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Psalms, Promise, and Passover

Gifts of the Irish

Awakening With Punxutawney Phil

Mystery, Mystery, Life is A Riddle and A Mystery

Love Reaches Out . . . Then What?

Pride or Prejudice

The Gifts of Grace

The Nature of Belonging

“Making Peace with Our Imperfections”

Climbing the Mountain

Earth Day: A Theology of Dirty Hands

“Learning from John Adams, a Man of Reason, Politics and Religion”

“Our Deepest Longing”

“Celebrating UU Saints?”

“Much Ado about Masks”

“Yet a Different Look at Jesus”

Julia Ward Howe; From A Battle Hymn to A Day for Peace

“Toxic Isolation”

Easter “The Trick is Rising Again”

Hosea Ballou: The Audacity of Universalism

“Teach a Man to Fish!”

“My God is Better than Your God”

MKL: The Evolution of Leadership

How Do Atheists and Humanists Celebrate?

Valuing Veterans When They Need Us!

When in Doubt Pray; When in Prayer Doubt

Simple Solitude: Finding Peace in Small Wild Places

Gems from General Assembly

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Full Transcriptions of Sunday Services
by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron

Psalms, Promise, and Passover
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, March 29, 2015

A TIME FOR ALL AGES We are Unitarian Universalist members and friends, adults and children and each week we celebrate what it means to be ourselves and to be alive and what is important; We learn how to be respectful and caring in our families and this church community and in the world.- We ask questions about the earth and we learn from science and reason how things work and we learn about the stories that other people and religions believe are important

This week we are looking at two other religious groups: the Christians - and many of our friends and neighbors in this city are part of Christian churches; They are Catholic and Episcopalian and Mormon and Baptist, Methodist and Lutheran. And today we are also going to learn about a religion that is much older than the Christian - the Jewish religion; in fact the Christian religion actually grew out of the Jewish faith!

And both Christians and Jews consider that a really important part of their religion has to do with their idea that an all powerful God “Yahweh” makes promises. Now some of us may believe there is an all powerful God but many UU’s do not. Still we can learn about what Christians and Jews think is important and we can learn what it means to make and keep a promise!

For many of our neighbors and friends and family members today is called “Palm Sunday” - it is called that because the people who identify as Christian, share this story each year from, a very old group of books called the Bible.

From the book of Matthew this is the story of Palm Sunday; Jesus was a teacher with many his student followers called disciples. They traveled together and wherever they went people came to listen and learn.

After about three years of being together, they traveled to the big Jewish city of Jerusalem and when they got there the students Jesus rode a donkey along the road into the city.

It was springtime and Jerusalem was really crowded because it was the time of year when Jewish people celebrated an important holiday called Passover. The crowds of people who were visiting also had heard that the great teacher Jesus was coming. People were so excited that they cut branches from the trees and laid them over the road so that Jesus would not have to get dusty and dirty. Some of the branches came from Palm trees. That is why this day is called Palm Sunday, and in many Churches people will be given palm leaves today to remind them of the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem nearly 2000 years ago.

Later that evening Jesus and his friends got together for a feast, which was how the Jewish people celebrated “Passover.” At sundown they had dinner together. And at their dinner they ate special foods and celebrated by telling a very old story about how God would always keep his promise to them.

At their dinner called a Passover Seder, Jesus and his friends just like Jewish people nowdays told some version of this story from the Hebrew Bible . The story of Passover adapted from that of Ariela Pelaia

The story of Passover tells how the Hebrews gained their freedom and became the ancestors of the Jewish people. At the end of the very first book in the Bible, a man named Joseph brings his family to the country of Egypt. ( what is Egypt famous for? - its pyramids and temples and mummies!)

Over hundreds of years the descendants of Joseph's family the Hebrews become so numerous that when a new king - a pharaoh came to power he feared what might happen if the Hebrews decide to rise against the Egyptians. He decided that the best way to avoid this was to make the Hebrews - the early Jews- into slaves - to prevent them from leaving Egypt.

Despite pharaoh's attempt to control the Hebrews they continued to have many children. As their numbers grow, pharaoh had another plan: he decided to send soldiers to kill all newborn male babies who were born to Hebrew mothers. This is where the story of Moses begins.

Moses In order to save baby Moses, his mother and sister put him in a basket that is like a little boat and put it in water along the river. Their hope was that the basket would float to safety. His sister, Miriam, follows along as the basket floats away. Soon it is discovered by the princess, pharaoh's daughter. She saves Moses and raises him as her own, so that a Hebrew child is raised to be a prince of Egypt.

When Moses grows up he kills an Egyptian guard when he sees the guard beating a Hebrew slave. Then Moses runs for his life, heading into the desert. In the desert he joins the family of Jethro, by marrying Jethro's daughter and having children with her. He becomes a shepherd for Jethro's flock and one day, while out tending the sheep, the voice of God calls out to him from a burning bush.

God tells Moses that he has been chosen to free the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. Moses is not sure he can carry out this command. But God reassures Moses that he will have help in the form of God's aide and that his brother, Aaron will go with him.

The Ten Plagues Soon afterward, Moses returns to Egypt and demands that pharaoh let the Hebrews leave Egypt. Pharaoh refuses and as a result God sends ten plagues or curses upon Egypt: They are horrible to imagine; 1. Blood - The waters of Egypt are turned to blood. All the fish die and water becomes unusable. 2. Frogs - Hordes of frogs swarm the land of Egypt. 3. Gnats or Lice - Masses of gnats or lice invade Egyptian homes and plague the Egyptian people. 4. Wild Animals - Wild animals invade Egyptian homes and lands, causing destruction and wrecking havoc. 5. Pestilence - Egyptian livestock is struck down with disease. 6. Boils - The Egyptian people are plagued by painful boils that cover their bodies. 7. Hail - Severe weather destroys Egyptian crops and beats down upon them. 8. Locusts - Locusts swarm Egypt and eat any remaining crops and food. 9. Darkness - Darkness covers the land of Egypt for three days. 10. Death of the Firstborn - The firstborn of every Egyptian family is killed. Even the firstborn of Egyptian animals die.

The tenth plague is where the Jewish holiday of Passover gets its name, because while the Angel of Death visited Egypt it "passed over" Hebrew homes, which had been marked with lambs blood on the doorposts.

The Exodus After the tenth plague pharaoh gave up and told the Hebrews to leave. They quickly baked their bread, not even pausing for the dough to rise, which is why Jews eat matzah made without any yeast or leavening during Passover. Soon after they left their homes pharaoh changed his mind and sent soldiers after the Hebrews, but when the former slaves reached the Sea of Reeds God told Moses to raise his staff and the waters parted so that the Hebrews could walk across on dry land.

When the soldiers tried to followed them, the waters crashed down upon the soldiers.

On Friday when Jewish people around the world will gather for their Passover Seders they will place items on their table to remind them of the story and they will celebrate their freedom together with all kinds of people. So today we have learned about Palm Sunday and Passover and we have started to think about how important promises can be.

Sermon “Palms, Promise and Passover”

So today is the Christian Holiday of Palm Sunday and next Friday is the Jewish holiday of Passover. Those two annual events are linked by their stories and by the season as well as by the concept of promise. It is important for us Unitarian Universalists to be aware of the teachings and celebrations, the wisdom teachings that are central to other religions.

Palm Sunday and Passover always remind me of a conversation we had in a theology class in seminary. I know I have told this before but it is such a powerful example of how easy it is to begin to build walls to separate “us” from “them.” The “in” group from the “out” group. I attended Andover Newton Theological Seminary, a Christian seminary in Newton MA and my classes were filled with students from many differing Christian traditions as well as a few other UU’s and an occasional Jewish student from the Hebrew College that shared our peaceful beautiful hill overlooking the busy downtown.

Many of us were involved in internships and field education programs where we spent time working in local churches with their regular pastors, ministers or priests to learn from the experience of leading worship, providing pastoral care, or teaching religious education classes. Well it was about this time of year when a young Catholic lay student shared that he had been the local parish teaching a class and had explained how the “last supper” shared by Jesus and his disciples was actually a Passover Seder - just the way I told the children earlier.

He had explained that the history of the Seder stretches all the way back to the Jewish Exodus and has been celebrated by Jews ever since. Apparently an older woman in the class was surprised to realize that Jesus and his disciples were actually Jewish people - that the first “Eucharist” had occurred when Jesus and others were celebrating a Jewish Seder and then one woman who had asked for more clarification suddenly blurted out - “well maybe you can convince me that Jesus and his disciples were Jewish -but our blessed mother - never!

“Our Blessed mother - never!”

And of course we know already know that figuring out how to remain true to our own believes while respecting the beliefs of others takes intention and is not easy. In fact some religious traditions and teachings emphasize that theirs is the only true and singular correct way of understanding the world - that they and only those who believe as they do are correct and will inherit everlasting life -- or go to heaven, or understand reality, are right.

Right now it would appear that our American ideal of separating “the church from the state” -- of honoring and celebrating religious pluralism is suffering greatly.

Only a few weeks ago some Idaho legislators actually refused attend a legislative session during the offering of a Hindu prayer and for years the major stumbling block to adding the words “sexual orientation and gender identity” to our Idaho Human rights legislation has been that some people want to be able to continue to continue to discriminate against LGBT people and claim that should be permitted because of the freedom of religion.

And, according to this week’s “Time”, on line, (http://time.com/3762125/tim-cook-disappointed-indiana-law/) just days ago, the governor of the state of Indiana - my home state where many of my own family members still live. Indiana Governor Mike Pence signed into a law the “Religious Freedom Bill” on Thursday, … The bill prohibits local governments from “substantially burdening” any person’s free expression of religion. Opponents claim the law could give business owners a free pass to refuse service to customers whose values conflict with theirs, notably same-sex couples. Supporters, however, claim such laws shield citizens from government intrusion on their beliefs.

So it would seem that the words of the great twentieth century rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who stated that “The problem to be faced is: how to combine loyalty to one's own tradition with reverence for different traditions.” still matter.

One thing we Unitarian Universalists can do is to be intentional as we learn about and from the traditions and beliefs and wisdom of others. In fact our Principles and sources document states that The living tradition which we share draws from many sources, and lists • Wisdom from the world's religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life; And • Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God's love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

Whether one claims to believe as a Christian, to be a Jew, to be a Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist or to be an Atheist, pagan, or simply a UU, we acknowledge that wisdom is to be found in many places including some religious practices that may seem very different and even strange to us.

I have come to love the traditions of the Jewish Passover Seder for a number of reasons. First, Jews are frank in recognizing that the Passover combines both the Jewish teachings about Yahweh and much older pagan practices tied to the earth itself. And liberal and reformed Jewish teachings acknowledge their blending; (http//passover%20(Pesach)%20101%20-%20My%20Jewish%20Learning.html) Passover, or Pesach in Hebrew, is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals of ancient Israel. Originally a combination of a couple of different spring festivals, it is a commemoration of the Exodus from Egypt--especially the night when God "passed over" the houses of the Israelites during the tenth plague--and of the following day, when the Israelites had to leave Egypt hurriedly. … The origins of Passover lie in pre-Israelite spring celebrations of the first grain harvest and the births of the first lambs of the season… Pesach is one of the ancient Israelite pilgrimage festivals, during which adult males journeyed to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer sacrifices and bask in the divine presence. Since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, the focus of Pesach celebration shifted to the ritual meal, called the seder, that takes place either in the home or in the community.

And it is the fact that in Jewish tradition the seder is seen as a time for family and community to gather in celebration I find so very appealing.The Passover seder is a time when Jewish people are particularly welcoming to outsiders - asking them to come and join in their celebration of liberation and freedom too.

In fact in the words of a contemporary UU haggada, or Passover script; Passover is not just the celebration of the Jewish peoples’ liberation.
It is a moment when we recommit ourselves to the struggle for peace, justice and equality of all people. We welcome this festival as darkness descends.
We remember that our ancestors discovered freedom in the midst of the dark final night in Egypt. We light these candles as a reflection of the light that shines in each of us, radiating Hope and praising the Source of Light that keeps Hope alive when darkness pervades all. (I light the candles and say) (we) bless the Source of our lives, the Source of all life, inspiring us to become holy through the performance of good deeds, as we kindle the lights. Perhaps it is due to the fact that of all the ethnic groups in the world, that Jewish people certainly understand what it means to have been enslaved and discriminated against that motivates the invitation and welcome at the time of Passover. The history of the Jews combines their unique sense of entitlement and identity as G-d’s chosen people and their centuries old experience of living as part of a diaspora, in constant migration - a people living within but not fully accepted in many places, a people without a place. Perhaps it was this deep understanding of persecution and discrimination even the isolation and death at the hands of the European Nazis and fascists that motivated so many Jewish people to participate by walking beside American Blacks during their struggles for civil rights in the 1950’s and ‘60s.

I am only part way through the epic book, “Carry Me Home, Birmingham, Alabama ” by Diane McWorter but I have already experienced a great deal of distress as I read the varieties of ways that those segregationist whites devised to justify their discriminatory practices. By labeling their anti black, anti labor, and anti-Jewish sentiments as “anti-communist” - they were able to practice inhumane violence with impunity simply by calling up racial and ethnic hatred of those they understood to be “other” and “less than.”

Meticulously researched, the book is emotionally exhausting as it connects the dots that provided those who participated a cover that claimed to be protecting some version of Christian values.

It would be difficult not to recognize similarities in contemporary extremist Muslim, Jewish, and Christian teachings and sects today. Sometimes I almost want to agree with some of the new atheists like Sam Harris who declare that “religion” itself - that all religion is the problem; the force behind the world’s evil. Almost but not really! Because I side instead with our Unitarian ancestor Ralph Waldo Emerson who famously declared, “A person will worship something, have no doubt about that. We may think our tribute is paid in secret in the dark recesses of our hearts, but it will come out. That which dominates our imaginations and our thoughts will determine our lives, and our character. Therefore, it behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping, we are becoming.”

And so we are living in a world where many people seem to be forming themselves into opposing camps; some on one side would claim their religious right and the freedom to practice bigotry while others believe they eschew the practice of “religion” all together while they pursue instead the acquisition of power and influence, and secular life experiences; entertainment, excitement to provide meaning in their lives.

And as this incredible return to religious and secular zealotry increases, again I am reminded of the wise words of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, who believed that. “…. When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; … when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion--its message becomes meaningless.” ― (Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism)

Heschel was raised in a long line of Hasidic Rabbis in Poland but he broke with tradition to read widely and as a young man cut his Hasidic side curls and traveled to Germany where he studied and published and became friends with Jewish theologian- philosopher Martin Buber. In 1938, Jews with Polish citizenship were arrested and immediately deported. Heschel was one of them, and spent three days standing in a cramped train car taking him back to Poland. … Heschel made great efforts to flee Europe. On the basis of his publications and his reputation, he was able to obtain an entry visa for the United States. In 1939, he left … for England, and traveled from there to America; his mother and three sisters remained in Poland. His sister Esther was killed on the day the Nazis invaded Poland. His sister Dvora was sent to Auschwitz, where she was killed on the day she arrived. His mother and his sister Gittel were killed at Treblinka. (http://israelseen.com/2012/02/05/change- of-heart-abraham-joshua-heschel/)

Somehow Heschel was able to use his own experience of terrible oppression to act on behalf of others. He contributed ideas and his presence on behalf of blacks; carried on deep conversations with Dr. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights and with those who marched for Peace during the war in Vietnam. In one of the most famous photos from the Selma Marches he can be seen his white beard flowing walking arm in arm in the front line along with Dr. King and others -

The message of the Jewish Passover seder is one of freedom and liberation for all - and not only physical freedom but the freedom of thought and ideas.

The Seder with its symbols of spring and the story of the Jewish exodus are symbols that remind us all of the promise of springtime and the return of earth’s fertility; of joy and peace and the celebration and wonder that is life itself.

These words of Heschel remind me of those of Pete Seeger that I shared with you last week: Heschel said, “ People of our time are losing the power of celebration. Instead of celebrating we seek to be amused or entertained.. To be entertained is a passive state--it is to receive pleasure afforded by an amusing act or a spectacle.... Celebration is an active state, an act of expressing reverence or appreciation..; Celebration is a confrontation, giving attention to the transcendent meaning of one's actions. Source: The Wisdom of Heschel” Abraham Joshua Heschel

We close with these words from the Rev John Buehrens …At Passover, the oldest story of all is told— again about expectations overturned. “It would have been enough [Dayenu],” we sing around the Seder table, if the children of Israel had simply been freed from Egyptian bondage— but to be given the Torah, and then led into the land of promise (is much, much more than enough!) And he continues… A favorite midrash on the Passover story says that when Moses asked the Red Sea to part, at first nothing happened; the sea only parted when one of the Hebrews had faith enough to defy expectations and actually enter the water! BUEHRENS, John; Church, Forrest (1998-06-01). A Chosen Faith: An Introduction to Unitarian Universalism (pp. 137- 138). Beacon Press.

And I wish to include as well these wise words by Physician Rachel Naomi Remen, The choice people have to make is never between slavery and freedom. We will always have to choose between slavery and the unknown. Rachel Naomi Remen Source: My Grandfather's Blessings


Gifts of the Irish
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, February 1, 2015

Somewhere I remember hearing the phrase: “By their myths shall ye know them.” Perhaps there is great wisdom in seeking to better understand the myths that become central to our religious and cultural heritage. So where do our myths originate and what is myth, what is art, what is history and what is mystery?

When I was a kid we were told, “On St. Patrick’s Day you wear green if you’re Irish” Which I knew I wasn’t. In fact the only Irish people I knew were my parents’ friends John and Bridie O’Neil.

My own family heritage was primarily German and even though two of my grandparents had grown up speaking German, after 2 World Wars against Germany we had lost most of the German and were very much American. So I only felt the full impact of the Irish holiday when I moved to Massachusetts where in the Boston area St Patrick’s Day is a really big deal; with huge celebrations; Irish soda bread in the bakeries, corned beef and cabbage on the menu and a big parade with bands and free flowing beer (only some of which is green!.

And I think that was where I first heard that “Saint Paddies’ is the one day each year when everyone is Irish! ”

Well now I like that -- it seems so much more welcoming and egalitarian than the old “wear green if you’re Irish.” And if that was due to Saint Patrick’s influence and the fact that “the Irish

Saved Western Civilization” it would probably be enough to motivate us to all feel free to enjoy the celebrations of Saint Patrick’s Day and the gifts of the Irish.

But I believe the story of the Irish experience actually provides us with much more; with historic examples from which we might learn something about ourselves.

On Dec. 28, 2007, Thomas Cahill, historian and best-selling writer of a series of books he called, “The Hinges of History” spoke with Bill Moyers,

I don't think that real civilization ever occurs because of anything that a nation state does. It occurs because of movements within the nation state that are led by sometimes one individual or a series of individuals. …

…What I'm really interested in is what makes for civilization and what does not. So, … the series (of books) asks the question, how did we become the people that we are? And why do we think the way we do and feel the way we do and perceive the way we do? But underneath that, what I'm really interested in, is what's good about us. What do we do that's good?

I started with HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION …And it.. was about this guy named Patrick who had been a Roman citizen on the Island of Britain who was kidnapped at the age of 16 and taken to Ireland and made into a slave for six years after which he escaped and returned to his studies in England and to the centers of civilization.

Then … (at about age 47 or so) he returned to Ireland which was a rough, rough place, not a place anybody would willingly return to. And he became the evangelist of the Irish. And … he spent the last 30 years of his life in Ireland-- among these very crazy people who practiced human sacrifice, who had no problem with slavery in its most awful form, who believed in really dark gods. This was quite a group to …-- decide to spend your life with willingly.

.. he also realized that …he was never going to make them Romans or Athenians, … And so he taught them to read and write from (stories about the) … lives of the martyrs. It was the early Roman martyrs. … all the terrible things that the Romans had done to the early Christians, you know. They were eaten by lions. They had their eyes plucked out. They had-- you know, they were slowly eviscerated. …

The Irish loved these stories. … the Irish just sort of rolled over and accepted (Christianity )it and said, "Yeah, well this really … makes more sense than what we were doing."

…But what Patrick also did in teaching (The Irish ) …to read and write was they ended up setting themselves the task in the sixth, seventh and eighth century of copying out all of western literature, the whole of the western library which was in danger of extinction at that time because the Germanic barbarians had invaded (and utterly devastated) the Roman Empire and within a century almost no one (in all of Europe, not even King Charlemagne ) could read or write. Literacy itself was gone.

In “How the Irish Saved Civilization,” Cahill explains that

…The greatness of (Saint) Patrick is beyond dispute: ( he was )the first human being in the history of the world to speak out unequivocally against slavery.

…Patrick prayed, made peace with God, and then looked not only into his own heart but into the hearts of others. What he saw convinced him of the bright side— that even slave traders can turn into liberators, even murderers can act as peacemakers, even barbarians can take their places among the nobility of heaven.

… Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination— making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish. No longer would baptismal water be the only effective sign of a new life in God. New life was everywhere in rank abundance, and all of God’s creation was good.

For Patrick, … all the world was the work of his Creator -God. Of the many legends surrounding Patrick, few can be authenticated. He did not chase the snakes out of Ireland. There is no way of knowing whether he used the shamrock to explain the Trinity.

Even Patrick’s great prayer in Irish …is … the first ringing assertion that the universe itself is the Great Sacrament, magically designed by its loving creator. (2010-04-20). How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History Book 1)Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group (Kindle Locations 1457-1471

Well I think that version of Irish Catholicism would seem to speak to us as UU’s !

And after Patrick the Irish monks continued their work copying and illuminating the great works of the ancients and from their isolated rocky outpost they spread the gospel. And so during the dark centuries the Irish monks mission was to spread literacy and their gentle pantheistic version of Catholicism far and wide. They taught and they crafted and created the magnificent beauty of the Irish Book of Kells and the many other codex they copied and illuminated. The monks spread their Christian good news and literacy as they spread out across Europe while the Byzantine Church hunkered down behind their walled cities in the east.

The many wonderful extant illuminated manuscripts that somehow still survive are evidence from those several hundred years that it was Ireland’s gentle Christian monks who kept literacy alive by spreading their light and influence next door to England and beyond. It was the Irish who established Christian outposts across the European continent that saved literacy for much of western Civilization

And then, like the Romans who had been over come by the Vandals, Ireland became a sitting duck for the Vikings. - The island’s rural landscape and open minded humanistic version of Christianity made them savory targets. In the 8th century monks in their rural monasteries and people on their scattered farms - even those on isolated island like Iona were no match for the fierce Nordic onslaught.

However even though Ireland was sacked, its few riches and artworks carried off and its castles and churches destroyed, the influence of the Irish had already contributed to and changed cultures way beyond her rocky sea cliffs.

By the 10th century only the unique and indomitable character of Irish people remained; hunkered down in the mountains and fields and moors they loved. Then in the 12th century the Normans invaded, and “In the sixteenth century, the colonizing Elizabethans” began a genocide, and even “cut down the Irish forests to get at the impenitent dispossessed, (Irish) who harried them guerrilla-style” …(and) “In the seventeenth century, the Calvinist Cromwellians …” Protestant rebellion again nearly wiped out the native Catholic people.

In 1798 the Irish, inspired by the success of the revolutions in America and France rose up themselves against their English overlords only to again be trounced heartily and annexed as part of the United Kingdom. The English king abolished Dublin’s 500 year old Independent Irish Parliament. “ Penal Laws stripped Irish Catholics of their rights. The Catholic Church was outlawed. The Gaelic language was banned. Export trade was forbidden as Irish commerce and industry were deliberately destroyed. The laws were intended to degrade the Irish so severely that they would never again be in a position to seriously threaten Protestant rule. In 1600, Protestants had owned just 10 percent of Ireland's land. By 1778, Protestants owned 95 percent of the land. ww.historyplace.com/worldhistory/famine/before.htm

Still it was the 19th century’s terrible potato famine “The Great Hunger” which at the last nearly destroyed Ireland.

The Viking invasion and the subsequent invaders and the British determination to drive out any hopes of Irish return to independence had left the Irish people landless, powerless and impoverished.

The French sociologist, Gustave de Beaumont, visited Ireland in 1835 and wrote: "I have seen the Indian in his forests, and the Negro in his chains, and thought, as I contemplated their pitiable condition, that I saw the very extreme of human wretchedness; but I did not then know the condition of unfortunate Ireland...In all countries, more or less, paupers may be discovered; but an entire nation of paupers is what was never seen until it was shown in Ireland." ww.historyplace.com/worldhistory/famine/before.htm

So by the early 19th century the Irish, as a result of the wars and the efforts of the English, were desperately poor. The Irish population had exploded to over 8 million people (the population of Ireland in 2013 was just under 5 million!) who still lived in rural areas in small huts and cottages on rented land confiscated by the English overlords and they relied almost exclusively on the potato as the mainstay of their diet.

Brought to the old world in the 16th century from the Andes in South America, the potato, a relative of the nightshade family had become accepted slowly throughout Europe but was readily adopted by the Irish where their cool moist climate and fertile soil proved ideal. Potatoes, rich in carbohydrates and vitamin C were able with a bit of cream or butter to provide a balanced diet and were more easily grown and a more nutritious and reliable crop than the grains common throughout Europe and England.

And since the invasion of Henry VIII whose soldiers and laws had made owning land all but impossible for the native Irish, the landless poor had subsisted almost entirely upon their potato crop. Planted in March and harvested in September harvested potatoes could be stored for most of the year. The months of summer were the hardest while families waited for the new crops to ripen.

And then in the summer of 1845 a the spores of a potato blight arrived, probably imported by ships from Mexico, it’s spores invaded the healthy and flourishing green potato fields of Ireland and all of Europe. Within days “the blight” caused the potato plants to wilt and stink; the potatoes to get black spots soften and turn black with watery rot. Eating infected potatoes caused people and animals to sicken and even to die. Within weeks nearly ¾ of the single crop that for generations had been relied upon to feed people all year long had rotted in the fields.

The Immigration Timeline published by the Ellis Island Foundation reports that ,

Although many new immigrants came in pursuit of a dream, nearly all the Irish immigrants from the 1840's and 1850's came to escape a nightmare - a devastating famine back home. As one immigrant recalled, "I saw the crop. I smelt the fearful stench…the death sign of each field of potatoes…the luxuriant stalks soon withered, the leaves decayed…" The Great Hunger would leave 1.5 million dead, and just as many would flee to America. Ireland would lose one quarter of its population.

One of the resources I explored explained that would be as if the populations of California, Michigan, Illinois and New York were to simply disappear from the US.

I believe we might learn from what happened both in Ireland and by what happened to the Irish people. No one could have imagined that a luxuriant and healthful crop like that of the Irish Potato could have been utterly destroyed in a just a few months, but that was exactly what happened. The Irish had become almost totally reliant upon a single crop and that crop as it turned out was highly vulnerable to a swiftly moving dreadful blight. And though it is now controlled by contemporary fungicides, the blight - the same spores that destroyed the Irish crops in the 1840’s exists today in Irish and American and Mexican and European potato fields.

But Ireland’s loss also provided an incredible boom to the rest of the world and most particularly to the United States. A few Irish had, like so many other English and Europeans, always been ready for adventures to America and west, but it was in the middle of the nineteenth century that waves of Irish immigrants began to flood American and Canadian port cities. Called “coffin ships” the immigrant ships’ human cargo was often so weakened by starvation and disease that many a corpse was buried at sea on the way to the new world.

But the Irish continued to come and to fill up the tenements and slums of New York and Boston and Philadelphia. The Irish took whatever work there was and in the industrial revolution there was labor to be done. Irishmen soon were the primary labor on the Erie canal and later it was the Irish who built the railroad and settled in out of the way places like Butte Montana to work the copper mines. Irish women became the factory workers, the mill girls, the washer women, and the nation’s ooks and maids.

And so another gift of the Irish has been the enormous offering of hardworking smart, talented and feisty humanity - the gifts provided by their people to this society. Senator Ted Kennedy said that both his parents were the children of Irish immigrants forced to abandon their homes during the Great Hunger. The list of influential Irish Americans is long and filled with singers and writers, performers politicians and pundits. Used to the harsh treatment of English overlords it was the Irish who often formed and supported American labor unions and were willing to run for political posts to assure themselves of fair treatment.

We began our discussion of the Gifts of the Irish with Thomas Cahill’s statement that his interest is in discovering how we become the people that we are? And why do we think the way we do and feel the way we do and perceive the way we do? But underneath that, what I'm really interested in, is what's good about us. What do we do that's good? And I propose that much of the good we seek originated with the Irish Saint Patrick and the culture his mission to that forlorn Island helped to create; that culture that through the centuries has influenced so much of what we deem to be good and worthwhile! And so on Tuesday I propose that we join heartily in celebrating Saint

Patrick’s Day because in our hearts maybe we all are a bit Irish.

Let us close our time together with these words form Thomas Cahill:

Perhaps history is always divided into Romans and Catholics— or, better, catholics. The Romans are the rich and powerful who run things their way and must always accrue more because they instinctively believe that there will never be enough to go around; the catholics, as their name implies , are universalists who instinctively believe that all humanity makes one family, that every human being is an equal child of God, and that God will provide.

The twenty-first century , …, will be spiritual or it will not be. If our civilization is to be saved— forget about our civilization , which, as Patrick would say, may pass “in a moment like a cloud or smoke that is scattered by the wind”— if we are to be saved, it will not be by Romans but by (regular human beings ) who are saints Cahill, Thomas (2010-04-20). How the Irish Saved Civilization (Hinges of History Book 1) (Kindle Locations 2789-2794). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


Awakening With Punxsutawney Phil
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, February 1, 2015

“When I was just a little girl I asked my mother what will I be, will I be pretty will I be rich, Here’s what she said to me… Que Sera sera, whatever will be will be, the future’s not ours to see. Que sera, sera.”

It is normal for all of us to be curious - to wonder about all kinds of things; I find that I sometimes crane my neck just to read the print on a billboard or the logo of a passing truck. I like knowing what is happening. When I see emergency lights on a corner I want to know what is going on.

To be curious, to wonder what is ahead; what will happen next would seem to be natural. We want to be able to know what is coming next. We want to be ready, to be prepared. We desire some means of controlling our lives by anticipating the future. Perhaps this curiosity is what made our ancient ancestors so adaptable - they, we humans have been particularly able to adapt to the environment and food supplies our human ancestors must have encountered as they migrated from their original homes in equatorial Africa to lands in the northern hemisphere; to areas where each year months of dark and ice, cold and snow made simply surviving the seasons an incredible challenge.

And that tremendous desire to anticipate the future; to know and control whatever comes next, continues to dominate much of our human behavior. Believe me that are more than a few people today whose curiosity extends into attempting to predict the future! In fact I expect that quite a few people will be this very day hoping that their hunches or calculations are correct, folks who have bet money on the outcome of the Super Bowl. And there are certainly ad buyers and advertising creators who have invested fortunes hoping that their 30 seconds will catch the eyes and ears of the nation. Restaurateurs, grocers and bar owners are gambling that their freezers filled with chicken wings and “Lil‘ Smokies” will out sell pizza!

However, even in this era when we are surrounded by access to more information than we can possibly absorb, no one can accurately predict the future-otherwise casinos would go broke and new age fortune tellers would scoff up all the lottery winnings. Still we may sometimes wish we could have a reliable way of foretelling our future and the futures of those we love!

So on Monday when someone - or maybe many; weather people, the Good Morning America crowd, some of our Facebook friends remind us that Feb. 2. is “Groundhog Day” we may simply smile. On Monday we will hear whether Punxsutawney Phil (or any of the several other regional versions of a named and monitored hibernating rodent--Did you know Texas has an armadillo predict the weather?) is pulled from his burrow and placed in whatever natural light is available so that everyone can tell if he can see his shadow, what kind of weather we will face for the next six weeks.

One verse celebrating the Rodent’s future-telling mythology says :.

If Candlemas day be fair and bright, Winter will have another flight. If Candlemas day be shower and rain, Winter is gone and will not come again. (Traditional)

other words if the ground hog sees his shadow the region is in for six more weeks of winter but if the light is foggy or hazy, rainy, and overcast so that there is no cast shadow then spring is right around the corner. Of course the reality is that spring will probably arrive just about on schedule!

You note the verse calls the February 2nd date “Candlemas.” Actually Candlemas is the name of a Christian festival; the blessing of newly made candles used during the Catholic Church Year ’s many rituals and celebrations. Some historical sources suggest this was added to the church calendar to “Christianize” the already very popular and important Feb. 2 Celtic celebration of Imbolc.

Yet another suggestion is that the Christian church adapted a requirement from ancient Jewish law that declared that after the birth of a child a woman was unclean and required to stay away from the temple until 40 days had passed. And… 40 days after Christmas falls on - you guessed it - February 2.

Just how pagan celebrations like the one on February 2 that originally honored the Celtic goddess Brighid evolved to become the Irish Catholic Feast of St. Brigid held on the same date is not clear. But we know that adapting the Christian calendar to absorb pagan rites was very common.

And many ancient cultures did mark February 2 as an important time. The Romans held the Lupercalia celebration on or around this date to honor the twin founders of their city Romulus and Remus. In Egypt this date falling halfway between the Winter Solstice and the vernal equinox was dedicated to the Goddess Nut.

I find the many Feb 2 traditions with their combining and layering mythologies very confusing in comparison to the simplicity of our contemporary American “Groundhog Day” however would appear that there are two things all those differing holidays share with old Phil; things the old pagan celebrations and we all seem to have in common.

It would seem that the English, the German, the Roman and the Irish - even the Christian adaptations, all celebrate this season as one that rejoices at the lengthening day; the growing of the light. In fact, by the 2nd of February it is obvious even to we who live blessed with electricity and central heating, that the hours of daylight are extending. We can even tell here in Idaho that the darkness is giving way.

And even more important, this date signals the beginning of the great mystery and power of the awakening of life. Even though winter will still linger for some weeks, now sunlight begins to find its way to signal the great awakening of life. With the melting of ice and snow sunlight signals deep into the soil teasing seeds to swell; beckoning roots to spread downward to grasp and absorb minerals. Stirring shoots to begin to unfurl through the dirt and gravel and soil and decay-- though perhaps for weeks still unseen, roots and shoots and fronds begin reaching ever so slowly but steadily toward the life-giving sunlight and air. February 2 is the ancient holiday marking nature’s signal that it is the time for Earth to begin again to live - Feb 2, Imbolc, Groundhog Day, St Bridget’s Day, and Candlemas are all celebrations of that signal for Earth to awaken.

So Old Phil is what remains of an early American adaptation of ancient pagan practices where people watched the behavior of European hedgehogs - small non-rodents who like the groundhog hibernate during the coldest part of the winter watched their behavior for signals that winter was passing.

Feb. 2 is the pagan and Celtic cross -quarter holiday marking the halfway point between the winter Solstice and the Vernal Equinox - just looking at the number of days -- we should be exactly halfway through winter (Want to join me in cheering?)

“Whoopie” we say - winter’s half over and we think about getting outside for bicycling or hiking or gardening any number of the things we can enjoy once the weather begins to warm. However we often forget just how differently we live than our ancestors might have lived , only two or three hundred years ago. Then half way through the winter needed to be attended to. Then people knew they would still need food and fuel to make it all the way through to when they could grow or forage for more.

And food meant not only dried, salted and pickled -or somehow otherwise stored human foodstuffs but hay and grain for the animals they hoped would survive to bear their young when spring arrived.

So February 2 was an important marker day and day that could signal that things were going to be OK, or a realization that the weeks ahead would certainly be a time of deprivation maybe even starvation”

And living as we do lives so disconnected from the earth, perhaps we might come to realize that this ability to predict and celebrate the end of winter is more than just a tweaking of some great cosmic thermostat. This is a sacred moment in time, for when cold weather begins to warm - it is the signal for the reawakening of the earth - an awakening that makes all the difference - for all life depends on this awakening! All creatures depend on life’s impulse to germinate, on the end of hibernation, and gestation and on this mysterious force calling life forth again toward the springtime of growth and birth - without this awakening impulse life would soon disappear.

Interestingly that same tern “to awaken” is the one that signals the incredible opening of the life of the spirit - whether it is in the language of the Christian mystic, the Buddhist monk, or the contemporary new age agnostic. Awakening signals more than just a following of what we already know and think. To “awaken” is to see and feel and understand things differently; to see that in the words of Marcel Proust, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”

“You’ve heard the parable of the grandfather walking on the beach with his grandson after a storm. (I am sure I have told it here before) Countless starfish had been washed high up onto the sand, and then were stranded there when the water receded. The boy was dismayed that the starfish would all die so far from the water, but the grandfather looked at the sheer number of starfish and said, “There are too many, there’s nothing we can do to make a difference.”

At this the child gently picked up and carried one starfish back to the sea. “It made a difference to THAT one.”

In my imagination, the story continues... As the grandfather is moved by the love of his grandson for the starfish, he reaches out and collects a few more starfish and carries them to the water. Observing this scene, more people pitch in to help, and before long, people up and down the beach are rescuing starfish and returning them to the sea. This continues until the last starfish has been saved...

The boy learns that one act of kindness has great power, and that love multiplied can accomplish the impossible.

This retelling of that still moving story comes from a blogger called Voice 13 found at www.crazyemailsandbackstories

Awakening - coming to our senses is a spiritual response to our recognition that we too are directly affected by every thing in this wonderful mysterious universe - by the awakening of the Earth that is happening this Groundhog Day. All we need do is to step back and welcome seeing the world with new eyes - freshly becoming “Awakened” is what the Buddha described when he found enlightenment; in fact the very title “Buddha” means just that, “awakened one.”

And the truth that the Buddha and others describe is the reality that we are not separate from this incredible Earth - we are part of the interconnected web of all being. We do not stand on the sidelines and observe the world like spectators at the game of living. We all participate -- we have found the enemy - or the savior and my friends it - is us.

Imbolc - Groundhog day can be a reminder that though here in our small city situated on these fertile high plains along the beautiful Snake River, we are comfy and safe in our UU community and we are also affected by the challenges affecting all life on this precious planet.

Perhaps even though we cannot see directly into the future - we can detect the shadow and the shadow we see tells us that time is growing short; that it is time we wake up! As individuals and collectively, perhaps now is the time for us to experience a personal awakening - perhaps now is the time to pause - to ponder, to realize our own place in the great family of all life-- to see the world with new eyes.

Jon Kabat Zinn Buddhist teacher declares:

“What is at stake, finally, is none other than our very hearts , our very humanity, our species, and our world. What is available to us is the full spectrum of who and what we are. What is required is nothing special, simply that we start paying attention and wake up to things as they are. All else will follow. Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2013-02-05). Arriving at Your Own Door: 108 Lessons in Mindfulness (p. 134).


Mystery, Mystery, Life is A Riddle and A Mystery
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, January 12, 2015

The Reverend. Fred Muir shares this story from the Rabbi Lawrence Kushner:

"Jewish tradition says that the splitting of the Red Sea was the greatest miracle ever performed. It was so extraordinary that on that day even a common servant beheld more than all the miracles beheld by Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel combined. And yet … one midrash (midrash is a kind of traditional commentary on Jewish scripture and history ) anyway one midrash mentions two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who had a different experience.

"Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry (It was) … a little muddy, like a beach at low tide. Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip. ˜What is this muck?™

"Shimon scowled, ˜There’s mud all over the place!™

"˜This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!™ replied Reuven.

"What’s the difference!™ complained Shimon. “Mud here, mud (back in Egpyt) …: It’s all the same.” (It’s still mud)

"And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea. And because they never once looked up, they never understood why on the distant shore everyone else was singing songs of praise. For Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened. For Reuven and Shimon, they simply couldn’t get past the muck on their feet.

And this early January morning my question is… are you - are we sometimes so busy slogging though the muck of our day to day lives that we forget what an incredibly beautiful thing it is to be breathing? Do we even notice that with each breath we breathe our surprisingly clear air Idaho Falls air?! Do we forget what a blessing it is to turn a faucet and have fresh clear water - cold and hot - the wonderful luxury of shower and tub? What it means to simply be? To be living - to be alive here and now on this magnificent planet. Do we sometimes forget our good fortune in being alive and in being the unique and wonderful individuals we are -

Do we get so tangled up in the muddiness of our day -to day lives that we forget? - Do we sometimes forget where we have come from? Do we forget the unique miracle that is each and every one of us? Do we get so caught up in planning and setting goals that we forget that the important thing might not be our destination - not where we are going but how much we pay attention to every moment of the journey and that we are going together!

Well, one thing is sure -- we are NOT supposed to be here! One of the more popular recent books on Religion, is titled Why Nobody Wants to Go to Church Anymore. It explains that an ever-increasing number of folks - particularly under 60 identify as “nones” people who reject religion entirely. But that certainly does not describe us. We are here - many of us every week. We feel this is where we belong - our Sunday connections- our time in worship raises up the images and ideas that help us cope with and celebrate our living.

And others tell me that they wished they could break free more regularly from the mud in their lives, because when they do make it to worship--When they make it to services on Sunday it just seems like their week - somehow feels better - that they feel more integrated - more satisfied and centered in their lives! So what is going on here? What are we?

Well for all of 2014 we were celebrating the fact that our UU congregation - has been here for 60 years - this is the start of our 61.st And we have never once threatened anyone with hellfire for any reason at all or bludgeoned people to agree on their theology. We don’t have any magical formula for increasing our prosperity. That’s not what folks get here.

What has been happening inside these old mortuary walls is a lot more humble - we don’t promise much, except that we are working here to become the kind of people we would want to be. We are trying to walk together in care and honesty and curiosity and companionship. We are working to become the kind of people we would want to belong with and associate with and want our children to associate with - open-minded, welcoming, kind compassionate, and reverent and reasonable - people who are able to laugh and question and disagree and sing and dance and to invest themselves in becoming a beloved community.

And for 60 years, sometimes with greater and sometimes with lesser success, that is what this little Unitarian Universalist congregation has been up to. We are part of perhaps the nation’s most socially and theologically liberal movement.

Plonked down in this very politically and religiously conservative place - a place where some are convinced they alone already have all answers and are ready to close the doors on any who are not just like themselves, we are still opening doors and asking more and more questions, still learning from the wisdom of many sources, still open to change and learning from listening to one another. We are still here -a community sometimes making mistakes and falling and failing and then picking up and moving on.

And I suggest that we are here in part because we are not content to simply focus on the mud of our daily living. I suggest that you and I are aware that it sometimes would be easy to be like Shimon and Reuven --and easy to become so worried about the mud of everyday that we forget to look up; easy to neglect to recognize the wonders that surround us.

I suggest that together here we are fully aware of the limitations and struggles - the tedium and the tensions and fears that we each face. We are aware of the threats to our peace and security, and the future, but that we also know that the miraculous process of living is worth looking up and paying attention to the joys of the journey anyway.

I suggest that we are here because -- in spite of the mud and muck below our feet - we are willing to keep asking - and to keep changing and transforming as we go.

I propose that we are here at the start of the year 2015 because each one of us knows that living is less a place and more a process; a process of figuring out who we are and who we want to become and where we might fit in this incredible experience of living that we share- that maybe we understand life as a riddle and a mystery”

Our Unitarian -and our Universalist roots go way back -- way early in the history of Christianity there were always those who emphasized not the deity but the revolutionary teachings credited to the man the Gospels call “Jesus,” that simple very charismatic Jewish teacher who emphasized love and compassion, and rejected blind obedience Jesus, the teacher who declared that the most important thing is to love your neighbor and to forgive your enemies.

And If you scratch the surface of all our nation’s history you will find Unitarians and Universalists struggling for freedom and for social justice; find them among those who signed the declaration and who drafted the Bill of Rights, the abolitionists, those who struggled so mightily for women’s suffrage, for civil rights, for LGBT equality; people in the vanguard of the peace movements, in the present day work for climate and immigration justice. ---We UU’s have the very deepest and richest of institutional histories; we celebrate our successes and keep learning from our failures.

And here we are. Each of us is beginning a new year and as a congregation we are together in beginning a new decade!

And as pretty smart people we realize that we don’t have all the answers - we know that our world is - that we are --struggling with anxiety and disappointment and pain and loss- that we are always walking on the same old mud and slime.

We know that in site of all of our science and study and civilization we still have not conquered pain and illness and conflict - we still often forget to pay attention. Life is still a riddle and a mystery” -- So who are we? Where did we all come from? And where in the world are we going? “

I was talking with Vic Allen our wonderful office administrator, a very interesting fellow and stellar UU and someone whom many of you may never have met because he is usually working at his other job on Sundays.

Anyway, I was remembering back to the anxiety surrounding society’s transition into the 21st century. I was remembering that I had been working in my studio listening to the radio as the New Year millennium the year 2001 dawned in New Zeeland, Australia and all across the Indian Ocean and China. I was expressing absolute astonishment that it is now 15 years later - and then I grew quiet remembering what a difference these past 15 years have made in my life, in the life of the nation, in the life of the world. I realized that I - we - could not possibly have imagined how very different everything would become…. But that is what each New Year each new day brings is it not -- difference, change, transformation, sometimes simply turning a page on a calendar makes all the difference!

And it is a fear of that difference that sometimes paralyzes us --- keeps us from venturing forth - from doing the very things we dream of doing or of letting ourselves wonder about. It is the fear of birthing and rebirthing ourselves that keeps so many of us from making commitments that might shape our selves anew, of making choices that might transform us from that place where our shape and form are trapped to - a richer life. The recent Church of the larger Fellowship Qwest publication reminded me that poet Mark Nepo suggests that “When in the midst of great change, it is helpful to remember how a chick is born. From the view of the chick, it is a terrifying struggle. Confined and curled in a dark shell, half-formed, the chick eats all its food and stretches to the contours of its shell. It begins to feel hungry and cramped. Eventually, the chick begins to starve and feels suffocated by the ever-shrinking space of its world. Finally, its own growth begins to crack the shell, and the world as the chick knows it is coming to an end. Its sky is falling. As the chick wriggles through the cracks, it begins to eat its shell. In that moment— growing but fragile, starving and cramped, its world breaking— the chick must feel like it is dying. Yet once everything it has relied on falls away, the chick is born. It doesn't die, but falls (tumbles) into the world. The lesson is profound. Transformation always involves the falling away of things we have relied on, and we are left with a feeling that the world as we know it is coming to an end, because it is.

Yet the chick offers us the wisdom that the way to be born while still alive is to eat our own shell . When faced with great change —in self, in relationship, in our sense of calling— we somehow must take in all that has enclosed us, nurtured us, incubated us, so when the new life is upon us, the old is within us. (Nepo, Mark (2011-10-01). The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have Kindle Edition.)

And what about a congregation like ours? Are we like that too? Here on the cusp of our seventh decade we are doing great and we are discovering that our shell might be beginning to feel a little tight! Yes - we are having more and more conversations with people who say --“ I never knew you were here? I’m telling my friends “ -- People this terrific little church --- this beloved community just might be about to peck through the shell that has been keeping us safe but that may mean that we will be feeling pretty vulnerable while we figure out who we are becoming!

Of course that does not mean we should stay locked in our tiny shell. Heavens no - if a chick did not dare to peck herself free - she would -- well, we know what would happen.

But sometimes the fear of loss can prevent us from moving in any direction at all.

I am reminded of the story of the merchant who was very fortunate in his buying and selling and once made quite a lot of profit and so he went to the exchange and came away with a single bar of gold. It represented his good fortune and afraid that it might be stolen or lost he went at night into his garden and near the well he dug a hole and buried the gold bar.

But because he was worried about the gold bar’s safety every night he took his lamp into the garden and carefully monitored the spot where the gold was buried. He was so worried about the gold that he neglected his business and he stopped chatting with his friends. He became a bit of a miser and a recluse.

One day a clever thief came to town.. He noticed that each night the merchant took a lantern into his garden and that for many minutes the merchant sat beside the well. And so one night after the merchant had finally gone to bed the thief dug beside the well and stole the gold bar.

Oh my, the merchant was devastated--inconsolable. In his sadness and desperation he finally told his neighbor what had happened. “Well, “said the neighbor “Now I think you should bury a rock in the hole. “

“A rock? Why should I bury a stupid rock?” Mourned the merchant.”

“Well for all the good your gold ever did for you or anyone, it might as well have been a plain old rock.” Said the neighbor.

Like the chick we need to be courageous enough to crack our shells to move beyond the safety of what we may be afraid to leave behind. This is the year 2015 and each day we are each investing ourselves in what we do -- we are investing our time and our courage and our lives- and we have the choice to get mired in the muck and mud - to worry about what we might lose or the opportunity with courage and compassion and good sense to recognize the miracle we are living everyday. We can make the changes that will support our transformations and our lives!

May we enter this day and this year and this decade remembering the words of Unitarian thinker Ralph Waldo Emerson. “What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us “


Love Reaches Out . . . Then What?
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, July 20, 2014

I guess you might have noticed that I am wearing my "Standing on the Side of Love" shirt this morning -- I decided to do this after I heard that the Rev. Meg Riley of the Church of the Larger Fellowship, our UU church for people who do not have a congregation nearby -- originally it was a church by mail and now it is largely a UU congregation that gets together online. Well Meg Riley calls her Yellow Shirt her "work shirt."

When I heard that I thought, "She's right. Much as I really don't like this school bus yellow - this shirt really is my work shirt too." And I decided to wear this here today because -- well, after all, when I am here, I am ---- at work!

The last time I wore this shirt I was at General Assembly -- It was Saturday, June 28 (the first evening of Ramadan by the way) and I was in Providence, Rhode Island with nearly 5000 Unitarian Universalist friends - other UU's from all over - and after our evening worship service we walked together through downtown Providence following our denomination's President the Rev. Peter Morales and other UU representatives. They carried a flaming torch to light the first of the pyres in the Providence River for that evening's "Water Fires" ceremony. And a great many of us many of us were wearing these bright Standing on the Side of Love?" --

Some people are pretty uncomfortable with that phrase -- that slogan "Standing on the Side of Love!" Love? So often "Love" is seen as a kind of wimpy-- a feminine term; it might be easier to wear the old nice blue shirts that say something like, "Plant Justice. Harvest Peace" --- after all that is a sentence that makes sense. What does a bright yellow shirt that says "Standing on the Side of Love" actually mean? And then there is that word "Love" -- in reality; Talking about "Love." Singing about "Love." Wearing a bright yellow shirt with "Love" on it all make some people pretty uncomfortable.

Just like some people were probably uncomfortable with the theme of this year's General Assembly - "Love Reaches Out."

Yes, indeed a good many people - maybe most of us even feel a little squirmy - uncomfortable talking about - using the word "love" - Love -- is - well both personal and ubiquitous -- I mean we all know that in our language that one word "love" can mean so many things - familial love for sisters and brthers, children, parents. Love can be used to describe devotion to our country or the way we feel about our favorite foods, our hobbies or our pets, and it can mean romantic love and we all know that when you make "love" it means "sex."

The word Love is used by advertisers all the time! Love is so often used and abused that sometimes "love" seems to almost have become -- well almost meaningless. After all some of us lived through the hippie era as part of the "love generation."

But, even thinking about nearly 5000 people attending a convention called "Love Reaches Out" with many of us wearing school bus yellow shirts that say "Standing on the Side of Love" -- well for some people this is just too -- too naive -too touchy feely -- too soft - too ?? too what?

Alex Kapitan, a director/ spokesperson for the UUA program "Standing on the Side of Love" had this to say, (from "Standing on the Side of Love" website)

" Love is the greatest justice cause of our time." And love is the greatest spiritual imperative of our time."

"Not all that long ago, my passion for a better world was fueled by anger. I was angry that injustice existed and I felt hatred for people who perpetuated it. And you know what? Acting from that place was toxic. It left me feeling empty and hopeless.

So I found another way-a path grounded in faith and paved with love. Now my passion for a better world is fueled by the flames of love. Love for all life. A desire for all beings to thrive. And it fills me with purpose and hope.

Love is what makes me a person of faith. When people meet me, I want them to feel that love and sense that I am someone different. That I am a "love person." That's my evangelism: inspiring people of all beliefs, backgrounds, and identities to join the cause of love, each in their own way.

I want to be clear: I'm talking about unconditional love

I don't have to like someone to love them. I don't have to see eye-to-eye with someone to wish the best for them. It is hard work to access compassionate, unconditional love for people I struggle with (and I don't always succeed!), but that's what makes it a spiritual practice.

If every single person believed in, as the great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., put it, (in) "projecting the ethic of love to the center of our lives," there could be no war. There could be no inequality. There could be no inhuman treatment. That's what makes love the greatest justice cause and the greatest spiritual imperative of our time."

And that my friends is why I am wearing my work shirt this morning-- because this "Standing on the Side of Love" is my work - our work and "love is the greatest justice cause and the greatest spiritual imperative of our time."

And a spirituality of "love" does not only sit quietly and seek safety -- a spirituality of love is present everywhere we go and whatever we do.

And whether we come here to seek spiritual nourishment in worship or sit in silence in our homes or our chapels or our temples or dojos, whether we walk on a beach or hike into the deep quiet of forest wilderness or climb our neighboring magnificent Grand - "Love" is still the greatest spiritual imperative of our time."

And love call us on - calls us this week to mourn the loss of so many lives in Ukraine, those who died as the result of a rocket hitting their commercial plane and those who suffer from horrific sectarian violence. Love calls us to mourn the deaths and violence in Gaza and Israel's West Bank.

Love calls us together to mourn the loss as we celebrate the lives of our dear congregation friends; Lloyd Pickett and John Long Senior. John Long an early member of this UU church died just this past week.

Love calls those of us who cook and serve the meal yesterday at the Soup Kitchen every third weekend and will do so again today.

Love called Dan Henry and those others who stood up for compassionate care for the many immigrant children who need Americans to champion them as they seek asylum here having fled violence and unspeakable fear and poverty .

I spent time just last week with my three little nephews in Indiana; Aiden, Joe and Eli like my own grandsons and all the children, the infants and teens we know and those we do not know personally deserve a decent world in which to live their lives. We are called to Stand on the Side of Love and help to provide safe future for them.

Alex Kapitan was right this kind of love is not wishy washy, not lightweight and not simply being angry. Facing this world requires a strongly rooted love. This kind of love requires deep commitment and dedication. I agree with Alex, "Love is the greatest justice cause and the greatest spiritual imperative of our time

In Thursday Morning's worship at General Assembly the Rev Meg Riley preached, and she said, (From UUA.org on line transcript)

Love reaches out. That's what we're here together to affirm this week. …

Love gives. Love offers itself. Love says "here, take more," when you try to mooch a little bit from the side secretly. Love generates more love the way spam email generates more spam email. The way eating one pistachio leads to eating another pistachio. Love always says more, more, more.

That's why we aspire to stand on the side of love. … to be the love people. … Abstractly, at least. Because we've all-- well I'll speak for myself. I've broken my vows a 1,000 times. Over and over I've let fear lead to control, lead to clutching. A grip so fierce that love couldn't break in with a crowbar. I've been afraid of how I'll look, who I'll hurt, what mistakes I will make, and who will simply roll their eyes, shake their head, and walk away.

Love reaches out, but too often in the privacy of our fear, we dodge and escape its reach. But what if we didn't? What difference would it make if we let love catch us? What would we do if we dared to believe in love's power to heal and to transform and to save? What if we believed that Unitarian Universalism could save us?

I will say something out loud that I'm often too shy to say. Unitarian Universalism saved me. It did, and it does, and it continues to save me every day. ..

We spend so much time focused on what's wrong, on our inadequacies. We are so hard on ourselves and each other. What if we dared to believe that as radically imperfect as we are in practicing this faith, despite the fact that every one of us lets ourselves and each other down, still, Unitarian Universalist faith endures, holds, offers new life, restores us. Helps us still, despite everything, despite ourselves, to know in our cells that we are not alone. Despite our radical imperfection, we are loved and we can love.

Unitarian Universalism transmitted through thousands of hands and faces, words and songs, saves me from persistent beliefs of inferiority that are deep inside me that I wrestle with daily because I am female, because I am lesbian, because I am big and loud and messy. Despite these poisonous beliefs of inferiority, love is deeper still.

Unitarian Universalism transmitted through thousands of hands and faces and words and songs saves me from persistent beliefs of superiority that are deep inside me that I wrestle with daily because I have enough money, because I am white, because I am American. Despite these poisonous beliefs of superiority, love is deeper still.

What would it mean to look at our world through the eyes of love? What if we could bear to keep looking, keep loving, even when it broke our hearts to do so? What if we knew, we trusted, that love endured?

That my friends is where we are this morning -- here in this affirming and open hearted open minded congregation we are here to celebrate the fact that we know we have the power to love, and we trust that we need love; that only love can dissolve hate!

Let Love reach out here in Idaho Falls as we do what needs doing - let us love those who need loving --- and that is everyone.

May we remember the words of the late Dr. Maya Angelou "Love is that condition in the human spirit so profound that it empowers us to develop courage; to trust that courage and build bridges with it; to trust those bridges and cross over them so we can attempt to reach each other."

Singing quietly, "Love is something if you give it away, give it away, give it away. Love is something if you give it away, you keep on getting more."


Pride or Prejudice
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, Feb. 2, 2014

So here we are - it’s another Sunday and we are the fortunate few in this entire region… the few who are part of an open-minded and open hearted “free” church-- If you are like me; we saw ourselves when we read together those words from the morning’s reading, “I Call that Church Free.” That was from the work of the late great 20th century Unitarian Universalist minister, theologian, and Harvard and Andover Newton Professor, James Luther Adams. Those words describe our faith in open minded and positive terms like the supporter statements I hear each morning on KISU. I am always pleased that so many people get to hear words something like…“This program is brought to you by generous donations on behalf of the Pocatello Unitarian Universalist Fellowship or the Unitarian Universalist Church in Idaho Falls a faith where all who trust science and reason and who are seekers of truth and justice are welcome regardless of gender, gender identity or sexual orientation race or ethnic background. I always thi nk we sound like the kind of place we are; open- minded and welcoming.

After all my years as UU I continue to feel so blessed to have found a religious home that welcomes my search for truth and meaning that I can hardly believe why everyone with a heart and a sense of justice would not want to be part of us.. I mean… well, our ideas and our acceptance of diversity and our welcoming of reason and science; those factors make us - not only exceptional but just so much better than just about any other religion -- you know? I mean the rest of them are so narrow minded - and they have so many require that everyone believe in God in the same way-- that when we are all sinners and need to confess .. and they make … and they have rules that separate people into categories ….and

And …in the dualistic thinking that has dominated western thought our feeling - knowing that our perspective is right and good must mean that everyone else is --- wrong!

Last Tuesday night for instance, Cathy McMorris Rogers, the woman who responded to the President’s State of the Union address had surely been chosen for her ability to represent and appeal to contemporary women. This was an important political policy speech event and she is a congresswoman. However, I thought she did not say anything substantive, instead, as she shared her story about her son Cole is who is challenged with Downs syndrome and repeated that believes that it is God and prayer that will lead the country through every crisis I felt she was anything but a representative of today’s women.

As a hard core feminist, a champion of human rights and equal rights for all; as a thinking religious liberal I bristled at the choices made to seat her lady-like in a patriotic living room setting and her consistent references to home and God and family. I thought those decisions were designed by conservative ideologues to offer a return to the fifties view of the proper role for women… And because of this I found myself dismissing the entire performance.

I confess that my response to her was that I am a left- going Zax heading in direct opposition to her right -going one. But the problem, my friends is that kind of thinking stops both of us as we remain pride-fully positioned nose to nose, each so entreanched that we are unwilling to yield or change while the world moves on.

Stubbornness and absolute conviction can be the dead end result of pride.

Karen, a young UU seminary student and an internet blogger, (“irrevspeckay,” May 31 2013) last May told this story about what happened while she was attending a lecture by a respected Muslim scholar. She wrote,

During the lecture, I was sitting next to another Unitarian Universalist. When Professor Michot spoke of one of Taymiyyah’s texts that supported an openness and dialogue across beliefs, that other UU whispered in my ear, “Oh! So he was UU!”

Seminarian Karen goes on to point out how easily we UU’s do that. We begin to believe that we have a corner on being open-minded. And it come off humorously. I remember once saying something like “As a Unitarian Universalist I am so open minded I cannot tolerate intolerance!”

But I understand that perhaps it is a human tendency; something certainly related to our cultural upbringing or possibly part of the very DNA. We have a natural tendency to create categories – to become tribal in our thinking - it seems to be a characteristic that allowed humans to survive long ago, but one that also separates us today and leads to distrust, fear, and into conflict.

I was interested in this piece in the BBC News Magazine early this January by John Gray who reminds us that, (BBC News Magazine Jan. 3, 2014)

The ability to form complex beliefs about the world has given us humans great power. It's become fashionable to ridicule religious people for their beliefs. But as an atheist myself, I must say I find the confident assertions of unbelievers more ridiculous than any religious myth. It seems to me hard to believe that God can deliver us from death, but at least that's acknowledged to be a miracle. Yet it's quite common these days to find people scoffing at religious ideas of the resurrection of the body while imagining they can become immortal by having a virtual version of themselves uploaded into cyberspace - to my mind a far more absurd idea. And he continues, At its best, religion can serve as an antidote against this kind of credulity. If you think human beings are incurably flawed, you'll be unlikely to fall for the latest panacea for human ills. You'll put your trust in something beyond the human world. This is faith, rightly understood - not belief in some creed or catechism, but trust in a higher power. In this sense, faith can be a remedy against the dangerous pride that has so often gone with belief.

The trouble is, the faithful may want to convert others. …much of history is composed of sections of humanity attempting to impose their own sense of the meaning of life on others. …Whether they are religious or political, evangelists seem to me to have been a blight on civilisation. For them as for those they persecute or bully, belief is an obstacle to a fulfilling life.

We all may have that human predisposition-- a tendency to simply believe that our way is best. This seems to be inherited as part of our human cultural and possibly even come though our biological heritage. Using our own value system we judge that our way of thinking, our way of living; everything from the way we organize our kitchen, raise our children, handle our finances, the sports we play, the foods we enjoy, as superior, better than … the ways or things others do or choose.

Most of us, constantly, if unconsciously, participate in this broad dualism -- and because we have this either-or mind set we also, when we hear something we agree with, we want to reach out to claim that as ours - maybe as ours first and then we begin to include and identify that other as part of our tribe or group too.

And that blogging seminarian Karen explored that tendency further in writing that,

Not only is it a kind of religious hegemony, it is a kind of spiritual manifest destiny, claiming particular thoughts, values, or beliefs as ours and ours alone, even if others have displayed them for centuries or millennia before the arrival of us latecomers. It plays into an already worrisome and long-standing dynamic of Unitarian Universalists falling for the myth of our own exceptionalism.

In his 2012 Berry Street essay, the Reverend Frederic Muir wrote

“One [barrier] is Unitarian Universalist exceptionalism. We hear the inflection of UU exceptionalism from the pulpit, in newcomers’ classes, from Sunday greeters, from those who are earnestly trying to explain our way of religion to the uninformed. We may experience Unitarian Universalism as unique and even saving, but it is not the only way. We must stay conscious of how we explain, defend, and share our perspective lest we come across as elitist, insulting, degrading, even humiliating of others.”

And it seems to me that this brings us right back home. I think this is a very real tendency right here in Idaho Falls in 2014.

Because here in this place as Unitarian Universalists surrounded by multi-nuanced array of forms of religious and cultural conservatives, we need to be thoughtful and even wary that our honest and appropriate pride; the pride we feel in our principles, in our history, our pride in our democratic process and our community does not expand to become, perhaps without our realizing it, full-blown prejudice.

Yes, prejudice. I know it sometimes happens to me - and it happens insidiously. Once I learn that someone is Catholic, or attends one of the Evangelical churches, or is LDS, or a gun owner, a motor cycle rider, an active Tea Party person, my tendency is to then also identify them as part of some category of which I am fearful; a category I tend to think of as “narrow minded.” And then it becomes easy for me to not listen carefully for their own personal story and their unique and nuanced understandings.

You see my friends it is oh so easy to slide from pride into prejudice -- It happened to me this past week --as perhaps it happens to many of us, now and again.

The committed, courageous and caring Pete Seeger died. His death is experienced as an incredible loss by many Americans who shared his passion for peace and justice, music and our beautiful imperiled Earth. Pete Seeger died and many Americans felt the need to mourn his passing. And in a conversation with non- UU’s I discovered that I automatically claimed Pete Seeger as UU. Only later when I was thinking about this morning’s message did I realize what a synchronicity this had been in relation to my comments this morning. As I realized how easily my pride in our open-minded faith slipped into that “us and them” thinking - I was reminded again of the words of the Reverend Doctor Fred Muir in his Berry Street lecture

We may experience Unitarian Universalism as unique and even saving, but it is not the only way. We must stay conscious of how we explain, defend, and share our perspective lest we come across as elitist, insulting, degrading, even humiliating of others.”

I may have come off as proud and elitist even narrow-minded when I blurted out “You know Pete Seeger was UU.” What does that matter anyway - he was a true hero of humanity?

Theologically, philosophically we humans face an interesting dilemma when we examine the relationship between pride and prejudice don’t we? The characteristics of pride are positive when we teach our children to have self-respect. It is important that we feel pride in our accomplishments, and pride in our community. The Greeks described pride as a virtue. Teens attend pep rallies that emphasize their school pride. The city of Idaho Falls wants us to feel proud of our community. Today the state of New Jersey is proud to host the Super Bowl and we hope Russia will be able to move beyond their worries about security and feel pride as Sochi hosts the Olympic games. Southeast Idahoans hope that young Rigby woman snowboarder will get a chance to beam with pride on the platform.

It was necessary in the 1960’s and remains so today for African Americans to counter racism and bigotry and the remnants of Jim Crow by emphasizing the many reasons they are proud to be black.

The LGBT community gathers to exuberantly celebrate PRIDE precisely because for many years in the eyes of a some people their identity; their very existence, was seen as a source of shame and condemnation.

Gay PRIDE like “Black pride” is a way that those minorities use to join together and show the world that they are fine- wonderful and wholly and beautifully part of the magnificent rich diversity of human life. Pride can be lifesaving and pride can reach out and teach and protect.

But the ancient Greeks knew too that “pride” can become a stumbling block. In the world of classic theatre misplaced pride - the kind of pride that is so certain we are right can become hubris - blind arrogance that defies reason and reality.

Our UU Pride - a legitimate and healthy recognition that we are working together to become a beloved community can, unless we are thoughtful, self reflective and willing to listen for the truth, and perspective of others, solidify into narrow minded-intolerance and prejudice. It is the wise person who recognizes that they too may need to pause and with a caring heart listen, focus more on the relationship and less on the ightness of their ideas.

I have never visited the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles but this was one woman’s experience ….

As a tour group forms in the lobby, they are invited into a waiting room that admits them into the museum. Our tour guide said to us, “Notice that there are two doors through which you may enter this museum. One is marked ‘prejudiced’ and the other is marked ‘unprejudiced.’ You may enter through whichever door represents you.” There was a long pause as people pondered what they should do, which door to choose. Finally, a man brave- ly stepped forward and turned the knob on the door marked “unprejudiced.” A few stepped forward to follow him, while the rest of us watched. He turned the knob, looked a little confused, and then turned red with embarrassment as he realized the door was locked. We could only enter the museum through the door marked “prejudiced.” —Sharon Jordan-Evans in “Love’em or Lose’em”

May we echo these words by the Reverend Scott Alexander:

I pray that in the days and years ahead we who call ourselves Unitarian Universalists will speak the generous, inclusive, affirming spirit of Universalism. Speak it with our lips as we answer those who live by mean and divisive little doctrines...and (even more challenging) speak it with our lives. …as in spirit of love my we listen and care and not let our pride harden into prejudice.


The Gifts of Grace
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, May 22, 2011

The story I told for the children earlier comes from the Hindu but is a familiar theme in many traditions. It reveals that grace can be a response to kindness, care and compassion. That is why we call the moments of gratitude we share before a meal “grace.” This tale comes from the Tao.

Once a man walking in a wilderness discovered that he was being stalked by a tiger — he tried to escape certain death by running as fast as he could only to find himself at the edge of a high steep cliff. With nowhere to turn he grabbed hold of a thick vine and climbed down out of the tiger’s reach. With the angry tiger growling above him the man held tight to the vine and looked down. Directly below him he discovered that another tiger stood growling at the bottom of the cliff. And just as he was considering that there was no way for the situation to get worse, the man noticed that two mice, a black one and a white one, had arrived and were beginning to gnaw on the vine which held him suspended in mid air. He reached out his hand in a futile attempt to scare away the mice and spied — a strawberry — a perfectly ripened succulently red strawberry. With one hand the man reached out, grasped the berry and slowly, and thoughtfully bit into its fragrant luscious sweet fruit. It was delicious.

We’re still here! For a couple of months I had been considering that our UU auction was to be held on a most auspicious date. You know of course that last evening was the date that some Evangelical Christians had announced would be the beginning of the “rapture” — that the elect would be lifted into heaven leaving only the unbelievers to suffer an apocalyptic and fiery end of the world.

I thought linking our UU auction to the rapture could have been a wonderful advertising opportunity. We could have brazenly defied the fearful prognosticators and their doomsday end of the world predictions and have called it “The End of the World Auction!” I admit that it would have been unkind to make light of something that apparently many people were taking so seriously.

But last night did happen and — we had a wonderful time, and here we are — here we are fine and dandy and the world as we know it has not changed appreciably from the way it was before — No large numbers of the faithful have gone “missing” — Armageddon has not happened. The end of the world prediction with its rolling earthquakes and the rapture of true believers seems not to have happened.

Those who made life-choices based on Mr. Camping’s reading of the gospel and his calculations will be working now to redefine their own reality — some perspectives and billboards will need to be replaced. Some of Camping’s followers who sold their homes and invested their lives in waiting for God may be suffering extraordinary feelings of betrayal, others may respond and act from what psychologists identify as our human predisposition for cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance means that because of our need to rationalize our behaviors, somehow the believers will try to justify their actions — perhaps the way some folks did when the end of the world did not happen in the 1950’s — then the faithful announced that their actions and preparedness had persuaded God to put off the date of the end of the world! Perhaps Camping will remind us that May 21 was only the beginning and that we can anticipate that the final date will be October 21, or maybe they will find still other ways to adjust the way they frame this failure.

This desire to predict the end of the world has been on people’s minds for a long time — and has motivated many to make predictions. The approach of the end of the world inspired the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints — Latter Day Saints believe, and the Jehovah’s Witness and others believe that we are already living in the final days.

But we are still here and for most of us this means that life will simply go on — we will continue to need to address the real issues of being human and alive in this world as it is right now! Mr. Camping and others’ desire is to believe that they have access to a personal pipeline to a life hereafter; a possibility that death will not end their lives. This is the result of a basic human fear of death.

Maybe investing so much in waiting and hoping for a life in the hereafter tells us something about the way some people view their life here and now!

I wonder if some of us might not fear death so much as to fear the idea that the end of our lives will mean that we do face a judgment of sorts — not, the dramatic “judgment scene” of the Sistine chapel, but another kind of judgment. We often experience a continuous judging of our lives — our very own evaluation of whether we are living fully and authentically — whether we are reaching our full potential.

In “The Necessity of Virtue” the video lecture series that several of us attended during the Wednesday evening “Life Span” Adult Education and Exploration this spring, the Reverend Dr. Galen Guengerich explains that,

“The main function of religious faith is not to affirm that certain facts are true. Rather, it is to develop a life of meaning and purpose in light of what we know. In so doing, faith transforms our character and animates our conduct.”

Rev. Dr. Galen Guengerich proposes that the key to human happiness — what humans really desire, is to reach our human potential and that we do that the old fashioned way — by cultivating virtue!

He suggests that we each have the ability to reach our potential by becoming more virtuous persons; — we can seek wisdom, we can live courageously, we can act with compassion, we can choose to pursue justice, we can practice temperance, we can discover transcendence and we find hope for the future, by living more deeply in the present. Dr. Guengerich’s presentation makes the assumption that we — like little Sudha, the child in our Hindu children’s story who earned the fountain of fresh water because of her kindnesses, earn merit by practicing virtuous behaviors and thus achieve our potential and personal happiness.

This message proposes that to achieve our full potential and find happiness we might want to devote time and energy and maybe even a bit of effort to attaining virtue.

It is interesting, to me, however that Guengerich’s program does not account for “grace” — and it is interesting that grace — is central to our Universalist Christian heritage. Grace, according to those old Universalists, simply is — it is God’s gift to all — and we need not work to achieve it — grace is our present state.

I came to fully appreciate my own personal understanding of “grace” during my CPE program in seminary. All Unitarian Universalist ministers are required to earn a “unit” of Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE means that one works in a supervised setting as a chaplain in a hospital, nursing home, prison, mental health or other facility. The role of chaplain is to accompany persons who are in crisis, pain, sadness or despair. Intense sufferings or physical pain, fear, confusion, and depression can be extremely agonizing and challenging for a patient and that can be very difficult and discouraging to witness.

Chaplaincy work with patients or prisoners is real and challenging and working with “supervision” by a professional trained in pastoral presence and care in the clinical setting is rigorous and demanding. During CPE one also spends many hours in peer group sharing, which requires deep reflection and often painful honesty. It was in my CPE program at The Miriam Hospital in Providence Rhode Island where I realized how deeply my own life and philosophy have been illuminated by, and guided by “grace” and my acceptance of that grace.

Grace — is, of course, one of those old “theological” terms that many of us may believe we need to reject along with the hierarchy and oppression that too often accompany religions and theologies — those religions that separate people into the “saved” and the sinners. For many of us, all those old religious terms are weighed down with baggage that we want to simply go away!

But in my CPE writings — and we were required to write lengthy reflections following every encounter with patients or staff — I discovered that even though I had long before rejected many of the theological teachings of my family’s Lutheran heritage, that the essence of “grace” has remained central to my own life experience.

“Grace” is also central to the Universalist Christian theology that is our heritage — for the early Universalists — salvation — (and the early Universalists believed that salvation did mean life after death) — salvation was the gift God freely offered to all — not just to the chosen and not just to Christians. The early Christian Universalists simply fully accepted Jesus’ teachings that “God Is Love” and that people are called to love their neighbors.

It was in explaining to Sister Margaret, my Catholic nun supervisor, that my own understanding of “grace” does not require God so much as it acknowledges our total human dependence upon the gifts of life and living, that I realized what an incredible gift it is to be able to see and feel and accept the ever present gifts that “grace” freely provides. Grace is always available if we can only understand and accept that.

In Universalist Christian terminology “grace” is not something we have to earn — grace is unearned — it is simply there. That sense of grace is something I have not left behind — because in my experience of living — grace is always present. My Unitarian Universalist minister colleague Suzelle Lynch preaches that “Grace Happens” — but from my own perspective — grace may “happen” but it also simply is — and always is.

Grace does not remove fear or pain or loss, but grace is always there as well. And we can count on grace to shine through to dominate the landscape — grace is — and while the Christian and Jewish and Muslim believers among us may feel that Biblical passages like Ephesians 2:8 “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God,” best describe “grace,” I believe rather that “grace” is the free gift of life and living and love and breath. I believe that “grace” is a universal human condition that simply “is.

Some might call this “god’s gift” but I believe that “god “ is not required — the only “requirement” is simply our willingness to accept it — which changes nothing at all except our point of view — our ability to recognize the blessing that embraces everything each moment — even in the most painful and fearful ones of all.

There is a Zen concept that explains that the essence of each life is like a beautiful clay pot — and that as we live the pot gets battered and cracked and broken and, piece by piece it disintegrates until finally the pot simply falls apart — leaving at last only the emptiness! And of course it was the emptiness that made the pot useful to begin with — an emptiness that is different from nothingness — for emptiness includes the possibility of our life being filled each moment by a full and conscious personal living. Emptiness like grace, is of course, also always there — cannot be lost or stolen or compromised but can be appreciated and useful.

I have recently become fascinated by the writings of Frederich Buechner, a Presbyterian minister, novelist and theologian and I believe, possibly also, a “universalist.” I find his thoughts about “grace” often match my own understanding of grace —

He writes, “The Grace of God means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you. Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don’t be afraid. I am with you. Nothing can ever separate us. It’s for you I created the universe. I love you… There’s just one catch. Like any other gift, the gift of grace can be yours only if you reach out and take it. Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too?”
…Your life and my life flow into each other as wave flows into wave, and unless there is peace and joy and freedom for you, there can be no real peace or joy or freedom for me. To see reality— not as we expect it to be but as it is — is to see that unless we live for each other and in and through each other, we do not really live very satisfactorily; that there can really be life only where there really is, in just this sense, love."

So the end of the world did not happen last night. Because of the gifts of life and grace we are still here to experience this magnificent blooming May morning. May we also awaken to accept the gifts of grace!

Grace means something like: Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you in the world! Amen and blessed be!


The Nature of Belonging
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, November 28, 2010

Here we are in a small space of ordinary time — floating in between Thanksgiving and Christmas, and because these are holidays that bring joy to so many, that are also felt as painful and isolating to others. I decided to explore why that is. One of the reasons these holidays are so tricky has to do with our sense of ‘belonging.” Holidays are marker events and emphasize our relationships — and our personal satisfaction with that important part of life. So I decided to explore belonging as a sometimes overlooked aspect of what it means to live a life rich in meaning.

What does it mean to belong? The theme song from the musical Oklahoma begins with these words.

“Oh we know we belong to the land, and this land we belong to is grand.”

And belonging may have a lot to do with feelings we have toward where we live — it is very important for human beings to realize that we can and do form deep and abiding affection for and resonance with the earth itself and with places that feel like “home” to us. I know I still respond to the tidy fields and neat farm buildings of the Mid-West and the narrow woodsy roads of New England as more like “home.” And those “places” are where I tend to feel I belong for the holidays. But a true sense of belonging, of being deeply and truly “at home” is more nuanced than the sense of place or the words of popular songs can possibly portray.

Last summer those of us who designed the PFLAG and Breaking Boundaries float used the words of Woody Guthrie’s song “this land is your land” in juxtaposition with words attributed to Chief Seattle “ The earth does not belong to man. Man belongs to the earth.” Whether these words were ever spoken by that Snowquomish chief or not, the sentiment is a reminder that the essence of “belonging” is a state easily misunderstood as defined by ownership.

How does one know when we belong? How do we know where we belong? What difference does it make if we belong? What is the nature or importance of “belonging” anyway? And what responsibilities might we have to nurture the places and relationships of our own belonging?

And what happens to us — as so often has been the case for many of us, when we discover that a place — a religion, a job, a marriage, a relationship or place of belonging changes, or when we change and find that we no longer fit or feel that we are accepted where we used to feel we did belong? What difference does this loss of belonging make in our lives?

“Belonging” according to dictionary definitions can be — something owned, or possessed or, “to belong” means that one is a member of or fits within — is accepted within a particular environment, belonging means that one is rightly placed or assigned in a specific position — to belong is to feel that one fits in and is fully accepted. But the dictionary does not explain that to belong is essential.

Dr. Kenneth Pelletier of the Stanford Center for Research and Disease Prevention writes that,

“A Sense of belonging appears to be a basic human need — as basic as food and shelter. In fact, social support may be one of the critical elements distinguishing those who remain healthy from those who become ill.”
( Pelletier, K. (1994). Sound mind, sound body: A new model for lifelong health (pp. 137-138). New York: Simon and Shuster. As quoted by David Pitonyak in his publication, the Importance of Belonging—)

Other researchers described the results of their nine-year study of 7,000 people living in Alameda County California,

… people with many social contacts — a spouse, a close-knit family, a church, or other group affiliations — lived longer and had better health… people who were socially isolated had poorer health and died earlier. In fact, those who had few ties died at rates two to five times higher that those with good social ties.… it’s a person’s perception that he or she can count on other people for help with a problem or for help in a time of crisis. (That makes the difference)
(Hafren, B.Q., Karren, K.J., Frandsen, K.J., & Smith, N.K. (1996).Mind/body health: The effects of attitudes, emotions, and relationships .Boston: Allyn and Bacon

A major study published by the Michigan school of Nursing reports that

A psychological sense of belonging is a greater predictor of major depression than other factors commonly associated with depression, such as social support, conflict and loneliness, …

Those resarchers discovered that persons who suffered an internal sense of isolation and loneliness and depression disorder were able to pretend to be comfortable with friends and family while inside they suffered deep feelings of not belonging that they were not fully accepted — that they did not truly belong.

This fall those of us who attended our Mountain Desert District meeting in Ogden participated in a rally that highlighted this very aspect of the importance of “belonging.” We marched through the downtown streets of that city with banners and signs wearing our “Standing on the Side of Love” t-shirts and singing songs of solidarity and then gathered on the steps of the Ogden City Hall. In the beauty of that October afternoon we remembered young people whose very lives have been lost because of the isolation they felt from family and friends and society’s expectations. Some parts of our culture still condemn persons whose gender identity or sexual orientation does not conform to religious or social prejudice. The young men and men we named died at their own hands or were persecuted and abused by others. They were not allowed to belong — because much of our American society remains homophobic and continues to isolate and condemn people who are gay or lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

That afternoon we were reminded that isolation and even suicide and murder has too often been the reality faced by persons who do not or cannot feel they fully “belong” in their families, their schools, their churches or society as a whole.

Our Unitarian Universalist message is that our religion is a place of acceptance of “belonging” for all — that bisexual people, gay people, lesbian people, transgender people, queer and questioning and straight people are all welcome — belong here. That event was a powerful and moving reminder that as Unitarian Universalists we need always to be open and visible in our welcome and that we need to reach out to embrace and remind BGLT folks that the problem lies in our society not with them. “Don’t ask don’t tell” and California’s Proposition 8 are examples of legislation that violates our UU principles and the teachings of love and compassion that many religious people say they practice. Legislation is immoral that is designed to isolate people based on who they are from full citizenship — from being able to fully “belong” within this nation.

There are other ways that our society uses the importance of a human’s ability to feel they belong — to do harm. The problem of “bullying” has come to the attention of the nation and has recently been recognized by the media as a source of pain and a motivation for suicide; a means of abuse and violence. Bullying happens when a group of people use our very human need to feel we belong as a means of isolating and punishing. Bullying is at its core an attempt to separate an individual from the comfort of knowing and feeling that they are welcome and that they belong. Bullying isolates and threatens and abuses those identified as targets for any reason or for no reason at all. To bully is to deny others the ability to belong. We must always be conscious that bullying can happen to adults and children — and that bullying isolating people from feeling they “belong” is never something to be condoned or tolerated.

And what better time to examine what it means to “belong? Our social justice team and several others of us have recently read the year’s UU community read “The Death of Josseline” a book that combines many stories and perspectives of people whose lives are interconnected by the complexities of migration and immigration in the borderlands of Arizona.

The stories of the impoverished migrants are those of people forced to leave the place where they belonged because they can no longer support their families. It is the story of people braving fear and immense suffering only to find themselves in a place where they are given hard work for little pay and told they will never “belong” but must always hide their identities. Must always be vulnerable, often abused and taken advantage of, isolated by their birth and status to a sort of limbo- non- personhood.

And the book shares stories of the citizens of Arizona who also are concerned with “belonging.” Their homes and lands and lives have been completely changed by the migration of others and their peace of mind destroyed by people they consider to be outsiders — people who do not “belong.” Thousands of migrants, both the living and the dead, haunt the landscape and their towns, yards, streets and front porches. Their taxes pay for emergency treatments, additional morgues and coroners. And their highways and fields and the natural beauty of their homeland have been invaded by others who don’t belong — the “wall” and the border patrol and all its technically intrusive materials and the vigilantes have highlighted their own need to determine and be clear about who belongs and who does not!

Learning more about the plight of those directly affected by America’s complicated and inhumane immigration situation is a reminder that we who so comfortably feel we belong here — as Americans born or Americans naturalized, must also accept that our “belonging” is a gift that not all have received—a gift that we did receive because we have benefited from the courage of others. The belonging that we know so comfortably is something that others may never know. Let us be thoughtful and respectful of this and compassionate toward those whose needs are so great that they—as some of our own ancestors may have done, are willing to risk their lives and families and homes to obtain belonging — if not for themselves then perhaps for their children.

As we analyze the nation’s political news we discover that much of the personal and political conflict and terrorism are in reality driven by differing perspectives and ways of restricting and defining who belongs and who does not belong — within a community, or a nation, or in a place. The final question is always whom can we trust — who belongs where?

Margaret Wheatley writes,

,… at the end of the 20th century this instinct to be together is materializing as growing fragmentation and separation. We experience increasing ethnic wars, militia groups, specialized interest clubs, and chat rooms. We are using the instinct of community to separate and protect us from one another, rather than creating a global culture of diverse yet interwoven communities. We search for those most like us in order to protect ourselves from the rest of society. Clearly, we cannot get to a future worth inhabiting through these separating paths. Our great task is to rethink our understandings of community so that we can move from the closed protectionism of current forms to an openness and embrace of the planetary community.
I repeat — Our great task is to rethink our understandings of community so that we can move from the closed protectionism of current forms to an openness and embrace of the planetary community.

And as Wheatley turns to the natural world for her examples — she reminds us that

Life's first imperative is that it must be free to create itself. One biological definition of life is that something is alive if it has the capacity to create itself. Life begins with this primal freedom to create, the capacity for self-determination. An individual creates itself with a boundary that distinguishes it from others. Every individual and every species is a different solution for how to live here. This freedom gives rise to the boundless diversity of the planet. …It —each organism—is free to decide what its reaction will be, whether it will change or not. This freedom is so much a part of life that two Chilean biologists, Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela advise that we can never direct a living system, we can only hope to get its attention. Life accepts only partners, not bosses, because self-determination is its very root of being — now doesn’t that sound like the typical UU?

And Wheatley says,

Life’s second great imperative propels individuals out from themselves to search for community. Life is systems-seeking; there is the need to be in relationship, to be connected to others. Biologist Lynn Margulis notes that independence is not a concept that explains the living world. It is only a political concept we've invented. Individuals cannot survive alone. They move out continuously to discover what relationships they require, what relationships are possible.

I think Wheatley understands what we UU’s see as the center of our own religious communities — understands that we humans are part of a natural world where each organism is defined by its unique character and the boundaries that make it an individual, but that we are protected and nourished by the communities in which we thrive — and that it is the nature of a community to gain strength and beauty and resilience when we welcome our individual diversities.

Wheatley tells a story that I find very meaningful and like all truly great stories bears retelling. It is a reminder of the nature of what it means to belong.

One of the most heartening examples we've encountered is a junior high school that operates as a robust community of students, faculty and staff by agreeing that all behaviors and decisions are based on three rules, and just three rules.
These are: "Take care of yourself. Take care of each other. Take care of this place."
These rules are sufficient to keep them connected and focused, and open enough to allow for diverse and individual responses to any situation. (The fact that this worked so well in a junior high environment should make us all sit up and take notice!) The principal reported that after the building had to be evacuated during a rain storm, he returned last into the building, and was greeted by eight hundred pairs of shoes in the lobby. The children had decided, in that particular circumstance, how to "take care of this place."

What does it mean that we have found here a place where we belong? What does it mean that we have found here a place where we can be our truest selves and learn and grow and thrive? And how can we nurture this place so that others too may come to understand the nature of belonging is not to isolate but to become partners in this community true partners, not bosses, because we understand that self-determination is its very root of all our being!

Music for reflection — The Oneness of Everything Jim Scott


“Making Peace with Our Imperfections”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, August 15, 2010

I remember Karen Shropshire told me before I moved here that Idaho Falls had short cool springs, and that fall sometimes races past too quickly disappearing into very long winter times, but that our summers were just about perfect! And with our sunny days, clear blue skies, fresh dry breezes and cool nights, several times this week as I walked along the river or sat in my backyard, I thought—this is indeed perfect summer weather!

The words “perfect” and “summer” actually seem to go together, I think. Maybe it’s because I grew up in a time when summertime was so different from the regular year—a time when we kids were free—free to explore or wonder and wander and play—yes play. In my childhood my own summertime was mostly made up of “unstructured time” — I could walk in the woods or to the library, or simply hang out and daydream. There were outings to parks and picnics and occasional trips to a pool or lake, there was work to be done too, but there were always neighborhood kids and cousins and 4-H projects and then in August came the summer’s week-long climax—the county fair with its characteristic events and rides and great junk foods, ribbons, trophies and prizes. And in my memory, summer was the perfect time of year! It seems I am often caught up in expressing delight that something is just perfect — but perfection can be a trap!

It is interesting that I had never thought much about perfection until l Rev. Fred Muir, my internship supervisor, suggested that I might have perfectionist tendencies — well, I was shocked to hear that critique — me a bit of a perfectionist? As a good Lutheran daughter I always knew myself to be quite plain in appearance and limited in my abilities — not very graceful or athletic, a blunderer — and having always worked hard just to feel adequate, I had not honestly ever thought about he possibility that I could possibly t be a perfectionist.

I was a “more than mature” woman; had experienced a good many of life’s ups and downs — a few successes and some grand failures. I thought I knew quite a lot about the ways that we can become paralyzed by our needs to be perfect and I thought that perfection was really one thing I had not been tempted to even hope for.

I felt as if I had never even considered it. In my family, perfect or best or ideal had never been the goal — we had been taught simply to do our best — that the important thing was to try — to make an effort.

But Fred reminded me that perfectionism does not necessarily mean that one has a tendency to feel superior — rather that it comes from our desire to be able to meet our own expectations and those others may have of us — our need to be in control. Perfectionism comes from a need to do all we can do to avoid failure. Perfectionism means that we do what we can to protect ourselves from the vicissitudes that are part of being fully present in our own lives and relationships — from our own humanity.

Unfortunately, if we are always looking for ways to make things better we may never learn to fully appreciate what we have.

In the years since that conversation with Fred, I have come to realize that indeed I am haunted by some of those tendencies — Dear me I hate it when I mess up. And I mess up often and then it is easy to be angry with myself. Last week Katy reminded us that when we are able to love ourselves we treat our selves with the same respect and acceptance we offer others. I confess. I am not always able to do that.

At the conclusion of a day I sometimes discover that I feel inadequate about a whole list of things — I regret things I said that were less than kind or supportive or even more often, I regret the things I might have said or done that got lost in the shuffle somehow.

I don’t like to acknowledge my own fears and anxieties — my anger and my sadnesses. It is tempting sometimes to pretend that I am not sometimes regretful and frustrated and yes, crabby.

And yes, sometimes it is hard for those of us with perfectionist tendencies to even accept and celebrate successes and achievements and difficult to accept the gratitude of others.

Oddly, trying too hard can even lead to procrastination — you see sometimes we are so worried that we won’t be able to do something well enough that we don’t even get started — or when we finally over come the procrastination and get to doing it — we have given ourselves a perfect excuse for not having done a better job — because — you see, we simply ran out of time!!

G. Peter Fleck, who escaped from Holland just before the holocaust to become a successful banker and beloved UU layperson and later a minister on Cape Cod seems to have understood that we humans do have a tendency to want things to be — well perfect. It was he who remembered as a child asking his mother to read again and again the story of the Green Hunters’ Bag — he writes:

I want to tell you a story my mother used to read to me before I could read for myself. The story — I think it was Scandinavian — fascinated me and I asked her to read it to me again and again as children will. It was the story of a gnome who lived in the forest under the root of a tree. He had one wish. More than anything else in the world he wanted to own a green hunter’s bag. He used to think about his green hunter’s bag by day and dream about it at night. Then, one day, it may have been his birthday, he received a beautiful green hunter’s bag as a gift. His dream had come true; his ardent wish had been fulfilled. He owned his green hunter’s bag. Now you would have expected him to be happy. But he said, “It is a nice green hunter’s bag, only it is not quite as green as I had imagined it.”

Some seventy years have passed and I still recall the impression that story made on me, the feelings it elicited. They were the feelings of a child who is initiated into one of the secrets of the adult world. For the story describes a situation to which none of us are strangers. All of us, at times, have experienced the sadness of disappointment upon the fulfillment of an ardent wish. The stream was not as clear as we had imagined itl the sea not as blue; the mountains not quite as overpowering, the woods not quite as dark, our marriage not quite as happy, our children not quite as accomplished. Reality did not measure up to our idea of reality. And when we say that, we have stated one of the principle tenets of the philosophy of Plato. For Plato taught that only the idea of something is perfect and its realization, its expression in material, worldly terms, a mere shadow of that perfection. (G. Peter Fleck, The Blessings of Imperfection, p. 4)

Fleck’s a book, The Blessings of Imperfection, has come to be very meaningful for me. In it he reminds us that it is our imperfections that allow us to be real, and whole, distinct and authentic. It is our imperfections that allow us to become the unique and wonderful diverse people we are. Unitarian Universalists in particular are known for our originality and our ability to not only tolerate but to welcome diversity. We often remind ourselves of the words of one of our 17th century forbears, Francis David that “we don’t need to think alike to love alike!” In fact it is often said that “when two UU’s are in a conversation you are sure to have at least three different points of view.”

As I consider it, perfect would be well, ultimate — unable to be changed and so — ultimately perfect must become tiresome. It is life’s imperfections that provide us with distinctiveness—it is the odd things that provide the markers in our lives and create the possibility of memories. If every day was a perfect one they would all be exactly alike!

Whenever I counsel couples as they plan their weddings I remind them that as much as they want their wedding to be “perfect” that it will be the things that are unique and sometimes even accidental that will remain in their and their guest’s memories.

I think that one of the things our contemporary media-centered culture has done is to create a sense that there is always a “right” or final answer. That there is a perfect solution for every problem. Those unrealistic and untrue expectations keep many of us from being willing to figure out a solution that works for us or for most everyone or for now.

I think we are so used to watching beautiful people in artificial settings that there is a tendency for real people to feel inadequate — to look at our homes and yards and families and selves and to feel that in comparison with the mega talented and the rich and famous that we are somehow — inadequate “ less than” — less than perfect.

In fact the very outcome that advertisers hope for is that after watching we will feel inadequate and to ease those feelings that we will buy what they are selling — whether it is their goods or services or their ideas. They hope that we will read or watch their ads and that then we will become discontent with the things we own or, more and more often, with who we are. Advertisers want us to imagine ourselves happier because we are on a “Carnival cruise,” more in love because we are wearing diamonds, better parents because we buy “Jiff.” They want us to believe — even subliminally that with a Lexus we will gain status and by sleeping on a tempeurpedic we will have more energy.

In today’s world there are many messages with the singular goal of making us feel as if being ourselves is simply not enough — that we need to strive for perfect — teeth that are whiter than nature could make them, thighs and abs that are cheetah smooth and tight and that our face will show nary a wrinkle no matter how old we grow to be.

The better we understand human nature and the more we accept that true happiness and contentment come from accepting that perfection is in itself a fault—an imperfection— that there is no perfect — not even a perfect summer day — the more likely we will be to be able to celebrate our own imperfections as the very stuff we inherit with our humanity.

Lewis Thomas, writes in The Medusa and the Snail

We have evolved scientists…and so to know a lot about DNA , but if our kind of mind would had been confronted with the problems of designing a similar replicating molecule…we would have made one fatal mistake: our molecule would have been perfect…the capacity to blunder slightly is the real marvel of DNA. Without this special attribute we would still be anaerobic bacteria and there would be no music. (G. Peter Fleck –p. 3 The Blessings of Imperfection)


Climbing the Mountain
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, May 16, 2010

As I shared with the children earlier, I grew up in the fertile flat lands of northern Ohio and the soft barely rolling countryside of Indiana and then I went off to graduate school in the middle of giant flat Illinois corn fields. I am not native to the mountains—we did not even have mountains as neighbors!

It was after I moved to Massachusetts, in 1980 that I learned to love hiking in the White Mountains, the Adirondacks and the Berkshires, yes I know they are tiny and cramped compared to the Rockies—the Tetons, the Sawtooth and the White Clouds! But while I lived in New England I learned to love hiking in the mountains. My former husband, who was from Seattle, and I, even did some and camping and day hikes in the Canadian Rockies and the Cascades.

And though I would not call myself any kind of hiking or mountain climbing expert— I can say that some of my most treasured memories call me back to hikes on secluded tree-covered and rock strewn trails. Mt Washington, one of my first mountain hikes, wore me out and taught me respect mountains!

Mount Monadnock and Mount Graylock became familiar destinations—both are steep enough and high enough to offer a day’s challenge.

I remember that when I realized that a portion of the trail on Graylock is part of the Appalachian Trail, I actually considered that I might like someday to be able to hike that entire route from Maine to Georgia!

But I certainly never became a real mountain climber—and there was a time when I even felt embarrassed that I am not more driven to do that. You see, the people I knew who were members of the AMC, (the Appalachian Mountain Club) and people who considered themselves to be “real” mountain climbers.” (My former husband and my friends Carol and Gretchen, and other outdoor people had started hiking in the mountains when they were young,) —they really know what they are doing. They wear the right footwear, and quick drying shirts and shorts and know how to pack for a day where the weather might transition from a chilly morning to a sunny and hot noontime and then just as suddenly switch to freezing rain and wind—or do just about anything. They know all about buying gear and reading trail maps and signs—but I don’t.

At first I felt more than a little embarrassed to realize my own limitations—and to recognize that while I love to hike, and to sit and enjoy the vistas, that I am not driven to get to the top. So if it doesn’t matter if I make it to the summit—then why climb? Why does one hike up mountain trails—why does anyone use a wonderful day of freedom to head for the mountains where they surely will get tired and sweaty, where they may encounter snakes and bugs (in the east you really are likely to encounter lots of black flies and mosquitoes and great sticky spider webs and—other bugs. ) Why would anyone head for a mountain where you might easily turn an ankle or fall and get hurt and then have to wait forever for help—why would anyone face what may sound like misery to head up a mountain?

It seems to me that people climb mountains for a number of reasons—and one is definitely to get to the top!! Let me share this story with you. I think I first heard it during a worship service at General Assembly—probably at the about the same time that I was beginning to really love mountain hikes.

The person who told the story was a young minster who, in pursuit of Buddhist truth, was visiting sacred places. Young and healthy and in great physical shape the story teller arrived in Nepal and discovered that the guru he had come to speak with resided in a monastery at the top of a steep mountain path—a path that began with hundreds of stairsteps. The locals advised that pilgrims spend the night in town and then set out on the path up the mountain first thing in the morning.

And so bright and early, the young pilgrim arose, packed some water and a few food items and headed for the start of the trail. There an elderly man dressed in simple, patched traditional clothing was also beginning the same trail. The pilgrim bid the elder good morning and soon left him in the dust and quickly began the long ascent—noting the great distance to the monastery silhouetted against the sky.

But it was not long until the pilgrim/visitor felt his body begin to tire. Legs feeling rubbery and short of breath the pilgrim sat along the road to rest a bit. Closing eyes for only a few moments he soon realized that the old man had just about caught up and so the pilgrim visitor again hurried off with great industry.

And soon the old man was again far behind as the hiker easily out paced him. But the mountain was very steep and the altitude and the sun were both high. And after another hour or so his legs and back began aching, and it seemed like a good time to stop for lunch. And so our serious young seeker of truth stopped again, opened his pack, nibbled his gorp and stretched out to close his eyes in the narrow shade provided by the high wall adjacent to the path. A few deep drinks of water and some more dried fruits, crackers and chocolate and the pilgrim was making ready to finish the last leg of the journey when he was surprised to see the old man stepping into the clearing.

With a smile the visitor again took to the path quickly outpacing the elderly walker. He headed directly up the remaining pathway, sure that within an hour the monastery on the summit would be before him. And so, struggling to catch his breath but with resolve and determination, the pilgrim walked—each step a reminder that nothing good comes easily.

But when the bright tile of the monastery roof and its huge wooded gate came finally appeared, our pilgrim/seeker was again quite breathless—youth and fitness aside, he was exhausted and so, finding a smooth rock by the side of the path with a small stream gurgling alongside, he removed his expensive hiking boots from his burning and aching feet. Slipping his tired tootsies into the cool stream he looked up only to see that same elderly fellow approaching him with a wide smile. The old man paused for just a moment outside the monastery gates.

Suddenly the young seeker was overcome with curiosity. “Sir, sir, I know that you and I have walked the same path this day and yet, while I, who am young and strong, am feeling exhaustion you seem at ease and refreshed… I am tired out! How is it that you, who are easily three times my age, with nothing but a hat of straw, worn sandals and a walking stick do not appear tired at all?

“Ah, the answer to that is an easy one my son. When we set out this morning, you gazed up at the mountain and at the long path to your goal and determined that you would conquer this. You saw the mountain and its rocky road as enemies to be defeated. You set out with only one aspiration, to arrive at your destination.”

“I who have lived for many seasons also set out—but while your every step was made with great effort—effort devoted to struggle your way up to the top, I have only placed my feet upon the face of the path—one foot stepping after the other, letting the mountain itself carry me.

You have arrived after a day of struggle and hard work, exhausted and aching, I have arrived feeling at one with the mountain and all that is, the trees and wildflowers, rocks and birds. I arrived knowing that wherever I am, I am at home.”

I am often reminded of this story because I think it reveals much truth. To begin with, this story has much to tell us about not only climbing mountains but about the mountains we encounter or even create in our lives. I remember so many times when as a youngster my own mother would caution me, “Now Lyn, lets not make a mountain out of a molehill” Have you ever wondered just what it means to make a mountain out of a molehill? Well, I know—because, sometimes without realizing it—that is truly what happens to me. Some times I get so distracted by an obstacle or an obstreperous person that an insignificant incident or issue looms up to appear much more complicated, more enormous and more important than it really is.

Perhaps the example that comes immediately to mind is one that my father often tells about my sister when she was a little girl. My dad was reading the newspaper when he heard her scream out and then sob and cry with fear and dismay. He hastily went to see what the problem was; the corner of the hem of her cardigan sweater had caught on a rosebush thorn— and there she stood trapped and crying. Even though she could easily have pulled and broken the thorn, or stopped to disentangle herself or simply slipped out of the sweater, she stood trapped by her fears. Of course she was just a little girl and my dad helped her to see the many ways she could have solved her problem instead of giving up and feeling hopelessly trapped!

The story of the elderly mountain climber also reminds me that we sometimes get so intent on reaching the top that we almost lose sight of the reason we thought we wanted to go there after all. The pilgrim was heading up to the monastery at the top of the mountain to learn about the meaning of life—and yet during his trip up the mountain was so focused on the task that he may have nearly missed the experience itself.

Here is another story. This one is by UU Carl Scovel who was, for many years, the minister at the historic Kings Chapel in Boston a popular stop on the Freedom Trail. He writes in (Never Far from Home, p 67)

When I’ve been under pressure and the pressure is getting to me it is time to get out my boots and a pack and a bag of raisins and drive my old Volvo north to the land of the great Spirit and the black flies and the hundred trails and logging roads that snake their secret ways through the thick green woods up the flanks of the White Mountains. I need to head for a summit where the wind and the light and the view are waiting to welcome the lonely walker who has no other purpose than to be there for an hour or two.
It was cloudy and threatening when I left at 6:000 one morning for such a hike and rain was promised. I was feeling about as mean as a preacher can feel when he’s not getting as well as giving. I stopped at the Concord HoJo’s for a cup of coffee and glanced through the guidebook.
“Well,” I thought, “I’ll climb Hancock, I haven’t been there for fourteen years, and it’s only ten miles up and back.” I drove up 93 and turned east on the Kancamagus Highway and after a couple of misses found the trailhead. I laced up my boots and hoisted my pack and headed into the dark green wonderland of woods and ferns and mist and a moistness you could almost taste.
The last time I climbed Hancock I had one thing in mind; to get to the top as fast as I could. …I don’t think I saw a thing on that trip. It wasn’t a hike it was a blitz—up and down—in and out. That was all I cared about.
This trip was different. I sauntered up the trail not caring if I reached the top or not. I looked at the thousand shades of green in leaf and moss. I drank from streams indifferent to Giardia, and noted good camping sites. I admired the great rocks dropped in the valley by glaciers centuries before. I munched on my sandwich and raisins and sang little chants to the pebbles on the path and listened to the myriad voices in my mind. And I realized that I wasn’t just hiking; I was meditating. I wasn’t just walking up a mountain; I was walking into my mind, into that inner world that we all lose touch with when we get too busy attending to people and work. Just as in sleep where we must dream to stay sane, so in waking we must stay in touch with that world of intuition and fantasy that we call the unconscious…
We all must do this—some by reading novels, some by meditating, some by gardening, some by listening to music, some by going to art galleries, some by daydreaming some by going to art galleries, some by talking to psychotherapists, some by painting, some by playing.…

And so, as we enjoy these fresh and wonderful days of spring, surrounded by our many neighboring mountains, may we remember that climbing mountains is the very best way to see what’s on the other side and also an opportunity to see what’s on the inside.

May we remember that the view from the summit—with all that freshness surrounding us—the clouds so close—and a magnificent vista before us— may we remember that the sense of amazement and accomplishment and the sense of feeling more fully alive and connected with all that is—that sight and feeling of wholeness may be something that “flat-landers” will never see, and may never understand. And that may offer us insight as well.

We might remember that the traumas and fears that cloud and concern our inner lives may also be like the real mountains—and maybe, if we are able to be fully present —as ourselves—confident that we are beautifully and wholly enough as we are, —that there is nothing to strive for or struggle against, and confident that if we allow it, the mountain itself will carry us to our destination without all the traumas and struggles that sometimes seem to dominate our days.

Perhaps we might also remember that climbing mountains may offer us more even more opportunities than simply getting to the top—Perhaps we might remember that when we are fully present along the way, we could discover that the journey can open us up to the magnificent inner journey—that is own living, and to being fully and wonderfully alive and present to ourselves and with others. I leave you with these words by—Howard Thurmond:

Don't ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and then go do it, because what the world needs are people who have come alive.

We go out then into this world—the one right at hand; this world filled with mountains and valleys—with peak “aha” experiences of insight and, with deep dark swamps of unknowing. Confident that like the old man in Nepal, that each step of the way we are supported by the mystery of life itself. Go then, knowing that we are a part of this community of reason and hope and love and that everything is blessed.


Earth Day: A Theology of Dirty Hands
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, April 18, 2010

1970 was a wonderful year! It was the year my first son was born—a pivotal time for me marking my own transition from person to mother, from someone who thought first of herself, to someone who needed to first consider the wellness of another being. Giving birth was also the gateway to a different understanding of what it means to be “wholly human”—not a thought-centered and intellect-centered and psychologically-centered self—but to fully realize that I was—that we all are—also fully embodied fully interdependent biological beings.

And, less than one month later, in 1970, we here in the US first celebrated Earth Day! Now as a brand new mother completely in love with my own personal and beautiful miracle child, I was only somewhat aware of that very first Earth Day. But my own awareness of the interconnectedness of all life was already in full bloom.

And two years later I was part of a small group of people to organize the first “Earth Day” events in Forth Wayne, Indiana. One of our first goals was to work with others back in the early 1970s to clamor for recycling—to get our hands dirty working for the Earth. 1970 was a long time ago. My son turned 40 this March!

Our major coup at the 1972 “Earth Day” that Karen Griggs and I planned was to invite John Shuttlesworth, the founder of “The Mother Earth News” to present a workshop on alternative forms of housing—housing that was more “energy efficient.” We were beginning way back then to talk about things like sustainability.

It is interesting to recall that in 1970, I planted my first garden and started my first compost bin!! By 1972, I was not only convinced that our government had lied to us about Viet Nam but I was also convinced that Americans needed to wake up to the threats of global climate change, peak oil, toxic wastes, soil depletion, and the need for alternatives to a culture of rampant consumerism.

Even though I grew up in a conservative very Lutheran family in a small town in Ohio, I had always been a child in love with the natural world and inclined to feel wonder and the presence of “holiness” on my early morning walks into the ravine behind our house, or down my grandparents’ lane. I was the kid who ventured into the spongy springtime woods through the nearly knee-high carpet of May apples. I was the one who stroked mosses and loved to breathe deeply of the warm loamy earth smell when we searched for morels. I was the child who watched in fascination when peeled green buckeyes grew to satiny brown beauty almost before my eyes. I was someone who lay in deep grass to watch ants and wonder where they were going. I loved hickory bark and Elm roots and the haunting sketetal shells of cicadas that clung stubbornly to the mulberry trees.

On long summer afternoons I recall hanging over the barnyard fence to watch the cows and standing in the choking dust of the henhouse to marvel at the smooth heat of freshly laid eggs. I loved to eat strawberries hot with sunshine and sculpted things from mountains of sticky green and crispy brown cornsilk. I loved to watch the sky at dawn and dusk, when the snow clouds gathered in the winter, and when a greenish light threatened tornados. When thunder and lightning boomed I was the one at the window or on the porch, watching.

I was the child amongst all my cousins who kept asking “why?” And I was the one who most suffered with the knowledge that eating meat; chicken and blue gills, pheasant and roast beef was eating what had, sometimes only a short time before, been another living being!

How many of you also remember your own fascination with living systems, with the wonders of earth and sky and self?

Whether you grew up within a strict religious heritage or if you are someone who has always sought meaning from among a wide variety of truths, I am sure that you are here because you have not been satisfied with an easy answer to life’s mysteries, that you have not been content with a story that someone else required that you accept.

In fact when I later was able to address the fact that I could no longer accept my family’s Lutheran theology, I felt increasingly comfortable making and finding meaning and wonder on my own. Later, when I discovered Unitarian Universalism, however I rejoiced to discover that there were others like me.

Rev. Bill Schultz, who was the president of the UUA when I first attended a General Assembly at Yale, back in 1989 and who for many years after headed up Amnesty International, wrote,

“…hundreds of years ago Saint Lawrence asked, “whom should I adore, the Creator of the Creation?” Most Western religions have answered back, “Adore the Creator” and supplied an image (Zeus, Jehovah, Christ) to be adored. But (Schultz writes) our answer is far different,
Whom should we adore? The Creation surely, for whatever there be of the Creator will be made manifest in Her handiwork.
“God,” said Mies van der Rohe, “Dwells in the details.” The Divine for us —whatever it in essence be—is not confined to a transcendent realm, its ramparts guarded by the scholarly elite. Events and occasions on the contrary, the Holy is made manifest to every one of us—not just those who can recite the catechism—in the transactions of the Everyday.
It (the Holy) lies curled , in other words, in the very bosom of our experience.
This is a fundamental departure from (many) religions’ preoccupation with abstraction. It is not a distant, mysterious God to whom we make appeal or even the old vagaries of Progress, Evolution Creativity or History. The gods and goddesses— or if you prefer, the most precious and profound—are accessible to us in the taste of honey and the touch of stone. And this in turn is why we love the earth, honor the human body, and bless the stars. Religion is not just a matter of Things Unseen. For us the Holy is not hidden but shows its face in the blush of the world’s embrace.
    ( Green Sound, edited by William Lace, p 37)

I have always been fascinated by the way nature can attract our attention with sunrise, tide pool, hail and wind, fragments of robin’s eggs, raging rivers, drought and storm.

Last fall many of us gathered several times to remind ourselves and others that climate scientists urge us to reduce the world’s carbon footprint to below 360 ppm.—that above that number the Earth staggers. And then I received from a local clergy person, a diatribe declaring Global climate change and Global Warming a hoax created by Al Gore and the liberal environmentalists.

Since then Earth’s natural systems have certainly been causing us to pay attention. There were this winter those incredible snow storms in DC and all along the mid-Atlantic seaboard, there have been several incredibly destructive Earthquakes in Haiti, and Chile and China and horrible flooding in New England and now? Now a volcano that has been mostly dormant for over 200 years has erupted beneath a glacier in Iceland. A still smallish volcano, it has, however, created a plume of ash that has shut off air traffic over most of Europe and the northern Mediterranean for several days. And, at the latest report promises to continue to linger for at least days—possibly much longer.

I am fascinated that we are somehow surprised when we come face to face with the reality that Earth is anything but inert—this planet is—well according to James Lovelock’s groundbreaking Gaia hypothesis theory written in 1979, Earth is—or at least has the qualities of a “self–regulating organism” and like every other organism has natural tendency to return to homeostasis or a cybernetic —balance loop responding to threats to its equilibrium.

While some Americans seem surprised to learn that humans are part of this natural world, our Unitarian Universalist Principles and Purposes have been crafted and written and proposed and ratified by people like us who understood that we are part of the natural world.

They are not a creed but a covenant. For congregations like ours, our Principles and Purposes do not tell us what to believe but are promises about the values that our congregations affirm and promote.

I once shared a copy of them with someone who was objecting to our UU faith. Arguing a preference for her Roman Catholic church she read the Principles and said something like—“Well—those are just obvious—who wouldn’t agree with that!”

Please turn to Principles in the hymn book, and read down to number seven.

I think we are incredibly blessed to know that our UU ancestry has long recognized that Earth and all life is interconnected and holy. It is especially good to know that today as we are reminded from a number of sources that we are part of the Earth—not separate from the Earth and we ignore that at our peril.

Some of our more famous UU ancestors helped us to see this long ago. Thomas Starr King a Unitarian Minister who is credited with keeping California from becoming a slave state and whose statue representing that state in the Capitol Rotunda was only recently replaced by one of Ronald Regan, once wrote a letter describing Ralph Waldo Emerson,

"Emerson gave us last Monday evening the most brilliant lecture I ever listened to from any mortal. It was on the identity of the laws of the mind with the laws of nature. He proved conclusively that man is only a higher kind of corn, that he is a squirrel gone up into the first class, that he is a liberated oyster fully educated, that he is a spiritualized pumpkin, a thinking squash, a graduated sun-flower, and inspired turnip. Such imagery, such wit, such quaint things said in a tone solemn and sublime! I have the most profound respect henceforth for every melon-vine as my ancestor (melancholic thought). I look upon every turtle as of kin…"
So this April 22 will mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. This Earth Day more people and more governments around the world have become more aware of global threats to life as we know it on this planet. It is not my purpose to convince anyone of the reality of all the situations that brought me to celebrate my own first Earth Day so very long ago, or to persuade anyone to share what motivates me to continue to strive for sustainability.
I am convinced that it will not be the facts and figures, the warnings, or statistics, or even the threats that finally will transform us all into environmental activists. I believe that we will become what anthropologist Margaret Mead identified as part of that small group of committed people that change the world when we, because of what we LOVE—become committed to changing ourselves. When we realize the wonder and mystery that embraces us every moment of our lives, then we will devote our selves to appreciating the mystery along with Albert Einstein who wrote that;
The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. He who knows it not and can no longer wonder, no longer feel amazement, is as good as dead, a snuffed out candle. It was the experience of mystery—even if mixed with fear, that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate, of the manifestations of the profoundest reason and the most radiant beauty, which are only accessible to our reason in their most elementary forms—it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute the truly religious attitude; in this sense and in this alone , I am a deeply religious man…(Jerry Coyne, Why Evolution is True p 230).

As we pay attention to all of the ways we are interconnected with one another and with all life this Earth Day Holiday time—let us each pause to pay attention to the wonder that is us, to the wonder that we might be together and to the magnificent wonder that is our beautiful blue green planet Earth. Let us each find ways to practice getting involved—putting our hands in the holy dirt working to protect and reflect the love we share for this our planet Earth and all that is our being.

I close with these words from the song by Pat Humphries

We are living 'neath the great Big Dipper
We are washed by the very same rain
We are swimming in the stream together
Some in power and some in pain
We can worship this ground we walk on
Cherishing the beings that we live beside
Loving spirits will live forever
We're all swimming to the other side


“Learning from John Adams, a Man of Reason, Politics and Religion”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, March 7, 2009


Jon Meacham, writes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, American Gospel, The Republic is not a church but it is a Republic filled with churches. Let the Religious Speak but encourage them not to shout; let them argue but encourage them not to brawl. The system the Founders built allows for religious considerations to play a role in politics in the same measure—no greater, no smaller than any other consideration, whether geographical, economical or cultural. Washington, Jefferson Madison, Adams, Franklin, Jay and their comrades could have chosen to draw on the examples of Jamestown, Plymouth or Massachusetts Bay but they did not.

Virginia’s early “Laws Divine, Moral and Martial” tried to regulate not only the business of civil society but of men’s ( people’s) minds and souls.—and history had taught the revolutionary generation that the former was difficult enough without quixotically attempting the latter.

Americans of the new millennium may find the notion that they should profitably follow the lead of a gaggle of dead white men from the eighteenth century quaint or unconvincing but it is neither. The founders got some things wrong, particularly slavery, but they were on the mark about much including religion and politics. The sound and fury of our own time could be calmed by grasping what they had to say about the role of faith in the nation. Respect religion, hear it out, learn from it and then let the work of the country unfold as the parties to the republican contract, the Constitution will have it. In (April 15, 1776) a letter to Abigail with advice for his sons, John Adams wrote,

Take care they don’t go astray. Cultivate their little minds, inspire their little hearts, raise their wishes. Fix their attention on great and glorious objects…teach them to scorn injustice, ingratitude, cowardice and falsehood. …let them revere nothing but religion morality and liberty.

A year or two ago I shared with you some insights into the character of William Ellery Channing the great Bostonian minister whose words defined the Unitarian ideal just before the civil war. I wondered then if our own Idaho Falls “Channing Way” might have some connection with him—I said that I smile each time I drive on “Channing Way” imagining that it does (even though the “street namers” probably had an entirely different “Channing” in mind.)

It is doubtful, however that “John Adams Parkway” was named in reference to any person other than our second United States president, John Adams of Braintree (now Quincy) Massachusetts. John Adams served only one terms as United States President and in many ways has been a little overlooked by history so it is especially thoughtful that Idaho Falls has such a substantial thorough fare named in his honor!

According to historian John Patrick Diggins, throughout his life John Adams was insecure about his reputation and he hungered after recognition and distinction. To be noticed, admired and esteemed, Adams felt was the ruling passion not just of himself but of human nature in general. However, Diggins reminds us, America scarcely noticed the one president who came closest to fulfilling Plato’s wish to see a philosopher in power.

A study of President John Adams raises the question of leadership and citizenship in a democracy. In his few years in office Adams would gladly have led America, if only the American people had known where they wanted to go with their new experiment in self government. Would the young country follow the more demanding ideals of New England and rise to civic responsibility or would it settle for the easy life of the south and the quest for comfort and pleasure? John Adams by John Patrick Diggins p 10

And I would remind us that Adams fully recognized how much the wealth and ease of the South depended upon the institution he detested more than anything about this new nation, the enslavement of millions of black Africans people.

John Adams presidency has been over-shadowed by history just as he was physically dwarfed by his two statuesque Virginian contemporaries; George Washington who preceded him, and Thomas Jefferson who followed. Even though the musical and subsequent Oscar-winning movie 1776 cast Adams as a central character, though PBS recently ran a series about him and though historian David McCullough has written a recent wonderful biography of him, John Adams remains an often over-looked and under appreciated character in American history.

The mythological “story” of our nation’s founding seems to have cast John Adams as a whining and disliked actor in a supporting role. Nothing was further from the reality of Adams life or contributions to our nation’s founding but the “mythological” way that humans revert to telling the “easy” story leaves Adams out. He is perhaps left out because his was the voice closest to a complex and nuanced understanding of both the immensity of their undertaking and the many elements that needed to be kept in check if the new nation was to succeed.

I believe that there is much that Americans, indeed we religious liberals here in Idaho Falls might gain from revisiting in study and reflection, the life and writings and the fascinating story of John Adams.

Though Adams would become sought after as a lawyer and important as a statesman, though he was as well-educated and well-read as any American of his day, and a Harvard graduate, John Adams had been born the son of a Massachusetts farmer of modest means. Anyone who has spent time in the coastal areas south of Boston knows that farming there is not an easy living. In fact John Adams’ father John senior turned to shoe- making in the winter to subsidize his family. But the elder Adams was convinced that his son should have an education. And it was his hard work, diligence and frugality that would finance young John’s Harvard degree and motivate Adams’ lifelong practice of keeping a daily journal and instilled in John the understanding that in his future lay the possibility of greatness.

John Adams senior, a deacon in the town’s Congregational church desired that his son become a member of the highly esteemed clergy. However, having witnessed the conflict that arose when their local minister chose to preach an “Armenian” (later called Unitarian) message, and following a brief stint as a school master, John decided that the practice of law was less dangerous, and more rewarding and interesting.

Adams took to the practice of law like a duck to a New England swamp—John Adams was an avid reader and a student of human nature. He loved the drama and intrigue and logic of the courtroom. He was a son of the Age of Reason and he was a classical scholar. His travels allowed him to meet and spend time with all kinds of fellow travelers and to get to know those who would rely upon his services. He like people and he maintained his nearly daily diary as a kind of dialogue with himself challenging his own motives and marveling with gratitude for the beauty and wonder of the natural world around him.

He was ambitious. He loved recognition and yet he was steeped in the new England tradition of the importance to be of service to others. He was grateful for his place in society and understood that he was beholden to those who had settled that bleak coast in search of a better life. He understood the importance of freedom and liberty and his earliest writings reflect his natural abhorrence of slavery. He knew and despised the hypocrisy of New England Ship owners who profited from slaves. His writings reveal a man with hopes and misgivings, that he was someone who was practical and that he was a person man of deep convictions.

As a lawyer in the Massachusetts Bay region Adams traveled up and down the coast gaining a reputation for fairness, industry, wit and logic. In 1764 he married Abigail Smith a cousin of the influential and wealthy Quincy family and daughter of the minister of the neighboring town of Weymouth. It was a marriage of devotion and passion. She had been educated in manner rarely available to women so the two were able to share their love of books, their sense of duty and hard work and their dreams. For posterity’s sake it is fortunate that Adams’ career and later service to his country so often forced him to be away from his beloved wife and home because their frequent correspondence reveals much about them as people and tells the story of their lives in the letters they carefully kept during their long lifetimes. Their correspondence and letters from the many others with whom they stayed in close contact reveals their deep affection for one another and their passions for family and social issues.

Adams’ studies and his lifelong devotion to his New England home naturally led him to resent the taxation that England foisted upon the colonists to pay for Britian’s expanding empire and her perpetual wars against the French, and other of her European neighbors. In May 1765 the British Stamp Act fired up the colonists and catapulted John Adams along with most of those already considering themselves to be as American as they were English, to consider some kind of rebellion. Adams response was to write an essay entitled A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law which called for his readers to use their own minds and to think independently.

He wrote, “government is a plain simple and intelligent thing founded in nature and reason quite comprehensible by common sense… we have been afraid to think. Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.” David Mc Collough, John Adams p 60

Adams’ writing and his reputation carried him into the spotlight as a leading thinker.

The foment increased until in March of 1770 a group of British soldier, called “lobster backs” because of their red coats, fired into an angry brick and stone-throwing mob killing five of the rabble rousers in what would become known as the Boston Massacre.

Adams consented … to defend the soldiers. His careful analysis and logical appeals raised his profile within the colony. Many resented his defense of the outsides while others admired his appeals to law and reason, but the case assured him of a place in the political discussion that would begin the dissolution of the colonial ties to England. Soon he was on his way to represent Massachusetts in Philadelphia’s congress along with ”statesmen” from the other 12 colonies. His cousin and another Massachusetts representative was the incendiary Sam Adams the most audacious proponent of independence.

But it was John Adams who realized the necessity of keeping balance among the various colonial characters and the enormous varieties of lifestyles and economic, religious and cultures. Adams was at heart a New England farmer’s son a well-read and well-educated lawyer farmer. He was nothing like a gentleman, there had never been a family fortune. He was not a man of means or manners or “birth” and influence. When Adams returned home to his Abigail he put his own hands to the work of the farm where they lived modestly with their young family. The representatives from the southern states of Virginia and the Carolinas, Rutledge and Lee were used to lives that were more like that European aristocracy. The tradesmen and merchants of the Mid-Atlantic led by Benjamin Franklin were sophisticated and cosmopolitan and more inclined to compromise and remain within the fold of England.

History reveals that Adams’ dogged pursuit of consensus and his intuitive and studied understanding of human nature allowed him to navigate and negotiate the direction of the congress. It was Adams who gained the goodwill of the southern states by nominating Washington as Commander of the American Army and it was Adams who suggested that another Virginian author the Declaration of Independence. It was Adams who with Jefferson and Franklin designed the Great Seal of the United States and its motto, "E Pluribus Unum” “From many one” and its mysterious but powerful visual metaphor linking the newly formed nation with the solidarity of ancient symbolism. It was Adams who with his cousin Sam reached out to welcome the first interfaith prayer of blessing. And it was John Adams who insisted that one of the first tasks of the Republic would be to require that each state compose a constitution. And it was Adams who chose for Massachusetts the term “commonwealth” over the more typical “state.” John Adams was soon sent as an envoy to France where Franklin was supposed to have been negotiating for the assistance of the French government. But as much as he admired Franklin for his earlier writings, inventions and philosophies Adams soon came to resent Franklin’s profligate life among the gentry of France, especially the old gent’s dalliances with the French ladies. It was Adams who finally secured the financial backing of the Dutch that allowed the new nation to weather England’s powerful naval blockade and it was John Adams who finally returned to England to gain diplomatic recognition for the newly independent nation and to at last broker a peace with the English crown.

The story of the American Revolution often seems like it unfolded smoothly—almost by design. But the reality was that there were incredible twists, challenges, arguments and multiple conflicts. Though later many of the major characters would say that they had a sense that they were involved in creating a history that was larger than anyone could fathom, during its actual unfolding there were many times when no one quite knew how things might turn out. But there were also relationships that simply fascinate us.

Adams and Jefferson had worked together at the beginning of we know as the American Revolution. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams came to know one another well. Adams was eight years older than Jefferson and far less striking in his appearance and apparently less mannered and charming overall. But the two shared a love of law and the classics. Both were readers and writers. Adams, always loquacious was more wordy and practical. Jefferson, the taciturn was often withdrawn but he was mannered, more idealistic and poetic in his writing.

After Washington’s election Jefferson retired to his home in Virginia leaving Adams to struggle for two terms as the invisible and supportive vice president to the mythic “Father of the Country.” When Washington refused a third tem, Jefferson and Adams were stuck with an early version of party politics. And Adams refused to play politics or to scheme, confident that the truth would triumph. Jefferson, on the other hand participated in smear tactics that would seem familiar to those who enjoy Fox News. When Adams came out the winner and Jefferson was declared his VP the party politics continued and by the time Adams left Washington, (he was the first to occupy the still unfinished White House) in the wee hours of the morning that would be Jefferson’s inauguration, the two had become deep political enemies. For the next 12 years they did not speak.

But they had shared so much—they had been present and participated in those golden moments in history, and they had, for all their differences so much in common.

They both deeply loved the land and heritage of their birth. Both were well read and philosophical in their outlook and regard for history itself. Still there were enormous differences that had contributed to the dissolution of their friendship.

John Adams and even more so, his full and beloved partner Abigail knew the price of their independence and were financially very careful. Adams worried that his family might not have enough to survive and was frugal; his only excess spending was likely to be on his books and an occasional good glass of Madeira.

Jefferson, on the other hand, had been born into the plantation owner- landed gentry of Virginia and when he married his wife Martha became extremely wealthy with her inheritance; owning many farms, stock, land and slaves. Jefferson however was an unbelievable spendthrift. He was always anxious about his debts and mortgages yet he continued to live and spend as if there was no bottom to his fortunes. He refurbished houses, wore fine clothes and bought libraries, furnishings and fineries. He spared no expense in designing and constructing his mansion at Monticello and then moved on to design a new farm and the University of Virginia letting Monticello to deteriorate when he’d lost interest.

Interestingly at the end of their lives the Adams were estimated to be worth a small but tidy fortune while Jefferson was so deeply in debt that his family lost control of lands it had once owned. At his death he could only afford to free five slaves, and they were all the children of Sally Hemmings the slave woman and his deceased wife’s half sister that those wishing to discredit Jefferson had often accused him of living with in cohabitatio. This and their concern over their alcoholic children seems never to have been discussed or revealed during their relationships with one another.

If Washington’s two terms as president were those of the ideal statesman, then the presidencies of Adams and Jefferson saw the birth of underhanded and messy party politics. Adams, ever the student of practical human nature, had often warned and worried that one of the greatest dangers was that of politics—and self motivated unbridled greed. He felt that frequent elections would lead to constant jockeying for reelection and had hoped that somehow leaders could emerge who were worthy of their roles not because they were politically savvy and willing to maneuver into positions of influence. He was one who had insisted that office holder be paid so that persons who were not wealthy could afford to serve their country.

Jefferson and Adams had disagreed from the start about the meaning of the French Revolution; Adams was disgusted and revolted by the wanton violence; convinced it would result in a strongman ruler, not surprised when Napoleon seized power and declared himself emperor.

Jefferson, ever the idealist, supported and idealized the revolution in France and cavalierly accepted its bloody excesses as a necessary step to idealized democracy finally agreed with Adams that that wild and absolute revolution and a pure democracy had resulted in mob rule, incredible mayhem, loss of life and ultimate empire.

When Dr. Rush, a friend to both Jefferson and Adams finally concocted a scheme that allowed Jefferson and Adams to once again renew a relationship of correspondence the two had become deeply aware of the importance of the incredible history they had helped ot create. Their subsequent long years of letter writing allowed them to explore in a rather self-conscious way some of their philosophical musings. Adams in particular, was determined to set the record straight and come to an understanding of what they had witnessed—to vindicate his own place in history. It was obvious that Jefferson had already been cast as a shining star while he, Adams would be a known as a less important character. But time revealed that the two shared a deep affection for one another.

Both their contributions to the founding of this nation and to the world we now populate are incredible. But it is Jefferson who does often get credit for much that Americans admire about this nation and in spite of his contributions, it is Adams who is often overlooked. Adams own great-grandson and historian Henry Adams once quipped that the evolution of the presidency from George Washington to Ulysses Grant disproves Darwin’s theory of the progress of the human species. (Diggins p 12)

Still, both Jefferson and Adams are known for their views on religion, Jefferson for creating the separation of church and state in his draft for the State of Virginia, for rewriting the New Testament excluding everything other than the human story of Jesus and Jesus’ words and for stating that he considered himself to be “a church unto himself.” Adams, a lifelong member of what is now the Church of the Presidents, a Unitarian Universalist church in Quincy, MA for the Treaty of Tripoli which announced that the “Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Musselmen… http://www.earlyamerica.com/review/summer97/secular.html

As technology makes vigorous and divisive political rhetoric immediately available and visibly present in our lives today, I think it is sometimes valuable to examine the impact of the life and life’s work of the one dead white man who was nearly invisible for much of our history, because he was devoted to more than winning,

“Adams’ keen sense of social psychology could easily have led him to manipulate opinion, court popularity and play the opponent’s game. …Adams was too much of a moralist to do whatever is necessary to assure success and too much the modernist to make easy moral judgment and claim God’s will. (Diggins p 175)

What might we learn from the life and work of John Adams that could be useful for us now? Perhaps that is a conversation we might want to have?


“Our Deepest Longing”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, November 8, 2009

I love that story I shared earlier (during the time for all ages I shared a Margaret Wheatley story about a moose which she and other hikers had surprised while walking one morning near the swampy edge of a lake, the moose looking for cover ducked to stand motionless behind a narrow tree — a tree that was large enough so that she could no longer see the hikers though her flanks were fully exposed.) Of course we laugh and enjoy the image of that silly moose standing behind the tree because it gives us a chance to feel superior, and to be reminded that nature-lore does not place the moose at the top of the brainy animals list.

In fact, in pondering the image of that moose I find I feel quite warmly toward her — more warmly because of her futile attempt at hiding than I have felt toward other moose I have seen; moose who appear unaware of our presence, who appear, sometimes very briefly, and then browsing nonchalantly walk on or those who dart and lumber off to disappear into the shadows of the thicket. But this moose’s animal behavior seems — well, human somehow; comedic and naively nearly human. She seems to believe that she has succeeded in hiding and that as long as she remains still and cannot see us that we cannot see her and that she is safe, that all is well.

I think that I also find the story and the image meaningful because in many ways I know that sometimes I am like that moose — that perhaps many of us are like that moose. I wonder if that dear moose might reveal for us other aspects of our own humanity, aspects that we contemporary Americans seem often to forget.

First we forget that like the moose, we live in a world that we make. Last night congress finally passed a health care reform bill — it is sure to be revised and re-“visioned” in the future, but for now something has passed. During the long debate since health reform was first introduced by Hillary Clinton many years ago, almost nothing has stimulated such controversy; some Americans view health care as a sacred human right, while others believe the very opposite — that a national plan will jeopardize the well-being of each individual and threaten the essence of our democracy.

If anything that very debate reminds us that while we may all share this same planet that we simply cannot and do not all experience things the same — that what we bring to an experience determines what it is that we experience. In these words I have understood to be from the Talmud, that vast discussion of Jewish Law, “We do not see things as they are, we see things as we are.” And that it is not seeing that is believing, it is believing that is seeing. (A Tale of Boxes, Robert Latham p. 36)

Certainly we have been given, taught and acquired a whole series of attitudes and understandings about the meaning of life. As Americans we grow up believing that we have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. — Whatever happiness might be. The concept of happiness might be just one starting point for confusion whenever we discuss important things like the things we desire.

This summer I whiled away a rainy afternoon in Indiana at the local Borders where I picked up “The Geography of Bliss.” Written by Eric Whiner an NPR correspondent, I am not sure what I expected — whatever it might have been, I found his analysis of “happiness” and its relation to geography — the places where people live, mildly entertaining but very superficial. My own conclusion was that in spite of his definitions, statistics and surveys, the “happiness” he was able to evaluate did not make any of the lives he evaluated sound particularly appealing to me.

Though his personal tour led him to lands as different as Iceland is from Bhutan, (where the King has limited development in an effort to increase the happiness of his subjects,) to Moldova, reputed to be the least happy land of all, Weiner’s book did not leave me feeling that anywhere has it over Idaho Falls! In fact, I closed the cover of that book wondering as I have in the past, if happiness might not be both misunderstood and over-rated.

Ms Moose’s behavior reflects another element that contributes to our sense of well-being. We share with members of the animal kingdom a desire, a need for safety and relative security. I enjoy reading history from first person narratives — the journals of colonial and frontier women have long intrigued me. In reading of the perils of wagon trains or New England settlements I certainly have become aware that the relative security and safety that many of us take for granted is unique in all of history, that for most people living throughout history, living with the degree of comfort and security we enjoy would have been unimaginable. And we know too that for many people living in the world today safety and security like we share is unknown. Having access to a place of shelter — a place where we can feel secure is primary.

Our charmingly naïve moose is also a reminder that we humans often must struggle with two distinct and opposite desires and our own inability to contain the cognitive dissonance that creates for us. We know that we struggle with the need to remain safe and secure and a desire for novelty and adventure.

Our moose seems to understand our need to hide — to hold tight to our deepest needs and thoughts. Out of fear we avoid sharing what is true and real. And so as deeply as we want to know our selves and to share that self with others, we also want to hold back and remain separate.

Buddhist teacher Chogyam Trungpa writes, It's not necessary to try to become your true self. You can't be anything else. It’s impossible to be other than what we truly are - and what we are changes moment to moment. But because our tendency to grasp is so strong, it may take us some time to learn to trust and relax into our unfixed nature. Ego wants to be substantial and special, and it will try to possess each new realization and insight. When ego grasps at the gains we've made, we will suffer the consequences.

Some might say that we experience this because we are each of us, a mixture of introvert and extrovert. There are ways in which we know this about ourselves — know this beyond what our Meyers-Briggs type indicator tells us. We know that few of us are only “e” or “I”. We only have to reflect a bit about the way we live our lives. Sometimes we may avoid others — we may seek solace and a time and place apart for our own inner dialogue, at other times we may want to experiences the joy and camaraderie that comes from knowing where we fit — that we are part of our family, our team, our circle of friends — that we belong somewhere — that there are others to whom we matter, to whom we are valuable and important.

In her book Longing and Belonging, Parents, Children and Consumer Culture, author Allison Pugh examines the motivations that drive children to whine and needle their parents for everything from breakfast cereals to pricy sneakers and “Game Boy” toys and electronics. Children are driven by their belief that consumer goods bring with them an identity and acceptance and admittance to the “in” crowd at school or status in the neighborhood. Not to have access denies the child a prized place in the world of her or his peers. To own the latest phone or ipod or whatever toy or gizo means that a child can “belong,” can be admitted into the group — have a place in her or his world.

Children instinctively know that they want and need to belong — to belong to a family that will protect them and to a peer group that will help them grow, will offer them opportunities to be seen and known. Unfortunately those motivated not by a genuine desire for the welfare of children, but by greed have so manipulated the messages that children and all of us see and hear, that we are all often confused about what it means to long to feel as if we truly belong — as if we are visible and matter to ourselves and others who will see and hear and love us into becoming and being out best selves.

Sometimes the very things that might bring us the greatest pleasure and fulfillment are things that we may not even be willing to acknowledge to ourselves! That we are missing something. In fact, I believe that one of our deepest needs and desires is one that our society often expects us to deny, that need that we have to feel that we fit and belong somewhere.

Those differing impulses are also emphasized by the way our American way of life somehow teaches us that we must choose between our desire to reveal ourselves and be known for the real person we are and our need to compete for limited space at the top and limited goods. In our society we have often been taught to compete more than we have been taught to cooperate. Perhaps our cultural pendulum has swung so far that it is time examine the track it has followed. Perhaps our capitalist economic system has come to so dominate the way we see things that we are missing other important truths and ways of being.

I marvel at how competition has come to dominate so much of our understanding of “worth” — Now on the cable food network, chefs compete at cooking and the viewer is asked to watch others, supposedly persons with superior palates, taste foods to determine a winner. What could be more bizarre than watching others eat? The appreciation of foods — is perhaps one of the very most personal of “tastes” and is something that by its nature would seem to require our unique personal involvement. But now, we are asked to watch others eat! Now engaging our own visual and olfactory and gustatory awareness and other sensual experiences is “out the window,” as cooking and eating food has been turned into a spectator sport!

And then there is dancing and singing, things that certainly throughout history have must been appreciated as behaviors that bring pleasure and happiness to those who participate. But now rather than participatory embodied experiences, dancing and singing have more and more become competitive events — the few who participate are pitted in rivalry and judged not for the pleasure the competitors experience but by others who only observe, by others, who cannot sense their own bodies moving through space with rhythm and sensuality, and who do not feel the harmonic resonance of the human voice in chest and belly, throat and head!

Competition everywhere leads to the practice of judgment and a fear of judgment that thoroughly dominate our world. Sometimes we might almost forget that each of our lives is not a race to the finish — that there is not a final exam to ace, no goal to reach. The irony of the old bumper sticker: “the one who dies with the most toys wins” echo’s emptily as we forget the final tag line “never the less one dies.” Yet we still find ourselves lured by the promise and appeal that owning stuff and success will make us happy.

So if we long for safety and acceptance and if we cannot hide from the confusion and chaos and anxiety of living in this world, where might we turn? How might we manage to answer this deep longing we have for peace and acceptance? Margaret Wheatley responds with this, P 174 Leadership and the New Science,

We live in a time of chaos, as rich in the potential for disaster as for new possibilities. How will we navigate these times? The answer is together. We need each other differently now. We cannot hide behind our boundaries, or hold onto the belief that we can survive alone. We need each other to test our ideas, to share what we are learning, to help us see new ways, to listen to our stories. We need each other to forgive us when we fall, to trust us with their dreams, to offer their hope when we’ve lost our own.
We need each other to forgive us when we fall, to trust us with their dreams to offer their hope when we’ve lost our own. We each know that we need our deepest inner selves and we need one another. We need to be private and we need community. What is our greatest longing? Perhaps it is to feel safe and free to be and become the selves we know we are — “Mystery, mystery, life is a riddle and a mystery.” Perhaps the greatest mystery is that we are. We are here. We are here together. We are here together now. May all things be blessed.


"Celebrating UU Saints?"
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, November 1, 2009

Time for All Ages and Introduction to the Message: How many of you know what we all needed to do with our clocks last night?? Yes — we had to set them backwards one hour!! And we got to sleep an hour longer this morning!! I guess setting our clocks back at this time of year is supposed to make us feels like the days are longer — but we know that the daytime is getting shorter and shorter and nighttime is getting longer and some days are really cold now. Most of the leaves have fallen off from the trees, we have had a little snow already and soon it will be — winter!! This time of year when the wind blows and cold and darkness lingers and food stops growing, makes us feel different — it is beautiful. Fall is gorgeous! The colors and the air — make everyone feel different and the cold wind reminds us of winter. Fall is a time that makes us sometimes feel sad that summer is over, and sometimes kind of excited too. This special time of year reminds people that soon the earth will be covered with ice and snow!! We better be ready for wintertime.

As long as history, people had these feelings at this time of the year. Long ago people worked hard in the summer and fall to get ready for the winter. They worked hard to store wood for their fires, to gather and store their grains and nuts, potatoes, cabbages and squashes so they would be safe during the long winter. And then when the harvest was almost over and the darkness was growing people of long ago and in many lands celebrated!

Often the celebrations included reminding themselves that even though at this time of year everything looks like it is dying the flowers freeze and the leaves fall and the tomato vines die—that everything really isn’t dead. We know that beneath the cold dark earth there are tiny seeds just waiting to grow green again when after Christmas the days start to get longer again and the sun warms the soil and springtime returns!

So at this time of year people were thinking about how in the fall it looks like the earth is dying but it isn’t — and they remembered that people die too. They remembered that old people die, and sick people die. They remembered that babies are born and grow up into adults and that people and dogs and trees and flowers all live and they all die.

And so because this time of year made them think about winter — and death which are scary, in some countries people told scary stories and played tricks — they celebrated Halloween like many of you did last night. And in other countries people made great big fires and had parties and ate and danced. When we celebrate Halloween in this country we are following customs that are very old and that come from many countries.

At this time of year when it looks like the earth is dying, different countries sometimes celebrate differently. In Mexico, (where is Mexico? Yes Mexico is our country’s neighbor to the south! ) In Mexico, at this time of year, People remember their family and friends who have died. They remember their grandmothers or grandfathers who may have died a long time ago and they set up displays—or altars like this one to honor help them remember.

In Mexico they say that people die in three ways, first a person dies when they are no longer living and breathing. Next a person dies again when their dead body is placed into the ground, and the person dies again when they are no longer remembered. So Mexican families believe that it is very important to remember their loved ones — to keep their memories alive by celebrating at this time of year, They call this celebration — Dia de los Muertos — the day of the dead. So they set up tables with food and photos of their friends and family. Now most of us are not from Mexican families, but because we can learn from the wisdom of this Mexican custom, we have set up this altar — this ofrenda here in our church. We have copied some of the practices that Mexican people might use and we hope that we are showing respect and gratitude to our Mexican brothers and sisters.

Yesterday we celebrated Halloween — October 31, by dressing in costumes and trick or treating! And today is November 1 is another holiday called “All Saints Day,” a time to honor special people who have died, and tomorrow, November 2 is celebrated as “All Souls Day “ a time to honor all the people who have died.

So here we are combining all those customs!! Today we remember those people whose love and lives and work has helped us! We honor loved ones and we honor some of the many Unitarian Universalists in the history of our church who have contributed to making this world a better place.

I have placed a picture of my mom who died four years ago, and I have put this little quilt that she made for me with her picture to help me remember how much she loved to sew and to bake and to make her family happy.

Message: “Time is long, Life is short, we are only waiting while death comes.” There are those who might consider those words as grim — even cynical. And yet, that sentiment seems to echo the attitude that is behind so many of the world’s celebrations at this time of year. Our Mexican Sisters’ and brothers’ decorated ofrendas communicate that truth so beautifully. “Time is long, Life is short. We are only waiting while death comes!

I find great beauty and wisdom in that statement and in the ofrenda itself. Creating an altar for honoring the dead each year reminds us all that death is the partner of living. Dia de los Muertos, All Saints Day and All Souls day are holiday reminders that life is short — that our lives are important but that we may die at any time — that we need to live fully aware of the wonder our living and fully aware that we will die as others have died — that we are just like all other living things — part of a seasonal cycle of living and dying.

The old festivals and celebrations told the truth about living and dying. They reminded people that simply living — just being alive is a deeply mysterious blessing. The old festivals and holidays are a reminder that is it is important that we make each day count — that we must share our love and enjoy life fully because life like the summertime of the year, does not last forever only for a season — and then the earth moves on.

And of course some of us would rather not think about death at all — we would rather practice the kind of denial that so is much a part of our contemporary culture. We are part of a culture that practices a denial that aging happens and that illness may happen and death will come. Unfortunately our culture tends to be one that in denying the reality and finality of death too often also fails to honor the mystery and the beauty and wonder of really living as well. Instead we are fed a kind of mesmerizing message that eternal entertainment — great food, great sex, comfort and luxury can be ours for a price and with a pill.

But deep inside our bodies still resonate with the change of seasons as those of our ancestors did. Deep inside our cells know that we cannot, must not deny that our joy filled and hope-fueled connection with living is purchased by the fact that we too will die. There is something very authentic about giving ourselves permission to honor and celebrate and mourn the lives of those who have passed from living and to do that as part of our religious community has become an important ritual in many Unitarian Universalist churches at this Harvest, Samhein, or Halloween time of year.

For several years now we have celebrated Dia de los Muertos, Samhein and Halloween but this year Sunday has fallen right on All Saints Day — Nov. 1 — All Saints Day — a pretty special holiday in much of the world — particularly those lands predominated by the Catholic or Orthodox churches. And so it is a great opportunity to ponder what we Unitarian Universalists might mean if we were to use the term “saint?”

Would we, could we ever have “saints?” and if we did, whom would we nominate? How might they be determined? By a vote of the General Assembly? What would be the criterion? Would a quorum of congregations need to be present? What kinds of miracles would we expect from our UU saints? — To some people this all might seem—well silly—after all most of us would describe ourselves with decidedly “humanist” terminologies.

Even my use of the word “saint” could come under fire — there are those who despise that word because of its meanings and connotations. And the word “saint” does carry a lot of baggage connecting it with the “supernatural” and even some abusive religious manipulations and images. According to the online version of the Encyclopedia Britannica,

In Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, to be a saint one must be publicly recognized by the church. Saints are considered intercessors with God for the living. They are honoured on special feast days, and their remains and personal effects are venerated as relics. Often Christian’s believe that saints performed miracles in their lifetime, or that miracles occur in their names after their death. In Islam, wali ("friend of God") is often translated as saint; in Buddhism, the terms arhat and bodhisattva are roughly equivalent to saint. Hindu sadhus are somewhat similar to saints.

And in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints the word “saint” takes on a whole other connotation, with the “saints” being only those true believers who are part of the inner Mormon Circle and who will be rewarded for their faith by living together in celestial bliss for all eternity.

BUT I believe that there is yet another way of understanding and reclaiming other more nuanced meanings of the word “saint.” A saint is also someone virtuous, someone who epitomizes excellence or who personifies an ideal — and there is no word other than “hero” which even comes close to having those aspects of “goodness’ and the qualities of excellence. “Hero” is a word tied to a male-oriented, patriarchal ideal of manhood. Synonyms for “hero” are brave man, superman, champion, conqueror, idol, male protagonist, male lead, or leading actor, words that preclude women ever making the grade. So I think maybe we might want to embrace the idea that there could be UU “saints.”

However there is that hierarchical aspect of “saint-hood” that simply may not correspond with the first of our Unitarian Universalist Seven Principles; that we affirm and promote the worth and dignity of each person.

Tom Owen Towle, a long time UU minister from California shared this story about Unitarian Universalism and All Saints:

“During intergenerational camps at De Benneville Pines Retreat Center in the Southern California mountains, our church often plays a game that underscores our commitment to universal respect: reverencing everyone without idolizing anyone.

Each person has the name of some well-known Unitarian Universalist pinned on his or her back by the game leaders. We then stroll around the lodge, asking questions about the people whose names we can't see on our own backs—simple yes-no queries such as the gender and era of the person. Most of these names are of the famous Unitarian Universalist variety, but we also mix in names of camp attendees, young and old alike. It always brings a shock of delight and pride when people learn they're wearing their own name or that of another church camper.

The point of the game is crystal clear even to the youngest in our camp: Despite our imperfections, we are all beautiful and capable individuals. We belong to a beloved community that believes unreservedly in every one of us and affirms that we can be and do marvelous things during our sojourn on earth.

Some wag once quipped that some faiths focus on all saints and others on all souls, but Unitarian Universalism is a faith of all sorts.

We believe that salvation is for everyone or no one. The Universalist side of our tradition posits an Infinite Spirit that holds every creature in loving embrace…

In short, liberal religion focuses upon universal rather than individual salvation."
Tom Owen-Towle, reflection UU World Magazine 2002

What Towle reminds us if we Unitarian Universalists honor “All Saints” day we would not separate out the “saved” from everyone else. That our understanding of the Spirit of Life is that it is Love and goodness available in and to and for all.

If we were to identify “saints” their designation would not offer them a higher place in anyone’s eternity or special privileges in anyone’s heaven. Rather they would be honored for their contributions to creating a better life on this earth! Certainly with that criterion in mind names like Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King come to mind — they would certainly we welcomed as UU saints even though they were not Unitarian Universalist.

The persons who are represented on the cards we placed on our ofrenda this morning are examples of just a few “famous” Unitarian Universalists – they were Lousia May Alcott, writer and influential thinker, Horace Mann, father of American public schools, Maria Mitchell 19th century astronomer, first woman admitted to the American Association for the Advancement of Science and founder of the American Association for the Advancement of Women Adlai Stevenson, twice nominated by the Democratic Party to run for president he championed his hope that "Man in his civil society has learned how to live under the law with the institutions of justice, and with a controlled strength that can protect rich and poor, weak and strong alike." Abigale Adams, who asked, when will Mankind be convinced that true Religion is from the Heart, between Man and his creator, and not the imposition of Man or creeds and tests. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who began his career as a Unitarian minister but went on, as an independent man of letters, to become the preeminent lecturer, essayist and philosopher of 19th century and Dorothea Dix who embraced a holistic approach to the care and treatment for mentally ill people and that they should be provided therapy, books, music, recreation and, above all, meaningful work. Thomas Jefferson the third president of the United States and at age 33 the author of the Declaration of Independence and author of the Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia instituting the Separation of Church and state.

These represent not an elite circle of “save” but people who thought and studied and reasoned and worked with others to make their own lives and the lives of others better in the only time we know — this life here and now on this sacred and beautiful planet earth.

A human being is part of the whole that we call the universe, a part limited in time and space. Humans experience themselves, their thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical illusion of their consciousness. This illusion is a prison for us restricting us to our personal desires and affection for only the few people nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living beings and all nature. Albert Einstein. “A Tale of Boxes” Robert Latham p 268

May we here this morning be reminded that we live within the interconnected circle of all life — life that is shadowed by death. May our celebration of All Saints Day remind us that “Time is long, Life is short, we are only waiting while death comes.” May we hear those words and honor those who have passed from this life not with despair but with hope — hope that by living full and compassionate and love-filled lives that we will live into this faith that honors living and asks us only to grow into ever widening circle of life, standing together bravely, living the only lives we know, sharing compassion and joy, peace and love.


“Much Ado about Masks”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, October 25, 2009

So—last night we held our very successful annual church auction—and we were invited to attend as favorite literary characters. There were some quite glamorous folks and some that were beautifully elaborate. Some were clever and others that were smilingly simple — it was fun.

I loved the opportunity to embody the spirit of Miss Marple. While ours was a literary masquerade, the costumes were certainly in the spirit of Halloween now less than a week away. Halloween has grown steadily in its popularity—certainly grown since my own youth when we stood in a pool of light on neighbors’ porches to holler “Trick or Treat! ” Only the other week I saw that right here in Idaho Falls an entire store had opened devoted to Halloween decorations and costumes and — masks — all kinds of disguises designed to let children and adults pretend to be someone else for Halloween.

For many of us it is great fun to have the opportunity to occasionally don a disguise — to appear as a fantasy character — to create an alter ego — be Superman or Toinette zee French maid. But the masks I want to talk about today are not the kinds that we put on for Mardi Gras or Halloween or any other “occasion.” The masks I want to talk about are masks that we may have grown so accustomed to that we may not even realize we are wearing.

But before we go any further, let’s be reminded what a “mask” really is — a mask is a form of disguise — a mask covers the face of its wearer and presents a different “face” and can make the wearer appear to be an entirely different being. History and anthropology reveal that masks have been part of many cultures and societies as far back as the Stone Age and that masks have often held ritual or religious importance. Sometimes masks have been simple human false faces held on sticks, sometimes they have been giant contraptions with moving parts entirely covering the head and shoulder of the wearer.

Made from all kinds of natural and man-made materials; wood and plaster, bark, silk, papier-mâché, today, most contemporary ones are stamped from plastic or latex. From before history and in cultures far and wide masks seem to have often originated as part of religious rituals and ceremonies — to have had symbolic significance — the very idea that by putting on a mask one could appear to be someone or something else seems to have been a very important part of their importance. When a shaman or dancer put on a mask their movements or their words connected them with a world beyond —perhaps with the spirit world or supernatural beings or the ancestors. The mask itself often was believed provide powers to protect and power to connect.

In ancient Greece the origin of the drama was in religious festival where the actor’s — and the performers were always male, wore giant masks carefully crafted to portray types of characters, so that a single actor might play several roles by simply changing false faces — each mask representing a specific character “type.” The mouths of the masks were supposedly crafted to act as megaphones augmenting and projecting the performer’s voice so that he might be heard all the way to the back of their giant stone amphitheatres. Just imagine the role of the gentle and stubborn young Antigone played by a male actor in a giant mask outfitted with a megaphone-mouth!

And then we know too that for long periods in Europe the mask was accepted as a form of outerwear that allowed men and women to come and go without being recognized — allowing one to travel the streets, perhaps to visit their paramours in obscurity. In Venice we are told, the aristocracy used their masks to keep their identity and their escapades secret until the invasion of emperor Napoleon, realizing that anonymity could be a threat, outlawed the wearing of masks!

However, as interesting as the history of masks might be, the masks I am concerned about are not those made from velvet or vinyl and but are masks that haunt us even more than those of antiquity or those used by party goers. Actually the masks I want to consider this morning did come to my attention while I was part of the world of academic theatr.

Each October we would celebrate parents’ weekend — the air would be fresh and crisp, the New England fall colors usually spectacular, there would be a big Saturday afternoon game, and all Saturday morning my office would host a parade of students and their parents. One of the most frequently asked questions was always “how can my Jeffery or Michelle (there were a few years there where it seemed like all my male students were Jeffery and my female students were Michelle !) be successful — are they — you know good enough? Is he?? Or, Is she??? And the parent was really worried that going to a private college and spending all that money would not guarantee that their kid would make it to become — what they all were hoping for — make it to become — well rich and famous! Yes, in the quiet corner of the handsome carriage house loft that was my office, the parents and the kids were often caught up by the same concern — that the education they were paying top dollar to acquire was the guaranteed key to success! And success required lots of money and recognition and — well you know!

Let me share a story with you: Once upon a time there was a little girl, (we shall call her Susan) whose parents were convinced that she was the smartest, prettiest, most graceful and athletic, interpersonally gifted and bound to be successful child who had ever been born. And they told her so. They wanted to be sure that she reached her full potential. So when Susan didn’t act lady-like or do things the way her parents thought she should, they were careful to set her straight and make sure she continued down the right path.

Sometimes the little girl wondered, “What if all of a sudden I wasn’t the smartest, prettiest, most graceful and athletic and most interpersonally gifted, most bound to be successful child who has ever been born? Who would I be? And what would my parents think about me? Afraid of the answer she began to dance as fast as she could to keep up the front.

The little girl Susan grew up and became a doctor. …Always dancing. She married and had two wonderful children of her own. And she kept dancing until one day she felt very very tired. Her legs slowed their pace and finally they stopped. She couldn’t dance anymore and so finally she fell. It was a free fall, down — down, — down … until she thought she would suffocate if she fell any further. And as she fell she kept telling her legs, “get me back to the dancing place. Save me from this fall, What about the honor and the glory and the approval? I must keep dancing.

But Susan’s legs wouldn’t cooperate. She cursed her legs and told them they were bad. Then she cursed herself and told herself she was bad. And then she cursed everyone around her whose fault the whole thing must have been in the first place. And then she told them they were bad. All the while she kept falling convinced she would fall forever and nothing she could do would make it stop.

So Susan cried. She cried as she had never cried before, crying from pain and weariness of dancing all day and all night for thirty years even when she hadn’t wanted to. She cried because she was letting down so many people. And once she started crying she couldn’t stop crying…either, until she cried to God. “I can’t dance anymore. There’s absolutely nothing left. I’m sorry I have let you down.” And even as she spoke those words she suddenly stopped falling with a jolt.

She now felt as if she was being held, even cradled by a hand that rocked her and gave her rest. And a voice inside her heart said, “I never asked you to do that dance. I love you whether you can dance or not. I made you just the way you are … A reasonably intelligent, completely un-graceful and un-athletic, moderately interpersonally gifted child who isn’t better than anyone else but who is created so uniquely that no one can replace her. I don’t want you to dance anymore. I want you to rest. I want you to sleep in my rocking hand and feel how much I love you. And then and only then… I want you to go back up to land and let other people see what your life looks like when you are dancing for yourself and the Spirit and not for them.” (Seventy Ways to Beat Seventy, Bieble, Dill and Dill.)

And perhaps many of us might recognize that the story of Susan is about wearing a different kind of a mask. And that the mask that we this morning might want to better understand is the kind of mask that the story of Susan reveals. Perhaps we might also recognize someone we know well in the story of Susan and the mask she had to dance so very hard to keep in place. The world that we live in these days keeps promoting all kinds of false faces, keeps telling us who we must be; how we should look, and what we should own to be acceptable.

The marketing machine invades every aspect of our lives-from our bedroom where we are promised that a pricey tempur-pedic mattress covered by a thousand-thread count all cotton sheet set will give us restful sleep. In our kitchens we are told that only stainless appliances and granite countertops will do. We are told that to be happy we must do botox, sit on Ethan Allen, watch a plasma TV, keep track of the market on our I-phone and drive a Lexis!

In short we are so often surrounded by what we have been told are the accoutrements of acceptable, the markers of success, the false faces of happiness that it may sometimes be difficult to recognize them for the masks they create—masks that separate us from the good and holy unique selves that we really are. Mask that not only project a false image but that also protect us from knowing the sacred and special unique human being we really are.

It is that “being” — that Ground of Being that center of holiness — that core of knowing, that “Spirit of Life” that some may call by the name of “god-ness” that Susan finally was able to feel cradle her. Some time we are aware of that voice in mediation or in prayer, sometimes we know that presence in the world of nature and sometimes we know that when we are in community with others who are genuinely aware of their own inner peace and integrity and strength.

It may be difficult in this world where so many messages are competing for our attention, to sometimes hear that still small voice that resides in each of our hearts. The one that helps us each to know that we are fine just the way we are — that our own unique and holy self does not need to keep dancing — does not need to strive for success, that we are not required to do anything other than to bloom where we are planted — each one of us our own unique self bringing forth the blossom that is our truest being. We are so often told, by Madison Avenue and by a world filled with people who cannot even see the masks they wear that we need to jump through hoops to be considered to be worthwhile, but I say that when we truly realize that we are perfect as we are that we can let go of the fears that seduce us into wearing masks — into forever dancing to gain acceptance. When we discover the beautiful and true selves beneath the mask then we cannot but live good lives sharing a message of true freedom, of inner peace and love and hope with one another and with the world.

For far too many years I have wanted to be flawless.
        Perfecting my pursuits, I bargained all for love.
For all these many years I have made masks of my own doing,
        Pursuing, my perfection I found I was pursued.
And then one day I fell
        Sprawled, flattened, lost on the fertile ground of self,
Naked in dirt, no mask no bargains,
I raised my face and you were there. I struggled to stand. Dirt from my body clouded your eyes.
Your hand reached for me.
Blinded, your hand reached me.
There is in all of us, a place of pure perfection.
We discover its geography together.
Margaret Wheatley Turning to One Another, P 92
There is in all of us, a place of pure perfection.
We discover its geography together

Peace, Salam, Shalom, Amen and Blessed Be.


“Yet a Different Look at Jesus”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, September 27, 2009

Tomorrow, well actually beginning this evening, observant Jews celebrate Yom Kippur, the most high holy day of the Jewish year — the day of “Atonement.” In the Jewish tradition Yom Kippur, is a time of reconciliation and forgiveness, and follows ten days after the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah.

During those ten days religious Jews are expected to seek out those they might have offended or harmed during the year past, to own their errors and make restitution to become right with themselves, with others, and with God. I am especially fond of the tradition where observant Jews walk to flowing water, such as a creek or river, on the afternoon of the first day of Rosh Hashanah and empty their pockets into the river, symbolically casting off their sins. Small pieces of bread are commonly put in the pocket to cast off. (My guess is that the geese and ducks love that holiday too!)

The other symbol that is related to the holiday is that of the sacrificial goat, the scapegoat. In Leviticus where the earliest record of this ritual is recorded, two blemish free goats were chosen, one was ceremonially laden with the sins of the community and driven into the wilderness — hence the concept of the scapegoat, the other was sacrificed to G-d to Yaweh.

The idea of somehow being able to free ourselves from the burdens of our wrong doing, that symbolic means for getting rid of “sin” is important. The word “sin” is one a lot if UU’s have a hard time with. We may disagree with religious teachings that would have us believe that everyone is born already sinful, but the word for “sin” in Hebrew simply means to “miss the mark” — like an archer missing the target, to not be “perfect.” And since many of us would recognize ourselves in the “not perfect” category — many of us understand that we are people who “ miss the mark” occasionally if not often; we know in our own hearts what we mean when we reflect on our own shortcomings, inadequacies and sins. We are certainly aware when we have not treated someone else the way we would like to be treated – we are even aware that we have not treated out own selves in the way we would like to be treated!

We can only imagine what it would be like to not feel irritated with our neighbor, angry with our sister, disappointed with our spouse, disgusted with ourselves. We know that there would be such a sweet sense of release to know that we can forgive ourselves that we are forgiven by our loved ones and perhaps by the spirit of the universe.

If we could simply dispose of our own weighty wrong-doings, of the memories of our bad behaviors and our negative thoughts and energies! Feeling the relief of true forgiveness is a powerful feeling! In twelve-step programs the step that often causes the greatest anxiety also often offers the greatest rewards — is the steps which requires that one recognize and confess their wrong doings and make amends.

There may be nothing that makes us feel better than when we are able to return a good work — pay back someone who has been kind to us. Conversely, I am sure we have all perhaps silently and even somewhat guiltily rejoiced to see hurtful or stupid behaviors punished — rejoiced when someone gets their just desserts.

Many religions operate with rules regarding reciprocity, — a kind of eye for an eye — tooth for a tooth system. Other religions stress the importance of the practice of always spreading loving kindness. The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions are very clear about the importance of keeping their laws and the need for practicing forgiveness for one another. In some versions of the Christian faith, the death of Jesus is seen as having satisfied God for the sins of the whole world, once and for all setting everything to rights!

But not all Christians agree about what is most important about the role of forgiveness or the character of Jesus. In fact we can trace our “Universalist” ancestors to those early Christians who believed that God does not will suffering and pain; that a loving God would not punish people with eternal damnation, but is characterized by the presence of love and salvation for all.

Last Spring I first encountered a novel called “the Shack” when a local Christian minister explained that his congregation had been discussing that novel and its relation to universalism. He explained that it was a book that seemed to have fired up many in the Christian community; some who welcome it saying it opens up complicated theology and makes Christian teaching available and appealing to the average reader, and others who condemn it as heresy. Of course I went right out to Barnes and Noble and immediately set about reading it — plopped myself down with a mocha grande and later that evening read inot the night at home. It was obvious to me that this is a book that could easily upset much of the Christian community and that one frequent criticism would be that its author is truly preaching “universalism!”

The book’s theme has to do with how a person copes after a life-changing loss. In the case of “Mack” the protagonist of “The Shack,” his suffering seems unbearable. Before his six-year old daughter was abducted and murdered Mack’s life might have seemed normal, even somewhat ideal, he had a strong marriage with a wise and caring wife, Nan and seemingly had been a good husband and neighbor, and a kind and loving father to his five children. He was a kind and particularly devoted father in spite of his having suffered terrible abuse at the hands of his own father who was a Christian church-elder and a “vicious-mean-beat-your-wife-and-then ask-for-forgiveness-drunk.” (The Shack p.10)

But after his daughter’s kidnapping and murder, “The Great Sadness” settled over Mack and he was unable to reconcile to come to terms with his own feelings, his anger, his pain, his hurt and the incredible feelings of personal responsibility for his child’s death he was unable to move beyond his sorrow and loss. He felt anger and isolation from a God that would let this kind of wrong happen to an innocent child.

“The Shack” is a novel — one man’s first go at writing fiction. But “The Shack” has also been an incredible financial success! It has been hailed as a breakthrough for Christian theology and as successful at last in providing an understandable and satisfying explanation of “the Trinity” the orthodox Christian idea that God is made of three persons Father, son and holy spirit.

(While the book may be criticized as universalist, it certainly has not been accused of being too Unitarian!) It has also, however, been condemned from pulpits and Christian broadcasts and web sites as idolatry and blasphemy!

According to the New York Times, The Shack by William P. Young had its debut on June 8 2008 (and then) stayed in the No. 1 position on the New York Times… list for 32 weeks … http://www.nytimes.com/2008/06/24/books/24shack.html?scp=6&sq=the+shack&st=nyt
The Shack was also a very popular Oprah Winfry book club selection.

Originally written for his own teen aged and young adult children, William Paul Young completed the novel in 2005 and had it printed and bound at Kinko’s for their Christmas gifts. His friend, a pastor and Christian book writer-publisher read it and offered editorial advice and after the manuscript was rejected by several publishers, the two with another friend and just $300.00 self-published the book under the name ‘Wind Blown Press.” Passed around in small circles, it was word of mouth that finally lifted this book to the phenomenal success it enjoys today.

In some ways this novel, so popular among the masses, has attracted media and pulpit attention largely because its author seems to be reflecting a theology that according to fundamentalist Christian critics is way too liberal and forgiving and — well “universalist!” The author Young’s own website actually describes himself as a “Christian Universalist.”

So what makes this short novel “The Shack” interesting for many and so controversial for others?

“The Shack” is the story of a man who has been depressed and distraught for the four years since the abduction and murder of his 6-year old daughter. Kidnapped from a family outing in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon’s Wallowa-Whitman National Forest, “Mack” the man about whom the book is written has been unable to reconcile what happened to his innocent child with the Christian ideal of a loving God. Mack is tormented by his anger and frustration that the killer has never been found and punished and by his own sense of guilt and failure that he as a parent was unable to protect his child from the grips of evil.

And then in the mail, Mack receives a note signed “Papa” asking him to meet at “the shack” the dilapidated cabin where his daughter Missy’s bloody clothing had been found. Mack is intrigued and curious because “Papa” is the secret name his wife Nan uses in her own trusting relationship with God. Of course Mack, without explaining to the rest of his family, heads for the mountain and his rendezvous with the mysterious note-writer. True to his expectations arriving at the isolated shack in the damp and foreboding dead of winter serves to recall for him all his depression, doubts and anger until Papa actually shows up — and then everything changes.

"Papa,” God, presents God’s self as an enormous very earthy African American woman, the Holy spirit has also chosen a female form and appears as a lovely slender and ethereal Asian named Sarayu, (Sanskrit for “wind”) and Jesus the most human of the trinity is a very ordinary-looking youthful and middle-eastern-looking bearded fellow decked out in contemporary carpenter clothes; blue jeans and a plaid work shirt. And it seems to me that it is the character of Jesus that has inspired the most vehement criticism;

Albert Mohler, a leading theologian of the southern Baptist Convention, which takes the Bible literally, trashes The Shack in his weekly radio show calling it “deeply subversive,” “scripturally incorrect” and downright “dangerous”… Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle: (says) “If you haven’t read The Shack, don’t!” Driscoll, whose multi-campus campus, non-denominational church is packed with 6,000 people each weekend in the least-churched corner of the nation, says he is “horrified” by Young’s book. He says, “It misrepresents God.” (‘Shack’ opens Doors, but Critics Call the Book “scripturally incorrect” by Cathy Lynn Grossman: USA TODAY) Tim Challis writes: That the Shack is a dangerous book should be obvious … The book’s subversive undertones seek to dismantle many aspects of the faith and these are subsequently replaced with doctrine that is just plain wrong.

It seems that The Shack’s portrayal of the character of Jesus has aroused perhaps the very most controversy by bringing us back to the criticism that the novel espouses “universalism.”

“At the Back of the Shack, a Torrent of Universalism,” a review written by James B DeYoung states, The author espouses universal reconciliation without an explicit confession ... For the author to acclaim that Jesus died for all shows that he espouses unlimited atonement…the Jesus of universal reconciliation is not the Biblical Jesus …

DeYoung like so many other critics of the Shack refers again and again to their objection that the Jesus of “The Shack” seems to reject much of what he calls “institutions” even the institution of the church and “Christianity.”

In the book, Jesus says, “I don’t create institutions; that’s an occupation for those who want to play God. So no, I’m not too big on religion, and not very fond of politics or economics either.” Jesus visage darkened. “And Why should I be? They’re the man-made trinity of terrors that ravages the earth and deceives those I care about… Put simply those terrors are tools that many use to prop up their illusions of security and control. People are afraid of uncertainty, afraid of the future. These institutions, these structures and ideologies are all a vain effort to create some sense of security where there isn’t any. It’s all false! Systems cannot provide you security, only I can… I can give you freedom to overcome any system of power in which you find yourself, be it religious, economic, social or political … Remember the people who know me are the ones who are free to live and love without any agenda.” (P.182-184 The Shack)

“The Shack” is a very successful novel and a novel way of revisiting much of what orthodox Christianity has created and demanded that believers accept about the character of Jesus and the values of Christianity. That the Bible is the inspired word of God, that humanity became estranged from God, that God sent his son Jesus to die for the sins of mankind and that one needs to accept Jesus as a personal savior or suffer the consequences of an afterlife in hell.

(In the book, when Mack asks Jesus if having no agenda is what it means to be a Christian, Jesus responds, “Who said anything about being a Christian? I’m not a Christian.” P 184)

For the past two years “The Shack” has been a religious and a cultural phenomenon. Much of the controversy and the success of “The Shack” has been the writing’s relation with the tenants of Universalism, historic Universalism, the new Christian Universalism and even Unitarian Universalism. Like any novel it reflects the character and history and insights of its writer and his personal view of life — his personal theology and his perspective.

As open-minded and thoughtful as we Unitarian Universalists; humanists, pagans, Christians and seekers, might be, I think there are important things to be learned by paying attention to not only our own religion but also to the religious ideas and practices of others — even from fictional forays into theology. I think this is important as we seek to remain culturally literate.

For many readers this book seems to have provided an acceptable response to one of life’s central questions, one of the core issues that haunts all of us at some time during our lives, “why does suffering and death happen? Why is there evil in the world?” Why should a caring and thoughtful man like Forest Church have been stricken with cancer at the age of 62 while others, some far less educated and less thoughtful, perhaps less productive, certainly less well-loved live healthy lives far longer? Where is the justice or the compassion that permits loss and suffering and pain?

Theodicy is the theological name gives to this age old issue — why would a loving God allow evil to flourish, allow good people to suffer? While there are obviously many who would outlaw “the Shack” for what they deem to be its doctrinal errors, I would counter that it seems to have provided some metaphors that help people through the night. Unitarian Universalism (UU) draws from many sources and encourages us to remain open to wisdom and insight wherever we might find it. Our Universalist and Unitarian ancestors have given us a tradition that welcomes reflection and reason, even in regard to religion. Our tradition also is one that encourages us to forgive ourselves and each other and to begin again in love.


Julia Ward Howe; From A Battle Hymn to A Day for Peace
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, May 10, 2009

So we have just read the original “Mother’s Day Proclamation” by Julia Ward Howe. And on the second Sunday in May, today, we celebrate Mother’s Day. And even though “Code Pink” and other serious folks — like many people in some UU churches, and others all over the country, are attempting to return “Mother’s Day” into a time for thoughtful examination of the issues of war and violence, most of the nation will celebrate “Mother’s Day” the way my family of origin did back in Ohio.

In the Henry County Ohio Luther-land church-world where I grew up, “Mother’s Day” was a fairly big deal; church was filled with the fragrance of carnations; a red corsage if your mother was living and white if she was not. It was important to let your mother and grandmothers know that they were loved and respected and that you were grateful for their support and self sacrifice. Later, when I had my own children usually we celebrated by going out for brunch and a weekday call for flower delivery was followed by a Sunday phone chat with Mom.

Mother’s Day: while many celebrate, it also makes some of us vaguely uncomfortable. Not everyone has a reason to celebrate. It is less important for me now; now, my mom has died, and my sons are far away, my stepson estranged. For some of us “Mother’s Day” might remind us of pain, or loss or of the kind mothering we deserved but never got. “Mother’s Day” can bring up feelings of sadness, resentment, and anxiety. We might feel wonderful, uncomfortable, isolated or irritated with “Mother’s Day!” But love it or resent it, it is hard to completely ignore.

Last year and increasingly this year some people will use this holiday as an opportunity to remind folks that the original “Mother’s Day” proclamation called us all to work for peace! Last year folks from this congregation stood on Broadway in a wind so strong we nearly blew away displaying banners and signs re-claiming Mother’s Day as a day for peace.

Last year the Snake River Freedom coalition people spent a good part of the day chalking the names and dates of people killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the sidewalks along the river, a powerful reminder that real people — Americans, Iraqis, and others continue to die in those wars.

And I expect there were people last year who wondered what was going on — why there was a protest for peace on “Mother’s Day”? Why anyone would want to ruin “Mother’s Day” by thinking about war? So this year I want to explore the life of the woman who originally called for a “Mother’s Day for Peace.” This year I want to share with you a few tidbits about Julia Ward Howe whose name is still connected with “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” that single inspired writing that brought her lasting fame. However, Julia Ward Howe is often overlooked for the many other contributions she made to the causes of freedom and to the idea and hope for lasting world peace.

Every American learns about the incredible impact that her writing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic had on those who fought for the North, but we may not know much about Howe herself. Julia Ward Howe, was many things and for most of her life, in addition to being a devoted mother, a wife, a scholar, a musician, an activist, a preacher, a poet, a writer and a lecturer she was a also a very visible and active Unitarian. During her lifetime she was a member of several Unitarian churches; and an active member attending and participating in Unitarian conferences and conventions.

Born in 1819 in New York, the daughter of a successful Wall Street banker she was a true DAR — Daughter of the American Revolution. On her father’s side she was descended from Roger Williams and two governors of Rhode Island. Her mother was herself a published poet and the great grand-niece of Francis Marion better known as “the swamp fox,” a legendary Revolutionary War hero.

While Julia was still very small her mother died leaving her seven children to the care of their strict Calvinist father whose strict efforts to protect his daughters and his ideas of the proper education for women did not include allowing them to interact with people other than family. Luckily Julia was a faithful journal and letter writer allowing her daughters and other biographers to understand how such a fine mind as Julia’s could have developed in spite of that controlled environment.

Howe, a voracious reader, was fortunate that her older brothers, shared their experiences and brought back entire libraries they had acquired abroad – even books like those written by Goethe and that outrageous feminist, George Sand. Her brother Sam also exposed her to people like Longfellow, Dickens, Charles Sumner and Margaret Fuller.

When their father died in 1839, it was to Sam's house that Julia and her two sisters moved. Sam had recently married Emily Astor, the favorite grandchild of John Jacob Astor and it was there that Julia and her sisters were introduced to New York society. Julia was bright and talented with a quick wit and had an indomitable spirit of fun, as well as great discipline and she found delight in learning. Though she and her sisters never went to school and her formal tutors were only engaged until she was 16, she learned French as a child and taught herself to read in seven languages and became fluent in several. She was also an accomplish musician having studied voice and keyboard with fine musicians. Her music often eased and sustained her in difficult times. And, in her family circles she was known for her almost obsessive writing — her poetic quips, couplets and responses, her descriptions and insights, her correspondence and her philosophizing.

She developed into a very social person. She loved people and loved to write and as a lively and beautiful young woman she was extremely popular and quite flirtatious.

In April of 1843, Julia met, was wooed by and quickly married to Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, a handsome and dashing horseman and bachelor some twenty years her senior. Himself a famous hero having fought on behalf of the Greek Revolution, and known for his work for prisoners, he was devoted to his calling as a reformer and educator for the blind. His passion was the creation and survival of the Boston landmark, the Perkins Institute for the Blind.

Howe was also a radical Unitarian and was part of the group led by Ralph Waldo Emerson known as the Transcendentalists. He carried his religious conviction in the value of the development of every individual into work with the blind, with the mentally ill, and with those in prison. He was also, out of that religious conviction, an impassioned opponent of slavery.

After their lengthy European wedding trip the couple returned to live in a small house on the grounds of the Perkins school. In spite of Howe’s fabulous efforts on behalf of the blind and his compassion for the downtrodden, his attitude toward his wife was autocratic and patriarchal. Julia soon found their marriage to be a confusion of love and devotion, restriction and conflict. Samuel Gridley Howe, the open-minded and caring professional, the progressive thinker who had introduced her to the liberal religious views of Unitarians like Theodore Parker and Channing, and to abolitionist ideas on the evils of slavery she discovered, had very narrow and restrictive views of the proper role for his wife.

And while Julia dearly loved each of her six children, (a seventh died in infancy) she used her music, her studies, her writings, and her family to ease the isolation her husband insisted upon.

That their marriage was one of great love, respect and affection, no one doubted. That their marriage was easy or without conflict was never the case. Dr. Howe, as many men of his era, was adamant that women’s place and role was strictly in the home and with the children. Julia ached for the companionship of her peers and for satisfaction of doing real work. She also resented the fact that their marriage gave Samuel, her husband, control over her every choice, even her considerable income from her father’s legacy.

Julia’s diary and her letters make it perfectly clear that her friends and family, her studies and her writings kept her sane during those years. In 1852, taking the two youngest children she spent the year in Rome with her sister and considered divorce but when Howe threatened to keep her from her children, which the laws of the time would have enabled him to do, she returned determined to remain and make the best of it.

Later that year, perhaps as a reflection of her inner need to revolt, a volume of her poetry, “Passion Flower” was published anonymously much to Howe’s anger and dismay as it not only brought her to the attention of the public, anonymous rarely succeeding, but revealed her inner thoughts in a way he felt was unbecoming to her role as a wife and mother.

But Samuel Gridley Howe was increasingly involved in the abolitionist movement and included Julia in the publication of “The Commonwealth” his fiery anti-slavery publication. It is speculated that Howe was among those who are charged with being the “Secret Six” who financed, perhaps unwittingly, the now infamous John Brown and his bloody raid at Harpers Ferry. What we do know is that they and many of their contemporary abolitionists hoped that with their support the slaves would feel empowered to rise up against their masters and that they might inspire others to support war against the south as a direct effort to free those who were so brutally enslaved.

A very important, though often forgotten fact is that more men died in the civil war due to disease caused by the disgusting lack of sanitary conditions in the prisoner of war camps and in their own battle camps than died on the battlefields. And an often over-looked institution of social service that came to the rescue was the U.S. Sanitary Commission, which Samuel Gridley Howe and Julia Ward Howe became extensively involved in developing. Because of the work of the Sanitary Commission there were far fewer deaths later in the war than earlier.

In 1862, it was as a result of that work,that President Lincoln invited them to Washington and it was on their visit to a Union army camp across the Potomac in Virginia that the song that changed the war was born.

The sounds of “John Brown’s body lies a moldering in the grave” echoed everywhere. The song was apparently sung by both sides during the war; by the Union soldiers as a reminder of his heroism, by the confederates to celebrate Brown’s death.

It was on that visit that fellow abolitionist and Unitarian minister James Freeman Clark, knowing that Julia was an inveterate poetry writer, suggested that she create new lyrics for what was obviously a well-loved tune. Julia’s diary reveals how she wrote the song,

"I replied that I had often wished to do so… in spite of the excitement of the day I went to bed and slept as usual, but awoke the next morning in the gray of the early dawn, and to my astonishment found that the wished-for lines were arranging themselves in my brain. I lay quite still until the last verse had completed itself in my thoughts, then hastily arose, saying to myself, I shall lose this if I don't write it down immediately. I searched for an old sheet of paper and an old stub of a pen which I had had the night before, and began to scrawl the lines almost without looking, as I learned to do by often scratching down verses in the darkened room when my little children were sleeping. Having completed this, I lay down again and fell asleep, but not before feeling that something of importance had happened to me." (Julia Ward Howe, Reformer, Clubwoman, Writer, Poet, by Jone Johnson Lewis, Women's History Guide) womenshistory.about.com/od/howejwriting/a/mothers_day.htm - 23k

Entitled, "the Battle Hymn of the Republic,” her poem, (for which she was paid a hearty $5.00!) was first published in February 1862 in the Atlantic Monthly. It quickly was sung to the popular melody of “John Brown’s Body.” (Apparently the original tune had been written by a Southerner for religious revivals.) It soon became the Civil War song that inspired the North and justified the war as something God had blessed and orchestrated. It is interesting to note that even though many politicians had other views and historians often disagree, for staunch abolitionists like the Howes, the civil war was truly a noble call to arms and they felt justified in their battle to abolish the institution of slavery. Let us sing together now a song we all know as The Battle Hymn of the Republic. (All Sing)

That song catapulted Julia into a very much more public life and she began working more visibly for reform and abolition and women’s suffrage. By the early 1870’s her children, always the center of her life, were mostly grown up and off doing things in their own lives. In her biography her daughters quote from her diary,

“Many women, confronting changes like these say to themselves, ‘it is over. For me there is no more active life”….this woman, lifting her eyes from the empty spaces saw Opportunity beaconing from new heights.” (Julia Ward Howe 1819-1910, by Laura E. Richards and Maude Howe Elliott p. 300)

In 1876 after the death of her husband Samuel Gridley Howe, it was necessary that work took on a more serious tone, for husband’s death revealed that his failed investments, had left her in a financial situation that was quite reduced. Terrifically popular as a speaker, she embarked on several cross-country tours and found that without his ever vigilant presence she was better able to articulate her own perspectives and plan her own itineraries.

The American Civil War, the long battle between the Greeks and Armenians, and the Franco Prussian War had made a deep impression on her. In her “Reminiscences” she explains,

“As I was revolving these matters in my mind, while the war was still in progress, I was visited by a sudden feeling of the cruel and unnecessary character of the contest. It seemed to me a return to barbarism, the issue having been one which might easily have been settled without bloodshed. The question forced itself upon me, ‘Why do not the mothers of mankind interfere in these matters, to prevent the waste of that human life which they alone bear and know the cost?’
I had never thought of this before. The august dignity of motherhood and its terrible responsibilities now appeared to me in a new aspect and I could think of no better way of expressing my sense of these than of sending forth an appeal to womanhood throughout the world, which I then and there composed. This appeal is dated Boston, 1870 ( Julia Ward Howe, p 301)

From then on, Julia saw the connection between her work for women’s suffrage and her work for peace as an essential relationship. She lived and worked for many more years always recognized, respected and revered as the author of that one poem “the Battle Hymn of the Republic” The irony was that the very woman whose work had so motivated and inspired the soldiers of the Civil war, would also be the person who was now appealing that women around the world must work together to put an end to war — all war in the name of their children. In 1904 at the age of 85 she shared her own response to the speakers at an international Peace Congress,

“I said, Mr. President, and dear friends, assembled in the blessed cause of Peace, let me remind you that there is one word even more holy than peace, namely, justice. It is anterior in our intellectual perception. The impulse which causes men to contend against injustice is a divine one, deeply implanted in the human breast. …the brightest intellects, the most profound study, should be devoted to the promotion of this end.” (Julia Ward Howe, P 327.)

And so I have shared with you this mother’s day just a little glimpse of the life of Julia Ward Howe, best known for a song that sustained a country at war but always equally and actively a Unitarian devoted to the causes of freedom, equality, peace, and justice. Let us remember this Mother’s Day that we Unitarian Universalists too, are called to devote ourselves to the causes of freedom, equality, peace and justice. Amen and Blessed Be.


“Toxic Isolation”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, May 3, 2009

Ronald Takaki opens his book A different Mirror: a History of Multicultural America

I had flown from San Francisco to Norfolk and was riding in a taxi to my hotel to attend a conference on multiculturalism. Hundreds of educators from across the country were meeting to discuss the need for greater cultural diversity in the curriculum. My driver and I chatted… the rearview mirror reflected a white man in his forties. “How long have you been in this country?” he asked. “all my life, “ I replied, wincing. “I was born in the United States.” With a strong southern drawl, he remarked, “I was wondering because your English is excellent.” Then, as I had done many times before, I explained, “My grandfather came here from Japan in the 1880’s. My family has been here, in America for over a hundred years.” He glanced at me in the mirror. Somehow I did not look “American” to him, my eyes and complexion looked foreign.
Suddenly, we both became uncomfortably conscious of a racial divide separating us. An awkward silence turned my gaze from the mirror to the passing landscape, the shore where the English and the Powhatan Indians first encountered each other. ( Peter Brimlow, Alien Nation, Common Sense About America’s Immigration Disaster. p 271)

This week has certainly been reminder that we are indeed a part of a global society— perhaps the media has been overly anxious in emphasizing the threats and pandemic possibilities of the latest A1N1 version of the swine flu. This past weeks schools have been closed, we have been reminded to “wash our hands” to be vigilant—to stay away from crowds, and to remain at home if we begin to experience flu-like symptoms. We have seen video clips of travelers’ wearing surgical masks and people in Asian airports being scanned by infra red heat sensors designed to identify persons with elevated body temperatures who might be coming down with flu.

And, true to form, according to Bonnie Fuller writer for the Huffington Post, some people have used the fact that this flu seems to have hit Mexico the first and the hardest as a reason to blame undocumented Mexican immigrants,

Despite the fact that there is no evidence to support such claims, talk radio hosts Michael Savage and Neal Boortz, radio and Fox TV personality Glenn Beck, and columnist Michelle Malkin are spreading them faster than the contagion.
"Illegal aliens are bringing in a deadly new flu strain. Make no mistake about it," blares Michael Savage.
"I've blogged for years about the spread of contagious diseases from around the world into the US as a result of uncontrolled immigration," writes Michelle Malkin.
"What happens if there's a rash of deaths in Mexico… and if you're a family in Mexico and people are dying and Americans are not, why wouldn't you flood this border?" announces Glenn Beck.
(And Fuller continues,) These loud mouths are also trying to convince their audiences that Islamic terrorists have somehow been able to do what has eluded scientists elsewhere in the world — concoct a deadly new flu virus — and then introduce it into the Mexican population.

What an odd set of circumstances to have developed during the very week that I had intended to be pulling together my own ideas about wisdom we might gain by our own attitudes toward immigration. I had intended to address the fact that even those of us living in the relative isolation of the Snake River Plains of Idaho have a stake in what is one of the most important and most complex problems our nation daces. I had also wanted to emphasize that we might reap a variety of benefits when we are able to break through our own tendencies to remain fearful or isolated.

And then, of course this week also marked the end of the first one hundred days of the Obama presidency where he articulated that in his opinion our immigration system is quite simply “broken.”

Now most of us, like most Americans would probably tend to agree—no matter what our political or social perspectives, that our immigration system is broken and has been for quite some time. And most of us would agree that personally we may feel that things are out of control and that we cannot offer much by way of advice as to how one might go about fixing it!

Many of you may remember that when I interviewed here in April of 2006 I was astonished to discover that we had quite a “Si se Puede” Parade right (over in) here in Idaho Falls — Since I had been told that in this part of the state we had little racial or ethnic diversity; that there were only a few non- Anglos and non-white persons. I spent some time walking with those Latino marchers that morning and I learned that there is actually a sizable minority of Hispanic people, in this region. Then, earlier this winter, I began reading two books related to the issue of immigration.

The first, “They Take Our Jobs” explores many of the myths that lead some people—like those right-wing commentators that I quoted earlier, to blame immigrants for everything—everything from the rise in crime and drug addiction to our present economic woes, for job-loss and even for the swine flu.

The other book, “The Hispanic Condition, the Power of a People” is far more academic and in-depth in its analysis, and while written by a Jewish Mexican American, explores issues particular to the distinct sociologies and psyches of many of America’s Hispanic immigrant population.

But the problem of “immigration” did not just surface as a political, economic or social justice issue. According to our own Unitarian Universalist association,

At our first General Assembly (held after the 1961 merger of the Unitarians and Universalists)… we UU’s passed a resolution on the rights of immigrant workers, followed by a 1963 resolution calling for immigration reform. Throughout the 1970s we supported immigrant farm worker campaigns, and in the 1980s, many Unitarian Universalist (UU) congregations were actively involved in the Sanctuary movement. Three General Assemblies of the UUA endorsed sanctuary for refugees and the UUA Board of Trustees established a fund to support individuals seeking sanctuary and to aid churches providing sanctuary. Our 2004 Statement on Civil Liberties affirmed our commitment to advocate for the right to due process of immigrants, refugees and foreign nationals. In 2006 and 2007, the General Assembly passed Actions of Immediate Witness to support immigrant communities, including a call for an immediate moratorium on federal raids and resulting deportations.
Our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to recognize that no one is "the stranger," to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and to support the use of justice for all people.

The fact that throughout our Unitarian Universalist history many of us have felt the need for political discussion and humane social justice advocacy work, attests to the complexity of problems that have arisen in relation to immigration and that other issues have been fairly or unfairly tied to immigration. Immigration has been implicated and sometimes been a convenient issue upon which in all kinds of economic, political and social ills can be blamed.

Some of you may be familiar with a writer-lecturer named Roy Beck who seems to have devoted his career to sharing what he determined back in the 1990’s were alarming statistics related to immigrant numbers and their impact upon the well-being of our American way of life.

His video demonstration, easily available by searching the internet, and known popularly as the gumball demonstration, shows that he perceives our American way of life is threatened by the sheer numbers of immigrants allowed since legislative changes that were enacted in 1965. In his graphic display featuring simply glass containers and gumballs, he shows that that by maintaining the level of legal immigration that congress approved back in 1965 our American quality of life will be impossible to maintain, and moreover that it would simply be impossible for the US to offer shelter to more of the world’s downtrodden. Allowing more immigrants to enter would hardly dent the vast numbers of impoverished people of the world who are clamoring to be admitted into our country. Simply using one gumball to symbolize one million people, he shows how quickly we would become overrun with people without affecting the needs that millions of others face around the world.

According to his, Roy Beck’s, analysis, (Roy Beck, the Executive Director of, Numbers USA,)

The chief difficulties that America faces because of current immigration are not triggered by who the immigrants are but by how many they are.
The chief difficulties that America faces because of current immigration are not triggered by who the immigrants are but by how many they are.
(He emphasizes that)
The task before the nation in setting a fair level of immigration is not about race or some vision of a homogenous white America; it is about protecting and enhancing the United States' unique experiment in democracy for all Americans, including recent immigrants, regardless of their particular ethnicity. (Roy Beck, "The Case against Immigration")

Now I am highly skeptical of Beck’s true motivation and fairly convinced that his agenda is not simply a humane desire to illuminate his audience, nevertheless, I think there is much truth in his often repeated assertion that … our kindly feelings toward immigrants must no longer stifle public discussion about the effects of immigration numbers. (Roy Beck, "The Case Against Immigration”)

The Immigration issue is the “over population” issue that many of us found deeply troubling back in the middle of the last century. The overpopulation issue that never went away but that got waylaid by those whose religious fervor prevented them from sanely addressing the facts or providing adequate education and support for family planning here and in other nations as well has left us an earth in peril and societies in shambles in much of the world.

And that may just leave us — members and friends of this little UU community right here in Southeast Idaho wondering what this has to do with us and our religious community? After all, unlike “Holy Rosary Roman Catholic Church over in the numbered streets, we are not exploding with an influx of Latino members. In fact while our most numerous immigrant populations, those persons of Hispanic origin add some colorful diversity, many of us may only marginally have noticed that children of immigrant families make up a larger percentage of students in our schools and shoppers in our stores. Many of us may enjoy having access to a wide assortment of Mexican restaurants and some of us may each year enjoy the Cinco de Mayo festival nearly rained out yesterday.

However, unlike the citizens of Phoenix or San Diego or Atlanta, we are probably not aware that issues related to immigration have caused enormous social ills, and have been blamed for many, many more. We may barely recognize that one would not have to go to Afghanistan or Iraq for war. We are a country with a very real internal war happening along our borders and within many of our cities and towns and states — an immigration war that has targeted people who are Hispanic or appear to be Mexican. The anti-immigration sentiment has targeted people who may not meet the often restrictive, confusing, complicated and arbitrary standards that would allow them to become legal immigrants and citizens.

The anti-immigration war also often targets people who appear to belong to any ethnic minority — Hispanic, Asian or others with physical or language or other identifying elements that set them apart. Some states like Georgia, for instance have created restrictions that apply only to Latinos — restrictions and outright discrimination practices. These laws and policies have, according to lawyer Mary Bauer of the Southern Poverty Law Center, created a Juan Crow world of discrimination where anyone who appears to be Hispanic often is subjected to outright oppression.

According to the article in Nation Magazine, “Juan Crow” is a “matrix of laws social customs, economic institutions and symbolic systems enabling the physical and psychic isolation needed to control and exploit undocumented immigrants. (Roberto Lovato, “Juan Crow in Georgia,” Nation, May 20, 2008 p. 21)

In fact, the more I have learned about the plight of many immigrants, particularly the undocumented, those who arrive here without the permission of authorities the more concerned I have become. These people who are are often addressed as “illegal” are subjected to the harshest of employment circumstances. These are people who do not have the rights of citizenship, who are often manipulated and even blackmailed by employers and others. The undocumented status puts people at the mercy of those who gain enormous financial benefit from their vulnerability — by paying substandard wages and threatening them with deportation if workers protest or try to organize. And the for-profit criminal justice system is making a fortune off their incarceration!

However, for many of us the problems faced by immigrants are simply invisible — invisible because our affluence and our privilege allow us to distance ourselves and to isolate ourselves from their problems in the same way that we can skillfully avoid other issues related to poverty, racial and class inequality, homelessness, abuse or any number of other social justice issues.

Except that Marilyn and Hank signed us up for a monthly soup kitchen stint, many of the folks in this congregation would never have had the opportunity to witness up close the human face of need in our own community.

There seems to be a natural human tendency to seek the safe — the safe place, the safe relationship, to make the safe choice. Our natural human tendency may be to find a place where we are comfortable and to do what we can do to remain there. Unless we are powerfully motivated, we might choose never to stray from the security of that place. It is from that impulse that selects safety above all that “conservatism” is born. Social and political conservatism are often primarily motivated by that very fear people have for the loss of their own safety, security, privilege and status. And when we are fearful—when we feel threatened one almost immediate response is to pull in and to separate one’s self from everything new or strange—to experience anything foreign or unfamiliar as threatening and to isolate one’s self still further. But isolation kills our humanity and the very life that fills us with zeal, light and energy. All of us grow in response to the new, the different, the challenging—it is when we are most creatively engaged that we feel most alive! Research has repeatedly shown that as human beings we thrive best by being engaged with the novel and that our brains are designed to continue to grow and change throughout our entire lives.

The Reverend Lora Kim Joiner and her husband and co-minister Meredith Garmon recently took in two teenage boys from Honduras. Youth from the detention home are generally sent back to their parents when authorities can identify them, Joyner explained. Because these two boys had fled from abusive homes—and were going to be sent back there—Joyner and Garmon took them in. Both are now in school and pursuing U.S. residency. “It kind of surprised us that we did this,” said Joyner. “We’re middle-aged people who didn’t expect to be raising teenagers. But they have really been a gift to us. They bring us out of our American Anglo world and into the world of healing diversity.”

… (Joiner) encourages UU congregations to learn as much as they can about immigration so they can push for better immigration policies. “The current system is racist, classist, antiquated, and tears families apart,” she said. “Part of the learning we must do is not just in our heads, but in our hearts. We need to remember what we know deeply in our being—that we are more whole in our diversity and that all are part of the great human family.”

I believe that we all can benefit from recognizing that even here in southeast Idaho there is a need for us to all become more aware of the fears and needs of immigrants—I believe with Rev. Joiner that when we can break out of our own isolation and the denial that says “not my problem” that we too might be brought out of our “safe” American Anglo world and into the world of healing diversity.” To remember that the learning we must do is not just in our heads, but in our hearts. We need to remember what we know deeply in our being—that we are more whole in our diversity and that all are part of the great human family.” (UUA Social Justice Immigration website)

Amen and Blessed Be.


Easter “The Trick is Rising Again”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, April 12, 2009

It is always an interesting time, this “Easter Sunday.” Sometimes Easter makes religious liberals slightly uncomfortable—after all many of our neighbors, relatives and friends celebrate Easter as the most important holiday of their Christian liturgical year. And their celebration of the sacrificial death and resurrection of the man-God Jesus, their sincere and faith-filled rejoicing in hopes of a heaven in which they too will arise to spend eternity in bliss, leaves little room for alternatives, for questioning, for science or for reasoning. It is easy to understand why Easter leaves so little room for other celebrations.

And having read this week’s Newsweek front-page column “The End of Christian America” one might almost understand why the orthodox Christian religion feels so under siege and why they might be a bit defensive. Writer, Jon Meachum quotes Al Mohler the Southern Baptist president of one of the world’s largest seminaries, who spoke from his office in Louisville Kentucky

"A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us," Mohler wrote. "The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture."
(Meachum continues to explain that) the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen 10 percentage points since 1990, from 86 to 76 percent… in the new NEWSWEEK Poll, fewer people now think of the United States as a "Christian nation" than did so when George W. Bush was president (62 percent in 2009 versus 69 percent in 2008). Two thirds of the public (68 percent) now say religion is "losing influence" in American society, while just 19 percent say religion's influence is on the rise. The proportion of Americans who think religion "can answer all or most of today's problems" is now at a historic low of 48 percent. (URL:http://www.newsweek.com/id/192583)

One can understand why Christians might feel somewhat defensive and a bit protective about keeping their “Easter” holiday pure and yet, it is so obvious that behind this celebration of Jesus’ resurrection is also a reminder of the desire for fertility and the birth of springtime that is more ancient and more earth- and life- connected than either the Jewish Passover or the Christian Easter.

It is easy to understand why the ancients celebrated the return of springtime—why they set aside times for celebration all along the complex progression of spring’s advance, times for ritual and festival to rejoice that winter wanes—that in fits and starts the weather warms and the sunshine grows longer and warmer, and that as spring advances we can feel ourselves changing too—changing our routines—enjoying the out of doors or getting our homes or our selves ready for a new season.

And it is easy to understand how flowers and the rabbit and the egg – those early symbols of fertility remain deeply embedded in our own springtime celebrations. Rabbits — well most of us have heard or know first-hand that the gestation period is short and the birth rate among rabbits is extremely high. (That’s what makes them such a popular Heifer project protein donation!)

And eggs — well it is obvious that an egg may be the most immediately recognizable physical symbol of birth and transformation. Maybe you remember a incubator in your classroom, or watching a film — or maybe it was a fat old hen at grandma’s. Perhaps, you recall that fertile eggs need to be warmed and turned — that they need just the right amount of moisture and then how after 21 days the tiny murmuring sounds and subtle rocking movements begin to reveal the life within them and how finally the shell begins to crack and how a pecking from inside the egg expands the puncture until finally it is fully broken and out from its scrunched up home inside the shell — an exhausted and nearly helpless, matted, scrawny but noisy and soon to be soft and fluffy peep emerges.

Whether the hatching is of baby alligators or ducklings that transformation from egg to live animal is — utterly amazing. The egg is at once such an ordinary object — most often we routinely purchase chicken eggs at the market (by the dozens!) Almost without thinking, rarely pausing to feel their elegance or to wonder at their beauty and efficiency, we bake with ‘em — scramble them for breakfast, boil them, poach them, separate them, whip the whites into stiff peaks. We avoid them for their high cholesterol and enjoy them in custards and egg creams. But if we would take a but a moment we might recognize what a miracle the egg truly is — and we might find in the egg that ancient symbol of the mystery that is regeneration and rebirth and — yes resurrection.

And yet for the egg to be what eggs are born to be they must be broken — that smooth beauty destroyed. Unless that tough small beak begins its pecking and breaks the shell, the chick cannot emerge, unless we crack’em or peel them, eggs cannot be added to our recipes or diets. As beautiful and whole, elegant and complete as eggs are — admiring them for their exterior denies the beauty and wonder of their potential and ends the entire cycle of possible life they represent. It is only by daring to destroy that surface beauty and wholeness, by breaking through that shell that the emergence of a bird or chick or turtle keeps the cycle moving. When we stop the hatching not only do we lose one chick or rattlesnake, but when we keep an egg from hatching all the cycles of future potential pythons and eagles end as well.

And perhaps that is a truth as important as any for us to remember this Easter time — for the cycle of death and rebirth that the egg represents is the same as the cycle of destruction and resurrection that is deeply embedded in other aspects of this mystery of living we all share.

Many may celebrate Easter by remembering the stories told of the death of a kind and gentle man and his super natural resurrection. But perhaps an even greater mystery lies all around us in the wonder of the natural world where every day eggs are broken by life coursing through the muscles of a tiny chick! Perhaps the greater mystery is that we forget how much we too are embedded within these ever-interconnecting cycles of birth and death and new life being born once again. The more we learn about DNA the more questions remain about the veracity of the stories of resurrection and rebirth.

If we are honest with ourselves we can see, however, that life provides us with many chances to practice death and rebirth, many opportunities to learn to rise again.

Chinese Philosopher LaoTzu in the Tao Te Ching says, If you want to become straight, let yourself be crooked, If you want to be reborn, let yourself die. If you would be given everything, give everything up.”

I think that perhaps in some ways we have become overly arrogant in our independence and in our reliance upon science and reason. Our confidence that we can gather and understand facts may prevent us from recognizing our limitations in the face of meaning and mystery and may even keep us from growing more deeply human through the experiences of endings and transformations that shape ourselves and our lives.

Sometimes we are too stubborn to permit ourselves to suffer the natural deaths that are part of simply being alive. We are reluctant to allow our relationships, our careers, our bodies, our lives to pass gracefully through the stages of life. We are terribly fearful of letting go. By refusing to accept the “deaths” of some relationships, or stages in our lives, of old dreams, we also refuse to let the freedom of growth happen, we may not allow for our own regeneration. We may fail to let the new life emerge. If we cannot allow ourselves to fully experience loss we may not have room in our lives for gain.

These past months have been terribly challenging for so many people. Right now there are people anxious about their futures, people mourning the loss of their nest eggs, their jobs, their health, their youth, their … whatever. And too often we simply say, “Buck–up, get over it.” We have been taught and encouraged to try to not feel the loss – to not recognize that when we face changes– even changes we have chosen, that there is often pain and loss and fear. We may never have understood that we must acknowledge those “winter time” realities in order to welcome transformation and regeneration.

In Mary Pipher’s latest book, Seeking Peace, Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World she explores her own need to own pain and fear, isolation and despair. She tells how she needed to let herself feel her own feelings, to discover her own life–long avoidance of her personal fears and pains before she could return to feeling whole. Her other works; Reviving Ophelia, In the Shelter of Each Other and Another Country — brought her unimagined success; book tours, workshops and lectures all around the world. Her books and lectures brought her financial rewards, respect and renown and they brought with them some satisfaction and lots of depression and anxiety and isolation and a fear that she was losing her — self. Fame and the demands of a public life brought suffering and a realization that she needed to slow down and simply be and to face her own unresolved feelings – that until she could recognize that she needed to let go of her own pain and that unless she could be still and face her own thoughts and feelings she could not be free.

It is a fascinating story of a woman of whom many of us might feel quite envious — she has achieved success, has a dear, mostly understanding and loving husband, she has her healthy family and many life-long friends nearby and yet she explains how close she came to feeling numb and dead inside because she was reluctant to face her own inner need for renewal.

She writes, If we live long enough all of us will experience times when we feel lost in a deep forest. The first rule of the wilderness is, “Don’t panic.” This may well be the first rule for life crisis. What helped me and seems to help others is slowing down, breathing and simply being kind to one’s animal body. Tincture of time and a reduction of stimulation heal troubled minds and overworked adrenaline systems.

And how many of us know that we live with troubled minds and overworked adrenaline systems?

The most critical step is to stop banging ourselves in the head. We won’t stop hurting ourselves until we put down the hammers. (Seeking Peace, Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World. P 172)

When we cannot or will not recognize that our lives require periodic and painful transformation, we begin what sometimes becomes a life-long process of hitting ourselves in the head with hammers.

I saw a program on TV once about a woman who compulsively collected and saved junk — her young-adult children attempted to help her dispose of it before the country condemned her home and yet she could not accept that she needed to let go of that old destructive behavior-that keeping all her old things had left her with no place to live. Hers was a pathological tie to the useless rubbish of her past, but many of us in less destructive, but equally enslaving ways, attempt to hang on to the past and to maintain realities that might be better set aside as former stages or treasured memories, clearing the deck for the launching of new growth.

I was reading somewhere about a man whose wife gave him a beautiful and very expensive concert clarinet for his 60th birthday—at first he was puzzled because he had never played the clarinet but upon reflection he realized that she had had listened when he often had said how much he loved the sound of a clarinet and wished he could play. Locked in his old habits he was unaware of his own dream. Now because of her sensitivity he has been able to let go of some tired old patterns and is taking advantage of this opportunity to learn to make music!

The prehistoric roots of Easter — Eostare celebrate the coming back to life of the natural world, it is the birthing of new critters, the sprouting of seeds, the return of birds and butterflies, of warmth, sunshine and the bustle of life. We too have a wonderful opportunity to participate in this resurrection – this rising up. For us, as in nature, this might first require that we let go of the winters in our lives, that we honestly assess what in our lives may need to be discarded or composted or grown beyond.

Pipher writes,

We all have within us the capacity not only to heal from crisis, but also to turn our sorrow into something new and strong…
We all suffer, but we don’t all grow. Some people are so crippled by great sorrow that they die inside…with crisis some people dig deeper into their entrenched identities and hide in the pup tent of their old beliefs.
Many people numb themselves with television or self-medicate with alcohol and drugs. Some people blame all their pain on others and never examine their own role in creating problems. Other sufferers shrink their world into something small and manageable but equally quite false. People with eating disorders are an example of this narrowing of scope. The questions of the day boil down to simply, “Have I gained weight?”
For all people, regardless of the crisis, the cure is always growth
Parker Palmer said in an interview, “to move closer to God is to move closer to everything, both joy and sorrow, light and darkness.” We may experience post-traumatic stress reaction, but we are beginning a process of post-traumatic growth syndrome. Darkness and loss signal to us more clearly than anything else, that it is time to expand our point of view… (Seeking Peace, Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World. P 174)

Easter is a wonderful holiday symbol for everyone that what winter has done is to provide the earth with blessed balance. Winter has been an ending of the old and a making way for the new in the eternal cycle of life. Easter is a symbol that the freedom of growth and rebirth has come to the earth, to us. Easter reminds us that the “darkness and loss” in our lives signal to us more clearly than anything else, that it is time to expand our point of view – time to grow.

For all people, regardless of the crisis, the cure is always growth — May we understand that the only trick to rising again is allowing ourselves to grow — to risk blooming. Happy Easter — Blessed resurrection.


Hosea Ballou: The Audacity of Universalism
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, April 5, 2009

UU minister Forest Church tells this story (Heretic’s Faith). Seated between strangers at a dinner party he slips up and lets the cat out of the bag. “You are a what?” “A Unitarian Universalist.” “Oh, I see” says the man but obviously he doesn’t. He is rescued by the woman to his right. “I’ve never quite understood what you Unitarians believe. You are Christian, aren’t you?” “Not exactly, I mean we were and some of us still are but most of us are not.” “You don’t believe in Jesus?” “Not in an orthodox way certainly. Many of us value his teaching but few, if any of us believe that he was resurrected on the third day or that he was God.” “What about immortality?” “Well, I guess you’d have to say we are pretty much divided on that one.” “But at least you all believe in God?” interrupted the man across the table. “Not exactly. Many of us do, if each in his or her own way. Others of us do not find the concept of God a useful one.” “What then do you believe? “the bewildered hostess politely asks. (adapted from F. Forrester Church, Heretic’s Faith page 212)

Rev. Dr. Fred Muir who was my supervisor during my internship in Annapolis in his book, Heretic’s Faith: Vocabulary for Religious Liberals suggests that in such a situation it might be good to be prepared with a statement…that Unitarian Universalists should be able to share our religion in one sentence… (Muir explains,) “The sentence must sound “religious” to the listener, it must maintain the integrity of our heritage, and it must leave the listener wanting to know more —” and then he shares his own sentence,

Ours is a religion whose theology is unitarian, its faith universalist, its worship creedless, its polity congregational. Fredric Muir, Heretic’s Faith p 207

Muir goes on to explain that when people ask about a religion what they really want to know can be described by defining those four words; theology, faith, worship and polity.

The word “polity” may be the least familiar of the four. Polity simply refers to the way that we “organize” ourselves; our form of governance is called “congregational polity” and reflects our New England heritage where each town’s church was completely independent. It means that no synod or bishops or any other group has authority over the local congregation. Baptists, United Church of Christ, Quakers and Jews also have congregational polity but our UU congregations enjoy the greatest independence. Each member of a UU congregation has a voice in the decisions and direction of their independent community. Our congregations join with one another in The Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations for our mutual benefit. (And most of you know that this summer will be an annual meeting of representatives from congregations all across this nation that belong to UUA.)

According to Rev. Muir, our theology, our faith and our worship reflect our attitude toward independence as well. He says in our worship we are creedless for three reasons. First, he says, creeds tend to indicate that a conclusion has been reached, and rather than encourage more growth and understanding,… eliminating the process, affirmation and celebration of new insights. Creedal worship is akin to saying, “Here’s the answer—just say this.

Second, in Unitarian Universalism it is not a having a common creed that brings us together, the covenant and the commitments and promises they make to one another,… the relationships with others bind us together as a congregation.

And finally Rev. Muir explains that we are creedless because we place the highest value on the free mind, which means the freedom of religious belief…

Our theology is unitarian, which is as old as religion itself. Unitarian theology is a statement about the “oneness of god and the unity of experience.” Muir says that holding a unitarian theology means “acknowledging and respecting the interdependent web of all living things, that the world, life, the Cosmos—what some would call God—is one, a Unity…celebrating one’s whole self, even in matters of religion: the use of reason and critical study…respect and tolerance for all people, for the whole of creation.

And Rev. Muir explains that our faith is best understood by understanding our universalist heritage. He says, while theology is the study of and reflection on faith, (and may describe the theories of a religion) “faith” (he says,) is what gets us through the day, it’s our ongoing beliefs, the ground of our being, it’s what helps us make sense of what is not always a world or life that makes sense. It’s our faith that gets us through the night.”

He also suggests that while many people may be drawn to our religion because they find our unitarian theology appealing, that they often stay after discovering that they are indeed universalists. He explains that Unitarian beliefs may provide the brains of our movement but that our Universalist faith is its heart and soul.”

Unitarian seems to be the half of our name that is most easily accepted and understood — remember all those “unitarian” jokes that folks like Garrison Keillor get such a kick from. But “universalist” is less well known and more likely to be dismissed as a “naïve” understanding of the Christian message. “Universalist” — has often been used by orthodox theologians in a derogatory way, and even today being a “universalist” is the part of our heritage that is still often most misunderstood.

The word “universalism” is just about the “biggest” and most audacious religious concept a person could come up with — and that is why the early American “universalists” were seen as such heretics! In the Calvinistic climate of the American colonies and frontier where most people had been taught that because of the original sins of Adam and Eve all humanity is born in sin, and where people believed in the theology of “election” or “pre-destination,” Universalism was seen as especially heretical. The protestant religion of most early settlers tended to accept that that only a few people had been selected by God to attain heaven and that everyone else would burn in hell for all eternity.

Universalism, or the idea that a loving God would grant “universal salvation” — heaven for everyone” seemed like an outrageous pipe dream, and one that would upset the whole reason people had for following the straight and narrow. “After all,” Calvinists and orthodox believers asked, “why would people act responsibly unless they feared the punishment of God’s wrath? What could motivate positive behavior except the fear of God?”

“Universalism” was a daring idea — The orthodox Christians were incensed and asked, “How could anyone possibly believe that everyone will go to heaven?” And yet that is exactly what the, “universalists” like Hosea Ballou believed and preached and it was that “good news” that helped “universalism” grow to become one of the most popular faiths of the American frontier. In the early nineteenth century “Universalist” churches and schools and colleges popped up all across this young nation. Charles Howe in The Larger Faith, a Short History of Universalism, reports that, “By the early 1840’s Universalists were claiming 853 societies and 512 clergy with 600,000 of the population under their influence.” Howe also reminds us that, though he believes this number was inflated that there had been remarkable growth during the preceding quarter century. (p.34)

“Universalism” was particularly popular influential in small towns and farming communities across the frontier. Even in the cities like Boston universalism grew where primarily working folks and tradespersons flocked to hear first John Murray and later Hosea Ballou share their Universalist message of God’s eternal love and hope and salvation for all.

We read that Ballou’s church, the School Street Universalist Church which seated one thousand people, had every place filled for the Sunday morning service, and that there were people standing in the aisles during the Sunday afternoon service and that for the Sunday evening services the aisles and steps and streets were filled to overflowing during his twenty eight years as their minister. Imagine three services every Sunday for twenty eight years! Hosea Ballou was truly an eighteenth century preacher of mega-church proportions.

So who was this incredibly popular Universalist preacher, and theologian, Hosea Ballou, and just what was his audacious message that God means to save everyone?

Let me begin by explaining a little more about the history of “universalism” — some would say that the history of universalism extends all the way back in Christian history to the time of Origen and to the Anabaptists in Europe but the actual beginnings of Universalism in America seem to have arrived with the ideas of liberty that were part of the enlightenment. By the time John Murray, who is usually identified as the “Father of American Universalism,” landed on the coast of New Jersey and preached in the meeting house that Thomas Potter had waiting confident God would provide a preacher, others had already been considering and spreading the word that a loving God would not send his children to suffer in eternal damnation.

When Murray made his way to Gloucester where would found the first Universalist Church he discovered there was a small group of universalist-thinking people awaiting his arrival.

Enlightenment thinkers Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen were two of the earliest and most prominent American writers to emphasize the importance of reason in religon. Ethan Allen’s “Reason, the Only Oracle of Man” was particularly important insisting upon the …use of reason in religion and the unitarian interpretation of the godhead, (Universalism in America, Ernest Cassara P. 18) Ethan Allen’s ideas were later reflected in Hosea Ballou’s most influential writing “A Treatise on Atonement” which Ballou first published in 1805 and which was to become a watershed in defining Universalist thought. Published during Jefferson’s presidency the Universalism of the “Treatise” historian Ernest Cassara writes that the “treatise” also reflects a Jeffersonian democratic faith in the wisdom and goodness of the “common man.”

So who was this Hosea Ballou anyway? Hosea Ballou the man who would later be fondly known as “Father Ballou,” the minister who kept so many enthralled by his charismatic personality, his dynamic preaching and his homely logic, was born in 1771, in the tiny village of Richmond New Hampshire. Hosea was the eleventh child of a poor Baptist preacher, Maturin Ballou. Their family rooted in the Calvinist tradition of the French Hugenots had recently moved from their home in Rhode Island to the wild frontier of southwestern New Hampshire near Mt. Monadnock. It was a new settlement where churchmen were scarce and welcomed and land was cheap. When he was only four Hosea’s mother Lydia died, worn out from childbearing and hard work.

So little Hosea did without the benefit of any school and grew up working daily on the farm, milking and tending the sheep, driving oxen and standing guard at night to fend off wildcats. Hosea learned to read by studying the Bible and the few other publications the family owned, and he learned about the Baptist faith by listening to the sermons and Bible lessons of his father and other occasional itinerant preachers. At age 14 he decided he was ready to be baptized and he was then immersed through a hole cut in the river’s ice. The experience initiated Hosea’s desire to better understand the faith which he had elected to join and so Hosea intensified his study of his Bible.

Later that very year young Hosea grew curious about the message of Universalism preached by young preacher, Caleb Rich. Hosea was determined to argue for his Baptist faith and so he searched the scriptures to find textual support for the doctrines that his father and other Calvinists preached.

In the words of biographer Clinton Lee Scott,

The summer following his union with the Baptist church, Hosea and an older brother went to New York state to work on a farm. Hosea took with him his Bible — and a heavy heart. At night, after long hours of toil and on Sundays and rainy days when there was no work he searched the scriptures for light. While laboring in the fields and in the quiet night hours he agonized over the questions that could not be shaken from his mind…(the questions related to Universal Salvation) It was a lonely journey, with no guide except his Bible…
At last… he could no longer doubt the doctrine of universal salvation. Of this experience he wrote many years later: “Before I returned the next fall, my mind was quite settled in the consoling belief that God will finally have mercy on all men.”(Clinton Lee Scott, These Live Tomorrow: Twenty Unitarian Universalist Biographies, page 82

When he returned home to New Hampshire he discovered that one of his brothers had also joined the Universalists and had even begun to do some preaching, but their father never reconciled his own faith with the Universalist religion of his sons.

Ballou writes that one Sunday afternoon while he, Hosea sat quietly reading in a corner of the kitchen his father asked, “What is that book?” to which Hosea replied, “A Universalist book.” “I cannot allow a Universalist book in my house,” declared his father. So Hosea walked out to the woodshed and in the sight of his watchful father hid it in the woodpile. After Hosea had gone to bed, the father went to the woodpile and discovered that the forbidden book was the Bible. ( Scott, p 83)

As a young man Hosea finally acquired his only formal education when he had saved enough money to enroll in the Chesterfield Academy for one semester. In that short time he earned a certificate that allowed him to teach school. He and his brothers became avid Universalists preaching the truth of Universalism as they understood it just as so many other New England farmers and trades people were doing. After the Revolution people all across the new states and the American frontier west were rejecting the hard teachings of Calvinism and turning to a more rational understanding of the gospel.

Ballou himself preached and taught at first as a missionary in fields and village commons and later as a minister in the wilds of Vermont, covering a circuit of six neighboring towns and later in the cosmopolitan and prosperous port of Salem. He always welcomed questions answering people from his extensive if self-taught knowledge of the Bible. He gained in popularity as a preacher and participated in several regional and state conventions — gatherings of Universalists where they shared the good news of their churches and societies and where Ballou gained respect as a spokesperson for universalism helping to write what would become known as the Winchester Confession.

Ultimately Ballou was considered to be an “ultra-universalist” because of his denial that there was punishment after death, and was embroiled in considerable controversy because of that belief and which caused conflict among many of his universalist colleagues — even with John Murray who had moved from Gloucester to Boston. Ballou had deep respect for Murray and though he had been asked to also preach Universalism in Boston, only moved to the pastorate of the newly constructed School Street Church and the Second Universalists Society of Boston on Christmas Day 1817 some time after Murray’s death. In 1819 Ballou founded the weekly newspaper “The Universalist Magazine” and used its pages as a place to share his “good news” of universal salvation, that God plays no favorites. (Cassara p 12) I might point out here that Ballou’s Universalist Magazine has undergone a number of changes but is the ancestor of the “World” our UU quarterly publication which is among the very oldest religious publications in the US.

When Ballou first published his “Treatise” he believed that this work simply removed “corruptions” that had so afflicted Calvinism and other orthodox forms of Christianity, corruptions like the doctrine of the trinity — the doctrine of the trinity, Ballou determined,… was not reasonable, (since infinity cannot be divided by three!) And he attempted to prove that the preponderant number of relevant scriptural passages make it clear that Christ is a being subordinate to the Father. In fact Ballou had several years before he published his “Treatise on Atonement” in 1805 revealed that he was also a “unitarian” in his theology.

But in the early nineteenth century Ballou and the Universalists in Boston were considered to be the intellectual and social inferiors to the Unitarians and so William Ellery Channing and the other “Harvard educated” Unitarian ministers rejected the Universalists and their backwoods ministers like Murray and Ballou and their thousands of followers gleaned from the working class, frontiersmen and farmers as their social and religious inferiors. Charles Howe, UU Historian writes,

It took great fortitude on Ballou’s part not to become bitter when he observed Unitarians, fellow believers in so many points of theology, doing oratorical gymnastics to keep from being identified with the Universalists. Their views were identical on God, Christ, reason, and scripture…

But it would take more than one hundred years for the Unitarians and the Universalists to come to a place where they could formally recognize that they shared the same religion, the same theology, faith, and polity and to understand that in would be reasonable and good that they could join together in a single church community—that of Unitarian Universalism, a single religious faith founded in reason, freedom and love.


“Teach a Man to Fish!”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, March 8, 2009

I cannot remember exactly when I first heard the proverb often credited to the Chinese, Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. I do know that I was a young person living in the mid-west where “fishing” was something that few people paid very serious attention to. The great waters in North-western Ohio were the Maumee and Auglaize Rivers which we often almost thoughtlessly crossed, often many times, daily. In my childhood fishing in the rivers was pretty limited, stories abounded that once they had hosted abundant fishes and even fresh water shell fish but by the 1050’s the waters were dark and murky, long polluted by development, industry, and agriculture. Most of the fishes had long disappeared. Only the old codgers like Ross Hartoon who lived nearby tucked behind great piles of earthworm-rich composting corncobs in the narrow shack on the corner did much real fishing.

My personal understanding of fishing was based in Bible stories and illustrations in history books, or was gained from watching Mutual of Omaha’s wild kingdom, or from pagin through National Geographic magazines. “Teach a man to fish” seemed like the perfect philosophy — I “got” it.

The proverb means that that if you give a man a fish then you feed him for a day; that if you teach a man how to fish then he can feed himself — forever after. I “got” the wisdom that “charity” keeps someone dependent while education trains them for independence. I understood that learning something in the long run is a greater gift than an outright donation. I understood that learning how to support one ’s self is better than relying on others to support you. And, it seemed foreign but reasonable.

I suppose that proverb might have had a different impact had I grown up here so close to the rich fishing that I understand still draws people to Idaho’s rivers and the lakes and streams not so far away. Here, perhaps even in the 1950’s, one could have imagined living off trout or salmon, or making a living guiding tourists who came to fish. Here, maybe that proverb might feel more at home than it did for me in the flat farm-lands of Ohio and Indiana. But whether your image of teaching someone how to “fish” grew from your actual experience or not, surely all of us have absorbed the proverb’s lesson — “the best way to help a man is to teach him how to help himself, right?”

And, I would suggest that our internalizing of that has unconsciously led us to accept the often repeated criticisms of the nation’s welfare system — our dread of the dole — our internal feelings of shame at accepting help and the sometimes stubborn reluctance and even embarrassment when we are called to give. Somehow I think we have so accepted and integrated that proverb that we have come to believe not only that it is always true but that it always applies — in short, I think that our acceptance of this truth may even cloud our ability to see clearly that things are not as simple as we might like them to be! Perhaps fishing may not be possible, or perhaps one cannot now, and perhaps never could, actually live by fishing alone, not even in fish-rich Idaho.

For instance, while there may have been a time when one could teach a man to fish and he could then truly live off his catch that was not normally the way countless generations of indigenous peoples who first inhabited these regions lived. Long before the time of Lewis and Clark native cultures were much more interdependent and sophisticated than the stories our eighth grade history books would lead us to believe. The native populations all across this nation had a deep knowledge of the complex ecology of the entire region – People did not live separately, they lived in community, in families and clans and they did not only fish or hunt, they cultivated herbs and maintained trees and meadows. The Shoshone nation who wintered here on the Snake River plain relied on a wide variety of plants and animals as well as fish. They scheduled their yearly travels to include the summer harvesting of the blue camas lilies in the rich valleys of central Idaho.

And now most of those rivers have been dammed and reservoirs and canals siphon off their waters. Since 1934, fishing in all but the most remote of waterways and steams depends on the bureau of fish and wildlife’s release of fingerlings to maintain the stock. Few if any folks could truly live off fishing here or most places. Even in Alaska the king crab and the wild salmon have been threatened. Now old fishing cultures off Cape Cod and Cape Ann are nearly dormant. Too often Lobster pots are pulled up empty in Gloucester and Wiscasset and the rakes of the Chesapeake oystermen are often nearly empty. Successful “fishing” is practically limited to enormous trawlers towing deepwater nets over miles of deep sea where even the once boundless stocks of the world’s oceans have been nearly depleted.

Perhaps the literal message that “teaching” a man to fish would actually feed him for a lifetime was never what that proverb intended. Yet there surely have been those who have used it to justify denying aid and support to those who are physically or emotionally unable to “fish,” unable to find or to keep a job, unable to “support themselves.” But often the rhetoric we use to discuss the distribution of wealth and resources continues to accept that proverb as fact and as gospel; Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. And from time to time I have wondered about this – considering that this proverb promotes the fallacy once every man has been taught to fish then society’s responsibility is finished.

So as I went to Houston to attend the first ever International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women. I was also pondering the way that “teach a man to fish” denies the reality of who the world’s hungry are and offers a too simplistic answer to satisfying the true needs of the world’s hungry. In fact several weeks ago I spent a Saturday in Pocatello with Ben Gisen learning about the desperate state of the world’s food security and the ways that a past emphasis by government and business leaders on a strict capitalist market economy have undermined the ability of farmers here in the US and around the world to address the needs of their own families and communities.

I was a considering that this proverb is nearly always stated in very gender-specific terms. It is a man who learns to fish and the man who will learn and be fed. The proverb does not say, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day, or “Teach a man to fish and you feed his family for a lifetime.” It seemed to me as I anticipated being in Houston with people from third world nations, with people from the UUA Partner Church Council, knowing that one presenter would be Alex Counts, the young man apprenticed himself to the founder of the Grameen Bank Muhammad Younus. I wondered if I might learn something that would help me to explain just what it is about that proverb that I find so inadequate.

Now some of you might hardly consider a trip to Houston to be with nearly 600 women from congregations around the world and across this continent, to be a special treat, but I was very excited. I was the only Idahoan and Rev Lois VanLeer from Bozeman was the only woman from Montana. We met and shared time with women from Transylvania, from Bolivia, from Cleveland, Atlanta, and Tulsa, from Pittsburg and from Baltimore. There were women considerably older than I am and YAYAs (youth and young adults.) We were gay and straight, bisexual and transgender- pagan and Christian and humanist. There were clergywomen and engineers, singers and architects, artists and lawyers. There were even a few token men in attendance!

The first evening gathering was hosted by Margot Adler author of the 1979 watershed Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America Today. Revised in 2006, this is a classic text on the ancient and contemporary pagan and neo-pagan movements. You might recognize Adler’s voice as she is a regular contributor to National Public Radio and host of the important radio magazine, “Justice Talking.”

That evening Adler interviewed the two young writers of “Manifesta; Young Women, Feminism and the Future” published in 2000 which discussed the “Third Wave of Feminism.” So Thursday we started our time together beneath four colorful banners representing the ancient elements of earth, air, fire and water.

Then on Friday morning after a moving and wonderful spirit-filled 8 AM, worship, we dug into the deeper work of our time together- the work of learning where we are and what we can do to be more effective in helping women worldwide.

One of the first speakers reminded us of the tenacity of women like Dr. Christine Neilson.

Now it so happened that in the fall of 2004, the year I was the ministerial intern in Annapolis, Dr. Neilson and another member of the terrific Annapolis UU Choir were whispering in the back row, during choir practice. They were discussing an article they had read in their church newsletter. It was an article written by a man who had attended the 2004 General Assembly in Long Beach. He reflected that while the delegates had selected Global Warming as their study action issue, that the issue of Women’s Rights had also been considered and rejected. From that quiet back-row conversation grew a commitment to work toward passing “Women’s Rights Worldwide at General Assembly in 2005.” And so in 2005 at the Fort Worth General Assembly, a whole crew of us from Annapolis, and UU men and women from other congregations; a core of dedicated women and men joined together to promote “Women’s Rights Worldwide” as a study action issue for the UUA.

We explained that because:

  • In many developing nations there is still no educational parity for girls and women.
  • 2/3 of all women continue to work at unpaid jobs, or at part-time or short term work without benefits. (and I ask us to reflect upon the women we know in this country who still fall within this perimeter)
  • Women are under-represented in decision-making at all levels- in government, in businesses, in leadership at every level . . .
  • Women continue to be paid less than men and that over the span of a lifetime this means that the average woman will have earned $500,000.00 less than a man working at the same job for the same amount of time! (I know I could sure use that $500.000.00 right now!)
  • Women and girls continue to be the victims of violence: the victims of war and abuse. Beatings, rape and domestic abuse abound, especially in politically unstable parts of the world. Every 15 seconds a woman is battered and every 90 seconds a woman is raped.

And yet with all of their facts and the impassioned pleas of women and men, in 2005 the delegates at our General Assembly did not vote for “Women’s Rights Worldwide.” We, who had worked so long and hard, were crushed.

Yet, out of that defeat Christine and Rev. Fred Muir and the others from Annapolis who had gathered their energies and commitment behind this proposal and decided that they did not need the approval of General Assembly to continue the work.

So, since 2005, in Annapolis people have continued with the support of that congregation to work for “Women’s Rights Worldwide.” They adopted a phrase they learned from their sister churches in the Philippines; “Bunhata Pinay” meaning “just do it” or (Do it Philippina) has guided them. The Annapolis congregation has continued by working particularly with the Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Philippines where they have launched a new sister church initiative.

And from that General Assembly defeat in 2005 the germ-idea was implanted in the women of the Southwest District of the UUA — the idea that birthed last weekend’s first ever International Convocation of Unitarian Universalist Women. 18 and ½ years after the last gathering of UU women in Geneva NY, we were reminded last weekend that liberal religious beliefs are not limited to the US or to developed nations, but that many women worldwide understand the need for religious freedoms. Here we learned firsthand that we are part of a global sisterhood and that our “global sisters” may also include men!

And so last Friday morning we were reminded that sometimes quiet conversations whispered in the back row can be the beginnings of something very large and important. There we were reminded that sometimes it is important that we not wait for the support of the big money and the politicians — that with commitment and passion, sometimes we must “Bunhata Pinay” (Just do it!)

Later Friday morning Rebecca Addison, a woman of Cherokee heritage who helped to found the first micro-financing program on the Pine Ridge Reservation and is a financial planner with Calvert a socially responsible investment firm reminded us of that every society organizes itself according to its values. She explained, for instance, that in the Cherokee society it is always the welfare of the children which is most important. So in the event of divorce, in the Cherokee tradition, it is the children who get the property — not the man or the woman, but the children. And, she explained, the traditional Cherokee nation had two councils — the white one and the red. The white council, the council of women, were the leaders most of the time — at times of peace. The red council only led during times of war. And, she said, the red council was selected by the white council, because who knew better what kinds of men should be leaders than the women who had raised them?

Addison emphasized that the values of a society are always revealed by their political and economic choices and that for our society to emerge from the present crisis we must rethink what values we wish to promote.

Still later our luncheon speaker was Alex Counts the young man who had invested six years learning from the experience of Muhammed Yunus and the success of the Grameen Bank and its system of micro-lending. Grameen Bank also provided evidence for me that my skepticism about the “teach a man to fish” image might reflect reality, Count writes, in his land-mark book, Small Loans Big Dreams that,

   …by the mid-1990’s Grameen’s senior management had concluded that women repaid their loans — and attended their meetings more regularly than men. Furthermore, there was ample evidence to suggest that lending to a family’s husband helped the husband, whereas lending to the wife helped the entire family. As a result, the percentage of women borrowing in Grameen had been steadily increasing from less than 50 percent in the early 1980’s to more than 90% a decade later. (page 107)

The third world women whose families benefit from micro-loans that enable them to buy milk cows or sewing machines and to begin their own businesses are not treated like the proverb’s isolated fishermen. They are approved in small groups, their sister investors have an interest in supporting them because they all succeed or fail in relationship to one another in their group.

By the time I was finished with lunch, I already knew that the reason I had begun to think about that old proverb was because it, like so many other things we have been taught to trust, may reflect a truth, but its truth is not always true and is certainly not the whole truth or the entire story.

I was moved and excited and exhausted by all l learned and experienced during my time in Houston and one thing I was reminded is that the situations that dominate our world today, the problems of global climate change, the crisis in food security, the two seemingly endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the financial disaster that has so many of us feeling anxious may all be the result of a natural human tendency to want simple and easy solutions to complicated problems.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime offers a simple solution to the sad and complicated reality – there are hungry and needy people who need our help. A great proverb perhaps but there are many ways in which this kind of thinking may also allow us to believe that there are simple ways of addressing that complex situations. The language immediately excludes half of the world’s population. Just as fishing alone would rarely be able to feed someone for their lifetime, today, finding work that will provide a living wage is difficult indeed.

Maybe we need now to bring our minds and our hearts to thoughtful evaluations of the actual values that guide us to make our own choices. We might do well to remember that every society organizes itself according to its values and that it is up to us to “Just do it” — do what we can when we can to help even if that means we need to reflect upon the veracity of values represented by proverbs long seen as true. Perhaps we might want to consider with Margie Adam that,

“We must remember that we are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the ones who must speak the truth of what we know and if we are not healthy, if we are not filled with the joy of our work (and our lives) our voices will be silenced by our own despair. Margie Adam.


“My God is Better than Your God”
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, Jan. 25, 2009

So yesterday Fox news was still discussing Rev. Lowery’s benediction at Tuesday’s Inauguration, those commentators condescendingly noticed that an African American who marched with Dr. King has a right to say things that almost no one else has earned. Rev. Lowrey’s blessing addressed God conversationally beginning with the words of the Black national anthem entreating,

“God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, thou who has brought us thus far along the way, thou who has by thy might led us into the light, keep us forever in the path, we pray… (and he concluded with his plea)
…we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around — [and there was laughter] — when yellow will be mellow — [and there was more laughter] — when the red man can get ahead, man — [and still more laughter] — and when white will embrace what is right.
Let all those who do justice and love mercy say amen.
And the AUDIENCE: said Amen! And REV. LOWERY repeated : Say amen — And the AUDIENCE said : Amen! And REV. LOWERY: — and amen. And the AUDIENCE: Amen! [Cheers, applause.]

And there was much rejoicing. For “Amen” means “may it be so”

And it seemed like Lowery’s God was a listening God, a good God who has been with us all through the struggles and pain and will remain beside us through these next days and years. …but if people appreciated Lowery’s homely-like-prayer, there had been other attitudes and response to the opening prayer of “invocation” offered by Evangelical Pastor Rick Warren, writer of life-changing sales phenomenon book—The Purpose Driven Life.

The GLBT community had been struggling with their painful disappointment at Obama’s decision to ask the “gay is sin” Preacher Warren from the moment his choice was announced. For days before, on the UU ministers’ chat the anxious and the angry anticipated Warren’s prayer and afterward analyzed his wording. Some assessed his almost-imperial prayer-style, his calling forth a Father God, his inclusion of the Lord’s Prayer, others bristled over the assumption that we all share a Christian perspective, while still others appreciated his attempts, minor though they were, at inclusivity and believed he did temper his Christian perspective slightly for the occasion.

Some of the consternation over Warren’s role had been almost relieved days earlier when it was revealed that the Gay Episcopal Bishop, Gene Robinson would be featured doing the invocation at the very beginning of the festivities — the official kick-off for the Inauguration’s lengthy series of events. Robinson’s invocation — literally “the time of calling forth the presence and blessings of the gods,” began broadly,

“O God of our many understandings, we pray that you will…
[and then he got very specific and listed folks often left on the side lines]
Bless us with tears — for a world in which over a billion people exist on less than a dollar a day, where young women from many lands are beaten and raped for wanting an education, and thousands die daily from malnutrition, malaria, and AIDS.
Bless us with anger — at discrimination, at home and abroad, against refugees and immigrants, women, people of color, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.
[and he admonished] Bless us with discomfort — at the easy, simplistic “answers” we’ve preferred to hear from our politicians, instead of the truth, about ourselves and the world, …[and he concluded his teaching moment prayer by asking that President Obama might lead us] as a nation to a place of integrity, prosperity and peace.

And it would appear that in the confusion of commercial event-televising that Robinson’s prayer, though heard by the many thousands present, was not broadcast on TV after all, and that became again the subject of swirling accusations and still more dashed hopes.

There is great irony that in a country which has prided itself for more than two hundred years on recognizing the wisdom of our ancestors for having designed a religion-free constitution, our ever-treasured ability to maintain a separation of church from state, that the three prayers and pray-ers attracted so very much attention.

Our Christian — but reasonable and liberal, forbears believed in God’s desire was for each individual to have “certain inalienable rights” and according to Al Gore’s newest book, The Assault on Reason (p. 48)—the founders of our country were very careful,

…not to endow any particular religion with a divine right to exercise power over them.… [they were] also keenly aware of the thin and permeable boundaries between religious fervor and power-seeking political agendas. “A religion may degenerate into a political faction.” Wrote James Madison”… and the US Senate unanimously approved (Unitarian) President John Adams in 1797 when he signed a treaty that contained the following declaration: “The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or Mohammedan nation.”

And so, reflecting the vast diversity of this nation, many more voices were actually heard on the morning following the inauguration at the “Interfaith Prayer Breakfast.”

It is interesting that in this era of science when so many main-line churches are losing members, that so much attention has been paid to placating the varieties of ways that we Americans understand the holy and embrace mystery. For much of my lifetime the invocation or prayer at the start of an event has been a mere formality, and the benediction or blessing has been all but overlooked. But during the past couple of decades we have seen, particularly during the past administration that the Christian Right has made it their business to challenge our constitutional right to practice all religious thought freely. They insist upon their right to their own demonstrations of “faith” — and by that they mean their own Christian faith should always be front and center in public discourse.

In the film version of “Constantine’s Sword” which was written by author James Carroll in 2001, and which I watched just the other night, Ted Haggard, (interviewed long before the former televangelist’s liaisons with a homosexual prostitute caused his downfall,) said that he "talks to… Bush or his advisers every Monday" and indicated that he and his fellow Evangelicals feel they have every right to assume among their their rights as Christians the right to infiltrate all levels of politics and government.

In fact, the Evangelicals and their emphasis on their right to the primacy of their own version of Christianity perhaps partly motivated the ads sponsored by the UUA and published last spring in Time Magazine — one of those full-page ads reads “My God is Better than Your God.” I have to confess, when I read that, I was more than a little embarrassed — really! I thought — what a particularly odd and silly thing to say when one considers that we Unitarians are the folks that atheist Bertrand Russell, writing in the early 20th century described as the people who “at most believe in one God.”

That sentence, “My God is Better than Your God!” comes off as fighting words — the kind that we tend to think we Americans have all grown beyond. That sentence calls forth the words and insights of this poem:

My God’s Better Than Your God, by Tina Louise
My god’s better than your god,
My special book tells me so,
It tells me how to think, who to love,
And how my life should go.
My god’s better than your god,
He waits only for me,
Your name’s not on his list,
You are my enemy.
My god’s better than your god,
His book is filled with truth,
Your book’s all wrong you see,
I have all the proof.
My god’s better than your god,
His ways are just and right,
His laws are like a roadmap,
That guide me to the light.
My god’s better than your god,
Yours is weird and wrong,
I have never heard of him,
And he’s been around too long.
My god’s better than your god,
He’s all shiny and real,
Your god belongs in hell,
He’s not the real deal.
My god’s better than your god,
Cause he's without sin,
You're a heathen non-believer, Not good enough for him.
My god’s better than your god,
Yours has a silly name,
And your book is stupid,
Really dumb and lame.
I will go to heaven,
Cause I'm better than you,
I can do anything,
I'm amongst the chosen few...
...Cause my god’s better than your god,
You have to say its true,
Cause if you don’t,
My god will come,
And make you suffer till you do. (http://www.tinalouise.co.uk/poem.php?poemid=22)

That God comes off like the big brother I never had, a bully, but one that would protect me. And there you have it, just like the philosophers said, perhaps humans have designed God in their own image and that’s why their Gods are jealous and vain and selfish and — petty. And petty tends to be the judgment many of us so often have of the conflicts that keep killing people around the world.

Mark Siljander, a former congressman, civil servant and president of Global Strategists a DC Consulting firm writes in A Deadly Misunderstanding, (p 219)

Over the last few years I have had the opportunity to spend time with two former prime ministers of Somalia, a nearly 100 percent Muslim country so torn apart by its warring clans that it hasn’t had a functioning central government since 1991. (One of these men was seeking help in the U.S.) I asked him what he thought was at the root of the problems in Somalia, was it religious division?
“No,” he replied, “We’re all Muslims.”
Did he think it came down to a conflict based on ethnicity?
“No,” he repeated “We are essentially all the same ethnic background.”
Was it tribal” he shook his head. Cultural? He sighed and shook his head again. Grasping at straws I asked if there were differences in language or dialect.
“No,” he said, “we mostly all speak the same language.”
Why would the Somali people stay so alienated for so long and over what? What would drive the rage, mistrust and wanton killing of neighbors and friends if they are all essentially the same people? As we talked, the prime minister and I came to the same conclusion. The center of the problem was simply the dark side of human nature.

And we grimace — we have been listening to the news about Darfur for years now — and we remember the insane genocide of Rwanda, the tragedies of the Congo — people must be mad to let these unreasonable animosities continue to define them and destroy them. — right?

It is like the seemingly eternal conflict in the Middle East. Only a week ago Gaza was burning from Israeli bombs. No one really believes the latest cease fire will bring peace. The conflict in Palestine it seems will continue forever and in Iraq between the Sunni and the Shiite. And we ask what it really is that they fight about? From a distance their differences appear almost insignificant and the more we learn and the more they destroy one another the less reasonable their divisions appear.

Isn’t it sometimes hard for us Americans to understand that degree of pettiness that seems to dominate much of the rest of the world?

—But let me share this (Emo Philips, The Guardian, Thursday 29 September 2005) wrote some twenty years ago (He says: )

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"
He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What (denomination) franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! (American) Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "(American) Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! (American ) Northern Conservative Baptist or (American) Northern Liberal Baptist?"
He said, "(American) Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! (American) Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or (American) Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "(American) Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"
(American) Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or (American ) Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "(American) Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

And that, my friends was voted one of the best jokes of all time — and what makes that joke so funny? Unfortunately the thing that makes that so very funny is that — sadly, it echoes a truth we all understand about our human nature.

Is the conflict in one of the world’s best jokes rational — no of course not: But we get it don’t we? We understand the joke because we know that it reveals an unfortunate truth — we too are like the Somalis and the Shiite and the Sunni, the Israelis and the Palestinians – and sometimes it is hard to understand just what it is that separates us.

And yet as we move solidly through this first decade of the twenty-first century it is sadly apparent that we humans, for all of our education, our technical savvy and our wealth are still struggling to understand what it means to be human and we are far from agreeing upon the best way to live the one life we have each been granted.

There does seem to be something in our nature as human beings that causes us to be so competitive and just plain pig-headed and it would seem that religious people are as competitive and pig-headed as anyone. Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz’ book, I’m Fine with God…It’s Christians I Can’t Stand sounds as if it could sometimes be a theme for what many Unitarian Universalists sound like they might also believe.

The disclaimer beneath the shocking “My God is Better than Your God” on the UUA Time Magazine ad, reads,

“Is this any way to talk about religion? Maybe you yearn for an open-minded, spiritual community where people respect each other’s beliefs and worship together as one faith. Where no one’s idea of God is better than another’s. Welcome to Unitarian Universalism.

But I would be cautious about that statement as well. We do try to be an open-minded and spiritual community and to respect each other’s beliefs while we worship together as one faith, but I sometimes think that in our attempts to be open, that we shut down honest discussion, and that we often shut out those who struggle with God. I wonder if some of us might be arrogantly certain that our “no god” is better than anyone’s “God,”“ that we come off as pigheaded and narrow-minded and unwilling to accept that religion is more art and myth than science. I fear that we might, like Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins and some of the new-atheists aim our arguments against the most extreme but in so doing simply wipe out conversation with those whose views we might actually find illuminating.

The night of the Inauguration I remarked “luckily, any God I might believe in would fully understand my respectfully listening to and praying with those who believe differently.” Luckily, though I know that here we might have a hard time understanding the worship of the “flying spaghetti monster:” I do believe that we might feel ok welcoming the worshipper.

We have a long way to go to become as open-minded and open-hearted as we hope to be…or are able to be in our conversations about God and in our other discussions. A few weeks ago Steve Watts made me laugh when he said one thing he is afraid of is “denial” — I laughed because as I grow older I realize that so much of our time is spent building walls around our gods and our ideas that we often shut out the light that can be created by remaining open to new ways of thinking and being together.

Doug Muder in the Fall of 2005, writing for the UU Magazine: The World said,

We need, in short, to reclaim one of Christianity’s best ideas and hardest practices: We need to love our enemies and to bless with hope those who curse us with anger. Such love and such blessing would not be a signal of weakness or an overture to surrender, but rather a portent that we had found the true power of our religious heritage. Armed with that power, we can win these culture wars. Without it, we may not deserve to.

A statement like “My God is Better than Your God” presumes to know all about both Gods and all the ways there might be, to be better! Stronger? Smarter? More Just? More merciful? More compassionate? How could one decide? Let us as UU’s come together here knowing that we do not know all there is to know about much of anything — that we can only and always do our very best to be people who trust science and reason and who remain open to the insights that can sometimes only come from art andpoetry, music and dance — and yes, sometimes from the place of spirit.

Let the people say “amen.”


MKL: the Evolution of Leadership
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, Jan. 18, 2009

Message: My UU colleague, Reverend James Kubal-Komoto, of the Saltwater Unitarian Universalist Church, in DesMoines WA writes,

On August 28, 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed his dream for the United States of America, and on January 20, 2009, in front of the U.S. Capitol, Barack Hussein Obama will take the oath of office to become the President of the United States of America.
From the Lincoln Memorial across the National Mall to the steps of The U.S. Capitol, is a distance of 1.9 miles. It will have taken 45 years, four months, and 23 days for us as a nation to make the journey from one historic spot to the other. If you're curious, that's a speed of 7 ¼ inches per day, a seemingly glacially slow speed, but because of the hope, courage, perseverance, and patience of so many, and their willingness to continue to put one foot in front of the other, it has been a journey that has been possible within some people's lifetimes.

I know the pundits and the prognosticators have already made many allusions to the way the legacy of Dr. King has come closer to being true. More than forty-five years after his speech, we American have elected an African American to become our next United States President! On Friday night at the African American Alliance Martin Luther King banquet we heard Dr; King’s words and we prayed together for the presidency of Mr. Obama. The comparison is incredibly obvious. That evening a white widow of a black man whispered, to me “I sure never thought I would see the day!”

Many of us have watched as this country, remains so very haunted by the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow is still sometimes outrageous in its discrimination of racial minorities, and we are all shamed by the realities of Katrina and New Orleans, and those FEMA trailers. Knowing those realities, many of us are still in shock that a majority of Americans, many secure in the continued safety of white privilege, in the privacy of the voter’s booth and ballot box, did vote that they are willing to trust the future of this nation to the judgment and leadership of a man who, while of mixed race, has described himself as “black enough to have had difficulty hailing a cab.”

This is an historic moment and I think that for us Unitarian Universalists, where so many of our religious ancestors have worked to end slavery and to defeat the bastions of racism, and where Unitarian minister James Reeb and UU congregation member, Violet Liuzzo sacrificed their lives in devotion to the cause of civil rights, it is important to pay attention to this pivotal moment and passage. That this election has been historic because of its racial overtones should never be minimized.

But those issues that are directly related to “race” are not where I want to focus this morning. What I am interested in examining, as we pause here the day before we honor the birthday of Dr King, and two days before this year’s historic inauguration, is how we can explore the qualities that are often identified as those of “leadership” those qualities that influence and create the changes that shape our world.

I am convinced that as important as the election of Mr. Obama has been, and as important as the life and legacy of Abraham Lincoln and Dr. King have proven, that we must do more than simply admire the wisdom and insight and leadership they can provide. I believe that the circumstances that we face as a (to borrow the phrase) “planet in peril,” that very future of our nation, that our survival and the future of our children, requires that we all find a way to fulfill the dream that Dr. King envisioned. I believe that we all need to participate in his dream of freedom, and for that to happen, then we all must become more fully engaged in the developing attributes that we understand as necessary for “leadership.”

So what is “leadership?” — there are folks out there in the business world pocketing millions and millions of dollars because they have, or perhaps have convinced others that they have, “leadership” skills and capabilities.

During much of history “leadership” has been defined using the words power and authority. In the past the ability to influence or control – control other people, or the environment, often by force, determined the direction and quality of “leadership”. In business in the past “leaders” were often like the CEO’s of the big three auto-makers – the same men and women who arrived in their separate corporate jets to ask Congress to bail out their ailling companies. They had in the past convinced their shareholders that they had the wisdom and savvy to be leaders and get the big bucks. Being “smart” as a leader has most often meant being willing to take every advantage to get ahead in the race for profit and power.

What I would like to do this morning, however, is to suggest that now as never before, the survival of our democracy and perhaps life as we know it will require a different kind of “leadership.”

It has been interesting to hear the name of Abraham Lincoln so often mentioned during these past weeks as analysts compare Obama’s and Lincoln’s assembling governing teams made up of those with disparate views. Like Lincoln’s cabinet which he filled with former opponents, Obama has chosen his former rival Hillary Clinton to be his Secretary of State and he has selected individuals from across the aisle, yes, Republicans to be included in his cabinet and as his advisors.

Like most Americans, I have always been fascinated by Lincoln. I went to high school in Fort Wayne, Indiana where the Lincoln Life Insurance company owned a very complete and valuable collection of Lincoln documents and memorabilia. I have read some recent biographies and pondered the mixed messages of his reputation.

I have also, on numerous occasions, had the opportunity to read and ponder the legacy of Dr. King. I remember walking the streets of Boston, near Boston University where he did his graduate studies, and wondering who that young man was – how he thought and responded. Aware of the influence that Universalist thinker Adin Ballou had on Thoreau and Tolstoy and how that in turn influenced Gandhi and King, I remember wondering about how the young King had felt in that still segregated by class and color, beautiful city.

And these past months, particularly as some of us in this church explored the topic of anti-racism and read “Soul Work,” we discussed the future of Obama as an African American in the political spotlight. Now this past week I have been reading Obama’s two books and have driving around town listening to his recording of The Audacity of Hope.

I have become fascinated by the way these three men, Lincoln, King and Obama share some qualities and, even more, I have become convinced that these are qualities that we all might want to cultivate in our own lives – and to encourage in the life of a church community like ours.

The first quality that I find fascinating is that each of them has been mindful—willing to be engaged—willing to be fully present in the thick of their own life. None of these men received a “note card from God” saying something like — “you know someday some will consider that you were a hero and others will try to vilify and undermine your influence — so be careful what things you get involved with” — no. No, — yet each of these men made the choice to become involved at a relatively young age with issues that were important in their lives and in their time.

Lincoln at age 19 observed a slave auction on a trip to New Orleans, which caused him say that if it were up to him he would end slavery! King at 25, backed by the NAACP, worked to end segregation with the Montgomery bus boycott. And Obama chose not to continue in his successful business career, but rather made the decision to labor for poor working people as an organizer in the city of Chicago.

None of the three could have had any inkling that those actions would lead someday to direct the trajectory of their lives. But each of them was willing to be fully engaged and to participate in the world around them. Unlike so many people they did not just do what was necessary to get by, and then “zone out” — rather they allowed themselves to be moved by the life they encountered and, in response, to determine their own opinion, and ultimately, to work to change the status quo.

The second quality that I would identify is that each one of them has been willing to be “reflective.” Each one of them, reading the works of others, Shakespeare, the Bible, ancient philosophers, thoughtfully reflected upon their own lives. Lincoln was known as a man with an incredible memory and as a fine story teller – and later an astute lawyer. King was a thoughtful and powerful speaker and writer. Obama has already written two books, worthwhile on their own, but also very powerful in helping the reader to understand him. Sharing his considerable musings and perspectives he becomes an authentic and fleshed out personality.

They have each considered the source and content of their religious thought.

Lincoln, who never joined a church but saw himself and this nation as guided by the benevolent hands of a loving father God called on his own reason when he wrote,

“I think that if anything can be proved by natural theology, it is that slavery is morally wrong. God gave man a mouth to receive bread, hands to feed it, and his hand has a right to carry bread to his mouth without controversy. Speech at Hartford, Conn., on March 5, 1860 (CWAL IV: 3)

King, ordained by his father’s church from and early age often called upon his religious sources for his morality,

“Somehow God gave me the power to transform the resentments, the suspicions the fears and the misunderstandings I found that week into faith and enthusiasm. I spoke from the heart and out of each meeting came firm endorsement and pledges of participation. Martin Luther King, Why We Can’t Wait, p.66

Notwithstanding Obama’s avowed Christian faith, in Dreams from My Father (p. 17) he shares his grandfather’s flirtation with the Unitarian church (his Grandmother Toot’s memorial service was held in a UU Fellowship in Hawaii just a few weeks ago)

In his only skirmish into organized religion, he [my grandfather] would enroll the family in the local Unitarian Universalist congregation; he liked the idea that Unitarians drew on the scriptures of all the great religions. ("It's like you get five religions in one," he would say). Toot [my grandmother] would eventually dissuade him of his views on the church ("For Christ's sake, Stanley, religion's not supposed to be like buying breakfast cereal!").

And later Obama reflects upon his own and others’ attitudes toward religion in these words,

I think we have got to admit the possibility that we are not always right, that our particular faith may not have all the monopoly on truth, and we’ve got to be able to listen to other people. You know I think one of the trends we are seeing right now, and which I think is causing so much political grief both domestically and internationally is that absolutism has sort of become the flavor of the day. Newsweek, September 25, 2005

And the third characteristic that these three men have shared is that each of these individuals has been able to exhibit tremendous emotional intelligence. In the two popular writings on effective leadership, Primal Leadership in 2002 and Resonant Leadership in 2005, Boyatzis, Mc Kee and Goleman emphasize the importance for a leader that she or he be able to empathize with others, that they are truly and authentically themselves, that they are honest about their own ambitions and willing to own their mistakes and limitations.

All three of these men have within their writings and in their public persona also shared their own doubts and foibles and have been able to accept responsibility for their words and their actions. With Lincoln it was the melancholy that followed the deep grief he felt over the death of his young son and his anguish over the Civil War. King’s legacy is haunted and made vulnerable to those who would diminish his successes, and while he was overjoyed at the successes of the Civil Rights era, he knew too well the pain of falling from grace, the limitations of his personal appetites and that he would be blamed for the harsh backlash had only begun. Obama, who has only recently stepped into the blinding spotlight of the world stage, has revealed a wild-boy past replete with alcohol, drugs and, occasionally still, cigarettes — only time will tell if he will be able to practice the “self care: that is also a hall mark of the emotionally intelligent leader.

But it is neither these three men, nor the thousands of other women and men who have successfully been honored and respected as leaders that I hope we celebrate this Martin Luther King holiday and this Inauguration Day. It is rather that, in considering the characteristics which bring some into the limelight, that we realize that all of us — each one of you, me, our children and grandchildren can celebrate the ways we can share these in these three important qualities.

We can, each of us, become more mindful in every aspect of our lives, recognizing that we have the power of presence. We can and indeed must promise to participate in our own lives and in making a difference in the world in which we live and which our children will inherit – we must commit to mindful participation in life.

We can also become more reflective. There is nothing more important than actually taking off the blinders and honestly evaluating, for ourselves, where we are, who we are and how we got here. Socrates is quoted as having stated that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” but I would say simply that, “the examined life is more likely to bring us deeper satisfaction, more wholeness and richer meaning.”

And last, I would implore us to consider that we each have the opportunity each day, with our every choice, to grow our own emotional intelligence. We each have opportunities to wait before we respond, to use the reason and intellect we UU’s say we so prize. We have the opportunity to drop some of our defenses and open our hearts in care and compassion, not only to the needy of the world, but to one another.

Mr. Obama is only one man — a human being with terrific leadership potential that so many have recognized. Like Lincoln and King he carries the seeds of greatness — and so do we all. Working together, not just in Washington, but right here in dusty, dry and strangely beautiful and hopeful Idaho Falls we can discover that leadership is something we can each share.

Obama ends his book “The Audacity of Hope” by describing that often running late at night and alone in DC he would traverse the mall to the Lincoln monument,

"At night, the great shrine is lit but often empty. Standing between marble columns, I read the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address. I look out over the Reflecting Pool, imagining the crowd stilled by Dr. King's mighty cadence, and then beyond that, to the floodlit obelisk and shining Capitol dome.
"And in that place, I think about America and those who built it. This nation's founders, who somehow rose above petty ambitions and narrow calculations to imagine a nation unfurling across a continent. And those like Lincoln and King, who ultimately laid down their lives in the service of perfecting an imperfect union. And all the faceless, nameless men and women, slaves and soldiers and tailors and butchers, constructing lives for themselves and their children and grandchildren, brick by brick, rail by rail, calloused hand by calloused hand, to fill in the landscape of our collective dreams.
"It is that process I wish to be a part of.
"My heart is filled with love for this country.

May we too choose to be part of this process, as I know our hearts too are filled with love for this country and for one another. May all be well.


How Do Atheists and Humanists Celebrate?
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, November 16, 2008

Message: May the thought, ideas and words shared here this morning be worthy of the time we have chosen to invest here this day.

A few weeks ago I was in Albuquerque where the Rev. Dr. William Murray was the keynote speaker at our Unitarian Universalist Mountain Desert District Meeting and later Dr Murray gathered with the district’s ministers to discuss with us the premise of his book “Reason and Reverence.” We were there just as autumn was draping golden yellow over tired and frayed gray greens. High cerulean skies floated above the nearby mountains and were dappled with swift white clouds and dotted by synchronized formations of tiny black birds. It was a good time and place to think about what it might mean to accept Dr Murray’s premise that many people who believe that they are not religious, people who identify as atheist or secular humanist actually fit within his description of “religious humanism” or even “religious naturalism.”

Now we all know that an atheist is a person who is certain that there is no god. Some of us might describe ourselves as atheist and many of us are familiar with the work of Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris who consider themselves to be the vanguard of an important movement called “New Atheism.” The new atheists are fairly militant and are convinced that there are millions of others who not only also believe that there is no god but who, based on the results of science and reason, consider religion to be a primary source of the world’s conflict and violence. And in reality it is often religious people who have been mong the slowest to realize the legitimacy of granting human rights to everyone equally.

In fact, Greg Epstein of the New Humanists writes that “A 2006 Baylor University survey estimates about 15 million atheists in the United States. And that Not all nonbelievers identify as humanists or atheists, with some calling themselves agnostics, freethinkers or skeptics. But humanists see the potential for unifying the groups under their banner, creating a large, powerful minority that can't be ignored or disdained by mainstream political and social thinkers. …Lori Lipman Brown, director of the Secular Coalition of America, sees a growing public acceptance of people who don't believe in God, pointing to California U.S. Rep. Pete Stark's statement this month that he doesn't believe in a supreme being. Stark is the first congressman to acknowledge being an atheist. (http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4176/is_20070405/ai_n18788734/print?tag=artBody;col1)

Atheism is usually considered more extreme than secular humanism, however a great many outspoken Christian fundamentalists have still declared that “secular humanists” are responsible for all the problems of the United States. Dr. Murray writes,

“Humanism has long been a target of the religious right. Several years ago the Reverend Tim LaHaye proclaimed, “Humanists are the mortal enemy of all pro-moral Americans, and the most serious threat to our nation in its entire history.” LaHaye is a leading evangelical Christian minister and co -author of the Left Behind Series. LaHaye, Jerry Falwell, and others have blamed humanism for everything they believe to be wrong with America, such as reproductive choice, anti-poverty programs, the feminist movement, the gay rights movement, laws against compulsory prayer in public schools, gun control, and sexuality education.

Just what humanism is remains a bit confusing to most Americans and many of us may not know that a group of philosophers and scientists and others actually wrote and signed a document to define what they meant by the term “Humanist.” According to Dr. Murray,

The signers of the first Humanist Manifesto in 1933, were attempting to introduce to the world a new kind of religion, one that left the myths, symbols and rituals of traditional religion behind while providing a foundation for morality and meaning grounded in human nature…articulating a vital new religious perspective… it rejected the idea of a supernatural deity, held that the natural universe is all there is, and regarded human beings as part of nature. . Affirming the intrinsic value of all human beings, it maintained the realization of human potential in the here and now as the goal of human life and social justice as necessary to achieve that goal. Reason and Reverence XV

Now, I know that a good many of us when we hear that description of humanism are more than ready to say, “well, yeah that’s just about exactly what I believe and what Unitarian Universalism is about; – that we need to live life as fully and fairly and honestly and deeply as we can in the present, because we truly do not know that there is a life after death.” Many of us would say that we too want to be part of a religion that affirms the intrinsic value of all human beings and that we must learn to work together to create a free and fair world with opportunities for all. And most of the time those of us who would consider themselves atheists or humanists, agnostics or skeptics do just fine – our beliefs and actions and values are in harmony.

However when we get to this time of year, some of us start to bump up against a situation that calls for greater reflection and can challenge our own sense of integrity. As we enter the holiday season, and its many occasions for “celebration” some of us begin an inner struggle. It gets a little complicated to figure out just how we can participate in the cultural merry-making without jeopardizing our own truth. At this time of the year I think it might be important to examine our relationship with the idea of celebration by asking ourselves how atheists and humanists can fully and with honestly– celebrate.

Almost two weeks ago, I watched as Idaho Falls Democrats and the nation’s African American population engaged in real celebration – a change was in the air that required a deep and complete response – joyful commemoration, an overflowing of emotion and tears of joy and the drinking in of experiences and feelings that were on their way to becoming the stuff of proud memories. Some of us reached out to embrace one another, many of us reached for our cell phones to call friends and loved ones far away. Many of us wanted nothing more than to share the moment. People, quite naturally, understood that the election of our nation’s first African American president called for joyful response and yes, celebration.

When we or our team wins – or when we have reached a goal, like graduation we know the need for celebration. We also know the importance of celebrating other personal milestones – births and birthdays. We all celebrated our contemporary ritual passage into adulthood; our first drivers license. Weddings are times of celebration; we all add our blessing to the promise any two people should be able to make to share their future and to become a family. Homecomings are times for celebrating.

We understand naturally and innately that life transitions and accomplishments quite result in a buoyant and compulsive need to rejoice and celebrate. Those kinds of personal, family and group celebrations appear to be common to people from all cultures and ethnicities, We may not share the specifics — nevertheless all of us can easily understand the impulse.

However the very celebrations that some people experience with great joy and that help some in our society to feel a greater sense of belonging and community may also cause others of us to feel especially isolated and “left out.”

I am talking about some of our nation’s other annual holiday celebrations. And I don’t mean those patriotic secular holiday celebrations; Labor Day, New Years or the Fourth of July. Most Americans probably feel pretty comfortable taking those days off, watching the parades and enjoying the time to relax. I am talking about those other “holiday” celebrations – primarily the big three celebrations, those holidays that some people in our society insist are primarily religious in nature. Today we find ourselves not quite two weeks from Thanksgiving and quickly following Thanksgiving comes Christmas and in the springtime there is the other big one — Easter. These three holidays are the holidays that some people insist must be religious in nature.

A few years ago there was the noisy outcry of folks like Rush Limbaugh and others for fundamentalist Christians to object to and even boycott stores and businesses that chose to use phrases like “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings” rather than “Merry Christmas.” It got pretty nasty actually as merchants were being pressured to choose between honoring the fact that not all their customers or all Americans celebrate Christmas or offending those who shop and define Christmas as the only legitimate December holiday.

While the Norman Rockwell image of America during the holidays is one of unity and peace, too often, just below the surface there is nothing that so clearly separates the people in this country as the way we celebrate our holidays. I suspect that few things cause those of us who consider ourselves to be other, the Muslims and Jews, the Pagans or Hindus and Buddhists and others who are truly just indifferently secular and the more determined atheists, and agnostics and humanists among us, more discomfort than trying to figure out how to be and where to be and what to do and feel than the ambiguity we experince about how to celebrate those big three holidays each year.

I remember as a young wife that I and my agnostic husband discussed and carefully before he decided that he still could celebrate Thanksgivng without including God at all. He insisted that we be very intentional about deciding just what kind of tree we would have – only blue lights and silver ornaments – doesn’t that sound like 1965? We chose “Happy Holiday” cards and recordings of secular carols. We baked and gave gifts and decorated with candles and greens and still I felt oddly guilty and out of place, as if I did not quite have the right to celebration if I was not willing to thank God for the turkey and stuffing, willing to celebrate Jesus birth in Bethlehem or the bodily resurrection at Eastertime. Each year those holidays were a mixed bag – on one hand I looked forward to them and on the other I felt that I was becoming an outsider in my own culture — some of my old love and excitement and the magic was simply gone.

Apparently many people struggle when their inner truth does not match the religious roots of holidays they have long loved. And apparently there has been a concerted effort among organized humanists to design special holidays that fit their philosophies.

"Many people are under the false assumption that secular people like humanists are just a bunch of old Scrooges who don't celebrate the winter holidays," commented Roy Speckhardt, executive director of the American Humanist Association. "But actually, we humanists appreciate and enjoy the season in ways that go right to its roots. Christmas and Hanukkah are both derived from much earlier nature celebrations of the Winter Solstice. This makes this festive time the common property of all. ..One of the newest ways (humanists have) of celebrating the season is with a specifically humanist observance called HumanLight( that since 2001 has been) is celebrated on December 23rd. (rspeckhardt@americanhumanist.org - www.americanhumanist.org)

Likewise it sometimes is particularly difficult for UU’s . First, we tend to be reflective kinds of people. Our congregations are made up of people who want to understand things. We tend to appreciate thoughtful and intellectually challenging experiences. And Unitarian Universalist congregations are intentional about being religious.

So it has long been the practice of our Unitarian Universalist churches to find ways of honoring both the religious stories related to these holidays and to explore as well the fact that the history of these three big holidays is actually rooted in even older earth-based religious celebrations – celebrations that undoubtedly grew from our prehistoric ancestors’ need to celebrate the cycles of the natural year.

So we know from the history of the holiday we call Thanksgiving and celebrate in late November that it’s date was somewhat arbitrarily set fairly recently and that the truth behind the mythology that the Pilgrims invited the Wampanoags to their grand feast was at best an exaggeration. In reality after the simple meal cooked from the Pilgrims meager harvest, the Indians left and returned with four freshly killed deer. It was the Wampanoag’s buried corn that the Pilgrims stole their first winter, the skills that Squanto taught them and the generosity of the native hunters that kept the Pilgrims alive those first years.

The truth is that ancient cultures long before the Pilgrims were certainly very aware of their dependence upon the fecundity of the earth and so when the harvests were over and when their cellars and biers were filled they took time to gather as tribes and families to celebrate. Those close to the land still understand. When I was a kid and so many of my family members still farmed in Ohio, the fall was always a time of hurry to get the corn picked and the beans in before the rains came. Butchering and hunting was done in the fall so the meat could cool down before being cut for freezing and smoking. And gratitude may be the simplest most honest and spiritual response all humans have to the great mystery of the gift of life itself. It is custom that tells us that one must have a god to thank. Gratitude is what we naturally feel and can be expressed by living deeply and fully and kindly, rejoicing to share the bounty of life’s riches with one another.

Now we also know that Christmas was layered over the Roman holiday Saturnalia which was celebrated on Dec. 25, the time when the winter solstice had passed enough so that it was obvious that the Sun had been reborn in its daily passage through the skies. And in Egyptian myth the God Horus the sun god was yearly reborn at the solstice. I love that in English there is even the word play as the Christian holiday celebrates the birth of the son at the time of the birth of the sun. The winter solstice like Christmas is a serious holiday. Just remember the long darkness in northern climates as the cold settles in. The promise of spring in the sun’s return is still surely cause for joy and celebration!

And we know that the very name Easter comes from the Germanic name for the Earth Goddess Eostar whose return brought the new green of springtime the lambs and bunnies and eggs symbols of birth.

Interestingly the title of Dr. Murray’s book reflects the central theme these holiday celebrations share. He at last emphasizes the spiritual side of humanism, for it is in our reverence for what he calls the “love of the universe” where he says that humanists and even atheist Richard Dawkins admit to finding “awe for ecstatic transport at the wonder and beauty of creation …”p 113 Reason and Reverence.

In our congregations we sometimes allow the discourse of reason, and our reliance upon science and facts and logic to dominate and sometimes it may seem to almost drown the small voice of the spirit – yet I believe it is most reasonable to acknowledge that we, like the generations of our ancestors, also have a deep and natural need for reverence – for the resonance that comes when encounter the wonder that is life and we find again that we all need deeply to find ways to celebrate again the source and grace and mystery of our being, of our being here, of our being together of our being here now together – for we all are indeed blessed.


Valuing Veterans When They Need Us!
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, November 9, 2008

Last week, just as the US faced an historic election where we would either elect the first female vice president or the first African American president, I asked us to consider the roles of doubt and prayer or hope. And as that election evolved it seemed that voters’ final choices were based on whom they least doubted and most trusted to guide our nation through the difficult, painful and most likely lengthy transitions we must make to economic stability and energy independence and to ending the wars we are now fighting, — the persons we trusted to help us to become once again a nation devoted to the causes of peace and freedom, and model of decency and hope for the entire world.

And as the votes were tallied, watched many Americans rejoice with new-born optimism. For many this was a day they had never fully expected would ever happen or at least not see in their lifetime; that an African American man would be elected as president of the United States! This has truly been an historic week, one filled with jubilation and anticipation and — fear. For just as some people have rejoiced, others have withdrawn in fear and cynicism. Though both of Tuesday evening’s speeches were masterful, eloquent and called for Americans to work together, now as we set out in the direction of healing, many Americans are angry and disappointed and doubt filled. In California those who rejoiced only weeks ago that all marital commitments could be validated discovered that they had lost their rights because of the direct efforts and votes based on the fears of others.

Yet as the celebration over the election dies out in the press and on the streets, and as the struggles for equal rights for all return to the courts, I think that in both cases seeds of hope and possibility have been sown in the hearts and minds of many — seeds that may with time germinate and break through hard shells of resistance layered on during years and years of neglect and cynicism.

This week the UUA sent yellow roses to the families of Unitarian Universalists who were killed working for the cause of freedom during the civil right era, to the living descendents of Rev. James Reeb and Violet Liuzzo and to others. Surely this election, finally seemed to somehow validate the sacrifice they had made as it supports the goal of our First UU principle, Not only UU’s but Americans all reflected by this vote to affirm and support the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

And here we are just one week later on the Sunday before Veteran’s Day 2008, recognizing that it is also due to the sacrifice made by America’s Veterans that we may all celebrate. Our Vets are the men and women who may most deserve to celebrate the results of Tuesday’s election. not necessarily because the persons they voted for individually have been declared the winners, but because it is those veterans who put their lives on hold and on the line to make certain that we all could do just what we did on Tuesday, elect those persons that most of us feel we can trust to lead our communities and our country.

I would like to share this with you:

A Soldier’s Declaration
I am making this statement as an act of willful defiance of military authority, because I believe the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it.
I am a soldier, convinced that I am acting on behalf of soldiers. I believe that this war, upon which I entered as a war of defense and liberation has now become a war of aggression and conquest. I believe the purposes for which I and my fellow soldiers entered upon this war should have been so clearly stated as to have made it impossible to change them and that, had this been –done, the objects which actuated us would now be attainable by negotiation.
I have seen and endured the suffering of the troops, and I can no longer be a party to prolonging these sufferings for ends which I believe to be evil and unjust.
I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.
On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them, also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of sufferings which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.
These lines were written by British poet and officer, Siegfried “Mad Jack” Sassoon, July 1917 (quoted in Flashback, Penny Coleman, 2006 P. 35)

“Mad Jack” Sassoon got his nickname for his many heroic war time actions including having rescued comrades while under heavy artillery fire. After recovering from his own serious wounds and having received the Military Cross of honor he began to articulate his disillusioned about the war and in 1917 wrote “A Soldier’s Declaration” and began his crusade against all war. He also revealed in his writings that he suffered sometimes debilitating hallucinations and flashbacks because of his service.

I have chosen to share this writing with you this morning because Sassoon’s words written so long ago might be describing the kinds of details that haunt and anger some of the women and men who return from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and because I find Sassoon’s final paragraph incredibly powerful and pointed,

On behalf of those who are suffering now I make this protest against the deception which is being practiced on them, also I believe that I may help to destroy the callous complacency with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of sufferings which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

In the painful long war that “Operation Freedom for Iraq” has become, more and more Americans have become aware of the massive deceptions perpetrated by those in charge. There are many present day Americans, good patriotic folks who might willingly join with Sassoon to... protest against the deception which is being practiced on them, protest the deception that led to the war in Iraq and the lack of candor and clarity surrounding every aspect of both that war and the one in Afghanistan ever since.

But I fear that more of us find ourselves among those described by the second of Sassoon’s categories. For any number of reasons I, like so many Americans discover that I too am sometimes guilty of what he called callous complacency in regard to these wars and the many other troubled regions where American military are now engaged.

Sasson’s words were written in a time when even though the troops were fighting only a few hundred miles away, then people could claim ignorance; because, after all the only reliable means of communication were the telegraph and newspapers hawked on street corners and delivered by post. Now we have instant information, not just the written word but voice, photos and video at our fingertips twenty-four hours a day. Indeed in a time when one scarcely needs an imagination at all I fear that I and many other Americans do find ourselves guilty of feeling what Sassoon describes as the callous complacency the majority of those at home regard the continuance of sufferings which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realize.

It is no wonder that Sassoon spent the rest of his life working to teach the world that war itself too often destroys the very possibility of the peace it, war, purports to protect. And it is no mystery that so many of our American veterans and their families wind up so disappointed, damaged and angry as a result of their service and the ways they have been treated by the very system and people for whom they have sacrificed.

According to Phillip Longman’s book Best Care Anywhere, and contrary to the impression that the scandal about Walter Reed left us with, the actual health care and mental health care that the Veteran’s Administration provides is top notch. The problem is attitude and access according to Longman,(p 101)

The essential first step is a reform that is not only morally overdue but …the first step is simply this: all veterans should have access to all the VA health care they deserve and were promised when they enlisted.
Stop for a moment and look at America through the eyes of a younger veteran. Let’s say you joined up on September 11, 2001, outraged by the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon… part of what helped you make the case to yourself and to your loved ones was the promise of future veterans benefits that would help make up for the sacrifice you and your family would be making. Now, let’s say it’s five years later. Your tours in Afghanistan and Iraq are behind you. Your local community calls you a hero. Strangers offer to buy you dinner when they hear your story. You often see SUV’s with “Support the Troops” stickers, but there’s a problem. Like one out of three veterans under the age of twenty-five and more than one out of ten Gulf War veterans) you don’t have any health insurance. The only job you can find doesn’t offer it, nor can you afford to buy it on your own. And when you show up with all your papers in order at the local VA medical center, they tell you that they‘re no longer allowed to care for you.
And why is that? Because it turns out that while you were fighting in the Middle East Congress and the Bush Administration conspired to repeal the “comprehensive medical coverage services” you were promised by your recruiter and your nation. Now, unless you’re living in poverty, ( and for the VA “poverty” is defined as well below the other accepted guidelines) VA doctors are forbidden to treat you any longer for “non-service connected” illness. What sort of country is this?

Yellow ribbon magnets reading “support our troops” cannot possibly supplant the callous disregard that our society has too often displayed toward those who return from wars forever broken and changed; unable to simply pick up and carry on after their life-altering wartime experiences.

The reality is that in spite of the traumatic lessons we thought we had learned as a result of Viet Nam, we as an American society still have a long way to go in recognizing and remembering that the casualties of war extend far, far beyond the battlefields and far past the soldier’s “safe” return home, that the financial burden of caring for the physical and mental health of the soldiers and sailors and marines and reservists has a sustained and staggering effect on not only the Veterans Administration but on every other network of personal and public care providers throughout the nation.

Politicians and other officials have, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unwittingly, conspired to keep the public from the truth about the devastating effects war has on the careers, family, loved ones and communities of veterans.

Just yesterday I spoke with a man from our local Vet Center. He and others who work there provide support to the many local disabled veterans. Their job is pretty intense as they seek the help needed for the large numbers of new vets returning from active duty in Afghanistan and Iraq. Now thanks to technical advances, emergency training, communications and transport many thousands more have been wounded or succumbed to disease than have died. But those wounded and returned home deserve services and those earlier Viet Nam vets are just now reaching an age where their health needs cause them to look to the VA for the support they were promised.

The man I spoke with explained that for a lot of veterans, their discharge initially meant that they wanted to get as far away from their war time service as possible and they found whatever way of coping they could find. Too often however, their strategies involved self-medication and their reluctance to seek help resulted in broken homes, broken lives and uncertain career paths.

They may have managed in their younger years but as they pass middle age and physical health and mental health issues continue to surface they are forced to return for the care they were promised only to discover that the VA is facing a mixed mission. For the Veterans Administration to try to both help veterans and to reduce expenditures means that too often needy and deserving American veterans are left without the resources they deserve and the support that most Americans believe they are receiving.

And that is when the focus is on health care, physical care but according to the latest data, the even bigger problem is related to mental health care and the increase of suicide which has been systematically denied as being directly war related.

(From Katrina Vanden Heuvel, Nation Magazine July 2007) In July last year Joshua Kors testified…before the House Committee on Veterans Affairs… exposing a horrifying injustice of soldiers returning from battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), who are instead diagnosed with a "pre-existing" Personality Disorder that results in a discharge without benefits. It is estimated that the 22,500 soldiers discharged with personality disorders over the last six years will save the military $12.5 billion in medical treatment over their lifetimes. Chairman Filner himself said a psychiatrist had told him that higher-ups had ordered the use of this diagnosis to save money.
… army veteran Jonathan … Town described to the Committee how "after a 107mm rocket exploded 3 feet above my (his) head, leaving me(him) unconscious," he was treated for a severe concussion, shrapnel wounds in his neck, and bleeding from his ear…Town said that about six weeks after his arrival at Fort Carson, Colorado he was finally able to see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist told him that by accepting a Personality Disorder discharge, Town would be able to receive full benefits …In fact, Town learned the day he left the army that the Personality Disorder was marked as "pre-existing" which meant he would not be entitled to the treatment the VA is obligated to provide for combat wounds. Adding insult – and further financial hardship – to injury, he was told he owed the Army $3000 for not fulfilling his 6 year re-enlistment.

Another House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing, …(was) prompted by a CBS News report that veterans are twice as likely to commit suicide as the rest of the population. Each day an estimated 17 veterans commit suicide.

Nation Magazine Matthew Blake 12/ 07http://www.thenation.com/blogs/notion/260013/print

In Flashback author Penny Coleman, whose husband was one of those suicides, reminds us that those veterans who die by their own hand as a result of PTSD were haunted by the inhumanity that war has forced them to endure, witness and participate in. Those veterans who take their own lives as a result of wartime experiences that they cannot wipe from their memories are casualties of war as clearly as those who fell from World War I artillery fire, or as the result of a grenade on Okinawa, in the rice paddies of Viet Nam, or blown up by an IED along the rutted roads of Takrit.

Now as many of us rejoice that an American person of color has been elected that let us remember that this possibility rests in part on the sacrifices of Rev James Reeb and Violet Liuzzo and all those others who worked and struggled for civil rights, and also rests in the sacrifice that so many veterans have made on the battle fields of the world. Let us remember and honor all their gifts. Let us hope that as the doors to the white house have been opened that the doors of acceptance might also open across this nation. Let us hope that as we raise our own awareness of the continued need for comprehensive health care and mental health care that those who accept the mantle of leadership will recognize that war must always be the very last resort, that our love and respect for life means that we must always work for the ways of peace and reason. Let us as caring and informed citizens and Unitarian Universalists continue to lead in our commitment and our action remembering the words of Dr. Martin Luther King ever hopeful that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

Where Do We Go From Here? (1967) Address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (1967-08-16 Wikkipedia)

3Sometimes,2 by Sheenagh Pugh

Sometimes things don't go, after all, from bad to worse.
Some years, muscadel faces down frost; green thrives;
      the crops don't fail,
Sometimes a man aims high, and all goes well.
A people sometimes will step back from war;
      elect an honest man; decide they care enough, that they can't
            leave some stranger poor.
Some men become what they were born for.
Sometimes our best efforts do not go amiss;
      sometimes we do as we meant to.
The sun will sometimes melt a field of sorrow that seemed hard frozen:
      may it happen for you.

May it happen for us all – let us go forward in peace and love.


When in Doubt Pray, When in Prayer Doubt
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, September 14, 2008

Presidential candidate John McCain has been accused of using a “Hail Mary pass” in selecting Sarah Palin as his running mate. I wonder if any of us have thought much about the origin of that phrase? I mean we know what it means but I wonder how many of us know that (from wikkipedia online encyclopedia),

…The term "Hail Mary pass" is believed to have been coined by Dallas Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach, referring to his desperation (and Catholic beliefs), when in a nearly hopeless situation, Staubach told reporters that he closed his eyes, threw the ball as hard as he could, and said a Hail Mary prayer.

The term “hail Mary Pass” has become a kind of cliché for a last ditch attempt to, win or to survive or whatever, and what we almost forget is that at the heart of that phrase, “hail Mary pass” is a recognition the sometimes even the best athletes get to a point where they are out of options or where they cannot see a way their skills or their planning will get them to where they want or need to go and so they maybe in a way that some would consider petty and superficial, they, they “pray.” They do what the other often quoted cliché says to do, they, “Let go and let God.” The idea and practice of prayer is deeply ingrained in western cultural history, and prayer is part of our language and woven into our literature and for many of us into our own psyche and yet for many of us the very idea of “prayer” causes us to bristle. We tend to have strong reactions to the idea of prayer even as we have a rather vague understanding of what it means to “pray.”

So let me ask each of you a rhetorical question, “When do you pray? I’m serious – I really am asking each one to consider when in your own life you pray?”

The reason I am asking is because when I first read this UUA “ad” that was published in Time Magazine earlier this year I was – distressed by it. Even though I know that it was meant to jar people into a thoughtful response, it seemed to me that “When in Doubt Pray and When in Prayer Doubt” sounded as if we were expecting that people do and ought to pray! And I was sure that the ad would be likely to irritate people more than encourage them to feel positive about our religious movement. So I have another question. What does the phrase When in doubt pray and when in prayer doubt. Mean to you?

The “doubting isn’t the problem, we UU’s are known for our doubts. And we have often been the criticized for them… The assumption is that we are a denomination of skeptics and non believers – doubters. There is the lame old joke, what would the Klan burn in the yard of a UU? A question mark. Or, why do UU’s congregations have trouble singing – because they are reading ahead to see if they agree with the words.

But then all of us — everyone in this country knows about doubt and distrust that feeling of being caught between what are told to believe is true and what is then proven to be false. And we know too well about the doubts’s; cynicism and skepticism. Our nation right now would appear to be filled with people who ache to be able to trust and to be sure – sure of something but we continue to be caught up in suspicion and doubt and trapped by the anxiety that an inability to trust creates. Many of us increasingly reflect an inability to feel we can fully trust anything.

Even the most honored symbol of our democratic heritage the integrity of our voting has become the subject of suspicion. The elections of 2000 and 2004 caused many of us to doubt whether we are actually that Democracy that used to pride itself confidently of our world leadership in having fair and free elections.

Our own experiences tell us that “doubts” can protect us but that doubts can also undermine our ability to be together. We learn from our own experience that once trust has been forfeited doubt can weaken any relationship. There are innumerable examples in literature and history of the manipulation of trust undermining the character of an individual, destroying relationships or careers or even motivating death; remember the tragedy of Othello’s fatal doubts which utterly destroy his innocent and faithful Desdemona.

But as our society has grown more sophisticated doubt and skepticism have become more and more common. With our increased abilities to share information our twentieth and now twenty-first centuries technologies seem to also have taught us that we had better doubt and be skeptical. Even things that one might assume could be proven scientifically may remain controversial – post modern thought almost refutes science by reminding us that we need to not only know the facts but also who has chosen which particular facts and why not others and to ask what motivated their revelation at this particular time —Sometimes we doubt that even what appears to be scientific proof may not be trustworthy.

So in the face of all the destruction that doubt can foster, why would some folks at the UUA run an ad that links doubt to prayer? “When in doubt pray, and when in prayer, doubt?”

The topic of “prayer” has been divisive in our nation for decades — there was Madeline Murray O’Hare in the 1960’s insisting that the separation of church and state required that prayer should be removed from public schools. And yet decades later there are those who insist upon devoting their energies to finding ways of adding public prayer back into the educational programs of many municipalities.

Rev. Fred Muir in his book, “Heretic’s Faith; Vocabulary for Religious Liberals, includes a chapter devoted to “prayer.” Muir says that “prayer” continues to be a turn-off for many religious liberals, (and I would add, agnostics and humanists and atheists,) because they find the idea of prayer confusing. And I would say that “confusing” is only part of the ways most UU’s understand and often reject the idea of prayer. I think that many of us think that “Prayer” also requires us to buy into someone’s notion of a supernatural being – a God, (someone else’s version of the mystery that is at the heart of our living and being) and for many of us that is simply not acceptable.

Yet, I wonder if perhaps the design or identification of a supernatural “god” follows prayer rather than precedes prayer. I wonder if just plain being human might not mean that we are, quite naturally, “praying people” and when we discover our “prayer-fullness” that then humans tend to try to figure out and describe to whom or which they pray.

Maybe first I should explain what I mean by “pray. There are many kinds of prayer and most of us are familiar with “verbal prayers.” I grew up in “Lutherworld” a devoutly Lutheran family and school, church and – well, world – and we were taught to pray– every morning we started school at St John’s with devotions, a Bible reading, a, hymn and a prayer. Then before and after lunch we prayed and we received a blessing just before the bell for dismissal. But I have to say that a lot of the time we were praying my mind would wander. Oh, we had been given ample instruction and I knew what the words meant – that a “trespass” was a sin and I knew that I should always add, “thy will be done” as a kind of back-out clause so that God could do what he wanted.

But I didn’t really much feel God at church or school during “prayers.” I did feel God whenever I spent the night at my Grandparents, I could hear my Grandma and Grandpa pray aloud together. They began with “Now I lay me…and they concluded with “Our Father who art in heaven….” Then they kissed and whispered “good night.” I felt love and security and God’s presence when I listened to their voices there beneath the dormers of their handsome old farmhouse.

And I often felt what I called God when I was alone, especially when I was alone out of doors. And while I didn’t think of those times of wonder and deep connection and gratitude as really “ praying,” those were the times I could sense a closeness to spirit. Probably the first time I really remember praying differently was during my eye surgery at the age of 14.

I had not been told that the anesthetic would make me nauseous and I had not been told that both eyes would need to be bandaged for several days! It is not my nature to be patient and I was faced with a situation completely out of my control. There I was, alone in a strange hospital, (this was in mid-August in Ohio before air-conditioning) and sick as a dog with both eyes bandaged shut. I was miserable and I was afraid. But I remembered that Lincoln said that he repeated the phrase, “This too shall pass,” to help him through his darkest hours. I silently uttered them again and again and as the hours and days passed, I learned and felt support and acceptance. Then I would not have known that I was using those words as a mantra and that the comfort they provided was the comfort of prayer. But now I believe that is what prayer is.

I am tending to think that prayer precedes theology. I think that maybe “prayer” is our natural human response to knowing that we are so alone and yet interdependent, that we are very vulnerable and so error prone and that so much of life is simply out of our control. Maybe it is that impulse that calls us to “reach out” in frustration or fear or confusion or sorrow or gratitude and joy and that makes so many of us believe the old adage, “There are no atheists in Foxholes.”

I am wondering if the very most humanist among us might not also sometimes find ourselves reaching out into the void and the mystery asking. “why?” We might ask Why? when illness or accident result in the suffering or even death of a loved one. I wonder if many of us have not, hands gripping a steering wheel, eyes staring into blinding whiteness, whispered ever so simply, “Please, just let me just make it home safely?” And I wonder just how many of us have not hiked over a rise to view the wonders of a pristine valley; its colors perfectly coordinated with a striking blue sky and breathed in, astonished by reverence, wonder and a gratitude so deep it is shared with the universe, even without words.

Or, I wonder how many of us may not have also somehow felt guided to the “just right” solution to a problem, the exact place where some resource we were looking for might be found. Only a few weeks ago – the week of my sermon on William Ellery Channing, I rushed upstairs and blindly grabbed a new sheet for the Wayside Pulpit, only to discover that without any intentionality, I had chosen the exact quote I had used during the sermon that week.

Just noticing wonderful coincidences contribute to a feeling of deep gratitude for the incredible mysteries that surround us.

I believe that perhaps all those kinds of experiences are examples of the kinds of natural prayers that many people, even humanists, pray – I believe that, no image of a supernatural deity is necessary for us to offer our prayings. Rev. Fred Muir in his chapter on Prayer in Heretic’s Faith says we need only to be innocent and open to “pray”–to feel our own need. In his way of thinking, there are at least three kinds of prayers;

First are those incredible prayers of gratitude and wonder, prayers where we find we have perhaps silently uttered, “Oh, Thank you God.”

Then there are also prayers that help us to discover our own inner thoughts and insights, the “I am so sorry” prayers or the, times, and he Quotes Jewish mystic, Abraham Joshua Heschel. Prayer clarifies our hopes and intentions. It helps us discover our true aspirations, the days we ignore, the longings we forget. It is an act of self purification. The Wisdom of Heschell.

And the third kind of prayer Muir identifies is the prayer that connects us. He says that when we pray in private we connect to a deeper self and a something beyond us. When we pray together we feel connections to one another and to the person praying – all our attention may be focused together.

In an interview last May Krista Tippet of National Public Radio’s “Speaking of Faith” interviewed translator Stephen Mitchell who explained that prayer does not have to be religious,

"[The French philosopher Simone Weil (who wrote that ) said, 'Absolutely unmixed attention is prayer.'] I love that. I think that could be as close as someone can get to a wonderful definition of prayer. In that sense, prayer has nothing spiritual or religious about it. A mathematician working at a problem or a little kid trying to pick out scales on the piano is a person at prayer. She's not saying prayer is absolute unmixed attention; it's the other way. The attention itself is the quality that she wants to call prayer. So whatever context you're putting it in, whether it's inside a church or inside a toy box, that's the quality that is the sacred one."
—Translator Stephen Mitchell http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/approachingprayer/kristasjournal.shtml

One of our most illustrious Unitarian Universalist ministers in the mid Twentieth Century was A. Powell Davies of All Souls UU in Washington DC. Who explained it this way,

Everyone prays, although not everyone admits it. Even a curse is a kind of prayer — a prayer inverted. Under the strain of difficult conditions, or in severe loss or bereavement, or when emotionally moved by a scene of great beauty — as at many other times when we are deeply stirred — there is something within us that cries out for expression. Though we cannot understand the mystery of the world about us, we feel its kinship with the mystery within us. This mystery, too, we do not understand but we know it in our own aliveness. Something there is that will not allow it to be silent; it speaks out in our own voices. (A Powell Davies, Language of the Heart)

That UUA ad “When In Doubt Pray and When In Prayer Doubt’ seems like it might be a good reminder for all of us as we worship together this Sunday before election day. Surely we are all exhausted with the campaigns and hopeful and prayerful that those we believe are wised and noble will be elected, that this country will regain our trust in the process and hope of democracy. And yet I am certain that we all have grave doubts about the capacity of leadership to find the wisdom and strength to do what must be done, Perhaps we need both trust and doubt, faith and skepticism.

And as I close my remarks I want to share with you a story that Rev, Christine Robinson of the UU Church in Albuquerque told when we were together at the Mountain Desert District Annual meeting a week or so ago. She said that during s discussion at her congregation a little boy had been asked what “a-men” means and after just a short thought he responded — I think it means like when you push “send.” — so let me conclude these remarks with this advice, “When in doubt, pray and when in prayer, doubt.” And – send!”


Simple Solitude: Finding Peace in Small Wild Places
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, July 20, 2008

May the words and ideas spoken this morning be worthy of the time we share together here.

Surely here in Idaho Falls we are blessed by our proximity to some of this country’s most precious and most beautiful open areas. Here we can easily travel to the Tetons, to Yellowstone, or make a quick trip to Jackson Hole. With a bit more time we can take in Sun Valley, or even head for Coeur d’Alene or the Sawtooths. We can make our way down to the stunning blue waters of Bear Lake, up to the exotic Craters of the Moon or, after a short drive north and east, wade right into Henry’s Fork. Our bicycles and canoes and hiking boots easily call many of us to mountains, valleys, forests and dunes.

Obviously in a church like ours many folks do seize Sunday mornings as an opportunity to enjoy their summer. Folks often explain how important it is for them and their families to get a chance to be out in the great out-of-doors – that it is there that they feel and experience the holy most fully – that it is sitting beside fast streams or beneath blue skies that they feel the presence of wonder and discover rare moments of reverence and serenity. Perhaps UU minister the Reverend William Schultz, formerly president of our UUA and chair of Amnesty International, was not thinking of Idaho when he wrote this passage, but he might have been thinking about people like many of us:

Hundreds of years ago St Lawrence asked, “Who should I adore, the Creator or the Creation?” Most western religions have answered back, “Adore the Creator!” and supplied an image (Zeus, Jehovah, Christ) to be adored, but our answer is far different. Whom should we adore? The Creation, surely, for whatever there be of the Creator will be made manifest in Her handiwork.
. . . The Divine for us. . . is not confined to a transcendent realm, its ramparts guarded by a scholarly elite. On the contrary, the Holy is made manifest to every one of us, not just those of us who can recite the catechism, in the transactions of the Everyday. It lies curled, in other words, in the very bosom of our experience.
This is a fundamental departure from religion’s preoccupation with abstraction. It is not a distant, mysterious God to whom we appeal, or even the cold vagaries of Progress, Evolution, Creativity or History. The gods and goddesses – or if you prefer, the most precious and profound –are accessible to us in the taste of honey and the touch of stone.
And this in turn is why we love the earth, honor the human body and bless the stars. Religion is not just a matter of Things Unseen. For us the Holy is not hidden, but shows its face in the blush of the world’s exuberance.

And surely here in Idaho we can easily recognize and bask in that “blush of the world’s exuberance.” The world’s exuberance would seem to just flood this place. Some of you know, you really are outdoors people. You hike and camp and ski and ride and fish and hunt in all kinds of weather; and some of you have done so since your childhood. You have taught your children and your grandchildren to desire that connection as well. .

Many of you have canoed the Salmon and gone deep into that wilderness area of the River of No Return. You may have watched countless sunrises from the shores of mountain lakes or dangled your feet from high cliffs; you’ve seen stars so close it feels you could practically sweep them away. Some of us may have watched elk calves gambol and play together and thrilled to the sound of their bugling fathers. Here we may easily be reminded of the majesty of nature and the wonder of life itself. Whether we are captured by the threatening, jagged and rugged lavas of Hell’s Half Acre, or by gazing across hazy sagebrush flats, we cannot but marvel at the incredible beauty and mystery of earth and life.

I have only been here a couple of years but I am surely aware of the extraordinary opportunity that our state provides for encountering natural wonders. Though I have not yet explored as fully as many of you, I have often watched as “Outdoor Idaho” on PBS explored all kinds of Idaho topography. I almost feel I know what the White Cloud mountains smell like and how it might feel to walk the trails of Lewis and Clark. I almost know what draws so many of our congregation out into this land – almost.

It is kind of commonly understood that what draws most of us into the out of doors is the adventure – and I am certain that the thrills and challenges are for many folks a major motivation drawing them to forests, mountains and streams. However, I believe we are also drawn to wild places, to open spaces and natural areas by something even more precious and more elusive – I believe that hikers and climbers, kayakers and even hunter and fishing people are also drawn by a search for those feelings of deep reverence and connection and the opportunity for solitude, holy solitude. While it is adventure and excitement that many claim to seek, I also know that in our ever busy world “solitude” is at an all time premium. As we have gained the ability to connect with one another – we have unlimited access to media, our families and our friends and acquaintances; both real and virtual– we have also nearly lost our ability to welcome solitude and a chance to experience living more fully. Indeed I wonder if we might not be facing a kind of solitude famine. So I ask you now to consider when you last had a chance to truly embrace and enjoy solitude.

Solitude? you might ask? What do I mean by a famine of solitude – the world is filled with lonely people? Loneliness is rampant, more people do report suffering from aching, frightening and isolating loneliness. Psychologists report that the incredible numbers of people who live with substance abuse and depression, even physical ailments and suicide, usually are also related to the increased numbers of people who find themselves too often living, feeling, being all alone; alone at meals and during holidays and festivals.

Yes indeed, all sorts of research has indicated that many people in our contemporary world do suffer from deeply isolating and painful loneliness, so why would I say that most of us actually experience a shortage of solitude? But, you see, there is a great deal of difference between solitude and loneliness. Loneliness is that negative feeling of isolation and sadness all of us feel sometimes when we realize that our relationships with others, with loved ones or friends, do not, perhaps cannot, satisfy our deepest need for connection and community. Loneliness is a common feeling for everyone, sometimes, and for some people, far too often.

Solitude is different. Solitude is the precious alone time that allows us to hear our own inner voice, to feel fully whole and connected, grounded and aware of our own being. Solitude allows our hearts and minds to touch and explore our own inner sense of self.

Perhaps one of the most widely read American writers to champion solitude is Henry David Thoreau, who explains in Walden his own understanding of the difference between loneliness and solitude:

I have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I doubted if the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and healthy life. To be alone was something unpleasant. But I was at the same time conscious of a slight insanity in my mood, and seemed to foresee my recovery. In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantages of human neighborhood insignificant, and I have never thought of them since. Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me. I was so distinctly made aware of the presence of something kindred to me, even in scenes which we are accustomed to call wild and dreary, and also that the nearest of blood to me and humanest was not a person nor a villager, that I thought no place could ever be strange to me again (emphasis added).

Now I must confess that I was student in Indiana when I first read Walden and imagined Thoreau to have gone deep into a backwoods far from society to do his deliberate living. Soon after we moved to Massachusetts I made my pilgrim way to the handsome historic town of Concord, once the home of so many important thinkers and writers like Thoreau, Emerson, and Louisa May Alcott. And so, very excited, I made my way to Walden Pond. There, I discovered that Thoreau was not very far from town, that he had regularly gone home to dine with his friends and family – that he was not the odd-ball recluse one might have thought; he was not isolating himself as an act of hostility but rather a man who chose to seek his own inner balance by being in the small and not-so-wild wilderness he found close by, one that could provide him with an opportunity for solitude.

During the many years I resided in Massachusetts I often found myself back there in Concord enjoying the ambiance of that place. Walking around Walden became a kind of ritual I occasionally enjoyed. I brought young people from the Youth Group and children from Religious Education classes to Walden Pond. We picnicked and enjoyed the day.

Over the years as I grew to better understand Thoreau’s trek into his inner wilderness, I sometimes heard others condescendingly dismiss Walden and Thoreau’s proximity to the railroad, Concord, and family and friends. It was as if to say that because his wilderness was not truly wild then his insights were somehow less important, less authentic, and less real. In fact, I think that sometimes it is easy for any one of us to fall into that trap – the trap of a cynicism that tells us that unless our experience is a peak experience, it doesn’t quite fully count.

In some ways our own ability to truly appreciate the blessings, grace and magnificence, the reverent and religious feelings, feelings of a deep kinship with all life and the reverence of “solitude” may also have been affected by that same kind of cynicism that belittles Thoreau – because his pond was small, his mother’s kitchen and his friends’ companionship just a few miles away.

Yes the face of the holy is easy to see in magnificent remote and wild places in the mountains and the deserts and wild rivers – but most of us only occasionally, even rarely, will have a chance to experience those places. Most of us, even though we live so close to places “blushing with the world’s exuberance,” hardly ever get there. We have responsibilities that keep us closer to home, that keep us doing and redoing the chores and tasks that fill an average life. We go to work or to school, we struggle to meet the responsibilities of our lives, to eat and exercise, to care for ourselves and sometimes to care for others. In fact, our days and weeks and seasons are often so filled with meeting the requirements of our lives, with trying to do what needs to be done, that we hardly ever stop, not even for a moment, to seek, or encounter, or allow for that “blushing exuberance.” We may start to think that “holy blushing exuberance” is something we will have to wait for – it will certainly have to wait until we can take time off or afford the cost of a weekend trip, until our responsibilities are fewer or the kids are older. For now, our health or our finances or our obligations may just require that we do without “holy blushing exuberance.”

And yet, there is that haunting passage in Walden where Thoreau reminds us that “Every little pine needle expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me.”For Thoreau, it was not the wildness of his home on that small, really quite ordinary, pond, but rather the shift in awareness that his solitariness allowed, that transformed his simple aloneness into an open and reverent “solitude.” That shift in awareness that anyone can experience from the mountaintop, Thoreau was able to find, embrace and welcome from every little pine needle.

A few weeks ago, Hank Boland, our congregation’s wonderful board president and bicycling queen of the world (she is in Europe right now cycling with her son and his friends) lent me a book written by a friend of hers, Susan Baumgartener, who chose to live for a number of years in a primitive cabin in a forgotten corner of her family’s ranch/ farm/ woods, in a place she fondly calls “Dead Cow Gulch”. Entitled My Walden, her story is one of grit, determination, hardship, beauty and acceptance. She juggles her social life and her teaching at a university with her time at the gulch. On pages 101 ff, she writes:

“Loneliness. . . gave way to acceptance, to an awareness that I am not alone. . . am not the only life form in my universe. . . maybe the presence I feel is that, the simple life force of all the growing things, rocks and trees and insects and animals and birds. Or maybe it is my own soul spread large to fill the empty spaces. I have tried to name it God. I have tried to name it Goddess. But this presence feels bigger than any name. . . too big for any conventional religion . . . it is a presence, I feel it. I feel the connection in the smallest actions – the play of light on a spoon as I sit down at the desk to have breakfast, a pause. . . to watch the feral clouds rush across the sky, the smooth way my bones move inside my flesh as I walk up the hill to experience that quietest moment just as the sun sets and the whole planet holds its breath. Little things all day long uplift me. . . Loneliness, once the captor of my spirit, now seems like a dear companion and wears the gentler name of solitude. It happened slowly, gradually. Instead of fighting loneliness, I learned to take it inside of me and to fill it.

Having moved from feeling isolated and alone, Thoreau and Baumgartener reveal that they have come to a place of deep appreciation and a sense of connectedness, of increased kinship not necessarily with family or even other humans, but with themselves. That presence, that special awareness that Rev. Schultz called “the holy blushing exuberance” that they find in solitude is so heady that Thoreau says he feels that nothing could ever be strange to him again.

We are surrounded by summer and some of us will get to camp and hike and canoe, and we’ll get those holy mountaintop opportunities where sacred solitude captures us in the blush of the world’s exuberance. But others of us will continue to work, to meet the responsibilities of everyday life, to struggle with our responsibilities, our fears, our longings, our illnesses or the illnesses and losses of those we love. Many of us will grapple with our own feelings of isolation and loneliness.

My we remember that we too can make the shift that Baumgartner discovered, the power to take it inside. . . and to fill it, instead of fighting loneliness. May we be reminded of the words of Rev. Schultz, that. . . the most precious and profound are accessible to us in the taste of honey and the touch of stone.

May we appreciate and be blessed by the magnificence of being these days and forever. Peace be with us all.


Gems from General Assembly
  by Rev. Lyn Stangland Cameron, July 6, 2008

May the words, images and ideas shared here today be found worthy of the time we spend together. May this, our spiritual practice of joining together for this brief time on Sunday mornings, rejuvenate our hearts and refresh our spirits. May we find here the depth that allows our roots to flourish and the courage to permit our wings to carry us, lighting our way with hope and love.

When I wrote my “blurb” for our July newsletter, General Assembly seemed a long way off.

Now in my past life as a UU lay person, I might have been described by some as a “GA Junkie.” I loved getting to know people from all over the country, people who cared about the issues and programs I cared about and who were committed to working within their own congregations and within the movement as a whole. For many years going to GA was an important highlight of our summertime. My former husband, John, and I planned vacations to coincide with the time and location for GA. We read our GA schedules and planned our participation. Sometimes we were “presenters” (people with responsibilities for some of the programs). For quite a few years I spent a good portion of my time getting ready for GA and then attending meetings and working at what is now the “Ministry for Earth” booth sharing information about the Green Sanctuary with people from all over the country.

So this year, GA loomed as potentially different, because I was tired and had a wedding in Indiana first. Also, I was troubled by a new ruling by the Unitarian Universalist Association Trustees that groups like the Unitarian Universalists for a Just Economic Community, and many other groups of people formerly designated as Unitarian Universalist Affiliated organizations, had been “redefined” and would no longer be officially sanctioned as part of the UUA.

In an attempt to clarify our denomination as more truly an Association of Congregations, the board eliminated many of the most colorful and interesting GA presenters from their usual place on the program at GA – and many of us were left wondering what would replace their energy, commitment and focus.

Another concern developed early last winter when the ministers and others discovered that our convention center venue in Fort Lauderdale had been designated as part of the Port Authority and was therefore under the direction of Homeland Security. This meant that all in attendance would be required to show a photo ID upon entering the area. The outcry was distressing. This would keep some people, particularly immigrants and others, from attending and would inconvenience all of us. Complying would make many of us uncomfortable, feeling that we were complicit with Big Brother who would be monitoring us, reminding us that our freedoms are not free. The call for concern was sent to the leadership in each congregation. The location of our ministers’ pre-GA meeting was changed to a less convenient hotel and buses were booked to get us there.

GA would be in South Florida in June!!! It would be hot and sticky. I wanted it to be good and I wanted it to be worth my while. I wanted to be excited, but I wasn’t. I hoped I would find some resources and come back with new ideas and access to new materials. I was hoping that in spite of all my trepidations and lack of enthusiasm, this year GA would provide a modicum of the excitement and depth that it used to bring, back when I was a dedicated and devote lay person.

And guess what happened? What happened is this: from the beginning of Ministry Days on Monday evening, June 23, until the concluding ceremony Sunday evening, June 30, I was thrilled to be there in Fort Lauderdale! Thrilled to have the opportunity to participate and to witness, learn, grow, share and get excited and enthused alongside so many other UU’s, and I was thrilled to rededicate myself to our UU ideals. I found a whole bunch of gems – not the jasper and opal, amethyst, garnet and travertine that hail from our own gem state, but gems of experiences, delight and hope. I was touched and enthused by people and their words the music and movement, and their dedication, reverence, creativity and commitment. I was reminded how much I treasure my relationships with old UU friends and how much I had wished that many of you might have been there too! Reverend Fredrick (Fred) Muir, minister of the UU Church in Annapolis, MD, where I served my full time internship and was for three months the summer minister, produced a gem in the advice he offered at Friday morning’s opening worship. He used these words as he lighted the chalice:

We light this chalice with anticipation and hope. With anticipation of the people and experiences that will come into our lives today. For the hope that we will greet and serve them well. Let this flame burn brightly lighting our path ahead.

Rev. Muir said that these words of author E. B. White characterize the dilemma of GA attendees:

“It’s hard to know when to respond to the seductiveness of the world and when to respond to its challenge. If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy; if the world were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise each morning torn between the desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. And this makes it hard to plan the day – to improve or enjoy, to save or to savor.”

So Rev. Muir recognized the challenges we face when planning our GA days, knowing that we each face so many programming options and carry with us the hopes and expectations of our congregations. But Rev. Muir asked us to step back from our planning and to release our anxiety and to remember the scene in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple when Celie and Shug are discussing why they go to church. He reminds us that Celie says that she goes to church to learn about God and then Shug answers, “Not me.” In fact, she says that anything she ever learned about God she brought with her to church. Rev. Muir suggested that we UU’s were more like Shug, since probably few of us came to GA looking for an experience of the divine.

And like Shug, he says, we brought to GA an awful lot that would shape how we would remember GA – what we would hear and tell and how would reflect upon this experience. So he chose to offer some advice for GA attendees, advice that would help us during the extremely busy and precious moments remaining in the days of this GA.

I believe his advice was worthwhile not just for those attending and reeling with the richness of GA. He distilled some fine advice for living our Unitarian Universalist values every day.

He began by reminding us of the importance of just showing up – the value of presence –and quoted from the book Here When You Need Me, by Unitarian Universalist minister Kate Braestrup, also a chaplain with the Maine Department of Wildlife. I know a few of us have read the book. There are at least two copies floating around the congregation, mine and one lent by Kim Allemeyer. Rev. Muir quotes a conversation Braestrup has with a friend who remarks, “It is so cool that the warden service has a chaplain to keep us from freaking out.”

Braestrup replies, “I’m not here to keep you from freaking out, I’m here to be with you while you freak out, or grieve or laugh or suffer or sing. It’s a ministry of presence and it is cool, showing up with a loving heart.”

And Rev. Muir reminded us that our ministry with one another does require simply our “showing up” – as you all have done here on the Sunday after the 4th – and how much it matters that we be present for and with one another. That being with one another is central to our ministry. He said, “Never underestimate the power of your presence.”

Another thing that he reminded us that we might use during GA and find worthwhile taking home with us is what he calls a commitment to “civility” and quotes Steven Carter, “Civility is the sum of sacrifices that it takes to be together.”

And Rev. Muir again quotes Carter: “Civility has two attributes and there can be no variation: Trust when there is a risk and generosity when there is a cost. Trust and generosity are what give meaning to the commitment to civility: trust when there is a risk and generosity when there is a cost.

A lack of trust and generosity, says Muir, leads to the shadow side of civility, which is cynicism, and cynicism contains the seeds of despair.

So Muir summarized that these two things, showing up and a commitment to civility, would make our GA experience more meaningful and rewarding.

And then Fred reminded us of Dr. Walter Bruggeman’s presentation at our UU ministry days; that what we all seek and need so from being in congregation is to share walking together and to know that we are part of something that is bigger than ourselves, something that connects us with a mystery and meaning that is beyond our personal needs.

He called us to a need for imagination, a place where we can think about things beyond the possible. Rev. Muir reminds us that too often we see our world as a place with problems to be solved rather than one filled with mysteries to be perceived. And he suggested that when we left this GA, that we would have collected all kinds of resources – access to materials and tools and books and papers – and of course he was right. I collected enough resources and had so many insights that it may take me all year to get to them, to unpack them and return to them. But Rev. Muir reminded us that Bruggeman would also ask us to leave Fort Lauderdale with room for imagination and a place for mystery. So Rev. Muir gave us these three things as a mantra for GA; I think I might agree with him, they make a pretty good foundation for a UU spiritual practice: 1) Practice being present by showing up, 2) make a commitment to civility, and 3) clear a place for imagination. Practice being present by showing up, make a commitment to civility and clear a place for imagination.

This morning let us too remember this mantra of UU practice: let us remember to show up, make the commitment to civility, trusting at times of risk and offering generosity when there is a cost, and clearing a place for imagination.

So here are some basic facts, descriptions and demographics about the 2008 GA from an official press release posted by Steve Rothaus on July 1, 2008, for the Miami Herald: During our five-day meeting, more than 3,000 attendees from all 50 states and several foreign countries worshipped, celebrated, rallied, and attended classes at “UU University” to learn how to be more effective in their home congregations.

Our meetings are wonderful examples of carefully planned democracy in action. This is my voting card. Each member congregational is allocated votes based on the number of members. Each minister serving in a congregation gets a vote as well. Ministers and lay people must present their congregational credentials to receive a voting card and a “delegate” badge and ribbon. This year the gathered delegates voted to ask for increased UUA district and congregational support and focus on the youth and young adults in our churches and fellowships. Each GA I am inspired and moved by the extraordinary energy commitment and insight our youth and young adults bring to our yearly gathering. I truly desire that we here at UUCIF find a way to offer programming for youth and create ways to better meet the needs of our young adults, both those with and those without young children.

We delegates voted to adopt a Study/Action Issue called “Ethical Eating: Economic Justice and Environmental Sustainability.” Lucky for us, in another couple of weeks Dr. Ben Gisin will be addressing these very issues in our forum, giving us a kind of jump start in understanding the economics of food. Study/Action Issues charge us to devote time and attention over four years to an emerging issue that unites theology with practice. By selecting this issue, UU congregations have challenged themselves to address two of the world's biggest problems: social inequality and environmental destruction.

This year we also passed these six “Actions of Immediate Witness (AIWs)” resolutions on a broad slate of social justice issues. Each of them is worth spending time on here at UUCIF congregation, to learn and explore our perspectives; Unitarian Universalists will be active advocates for these positions through the fall elections and beyond:

  1. End Present Day Slavery in the Fields,
  2. Oppose a U.S. Attack on Iran,
  3. Raise the Federal Minimum Wage to $10 in 2010,
  4. Extend the Tax Credit for Wind and Solar Power,
  5. Oppose the Florida and California Marriage Protection Initiatives, and
  6. Single Payer Health Care, the only proposed action with a significant opposition, which still passed by a two-thirds majority.

This year was the beginning of our UU election cycle. Next year at GA in Salt Lake, we will elect a new moderator and president. Gini Courter and Bill Sinkford have been outstanding officers for us. This year, Peter Morales from our own Mountain Desert District is running against Laurel Hallman from Dallas (two ministers from west of the Mississippi may offer a different perspective for all of us.) Next year we will decide how we want our GA delegates to vote! We may mirror the society at large with a woman and an Hispanic vying for office. Reading their material, I thought the choice was clear. Listening at the candidates’ forum I was not so sure. I hope you all will pay attention and offer your ideas about what a UUA executive ought to represent.

GA included several workshops and demonstrations in support of farm workers as well as a public rally in Fort Lauderdale, which I attended, with local leaders from the immigrant populations represented as well as folks from gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender communities. In his remarks at that event, called Valuing All Families, President Rev. William Sinkford explained, “Our vision of justice is not limited to concern for one oppressed group. It's a vision of justice in which all American families are valued. We say that the Beloved Community must have room for all of us.”

I attended many workshops and worships and found them all to be inspiring and worthwhile. I was exhausted and energized and thrilled with this GA. And at its conclusion I realized that there were two especially moving moments: GA gems beyond price.

President Sinkford presented the Distinguish Service Award to Rev. Dr. Forrest Church. I attended a workshop held by Rev. Church and have now also read his current and final title, Love and Death: My Journey Through the Valley of the Shadow, in which he describes living with terminal cancer. Many of you know Forrest well. A native of Idaho and son of the late beloved and inspired senator Frank Church, Rev. Church spoke at our own 50th anniversary celebration. Church reaffirmed his belief that death is a central motivator of religion. "The questions death causes us to ask are at heart religious questions: Where do I come from? Who am I? Where am I going? What is life's purpose? What does all this signify?" He concluded, "Death is not life's goal, only life's terminus. The goal is to live in such a way that our lives will prove worth dying for."

And another diamond sparkling among the gems, calling us all to be our best selves, was the Saturday night Ware Lecture by Van Jones, a Green anti-racist, environmental justice activist and founder of both the Ida B Wells Center in Oakland and The Color of Change, a “Move On” type activist group that has already influenced the lives of many. Van Jones’ presentation was simply riveting and powerful and it surely showed that he deserved his place in the honored list of former Ware lecturers like Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Jesse Jackson, Mary Pipher and Kurt Vonnegut.

His message, delivered with style, humor, panache, power and conviction, is quite simply that we need to get ready for a shock. All of us – UU’s and progressives, those of us who have been speaking out for justice and fairness in hopes that society would finally begin to realize that we must change from consumers to compassionate and caring members of a community of earth as we live together on this finite planet – must realize that we are winning – that change is in the air and that our task now is that we must learn to lead – to govern.

We must learn the first commandment of politics – to never say “I told you so,” – because we did. Those of us who have been carrying the message that social justice and environmental justice are the same thing, those of us who spoke out for peace against the plans of Bush and Cheney’s march to war before the attack on Iraq, those of us who have warned or cautioned were right. But he says we must now learn to lead without blame and recrimination, remembering who we are and that we are all here together. Jones combines his appeals for social and environmental justice with some commonsense and practical proposals and the dream of a better way. He and his message were truly incredible.

Today’s technology makes it possible for you to go to the UUA website and watch and listen to Van Jones and much of what we witnessed at plenary sessions and in our workshops. I urge you to do just that in the days and weeks ahead.

This morning I would like to conclude presenting my gem collection by teaching us this song.

It is entitled “Where Do We Come From” and it is sung a Capella in three parts: it goes like this: Where do we come from, what are we, where are we going? Where do we come from? Where do we come from? Mystery, mystery, life is a riddle and a mystery. Mystery, mystery, life is a riddle and a mystery. We will begin with “Where do we come from? Who are we?” and build and repeat and then end by echoing the phrase “Mystery, mystery, life is a riddle and a mystery” (sing)

Life is a riddle and a mystery.
Amen – and so it is. May all of us be reminded that we are blessed.


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