Best of UU

“I loved to choose and see my path. . .”

Filed under: Creative, History — Jess at 8:45 am on Thursday, July 24, 2008

Sometimes it is important, spiritually, to let go of our individual control. Unitarian Universalism places a great value on the individual search for truth and meaning, but also on the value of conducting that search in community. We realize that sometimes, we are weary and just need to rest.

This hymn for an Evening Service, from the 1917 Hymns of the Church: With Services and Chants, published by the Universalist Publishing House, recognizes this need. The tune, Lux Benigna, was written by the Rev. J.B. Dykes and the words by Rev. Dr. John Henry Newman.

Lux Benigna, for Evening Service

words by Rev. Dr. John Henry Newman

Lead, kindly Light, amid th’ encircling gloom,
Lead thou me on;
The night is dark, and I am far from home,
Lead thou me on.
Keep thou my feet; I do not ask to see
The distant scene: one step enough for me.

I was not ever thus, nor prayed that thou
Shouldst lead me on;
I loved to choose and see my path: but now,
Lead thou me on.
I loved the garish day; and, spite of fears,
Pride ruled my will: remember not past years.

So long thy power has blest me, sure it still
Will lead me on
O’er moor and fen, o’er crag and torrent, till
The night is gone;
And with the morn those angel faces smile,
Which I have loved long since, and lost awhile.

Source: Lux Benigna, tune by Rev. J.B. Dykes with words by Rev. Dr. John Henry Newman, from the 1917 Hymns of the Church: With Services and Chants, published by the Universalist Publishing House, page 7, via Google Books.

Tags: , , , , , ,

“beginning the spiritual life with insight into our wholeness. . .”

Filed under: Sermons — Jess at 1:32 pm on Thursday, July 17, 2008

Sometimes insight can come from the most unexpected of sources, as the Rev. Joshua Pawelek found when he explored the work of Harvard professor and psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, whose best-selling book is titled Happier. Rev. Pawelek discovered a resonance with his own vision of Unitarian Universalism in what he had dismissed as mere pop-psychology, exploring the idea of being joyfully determined in the way we live our spiritual lives.

You can also find an essay by Rev. Pawelek, who serves the Unitarian Universalist Society: East in Manchester, Connecticut, in the just-released Reverend X: How Generation X Ministers are Shaping Unitarian Universalism, from the Jenkin Lloyd Jones Press.

To Be Joyfully Determined

by the Rev. Joshua Mason Pawelek

Recall a time when things weren’t going well for you, when you didn’t feel quite right, didn’t feel quite like yourself; a time when you couldn’t hear the still, small voice, or when its song was faint; a time when there was some emotional or mental dissonance in your life; a time when you felt disconnected, depressed, anxious, weak, subdued, out-of-whack, broken; a time when your sense of purpose and meaning waned, and you sought help. You sought help from a therapist—a psychologist or a psychiatrist or some other mental health professional; or you talked to a social worker or school guidance counselor. Maybe you attended a twelve-step group, or an affinity group for bereavement, divorce, cancer. Maybe you talked to a minister, priest or rabbi; maybe your doctor. Maybe you turned to a self-help book or a friend you could trust to give good advice. I assume most of you have been in this situation at some point: you’ve sought help when something didn’t feel quite right.

Put that memory aside and recall a time when things were going great, when you felt exactly like yourself; a time when you could hear the beautiful, compelling still, small voice melody; a time when you felt emotionally and mentally healthy; a time when you felt joyful, happy, inspired, powerful, whole; a time when you had a potent sense of purpose and meaning, and you sought help. You said to yourself, “Wow, I feel so good I need help immediately! I need help to figure out what I’m doing right so I can keep doing it; so I can do it more, do it better.” We’ve all had that experience too, right? No, we haven’t. My guess is there are few people to whom that thought occurs. We don’t typically approach our lives this way. At least in the United States, it’s fair to say we spend an awful lot of time and energy looking at what’s wrong with us, what our diseases are, what our weaknesses are, how to overcome them. We don’t spend as much time and energy looking at what’s already right with us, what gives us joy and fulfillment, what our gifts are and how to use them well. To the extent I understand it, focusing on what’s right is the essence of Positive Psychology.

(Read on … )

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“we know that grace is rare. . .”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 2:00 pm on Thursday, July 10, 2008

A fundamental question for Unitarian Universalists is how to use religious language in a way that reflects the reality of our religious values, since many of the words and concepts we might be drawn to have been claimed by other traditions, particularly more conservative Christian points of view.

The Rev. Dr. Edward Frost explores the concept of “grace” in this reflection from this summer’s issue of Quest, the newsletter of the Church of the Larger Fellowship. He seeks to free the word, and the idea, from its traditional roots, allowing those Unitarian Universalists of differing theological viewpoints to reclaim its power.

Dr. Frost is the Senior Minister Emeritus of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Atlanta, Georgia.

Amazing Grace

by Rev. Dr. Edward Frost

I watched the dancer leaping and turning, seemingly weightless, his movements apparently effortless. He made it look so easy that I knew anyone could do it. I could do it! The term that came to mind as I watched was, of course, “graceful,” the art of being at ease, and all parts of the whole in perfect accord and balance. The apparent ease is deceptive. Perhaps one has achieved grace when the struggle beneath it is not apparent. On reflection, the complexity, the discipline by which ease is achieved, becomes obvious. Every muscle has been trained, every movement practiced to the point of exhaustion. The artist has devoted life itself to coming to terms with the lack of ease, with the common state of dis-ease, with imbalance. The artist is in command of time, of event, of self, trusts both the event and the self to be as one. And that is grace.

Grace, when we see it, appears so simple, so natural, so “as it ought to be.” It seems that grace should be our common state. Yet we know that grace is rare, a triumph over awkwardness, a victory over dis-ease. Human existence, in its civilized state, is not normally graceful, harmonious, or in balance, but rather is at odds with itself and the universe. Humanness is divided against itself. Mind against body. Passion against restraint. Thought hunting down feeling to deny it. Spirit against material. Civil demands against private virtue. Future hope against past experience. We live awkwardly, gawkily, in tension, pulled by opposites, struggling to be free, sometimes surrendering to one tug or another just to ease the tension. It was James Thurber who said that just as we find our hearts in a close embrace we discover that our foot is caught in the piano stool.

(Read on … )

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

“we each decide our own purpose in being here. . .”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 11:37 am on Thursday, June 5, 2008

For summer services last year, the Unitarian Universalist Society of Iowa City, Iowa invited lay members to reflect on their beliefs as Unitarian Universalists. This is excerpt by Karen Fox, delivered on July 22, 2007, shows the natural progression of personal beliefs to the saving message of our movement. Many of the talks presented in the series are also available on the UUSIC website.

from This I Believe, what inspires me

by Karen Fox

Through reading, asking, listening and observing I have forged my own belief system that honors the vastness and wonder of nature and the Universe. I believe in that which is greater than all and yet a part of each; but that, for me is not an external god. I believe that if there is a God it is the energy of life and all of creation. I believe that that energy is what I am –what each of us is, so we are all a part of that God. I believe that we each decide our own purpose in being here, in being alive. There is no god in the sky deciding what we should be doing with our lives. Our purpose is what we each decide it is within our own being and understanding. I also believe that we are all one — part of that independent web of existence, part of that all encompassing energy, and that what we do, say and think has an impact on all other begins. Therefore compassion, striving to understand, and kindness are essential to healing humanity.

(Read on … )

Tags: , , , , , ,

“connected to something larger, or deeper. . .”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 1:40 pm on Thursday, April 3, 2008

Today, another perspective on the use of religious language in our Unitarian Universalist churches, this time from lay preacher Bruce Arnold, at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, New Bern, North Carolina.

Mr. Arnold argues that avoiding certain aspects of religious language does more harm than good, particularly in a congregation that aims to welcome a greater number of people into their midst. He offers a challenge to his fellowship, to reach deeper into what it means to be a religious community and engage with that depth.

Note: I am always looking for more good material by our lay members, not just ministers or historical figures, but these pieces are hard to find. If you’ve written, or heard, something that you think belongs on this site, please drop me a line!

A Rose by Any Other Name

by Bruce Arnold

Words have power.

They say sticks and stones will break your bones but words can never hurt you. They are wrong about a lot of things. Over and over, my domestic violence patients have said that the bruises heal and the broken bones knit up, but the cruel words last forever.

Words have power.

They say the pen is mightier than the sword. They are right about a lot of things also. During World War II, when Churchill warned Josef Stalin against conflict with the Pope, he replied scornfully “The Pope! How many divisions does he have?” The Soviet Union no longer exists. John Paul II left the papacy stronger than it had been in a century.

Words have power.

Talk about power: In May of 1961, John F. Kennedy gave a stirring speech about putting a man on the moon, at a time when we had not even worked the bugs out of the Atlas rocket. Just over 8 years later, Neil Armstrong fulfilled that promise, with stirring words of his own.

Words have power.

(Read on … )

Tags: , , , , , , ,

“All true meaning is shared meaning.”

Filed under: Sermons — Jess at 12:53 pm on Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Rev. Dr. Forrest Church, formerly the senior minister at All Souls in New York City and now the Minister of Public Theology there, announced in early February that he has terminal cancer.

Rev. Church has devoted his ministry to not just caring for his people and his community, but also to scholarship and theological writings meant to further the movement of Unitarian Universalism. Many of his writings can be found at his website, and he has also published many wonderful books.

The central message of his life, however, has been consistently that of how we are called to love one another. This sermon (PDF), given on February 3, 2008 to All Souls New York and a week later to All Souls Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a culmination of that message.

Love and Death

by the Rev. Dr. Forrest Church

Audio from Tulsa can be found here.

Although I have delivered some thousand sermons on almost as many discrete topics, one way or another each circles back to a single theme. This tendency, I’m told, is not uncommon. Every minister worth his or her salt has one great sermon in them. It’s no wonder that we return time and again to its familiar music and uplifting chords.

Even church administrators pick up on their bosses’ penchant to repeat themselves. In certain instances, they have little choice. One of my storied colleagues, James Madison Barr of Memphis, Tennessee, had a habit of disappearing periodically, especially on Mondays and Tuesdays, when the office staff was composing and printing the weekly church newsletter. At the top of each newsletter, they included the sermon title for the following Sunday and a brief précis of its theme. Whenever Dr. Barr was missing in action and necessity forced the Memphis church administrator to be creative, she listed his forthcoming sermon as follows:

“The Great Mystery”
James Madison Barr, Preaching
What Dr. Barr will be preaching about this Sunday is a mystery, but we’re certain it will be great.

Whether great or no, my recurring sermon, too, is rich with mystery. Time and again, I return to the abiding themes of love and death. I do so this morning for personal reasons. Since there is no way, or call, to be artful about blunting this news, let me begin by reading you the letter I shall send tomorrow to the members and friends of this wonderful church, whose destiny and mine have been interwoven now for so many years.

(Read on … )

Tags: , , , , , , ,

“Something binds them together. . .”

Filed under: History, Reflections — Jess at 12:19 pm on Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Last week, we read a passage from Rev. Jabez T. Sunderland’s 1902 book, The Spark in the Clod: A Study in Evolution, in which he approached the scientific theory of evolution from a religious standpoint. Today, an opposite approach, where religious ideals are found from a more scientific point of view, in the writings of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955).

Teilhard was a Jesuit priest, but also a scientist, and his ideas were unsuccessfully quashed by the Roman Catholic Church. His primary work, The Human Phenomenon, was written in the 1930s but published after his death in 1955. While he was not himself officially a Unitarian or Universalist, it can be argued that his theology was very much in line with both forms of liberal religion, and informs liberal theology today. A rather comprehensive chapter on Teilhard from the book God and Science, by Charles P. Henderson, can be found here for further reading.

What I find fascinating in this excerpt, on the nature of matter, is Teilhard’s conclusion of the interdependence of all things, from our very atoms.

from The Human Phenomenon

by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955)

Moving an object back into the past is equivalent to reducing it to its simplest elements. Followed as far as possible in the direction of their origins, the last fibers of the human composite are going to merge in our sight with the very stuff of the universe.

The stuff of the universe–that ultimate residue of the more and more advanced analyses of science. To know how to describe it properly, I have never developed the kind of direct and familiar contact with it that makes all the difference between someone who has read about it and someone who has experimented with it. I also know how dangerous it is to take as material for durable construction hypotheses conceived of as only meant to last a day, even in the minds of those who originate them.

(Read on … )

Tags: , , , , , ,

“. . . live your way into the answer.”

Filed under: Creative, History — Jess at 9:42 am on Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Celebrated German poet Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926) would have been 132 years old yesterday. While he was not a member of a Unitarian or Universalist church, his words are heard in many of them today.

This particular passage, from Letters to a Young Poet, is particularly inspiring to Unitarian Universalists in context with the Fourth Principle of our Association, “We covenant to affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

For consideration: How do you approach your own search for truth and meaning?

from Letters to a Young Poet

by Rainer Maria Rilke

My dear Mr. Kappus: I have left a letter from you unanswered for a long time; not because I had forgotten it — on the contrary: it is the kind that one reads again when one finds it among other letters, and I recognize you in it as if you were very near. It is your letter of May second, and I am sure you remember it. As I read it now, in the great silence of these distances, I am touched by your beautiful anxiety about life, even more than I was in Paris, where everything echoes and fades away differently because of the excessive noise that makes Things tremble. Here, where I am surrounded by an enormous landscape, which the winds move across as they come from the seas, here I feel that there is no one anywhere who can answer for you those questions and feelings which, in their depths, have a life of their own; for even the most articulate people are unable to help, since what words point to is so very delicate, is almost unsayable. But even so, I think that you will not have to remain without a solution if you trust in Things that are like the ones my eyes are now resting upon. If you trust in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable; if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge. You are so young, so much before all beginning, and I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer. Perhaps you do carry within you the possibility of creating and forming, as an especially blessed and pure way of living; train your for that - but take whatever comes, with great trust, and as long as it comes out of your will, out of some need of your innermost self, then take it upon yourself, and don’t hate anything.

Source: from Letter 4 of Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke (4 December 1875 – 29 December 1926).

Tags: , , , , ,

“what is that glue that holds us. . .?”

Filed under: Sermons — Jess at 11:50 am on Friday, November 30, 2007

Why do we gather in religious community? What is religious community? How do we tie our diverse religious beliefs and yearnings together into one community?

The Rev. James Covington, serving the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Briarton, Croton and Ossining, New York, takes a stab at answering some of these concerns in a sermon delivered last January.

For consideration: What binds you to your religious community? What values do you have in common with those who hold different beliefs than you?

What it Means to Be Religious

by Rev. James Covington

What does it mean to be religious? My, what a question! I wonder what your answer would be. I am certain we would have as many different answers as there are people sitting in front of me. It is a question always on my mind—not urgently so, but at least, somewhere peripheral. It has been on my mind more so recently. I wonder why. Well, we live in a time when the world about us is so rife with political and religious conflict, one cannot help but despair of it all. Sam Harris’s book, The End of Faith, certainly has been an evocative reading. And as an association, Unitarian Universalists are presently, it seems, attempting to address the question amongst ourselves—if we are a “liberal” religious movement, then what do we mean by that? What do we mean by “religious?”

(Read on … )

Tags: , , , , ,