Best of UU

“in fairytale tableau. . .”

Filed under: Creative — Jess at 11:56 am on Friday, January 25, 2008

One of the beauties of Unitarian Universalism is that we draw inspiration and wisdom from so many sources, among them direct experience of transcending mystery and wonder, and another the words and deeds of prophetic women and men. So, I’ll be branching out a bit more as I select material for this website, to include more of these kinds of things, as well as writings from our own members and leaders.

It seems that when life gets busy, it gets harder and harder to take a moment to hold still and really look at the people around us, particularly children who seem to never stop moving and growing. This poem by Elizabeth Spires from her book Now the Green Blade Rises, featured by the Writer’s Almanac on May 25, 2007, helps me to focus, for just a fleeting moment, on what enormity there really is in this journey of life.

“The Faces of Children”

by Elizabeth Spires

Meeting old friends after a long time, we see
with surprise how they have changed, and must imagine,
despite the mirror’s lies, that change is upon us, too.

Once, in our twenties, we thought we would never die.
Now, as one thoughtlessly shuffles a deck of cards,
we have run through half our lives.

The afternoon has vanished, the evening changing
us into four shadows mildly talking on a porch.
And as we talk, we listen to the children play
the games that we played once. In joy and terror,
they cry out in surprise as the seeker finds the one in hiding,
or in fairytale tableau, each one is tapped and turned

to stone. The lawn is full of breathing statues who wait
to be changed back again, and we can do nothing but stand
to one side of our children’s games, our children’s lives.

We are the conjurors who take away all pain,
and we are the ones who cannot take away the pain at all.
They do not ask, as lately we have asked ourselves,

Who was I then? And what must I become?
Like newly minted coins, their faces catch
the evening’s radiance. They are so sure of us,

more sure than we are of ourselves. Our children:
who gently push us toward the end of our own lives.
The future beckons brightly. They trust us to lead them there.

Source: “The Faces of Children” by Elizabeth Spires from her book Now the Green Blade Rises, featured by the Writer’s Almanac on May 25, 2007.

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“as if I had walked into my spiritual living room. . .”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 9:17 am on Friday, November 2, 2007

Because Unitarian Universalism encompasses so many qualities different from a standard organized religion, first and foremost our lack of a prescribed set of beliefs, it is sometimes very difficult to explain to our children what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist.

The Unitarian Universalist Association’s Family Network has a number of good resources available for families to aid in the development of Unitarian Universalist identity in our children. This story from the Rev. Hope Johnson, who serves the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Central Nassau in Garden City, New York, is part of a 34 page document of stories about family religious traditions called “Family Stories as Faith Stories” (PDF). Her description of her faith journey transcends generations.

For consideration: what stories in your own family history inform your faith journey today?

My Faith Home

by Rev. Hope Johnson

Hi, my name is Hope and I’m from the island of Jamaica in the Caribbean Sea. I grew up all over the world but always went back home to my island. I was raised Anglican which folks here in the United States, call Episcopalian. My twin sister Janice and I went to Sunday School every single Sunday no matter where we found ourselves. And we would get in trouble every single Sunday. Our Sunday School teachers didn’t like the questions we asked each week when there was one thing or another that we did not understand.

“I don’t understand the Trinity. If God is God why do we need to pray to Father, Son and Holy Ghost? But you said ghosts are not real. But I don’t believe that the Devil is real. Where’s Hell? But I do love Jesus, I just don’t understand it the way you do. Now about this Virgin Birth…”

(Read on … )

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“ways to say that which is deeper than we can speak. . .”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 9:07 am on Wednesday, August 29, 2007

One could say that how we talk about religious and spiritual ideas is the most important part of how Unitarian Universalist churches minister to the needs of our members. The Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, Senior Minister at the First Unitarian Church of Dallas, Texas, delivered this essay to the Ministerial Conference at Berry Street in 2003, somewhat in response to the Unitarian Universalist Association President William Sinkford’s call for a greater “language of reverence” in our churches earlier that year.

This essay is quite lengthy, but very, very worth your while. I have broken it into sections — come back Friday for part two! (If you just can’t wait, the full text is linked at the bottom of this post.)

“Images for Our Lives”

by Rev. Dr. Laurel Hallman, Senior Minister, First Unitarian Church of Dallas, Berry Street Essay, 2003, part 1 of 3

I want to dedicate this essay to the memory of two men who died the same week in March. The first is Harry Scholefield, who was my mentor and friend and partner in the work of articulating a spiritual practice for religious liberals. The second, perhaps less known by many of you is Hardy Sanders, a layperson in my congregation in Dallas—a more passionate and devoted and generous UU I have not known. These two losses, and what these men stood for, in the midst of so much we have had to bear this year, have weighed heavily on me as I have prepared this essay.

Each one was devoted to our faith. At the same time, Hardy felt that we were frittering away our message with petty diversions. And Harry felt that we, especially we UU ministers, ‘used’ poems and wisdom literature, without having lived them. In many ways their lives and concerns shape what I have to say today.

(Read on … )

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“so that we may know each other better. . .”

Filed under: Prayers, Reflections — Jess at 9:02 am on Monday, August 13, 2007

Hiatus over!

Today I share with you a blog post-prayer from the Rev. Parisa Parsa, who writes the wonderful new Unitarian Universalist blog, “pastor prayers.” Rev. Parsa serves the First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Milton, Massachusetts, and offers a lovely reflection on parenting small children and on getting along with other humans in this world of ours in general:

“When We All Have Something to Learn”

by Rev. Parisa Parsa
posted on “pastor prayers” on July 14, 2007

God of the in-between territory, where human needs converge and sometimes clash, guide me through these tender times.

I’ve reluctantly gotten used to the referee role of parenting, mediating disputes over sharing and hitting, tattling and bad words. I already pray daily not to be too shrill, and not to be too indulgent, and not to say things that will come back and bite me when my son tries to apply the same rules to me, and generally not to screw my child up any more than is necessary. But now we’re in the emotional zone that takes it to the next level. We’re into the disputes in which no one is wrong, but the clash of differing needs can be devastating.

(Read on … )

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“Everyone saw one another’s real faces that morning. . .”

Filed under: Sermons — Jess at 9:07 am on Friday, July 13, 2007

Many people join a church for community, for solidarity, for a place to belong. This sermon by the Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, senior minister at All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, OK, illustrates just how powerful that belonging can be.

Rev. Lavanhar and his family suffered the terrible loss of their three-year-old daughter, Sienna, last spring. This was the beautiful, heart-felt message he had for his congregation on Homecoming Sunday, four months later:

Finding Our Song

By Rev. Marlin Lavanhar, All Souls Unitarian Church in Tulsa, September 10, 2006

Once upon a time, back when people still had time, back before time was something we put into little circles and carried around on our wrists, there was a time when the world burnt down. There was nothing left on the face of the planet but a thick layer of coal and ash. All that survived was a bird named Ekanchu. And Ekanchu flew all over searching for signs of life. But he found none.

Ekanchu thought that he should try to find the special tree, the one where the holy men (the shamans of the community) went, in order to allow their spirits to rise into the heavens and descend into the dark places. Ekanchu figured if only he could find that tree, then maybe, maybe he could find life.

(Read on … )

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“What is Fatherhood?”

Filed under: Sermons — Jess at 9:08 am on Monday, June 18, 2007

Father’s Day can be a tricky time for many Unitarian Universalist churches that have already closed up regular operations for the summer, so I am quite pleased to have found a award-winning sermon from the Rev. Anthony David, newly called to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, GA. This piece won the UU Men’s Network sermon award in 2002, and was delivered on Father’s Day in 2001.

Remembering Fatherhood

by Rev. Anthony David

Today is Father’s Day, and on this day we remember our fathers. I also am a father—I have a nine-year-old daughter named Sophia—and so it is on this day that I feel most aware of belonging to a tradition larger than myself, a tradition passed down from generation to generation, from my grandfather to my father and, finally, to me.

What is fatherhood? On a day like today, it is easy to get sentimental about fatherhood and to end up sounding like a Hallmark card. To be honest, sometimes fatherhood is the place in my life where I feel, most clearly, my “growing edges.” It’s funny. When I was Sophia’s age, I felt I was bulletproof, ready to take on the world. Now, at 34, my hair is turning gray and my stomach is becoming finicky so I have to watch what I eat. Just when I want to be all knowledgeable and wise for Sophia, I realize how much a work in progress I really am.

Well, I suppose I can take heart from something Bill Cosby once said: “If the American father feels bewildered and even defeated, let him take comfort from the fact that whatever he does in any fathering situation has a fifty percent chance of being right.”

(Read on … )

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“If prayer worked like magic”

Filed under: Prayers, Reflections — Jess at 9:06 am on Friday, June 15, 2007

To build on Wednesday’s reflection on a Unitarian Universalist prayer life, today I bring you these words from Rev. Dr. Lindsay Bates:

Receive, O Mystery, the words of our hearts.

If prayer worked like magic – if I knew the words that would guarantee prayer’s power – I know what I would pray:

Let life be always kind to our children.
Let sorrow not touch them.
Let them be free from fear.
Let them never suffer injustice,
nor the persecutions of the righteous.
Let them not know the pain of failure –
of a project, a love, a hope, or a dream.
Let life be to them gentle and joyful and kind.
If I knew the formula, that’s what I’d pray.

But prayer isn’t magic, and life will be hard. So I pray for our children – with some hope for this prayer:

May their knowledge of sorrow be tempered with joy.
May their fear be well-balanced by courage and strength.
May the sight of injustice spur them to just actions.
May their failures be teachers, that their spirits may grow.
May they be gentle and joyful and kind.
Then their lives will be magic, and life will be good.

So may it be. Blessed be. Amen.

Source: Worship Web, “Receive, O Mystery, the words of our hearts” by Rev. Dr. Lindsay Bates, Unitarian Universalist Society of Geneva, IL

Bonus: You might also be interested in this post from PeaceBang (Rev. Victoria Weinstein) on what it’s like to be a professional pray-er, and a further reflection from Rev. Obijuan at Returning.

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“It’s a blessing we were born…”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 9:07 am on Friday, June 1, 2007

The Reverend Dr. Tim Jensen, newly called to First Parish Unitarian Universalist in Portland, Maine, writes:

Out of the Mouths of Babes

by Rev. Dr. Tim Jensen

“It’s a blessing we were born,
and it matters what we do,
What we know about god
is a piece of the truth,
Let the beauty we love
be what we do,
And we don’t have to do it alone.”

These are the lyrics to a song written for “Chalice Camp,” a Unitarian Universalist summer day camp created by Laila Ibrahim and the Reverend Sheri Prud’homme for six to twelve year-olds in California’s Pacific Central District. I learned about Chalice Camp from Jory Agate at our last Mass Bay District UUMA meeting, and was delighted by how well these simple words written for children expressed the lessons I’ve been trying to teach to grown-ups for the last quarter-century.

(Read on … )

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