Best of UU

“to celebrate the wonders of this world. . .”

Filed under: Sermons — Jess at 11:05 am on Tuesday, May 20, 2008

One of the pillars of foundational religious thought that Unitarian Universalism rests upon is that of “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit” (from the Sources, which are part of our Association’s bylaws). Dictionary.com defines humanism as “any system or mode of thought or action in which human interests, values, and dignity predominate,” or “a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God.”

But what does that look like in practice? The Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons, who serves the First Unitarian Society of Minneapolis, Minnesota, explores a “Humanist Identity” in this sermon from September of 2006. Rev. Gibbons is a member of the board of HUUmanists, and co-dean of The Humanist Institute.

from “Humanist Identity”

by the Rev. Dr. Kendyl Gibbons

Whether we are considering the exercise of leadership in this amorphous and sometimes fractious larger movement of humanism, or examining what is distinctive in our approach to the celebration of community, or bringing the voice of this congregation’s unique perspective into conversation among local Unitarian Universalists, many of us carry with us, as I do, the label of humanism. And as we approach the celebration of our 125th year as an institutional participant in the faith community of Minneapolis, it is worth asking again, what does it mean to be humanist? When we subscribe to that identity as a congregation, what are we claiming for and about ourselves? What resources does that identity offer us, and what kind of accountability does it ask of us? Of course, these questions do not have pat answers –- indeed, they have engaged the attention of some very fine minds for a century and a quarter right here, and I do not expect to dispose of them neatly this morning. Nevertheless, I think there are at least four things we can be assured of about what it means to embrace a humanist identity. It means, first of all, that we own a history together. Second, it means that we affirm a certain set of core values, specifically freedom, reason, and respect. A third implication is that we are engaged in a process of ongoing inquiry. And finally, it means that our conduct in all settings and circumstances, will be seen as representative of how humanists generally think and behave. Let’s unpack each of these four elements a bit.

(Read on … )

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“In view of the future or possible. . .”

Filed under: History, Reflections — Jess at 10:14 am on Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Philosopher Henry David Thoreau’s Walden has long been a source of wisdom for Unitarian Universalists. This excerpt, from the chapter titled “Conclusion,” calls us to a higher purpose than the deep meditation in solitude usually envisioned when Walden is invoked.

from Walden, “Conclusion”

by Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862)

I left the woods for as good a reason as I went there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one. It is remarkable how easily and insensibly we fall into a particular route, and make a beaten track for ourselves. I had not lived there a week before my feet wore a path from my door to the pond-side; and though it is five or six years since I trod it, it is still quite distinct. It is true, I fear that others may have fallen into it, and so helped to keep it open. The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and confortuity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains. I do not wish to go below now.

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.

. . .

I desire to speak somewhere without bounds; like a man in a waking moment, to men in their waking moments; for I am convinced that I cannot exaggerate enough even to lay the foundation of a true expression. Who that has heard a strain of music feared then lest he should speak extravagantly any more forever? In view of the future or possible, we should live quite laxly and undefined in front, our outlines dim and misty on that side; as our shadows reveal an insensible perspiration toward the sun. The volatile truth of our words should continually betray the inadequacy of the residual statement. Their truth is instantly translated; its literal monument alone remains. The words which express our faith and piety are not definite; yet they are significant and fragrant like frankincense to superior natures.

Source: excerpted from the chapter “Conclusion” in Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, in the public domain. For further reading, see Rev. Patrick O’Neil’s brilliant sermon, “Out from Walden.”

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“going beyond the surface understanding of life. . .”

Filed under: Reflections — Jess at 9:54 am on Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Religious naturalism offers additional insight into this exploration of the place of humanity in the natural world, and what meaning we can find in a more intentional approach to living in it. The Rev. Jerome A. Stone, Ph.D. wrote this piece (PDF) in the Meadville Lombard Theological School’s Journal of Liberal Religion in the Fall of 2000, explaining his own personal experiences and how they have informed his view of the world around him. Rev. Stone is Professor Emeritus at William Rainey Harper College, frequently serves as an adjunct faculty member at Meadville Lombard Theological School, and is the author of The Minimalist Vision of Transcendence: A Naturalists Philosophy of Religion.

from “What is Religious Naturalism?”

by Rev. Jerome A. Stone

The key word that I now use in articulating this approach [to religious naturalism] is “sacred.” I learned this word and how to use it by attending services as a child and early adolescent in a liberal Protestant church. We did not use this word often, but when we did it always carried a notion of respect. You held something sacred by treating it with respect. We referred to Sunday as a sacred day. Of course, we were explicitly taught that all days were holy, but that by observing one day a week as sacred it helped us realize that all days were holy. This non-dogmatic yet traditional upbringing is here noted, although its degree of importance calls for further reflection. Later through graduate study in both the Christian tradition and the major religions of the world I became familiar with the classical texts and theorists concerning the sacred.

Now I wish to select four events from my experience which I have learned to think of as sacred. I will briefly depict them. What I wish to emphasize is their overriding importance in my life.

I remember the day my father died. I was sitting in my apartment feeling rather sad when my daughter, at that time about eight years old, came home from school. When I told her what had happened, she said, “Oh, Dad” and put her arm around me. It was one of the most comforting and supportive moments of my life.

(Read on … )

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