we stand between two enormous forces. On the one side are the difficult and demanding events to come, the losses, the illnesses, the deaths. You can see them out on the horizon like a great wave, its whitecaps approaching. But on the other hand is a levee that protects us, that of the women we can call anytime, day or night, to say, ‘I’m drowning here.’

We must provide that for each other to the extent that we can. Marche points out that “we’ve outsourced the work of everyday caring.” We have all kinds of mental health professionals available to be your confidant for matters that you would normally talk to a friend or family member about. In reflecting back on my life, and perhaps you experience the same thing, the most memorable moments of friendship happened when I or a friend or relative broke convention and spoke out loud about something that troubled us that we were afraid to speak about. It takes courage to make that leap of faith that the other will care and will listen—that they will recognize our innate strength and not mistake this reaching for clarity and connection as weakness.

I’d like to talk a little bit about our relationship—minister and parishioner. In a real way, I am one of those professionals that you might talk to about calamities. I hope you know that I will take your call anytime day or night. I will not hesitate to listen and to care about you. Here are some situations about which you might want to call:

You’ve lost your job.

You’re breaking up with your spouse or lover.

You’re entering into a relationship that you’re not sure about.

You have been diagnosed with an illness or need an operation.

You need to make a significant decision

You have a burning spiritual question

You are worried

You are afraid

You are angry

You are lonely

cannot be your therapist. I am trained to intuit the spiritual issues and to be a catalyst for you to figure out what’s going on with you and what the next steps might be. I am trained to be with you at times of crises, to offer a presence more than advice, encouragement more than help. You can count on me to believe in your inner strength and hear about your vulnerabilities with great respect and caring. Unlike a therapist, I am with you in unique ways: during worship, at your baby’s dedication, at your wedding, at a loved ones’ memorial service, at coffee hour, at a party or fundraiser, in a committee meeting. There is never enough time to get to know each of you as much as I’d like to. It always seems like we know each other better than we probably do. I have to balance your pastoral needs with the need to challenge you and discomfort you. To comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable as the saying goes.

If I seem aloof or distant at times, I’m probably juggling all the bits and pieces that people bring to me in that moment , or wrestling with my own demons. Feel free to interrupt. And know that I have my limitations like anyone else. I’m not the best coffee hour conversationalist for example. I tend to be introverted in social situations and prefer you to direct the conversation. I am easily distracted in that environment where someone might be waiting while I’m trying to talk with you. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to talk however. It might mean that you need to ask me to call you during the week though.

Just like with a therapist, it doesn’t always matter that we don’t know each other well. In fact that can be a help sometimes when you want to explore something with a good listener. It would be a shame if you used me as a confidant and never improved the depth of relationship in your own life. I would hope to be a catalyst for you to make deeper friendships.

One way to deepen relationships that we have already structured within our programs is small group ministry. Even people who are very busy and feel they have enough going on in their lives find something quite unique and special about the connections they make in a small group that meets over time, even if just once a month. Often there are people in the group that you wouldn’t naturally choose as friends. You may be surprised at what you learn from them and how much you eventually look forward to seeing them.

You know one of the barriers to connection, maybe the biggest one, is our judgments about our lives, our mistakes, our foolishness, our humanness. We don’t want to reveal how lost we are at times, how silly our thinking. In this poem by Dorianne Laux, we are encouraged to let go of our own harsh perspective and regret.

Antilamentation

Regret nothing. Not the cruel novels you read

to the end just to find out who killed the cook, not

the insipid movies that made you cry in the dark,

in spite of your intelligence, your sophistication, not

the lover you left quivering in a hotel parking lot,

the one you beat to the punch line, the door or the one

who left you in your red dress and shoes, the ones

that crimped your toes, don’t regret those.

Not the nights you called god names and cursed

your mother, sunk like a dog in the living room couch,

chewing your nails and crushed by loneliness.

You were meant to inhale those smoky nights

over a bottle of flat beer, to sweep stuck onion rings

across the dirty restaurant floor, to wear the frayed

coat with its loose buttons, its pockets full of struck matches.

You’ve walked those streets a thousand times and still

you end up here. Regret none of it, not one

of the wasted days you wanted to know nothing,

when the lights from the carnival rides

were the only stars you believed in, loving them

for their uselessness, not wanting to be saved.

You’ve traveled this far on the back of every mistake,

ridden in dark-eyed and morose but calm as a house

after the TV set has been pitched out the window.

Harmless as a broken ax. Emptied of expectation.

Relax. Don’t bother remembering any of it. Let’s stop here,

under the lit sign on the corner, and watch all the people walk by.

Loneliness is not our enemy necessarily, I say after all of this, it is a sign that we want something more, that we are longing for something that is only slightly out of reach, not unreachable. Sometimes all it takes is a phone call to confirm that we are not alone.

Closing Hymn:
#298 Wake, Now, My Senses

Closing words

Take courage friends,

The way is often hard, the path is

Never clear,

And the stakes are very high.

Take courage.

For deep down, there is another truth:

You are not alone.

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CHILD DEDICATION CEREMONY

Minister:

Today we celebrate the coming of two new lives.  When a child is born we feel both extraordinary joy and love, and an awesome responsibility for the baby’s care and nurture.

We celebrate the miracle of birth, and the wonder and unique holiness of each child’s life.  We want so much for our children, they are so important to us, and our responsibility for them is so immense.

On this sacred occasion, we pause in awe and thanksgiving for the lives of all our children, rejoicing in the hope, the promise, and the sacred spark which is resident in every child – opening ourselves to that spirit which may hallow our joys and give meaning to our responsibilities.

Director of Religious Education:

As a church community, we offer support and an extended family to parents as well as love and nurture to our children as they grow.  We recognize that in transmitting the best we know to the next generation, all of us who touch the lives of children are giving of ourselves to the future.  Therefore in this service of dedication, we signify our respect for tradition and we express our hopes for a better world to come.  We recognize our children as ends in themselves, born in original blessing.  We gathered here represent the larger world into which this child is entering.

On behalf of all humanity, we bid these children welcome.

Minister:

Charge to the Parents

Teresa and Shannon, Brooke and Chuck to you the parents have been given the sacred trust of nurturing, guiding, and encouraging your son as he grows.  The serenity, optimism, honesty and courage that you display in your own lives are reflected in the outlook of your child.  It is your charge, to the best of your abilities, to instruct him, that he might be taught love by feeling love, taught justice by the guidelines that rule his days, taught wisdom by the way in which you live, and taught to love all people and serve them fairly, by seeing others served with the same care that he receives.  Will you, to the best of your ability, help your son to an appreciation of truth and beauty, and dedicate yourselves to nurturing and protecting him?  If so, please say, “We will.”

Charge to the brother:

Taylor you have a special love for your brother.  Will you promise to continue to love and care for him as you grow up together? If so, say “I will.”

Charge to the Godparents:

An old Jewish proverb says, “In time of travail, go to the friend of your parents.”  From this ancient wisdom comes the idea of Godparents, or special people who dedicate themselves to watching out for the welfare of another’s children.  It is a noble and loving tradition.

Bradford Merriweather Jones and Maj Hendrickson have been chosen to be the Godparents of Hayden. They couldn’t be here today, but they have given their vow to Brooke and Chuck to watch over Hayden ethical and spiritual well being and to be there for him as he grows up.

Sue and Fred, you have been chosen as godparents for Daniel.

To you, the godparents, are given the responsibility of watching over Daniel’s ethical and spiritual well being.  It is your charge to support and encourage him, by your words, actions, and example, to give him a place to turn when he needs to talk, and to always let him know that you are there for him.  Will you help him to grow with an understanding of the depth and breadth of life, and with a sense of humor and joy for the future?  If so, please say, “We will.”

Director of Religious Education:

I ask the congregation now to rise:

Will you, the members and friends of this church, receive Daniel and Hayden into your love and care, and will you uphold and encourage them and their parents in the fulfillment of their vows?  If so, please read the affirmation printed in the order of service.

“We, the members and friends of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greenville, welcome Hayden and Daniel into the world and into our church family.  Here we will provide a church school of quality, and an intergenerational community of love and hope.  We will support these children and their parents in an ongoing search for widening knowledge, genuine understanding, and unfolding love.” ((Please be seated.))

Minister:

By the act of naming we confirm the uniqueness of a child’s personality.  We signal our awareness that he is a person distinct and apart from all others, who will grow with the guidance and love of parents, godparents, all those around him, and all the experiences of life, to fulfill his own potential.

Daniel Lynn Sparrow, you are a much loved little boy.  You were named Daniel after your mommy Shannon’s mother’s father, your great-grandfather, and Lynn after Shannon’s beloved aunt and Sparrow to have mama Teresa’s family name. 

Daniel, your parents have wonderful hopes for you.  They want you to be happy; to know yourself and be confident in who you are.   Daniel, we bless you with water, as a symbol of the purity with which you were born.  May you always remember the blessing of innocence.

DRE: Daniel we give you a rose today, as a token of the beauty of life that we wish for you.  May the unfolding blossom be a symbol of the potential of life you have before you.

Minister:

Hayden Jack Cundiff, you are also a much loved boy.  Your mother and father waited as long as they could to have a child to be sure you would have a stable home. Finally they couldn’t wait any longer they so wanted to share the love that they have for each other with you.  You were named Hayden because your parents loved the sound of the name, and Jack after a beloved friend of the family they called Grandpere. Their deepest hope is that you will grow up open to the whole world with all of its cultures, religions and diverse peoples.  They wish to support you in whatever you want to do with you life.

Hayden, we bless you with water, as a symbol of the purity with which you were born.  May you always remember the blessing of innocence.

DRE: Hayden we give you a rose today, as a token of the beauty of life that we wish for you.  May the unfolding blossom be a symbol of the potential of life you have before you.

Prayer:

Minister: Hayden and Daniel,

We wish for each of you a healthy body with strength to stand against all that may threaten you. 

DRE: We wish for you the courage and skill to do whatever is required of you and what in good conscience you most desire to do.

Minister:  May you have the intelligence, to learn what you need to know, and may you have the power to pursue the truth you seek.

DRE: May you be patient, fearless, tender and fair.  May you enjoy the warm sun on your face and the flow of wind and water on your body. 

Minister: May you love the beauty of the world, its flowers and its trees, the mountains and the flowing streams, the animals, and the movement of all living things.

DRE: May you know the music and the rhythm of nature and the drama and the poetry of human creation.

Minister: May all those whose lives you touch be enriched by you, and may you be enriched by them, in a circle of ever widening love and friendship.  May the longtime sun shine upon you, all love surround you, and the pure light within you guide you on your way.

May it be so.

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MEMORIAL SERVICE

For Roland Frederick Becker

Chime]

Chalice Lighting

We light our chalice today in celebration of the life of Roland Frederick Becker, father to Richard and Dusti Becker, Great Uncle to Curt and Kerry Becker, and friend to all gathered here.

Welcome and Introduction

Dear family and friends of Fred Becker welcome to this memorial service. When someone we have cared for dies, especially as in this case after a long and fulfilling life, family and friends gather with sorrow in their hearts.  At times when we must face death and loss, we need one another’s company for understanding and support. Just to be together, to look into one another’s faces, takes away some of our loneliness and draws our hearts together in the healing which we can offer one another.  At such times, the various faiths that sustain us separately come together in a harmony that acts across all creeds and assures us of the permanence of human goodness and hope.

I am Rev. Frieda Gillespie, minister of this church.  I met Fred in September when I arrived here to serve this church for one year as they get ready to call a settled minister.  I have to tell you my first news of Fred was a warning.  I was told that Fred was regularly disruptive in services because of his poor hearing.  When he couldn’t hear what was being said, I was told, he would complain loudly and not too kindly either.  I was expecting to meet a very crotchety old man.  The Fred that I met and knew for this all too short period of months was a surprise.  He was lively, charming, and even slightly flirtatious.  When he found out that my home is in Framingham, MA, he told me the beautiful story of how he met and fell in love with his wife, Florence there over 60 years ago.  I don’t think I will forget the image of him driving across the state to see her each weekend while they were both in school. Fred told me just some of his many stories, but I enjoyed them all.  He was so happy to be alive and well.  He clearly treasured his life.  I think he’d very much agree with the words of George Bernard Shaw who said, “I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can.  I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live.”  But he was about much more than work, he was about relating.  As grouchy and difficult as he could be, he was also generous in his affection and made connections easily and warmly with people. Fred never disrupted my services.  He said he liked my sermons because he could hear me.  His last words to me the day before he died were, “Tell them all I’m doing great.”

Song – “Ravens and Butterflies” by Dusti Becker

With digging sticks and stone tools

they planted the mesas.

For five hundred years in the Anasasi way.

Pit houses, cliff homes, grinding stones, and kivas

suddenly they all disappeared one day.

Was it the water or was it the soil?

Did it get too hot? Did it get too cold?

Did Mesa Verde suddenly turn brown?

Did the July lightning burn it all down?

No one knows the answer.

The rocks hold no clue.

But the Pueblo and the Hopi say they changed and flew.

They are ravens and butterflies, that’s what they say.

Ravens and butterflies around us each day.

They are ravens and butterflies, that’s what they say.

Ravens and butterflies…

Released from our logic,

we search with soul eyes.

Where are our loved ones and where does time fly?

How we remember becomes how we feel.

Defining ourselves by what seems real.

But who is to say where our ancestors roam.

And is it not beautiful to keep them at home?

As ravens and butterflies that’s what they say.

They are ravens and butterflies around us each day.

They are ravens and butterflies that’s what they say.

Ravens and butterflies…..

 

Poem by Fred Becker – read by Dusti Becker

Eulogy – by Richard Becker read by Rev. Gillespie

Musical Interlude – “Just a Closer Walk with Thee” – Mort Stine and Bob Jeffcott

Sharing Memories of Fred

Hymn: Amazing Grace #205

Prayer and Closing Words – Rev. Gillespie

Spirit of life and love, be of comfort to all of us who mourn the loss of Fred from our lives.  We are grateful to have known him.  We will cherish the memory of his lively face and eager conversation. May we feel peace knowing that even in the time of loss and sorrow, life remains precious and good.  May we also on this day rekindle in our hearts an appreciation for the gifts of life and other persons.   Amen.

Dusti Becker shared with me that she likes to think of Florence and Fred together again.  I love that image also.  Personally, I don’t know what happens after death. I trust that if our spirit continues or joins with the All of all, that it is a natural and joyful event.  I do know that a person’s life doesn’t end for those they leave behind.  For we become part of one another and you will always know or continue to discover the part Fred Becker played in your life.  Your memories of him will influence your life ahead.  As I read this last poem by John Hall Wheelock, perhaps you can enjoy imagining Fred with Florence walking hand and hand.

 

Give me your hand

By these grey waters—

The day is ending.

Already the first

Faint star pierces

The veil of heaven.

Oh, the long way

We two have come,

In joy, together,

To these grey shores

And quiet waters

And the day’s ending!

The day is ending.

The journey is ended.

Give me your hand.

— John Hall Wheelock

It is fitting to end this celebration of such a joyful life with the kind of music he would have wanted to hear.  This is for you Fred.

 

Postlude – “When the Saints Go Marching In”

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