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Sunday Services
with Member and Guest Speakers

Connecting Us to Unitarian and Universalist History
by Arthur Kull

Biology and Theology
by Tami Thatcher

Everything is Holy Now
by Tami Thatcher

Spirit, Spiritual, Spirituality: Fuzzy Words or Deep Human Need?
by Arthur Kull

Message on Virtues
by Arthur Kull

Religious Imagination*
by Arthur Kull

Theological Musings: Our Search for Truth
by Arthur Kull

The Evolution of Consciousness, An Inside Story
by Richard Wilde

Evolutionary Spirituality
by Anne Timpany

What Do I Believe?
by Richard Wilde

Reflections on Right Speech
by Tami Thatcher

Understanding the Bible - Understanding Our World
Presented by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, Ruth Barnes, Tiffiny Tailor, and Tami Thatcher

A Prayer for Community
Written and Presented by Barry Leech

The Transformational History and Theology of Unitarian Universalism Introduction
by Arthur Kull

Poetry Service Selections

“The Silence of the Rocks”
by Richard Wilde
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“In His Name”
by Jeff Leuschen
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“Banking Idaho Falls Style”
by Jeff Leuschen
Used by permission. All rights reserved.
“Sunna's Ride”
by Jeff Leuschen
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Return to page with links to all sermons


Full Transcriptions of Sunday Services with Member and Guest Speakers

Connecting Us With Unitarian and Universalist History
By Arthur Kull, Sunday, September 21, 2014

Not long ago, Sharlene Davis, a University of Utah student contacted us to schedule an interview as part of a paper she needed to write about faiths other than her own (LDS). As we sat in one of the pews, I started with a little story I just love to tell: Once upon a time, there were two churches in a very small rural village, one Universalist, the other Evangelical. A visitor asked why two churches were needed in so small a town. A resident replied: “That church says: there ain’t no hell. The other says: the hell there ain’t.”

Many of you found your way here for a variety of reasons. Maybe you searched online for a church with values you share; maybe a friend brought you here; maybe you saw the one-liners on our way-side pulpit and got curious, maybe you attended a UU Church elsewhere and looked for a familiar spiritual home. Although this is the spiritual place you now call home, you are probably still asking yourselves what this “religion”, that seems so different, maybe also quite a bit disorganized, is all about!

As my wife Annelies and I can attest, Unitarian Universalism has a rich heritage going back to the Enlightenment period of 16th century Europe. And, although both Unitarianism and Universalism have their roots in Christianity; and, although we still use its familiar form of worship, we are no longer a Christian church in the strict sense of the term. In the following, I will give a brief summary about what we learned since we became UUs thirty six ears ago. As I explained to Sharlene, the University of Utah student, what does make us different from other churches is our belief that conscience and reason are the final authorities in our spiritual quest, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves and in our communities. We form our beliefs from our personal life experience, from Sunday messages, from the scriptures of the world’s great religions such as Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism etc., from scientific discoveries, from philosophical and theological insights, or from any source of information that helps us live a meaningful life. As some have described it, we are a community with shared values, not necessarily of shared beliefs. She then wondered if our rainbow flag was symbolic of our faith getting wisdom from all these various sources. I responded that, although it actually signified inclusion of the LGBT community, her suggestion was a very appropriate metaphor. She thought that this was very unique, as all of her previous interviews were with churches of various flavors of traditional Christianity. In studying the history of Christianity, you will find that intense discussions took place in the early churches around the Mediterranean to define the nature of this new faith. The basic concepts of Unitarianism and of Universalism were widely discussed at the time, especially by theologians Origen and Arius, both of Alexandria. However, at the insistence of Roman Emperor Constantine, who wanted a uniform set of beliefs defined, the Council of Nicea in 325 AD voted to adopt Trinitarianism as the only form of Christianity. That act of transforming Christianity from an evolving faith to an instrument of the Roman Empire was a defining moment in the history of Christianity. The powers to be then proceeded to persecute all those not adhering to the newly defined orthodoxy, and destroyed all books that deviated from the official line.

Let us now define the most important theological differences that matter in the turbulent history of our faith: • Trinitarianism: the Christian doctrine of the Trinity that defines God as three persons, expressions, or underlying realities: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; "one God in three persons". The three persons are distinct, yet are one "substance, essence or nature". • Unitarianism is a theological movement named for its understanding of God as one person, in direct contrast to Trinitarianism. For Unitarians, Jesus is either a person of lesser divinity, or a fully human prophet. • Universalism is a school of Christian theology which includes the belief in the doctrine of universal reconciliation, the view that all human beings will ultimately be restored to right relationship with God in Heaven (there ain’t no hell).

Unitarian minister Thomas Starr King is credited with the following shorthand definition of the difference between Unitarians and Universalists: “Universalists believe that God is too good to damn people, and the Unitarians believe that people are too good to be damned by God.” Let me mention here that throughout their history, Unitarians were communities of a more intellectual bent, whereas Universalist communities more commonly addressed matters of the heart.

The notion of Jesus not being divine, after being suppressed for over 1,300 years after the Council of Nicea, surfaced again alongside the 16th century Protestant Reformation, when some people, in reading the Bible, began to conclude that there was no scriptural support for the dominant Trinitarian doctrine. These “anti-Trinitarians” gained toeholds in Poland briefly and in Transylvania. And no, they don’t have anything to do with the legendary Transylvanian Count Dracula. That Unitarian Reformation took hold in Transylvania in what is today Romania. Here the first edict of religious toleration in history was promulgated in 1568 during the reign of the first and only Unitarian king, John Sigismund. Sigismund’s court preacher, Frances David, had successively converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism to Calvinism and finally to Unitarianism because he could find no biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. Unitarian Churches still exist there today, and many of our congregations have bonds with them. During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Unitarianism appeared briefly in other locations. A Unitarian community in Rakow, Poland, flourished for a time, and a book called “On the Errors of the Trinity” by a Spaniard, Michael Servetus, widely circulated throughout Europe. But persecution frequently followed these Unitarian believers. The Polish Unitarians were completely suppressed, and Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in 1553 in Geneva for his radical views on the Trinity and his rejection of infant baptism. The one that sent him to die was none other than Calvin! In 17th and 18th century England, anti-Trinitarians grew in numbers. Often the driving forces of the movement were men and women who became famous for reasons other than their religious views. John Milton, Isaac Newton, John Locke, and Florence Nightingale were all people who fought for a more enlightened view of Christianity, as well as for religious tolerance. By the first decade of the 19th century, 20 Unitarian churches had been established in England. Despite its apparent European connections, Unitarianism as we know it in North America is not strictly a foreign import. In America, the movement toward a Unitarian position emerged gradually and organically, supported by the Puritan inclination to organize around covenant more than creed. In fact, the origins of our faith began with some of the most historic congregations in Puritan New England where each town was required to establish a congregationally independent church that followed Calvinist doctrines. Initially these congregational churches offered no religious choice to their parishioners, but, over time, the strict doctrines of original sin and predestination began to mellow in many of those churches. As it often happens when people stray from the original beliefs, by the mid-1700s a group of evangelicals called for the revival of Puritan orthodoxy. They asserted their belief in humanity’s eternal bondage to sin. People who opposed the revival, believing in free human will and the loving benevolence of God, eventually became identified as Unitarian. At about the same time, coming from England, one of those who did carry the torch of Unitarianism to America was Joseph Priestley, a Unitarian minister better known as the discoverer of oxygen. After being harassed and nearly killed back in England, Priestley left and established the first openly Unitarian church in Philadelphia in 1796. Soon after, many well-established American churches acquired Unitarian ministers or Unitarian views. Already at that time, virtually every aspect of religion was fair game for doubt and debate. During the first four decades of the nineteenth century, hundreds of original congregational churches fought over ideas about sin and salvation, and especially over the doctrine of the Trinity. Most of the churches split over these issues. In 1819, Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing delivered a sermon called “Unitarian Christianity” which established the basic Unitarian platform. Besides being anti-Trinitarian, Channing also proposed that the Bible was not the inerrant word of God, but that it contained narratives written for people of the times. As such, some of its tenets couldn’t just be transposed into today’s cultural settings. But now, let’s go back to the 17th and 18th centuries to deal with the other U, Universalism. In 1759 in England James Relly published "Union" which denied the Calvinistic doctrine of “salvation for the few” and claimed that all souls would be saved. John Murray, a follower of James Relly in England, helped deliver the Universalist movement to America. In 1779 Murray occupied the pulpit of the Independent Christian Church of Gloucester, Massachusetts, which was the first organized Universalist church in this country. John Murray later helped lead the battle to separate church and state. Twenty-six years later the movement's greatest exponent, Hosea Ballou, articulated Universalist doctrine in his book, "A Treatise on Atonement," which sought to prove that the doctrine of the trinity was not based on scripture, and argued against miracles and against the view of men and women as depraved creatures that would burn in hell. As a side note, Hosea Ballou was instrumental in establishing the church that Annelies and I first joined in 1978. That church, established in 1829, is today the UU Congregation of Danbury, Connecticut. Growing out of both Unitarianism and Universalism was a lasting impetus to create a more just society. Both movements became active participants in many social justice movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, often led by women, such as Julia Ward Howe, Susan B. Anthony, and notably Clara Barton who went from Civil War “angel of the battlefield” to become the founder of the American Red Cross. Through reformers such as these, the liberal religious movement became the champion of the abolition of slavery, women's rights, and penal reform. Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker was a prominent abolitionist, defending fugitive slaves and offering support to abolitionist John Brown. In the beginning of the twentieth century, humanists within both traditions advocated that people could be religious without believing in God. Now, that was, and still, is heresy! Here you have it: we are a bunch of heretics! That is why some, like Billy Graham, classify us as a cult. But it was also a confirmation that no one religion can embrace all religious truths. By the middle of the twentieth century it became clear that Unitarians and Universalists could have a stronger liberal religious voice if they merged their efforts, and they did so in 1961, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. We gather for very important reasons as Unitarian Universalists, not the least of which is an openness to new insights – a quality that has formed our faith over the centuries. New insights can come from various sources: religious discoveries, such as the discovery of unknown gospels found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt, the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, scientific discoveries, theological and philosophical insights, etc. It is that very openness to new insights that will shape our faith in this new century. Our own history tells us that we cannot see everything clearly. Ours is a story of an evolving understanding of what it means to be human and to live in community on this planet. Unitarian Universalism is a most noble experiment in human relations, mirroring in microcosm the rich experiment that is this very country. We believe that the most pressing question now before our churches, as before the American people, is this: how can we, a diverse group of people with rich and varying cultures, worldviews, and beliefs, learn to live together, with integrity and compassion, in a society that affirms and embodies the values of freedom, peace and justice? As our country’s history and our Unitarian Universalist faith continue to evolve and unfold, we invite and welcome all people of good will into this most vital ongoing conversation. Let me close with words from a song that, in the context of our faith, is a wonderful illustration of our lifelong search for meaning. It is a song by Pat Humphries titled “Swimming to the Other Side”.

“I am alone and I am searching, hungering for answers in my time I am balanced at the brink of wisdom; I’m impatient to receive a sign. I move forward with my senses open. Imperfection it be my crime. In humility, I will listen; we’re all swimming to the other side.

On this journey through thoughts and feelings; binding intuition, my head, my heart I am gathering the tools together; I am preparing to do my part. All of those who have come before me: band together and be my guide. Loving lessons that I will follow, we’re all swimming to the other side.

When we get there, we’ll discover all the gifts we’ve been given to share Have been with us since life’s beginning and we never noticed they were there. We can balance at the brink of wisdom, never recognizing we have arrived. Loving spirits will live together; we’re all swimming to the other side.”

Amen.

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Reflections on Biology and Theology
By Tami Thatcher, Sunday, July 6, 2014

It is my privilege to be speaking here today, on this Fourth of July weekend, about the seventh principle of Unitarian Universalists which is "Respect for the interconnected web of existence of which we are a part."

Albert Einstein wrote this about the interconnected web of existence: "A human being is a part of a whole, called by us "universe," a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest . . . a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. . .Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Einstein [Plant Intelligence, p. 241]

In reflecting on the interconnected web of existence, let me begin with some creation stories.

In the Hopi Indian creation story, it is said the universe began long ago when Spider Grandmother emerged into the emptiness of this world. The first thing she did was to spin the great web that connects all things, and through it she created the place where her children would live their lives. [Braden, The Divine Matrix, p. 16]

In western Christian theology, the Genesis chapter of the Old Testament of the Bible includes: "In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. . . . . .Then God said, 'Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.' And it was so. . . ..And God said, 'Let the water bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.' So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. . . .And God said, 'Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.' And it was so. Then God said, 'let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness.' [Coogan, Oxford Bible]

When this last statement about humankind created in the image of God is interpreted as humankind made in the spiritual likeness of God - I begin to be see the beauty in the concept.

Some people focus on the inaccuracy of the measurement of time in the Genesis creation story which says that God created the world and all the biological species six thousand years ago, in six days. Some Biblical fundamentalists believe it means that humans were not created by evolution. For some people, the concept of evolution is threatening. It undermines their view of humans as created in the likeness of God and as the centerpiece of creation. They feel it undermines their sacred teachings. In the scientific view of biology, the Earth is much older than 6000 years, about 5 billion years old. Scientists tell us that life began about 4 billion years ago and evolved into single-cell life forms. And from these single-celled life forms, tens of millions of species evolved. The "creation story" from one modern biology text states: "biologists postulate that complex biological molecules first arose through the random physical association of chemicals in that environment." When I read such a statement, I have sympathy for creationists and proponents of intelligent design and their angst over some of the scientific literature.

Conventional interpretations from the science of biology conclude that signs of intelligent life: feeling, and meaning, arise from the physical brain and are simply adaptive epiphenomena of the genetic drive to survive. The biology texts have their truths, their magnificent detail and complexity. But, they do not teach us the value of living things or the soulful qualities of living things. [Goswami, Creative Evolution]

The methodical and logical approach for observing the world through scientific method is useful. But, we should remember that scientific knowledge can be incomplete. And history shows that in many instances, scientific consensus has been quite wrong.

In contrast to scientific observation, the style of thinking of the religious thinkers is often intuitive and it can be deeply penetrating without using microscopes or mathematics. Intuitive insight can also be incomplete and wrong. But, intuitive insight by various people through the ages has also been remarkably right. Consider the ancient Chinese perspective that speaks repeatedly of dancing energy and transient, impermanent forms that match modern discoveries of quantum physics. [Zukav, The Dancing Wu Li Masters, p. 174]

In Daoism, the concern is not with a creator, but in the insight into the web of phenomena. They see the world as web that has no weaver, no creator. [Kaptchuk, The Web That has No Weaver, p. 15]

Modern biology describes "The Tree of Life" that traces all life from a common single-celled ancestor, to the complexity of organisms that exist today through evolution. And most of us accept the concept of evolution of life on Earth. But some of the controversy comes not from whether evolution exists, but whether Charles Darwin's "Darwinism" theory is complete and accurate. Darwinism says that evolution is through chance, and is incremental and continuous. And also that evolution is determined entirely by DNA. Darwin's theory including neo-Darwinism, and the existence of God are seen by some people as mutually exclusive ideas.

And many of us, being raised with considerable faith in scientific knowledge, tend to accept information from scientific texts. And we may not always notice how scientific ideas in biology continue to change. For example, scientists find that evolution occurs sometimes more rapidly, much more rapidly than originally described by Darwin as random, incremental and continuous. Some scientists calculate that the evolution of species by random mutation would simply take too long.

And while DNA - genetics - play a profound role, scientific studies of bacteria in response to antibacterial drugs have shown rapid and creative changes with subsequent changes to DNA then passed on to offspring. The idea that environmental stressors can cause physical changes and then result in modification to the DNA, or "directed mutation" had been rejected in the past - but has now been shown to happen. [Goswami, Creative Evolution]

The changed DNA are passed to offspring. But, it gets weirder, much weirder. As scientists create new antibacterial drugs, bacteria respond with directed mutation to resist antibiotics and they share strategies with many diverse types of bacteria both in proximity and not in proximity. [Buhner, Plant Intelligence, p. 97-104]

Nonlocal sharing of information for resisting antibacterial drugs -mind boggling concepts to conventional biologists. Nonlocality, the instantaneous "spooky action at a distance," (as Einstein called it) that had been discovered by scientists studying quantum particles and has again been discovered by biologists studying DNA.

Instantaneous sharing of information is still not widely recognized in conventional scientific dogma. Nonlocal sharing of useful information by bacteria and by other life forms - now that's an interconnected web. And this interconnected web that is our universe has long been understood intuitively by ancient people.

Scientific method is useful as an objective standard by which we test the validity of our assumptions and beliefs. Yet, science can be cold, dehumanizing, and unrelated to what is most sacred to the soul. And there is a tendency for scientific research to ignore the ecological destruction which seems to accompany technical advances. [Kaminski, Flower Essences]

While we may hold distain for religious fundamentalists who unquestioningly accept their theology and who might discriminate against people who do not share their views, we may fail to see such unquestioning fundamentalism in ourselves regarding the latest scientific study.

One researcher declared, "most published research claims are false." John Ionannidis in his study of medical research concluded that in nearly every case, the studies were biased. [Buhner, Plant Intelligence, p. 425] And as researcher David Freedman reports, "Researchers headed into their studies wanting certain results-and lo, and behold, they were getting them. We think of the scientific process as being objective, rigorous, and even ruthless in separating out what is true from what we merely wish to be true, but in fact it's easy to manipulate results, even unintentionally or unconsciously." "At every step in the process there is room to distort results, a way to make a stronger claim or to select what's going to be included," says Ionannidis. "There is an intellectual conflict of interest that pressures researchers to find whatever it is that is most likely to get them funded." [Buhner, Plant Intelligence, p. 426] Beware of fundamentalism, whether theological or scientific.

Whether our thinking styles lean more toward religious intuitive or toward scientific, there is a troublesome tendency to desire infallibility. There is the tendency to presume our beliefs are infallible. It is as though our worth, our sacredness, would be undermined if we had flaws or what we believe is flawed. I think this tendency needs to be overcome. In this complex and mysterious world, no one should feel inferior for having thoughtfully and honestly found that what they had believed may be in need of revision.

Native Hawai'ian philosopher Michael Kioni Dudley writes of our kinship with nature, saying, "The chants of the Hawai'ians told them that they had descended from the cosmos itself and from its many plant and animal species. They felt a kinship with nature not experienced by people who see a break between humankind and the species of nature which have preceded them in the evolutionary advance. "In the Western world, where the cleavage is most pronounced, animals are disdained as having senses but no reason; the plant world is recognized as alive, but in no way even aware; and the elements of the cosmos are treated as inert objects that follow mechanical laws. Hawaiians, on the other hand, view all these beings as sentient ancestral forms that interrelate with them as family. Therefore, they experience reality differently because of these views."

Plants are a life form on Earth that humans depend on for existence. As Stephen Buhner, author of Plant Intelligence" [p. 109] says tongue in cheek: He says, "I mean there is just nothing stupider than a carrot. . . and besides they don't have a brain either."

Charles Darwin, in a largely ignored book, "The Power of Movement in Plants," wrote that "it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the tip of the radical thus endowed [with sensitivity] and having the power of directing the movements of the adjoining parts, acts like the brain of one of the lower animals; the brain being seated within the anterior end of the body, receiving impressions from the sense-organs and directing the several movements." [Buhner, Plant Intelligence]

Darwin had two paradigm altering insights about plants: 1) that the root of the plant is in fact its brain; and 2) that the plant is using sensitive, intelligent analysis of its surroundings to navigate through the soil. Plants are as sophisticated in behavior as animals. They continually monitor their internal and external worlds for shifts in informational fields. Plants have the same neurotransmitters as we have: serotonin, acetylcholine, dopamine, melatonin, and others. The similarity of human and plant neural systems and the identical neurotransmitters arise from the fact that these neurochemicals were used in every life form on the planet long before the human species arrived.

Examining the biological similarities between humans and plants shows our kinship. But we can easily overlook the soulful similarities, the most important and less known truth of the richness of the emotional language of plants. Soulful qualities have been described in detail by intuitives, sensitive individuals who have documented detailed qualities of flowers and plants, qualities used for the treatment of physical and emotional ailments.

Who could possibly frown and scowl, when nose to nose with a carnation? Who could continue to worry about trivial pressures when standing next to a wild rose bush in bloom? Can you look upon the pine trees in the forest, and not see beauty and feel that you are in a holy place? And I wonder to myself, why would plants have soulful qualities just like we do? I suppose it is because plants, just like us, are children of mother Earth and the Universe divine. Another way of poetically saying that they are created in the spiritual likeness of God?

As Vine Deloria, Jr., writes, "we are a part of nature, not a transcendent species with no responsibilities to the natural world." No matter which creation story resonates with you, I pose this question: "What good is a theology if its followers lack respect and reverence for all living things?" [Deloria, God is Red]

We know we as a species have fallen short when we have created well over a thousand superfund sites in this country - sites that may have some of the damage reduced but will never be restored despite optimistic labels of "remediated" or "cleaned up." And we continue, as a species, hell-bent on environmental destruction.

We humans whose ancestors are single celled organisms and whose cousins are bacteria and microbial life, must live cooperatively. We, as a species, have discounted non-human life forms. Not only that, we as a species have, while professing to value human life, have often treated other humans not only disrespectfully, but also cruelly, inflicting much harm.

What is the cure for this disrespectful treatment of the environment, life, and human life? Acknowledging and embracing the sacred in ourselves and other living things is a start. By cultivating thoughts of compassion for life and by creating positive brain circuits. Our thoughts are contagious-even without Facebook. And according to Amit Goswami in his book "Creative Evolution," by creating positive brain circuits, we create beneficial morphogenetic fields that live on for genetic assimilation. [Goswami, Creative Evolution, p. 316]

We need to endeavor to be informed, to question, and to admit our mistakes. Ultimately, we need to take to heart our responsibility to those who share the planet with us now and those who will in future generations. Let us renew our reverence for life and the power that creates life, whatever name we give that power and whatever the poetry we use to describe that power. Let us foster reverence and compassion for ourselves, for other people - people like us and people not like us - and for all life forms, animals and plants - not just because our survival depends on them, which it does, but because of deep respect and reverence for life.

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Everything is Holy Now
By Tami Thatcher, Sunday, May 4, 2014

Peter Mayer’s song, “Everything is Holy Now” has been shared during many UU services, including Rev. Michael Dowd’s presentations on “evolutionary spirituality,” and “the Universe story.” While to some people, the concept of evolution degrades their sense of worth in the universe and their concept of God, the concepts of evolution are celebrated by most UUs. Let me share this poetic review of evolution by B. J. Palmer: “We [live] . . . with the majestic power that transforms common food into living, loving clay; that robes the Earth with beauty, and hues and scents the flowers with the glory of the air. In the dim, dark, distant long ago when the sun first bowed to the morning star, this power spoke and there was life; it quickened the slime of the sea and dust of the Earth and drove the cell to union with its fellows in countless living forms. Through eons of time, it finned the fish and winged the bird and fanged the beast. Endlessly, it worked, evolving its forms until it produced the crowning glory of them all. With tireless energy it blows the bubble of each individual life and then silently, relentlessly dissolves the form, and absorbs the spirit into itself again . . . (Palmer quoted from Wieder’s, Song of the Spine, p. 101) And now, before we go further, let’s step back. Let’s start at the very beginning. In the Bible, it says “In the beginning was the Word and Word was with God and the Word was God.” I want to try substituting the phrase Universal Energy Field in the place of Word. “In the beginning was the Universal Energy Field and the Universal Energy Field was with God and the Universal Energy Field was God.” I like the increased sense of meaning, but it’s ackward. So, let’s just say OM. In Hinduism, the Universal Energy Field is sounded as the sacred mantra “OM.” (Beaulieu, Human Tuning, p. 13) Three thousand years ago the Egyptians portrayed the universe as vibrating strings played by a blind harpist. The blind harpist knows all and sees all through his strings which vibrate into millions of different patterns. Recently scientists at NASA discovered the sound waves from the supermassive black hole in the center of the Perseus cluster. These sound waves, which are made in one pulse every 10 millions years, turn out to be a B-flat. [pause for pianist] (Wieder, Song of the Spine, p. 102). Physicists know that molecules vibrate; the molecules vibrate and transfer information and also receive information. Even our DNA receive and transmit information. If you were here that last time I spoke, you may remember that author Gregg Braden asked the Tibetian monks how they had rapidly healed a woman through prayer and what they did when they prayed. They answered that they imagine the woman as fully healed and they stated simply that “the feeling is the prayer.” (Braden, Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer) As I would describe it further, that the prayer, the feeling, is a vibration — a vibration that these monks created with their consciousness. This change in vibration, communicated at the cellular level, prompted the woman’s body to heal. Spontaneous healing is one example of “something outside (like the monks prayers) affecting something inside (the woman’s body).” And it is one of many things not explained by the mainstream materialist view. A materialistic reductionist view of reality tells us that there are elementary particles such as quarks and electrons. Elementary particles form atoms. Atoms form molecules. Molecules form cells, some of these cells form that brain. And the brain comes up with thoughts. This philosophy is called scientific materialism and says that everything is due to upward causation. (Goswami, The Self-Aware Universe) But there are problems with this “materialistic and upward causation only” view. This view cannot explain why our thoughts, our consciousness, can have an impact on someone else’s body. Nor can it explain why quantum particles are affected by the presence of a viewer, a person, —without physical contact. Call it universal energy field, quantum vacuum field, akashic field —call it God — but it exists and is outside the accepted conventional materialist view. In the lyrics from Peter Mayer’s song “Everything is Holy Now” “When holy water was rare at best It barely wet my fingertips. But now I have to hold my breath Like I'm swimming in a sea of it.

There are subtle and invisible realities that some people sense and some people don’t. But, like fish who don’t see the water, we are swimming in a sea it. William A. Tiller, PhD., material scientist by day and subtle energy and paranormal researcher by night, writes that the accepted scientific models have not accounted for many subtle energies and subtle phenomena.” He has spent decades experimenting with subtle energy and consciousness. He states that our conventional science has taught us that a quantitative relationship exists between mass and energy, that the physical vacuum is empty, and that human consciousness cannot significantly influence physical phenomena. And he and many other researchers find this worldview is very, very wrong!” (Tiller, Science and Human Transformation) Nonlocality is the word that describes the phenomenon of signals that defy Einstein’s law, E = m C**2 [squared]. [Energy equals mass * the speed of light, squared] which says that nothing moves faster than the speed of light. However, numerous scientific experiments with correlated particles, separated by miles, show that both respond simultaneously to stimulus applied to only one of the particles. There was no delay in the response; whatever signal or mechanism was involved was faster than the speed of light. Nonlocality is also shown in many scientific studies involving human consciousness. One type of extensively studied phenomenon is called “remote viewing” — having a person see, in their mind, what is in an enclosed container or what is located many miles away. (McTaggart, The Field) You can imagine why various governments have invested in this type of research. The results can produce amazing accuracy, about 80 percent of the time. And this capability of our minds is not dependent on the usual concept of time. Edgar Mitchell, an astronaut who traveled to the moon, conducted his own experiment with mental telepathy just to reaffirm that the distance from the earth to the moon didn’t impede mental telepathy. So, what. You might ask, why does the paranormal or the phenomenon of nonlocality matter to spiritual seekers? My answer is that it helps to understand our universe better — or at least to understand what is not understood. Our understanding of the universe has always played a role in our theology. For example, a “pantheist” believes that god is the natural universe, “god in you and god in me and god in the rock and god in the tree...” And the pantheist view tends to cling to materially solid substances that we can see and feel. Beyond pantheism is “panentheism,” a theological view which says god is all of nature and the universe, but is also somehow “something more” than that. I have come to know that there is “something more” and much more than “materialist only” view. From my starting point of born skeptic, an engineer with a tendency to trust science much more than what I considered the invisible and impossible “supernatural,” I have come to experience the power of consciousness – not just in my own being, but beyond it. I by no means have complete understanding or particular gifts. But, my experiences have given a tangible quality to the invisible that has helped me to connect to what various authors describe. Many authors and scientists conclude that the universal energy field or some may call it the vacuum field or the zero point field, explains the mechanism for the instantaneous flow of information from consciousness. It provides answers to many mysteries that are not solved by conventional science. Mysteries, which science previously could not explain, and were therefore placed in the realm of religion. Conventional science shies away from discussing the soul. . . and frankly, so do most UUs. The existence of the soul is not determined by the decomposition of the material body after death. A non-material spirit and soul is possible and there is considerable evidence of it. The phenomenon of seeing the soul leave the body when a person dies has been written about by many people. And when a friend of mine saw this happen at a hospital, she was shocked about what she saw. When she spoke with a person at the hospital, they invited her in, closed the door – and said that the phenomenon was not uncommon. I listened to a woman who had been an executive at a nursing home — she said that she would see people come into her office and wait patiently for her to finish talking to someone, so that they could say good-bye — and she knew that the people saying good-bye – had died. So, if you ask me, “do we have a soul or spirit that exists after our body dies?” I would say yes. (Goswami, Physics of the Soul and van Lommel, Consciousness Beyond Life)

What about reincarnation — I would say that the many studies of people who remember aspects of past lives, remembering things that they had no way of knowing — that it has convinced me that yes, there is reincarnation. I would add that I don’t find it particularly comforting. (For more about reincarnation, you might read Norm Shealy, Energy Medicine or Amit Goswami, Physics of the Soul.) Amit Goswami, Ph.D., physics professor and prolific writer, interviewed on the movie “What the Bleep?” — Goswami assures us in his book (by the same title) that God is not Dead and also that consciousness is the ground of all being, not materialism. There’s good news and bad news to this view. The good news is that because of our consciousness we are more powerfully able to co-create than we might have imagined. The bad news is, with great power, comes great responsibility. Jill Bolte Taylor, author and neuroanatomist, writes about being visited in the hospital after suffering a massive stroke that disabled her ability to speak or to understand speech. While she could not understand words or speech, she knew what the people visiting her were thinking. And she was grateful for those people who took the time to communicate their care and concern to her, somehow knowing that she could understand them. (Taylor, Stroke of Insight) This is a lesson to us — that the people who were impatient or frustrated with Jill’s inability to communicate — that in our contact with people even when logic and conventional science would say it doesn’t matter — our thoughts matter. In the solving of our world’s many problems, our creativity and our consciousness also matters. Even though it’s not made of matter, it (our consciousness) matters a great deal. And for those who are uncomfortable with any explanation of the universe that uses the word, God, this is what the Rev. Forrest Church has written, “Tell me a little about the God you don’t believe in, I probably don’t believe in him either.” In the last book that Forrest wrote before he died, he was asked: “When you pray to God, do you have a picture in your head?” He answered: “I don’t have a picture. I have a sense of peace. I’m praying to the deepest part of me and the deepest part of the cosmos. I’m connecting. ...Prayer or meditation . . . connects us to the All. (Church, The Cathedral of the World) The origin of the word Religion means to bind together, to connect. And religions often provide a path for reaching the higher self and seeing the connectedness of all life. In the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus says “The Kingdom is within you and it is outside of you.” The collection of sayings of Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas discovered in 1945 had been excluded from the gospels accepted by the popular Christianity. In these writings, Jesus said “The kingdom of God is everywhere, but people don’t see it.” The Gospel of Thomas contains no discussion of crucifixion, resurrection, or the coming of the Kingdom in the future. It is all about seeking and discovering the “kingdom” here and now. Regarding different religious traditions, Forrest Church held the philosophy that there is “one light — and many windows.” He wrote “I believe that the same light shines through every religious window. The windows are different. The images cast through my [Universalist] Christian window and the others by the one light are therefore interpreted in different ways. Fundamentalists of the right say that the light shines through their window only. Fundamentalists of the left, looking at the bewildering variety of windows and worshippers, say that there is no light. But the windows aren’t the light. The windows are where the light shines through.” (Church, The Cathedral of the World) I would suggest that if you are sure there is no light, nothing you would describe as God — that it’s ok. Even Pope Francis has said recently and respectfully that his view of atheists is that —“The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.” No matter our current state of belief or unbelief, it is probably worth emphasizing the need to be tolerant of the diversity of beliefs. Researcher William A. Tiller, Ph.D., materials scientist, subtle energy researcher, and also a meditator, offers the suggestion that we “practice love with focused intention” in order to heal ourselves and our world. (Tiller, Science and Human Transformation) In closing, Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin said in his view, “There is neither spirit nor matter in the world; the stuff of the universe is spirit-matter.” And he also said “Someday, after we have mastered the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness . . . the energies of love. Then for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”  

References Dr. June Leslie Wieder, “Song of the Spine – Sound Healing and Vibrational Therapy,” Booksurge Publishing LLC, 2004, p. 36, and p. 101 “The Truth by B. J. Palmer. John Beaulieu, “Human Tuning – Sound Healing with Tuning Forks,” BioSonic Enterprises, 2010. Gregg Braden, “Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer – The Hidden Power of Beauty, Blessing, Wisdom, and Hurt,” Hay House, 2006. Amit Goswami, PhD, “God is Not Dead,” Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2008. Ami Goswami, PhD, “Physics of the Soul,” Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2013. Amit Goswani, PhD, “The Self-Aware Universe – how consciousness creates the material world,” Penguin Putnam, 1993. William A. Tiller, PhD, “Science and Human Transformation – Subtle Energies, Intentionality and Consciousness,” Pavior Publishing, 1997. William A. Tiller, PhD, “Some Science Adventures with Real Magic,” Pavior Publishing, 2005. Lynne McTaggart, “The Field – The Quest for the Secret Force of the Universe,” HarperCollins Publishers, 2001. Pim van Lommel, MD, “Consciousness Beyond Life – The Science of the Near-Death Experience,” HarperOne,” 2010. C. Norman Shealy, MD, PhD, “Energy Medicine – Practical Applications and Scientific Proof,” 4th Dimension Press, 2011. Jill Bolte Taylor, Ph.D., “My Stroke of Insight- A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey,” Viking Penguin Group, 2006. Forrest Church, “The Cathedral of the World – A Universalist Theology”, Becon Press, 2009, p. 5, 178, 179. Translation by Stevan Davies, “The Gospel of Thomas – annotated and explained,” Skylight Paths Publishing, 2004 Fourth Printing, 2001.   Holy Now Lyrics by singer-songwriter Peter Mayer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KiypaURysz4 When I was a boy, each week On Sunday, we would go to church And pay attention to the priest He would read the holy word And consecrate the holy bread And everyone would kneel and bow Today the only difference is Everything is holy now Everything, everything Everything is holy now When I was in Sunday school We would learn about the time Moses split the sea in two Jesus made the water wine And I remember feeling sad That miracles don’t happen still But now I can’t keep track ‘Cause everything’s a miracle Everything, Everything Everything’s a miracle Wine from water is not so small But an even better magic trick Is that anything is here at all So the challenging thing becomes Not to look for miracles But finding where there isn’t one When holy water was rare at best It barely wet my fingertips But now I have to hold my breath Like I’m swimming in a sea of it It used to be a world half there Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down But I walk it with a reverent air ‘Cause everything is holy now Everything, everything Everything is holy now Read a questioning child’s face And say it’s not a testament That’d be very hard to say See another new morning come And say it’s not a sacrament I tell you that it can’t be done This morning, outside I stood And saw a little red-winged bird Shining like a burning bush Singing like a scripture verse It made me want to bow my head I remember when church let out How things have changed since then Everything is holy now It used to be a world half-there Heaven’s second rate hand-me-down But I walk it with a reverent air ‘Cause everything is holy now

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An Atheist in Idaho Falls
By Dan Henry, Sunday, July 21, 2013

Hi. I'm Dan Henry, and I'm happy to be here to address you this morning. I am an atheist, and my goal is to make sure that none of you ever comes back here again.

Actually, after Debu's talk last week, I might be a Buddhist. But it was too late to get out of this commitment. My subject is An Atheist in Idaho Falls, which for me is not really complex enough to fill 20 minutes. I've never really felt any repercussions from my lack of faith. I have no really interesting stories. I never really left a church -- my family sort of fell away from Catholicism together when I was young. I never really had to come out to anyone. Never felt a threat to my well-being because of my atheism.

But I can give you an idea of what it's like being an atheist in Idaho Falls. About 4 weeks ago a couple of LDS missionaries came by the house. I'm always very nice, and will sometimes spend time talking with them. If they want to debate, I'll grant their wish. I'll even let them talk to my kids if my kids agree. But I didn't have the time to chat that day, unfortunately, and just told them I was an atheist. I got a quizzical "Oh!?", so I reinforced my statement by saying that I'd founded the local atheist organization.

One responded with complete bafflement: "But what do you talk about?" Obviously, the thought of such a gathering had never occurred to her. Perhaps the thought that there could be more than one of us to gather was astonishing. And she probably thought that there can be nothing to talk about without god.

Two weeks ago, on NPR's This American Life, they did stories about people who tried to beat Vegas by card-counting at blackjack. Now in order to win big at blackjack, you need to run a team of players, and there has to be trust -- you trust your team members with large sums of money when there is no real way to track each other. The first story was about a group from the heartland -- where the leader had decided that the most trustworthy team of people he could gather would be faithful churchgoers. It was a fascinating story, but I was insulted. I mean, come on! Why can't atheists be just as moral when cheating at cards? I'm tempted to form a team and head to Vegas just to prove that point.

That's really what it's been like being an atheist in Idaho Falls for me. You're met with bafflement and mistaken impressions. The end.

So instead of discussing just my atheist experience here in Idaho Falls, I'd like to discuss two important facets of my life that are in some ways very much linked.

First, as I just mentioned, along with my friend Scott I started the Atheist Society of Idaho Falls -- or as we affectionately call it: AS IF. [By the way -- at a conference last month I met David Silverman, the president of American Atheists, and a frequent guest on Bill O'Reilly's show. He's the one who got O'Reilly to say "Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that!" Anyway, I told David the name of our atheist group and mentioned the AS IF nickname. That cracked him up. After that discussion, I saw him a couple more times over the weekend, and each time he chuckled and shook his head and said "AS IF!" So, kudos to Scott for coming up with that memorable name.]

AS IF is a support group for atheists: a place where atheists can be themselves and feel comfortable after spending most of their week immersed in a society that privileges those who believe in certain deities.

Back in 2006, I also started the local chapter of Drinking Liberally. It's a support group for liberals: a place where liberals can be themselves and feel comfortable after spending most of their week immersed in a society that privileges those who are on the conservative end of the political spectrum.

I'm sure you can spot the superficial similarity. But the two groups have more in common than just being despised minority viewpoints here in southeastern Idaho. I think there is a deeper level of connection, and the connection between them is the subject of this talk.

Definition

First, let's discuss what the word atheism means.

There are various definitions and different categories of atheists. Some think strong atheists say there is no god, while weak atheists just say that the evidence indicates that there most likely is no god. There's the difference between atheism and agnosticism -- some think atheists say no gods exist, while agnostics say that they just don't know. Some say atheism is a statement about belief in god, while agnosticism is a statement about knowledge of god. Others think that agnostics are just atheists lacking confidence. There are atheists -- perhaps regulars here -- who enjoy the ritual of Sunday services and the communal aspects of belonging to a wonderful congregation like this. Other atheists are made uncomfortable by the similarity to more traditional religious practices, and tend to avoid Sunday services as often as we can (even if we love Rev. Lyn and appreciate all the wonderful things that the Unitarian Universalist Church does in our community). Some atheists want to see religions fade away in favor of sectarian institutions, while others are fine with respecting the beliefs of theists and don't mind living in a world where many are religious.

I think all of those types of atheists are pretty much the same thing -- differing mainly in semantics, but not much at all in practice. So I tend to use a practical, working definition of atheism. One is an atheist if one lives as if there is no god. That's a very broad definition, so it's a bit self-serving. But I think it's useful, and it covers all the different categories of atheists I just discussed, plus those who are atheists but afraid to call themselves that. It incorporates all the "nones" in the public polling done on faith in the US. When I use the word, that's what I mean.

Atheism in Society

In society, though, atheism has a bit of a bad reputation. Most of that is unfair and unearned. For example, you will hear about militant atheists, when people are just referring to atheists who are vocal and proud. We never refer to outspoken Christians as "militant." On the that side, you have to blow something up in order to be labeled a militant. Militant atheists just have to ask uncomfortable questions. Verbal bomb-throwers.

Of course, most of the negative public attitude towards atheists in general is based on a hefty dose of propaganda designed to protect certain theologies. Religions try to inoculate themselves against the threat of losing membership by creating the atheist boogeyman and demonizing the word.

But there is a ugly side of atheism, I have to admit. There are atheist asses -- a fraction of atheists that won't let a reference to a deity go by without an objection. But that is true of any subset of humans -- a certain small fraction of every group is made up of asses. Even here. When we greeted each other earlier ... I hate to tell you ... there's a good chance that you shook hands with at least one ass. You all know who you are. Don't make me name names.

Worse, though: there is a libertarian strain of atheism that I personally find repellant. The Ayn Rand side, that brings along a certain worship of individualism and a fetishism of freedom. And you can see perhaps why many libertarians are attracted to atheism. They tend to oppose the imposition of values by the state or by any other authorities -- they are wannabe John Galts who refuse to have a being above themselves. So they are drawn to atheism for that reason, along with its devotion to rationality.

There is an overlapping sect of men's rights activists, as well, and you will be hard-pressed to find a more distasteful and morally icky group of people. The men's rights activists and the libertarians are often the same people. The atheism/skepticism movement is currently experiencing an ongoing, 2-yr-old battle known as Elevatorgate -- a fascinating story too long to tell here. It has at its heart the role of feminism within the movement. Some atheist/skeptics believe that the concepts of atheism and feminism are orthogonal and disjoint. Others rightly see them as integral and correlated, as I hope my talk will help illustrate.

What right do I have to claim that certain atheists are wrong, or morally icky? Doesn't being an atheist mean accepting that morality is really subjective and up for individual interpretation? That my idea of what is moral has no more authority than that of the libertarian men's rights activist? What is morality when one is an atheist, and how do we judge people's actions and opinions when there is no 'standardized' morality?

Atheism and Morality

Atheists are often asked by theists how we can know right from wrong, given that we don't accept god (actually, we're told that we can't be moral without a god, often as not). Given that we've rejected an objective standard of morality -- at least on based on revealed truth -- it's an interesting question. But not a particularly hard one -- I've answered it many times. This is not the place to get deeply into the philosophy of morality, values, ethics, etc (which is funny, because this is a church -- that's what they're for, right?). But I'm trying to link atheism and liberalism, so I need a quick basis. Morality is what we use to differentiate good intentions, decisions, and actions from bad intentions, decisions, and actions. Values are related, but broader: value denotes something's degree of importance in our lives. So we value many things, like honesty, hugs, and Oreos. Our moral values are an important subset of our values as a whole. They are the most important of our values.

Our moral code is the set of rules that we accept to help us attain our important values -- our moral values.

As individuals, we each select our moral codes independently. Mostly, we accept them from our parents and our community. We are indoctrinated with a moral code, although we can adjust it or change it with thought and some effort. A fundamentalist religious person accepts a moral code that comes from a particular religious tradition, largely intact and verbatim. Most religious Americans take a cafeteria-plan approach to their moral codes. They think of them as coming from god or tradition, but they ignore the parts that they find inappropriate or unsatisfying. However, they don't realize the deeper implication of that approach: that either there is no objective moral code provided by any deity, or if there is a deity-approved moral code, we don't really have any access to it. We're left to patch together a code for ourselves with relatively little help from on high -- actually, with a lot of contradictory help.

Thoughtful atheists understand that we all select our moral codes. We build them up inside our minds, using evidence, rationality, and history. We are free to pick and choose, to do research and to experiment. We realize that we should optimize our moral code to increase our chances at happiness and fulfillment.

And that is the key. Morality is really a measure of how much an action increases happiness and wellbeing (or decreases unhappiness or discontent). And that is our goal -- as atheists, as Unitarians, ... and as liberals.

Atheism and Liberal Values

One thing I find fascinating about our AS IF group is the very high percentage of liberals who belong. Among the attendees, there is a much, much higher percentage of liberals than you find in the general population. Alternately, one thing I find fascinating about my Drinking Liberally group is the very high percentage of atheists who belong. It's also way out of proportion to the general population.

Imagine that. I start a group for one relatively small minority in town, and it attracts a very much larger proportion of another minority view. Then I start a second club for that second group, and it attracts a much higher proportion of the first minority. And these are not the same people. Except for Scott -- the cofounder of AS IF, and my wife, Hollis, and a few others -- Jeff and Kathy, for example -- there really isn't a whole lot of overlap of membership.

It shouldn't surprise you by this point that I don't think that overlap is entirely coincidental. But some of you are probably thinking that the overlap in my groups could be due to the social circles that I am connected with -- a case of selectivity on my part. Or perhaps you're thinking that people bold enough to declare themselves as proud liberals are also more comfortable proclaiming their atheism, and vice versa -- a case of self-selection on their part. And I know that some of you are thinking that because I invited a lot of my atheist/skeptical friends -- and they are not the type to believe stuff -- even if it makes them feel good -- without coming up with possible objections. I know that they're sitting there pouncing on my logical errors in their minds.

But honestly, I don't find those objections very compelling. I often find opportunities to invite people to Drinking Liberally -- it can come up in normal conversation. Atheism is not like that. So the AS IF group has grown organically and more slowly, by word of mouth. And the second objection -- about people being prone to admitting unpopular positions -- just doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. It might explain why I know about the connection -- because people admit it -- but why those two characteristics? Why aren't other unpopular viewpoints more prominent in the two groups? Why don't we have more Muslims at Drinking Liberally? Shouldn't we have more Beliebers, too? And more dog fighting enthusiasts? And now that marriage equality is the majority viewpoint in America, will AS IF and Drinking Liberally now start having more advocates against equality? No … that objection doesn't make a lot of sense when you look at it more deeply.

There is something about the combination of atheism and liberalism that is more compelling. I was just discussing where an atheist derives morality, and what the ultimate measure of morality is: happiness and wellbeing. Perhaps we can see the same thing from the liberal perspective.

As a liberal, I stand in opposition to conservative ideology: the ideology that defends authority and advocates subservience to tradition. So in many ways, liberalism (which means "pertaining to freedom") also stands for the belief that our purpose in this world is to decide our values and to act to achieve them. To be bound not by what our forefathers did and said -- or by what a particular deity tells us -- but by what we decide is in our best interest.

Liberals want to upset the status quo and change course -- when it is necessary to achieve a more happy and fulfilled populace. Conservatism doesn't do that. Conservatism represents the interests of those classes of society that already have power and influence. It caters to their interests first and foremost and represents maintaining the existing class structure. Conservatism is all about deference to authority -- including the typically held belief that morality is imposed from outside ourselves. That there is an objective moral code that we should follow.

[As a side note: one result of that conservative worldview is that they constantly worry about the things we see and hear. Think about it ... their moral code is derived from sources outside themselves: it comes to them through the Bible, through sermons, passed down from their leaders. In other words, their morality enters them through their eyes and ears. So they always have to be concerned about what they and what everybody else in society sees and hears. Listening to deviant song lyrics can influence one's moral code. Seeing sex portrayed on TV during family hours can cause one to become less moral. Women's bodies have to be covered up, because of the immorality generated within men as a result. Therefore, conservatives try to control all those external influences.]

Liberal philosophy, on the other hand, actually celebrates the power that we have as a society to create our own political morality. We can say that it's time to redefine marriage. We can say that it is now wrong to treat minorities differently. We can say that healthcare is a fundamental human right. In fact, we are often accused by conservatives of having just "invented" rights. You're damn right we did that. We thought about it, and it's the right thing to do. So liberals are creating moral codes, and using the happiness and wellbeing of society as our measurement.

Conclusion

So to wrap all of this up ... In a lot of ways, adherence to traditional religious values and philosophies is inimical to the liberal philosophy. So when people reject religion and become atheists, they tend to generate a liberal morality as opposed to a conservative one. Again, with the goal of achieving happiness and wellbeing.

And similarly, when people find themselves tending towards liberal political positions and rejecting conservative values as they become politically aware, they often find themselves at odds with traditional religious institutions that dictate moral codes that seem self-contradictory as well as contrary to liberal philosophy. Therefore, they often end up questioning the very basis of theism.

I know that many liberals hate it when we are accused of being anti-religious. People in this community most of all. We want to believe that it is possible, logical, rational, to be a liberal, tolerant theist with a respect for a loving, generous deity. And many of you prove that in your lives every day.

But as for me, I take the overlap of my two groups as evidence that BOTH viewpoints have the weight of truth behind them. In some ways, it's like how science works. Let's say you devote your life to archeology and figure out that hominids first walked the earth about 14 million years ago, based on the fossil record. Then you meet an evolutionary biologist who's concluded from DNA analysis that the hominid family tree first split about 14 million years ago. That kind of independent confirmation tends to validate both sciences.

So I feel good about being both an atheist and a liberal, and I think that there is something about the two philosophies that allows them to work together hand-in-glove in a way that reaffirms their central validity. There is a natural and organic connection. But I hope I'm not so confident about that conclusion that I'm obnoxious about it. I hope I'm not one of those asses I mentioned earlier. There's plenty of room for error, and I certainly haven't made a rigorous study of the subject.

Furthermore, I think that there's plenty of reason to be optimistic about our society. I don't believe that we're as polarized as it sometimes seems. We tend to look at many issues as if they are linear and as if we are all squished up at either end. Liberal versus conservative; atheist versus theist.

In fact, I find it fascinating that there are philosophical loops. We all know very strong conservatives -- those people who are such strong conservatives that they decry the existence of any governmental institution at all. They are true libertarians, dependent only upon themselves. When you talk to such people long enough, you will find that they don't actually think that each of us needs to do everything for ourselves. They do believe in working with their neighbors on a voluntary basis, when needed. They appreciate that people can help one another raise a barn. Or that one neighbor particularly adept at homeschooling could barter the teaching of the neighborhood's children. In exchange, that neighbor might be granted a share of the neighborhood's produce. Pretty soon, our extremist libertarian friend is living in a hippy commune, just come from the opposite direction.

Spirituality has the same sort of philosophical loop. Some people get very deep into theism -- so deep that they become disgusted with the institutional trappings of religion. They may at first be uncomfortably devoted to some specific deity -- giving the impression that only they have the path to truth. But those people often end up boiling down their faith into it's bare bones minimum -- often a natural deity very similar to the ineffable and gentle deity celebrated by many of the most liberal of churches. And then they find that belonging to such a tolerant and accepting community as this is a nice thing to do, and so much less stressful.

Doesn't it seem wonderful to you that both the extreme conservative turned libertarian turned commune dweller and the extreme theist turned spiritualist turned Unitarian end up in the same place with all of us? In a community just like this?

A corollary to that is that perhaps some of those asses that we find very challenging might just be people coming into our own community from the opposite direction that we took. And that's a comforting thought.

If there is one common idea that ties together atheism, liberalism, and Unitarianism, I think it is this: we know that society works better when we devote ourselves to each others' wellbeing than it does when we devote ourselves to a concept.

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Spirit, Spiritual, Spirituality: Fuzzy Words or Deep Human Need?
By Arthur Kull, Sunday, March 18, 2012

We went by Sedona, Arizona one day and stopped on the side of the road to find a place to eat the lunch we had brought along. We walked up the hill to a red rock ledge and sat down. In front of us was this 20 ft diameter stone circle. After a while, a man in a loose shirt and a woman in a long flowing white gown came up, and they sat down in a yoga pose in the middle of the circle. After they were done with their ceremony, we asked what caused them to be here. They replied that there was a vortex right here that links you to the universe. That image stayed with me, and it comes back to me whenever I hear the word spiritual.

We find spirit derived words in many contexts, of course. Just think of our Guiding Principle #3: We affirm and promote: "Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations". And, spirit derived words are very popular. If you google Spirituality, you get 194 million hits, Spiritual, 953 million hits, and spirit 884 million hits. Just as a comparison, religion or religious only gets you 187 million hits.

Just for fun, I tried to figure out what my spiritual type was. You can google belief.net and take the test. There are 25 multiple choice questions, about god, the bible, angels, demons, the devil, afterlife, etc. When you submit your answers, you can see the list of types and where you fit in. The types go from "Hardcore Skeptic" and "Spiritual Dabbler" to "Confident Believer" and "Candidate for Clergy". I ended up with a score of 44, which puts me as an Active Spiritual Seeker: Spiritual, but turned off by organized religion. Does that mean that I like disorganized religion?

According to Wikipedia, "Spirituality can refer to an ultimate immaterial reality; an inner path enabling a person to discover the essence of his/her being; or the "deepest values and meanings by which people live. Spiritual practices, including meditation, prayer and contemplation, are intended to develop an individual's inner life; spiritual experience includes that of connectedness with a larger reality, yielding a more comprehensive self; with other individuals or the human community; with nature or the cosmos; or with the divine realm. Spirituality is often experienced as a source of inspiration or orientation in life. It can encompass belief in immaterial realities or experiences of the immanent or transcendent nature of the world."

Which of these definitions or characteristics make sense to us? Good question. Before getting into this let us look at some historical perspectives of spirituality.

Nearly 40% of all Americans have no connection with organized religion. Yet many of them, even though they might never step inside a house of worship, live profoundly spiritual lives. But what is the nature and value of unchurched spirituality in America? Is it a recent phenomenon, a New Age fad that will soon fade, or a long-standing and essential aspect of the American experience?

In Spiritual But Not Religious, Robert C. Fuller, Professor of Religious Studies at Bradley University, shows that alternative spiritual practices have a long and rich history in America, dating back to the colonial period, when church membership rarely exceeded 17% of the population, and interest in astrology, numerology, magic, and witchcraft ran high. Fuller traces such unchurched traditions into the mid-nineteenth century, when Americans responded enthusiastically to new philosophies such as Swedenborgianism, Transcendentalism, and Mesmerism, right up to the current interest in meditation, channeling, divination, and a host of other unconventional spiritual practices.

Fuller argues that far from the flighty and narcissistic dilettantes they are often made out to be, unchurched spiritual seekers embrace a mature and dynamic set of basic beliefs. They focus on inner sources of spirituality and on this world rather than the afterlife; they believe in the accessibility of God and in the mind's untapped powers; they see a fundamental unity between science and religion and equality between genders and races; and they are more willing to test their beliefs and change them when they prove untenable."

As Fuller writes, "We encounter spiritual issues every time we wonder where the universe comes from, why we are here, or what happens when we die. We also become spiritual when we become moved by values such as beauty, love, or creativity that seem to reveal a meaning or power beyond our visible world."

I like this definition. The basic questions about where the universe comes from, why we are here, and what happens when we die, arise because we want to know what is beyond the limits of what we are able to experience in our daily lives.

Harvard Divinity Professor Gordon Kaufman in "God The Problem" describes four essential limits to experience: 1. We experience external physical limitations and restrictions upon our activities by physical objects. 2. We experience internal physical limitations of our own powers such as through illness, weakness, exhaustion. 3. We experience external personal limitations by bumping against other peoples' wills, decisions, goals. These are interpersonal and social restrictions. 4. We experience "normative" limitations due to choices we have to make such as true or false, reality or illusion, good or bad, right or wrong. Example: "a man is imprisoned in a cell outside of which he has never been, and from which he cannot escape. The solid walls of his room, their texture, their color, the objects in the room will be his material realities that limit his moves. His conclusion will be that the walls are composed of some thickness of material substance, in effect presupposing that what is beyond is a continuation of what he experiences directly."

If the beyond or transcendent is a continuation of our experience, how do we go about imagining the transcendent? Gordon Kaufman writes about two possibilities: " One of them is based on the knowledge of people. When you and I communicate, we are not concentrating on each other's physical appearance, but focus on what we say, to discover who we are and the meaning of what we say. Obviously, that depends on what we choose to reveal to each other about ourselves at that moment. It is clear however, that I will never have a complete knowledge of you and you will never have a complete knowledge of me.

So, if you imagine God being like a human being, you try to get clues about his nature, as if you were in a conversation with him. But since no one has ever talked to God, or since God has never talked to anyone, the task is difficult, and we therefore look for events in our daily lives, which we then need to evaluate whether they can be attributed to God or not. If the answer is yes, the event or manifestation becomes a revelation, a new insight.

This way of looking at the Beyond is representative of the historical dualism of heaven and earth, with us on Earth and God in Heaven up or out there somewhere in a different realm.

It is interesting to note that the above implies that it is not man that is made in the image of God, but rather the reverse, that God is made in the image of man.

" The other possibility is based on the knowledge of things. This way to imagine the transcendent depends exclusively on acquiring knowledge through perception, inference, and experimental procedures. This is how we found out about the structure of the universe and the laws that govern it.

We now assume that it started with a tennis ball sized bundle of energy that exploded in a Big Bang. Had the speed of its expansion been a tiny tad slower, it would have gone nowhere. Had it been a tad faster, it would have expanded quickly into oblivion. Where did it come from, and why did it have just the right expansion speed, making it possible after billions of years to have conscious life? This big bang explanation is well known, of course. The frontiers of science, however, give an even more puzzling picture.

Some, like the scientists at CERN in Geneva, Switzerland do experiments to determine the basic particles that make up matter and energy. In an underground ring of 17 miles in circumference, hydrogen atoms are hurled at each other at near the speed of light to b e disintegrated into the basic elements of matter and energy. All except the Higgs boson, aka the God Particle, have been discovered, and are the basis of the Standard Model that explains the foundations of the universe. Or maybe not! What I mean to say is that if the God particle is not found, then we will have to change the way we currently view the structure of the universe.

Others, as described in Michael Talbot's book "The Holographic Universe", and as depicted in the movie "What the Bleep!? Down the Rabbit Hole", such as quantum physicist David Bohm and neuro-physiologist Karl Pribram suggested that in order to explain some phenomena of quantum physics and of the functioning of our brains, we needed to assume that both we and the universe needed to be looked at as holograms. That could mean, for example, that we live in a 3D projection of a 2D world. It is interesting to note that those who picked up on this idea have been able to demonstrate that everything in this universe is a tightly interconnected whole, even at the atomic, sub-atomic and energy level. The result is a completely different paradigm of reality, one in which what we consider as paranormal, can perhaps be explained.

As Douglas Adams points out in "The Restaurant at the End of the Universe", "There is a theory that states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable."

But, what difference will the discovery of the universe's structure make in helping to answer the questions: Where does the universe come from, why am I here, what happens when I die?

The basic question here is: if we do not believe in a transcendent God, a God that inhabits a separate realm, then what is transcendent to us? Gordon Kaufman, inspired by the Metaphysics of Greek philosopher Aristotle postulates that "The Ultimate Reality will be understood as that good which moves all other things, but is itself unmoved". The Ultimate Reality is a good that is unmoved. But what is a good that is unmoved? An answer to that question was elegantly articulated by Rev. Galen Guengerich who suggested that it had to do with ideals such as virtues (Wisdom, Courage, Compassion and Justice), or absolute values such as Beauty and Love.

Transcendence, viewed this way, is not about a God separated from the natural world, but rather, is found in our experience of being related to it, in the feeling of being deeply connected to everything. Transcendence enables us to go beyond the limited confines of our daily lives, and see the reality of our world and our place in it. The hallmark of transcendence is the recognition of our utter dependence on and connectedness to the world around us, and gratitude, the recognition of our obligation in return to strive to live in harmony with the basic virtues (Wisdom, Courage, Compassion, and Justice).

The late Rev. Forrest Church gives a wonderful example for us to consider in his book "Life Lines". The example is from the Catholic theologian John S. Dunne, who offers a cautionary lesson in his the parable of the mountain: "One day a group of spiritual seekers begins to climb a mountain in search of enlightenment. God they are told, lives at the top of this mountain. So they leave their daily cares behind them and climb in the hope of finding God and receiving divine knowledge. Finally they reach the peak of the mountain. From this lofty promontory they can see farther than they have ever seen before. And the air is thin at the top of the mountain. This is conducive to disembodied reflection on the eternal verities, the very things they that are confounded and veiled by the grossness, busyness, and squalor of the all-too-human life below. There is only one problem. God is not there. While they were climbing up the mountain in search of enlightenment, God was climbing down the mountain into the valley. As the pilgrims in quest of transfiguration seek escape from the limitations of their human lot, God is by the bedside of the dying, comforting those who mourn, forgiving those who fail, consoling those who suffer."

We have looked at the difference between major ways at getting to the transcendent, one in which it is God, created in the image of man, to whom we project our ideals, and the other in which the ideals that guide our lives are rooted in the perception of a transcendent good.

No matter how you view the transcendent, however, whether God is in a different realm, or God is permeating this world, or you believe that the transcendent is to be found in ideals and virtues, what gives meaning to our lives is to strive to live our lives according to our deepest felt values: Wisdom, Courage, Compassion, and Justice.

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Message on Virtues
By Arthur Kull, July 10, 2011

Today’s message is a summary of the introduction to a two day workshop on virtues presented at General Assembly 2010 in Minneapolis by Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich, Sr. Minister at All Souls in New York City. Rev. Guengerich, a theologian and religious philosopher, has taken on the task of giving new life and meaning to our religious institution. For those of us who attended the workshops of the Wednesday Adult Education Program last winter, it will be a repeat, but I hope you will be reminded of the importance of Rev. Guengerich’s message.

For those of you who are here for the first time, I just want you to know that ours is a faith that forever questions its reason for being. We do this in the hope of finding truth in our world, and meaning for our own lives.

“Everywhere you look, religious fundamentalism is burgeoning. It's an emergent cancer that will bring increasingly severe political, economic, and religious disruption to our nation and our world. The only forces rising up in serious protest are the fundamentalists of the left (Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins). Their principal strategy is to argue correctly, but inadequately, that the religious fundamentalists are wrong about the nature of God, the meaning of revelation, and the purpose of history.

As I have mentioned several times before, Unitarian Universalism is in danger of becoming irrelevant. There are about as many Unitarian Universalists in our nation today as there were when the Unitarians and the Universalists merged 50 years ago, while the US population has since increased by more than 50%.

Why would our faith become irrelevant? In my view, it is in large part because we haven't articulated clearly what it means to be a Unitarian Universalist. I'm not talking about what we have in common with all other faith traditions. I'm talking about what makes us distinctive and unique as a religious tradition.

While Unitarian Universalism withers and fundamentalism flourishes, a third trend has emerged: spiritual hunger has deepened, in our nation. People are more connected than ever but also more lonely. They accomplish more with less satisfaction. They live more rapidly but fewer experiences endure. They feel divided within themselves and isolated from other people. They feel lost and alone. They long for a place where they can restore their sense of wholeness and regain a sense of purpose.

Unitarian Universalist congregations can be such places. Our purpose as a religious community is to awaken our sense of the sacred and renew our resolve to transform ourselves and our world.

People who come to our congregations are looking for a religious community that is clear and definitive about the importance of personal spiritual disciplines. In the past, Unitarian Universalists have, how shall we say, been quite lax in these areas, preaching the gospel of personal freedom and moral flexibility. If we are to minister effectively to a multicultural and multiracial society, we must develop a way of speaking about our spiritual life that transcends the ambiguity of our past. Focusing on virtues offers one way to address this need, and provides a vocabulary for doing so.

As Unitarian Universalists, we need to establish the personal spiritual discipline of working to become the kind of individuals we ought to become, in order to live as human beings ought to live. As a means of achieving that end, we will discuss the virtues that have been universally esteemed in ancient times and in modern times in both Eastern and Western traditions.

The English word virtue derives from the ancient Latin word “vir”, which means man. In Latin “vir” means manliness or valor, especially on the battlefield. For the ancient Greeks, however, the idea of virtue applied not only to battle but to every aspect of life. To be virtuous is to be most fully whatever you most essentially are. As we will see, virtue ultimately has less to do with gender or race identity than it does with our common humanity. Virtue is the discipline whereby we become fully human.

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman are two psychologists who collaborated to create a classification system for virtues based on a system that exists for mental and physical illnesses known as the DSM-5. Rather than focusing on shortcomings and flaws, however, Peterson and Seligman focus on what is right about people and specifically the strength of character that make the good life possible. They insist that character strength, or virtue is the bed rock of the human condition. I agree. In religious terms, the process of cultivating virtue leads to salvation not by grace or by faith, but salvation by character. This approach to ethics has been described by the philosopher Richard Taylor as the ethics of aspiration which emphasizes the kind of people we aspire to become, as opposed to the ethics of duty, which emphasize the following of rules that have been laid down by somebody else.

The great moral issue of our time is the dearth of virtue. We need moral heroes today. We need virtuous men and women who rise up and instill strength of character in those who follow their lead, and heap shame upon those who do not. Virtue is about the content of our character. It's about the kind of people we aspire to become and the kind of world we aspire to inhabit.

Whenever we confront human wickedness, whether in our own hearts or in the world around us, we ask about standards of human conduct. What standards should we set for ourselves? Where should those standards come from? Over the course of human history, several answers have emerged to the question of what we should do. One answer is that we ought to do what we are required to do. In other words we should look up to the heavens. People believed that God or the gods, who created the earth and its people, had also given us rules to live by, commandments to obey a covenant, to carry out a testament. God set the standard, and it is our duty to obey. Over time, however, some people began to realize that these rules are neither infallible nor, in the strict sense, divine. Rather they are occasionally inspired human words "cloaked in divine garb”.

As the divine commandments began to fade as a standard of conduct, at least in some parts of the world, a second answer began to emerge. We ought to do what achieves the best outcome. In the late 18th century, German philosopher Immanuel Kant proposed a standard known as the “categorical imperative”. For everyone who belongs in the category of rational people, Kant says, it is imperative that they should act only on principles they believe should become universal law. In other words, if asked what would happen if everyone acted as you are proposing to act, then, if the overall outcome would be good, any action is morally commendable. If not, it's not.

A century later, in England, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill developed a similar standard that became known as “utilitarianism”. Based on the view that an action is right if it promotes happiness, and wrong if it promotes the reverse of happiness, they articulated the rule of utility: the good is whatever brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of people. While standards based on outcome have much to commend them, they seem unwieldy and unsatisfying. It is always hard to calculate the greatest good for the greatest number, and there are many things in life that are fine if a few people do them, but a disaster if everybody does. Sometimes, the needs of the few must take precedence over the needs of the many. Some actions are right even if they can't be universally practiced.

The third answer is that, in any given situation, we ought to do whatever an ethical person would do in that situation. In other words, we look within the heart and mind of an ethical person. This approach, while more relevant to the modern world than the other two, also happens to be the most ancient. In his major treatise on ethics, Aristotle states that both things and people can be judged successful in life if they achieve their ultimate purpose, which is to realize their full potential. Aristotle's way of thinking has to do with what is distinctive or unique about something. A knife, for example, has the distinctive ability to cut things. Therefore, a sharp knife, well used, has achieved its full potential.

The distinctive capacity of human beings, Aristotle observes, is the capacity to reason. Our purpose as humans, therefore, should be to develop our rational powers and live in accordance with them. If this happens, we will achieve the state of being that Aristotle calls happiness or blessedness. Happiness is the result of living as human beings ought to live. The key to happiness, Aristotle insists, is virtue. It lies along what the Greeks called the golden mean between two extremes. Confidence, for example, lies midway between recklessness and cowardice. Truthfulness lies between boastfulness and false modesty.

In a culture that champions the individual at every turn, an ethic based on virtue seems exactly right. Capitalism, democracy, and Protestantism emerged as the individual became the point of fulcrum in the realms of economics, politics, and religion. Virtue emerges as an ideal when the individual becomes the point of fulcrum in the ethical realm. The problem, however, is that virtue has fallen out of favor over the centuries since Aristotle, as the Christian tradition developed. It slowly lost its confidence in the human ability to do good.

For several hundred years after Jesus’ death, Christians maintained a view shared by both Jews and Greeks before them, that men and women could govern their own actions. In the words of Bishop Gregory of Nyssa: “Virtue is a voluntary thing, subject to no dominion”.

In the fourth century, one of Christianity's most influential leaders mapped out a radically different approach. Instead of continuing the emphasis on freedom of the will, St. Augustine insisted that humanity had been irreparably damaged by the fall from original perfection, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Because of that original sin, Augustine believed humanity had been rendered sick, miserable, and hopelessly enslaved to sin. The reason why Augustine declared that humanity had lost its capacity to govern its actions was because, as a teenage boy, he was unable to exercise rational control over his own sexual impulses. So over time Augustine took this fact about his teenage life, and came to believe theologically that spontaneous sexual desire was proof that original sin had implicated the entire human race. It's always been about sex! He insisted that humanity was ravaged by sin and was in need of outside intervention. In other words, after Augustine, virtue was impossible. Augustine was wrong about a lot of things, including this.

It's time, in my view, to remove the avoidance of sin from the center of our moral discourse, and focus once again on moral excellence. It's time for a renaissance of virtue. In a culture that champions the individual, virtue is an approach to ethics that individuals can believe in, and it gives us as Unitarian Universalist a way to respond religiously in a world where so many people act so horribly. Just as the language of human rights has become a vital political tool in our efforts to extend the domain of civilization and the rule of law, the language of virtue can become a vital religious tool in our efforts to extend the domain of morality and the rule of character. I believe it is a vital means of growing Unitarian Universalism by adapting it to our increasingly diverse culture. Unitarian Universalism has often been described as a tradition that believes in salvation by character rather than by race or by faith. In other words, we believe in virtue: the personal spiritual discipline of becoming the kind of individuals we ought to become in order to live as human beings ought to live.

Rev. Guengerich’s catalog, taken from 2 1/2 millennia of thinking about this, includes seven necessary virtues: wisdom, courage, compassion, justice, temperance, transcendence, and hope.

Wisdom is a combination of two things: curiosity and discernment. Curiosity is a personal spiritual discipline that expands the range of our knowledge and the depth of our experience. The more we know about our lives and our world, the better our decisions about how to live will be. If we keep our wits about us, we will develop the kind of deep insight and accrue the kind of broad experience that accounts for wisdom. Then, when we need to decide which of the paths before us leads to virtue, we will have, as Reinhold Niebuhr once put it, “the wisdom to know the difference”.

Courage. The inner experience of courage, the courage to be, leads to an outward expression of courage, the courage to do. Courage is the ability to see evil close at hand and take steps to confront it despite present danger. It is also the ability to see good afar and take a step toward it despite obvious risks to ourselves. Courage is to know a calling that is greater than fear.

Compassion is the outward expression of an inner awareness, an awareness of our own vulnerability. People who lack compassion fully believe that they are invincible, that they will never need anyone's help. For this reason compassion is a leading indicator of moral strength. Compassion also recognizes that other people are dependent and needy as well, and that I am one of the people on whom they depend.

Justice is a process, a procedure we follow in our political life, to ensure that all of us are maximally free to pursue whatever goals we choose in life. Justice is also a purpose, a set of goals we pursue in our religious life to ensure that all of us fulfill our potential.

Temperance. Aristotle defined virtue as the golden mean between two vices, one an excess, the other an absence. The golden mean between self-indulgence and self-denial is temperance, which does not mean abstinence, but moderation.

Transcendence is not about God's separation from the natural world but rather our experience of being related to it, the feeling of being deeply connected to everything. Transcendence enables us to go beyond the limited confines of our daily lives, and see the reality of our world and our place in it. The hallmark of transcendence is humility, the recognition of our utter dependence on the world around us, and gratitude, the recognition of our obligation in return.

Hope. Virtue calls us to be lighthearted about present troubles, and optimistic about future possibilities. In religious terms, hope derives from faith, a leap of the moral imagination that connects the world as it is to the world as it might become. To escape the clutches of the present, we need a sense of humor. To imagine the contours of the future, we need faith. To work our way from the present toward the future, we need optimism. Hope springs from humor about the present, faith in the future, and optimism, the power to do the work.

Virtue is the personal spiritual discipline of becoming the kind of individuals we ought to become, so that we might live as human beings ought to live. It is the discipline of moral excellence.”

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Religious Imagination*
By Arthur Kull, May 15, 2011

*Adapted from a Sermon titled “Religious Imagination” preached by Reverend Tom Goldsmith in 2008 at First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City.

As those of you who attended my presentation on Cosmology in December might remember, I had proposed three cosmology options. (Cosmology refers to the study of the Universe in its totality as it is now, and by extension, humanity's place in it).

  1. Traditional God’s Universe
  2. Universe with a Purpose: God or some other power or creative force initiated the big bang to create a universe with the purpose to evolve into a higher consciousness.
  3. Random Universe: Imagine a random whole in which universes appear and disappear. These universes may not all be the same, or maybe they are.

Options 2 and 3 provide the basis for a new cosmology, one in which the way we see how the world works is congruent with the findings of Science and of our own experience, but extrapolate the future in different ways or different meanings.

As an aside, when I shared that sermon with friend Bill Sellers, he had me read: “The Holographic Universe” by Michael Talbot. In it, Talbot describes how quantum physicist David Bohm, and neuro-physiologist Karl Pribram separately developed a theory according to which our universe is two-dimensional, as in a hologram, and that we only “perceive” reality as four-dimensional. With that assumption, they are trying to explain how the natural laws could appear suspended when considering the paranormal! Just when I thought I had gained a new insight, a new world opens up. Well, maybe!

Be that as it may, how do we integrate our spiritual and emotional yearnings into any new cosmology that is more based on science and philosophy than on Neolithic divine assumptions and myths?”

I have chosen to use a sermon titled “Religious Imagination” given by Rev. Tom Goldsmith, Minister at First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake City in 2008, to address this question.

“This is an interesting time to be a Unitarian Universalist. Historically we are a product of the enlightenment, where liberal religion offered the rational and inquisitive mind an opportunity to gather in churches without superstition, without myth, and without doctrines that specified essential core beliefs. Religion became an exercise in expanding the universe of truth in order for science and philosophy to attain equal footing with the gods.

Nurturing a mind critical of religious claims on truth led to the formation of Humanism, spearheaded primarily by Unitarian ministers in the early 20th century. As the decades rolled on, Humanism made reason the exclusive test of religious truth. Every religious conjecture was subject to empirical investigation until all myths, miracles, and stories were dumped in favor of scientific truth. Unitarianism, so colored by Humanists influences, proclaimed itself a church made entirely for thinking, no nonsense people. Words like holy, faith and sacred were reserved exclusively for those “other kinds of churches.”

The poet Wallace Stevens, reminded us, however, that truth may not be that clearly delineated. In his words, “Truth depends upon a walk around a lake.” So perhaps there is more to discern than “hard evidence.” Religious liberals certainly value the fruit of reason, but the walk around the lake allows us to become more than analytical. As human beings, we need more than proven theories to keep us going.

I fall back again and again to a line by a theologian, Bernard Meland who taught at the University of Chicago Divinity School back in the 80’s. He said, “We live more deeply than we think.” How easily we lose that perspective as we race around frantically trying to keep up with the schedules, commitments, and that treadmill exhaustion in our lives? Meland underscored the difference between a creative way of life and a controlled way of life. There was nothing inherently wrong with a controlled life per se, living among a forest of facts and theorems and concrete ideas, but a creative way of living has much appeal because “we live more deeply than we think.” And a creative way of life allows us to respond more deeply to the nuances and spirit of life that are otherwise crowded out in our controlled way of thinking and behaving. And wouldn’t we all agree that by taking a walk around a lake, we then realize that we live more deeply than we think?

The people who fill our Unitarian churches these days reflect quite a variety of different hopes and expectations. Some who attend our churches still like being reminded of enlightenment principles and the rigors of empirical truth. Others like to be reminded about the need for taking a walk around a lake. A symptom, I believe, of the last wave of newcomers to Unitarianism who worried less about intellectual stimulation and sought more to deepen the wellsprings of their spirit, was when it became real popular to call yourself some sort of hyphenated Unitarian. I remember that period of time when we identified ourselves either as Buddhist-Unitarians, or Jewish-Unitarians or Agnostic-Unitarians or Christian-Unitarians, or Pagan Unitarians, or mystic-Unitarians…each looking for a qualifier to soften the edge of pure reason.

We don’t hear many Unitarians these days using hyphens to try to impress others that they are more than just rational thinkers. We have a whole new generation of religious seekers who enter our churches as progressive thinkers, embracing science, skeptical of religious claims about truth, and in fact highly suspicious of organized religion in general. But these are people who also acknowledge that we live more deeply than we think. And we need to respond to these people in our churches. They are searching for something more rich and creative than singing praises to the human intellect; their quest is to find meaning in the jumble of life. They are looking for truths that can help them understand more deeply. It does not have to be factual, but it has to be true. This distinction was made by my old professor, Harvey Cox, always insisted that “true” in a story means something different from “true” in a news account or a lab report. A true story is one that is true to life at its deepest and most complex.

Over these many years of ministry I have come to experience a certain reluctance among some Unitarians to tap into what is popularly called “a religious imagination.” And yet, new people who turn their spiritual journeys towards Unitarianism (including long-time members, as well, are indeed hungry for the deep truths that transcend any factual accounting.

Laurel Hallman, minister of the UU church in Dallas, offers three methods of interpreting stories. We can look at a story literally and relate to it as fundamentalists (which we Unitarians reject and we should). We can look at a story critically and historically which is how Unitarians tend to do things. But then there is one more level of interpretation that seems conspicuously absent from our liberal methods, and that is a religious or spiritual interpretation of a story. Although she doesn’t quite frame it this way, I believe that our religious imagination (if we let it loose) understands stories that point beyond themselves to a critical dimension of human existence that defies reduction to empirical proof or disproof. It is true to life at a deeply profound level.

Laurel Hallman does a lovely job in examining the story of Noah to illustrate precisely the different methods of interpreting stories. As Unitarians looking at the story of Noah, we will certainly want to reject the fundamental religious claim of an angry God determined to end the world. We might want to place the story into a cultural and historic context of 3,000 years ago and hear the story’s message as though we were studying religious anthropology. Or, we can welcome the incredible image of a tiny boat, built to specifications, but oh so small in the huge sea. And Noah, who had been so faithful, left for five months with no horizon, no contact, with nothing happening.

We can resonate with that image if we tap into our imagination. Noah touches life, as we may have experienced it ourselves, that at some point we may well have felt forgotten. We can identify with the larger story of being alone in the universe. And then we send out a dove who ultimately returns with an olive branch. We often wait far too long for hope to return. (We live more deeply than we think).

The great Italian novelist, Umberto Eco, once wrote that belief or non-belief in a God doesn’t matter, really. The stories…that human creatures have imagined are miraculous in themselves. It ennobles the heart to think that the human race could ever dream up a story of Christ – “of universal love, of forgiveness for enemies, of life sacrificed that others may be saved.” It’s the lack of imagination that leads so many of us to say “no” to such stories. (Don’t read them as though you were reading a news account).

Let me make one thing clear. Religious imagination is not reserved just for religious stories. Any kind of story can be examined literally or critically, or spiritually. Consider Phillip Booth’s wonderful poem, “First Lesson,” about teaching his daughter to swim.

Lie back, daughter, let your head/be tipped back in the cup of my hand. Gently, and I will hold you. Spread your arms wide, lie out on the stream and look high at the gulls. A dead-man’s float is face down. You will dive and swim soon enough where this tide water ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe me, when you tire on the long thrash to your island, lie up and survive. As you float now, where I held you and let you go, remember when fear cramps your heart what I told you; Lie gently and wide to the light-year stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.

There’s no mention of God. But I ask you, is this not a story that beckons the religious imagination? And thus we move closer (spiritually) towards the very parameters of life and feel the very depth of what it means to be human.

There is much we must come to understand in making sense of the present and preparing for the future. We need facts to protect us from frauds, says Harvey Cox, but the stories digested through religious imagination help us make sense of the facts. We live more deeply than we think as we come up against pain and death and destiny and meaning and value. We don’t dismiss science and logic; we hunger, however, for ways to understand what it means to be human: To try to understand the jumble of our lives.

Emily Dickenson really hit the mark for the point I’m trying to make this morning. There’s a poem of hers in which she says: “tell all the truth but tell it slant.” These are the stories, images, metaphors that nourish us wholly. The truth is delivered “slant”…otherwise we’d be blinded. She ends that stanza with “The truth must dazzle gradually/Or everyman be blind.” Truth is inhaled slowly and it is delivered — slant.

In “The Rowing Endeth”, the last poem from poet Anne Sexton’s book, The Awful Rowing Toward God, she tells about a truth she has discovered, but tells it slant.

I’m mooring my rowboat at the dock of the island called God. The dock is made in the shape of a fish and there are many boats moored at many different docks. “It’s okay,” I say to myself, with blisters that broke and healed and broke and healed — saving themselves over and over. And salt sticking to my face and arms like a glue-skin pocked with grains of tapioca. I empty myself from the wooden boat and onto the flesh of The Island. “On with it” He says and thus we squat on the rocks by the sea and play — can it be true — a game of poker. He calls me. I win because I hold a royal straight flush. He wins because He holds five aces. A wild card had been announced but I had not heard it being in such a state of awe when He took out the cards and dealt. As He plunks down his five aces and I sit grinning at my royal flush, He starts to laugh, the laughter rolling like a hoop out of His mouth and into mine, And such laughter that He doubles right over me laughing a Rejoice-Chorus at our two triumphs. Then I laugh, the fishy dock laughs, the sea laughs. The Island laughs. The Absurd laughs. Dearest dealer, I with my royal straight flush, love you so for your wild card, That untamable, eternal, gut-driven ha-ha…and lucky love.”

On a metaphorical level, the narrator has finally ended her search for God. The island is in the middle of a vast ocean, signifying how hard it is for people to find God in their life. The blisters on her hands represent hard times in life that everyone goes through. As the narrator and God start a game of poker, the narrator wins with a royal straight flush, and God winning with all aces, thanks to a wild card, Sexton sees that the mystery of life lies in the wild card. As their laugh becomes one, Sexton is showing how the individual finds God in him or herself. As love?

“The story of our lives demands interpretation, neither critical nor literal, but receptive to imagination. We know about the hand we’ve been dealt. As we are painfully made aware, the cards we’ve been given to play may not correspond with our plan of how life should unfold. Sometimes we think we’re winning only because we failed to hear the wild card.

This poem tells a story that cannot be proven true or false by either historical or scientific research. But we know for it to be true in the dimension of human experience, and it helps us realize that we live more deeply than we think.

If Unitarianism Universalism is to evolve into a religion that responds to the spiritual needs of enlightened people — how’s that for a niche? — we must provide a comparable experience to a walk around the lake. We can’t always get to take that walk, so we need a community that enlivens the spiritual and religious imagination.

Tell the truth, but tell it slant. If truth could be disposed of instantly in form and substance it would blind us all. So we tell it slant…different stories that offer true meaning that might shed some light on the jumble of our lives. These truths are not subject to laboratory proofs, but to the crucible of our own experience. These are truths not contingent on facts, but the truth of living. We come to church acknowledging that we live more deeply than we think.”

Amen

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Theological Musings: Our Search for Truth
By Arthur Kull, December 26, 2010

My theological musings today will focus on a possible cosmology for those of us who have distanced ourselves from the beliefs of traditional faiths. Cosmology refers to the study of the Universe in its totality as it is now, and by extension, humanity's place in it. For many of us, it is implicit in our beliefs, but we never articulate statements to that effect.

In the early days, according to philosopher Robert Wright, religion wasn’t about the pursuit of a moral good, the establishment of a communal value system or the hope of personal salvation, but about explaining the unexplainable, with thunderstorms and other weather phenomena ranking high on the list of metaphysical concerns. Gods and goddesses and their actions or roles became part of the way they imagined the world to work.

Let’s first look at elements of the history of civilization through a societal and religious lens. The earliest signs of such religious activity have been found at a site named Goebekli Tepe in Eastern Turkey, which consists of a collection of temples built around 11,500 years ago. As Riane Eisler explains in her book “The Chalice and the Blade”, the cosmology of the Neolithic people of that region was populated with both male and female gods, the social order was egalitarian between the sexes. Then, from around 4,300 to 2,800 BCE came several waves of invasions, some from the north (Kurgans), some from the south (Semitic people). What united these invaders was a culture of violence supported by war gods. The social order was characterized by male domination and the enslavement of women. Out of that cultural shift evolved the monotheistic culture of Judaism.

That laid the ground for what happened next. As Paul Saffo, visiting scholar at Stanford University, recently wrote in the Economist: “Our current religious order formed in what Karl Jaspers termed the “axial age” — that extraordinary period between 800 and 200 BCE that witnessed monotheism’s move into the mainstream with Zoroastrianism, the appearance of Buddhism and Hinduism, the establishment of Confucianism and Taoism, and the efflorescence of Greek humanistic philosophy. It was a time shaped by innovations in government, transport and communications. Population growth created new challenges demanding political innovations. New sailing technology transformed the seas from barriers to highways for ideas that travelled with trade goods to new lands. The consequent intellectual ferment yielded new world views, new uncertainties — and new religions.”

Many of the beliefs of today’s major religions are still reflections of that era.

Many faiths, however, struggle with the polarities of modern society because the cosmology and theology of their faith is so out of alignment with the current state of knowledge provided by science and logic. In his book “When God is Gone, Everything is Holy”, Chet Raymo writes: “Theologically, it is as if the Scientific Revolution never happened. We teach twenty-first century science in the classroom, and in the chapel we recite a creed based on Neolithic cosmologies”.

Although the various flavors of the monotheistic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) cover a wide ground, from conservative to liberal, there are some basic beliefs they all share:

  • God is male, transcendent and omnipotent.
  • We can interact with God to ask for help, or ask to help others.
  • God can suspend the laws of physics and chemistry to perform miracles or punish people.
  • After the death of our physical bodies, God will judge us and some will go to heaven, others to hell.

In an Edge.com essay, Sam Harris wrote: “It actually matters what people believe. Most religious practices are the direct consequence of what people think is actually happening in the world. In fact, most religious practices only become intelligible once we understand the beliefs that first gave rise to them.” I would add that what people believe will have an impact not only on religious practices, but also on the social order of a society, its laws and politics.

As Unitarian Universalists we assume that we all agree on something implicit that is different from the belief in a traditional god. We often cite our statement of principles and purposes as the central guiding light of our faith. As precious as they are as value statements, they do not address the fundamental question about a cosmology or a theology that unites us. Doesn’t our fragmentation into spiritually defined subgroups like UU Christians, UU Pagans, UU Buddhists, UU Humanists etc. show an unmet need? Also, as evidenced by the variety of elevator speeches being used, we often don’t know how to define our faith to those who ask. Although some of us find that refreshing and a sign of healthy diversity, many of us, newcomers and people of other faiths find that confusing.

This is why a discussion about a cosmology and/or a theology is so important in my mind. It would help clarify what we believe to be true about how this world works. I found the statement by Diana Eck, Harvard Divinity School, at the installation of Rev. Galen Guengerich in 2007 at All Souls in NYC very inspiring and prophetic: “You are, in my estimation, the church of the new millennium. In this era, Unitarian Universalism is not the lowest common denominator, but the highest common calling … You do have a mission. The world is in need of your theology.”

Why? Paul Saffo in the Economist article continues: “Three technologies have brought us to the edge of another axial shift today. Air travel has given entire populations unprecedented mobility. The intermodal container has delivered a cornucopia of products to every corner of the globe. And cyberspace has become a promiscuous, meme-spreading hotbed of ideas. Populations around the world are struggling to find security and identity in this strange future-shock world. The rise of fundamentalism is a sure indicator of dissatisfaction with the current religious order. Unhappy believers first look back at their roots for comfort, but origins rarely comfort and thus they will inevitably search for a new god.”

But, what kind of theology makes sense today? What kind of god? What kind of cosmology would give meaning to the world around us? That, in my mind, is where our principle #4, which is about “a responsible search for truth and meaning”, becomes not an end in itself, but the methodology to help us define and articulate that cosmology.

What is truth?

Let’s consider some examples (have people raise their hands if they agree):

  • All men are created equal
  • God created man
  • I think, therefore I am
  • Man evolved from earlier life forms

In a recent article in Skeptic Magazine, experimental psychologist William M. Gardner points out that there are four intellectual domains from which we choose truths:

  • Rhetoric: debated truths of government and justice. The statement “All men are created equal” of the Declaration of Independence falls in that category.
  • Religion: revealed truths of morality and faith, such as in “God created man”. That may be true, although, as we will see later, not in the way the majority of people view God.
  • Logic: reasoned truths of mathematics and philosophy as illustrated by Descartes’ affirmation “I think, therefore I am”.
  • Science: researched truths of nature and history. An example is Darwin’s conclusion that “today’s species populating planet earth, including humans, evolved from earlier life forms”.

Gardner also writes that each truth is validated in only one of these domains, and, if tested in another domain, usually fails. For example, faith healing ceremonies may amuse elders of Rhetoric, Logic and Science, but in Religion it is accepted that faith, prayer, or religious rituals can cure the ill. He observes that in our personal search for truth, we wander freely from one domain to another, gathering truths and incorporating them into our unique system of beliefs. Lots of truthiness around!

I must say however, that I don’t quite agree with Gardner that these four domains are completely independent of each other. Science and Logic often provide the basis for arguments developed in Rhetoric and Religion. That may be so more for Rhetoric than Religion though, as Religions often rely on creeds established centuries or millennia ago.

So, how do we go about searching for truth? In the Encyclopedia Americana (1983), philosopher Max Black, under the heading “Pursuit of Truth as an Ideal”, writes that “The pursuit of truth is indistinguishable, in practice, from the pursuit of knowledge, whether about man’s environment, his own nature, his ethical duties and ideals, his relation to the divine.

I assume we all agree that our most reliable sources of knowledge about how this world works come from two areas: a) personal experience and b) from science.

What do we know about the coming into being of our universe as elucidated by Science? You are all familiar with the theory of the Big Bang, in which a bundle of raw energy exploded and started to expand some 13.7 billion years ago. Within nanoseconds, that energy ball started to cool and gave rise to elementary “matter particles” — quarks and leptons — and “force causing particles” which coalesced into protons, neutrinos and electrons, which in turn formed atoms. Myriads of stars, planets and galaxies were formed by coalescing atoms, mostly hydrogen at that point. And, in the kitchens of the galaxies, heavier chemical elements formed, such as carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen, which combined to make the basic building blocks of life: water, amino acids (proteins), fatty acids (membranes), carbohydrates, and nucleic acids (DNA).

Then, 10 billion years later, our solar system formed out of interstellar dust. On earth, the building blocks of life slowly evolved into pouches of chemicals which gave rise to cells, and these cells in turn combined to create more complex organisms. The major revolution seems to have been the rise of species, when reproduction mechanisms using DNA started differentiating organisms. Fast forward to over two million years ago, when the species Homo emerged from a line of primates. The crucial mutation that allowed Homo sapiens to emerge was a defect in the DNA code that weakened the jaw muscle and allowed our heads, and therefore our brains, to grow. With larger brains (our biological computers) we became the super-primates: Homo sapiens.

But here is a nagging question: who or what threw the switch that started our universe? Most people would say God, right? Well, maybe, it just depends how you define god! It is interesting to note that polls indicate that 94% of Americans believe in God. No one ever asks what kind of god!

What do we do with all the above information?

I propose three cosmology options:

  1. Traditional God’s Universe: A male God initiated the big bang, and He populated the earth with, or let evolution create, life and Homo sapiens. He is watching over us and we can interact with him. This option, of course, is just an extension of a traditional Neolithic cosmology that assumes that supernatural powers can influence our lives, either through our supplications or God’s will. That also means that God is able to suspend the laws of physics and chemistry.
  2. Universe with a Purpose: God or some other power or creative force initiated the big bang to create a universe with the purpose to evolve into a higher consciousness. This is our member Richard Wilde’s favorite, of course! It is an interesting option, but we cannot say that we are the ones the universe has been waiting for. Are we at the end of the evolutionary curve? Or will we destroy ourselves and some other species will develop with a better chance to achieve a higher consciousness?
  3. Random Universe: Imagine a random whole in which universes appear and disappear. These universes may not all be the same, or maybe they are. Ours happen to have been created through a big bang process. Humans are a random by-product of evolution with no special purpose.

Option 1 is the cosmology of traditional faiths.

Options 2 and 3 provide the basis for a new cosmology, one in which the way we see how the world works is congruent with the findings of Science and of our experience, but extrapolate the future in different ways or different meanings. Their essence is that the creative forces were instrumental in providing the material, energy and laws that led to our existence, but we do not know whether our universe has a purpose or not.

Accepting either of these cosmologies means that we reject the Neolithic cosmology of the Traditional God’s Universe. I think most of us have already made that shift.

At this point, I cannot resist bringing a quote from Douglas Adams who wrote in “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe”: "There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable.

There is another theory which states that this has already happened."

What could a statement about a new cosmology contain? I propose the following:

  1. Creative forces gave rise to the universe we perceive through our senses and through the observations and deductions of science.
  2. The evolution of the universe has formed the basic elements necessary to develop living organisms over the 13.7 billion years of its existence.
  3. Planet Earth, part of the solar system that formed 4 billion years ago, happened to have the right environmental conditions to allow living organisms to develop. There are billions of other planets that could harbor similar carbon based life. We may not be unique.
  4. We, Homo sapiens, have evolved from earlier life forms through mutations in our genetic code and adaptations to Earth’s ever changing environment.
  5. Whether the universe we live in was created with a purpose or at random, we are an integral part of the web of life of planet Earth.
  6. Homo sapiens has evolved into the most powerful species on Planet Earth.

Such a cosmology will lead us, as a church, to ask questions about the many aspects that put us humans in the context of the universe and the life community of Planet Earth, and how answers to these questions can help us live our lives in a meaningful way. Among those are the following:

  • How can we become more informed about the wonders of this universe, from the findings of astronomy and physics to the description of evolution of life on Earth through the many scientific disciplines studying it?
  • As the most powerful species on Earth, what is our responsibility toward the web of life?
  • How should communities and society be organized to maximize the exercise of that responsibility?
  • What gives us the basis for morality, if we do not have scriptural edicts regulating our behavior?
  • How do we view our relationship with the human community at large?
  • What does it mean to be a “religious community”?
  • What is our role and responsibility as a “religious community”?
  • How do we integrate our spiritual and emotional yearnings into this new cosmology?”
  • What is our message of hope?
  • What is divine, if anything?

That, my friends, is a rough draft of what I believe the Church of the New Millennium is all about. You might say that in a way we are already addressing much of this. I agree. But we most often do it without consideration of the bigger picture. By articulating our cosmology and our responses to the questions above, our world will make more sense and our message will become more coherent and much clearer.

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The Evolution of Consciousness, An Inside Story
By Richard Wilde, July 18, 2010

Last Sunday Anne Timpany articulated beautifully the story of evolutionary spirituality. The similarity in our topics is purely coincidental since neither of us had prior awareness of the other’s plans. But fortunately there is only a little overlap in our stories. I chose my topic because it has direct bearing on the crazy and bizarre madness that is raging around the world today. It is quite apparent that many of our major institutions worldwide are in various states of crises. It seems the financial, immigration, military and environmental problems top the long list and affect the others in fundamental ways. Individual behavior is getting more bizarre in what appears to be a race to turn shame and embarrassment into fame and fortune. Wild and fanatical statements that are sometimes but not always reluctantly retracted are cropping up in the media almost daily. My goal in this talk is to create a background that has helped me better understand this crazy and downright scary world situation. My intent is to establish the correspondence between our changing cultural worldviews and the world situation as an aspect of the evolution of consciousness.

Thinking about consciousness is essentially the same as thinking about thinking. It is an exercise in trying to understand the relationship between our mental representations of reality and reality itself. So it is definitely an inside story. Our mind processes information entering our five senses and creates our lived experience which becomes the worldview we share with other members of our culture which is rapidly becoming global. This entire process depends on our conscious awareness without which there would be no experience and hence no world. It may help to think of consciousness as a light that shines from within us into nature. Our awareness and understanding of what we sense is determined by the intensity of that light. The evolution of consciousness is the story of the increase in humanity’s perceptual acuity and corresponding enhanced worldview over time.

Thinking has very strong cultural overtones primarily through language. Ken Wilber who has authored many books on the subject of consciousness says the following in his book “The Eye of Spirit”

“In short, my individual thoughts only exist against a vast background of cultural practices and languages and meanings and contexts, without which I could form virtually no individual thoughts at all.”

Modern thinking employs mental manipulation of linguistic symbols which has not always been the case as I will elaborate shortly. Our mind has developed over eons of time through our interactive relationship with nature. A well known anthropologist and philosopher, Gregory Bateson, authored a book which he entitled “Mind and Nature, a Necessary Unity” in which he presents a very convincing case for this conclusion. Linguist, Edward Vajda, was quoted in a recent Post Register article in reference to the Ket language which is now spoken by only about 100 people,

“The importance of studying a disappearing language goes far beyond a personal linguistic interest. It’s a new way to understand human prehistory before there were historians to write it down. Isolated languages like Ket have developed features that are very unusual and interesting, and they help us to understand the human mind and human language ability.”

I like to think of our mind as our muscle of consciousness. It controls the movement of consciousness through its various states depending on our circumstances.

The current scientific thinking regarding the relationship between brain and consciousness is clearly described in another quote from Wilber’s ‘Eye of Spirit’.

“The brain itself is said to be a biomaterial information processor, explainable in scientific and objective terms, and the information it processes consists of nothing but representations of the empirical world. A material and objective brain simply processes a material and objective world, and the subjective domain of consciousness is, at best, an epiphenomenon generated in the wake of the physiological fireworks.”

THE KOSMOS

It is instructive to place the story of the evolution of consciousness in the overarching context of cosmic evolution. When asked what existed before the big bang physicist Steven Hawking responded “the question is meaningless since there was no ‘before’—time began with the BB” (my paraphrase). Former astronaut, Edgar Mitchell, disagrees with Hawking. At a conference I attended, Mitchell said that ‘the potential for the BB was preexistent’ or as Lao Tsu phrased it in the Tao “Before creation a presence existed”. One can argue whether ‘potential’ has existence or not. A fertilized egg in its mother’s womb has the potential to develop into a human being. Electricity is a form of potential energy that can be transformed to produce heat, light, motion or television and radio waves. Since the BB is described as a burst of energy it must have been preceded by the existence of ‘potential energy’. And since we are here, we must have existed in potential from the very beginning. Like the potential in the DNA of the fertilized egg cell we could call the potential that existed in the big bang singularity, Kosmic DNA. I like to think of the big bang theory as the scientific creation myth. By myth I mean an instructional story that attempts to give meaning to our concepts and experience. The creative potential that pre-existed the big bang is sometimes called pure consciousness, but in other cultural contexts it is given different names such as the ground of being, spirit, the source, the great mystery, Brahman, god or now we can add, Kosmic DNA. In stark contrast to the multi-billion year time frames of cosmic and biological evolution, the evolution of consciousness is in the order of a few hundred thousand years.

STRUCTURES OF CONSCIOUSNESS

Consciousness consists of three very familiar states, deep sleep, dreaming and waking. But while we are awake we can move through various states of wakefulness depending on the situation. We may ask “are these states of consciousness fixed or, like our culture, do they change over time? Does consciousness evolve by which I mean does the structure of our thinking evolve? I’m referring to fundamental not incremental change.

Many anthropologists, psychologists, linguists and philosophers have answered yes to both these questions. For the sake of brevity I will use the language and descriptions developed by a German anthropologist and cultural philosopher, Jean Gebser, who was a gifted and meticulous scholar who spent more than 20 years in the early 20th century developing his model. He used the term ‘origin’ for undifferentiated consciousness or spirit. He identified 5 structures of consciousness that have emerged from origin that characterize the evolution of human thinking from prehistory to the present day which he named the archaic, magic, mythic, mental/rational and integral. According to Gebser as each new structure comes into being it transcends the previous structures and includes them as background. I visualize these structures as overlapping waves of creative potential since each new wave opens a new era of creativity and change. The creative potential of a particular wave eventually becomes deficient and begins to decline as the next wave begins to emerge. Gebser characterized the transitional phases between stages as being prone to chaotic and destructive forces much like those we are experiencing today and somewhat akin to Humpty Dumpty’s fate.

An analogy between the familiar stages of individual human development from birth to maturity and Gebser’s structures may facilitate some appreciation for our ancestral to modern journey of consciousness evolution. Each of us started as a fertilized egg cell or zygote in our mother’s womb which in the short period of nine months blossomed into a baby human being with all the requisite parts subsumed into the whole body. This new-born baby has a brain but cannot think since it has no language or memory. Its behavior is purely instinctual. The development of the mind begins at birth and proceeds through a series of structures each of which transcends but includes its predecessor.

The archaic structure is much like the new born baby, unconscious and instinctual. The magic is akin to the toddler up to about 6 or 7 years, the age at which children are enthralled by tales of magic, the period when imagination unfolds and kids love to hear fairy tales (think of Harry Potter). The mythic stage includes the magic and is much like youth from about age 7 to 11 or 12 when tales of heroes and heroines and the mythic journey are enjoyed (think of the Lord of the Rings). The mental/rational begins at about age 12 when adolescence kicks in and egos begin to strengthen. Distancing from parental control begins as parents are no longer considered cool. This stage continues into adulthood and is for most of us our final stage of conscious development. According to the model the mental/rational is now in its deficient state and is differentiating in preparation for the emerging integral stage. This is like Humpty Dumpty hitting the ground and exposing his seeds. The mental/rational structure is the seed for the emerging integral structure which we hope will provide the necessary creative potential to cope with the demands of the evolving world. We might say the rational stage has spent its capital and is approaching bankruptcy. It is a structure that is inherently dualistic with opposing polarities that operate with either-or duality. Rampant partisanship is omnipresent: conservative opposes liberal, public opposes private, rich opposes poor, good opposes bad, religion opposes science and so on. This oppositional nature of rational thought is creating increasing tensions throughout the world. It is blatantly apparent in our current political scene.

The duration of the structures and the transitional periods between them is speeding up. The mythic structure is estimated to have emerged shortly after the last ice age and lasted about 7 or 8 thousand years. The development of symbolic language during the mythic period accelerated the rate of change such that the transition from mythic to rational probably took about 1 to 2 thousand years. The mental/rational emerged about 1200 BCE according to Gebser and peaked around 1500 CE. Its early years are well marked by the emergence of such luminaries as Confucius, Lao Tsu, Bhudha, Zoroaster, the Greek philosophers and other sages. Its later years were marked by the Renaissance, the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment periods which are the fruits of the mental/rational creative potential. Technology has clearly played an important role in this unfolding drama. As hunter/gatherers gained new methods of hunting and gathering food they lived longer and populations grew. Tribes became large enough to require new methods of organization and communication. The same scenario applies to city-states and eventually nation-states. It is likely, but I have not explored this assumption, that nation-states such as the Mayas, Incas, Babylonian, Egyptian, Sumerian, etc grew too large for their organizational and communication skills and environmental limitations, to adequately meet their needs and the civilizations went into decline and faded into history. Information technology has led to the most rapid cultural evolution in human history and rapid change breeds confusion and chaos.

In the book of Genesis chapter 2 verse 25 it says “And they (Adam and Eve) were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed”. After eating of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil it says in chapter 3, verse 7 “And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.” I interpret these verses as descriptions of the emergence of self-consciousness. According to some biblical historians the oldest books of the Old Testament were written about 1000 BCE plus or minus a few centuries which corresponds with the late mythic and early rational periods in Gebser’s model and tallies well with the likely timing of the emergence of self-consciousness. The central theme of Gebser’s model involves the original absence followed by the gradual emergence of spatial and temporal awareness in human consciousness. Isaac Newton regarded space and time as absolutes which became relative when they were measured. Early in the 20th century Einstein announced his general theory of relativity and the concept of four-dimensional space-time. Gebser seized on this concept together with several other developments including quantum mechanics as evidence of the birth of a new consciousness structure which he called the integral. He characterized this structure as transcending dualism and integrating all the previous structures into a more holistic and coherent state.

He assigned each structure a quality he called essence. The essence of the rational he called duality (oppositional) and the essence of the emerging integral he called ‘transparency’, a term we hear in nearly every newscast these days especially in reference to government and corporate activities. Hypocrisy, lying and regressive thinking by reinventing history are frequent themes in today’s news media usually regarding politicians, corporate executives, and celebrities. The demand for more openness and honesty in public discourse is growing rapidly. We frequently hear revelations of the most bizarre and intimate details of people’s behavior which is great fodder for the comedians.

As I mentioned earlier the mental/rational structure has entered its deficient stage and no longer provides a level of thinking that adequately copes with the demands of the increasing complexity of the social/cultural problems confronting us. Integral thinking offers the hope for creating more effective, transparent, and fundamentally different means of institutional organization and communication systems that get the necessary information to the people who need it in a timely fashion.

Detailed discussions of the integral structure can be found in the hundreds of books and websites of the many worldwide institutions dedicated to exploring its implications. It is estimated by integral scholars that 2 to 3 % of the world’s population have already entered this level of thinking. At the current rate of increase the tipping point for exponential increase is estimated at about 10% and could be reached within a generation. Integral transparency means seeing with the eye of understanding by penetrating the fog of conflicting thoughts and propaganda to see the underlying truth. It has the potential of giving rise to new, more global, worldviews more capable of embracing the increasing complexity of the social/cultural and environmental problems currently plaguing mankind.

Some of the wise farmers who planted the seeds of the emerging worldview include, evolutionists Darwin and Wallace; philosophers Henri Bergson, William James, and Alfred North Whitehead; psychologists Freud, Jung, Piaget; scientists Einstein, Heisenberg, Schroedinger, James Jeans, Max Planck, Sir Arthur Eddington; spiritual leaders Ghandi, Aurobindo, and Tielhard de Chardin and of course, Jean Gebser plus many others. However, there is no guarantee that these seeds will flower and thrive. There is always the possibility that differentiation may deteriorate into dissociation and there are many forces pushing us in this destructive direction. Dissociation amounts to collapse of the culture which has happened many times in the past as chronicled by author Jerrod Diamond in his book ‘Collapse’. Our awareness of the evolutionary process means that the element of choice has now entered the picture, an element that has not been present in earlier transitions. We must nurture the seeds of the emerging worldview to bring forth a new, more open and compassionate and loving world. To change one’s way of thinking is difficult and takes practice so I encourage you to become evolutionaries and practice, practice, practice.

As the ever thoughtful Albert Einstein once said “We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.”

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Evolutionary Spirituality
By Anne Timpany, July 11, 2010

“Time for All Ages” : A Story About Science, Introducing the Message

We all know that calcium is important for our teeth and our bones, right? And oxygen is important for us to breathe and have life, yes? But did we ever learn in school where those elements—calcium and oxygen—came from? What about carbon, the building block of carbon dioxide, which plants need for survival? Or iron, the most important element in our very own blood?

To discover the origin of these building blocks of life on earth, we must look up at the night sky and study the stars that twinkle brightly over our heads. Stars?! What do the stars have to do with teeth and bones?

Let’s go back in time, far, far, back, long before humans existed, long before even earth came into being, to the beginning of time. The very first stars were made of very light hydrogen gas which swirled around and around and around, getting hotter and hotter and hotter under the pressure of gravity, until the heat at the center of the swirling vortex fused those hydrogen atoms together, creating atoms of elements that we call carbon, iron, and oxygen. But these new elements were heavier than that hydrogen gas, so they couldn’t go swirling around and around, flying around the outside of the star; they stayed right there in the center of the star, which continued to burn, hotter and hotter and hotter…

Until finally… The heat at the center of the star became so fiery hot that it couldn’t remain contained any more…eventually the power of the heat became stronger than the force of gravity that was holding the star together, and BOOM! The star exploded! It blew up, and the enormous explosion radiated all of those heavy elements from the center of the star out into the universe! Now, carbon, iron, oxygen, and even calcium atoms and particles were floating around the universe, and little by little, they began to be drawn in to other swirling vortexes, eventually becoming new stars, planets, and even galaxies!

And once our planet, Earth, was created, those same particles began to organize themselves even further, creating rocks, water, and finally Life! Over millions and millions of years these particles kept on reorganizing into more and more complex life forms, becoming plants, bugs, birds, and yes, eventually becoming humans.

So when we look down at our bodies, we can’t see these particles, because they are so tiny. But our skin, bones, teeth, blood and every other building block of our bodies are actually made up of these tiny particles which began as stardust! The atoms and particles that create this body that I call “me” or “you” originated billions of years ago, when ancient stars exploded and radiated these particles out into space! And now, this stardust has organized in a most miraculous and complex life form that we call human life. And now, we humans are able to look up into the night sky and gaze upon the stars from whence we came. We are “star stuff contemplating the stars”, in the words of Carl Sagan.

So when we sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star,” we are actually singing about our ancient ancestors. Those stars are not separate from us, they are us! And we are them.

Evolutionary Spirituality

As the words of the hymn (A Firemist and a Planet) said: Some call it evolution, and others call it God. No matter what we call it, there is a deep seeking inherent in humanity, which causes us to ask the big questions: who are we, why are we here, what is this all about? There is much mystery and awe in pondering such questions, but suddenly we find that we are in an age where modern technology is offering the ability to discover clues, clues which provide some answers and also generate even more questions.

For example, technology offers this miraculous piece of equipment called the Hubble telescope, which allows us to peer far into the depths of space and see details that have never before been visible to the human eye. One of my favorite stories is a video that you may have seen on YouTube (http://www.flixxy.com/hubble-ultra-deep-field-3d.htm), in which scientists decided to point the Hubble telescope at an empty spot in space, a place where there appeared to be nothing but blackness—no stars, no planets, no galaxies. This was somewhat risky, devoting expensive resources to photographing “nothing” for days at a time, but as we know, the greatest risks yield the greatest rewards! What they discovered, was nothing short of astounding. More than ten thousand galaxies, each one containing hundreds of billions of stars, filled the Hubble’s view. What seemed at first to be “nothing” was actually the gateway to a profound shift in understanding of our place in the expanding cosmos!

There are over a hundred billion galaxies in the universe—billions upon billions of stars —and yet, as we learned in the Time For All Ages story earlier, we are made of stardust! Those stars, those distant galaxies, are not different from us — they are simply different forms of the same matter which has been swirling around the universe since time began. Those subatomic particles and atoms have sometimes been a part of a star in a swirling galaxy far, far away, and sometimes they’ve come together in a temporary pattern that makes up a physical form that I call “me.” And then, as I occupy this physical form that I call a body, I can use the functions that were created by this miraculous organization of matter—my senses, such as vision—to look back upon the stars in the night sky! In the words of Carl Sagan, I am star stuff, contemplating the stars!

So what does that mean? Could that possibly have any relevance for us in our daily lives? I think so. To explain, I’d like you to join me on a contemplative journey through time, a timeline I first heard from spiritual teacher Craig Hamilton in his Academy for Evolutionaries. (www.academyforevolutionaries.com) … Let’s go back in time to the moment of the Big Bang, that instant in which “something” exploded out of “nothing…”

13.7 billion years ago, all of the energy and matter in the universe was condensed into a single point, smaller than the head of a pin! From this point of singularity, of infinite potential, a cosmic firestorm erupted, radiating energy in a burning, chaotic intense wildness that burned for a million years. But from this chaos, gravitational forces began to pull subatomic particles together to create the simplest atoms, those which we now call hydrogen and helium. And as these atoms aggregated into primordial stars, they burned and burned with increasing intensity until they exploded as supernovas, which scattered the heavier elements like carbon and oxygen into the universe. Over the course of ten billion years, these elements came together and formed stars, galaxies, and planets, including what we now call our home, Earth.

Once earth had formed, it took about another billion years before the earliest life forms came into being. Bacteria, blue green algae, and other microorganisms dominated the planet for about a billion years. These early forms of life absorbed carbon dioxide and drew their energy from that, and in the process released oxygen as a byproduct. As the population of those microorganisms increased, greater quantities of oxygen began to fill the atmosphere. Oxygen at that time was not “the breath of life” as we know it today. In an anaerobic world, oxygen would have been viewed as a toxin! Had there been an anaerobic CNN channel, it would have been broadcasting tragic stories from the front as one by one, the anaerobic organisms began to die off in the presence of increasing oxygen. As the situation reached the point of crisis, and perhaps the organisms faced imminent extinction, something interesting happened. In a swift evolutionary leap, some of the micro-organisms developed the capacity to process oxygen efficiently! What had been a likely catastrophe was actually the catalyst for a new way of being in the world -- the birth of aerobic life, with the ability to use oxygen! (Source: Barbara Marx Hubbard dvd “Humanity Ascending”)

Once this capacity had been developed, the evolution of life forms accelerated. From bacteria emerged worms, invertebrates, vertebrates, plants, insects, amphibians, trees, and reptiles… The earth seemed to explode into a diversity of life forms in the millions of years that followed. The dinosaur age offers another opportunity for contemplation. No one knows for sure what brought an end to the dinosaur age, but one theory is that of a 10-mile-wide asteroid hitting the earth in a giant cataclysm. According to such a theory, the dinosaurs, which had dominated life on land until this point, were wiped out—either by the impact, or the earthquakes that followed, or the acid rain, or the extreme temperatures. Yet hiding in their subterranean burrows, the newest little mammals survived the colossal impact. And now that the dinosaurs were gone, the mammals were free to roam land without threat of predators, and over millions of years those early mammals flourished and diversified, eventually evolving into all of the amazing mammals we know today—including we humans. (Source: Thank God For Evolution, by Michael Dowd)

Now, if we pause here for a moment, we can sum up the evolutionary process thus far in one short summary, as eloquently stated by cosmologist Brian Swimme: “You take hydrogen gas, and you leave it alone, and it turns into rosebuds, giraffes and humans.”

Turning back to our journey, we discover that over time, human culture and creativity emerged — the awareness of the cycles of birth and death, and the earliest artwork on cave walls. The evolutionary process increased in speed, practically flying through the ages of hunter-gatherers to farmers to industry and now the information age… from the family unit to the tribe to the city to the state to the nation to what we are seeing now as the beginnings of a global village … from papyrus to the printing press to the telephone to the internet… the horse and buggy to the automobile to the space station… We see creativity continually moving along this upward spiral… (Source: Craig Hamilton telecourse, “Integral Enlightenment”)

And from this broader perspective we can see that evolution has not, really, been random, meaningless chance, but rather there is a directionality to it — it has moved toward greater cooperation and complexity. Philosopher Ervin Laszlo writes that the probability of our life supporting universe coming about by random selection is almost nil. In the nearly 14 billion years of evolution, the “time that was available for evolution would not have been sufficient to generate the complex web of life on this planet merely by trial and error. Mathematical physicist Sir Fred Hoyle calculated the probabilities and came to the conclusion that they are about the same as the probability that a hurricane blowing through a scrap-yard assembles a working airplane.” (Source: http://ervinlaszlo.com/design-yes-evolution-yes-contradiction-no-then-why-the-controversy/ )

So, as we review the history of the cosmos with an eye for the directionality toward complexity and cooperation, we see that those initial subatomic particles came together to form the first atoms. The first molecules came together to form the first cells. Cells joined together to create multi cellular organisms. And now multi cellular organisms like us—humans—have come together to form clans, tribes, and societies—continuing to move toward ever-widening circles of cooperation, unity, and complexity.

From this perspective, suddenly we see that we are not separate from the universe or the evolutionary process, but we are in the midst of it! We ARE it! These evolutionary dynamics which have created and continue to create the cosmos are now conscious and awake as you and me and the rest of the human species! The universe has now developed the ability to reflect back upon itself! To know, to reflect, to contemplate, to appreciate its own beauty and consciousness!

And as the cosmos reflects upon itself and contemplates the interconnectedness of everything—every unique manifestation of stardust in various forms—it discovers within us a tremendous capacity for love, for goodness, truth, and beauty! Here you are , the embodiment of this evolutionary impulse, awakened to the force within you that is the same force that created worlds! What is it within you that is wanting to emerge? What is wanting to burst forth? What does this powerful evolutionary force feel like within you?

This self-organizing principle of the universe, that which has drawn together atoms to form stars, and cells together to form human life, is now drawing each of us together to form something new—something that remains yet unknown to us. But we are discovering an inner yearning to connect with other people, to relieve the suffering on this planet, to join together to be the expression of love, care, and compassion for our fellow humans. This is not likely an evolutionary process of random chance.

We may not know just what it is, but we have the patterns of the past 13.7 billion years to study and to notice in those patterns an apparent evolutionary force has been driving the process all along.

As our last hymn said, “some call it evolution, and others call it God.” Whatever name we give it, there is something that is pulling us together, and we tap into it every time we experience the feelings of Love, Kindness, Compassion, Gratitude, Appreciation, and Joy.

So, then what? What does that mean? What do we do with this awareness?

The scientific basis of the evolutionary perspective gives us a foundation for trust, trusting the evolutionary process, trusting the big picture, trusting that there is a directionality and meaning to the events of our lives and on our planet. (Source: Michael Dowd, Thank God For Evolution)

Technological advances in microbiology, chemistry, and quantum physics allow us to examine the details at the smallest level of our understanding, while advances in astrophysics and space exploration allow us to study the bigger cosmological view. And here we are, human beings, squarely in the center of that spectrum, able to observe both ends and to reflect upon what it all means…

For instance, as we are flooded with images of suffering and disaster around the globe every day, it is easy to lose hope or become cynical about what seems to be overwhelmingly bleak news. The earthquake in Haiti. The recent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. War. Poverty. Famine. Global warming. There’s no end to the stream of bad news. But what if we can dig a little more deeply and investigate the bigger picture?

For example, the Haitian earthquake brought into sharp focus the depth of suffering and poverty of the Haitian people. But in response, did you feel the upsurge of compassion in this country and around the world? People responded to this crisis from their hearts. A powerful wave of compassion and connectivity filled all of us as we saw, through modern media technology, the suffering of our fellow humans. Collectively we continue to come up with solutions to alleviate suffering, with innovative relief efforts, with extraordinary and unique ways to help. And what if that was the whole point, from an evolutionary perspective—to elicit the best parts of ourselves and to come together as One, a common humanity?

This is just one example, of course. But we can look at global and personal challenges through this lens and seek a new perspective, rather than falling into the mainstream “doomsday” mindset that is perpetuated by the modern media machine. What if events that we label “catastrophe” are actually opportunities? What if the whole purpose of “problems” is to tap into the deepest wellspring of creativity, love, compassion, and connectedness, so that we come together as one in our desire for and pursuit of solutions…And what if this is the whole point of being alive— to bring forth the good, the true, and the beautiful that is within each and every person? What if we viewed all of life’s challenges from this evolutionary perspective?

Knowing that the evolution has directionality toward greater complexity and cooperation, we can see problems in a new way. We must be the change we want to see in the world, said Gandhi. And every crisis, catastrophe, confusion, and conflict is providing an opportunity for us to do exactly that. As we review the history of the cosmos, we learn that all evolutionary leaps have been preceded by chaos, conflict, or confusion! When the only life on earth was anaerobic, the increase of oxygen in the atmosphere would certainly have been viewed as catastrophic. But innovation defied extinction! Rather than die off, the existing life forms created a new solution, a new way of being in which the old “problem” wasn’t a problem anymore!

What if we are in the midst of a similar evolutionary leap? What if global warming, war, poverty, and suffering are the equivalent of the introduction of oxygen into an anaerobic system? What if we can look beyond the obvious despair to see the possibility of a bigger picture, one that has a trend toward greater complexity, cooperation, and connection? We have scientific data that examines 13.7 billion years of evolution, which suggests that this is quite possible. We can’t look into a crystal ball and see where this is going, but if we can take inspiration from those anaerobic microbes who collectively evolved through the oxygen crisis, and use them as a foundation for trusting the evolutionary process, we can reach deep into ourselves and find something which is calling us in the direction of greater cooperation with others, toward new creative solutions, toward a new way of being in this world. As the saying goes, instead of cursing the darkness, we must light a candle!

And so our challenges and problems, whether personal , local, or global, may be seen in a new light. We are giving birth to a new, more evolved version of humanity! As we awaken to the possibilities, we begin to see that it is quite possible that we are evolving into a new species. We have the lens of hindsight to see that the human species has already evolved from homo erectus to homo habilis and now to homo sapien sapien— the one who knows that it knows. But from our evolutionary perspective, it seems almost silly and arrogant to think that we are the end point! Why would we be the final state of this unending process? It would only make sense that a new species is emerging, and it is quite possible that we are on the leading edge of this evolutionary leap!

“Several scholars subscribe to this theory and have suggested names for the new “us”. Homo spiritus is the name given by David Hawkins, MD, Ph.D. to beings who are awake and vibrating at a high level according to a consciousness scale he has developed. Alberto Villoldo, anthropologist and shaman has labeled it homo luminous to indicate that we are becoming beings whose energy fields are luminous. And Barbara Hand Clow, Cherokee elder and writer, calls the new human homo pacem, to indicate we are becoming a species focused on peace.” (Source: http://www.theawakeningshift.com/tag/homo-spiritus/ )

Of course without the lens of hindsight, we can’t know for sure if this is what is happening. But let’s pretend we are anthropologists 500 years or 5000 years from now, looking back upon the evolution of homo sapien sapien into a new species. From this vantage point, we can see the power and importance of every human action that arises out of love, rather than fear. As we seek to unite, rather than divide, in the face of challenges, and “walk the walk”, not just “talk the talk” of peace, compassion, and lovingkindness, it is quite possible that we are on the leading edge of evolution, the dawn of a new era in the history of mankind.

As we react to challenging incidents either on a global scale or in our personal lives, the perspective we bring to our problems is what is shaping our future. Viewing crisis or conflict as an opportunity, rather than a catastrophe, is the first step in transformation. When we respond from a place of love and trust rather than a place of fear and desperation, not only do we transform our own lives, but our whole world transforms. We stop asking questions like “why me? Why do all of these terrible things happen to me? What is wrong with people, anyway?” And we begin stepping back to the broader vantage point and asking, “what is wanting to emerge here? What evolutionary purpose might this be serving?” And then, rather than judging others (or ourselves) as being part of the problem (or the problem ) we begin to look for the best parts of others, the untapped creative potential in our brothers and sisters in humanity, and we discover ways in which we can work together to bring forth this new world, this new vision for humanity.

When we tap into that impulse within us, the same force that exploded from a point of singularity in The Big Bang, that same force which has been drawing particles together in patterns of increasing complexity and coordination for billions of years, we discover that this impulse is wanting to burst forth from us, too. The impulse to evolve is pulling us toward connections with others who are also awakening to this impulse within; it brings forth the best part of ourselves and makes us want to bring forth that same part of everyone else, too. No longer can we pretend to be passive victims of circumstance in a randomly evolving and meaningless universe! No longer must we dwell in fear or doubt as we consider the challenges of our times! We can be the beacons of hope, shining light into a world that may otherwise feel overwhelmingly dark and desperate. Once we have become aware of this Evolutionary Impulse within, we climb out of the back and into the driver’s seat, where we now live our lives with full awareness as conscious participants in the evolutionary process. Evolution didn’t end with us; it begins with us! We are the ones we have been waiting for.

[Thanks to Craig Hamilton (www.integralenlightenment.com), Michael Dowd (www.thankgodforevolution.com), Connie Barlow (www.thegreatstory.org), Brian Swimme (www.brianswimme.org), and Barbara Marx Hubbard (www.barbaramarxhubbard.com) for the inspiration for today’s sermon!]

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What Do I Believe?
By Richard Wilde, January 2010

I started writing about my beliefs about the nature of things at about the turn of the century. It was structured as a metaphysical model of reality according to my concept of how the world and my life are constructed conceptually and experientially. I kept at it until it became a kind of journaling process in which I would write as ideas came to me. There were several long time lapses when nothing got written. But I finally finished the first edition in about March of 2009. My worldview has evolved mainly in response to the question “What must the nature of reality be like in order that I have the experiences that I have?” It is therefore a metaphysical model of the way I see reality from the Big Bang to the present. I titled it Creation, a New/Old Story. I got the idea for this title from the introduction to the book New Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Science. The following is from that introduction written by the editor, Willis Harman:

“Using a different metaphor, Thomas Berry (1988) has written about how we are searching for a “New Story”—a new account of how things came to be as they are, within which we find a sense of life purpose, a guide to education, an understanding of our suffering, and impetus for energized action. It is apparent to more and more people that the Old Story has become fragmented and nonfunctional. At the heart of the New Story will be, clearly, the insight of science and the facts of evolution. But that story, as it is told in our science classrooms, is incomplete, and, in its incompleteness, distorting. It has displaced the old but not matured sufficiently to serve as the new.” (1)

I chose the title New/Old Story because what I had in mind consisted of old stories, i.e., previously written thoughts, ideas, experiences, etc. but organized anew according to my own thoughts on the subject matter with a few new ideas of my own included. My approach is to create a metaphysical model of “how things came to be as they are.” A metaphysical model does not make a claim to Truth but the effort should adhere as closely to accepted truth and knowledge as possible. Truth with a capital T is probably unattainable in an evolutionary context. Coherency is of the utmost importance—it should hang together like a well-knit tapestry. In their book The Limits to Growth, The 30-Year Update, authors Donella and Dennis Meadows and Jorgen Randers said the following about mental models in reference to their World3 computer simulation model.

“Therefore we have a difficulty. We will talk about a formal model, a computer-based simulation of the world. For this model to be of any use, we will have to compare it to the “real world,” but neither we nor you, our readers, have one agreed-upon “real world” to compare it to. All of us have only our mental models of the entity that is normally called the real world. Mental models of the surrounding world are informed by objective evidence and subjective experience. They have allowed Homo sapiens to be a tremendously successful species. They have also gotten people into many kinds of trouble. But whatever their strengths and weaknesses, human mental models are ludicrously simple compared with the immense, complex, ever-changing universe they try to represent.” (2).

My model is 60 pages long so what follows are some excerpts that may give the reader an idea about where I am coming from. The seventh Unitarian Universalist Principle is stated as follows: We covenant and affirm….“to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we a part.” The following excerpt from my model expresses one way in which I view that ‘interdependent web of all existence.’

FROM THE MANY TO THE ONE

The difficulty of describing the unity of existence and how many elements or events converge into one action or event is that the process is not readily observable and is mostly an extrapolation of the evolutionary process.

Here is an example of a way to contemplate the many-to-the-one concept. Suppose you decide to go to the grocery store so you make a list of what you want to buy, make sure you have your credit card, put on your jacket and head for your car to drive to the store. Now think of all the pre-existing conditions that make this intention and action possible. Grocery stores evolved from thousands of years of changing methods of obtaining food from hunting/gathering, to primitive farming methods to more sophisticated farming methods that adopted advancing technologies combined with ever more complex means of marketing until the modern supermarket emerged. Your credit card is an example of how our means of exchange have evolved from simple bartering transactions to number crunching computers that shift numbers representing money from one account to another at near the speed of light. Your wealth is represented by a configuration of open and closed electronic switches in various computer memory chips located at your bank, broker, insurance company, etc. The car you intend to drive to the store traces its origin way back to the invention of the wheel many thousands of years ago together with all the subsequent discoveries and inventions that make the automobile possible. The language that allows you to mentally form the shopping trip intention took many thousands of years to develop as an integral aspect of human evolution. All of these options depend upon the availability of materials and the ideas that converted those materials into usable tools. These materials were created in the hearts of stars billions of years ago and the matter/energy that formed the stars can be traced back to the big bang or other origin story. In short, this common act that all supermarket shoppers take for granted depends on the entire history of the universe up to the moment you formed the intention to go grocery shopping. A near infinite number of events, the many, converged into your thought and action. You are the One!

I mentioned at the beginning of this essay that one of my purposes was to clarify my beliefs. As the work has progressed it has become more obvious that I need to clarify what it means to believe in something. Webster’s says belief is “the state or habit of mind of one who believes; faith, confidence, trust; a conviction or persuasion of truth; intellectual assent etc.” None of those descriptive words say anything about knowing. Knowledge, as I see it, is something you know without equivocation or doubt. For example, I know I am sitting at my keyboard typing this at this moment. But I believe that what I’ve written in my model contains a lot of belief supported by a little knowledge. It is based mostly on what others have said about their experiences and studies together with my limited experience base. I only know what I have personally experienced and even much of that is questionable since forgetfulness plus self-delusion (the ego guarding our insecure sense of self) are constant intruders into my memory banks. This implies that believing in something or someone includes a degree of emotional investment mixed with a little hesitance or doubt. We tend to remember and believe the good stuff and deny or forget the unpleasant stuff. If it is something that resonates favorably with other knowledge and beliefs, I may be willing to adopt it as my own. As one belief resonates with another I get further and further removed from the original evidentiary source. Carried far enough this process can lead to belief in magic and miracles. According to a public poll 59% of Americans believe the prophecies in the Book of Revelations in the Bible will actually come true. Millions of Americans belief in the story of the Rapture—all righteous souls will be taken in the blink of an eye up into heaven just prior to the second coming of Christ. The rapture is not from biblical prophecy but is concocted from suggestive language in the Bible. It is pretty scary when you consider the attitude about escaping-from-reality (and responsibility) that such a belief can engender in the minds of the believers.

It would be very difficult to develop a numerical scale of the degree of trust or faith I have in the various concepts included in this essay. I can say with a high degree of certainty that I do not have 100% faith in any of the stories included herein. My attempt to develop a “New Story” is still limited by my reliance on recorded knowledge and interpreting my perceptions and those of others. Who we think we are is our personal story and we interpret all perceptions through the filter of this complex entangled web of memory and emotion. Who we really are is the mystery that drives the quest of seekers in the many paths from the most esoteric to the most scientific. It is important for me to recognize that my opinions represent only part of a more complex picture and therefore are not THE truth and shouldn’t be taken so seriously as to create conflict. Emotional attachment to our opinions and beliefs has been and still is a major cause of conflict among people. The more we can loosen our emotional grip on our opinions and beliefs the more we will experience freedom of thought and flexibility of mind. However, history and current events have shown that many people would rather fight or die than change their mind. Many wars have been fought because of rigidly held beliefs.

Based upon the experience of writing this essay over a period of several years together with the above rationale and the added quotes what I believe is simple. Maintain an open mind and question everything that gets in. Most of all, I know only what is right here right now. What is! All the rest is suspect.

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Reflections on Right Speech
By Tami Thatcher, July 26, 2009

Introduction

We come to church, we come to this church — not because we have to. We come because we want to — and maybe because we need to. We come seeking renewal — an opening to the ideas and energies that may transcend our usually more limited focus. We come for an exploration of ideas of not only how to relate to God, however we conceive God, but how to relate to ourselves and to others.

This morning, I’m going to talk about “right speech.” I’m going to talk about bringing healing and kindness to everyday conversations—speech as an expression of compassion, speech with the intention of healing and avoiding harming, speech with integrity.

It is my intent that the message will remind each of us that our words have the power to build relationships or cause separation, to heal or to wound. We need to be reminded just how powerfully our speech may influence the people listening. Our energy, our intention, our wisdom (or lack of wisdom) — like it or not, these are all transmitted by our words. I believe it is worthy of our time to bring awareness to our speech.

Our communication is not just about words, it is also about listening and being present with people. It is about exercising our hearts, not just our voices. It is also about the wisdom that we need to surf the waves of difficult situations and emotions that we feel.

I present this talk, not as an expert or as a successful practitioner of “right speech,” but rather, as someone who often has difficulty finding words to bring comfort to others. I present this talk as someone who is also in need of its advice.

I’ve wanted to prepare a sermon on “right-speech” for a quite some time. A sermon on “right speech” — it sounds like it’s going to be as much fun as discussing the seven deadly sins? Or maybe to you, “right speech” sounds like it could be the name of a right-wing radio program? When I would suggest it as a topic at worship team meetings — it always went over like a lead balloon, and there were always plenty of other topics.

Wrong Speech

Before I define “right speech,” let me talk about “wrong speech.” We might all agree that in our current culture, “wrong” speech is commonplace. On television, speakers rudely interrupt each other. Talk show hosts not only speak with contempt about anyone who doesn’t hold to the right ideas, they demonize them. People criticize others as though they had no faults of their own. “Facts” are massaged and obscured with technical jargon for monetary gain. Lies are spoken to damage anyone in opposition. “Hate speech” that denigrates people based on their beliefs or race or political affiliations or some other category is common. Blaming those other people for the ills we suffer can be a major preoccupation that seemingly absolves those casting blame of any responsibility for the current problems. Even if we turn off the TV, hide ourselves from these voices, we still need to be concerned. History tends to repeat itself, and hate speech too often leads to actions—shameful, violent actions that harm people.

While “wrong speech” on the public stage is an important topic, the main focus of the message today is closer to home — our own conversations at home, at work, at church.

Right Speech

The term “Right Speech” comes from teachings of the Buddha and it is part of the Eightfold Path that includes the

wisdom training of right view and right intentions meditative awareness that includes right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration, and ethics that includes right action, right livelihood and right speech. [“Awakening the Buddha Within” by Lama Surya Das]

These all interconnect — how can you speak in a manner to heal if your understanding of the situation is distorted, your intention is self-promotion or you are not deeply present?

Right speech can be summarized with these four points:

  1. Abstaining from false speech, especially not to tell deliberate lies and not to speak deceitfully
  2. Abstaining from slanderous speech and not to use words maliciously against others
  3. Abstaining from harsh words that offend or hurt others, and
  4. Abstaining from idle chatter that lacks purpose or depth.
“There is an Arab Proverb that says ‘The words of the tongue should have three gatekeepers.’ Before words get past the lips, the first gatekeeper asks, ‘Is this true?’ That stops a lot of traffic immediately. But if the words get past the first gatekeeper, there is a second who asks, ‘Is it kind?’ And for those words that qualify here too, the last gatekeeper asks: ‘Is it necessary?’ With these three on guard, most of us would find very little to say.” [Ekanth Easwaran, Words to Live By]

In short, “right speech” means to tell the truth, to speak warmly and gently and to talk only when necessary.

Finding Healing Words

Right speech — how hard can it be? The non-lying part, that’s easy. The non-gossiping part — OK, perhaps not so easy. Saying what is necessary. You don’t have to say someone’s hair looks bad – even if it’s the truth . . .

But, where I really struggle is in finding the healing, caring words that seem to flow so easily for others. I suppose my brain keeps analyzing the situation, reading the emotions of those around me, feeling what I am feeling and I may struggle to find the simple words that I might say to help another feel better or more at ease.

Figuring out what to say in real time — no rehearsals — no time for editing — that can be a challenge. So, of course, as I often do — I bought a book on the subject. . . I bought it on our UU book table and it is titled “Healing Conversations” by Nance Guilmartin. It’s a thoughtful book about conversations we need during difficult life situations. It shares stories of how to let people know you care. How to ask for help. How to offer help. Most of the time, we don’t have to solve someone’s problems or provide all the answers. We just might be able to provide perspective, and we can show we care.

Sometimes this might be as easy as learning to really listen after we ask “how are you?” And every bit of effort we put into cultivating wisdom, cultivating calmness and cultivating mindfulness — will increase our capacity for compassion for other humans, and even for ourselves.

Right speech — it’s all about listening and being present. Sometimes it’s more about listening than about speaking.

Responsible Words

Words are powerful. And if you really come to observe that words can heal and can lighten another person’s load, you could start to recognize that you have an enormous responsibility. Let me share with you how that knowledge affects me. It gives me another reason to feel guilty, as though my poor housekeeping skills, affinity for overindulgences, and numerous other flaws didn’t give me enough reason for feeling guilt.

Now, with the knowledge of how powerful my words can be, I can feel even worse because I know that negative energy may be transmitted, I may say the wrong words, or I may say nothing and fail to comfort someone in need. I think that’s where Forgiveness comes in. But that’s the topic for another Sunday.

Balancing the onerous responsibility that comes with understanding the effect we may have on others, we need to remember that we are usually not expected to solve other people’s problems or take away their pain. Usually, we just need to be there — in compassion and love. If we remember this, we might be less inclined to avoid our friends who are in need. And, maybe if we recognize our conscious or unconscious concerns about whether we have the time, energy, or resources to help someone else, we would be less inclined to blame the person for the problems they’re having.

When People Disagree

Breathe and know that there are people who disagree with you, yet they too have inherent worth and loved ones who depend on them and they have a right to share what they believe is true. And, you are probably never going to change their minds.

I read the book “Mistakes Were Made But Not By Me” by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson and it helped me to understand why in most cases, facts are not going to change peoples’ minds. Humans have an amazing ability to justify almost anything they believe or do, especially once they are invested in the idea. There are many case studies to document this. To err is human and to rationalize, even more so. Robert W. Funk in “Honest to Jesus” says that he believes in original sin, and he defines it as the “innate infinite capacity of human beings to deceive themselves.”

Humans generally believe they are good people with good intentions — and the fact that they supported a candidate who performed poorly, the fact that they tortured prisoners, the fact they participated in convicting an innocent person of a crime, or made some other mistake — these things are automatically reconciled in the person’s mind by the process of self-justification.

Anthony Bordain, a television show host, was visiting Laos where America left bombs scattered everywhere. Anthony was interviewing a man who had lost his arm and leg from one of our bombs, and the man asked if it was difficult to see him. Anthony said, “yes, it hurts to see you. But it is important that I see you — that I am aware of what my country did 30 years ago that still causes injury.”

Most of us cling to a sense of infallibility in our actions and our beliefs and in our institutions. We cannot see our blindspots. Our memories and interpretation of events will selectively align to support our views. We need to remember that not one of us is immune from the automatic mechanism of self-justification.

Right Speech — Emotional Maturity

Let me shift now to the topic of emotional maturity by these three points:

Own your energy and avoid the blame game: Deepak Chopra extols us to not express own feelings in a way that assigns blame. You are responsible for cultivating skills to maintain a balanced state of mind. Instead of saying "you made me feel bad" say instead "when you do such and such, I feel bad" which communicates how you are feeling. Again, you can express what you are experiencing, but don’t hold others responsible for your state of mind.

Take Responsibility for Avoiding Empathy Overload: Remember, the last thing that anyone needing your help wants is to overload you. You have the responsibility to establish boundaries on your time and energy in order to maintain your well-being.

We need to cultivate calmness: Cultivating calmness would probably go a long way toward improving our communication. To practice staying calm, I sometimes listen to Television programs like the O’Reilly Factor or the Larry Kudlow Report — and I listen with the intention of staying calm and serene and when I begin losing my sense of calmness and serenity, I change the channel — usually this happens about 8 seconds into the program. You may find your own practice for staying calm with those you care about, with those who disagree with you, with those who criticize you.

In Donna Eden’s book “Energy Medicine,” she shows us how to literally get a grip on our heads when we are overwhelmed and reduce the “cascade of ancient chemistry” that prepares us for fight or flight. By placing our hands on our forehead, fingers on our forehead and thumbs on our temples — or even better, place one hand on your forehead and the other hand on the back of your head, you bring blood back into your head, allowing you to think rather than react.

If we find that we are angry, we must remember that the root of anger is fear. And we need to be aware of our fears and to cradle our fears. Isn’t all good religion about dispelling fear?

Special Dispensation

A word on special dispensation. We need to remember that sometimes, communication problems — arrow slinging — comes about simply from the lack of fresh vegetables and extended Idaho winters. Remember to give people special dispensation for their harsh words, especially in March.

When we lose our cool, when we say something we regret, when we aren’t there for people, we can see where we need to improve and view these as opportunities for growth. We all have plenty of “opportunities to begin again, in love.”

Good communication shows we care about ourselves and we care about others. Good communication requires that we accept responsibility for the energy and emotions as well as the information we transmit to others. Good communication requires that we be considerate of the needs of the listener. And we need to remember that the way we talk to ourselves is just as important as the way we talk to others.

Closing

Bringing awareness to our Speech, our very significant and perhaps sacred exchange between ourselves and other beings, is important. How better to affirm the inherent worth of every person, how better to offer prayer in action than to listen to others, to provide clear and truthful responses, and to provide nurturing and healing words to those in need.

Let me close by saying that often I have come to this church and found that a kind word or a nurturing hug from someone here has made such a difference in my life. I’ve been the recipient of kind and healing speech and I am grateful to those who came to church to be present for others.

Amen, and blessed be.

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The Transformational History and Theology of Unitarian Universalism Introduction
  by Arthur Kull

Good Morning. Thank you for inviting me to talk about Unitarian Universalism. People of the Unitarian Universalist Faith are called UUs. As you may know, we are an eclectic bunch and stand sometimes for weird things. However, there is something we have in common with you, as illustrated in the following story:

“Once upon a time, a Disciples of Christ congregation bought an old building that had been owned by Unitarians. Some workers were making repairs when they discovered a coffeepot in a niche. “It’s true!” one shouted. “They do worship the coffeepot!”
I was born in Switzerland and spent my formative years in France. That’s why I don’t talk like a native. I am an Alpine Indian. There I grew up in the French Protestant Church, a minority of 1 million vs. the majority of 35 million Catholics. The French Protestant Church is essentially Lutheran. I did not know that until I visited a Lutheran Church in this country! So, I have some Lutheran blood flowing in my veins. And my wife Annelies grew up in the Swiss German Protestant Church, which is the church of Swiss Reformer Zwingli.

When I was a teenager, I had many questions about religion: “Who is God? Can you prove that God exists?” (at the time God was male, of course)? We would ask these questions mostly to annoy our parents. After reading some of the Spinoza’s writings, I would say: so, if “God created man in his own image”, then of course for men, God looks like a man, but isn’t the same valid for other things such as a triangle, a circle, a dog, a cat? Wouldn’t God look like a triangle, a circle, a dog or a cat for them? As far as driving my mother up the walls, I was really successful.

It was not that we did not have lots of serious questions, but no adult, including our pastor, could or did provide answers that satisfied our curiosity, or even wanted to get into a discussion about them. God is God and Jesus is the son of God, and that’s it! OK, but…..With no answers to and no discussions about these deep questions, these doubting Thomases just became a social group. We had great parties, though!

When I left home and embarked into the study of chemistry back in Switzerland, the questions about the nature of God and the role of religious beliefs faded, as science explained things based on what could be observed, and predicted things on the basis of proven theories. Obviously, we did not delve too deeply into Quantum Physics at the time, so the world was more or less predictable, or, if not, we were sure that over time, mankind would acquire enough knowledge to make it so! The realm of religion receded and became unimportant in the ambitious search for a successful place in the world. By that I mean my career.

Shift forward about twenty years. When, at the recommendation of friends, we attended a concert at a Unitarian Universalist Church in Connecticut, we were intrigued by what we heard and what we saw. Annelies, my wife, went first to a service on a Sunday morning. We later went as a family and soon became members of this church we called “The Barn.” It was called that way because the sanctuary was an old converted barn. It was a very cozy and comfortable place.

So, what is a Unitarian Universalist Church all about? What do we believe that is so different, so unique? A little story:
Once upon a time, there were two churches in a small rural village, one Universalist, the other Evangelical. A visitor asked why two churches were needed in so small a town. A resident replied: “That church says there ain’t no hell. The other says: the hell there ain’t.”
Unitarian Universalists are not unique in our desire to make life better for all. We are not the only religious organization to give generously to the needy in the world. We are not the only religious community to offer solace or inspiration or a sense that we are not alone in the world. What does make us unique is a set of values that includes respect for the inherent worth and dignity of every person as well as the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Free and responsible means a religion without dogma. Although it has its roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions, Unitarian Universalism is a liberal religion — that is, a religion that keeps an open mind to the religious questions people have struggled with in all times and places, one that challenges us to keep an open mind and heart in many matters of human living.

We believe that personal experience, conscience and reason should be the final authorities in religion, and that in the end religious authority lies not in a book or person or institution, but in ourselves. We are a “non-creedal” religion, that is, we do not ask anyone to ascribe to a particular creed.

Each of our congregations, while joined together in our Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, is self-governing. Authority and responsibility are vested in the membership of the congregation. Each Unitarian Universalist congregation is involved in many kinds of programs. Worship is held regularly, service to the community is undertaken, and friendships are made. A visitor to a UU congregation will very likely find events and activities such as church school, day-care centers, lectures and forums, support groups, poetry festivals, family events, adult education classes and study groups.

Because there have always been men and women who question the religion handed them in childhood, a religion of the free mind, like today's Unitarian Universalism, was inevitable. If the specific events and personalities that shaped this religious movement had never existed, other religious liberals would have filled the vacuum. Though it would be known by a different name, this religion of the free mind would still exist today.

Nevertheless, there are some illustrious personalities who forged the way during difficult times. Struggling against ostracism, violence, and even murder as they moved through history down separate paths to Unitarianism and Universalism.

Principles and Purposes

For this Introduction to Unitarian Universalism, probably the best place to start our theological conversation is with the Principles and Purposes of our Association. This is our covenant.

We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote:
  1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  2. Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.
The living tradition we share draws from many sources:
  • Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder of God, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces that create and uphold life;
  • Words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;
  • Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspire us in our ethical and spiritual life;
  • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;
  • Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn against idolatries of the mind and spirit.

Grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and ennobles our faith, we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision.

As free congregations we enter into this covenant, promising to one another our mutual trust and support. (Singing the Living Tradition)

We draw from many sources in our religious pluralism. We constantly strive to adapt our understanding of the world based upon religious insights, scientific discoveries, philosophical considerations, revelations etc. These are some of what make us different from other religious organizations.

Brief History

The Unitarian and Universalist movements both germinated in specific religious issues. Both grew to encompass religious doubters of many views, and both eventually welcomed to their ranks all thoughtful men and women who would accept the right of others to have different views.

Unitarians and Universalists have always been heretics. We are heretics because we want to choose our faith, not because we desire to be rebellious. “Heresy” in Greek means “choice.”

We started out, at least as a faith, as early Christians trying to follow the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Those were little communities at first, each trying to understand this new faith and writing letters to each other to that effect. They wrote down the stories as they knew them.

The movement that eventually acquired the label “Unitarian” began shortly after Jesus’ death. Then, many who knew Jesus talked of his humanity and his teachings, while others who had only heard of him touted his divinity and began to construct a religion that was more about him than of him. During the first three centuries of the Christian church, believers could choose from a variety of tenets about Jesus and both Unitarian and Universalist ideas swirled among many others. Among these was a belief that Rabbi Jesus was sent by God on a divine mission.

By the fourth century there were many books going around the Mediterranean and different notions about the nature of God, no longer just the one God of their Jewish tradition but now a trinity of Gods: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. People got to arguing so much that in 325 CE, Constantine, the Emperor of Rome, convened a Council at Nicaea and, by means more political than religious, decided once and for all what books and teachings were true and which were not. Those that made it in compose the Bible as we know it today. Many of the other books were destroyed by order of the authorities, however, copies were found in the last century, which led to considerable new research about the history of Christianity.

More than a hundred years before the affirmation of the trinity, the seeds of Universalism were being planted by the articulate and prolific intellectual, Origen. Origen, who, like the Unitarians, stressed the humanity of Jesus, produced the basic idea on which this liberal religious movement would be built. He argued that no person would be condemned by God to eternal damnation and talked of a benevolent God who would offer salvation to all people. Those are the basic tenets of Universalism.

Christianity lost its element of choice in 325 CE when the Nicene Creed established the Trinity as dogma. The belief that Jesus was somewhat less than divine than God, championed by Arius, or that God provided universal salvation, as advanced by Origen, were positions forced underground by collaborating authorities of church and empire. For centuries thereafter, people who professed Unitarian or Universalist beliefs were persecuted.

The notion that Jesus was not divine, resurfaced again alongside the 16th century Protestant Reformation, when some people, in reading the Bible, began to conclude for themselves that there was no scriptural support for the dominant Trinitarian doctrine. These “anti-Trinitarians” gained toeholds in Poland briefly and in Transylvania, where they still exist today. Some also migrated to Western Europe, facing persecution at almost every turn.

The Protestant Reformation took hold in the remote mountains of Transylvania in Eastern Europe. Here the first edict of religious toleration in history was declared in 1568 during the reign of the first and only Unitarian king, John Sigismund. Sigismund’s court preacher, Frances David, had successively converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism to Calvinism and finally to Unitarianism because he could find no biblical basis for the doctrine of the Trinity. Arguing that people should be allowed to choose among these faiths, he said, “We need not think alike to love alike.” There is a little story that goes with Sigismund’s conversion:
King Sigismund declared that the people of his kingdom would adopt the religion of whichever combatant won a debate on the various flavors of faith. Unitarian bishop Frances David and Calvinist bishop Peter Melius prepared to address the question of the trinity, with the king in attendance. Naturally, each man had strong reasons to succeed. Melius was in little doubt that he would triumph. “If I win this debate,” he told David, “you will be executed.” David responded, “If I win this debate, you and everyone else in this country will be given complete religious freedom, and the tolerance due to every child of Man.” David won the debate.
It followed that in Transylvania, Unitarian congregations were established for the first time in history. And in case you wondered, we don’t have anything to do with Count Dracula! These churches continue to preach the Unitarian message in present-day Transylvania, which is now a province of Romania. Like their heretic forebears from ancient times, these liberals could not see how the deification of a human being or the simple recitation of creeds could help them live better lives. They determined to follow the teachings of Jesus, not to worship him.

During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Unitarianism appeared briefly in other locations. A Unitarian community in Rakow, Poland, flourished for a time, and a book called “On the Errors of the Trinity” by a Spaniard, Michael Servetus, was circulated throughout Europe. But persecution frequently followed these believers. The Polish Unitarians were completely suppressed, and Michael Servetus was burned at the stake in 1553 for his radical views on the Trinity and his rejection of infant baptism. The one that sent him to die was none other than Calvin!

In 17th and 18th century England, though anti-Trinitarians were still outcasts, their numbers grew. Often they were men and women who found their way into the history books for reasons other than their religious activities. John Milton, Isaac Newton, John Locke, and Florence Nightingale were all people who fought for religious tolerance. By the first decade of the 19th century, 20 Unitarian churches had been established in England.

Despite its apparent European connections, Unitarianism as we know it in North America is not strictly a foreign import. In America, the movement toward a Unitarian position emerged gradually and organically, supported by the Puritan inclination to organize around covenant more than creed. In fact, the origins of our faith began with some of the most historic congregations in Puritan New England where each town was required to establish a congregationally independent church that followed Calvinist doctrines. Initially these congregational churches offered no religious choice for their parishioners, but over time the strict doctrines of original sin and predestination began to mellow.

By the mid-1700s a group of evangelicals were calling for the revival of Puritan orthodoxy. They asserted their belief in humanity’s eternal bondage to sin. People who opposed the revival, believing in free human will and the loving benevolence of God, eventually became Unitarian.

Coming from England, one of those who did carry the torch of Unitarianism to America was Joseph Priestley, a Unitarian minister better known as the discoverer of oxygen. After being harassed and nearly killed back in England by those of a less liberal bent, Priestley left and established the first openly Unitarian church in America in Philadelphia in 1796. Soon after, many well-established American churches acquired Unitarian ministers or Unitarian views. Already at that time, both in Unitarianism and in Universalism, virtually every aspect of religion was fair game for doubt and debate. During the first four decades of the nineteenth century, hundreds of original congregational churches fought over ideas about sin and salvation, and especially over the doctrine of the Trinity. Most of the churches split over these issues. In 1819, Unitarian minister William Ellery Channing delivered a sermon called “Unitarian Christianity” which established a strong Unitarian platform.

Later, the Trancendentalists, among them Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, expanded the boundaries of liberal Christianity.

But now, let’s go back to the 17th and 18th centuries. During that period, the Universalist view also made great strides. In Germany many Universalist groups expanded and further defined the Universalist doctrine. In 1759 in England James Relly published “Union” which denied the Calvinistic doctrine of “salvation for the few” and claimed that all would be saved.

In America, Universalism developed in at least three distinct geographical locations: in the coastal towns of Massachusetts, the mid-Atlantic States, and the New England interior.

John Murray, a follower of Relly in England, helped deliver the Universalist movement to America. In 1779 Murray occupied the pulpit of the Independent Christian Church of Gloucester, Massachusetts, which was the first organized Universalist church in this country. John Murray later helped lead the battle to separate church and state. Twenty-six years later the movement's greatest exponent, Hosea Ballou, articulated Universalist doctrine in his book, “A Treatise on Atonement,” which sought to prove that the doctrine of the trinity was unscriptural, and argued against miracles and against the view of men and women as depraved creatures who would burn in hell.

Other preachers of the gospel of universal salvation appeared in what were later the Middle Atlantic and Southern states. By 1781, Elhanan Winchester had organized a Philadelphia congregation of Universal Baptists. Among its members was Benjamin Rush, the famous physician and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

At about the same time, in the rural, interior sections of New England, a small number of itinerant preachers, among them Caleb Rich, began to disbelieve the strict Calvinist doctrines of eternal punishment. They discovered from their biblical studies the “new” revelation of God’s loving redemption of all.

From its beginnings, Universalism challenged its members to reach out and embrace people whom society often marginalized. The Gloucester church included a freed slave among its charter members, and the Universalists became the first denomination to ordain women into the ministry, beginning in 1863 with Olympia Brown.

Universalism was a more evangelical faith than Unitarianism. After officially organizing in 1793, the Universalists spread their faith across the eastern United States and Canada. Hosea Ballou became the denomination’s greatest leader during the nineteenth century, and he and his followers, including Nathaniel Stacy, led the way in spreading their faith. Hosea Ballou was the one who, in 1829, helped found that UU church we first joined in Connecticut.

Other preachers followed the advice of Universalist publisher Horace Greeley and went West. One such person was Thomas Starr King, who is credited with defining the difference between Unitarians and Universalists: “Universalists believe that God is too good to damn people, and the Unitarians believe that people are too good to be damned by God.” As mentioned before, Universalists believed in a God who embraced everyone, and this eventually became central to their belief that lasting truth is found in all religions, and that dignity and worth is innate to all people regardless of sex, color, race, or class.

Growing out of this inclusive theology was a lasting impetus in both denominations to create a more just society. Both Unitarians and Universalists became active participants in many social justice movements in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, often led by women such as Julia Ward Howe, Susan B. Anthony, and notably Clara Barton who went from Civil War “angel of the battlefield” to become the founder of the American Red Cross. Through reformers such as these, the liberal religious movement became the champion of the abolition of slavery, women's rights, and penal reform. Unitarian preacher Theodore Parker was a prominent abolitionist, defending fugitive slaves and offering support to abolitionist John Brown.

As the two movements of Unitarianism and Universalism grew and acquired greater definition in the sermons of Hosea Ballou, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Ellery Channing, Theodore Parker and others, the two paths of religious liberalism grew ever closer.

In the beginning of the twentieth century, humanists within both traditions advocated that people could be religious without believing in God. Now that was and still is heresy! But it was also a confirmation for that time that no one person, no one religion, can embrace all religious truths.

By the middle of the twentieth century it became clear that Unitarians and Universalists could have a stronger liberal religious voice if they merged their efforts, and they did so in 1961, forming the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations.

Many UUs became active in the civil rights movement. James Reeb, a Unitarian Universalist minister, was murdered in Selma, Alabama, after he and twenty percent of the denomination’s ministers responded to Martin Luther King, Jr.'s call to march for justice.

Today we are determined to continue to work for greater racial and cultural diversity. In 1977, a resolution on “Women and Religion” was passed by the Association, and since then the denomination has worked at changing its sexist structures and language, especially with the publication of an inclusive hymnal.

The denomination has also affirmed the rights of bisexuals, gays, lesbians, and transgender persons. The denomination has ordained and settled gay and lesbian clergy in its congregations and, in 1996, affirmed same-sex marriage.

All these efforts reflect a modern understanding of universal salvation. Unitarian Universalism welcomes all to an expanding circle of understanding and choice in religious faith. Our history has carried us from liberal Christian views about Rabbi Jesus and human nature to a rich pluralism that includes theists and atheists, agnostics and humanists, pagans, Christians, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists.

Conclusion

We gather for very important reasons as Unitarian Universalists, not the least of which is an openness to change – a quality that has formed our faith over the centuries. Change can come from various sources: religious discovery, such as the Christian gospels found in Egypt, scientific discoveries, religious and philosophical insights, revelations etc. It is that very openness to change that will shape our faith in this new century. Our own history tells us that we cannot see everything clearly. Ours is a story of an evolving understanding of what it means to be human and to live in community on this beautiful planet. We gather to witness that evolving knowledge and to support each other as we strive to understand and appreciate our world and our universe.

Unitarian Universalism is a most noble experiment in human relations, mirroring in microcosm the rich experiment that is this very country. We believe that the most pressing question now before our churches, as before the American people, is this: how can we, a diverse group of people with rich and varying cultures, worldviews, and beliefs, learn to live together, with integrity and compassion, in a society that affirms and embodies the values of freedom, peace and justice? As our country’s history and our Unitarian Universalist faith continue to evolve and unfold, we invite and welcome all people of good will into this most vital ongoing conversation.

Challenges

We are not without challenges. I will talk about the three major ones: Money, Issues resulting from the Acceptance of Everybody and the Problem with our Message.

Challenge 1: Money.
I have seen many reports in the media on church giving over the years, and invariably, Unitarian Universalists end up having the highest average income…and the lowest contribution level. It is as though the more money people have, the less they are ready to part with it. A live illustration of that was given to me at our District Church Meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado this fall. In one of the workshops, we were talking about the support people give to social justice, when a young woman from Laramie, Wyoming, a waitress at a local diner, chimed in, saying that working people always give her very generous tips, whereas people with money rarely do.

In the past, we have been blessed by the generous contributions from some wealthy members, the result of which is that we do not have any debt on our building. But it is still a struggle from year to year to raise enough to meet our minister’s compensation and the ongoing building and program expenses.

But I won’t complain too loudly…I assume some others have the same issue.

Challenge 2: Acceptance of Everybody.
We are a welcoming and caring congregation, a church for all souls. Many needy souls find their way to our church.

Our big challenge is to create and to maintain a healthy congregational environment with the ability to grow both in numbers and spiritual depth, while at the same time providing a safe place for people with special needs and their families. We are now focusing on this most important issue. It is all about following the teachings of compassion by Rabbi Jesus to help these unfortunate people and keep the congregation strong and growing.

Challenge 3: What is our Message, Our Reason for Being?
The positive aspects of our faith, which I have outlined above in the sections on Belief and History, are also the ones creating difficulties for our group to spread its message and sometimes to stay together. How do you create a community with no common theology, whether explicit or assumed? How do you sell the idea about a community with no common theology? Remember, our members include people of humanistic bent as well as mystics! That is atheists, agnostics and deeply religious folks!

  • There is no creedal test for members,
  • There is no compelling story. We have no story to sell, like Heaven or Hell, or life after death.
  • We have no central figure such as Jesus, Moses, Mohammed, and Buddha around which religions are organized.
  • We cannot offer or promise salvation.
What we have and offer is a vision/mission/covenant, explicit or implicit, on how we will be with each other and with the community at large. The following is the new statement we just adopted last month:

  • We are a loving and caring religious community affirming the sacredness of all life.
  • We provide a spiritually nourishing and intellectually stimulating environment with respect for each individual.
  • We encourage exploration and growth in a spirit of fellowship and love for seekers of all ages.
  • With an attitude of cooperation, we will be a catalyst for religious freedom, social justice, peacemaking, and responsible stewardship of the Earth.
In different ways, we are all searching for a way to know and to be in relationship with God.

Let me close with words from a song that touched me very deeply. I heard it at the UU General Assembly this year in Fort Worth, Texas. It is a song by Pat Humphries titled “Swimming to the Other Side”:
I am alone and I am searching, hungering for answers in my time
I am balanced at the brink of wisdom; I’m impatient to receive a sign.
I move forward with my senses open. Imperfection it be my crime.
In humility, I will listen; we’re all swimming to the other side.

On this journey through thoughts and feelings; binding intuition, my head, my heart
I am gathering the tools together; I am preparing to do my part.
All of those who have come before me: band together and be my guide.
Loving lessons that I will follow, we’re all swimming to the other side.

When we get there, we’ll discover all the gifts we’ve been given to share
Have been with us since life’s beginning and we never noticed they were there.
We can balance at the brink of wisdom, never recognizing we have arrived.
Loving spirits will live together; we’re all swimming to the other side.
The Spirit of God is Within You!

Namasteh (the divine in me greets the divine in you.)

May it be so! Amen.

Bibliography

This presentation has borrowed “liberally” from various sources. These include excerpts from "We Are Unitarian Universalists", UUA pamphlet #3047, and the writings of Revs. Mark Harris, Ricky Hoyt, Susan Manker-Seale, and Jeffrey P. Lambkin.

Talk given by Arthur Kull.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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A Bible Study
  by Ruth Barnes

An intelligent understanding of the Bible is indispensable to anybody in the Western World who wishes to think wisely about religion. So opens the Introduction of the text we used for a study last Fall. The book, “Understanding the Bible, an Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers and Religious Liberals” is written by John A. Buehrens, a past President of the UUA.

The influence of the Bible remains pervasive in our culture. It not only functions as authoritative scripture for our largest religious communities, both Christian and Jewish, its language and stories also resonate throughout our literature and public rhetoric. Many contentious political debates in our public life over issues of sexuality, economics and even foreign policy disguise sharply divergent interpretations of the Bible.

Forrest Church, son of the Senator Frank Church from Idaho says that the Bible and God, like the Constitution and the American Flag, like Motherhood and Apple Pie remain powerful icons in our culture. If you leave the interpretation of our religious heritage to opponents, you cede power to them to define our heritage, our nation’s meaning, and our family values. John Spong, of the Episcopal Church (recently deceased) sees fundamentalism and literalism not as faith, but as disguised fear. If we allow that to happen, we allow spiritual oppression to usurp the Spirit of the Bible, and legitimize economic and environmental exploitation, racism, sexism, homophobia, and more.

We lose what the Bible is about, we lose beauty and goodness of creation, the story of frustration with violence and injustice throughout generations, we lose the experiences of exultation, expectation and inspiration that have sustained the human quest for wisdom, justice and peace. We must not speak as though the Bible says and means only what fundamentalists say that it means.

Yet if we reject or neglect the Bible and throw it out because others have turned it into an idol, it doesn’t mean that it goes away. It ends up in the hands and lips of reactionaries where it can be used against us.

Buehrens asks. “How did we happen to give away our right to question religious authority and to interpret the Bible for ourselves?” Maybe we should direct our skepticism toward ourselves, and not our forebears. Maybe we have turned away from eternally important questions because we are uncomfortable with the idea of the Eternal, who might actually require something from us?

Today television programs such as Discovery, make popular the findings in archeology, historical studies, anthropology, comparative religion, and feminist interpretations. All have the author’s or the sponsor’s point of view. There’s not much available to summarize these developments and help an up-to-date understanding of the Bible.

Buehrens has written his text to reach skeptics, seekers and liberals after he had taught many classes where he was repeatedly asked similar questions. He gives these reasons for writing his book.

  1. If you can’t or won’t understand the Bible, others will surely interpret it for you. In my first public school position I was legally required to read from the Bible to begin each day. So one reason to bother with the Bible has to do with questions of justice and power. Buehrens can attest to a ground swell, a yearning for understanding our Biblical heritage in a respectable, justice oriented and spiritually enriching way. This is a political reason for study.


  2. Another reason has to do with cultural literacy. Many of my friends in college took “Bible as Literature” classes. To study Literature, whether Modern or Renaissance and Reformation, You must learn Biblical and religious references that abound in poems and texts, even jokes.

    Dorothy Parker and another young actress arrived at a party simultaneously. There was jockeying for precedence, and the actress stepped back saying, “Age before beauty.” But Dorothy Parker quipped, “No my dear, pearls before swine.” Usaac Asimov reported that he gave up telling this joke because fewer and fewer people recognized the Biblical reference.

    Not only is it obvious that we cannot fully understand Renaissance art, Bach, Shakespeare, Milton, T.S.Elliot or Emily Dickenson without understanding biblical references, it is true that modern writers and artists use themes as a continuing source of inspitation.

  3. Finally, a personal reason for study. Despite oppressive uses of the Bible, there is a source of inspiration, liberation, creation and even exultation as we understand the Bible anew, at a deeper and less literal level.

A Zen Buddhist recommended to his student that in his brief life, his spiritual work was to understand his own heritage more deeply. He sent the student back to study the Bible.

The Bible is human literature about the divine, not divine literature about humans. It requires critical approach. We are the spiritual beneficiaries and descendents of radical reformers. We know the stories of those dedicated people, burned at the stake still insisting that scripture be available to everyone, so that everyone may claim personal powers of interpretation and understanding.

The local exhibit “Ink and Blood” touches directly on this inheritance.

Buehrens’ text asks skeptics to keep skepticism where it matters. His text addresses liberals, even radicals to help claim power to understand and interpret the Bible for themselves and the common good. And, the text is directed to seekers to find an ethical and spiritual wisdom for everyday living together.

Even if the Bible is only literature, poetry and true religion require imaginative compassion, says Thomas Hardy. The texts deserve critical thought, but so do our own prejudices.

If you are a skeptic, a seeker, or liberal - yet want the Bible to reveal its wisdom to you, it is required that you do the texts justice and look for how the texts themselves can serve justice; and, that you practice imaginative compassion, and walk humbly in the quest for a liberating wisdom.

Thus you may uncover the human experience of the Holy, and find enduring truth and wisdom that lays behind ancient texts.

UU Bible Class
  by Tiffinie Tailor

The recent UU Bible class was the first time I cracked open a Bible in a long time. The time away from it was probably good for me since I could come to it in a neutral frame of mind. A question raised in the class was whether it was relevant to each of us today. After reading many of its passages I also had to ask whether it could be the excellent moral compass so many believers claim it to be.

After all, the Bible was the word of God and it would not lead me astray. There was no need to question its truth because in doing so I would be questioning God’s truth. Indeed, the first 4 of the 10 commandments demonstrate God’s importance. (Exodus 20)

The Bible gives us some rules to live by and commands us to “Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord”. (Leviticus Ch. 19) Among them are:

  • Thou salt not kill.
  • Do not steal.
  • Do not lie.
  • Do not deceive on another.
  • Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself.
  • Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed.
  • Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.
  • If a man sleeps with a woman who is a slave girl promised to another man but who has not been ransomed or given her freedom, there must be due punishment. Yet they are not to be put to death, because she had not been freed.
  • Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.
  • Do not degrade your daughter by making her a prostitute.
It also teaches us the golden rule of “do unto others”. Even after being led out of slavery, the people are directed:

  • If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve you for six years. But in the seventh year he shall go free…If a man sells his daughter as a servant, she is not to go free as menservants do. If she does not please the master who has selected her for himself, he must let her be redeemed. He has no right to sell her to foreigners, because he has broken faith with her. If he selects her for his son, he must grant her the rights of a daughter. If he marries another woman, he must not deprive the first one of her food, clothing and marital rights. If he does not provide her with these three things, she is to go free… (Leviticus 21: 2, 7-11)
It offers instructions about war and more about “doing unto others”:

  • When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city. When the Lord your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the Lord your God gives you from your enemies. This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby. (Deuteronomy 20:10)
It teaches that cleanliness is next to Godliness…even after committing murder:

  • “Have you allowed all the women to live?” He asked them. They were the ones who followed Balaam’s advice and were the means of turning the Israelites away from the Lord in what happed at Peor, so that a plague struck the Lord’s people. “Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man, but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man. All of you who have killed anyone or touched anyone who was killed must stay outside the camp seven days. On the third and seventh days you must purify yourselves and your captives. Purity every garment as well as everything made of leather, goat hair or wood.” (Numbers 31:15-20)
So, how am I to use the Bible as a moral guide? Does the Bible contain lessons I would like my children to learn? Games and movies are given a rating system so parents can get an idea of content before they say OK to kids seeing them. I wonder; if the same system was applied to the Bible, how many parents would allow it in their homes?

What it does offer me is a point of view that stirs up the soul and prompts me to ask questions about the people in these stories, about morality and about the human condition. Perhaps in the context of the world they were in, their truths make sense. As far as the Bible’s relevance to me, it does lead me to question whether the things that I accept as truth are universal truths or only truths in context. It shows how fragile and how vicious we humans can be when we ascribe to a belief, a system or a “God.” It shows the best and the worst in people. Our stories tell us what we need to know about ourselves so our history need not be repeated. It is a reminder that beliefs are not absolute. That clinging to a belief out of tradition may not always make sense or be in our best interest. That unquestioning obedience has consequences. It is a reminder of how far we have come and how far we have yet to go.

Reflections on Bible Study Class
  by Tami Thatcher

I signed up the Bible Study Class because the text for the class looked refreshing: “Understanding the Bible — An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals” by John A. Buehrens, former president of the UUA and UU minister, and because my Bible background was very limited. Many of us taking the class often felt that it sounded a little bit funny to be saying “I’m going to Bible study class.” Only we Unitarian Universalists knew that this class was very different than other Bible study classes around town. One difference is that the acceptance of one another did not depend on having a common view of the Bible.

In Rev. Lyn’s class, we would start off each class by identifying examples of how beliefs about the Bible influence our society today. One example was a an Ellen Goodman opinion editorial about a congressman admitting that he did not believe in a supreme being and admitting that he was an nontheist. A spokesperson for the Concerned Women for America unabashedly bashed him, saying that “a Christian world-view is proper for a politician to have.”

In this same article, presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s reassurances to the religious right were stated: that he believes in the virgin birth, the crucifixion, and the resurrection — apparently, this is the assumed ecclesiastical checklist for president.

The idea that people can be trusted only if they believe the “right” things — is real, whether or not it is openly discussed.

Believing in the “right things” in this country often has ties to believing in God and the Bible. Trying to read and to interpret the Bible has always been unsettling for me. While other people deeply enjoy reading at least parts of the Bible, my tendency is to agonize a bit over the uncertainty of what was really meant by the words. In the class, as we read Bible verses from many versions of the bible, it was possible to see the variations in style, word selection, and interpretation from various editors of the same Bible verse. I can see how a person could spend a lifetime studying the Bible and I have only barely scratched the surface.

But even if we rarely think about them, the Bible concepts that we grew up surrounded by affect us, even if we do not accept these concepts. Concepts of god, perhaps as a supreme all-knowing being, and of an ultimate judge in the universe, of a Creator that alleviates human responsibility for taking action, concepts of an afterlife, of the meaning of life’s difficulties... They affect us. Taking a Bible class as an adult is an opportunity to revisit these concepts and to make conscious reconciliation or rejection of some of these concepts.

During the class, I found a book titled “Feminist Approaches to the Bible” at the Library book sale. Having spoken about the fight for women’s right to vote last fall, I was interested in what this book discussed about the Bible and women’s equality—for years the Bible had been used as a powerful and effective weapon against women’s rights. Many feminists believed that it was not the Bible that was the problem: it was the male misinterpretation of the Bible. However, as more women studied the Bible, many women found that actually, the Bible itself was the problem.

The class provided a rare chance for a UU to learn about the rapture. I also read a book describing the evolving vision of Heaven by various Christians through the last two thousand years. The concepts of heaven pervade our culture and language and thought. Though the concept of Heaven is more influenced by writings and thought outside of the Bible, it comes strongly connected to the Bible. People who are confident in their view of heaven tend to have an air of superiority. I found that reading the “inside information,” about the many views of heaven in the Christian realm and their evolution to be somehow liberating.

I also read more about the persecution of Jews by Christians. As we as UUs tend to praise our Christian roots, we, in particular, should be mindful of the sometimes cruel past of our Christian forbearers and the present tendancy of many Christians to discount people of other faiths or of no faith.

Well, wrapping up. I enjoyed the class and the people in it. The class was thought-provoking and I did gain a greater appreciation for the variety and complexity of writings in the Bible. And the continuing influence of the Bible in our world today.

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A Prayer for Community
  by Barry Leech

Let our blessed community be strong,
being united as one in the spirit of love and life.
Let forgiveness be our key to happiness,
forgiving ourselves as well as others
when there are judgements or anger between us.
Let our blessed community be strong,
So that fears and blocks melt away
and everyone feels free to share
what is in their hearts. Amen.

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The Silence of the Rocks
  by Richard Wilde

I sit upon the mountain contemplating the rocks.
“Rocks”, I ask. “Do you see me? Do you feel my presence?”
Silence!
“Are you aware in any sense at all?”
Only silence.
If you could talk I wonder what you could possibly say.
Would you speak of the comings and goings of the seasons?
Would you tell of the animals that have rested on your craggy surface?
Or of the hungry fox that basked on your sun-warmed face in the evening’s chill?
You were here before the first human walked the earth, indeed, before any creature walked the earth.
You are much closer to eternity than we who are mere flickers in the immensity of time.
My entire life passes between the beats of your ponderous rhythm so how
can we ever know each other’s stories?
Are you aware of our common origin?
More silence.
We’re both made of star stuff that is ever more ancient than you.
But even star stuff is but a stage in the evolution of the light of creation that
gave birth to us both.
You chose stability and longevity where I chose mobility.
So now I must leave you and go my way.
Someday I may return with more patience.
And I’ll just sit and listen—
To your silence.

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In His Name
  by Jeff Leuschen

To the Saxon land they came
The Franks under Charlemagne's commands
They left with red swords and dripping hands
In the name of the Christian god.

To the desert lands they came
Crusaders under the Pope's command
To spill the blood and soak the land
In the name of the Christian god.

To the New World they came
Terrorists under Bin Laden's command
To destroy the Towers and scar the land
for his idea of the Muslim god.

To the nation of Iraq they came
Soldier under a tyrant's command
To feed the buzzards and Bush's greed
in the name of the Christian god.

Why can't these people understand
You cannot worship a god of peace
With blood stained sword in hand?
Everyone should live as they see fit
The Christian god doesn't have to be part of it.

It doesn't matter what is the color of your skin
or what deity you choose to believe in.
You may honor Jesus or Thor or even the Great Pumpkin.
Having different beliefs does not constitute a sin.
Forcing you views on others is something else again.

My apologies to Charles Schulz
Creater of Peanuts.

Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Banking Idaho Falls Style
  by Jeff Leuschen

It occurred to me as strangely funny.
The two biggests banks in town hold no money.
There are no tellers in either place at all.
You'll still need identification to make a withdrawal.
Both their front yards are covered in greenery.
People go there to enjoy the scenery.
No bailout money will ever be needed;
The banks will be open long after the recession has receded.
There's no silver but you'll see a glimmer and shine.
Don't try to grab it because it's not yours or mine.

Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sunna's Ride
  by Jeff Leuschen

Sunna is hauled in her wagon across the sky.
Fair wheel's passage grants warmth and light for you and I.
Her gentle caress allows the crops to grow
The fields are now free of ice and snow.
Her presence lets us get what we need,
Grain for us and our livestock and honey for our mead.

She rides through the sky during the day
At night her brother Mani hods sway.
Fill your drinking horn with ale and wish Sunna well,
Skoll the wolf is hungry and on her trail
The day will come when she will lose the race
After Ragnarok her daughter will take her place.

Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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