Category Archives: Sermons and Services

Growing Up With God

When I was a child, I prayed like a child.

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

And I played in the church halls with the laughing Jesus looking over my shoulder. Enthusiastically, I skipped down the street every Summer to Bible Camp, where I listened closely to the parables of Jesus.

When I was a teen, I was confirmed like a Lutheran. I accepted the Trinity at face value. I recited the Apostle’s Creed. I memorized the Ten Commandments. Despite having little appreciation for or understanding of these commitments or confessions of faith, I had passed the test. By all accounts, I was a good Lutheran. I could now take communion with the adults. My grandmothers were proud. I appreciated the party!

When I was a young adult, I abandoned the ways of my childhood. If someone asked, I said I was a Christian. While I wouldn’t say I abandoned God or Jesus during those years, it was more that I just simply didn’t have a relationship with either one of them. They were omnipresent— like the childhood picture – but I didn’t experience them has having a presence in my days. Having been told God was the master of my fate, I’d occasionally check in, for a consult of sorts, through prayer, to ask for preferential treatment on one matter or another.

Then, at the age of thirty, with my life in more than a bit of a crisis, I walked into my first twelve-step meeting. Broken open by death and a marriage on the rocks, I was hungry for the promise of serenity prayer.

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

In the company of others affected by the disease of addiction, I turned to something greater than myself: I turned to God.

By the time I arrived in the pews of my first Unitarian Universalist church, I was in relationship with God. Like so many others, I had found a religious community that invited me to discern for myself what was right and true. Here, I learned to walk with the questions, trust in a mystery unfolding, and wait for answers to be revealed.

In Unitarian Universalism, I found a place to explore the faith of my childhood within the context of modern science and reason, new and ongoing revelations, world religions, religious studies, spirituality, the historical Jesus, and so very much more. Eventually, like my 19th-century forbearers, I rejected the trinity for a theology of Unity. I came to understand I was a theist, someone who experienced God as Love manifest in humanity and all of creation. I came to embrace Jesus as a person who walked with God in a pantheistic way wherein God is experienced in everything.

In the third principle of Unitarian Universalism, we covenant to affirm and promote the acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth. And in so many ways we do this really well. We are eager to embrace the person practicing Buddhism, the new Muslim family in town, and the rituals of the earth-centered traditions. Unfortunately, the embrace of practicing Christians or the theist is filled with tension.

We get uncomfortable. Truth is some of us have been hurt, rejected, and oppressed by exclusive interpretations and expressions of Christianity. It’s personal, very personal.

Others lack the necessary information to be in conversation with Christianity’s 2000 history. We don’t understand the importance of Christianity to the faithful.

Religions, all of them, can be used for good or ill. We don’t reject Islam because of the extremists. We lean in curiously to better understand. Yet, somehow, we Unitarian Universalists can shut down at the first mention of God or Jesus.

In the book A Language of Reverence by former UUA President, the Rev. William Sinkford captures the tension around religious language in UU churches. A tension anyone who embraces God or celebrates Jesus beyond his humanity has encountered more than once. Our discomfort with Christianity and religious language makes so many of us squirm or shut down or reject the message because of the packaging. One of my mentors from Massachusetts, the Rev. Pancetta Peterson often said, “This church doesn’t have a problem with black people, they have a problem with Christians.” Ask any Unitarian Universalist Christian at UUCC, if they aren’t hiding out in the closet, and they are likely to tell you the same.

I am grateful to Scotty McLennan’s new book Christ for Unitarian Universalists. His book is understood by many as a timely clarion call for UUs—those who identify as Christian as well as those who do not—to engage in dialogue with the more than seventy percent of Americans who do so identify. McLennan offers ideas about how to enhance the practice and experience of Christianity that traditional Christians today might find compelling.

If you identify as a UU Christina, this book will be like a settling into a cozy couch with an old friend.

If you are curious about how to navigate the faith of your childhood or want to know what is on the mind of UU Christians, this book study will be a road map.
If you are among those who squirm and shut down, this book study will be an open door to a rich classroom for listening and learning why Christianity matters so deeply to so many.

Over my 17 years as a Unitarian Universalist, my relationship with God has evolved. My sustaining center has shifted many times and I remain steadfast in my quest for a life grounded in the Holy and centered on something beyond myself.

Over my 17 years as a Unitarian Universalist, my relationship with God has evolved. My sustaining center has shifted many times and I remain steadfast in my quest for a life grounded in the Holy and centered on something beyond myself.

Today, I celebrate the opportunity to walk humbly with God. Written four years ago now my credo remains an accurate expression of my faith.

I am centered in a spiritual life

… influenced by my life as a spiritual wanderer on a skeptic’s journey; a Christian inspired to live and be guided by the words and deeds of a great prophet, teacher, activist, and Rabbi; a humanist with a mystic’s heart who believes we are the hands and hearts and eyes and ears of God; a pantheist humbled by an over abundance of miracles…

Confused? So am I!! Truth be told, I am one among many who are at peace living beyond the categories, walking with the questions, living into the answers, and engaging Mystery.

Our reading this morning—Jesus as storeowner selling dreams—reminds me religion is not a spectator sport and our beliefs are not commodities to be bought and sold. We can turn around and walk away from the best of what any tradition has to offer or wander through the store and take up the messages that affirm life, embolden Love, and sustain our days.

Centered on Goodness, choosing Life and Love, spiritual living is a practice, a way of life, a vision to center and guide, a call to right living, to be planted, nurtured and sustained through the ashes and embers of life forever unfolding. Our belief systems mature over time. Our understanding of that which sustains all of creation evolves with each breath.

For fifty-four years I have walked with God and Jesus—from childlike crush to indoctrination to rejection to redefinition to choosing both to center and guide my living.

Today it is this definition from Forrest Church that best defines my fifth decade understanding of all that is, was, and will be.

“The power which I cannot explain or know or name, I call God. God is not God’s name. God is the name for the mystery that looms within and beyond the limits of my being. Life force, Spirit of Life, Bound of Being. These to are names for the unnamable which I am now content to call my God.”

Turning Toward Truth: Forging a new understanding of Thanksgiving

IMG_6992Turning Toward Truth
An interfaith service speaking truth to the history of colonization and thanksgiving.

Sunday November 22, 2015
Temple Beth El, Augusta, ME
Capital Area Multi-faith Association

Welcome       

Light of Healing Rev. Scott Dow, Retired Baptist Minister
As we begin this service of thanksgiving, we light a Candle for Healing. When we turn toward truth and acknowledge injustice, we join together in a journey of healing. Let us enter into this holy hour with hearts wide-open and curious minds. May we listen with compassion and respond with kindness. May our relationships with all of humanity be made stronger in this circle of faith, hope and love.

Light the Top Candle

Come let us join together in our opening hymn. Please rise in body or spirit for “Come, Ye, Thankful People, Come”

Opening Song “Come, ye thankful People, Come”

The Light of Safety  Rev. Jane MacIntyre, South Parish Congregational Church (UCC)  

Thanksgiving is a much-loved national holiday.  Most of us look forward to gathering around the table with loved ones on Thursday, feasting, enjoying one another’s company and maybe reflecting on those things for which we are particularly thankful this year.  And it is good for us, body and soul, to reflect with gratitude on our blessings and to have joy in celebrating with our loved ones.  For those of us who regularly attend religious services, gratitude and awareness of our blessings is the likely focus of those services this week.

As we started to prepare this multi-faith service, we realized that we could simply gather today to share traditional Thanksgiving prayers, songs and messages from our various traditions; that would have been a nice, safe thing to do.  Another possibility was to do something which would challenge us, both as planners and as worshippers, since we became painfully aware that there is a stark contrast in feelings about the Thanksgiving holiday between the descendants of those earliest participants.

Can we move toward something for which we can all be thankful, native people and immigrants alike? Can we dare to hope that we can stand together and learn from our past in order to forge a future built on new ground?

We are people of good will; we know we will inadvertently make mistakes along the way for which we ask forgiveness, but we want to attempt this journey of transformation and healing.

There is much talk these days about creating safe spaces emotionally and intellectually – safe spaces for learning, safe spaces for discussing social justice issues, safe spaces for worship.  As people of faith, we trust in the safety of being held in God’s love, and we know that safety and comfort are not the same thing.

Trusting that with God we are safe and loved no matter what, is something which enables us to lower our defenses, to address challenging, discomforting issues, and to understand them through the unfailing truth of God’s perspective.

As we light this first candle, representing the light of safe space, may we also know that safe space spiritually is also fearless, open and humble space.

{Light the Candle of Safety}

Prayer

Our father/mother God, We bring our whole selves to this place of worship, with love and with boldness to receive what you may show us today.  We come with hope and with openness of heart, trusting in you, and willing to be transformed by your Spirit.  We hold both joy and pain in our hearts as we contemplate the history and the continuing reality of our Thanksgiving celebration for everyone involved.  Be our guide and companion as we worship together today.

The Light of Truth      Pastor Maggie Edmondson, Friends Meeting House, Winthrop

For those of us who are part of the dominant culture, inheritors of the benefits of colonization, Thanksgiving is filled with images of peace and brotherhood, as pilgrims and native peoples sat down to eat together.

It’s a cherished and hopeful story of the beginnings of our American nation. We have felt connected to those beginnings as we’ve re-enacted that time of Thanksgiving with feasts in our homes and communities, and added to our feelings about the celebration is the joy for many of us of having our families gathered together.  We cling to such times of joy and tradition amid a world that often feels out of control and filled with so much pain and violence.

However, the cultural stories to which we are willing to devote ourselves need to be based in truth and a broader truth than simply our own cultural perspective.  As people of faith, we are called into a brotherhood and sisterhood of all people, not just us our own families or ethnic groups.

For our Native American brothers and sisters, this is a time of mourning, marking as it does, the beginning of the destruction of the majority of their people and of their ways of life.  As people of faith we are also called not to turn away from that which disturbs our comfort but to open ourselves to that which love requires of us.

Maybe we have never thought about the contrast in meaning of the Thanksgiving celebration to varying segments of our population. It certainly wasn’t on my radar till lately.  Maybe we feel that what happened is in the past; that we’ve moved on.  Maybe we are unaware that the discrimination and destruction is not all in the long-ago past. The reason to look at this “other” side of Thanksgiving is not so that we can indulge in self-directed blame and guilt or to diminish the joy of our family celebrations.  Those do no-one any good.  What is asked of us is to acknowledge the contrast, and to prayerfully discern how we might be part of the healing of this division in our people.  We cannot simply move forward without that healing and reconciliation taking place.

So let’s just briefly look at some of the history of why this time is one of mourning rather than of celebration for native peoples.

The arrival of European settlers brought devastation to the native communities.  Diseases spread, killing up to 90% of the native population.  Native Americans were forced off their land and into reservations.  Countless people were killed.  Treaties were made and broken.  Blatant genocidal tactics were used – such as the Spencer Phipps Proclamation of 1755 which placed a bounty on the scalps of Wabenaki men, women and children.  Hunting Indians was a lucrative business – the average bounty for a scalp, or a red skin, was the equivalent of a teacher’s annual wages at that time.  Usually these scalps were burned once collected, but some remained on display in museums as short a time ago as the 1980s. In 1990, the federal government passed the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, which mandated the return of Indian remains and sacred artifacts.

Native children were taken from their families as short a time ago as the 1960s, placed in white foster homes to separate them and integrate them into the dominant culture.  Through the work of the Maine Truth and Reconciliation commission these past two years we’ve heard the stories of abuse and persecution which often accompanied those placements.  Some native children were taken and put in boarding schools where they similarly suffered abuse and attempts to take away their identity.  Native peoples were forbidden to speak their language or practice their religion.

Despite the claims of this new country of America to be founded on the principles of religious freedom, it was illegal for Native Americans to practice their own religion and spirituality, until the passage of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act in 1978.  And just this year we have witnessed the struggles with the state of Maine around the Penobscot ancestral fishing rights and the tribe’s sovereign authority.

Those who raise their voices to tell the less heroic aspects of our national story are often not well-received and are considered unpatriotic.  And yet, if we have a concern for truth, and for all people, we know there are lessons to be learned from both our good and our wrongdoing; that if we wish to live up to what we claim in our pledge of allegiance, “to be one nation under God” then we have to look honestly at ourselves, to learn lessons from what we have done in the past and commit ourselves to being in right relationship with one another and with God in the present and in the future.

{Light the Candle of Truth}

Prayer: Great Spirit, in whom we all live and move and have our being, We know truth as an essential element of your nature. Open our hearts and minds and help us to ground the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives and the life of our nation, in a fuller understanding of truth, however difficult it may be to acknowledge.

Reading: Colonizers’ Legacy  by  Penthea Burns, Co-Director, Maine Wabanaki R.E.A.C.H.

I am the colonizer’s legacy

Ready now to be my human self

And ask for forgiveness –

Forgiveness that grows from

Shared understanding

Undressed rationale

Owned acts

 

I have lived for generations

Failing to recognize myself

Plodding on with this burden in my heart

Daring not to touch or feel its depths

 

My white skin bought me the

Safety and privilege denied to you

But at the end of time –

What would that be worth?

 

I stand here today in love and true faith

Naked and afraid and open to the truth

With knowing and understanding as my prayer

To heal the hearts that suffer

To create peace by changing

 

With eyes wide open

My reflection is clear

I can see who I am and

Remember my history of devastating glory

My days past of simple joys

 

The colonizer’s legacy is

Taking, denying, consuming

Loss, knowing, disconnection

Inherited by Wabanaki children and families

Their eyes look upon me still

Their voices wait to speak

And their children long to understand

 

There are stories to be told and heard

Of the victims and the victors

Of quiet acts of courage

To be held in the daylight of our loving hearts

To raise up truth and justice

The Light of Knowledge   Father Frank Morin, ST. Michaels Parish, Catholic

Papel Bulls of the 15th century gave Christian explorers the right to claim lands they “discovered” and lay claim to those lands for their Christian Monarchs. Any land that was not inhabited by Christians was available to be “discovered”, claimed, and exploited. If the “pagen” inhabitants could be converted, they might be spared. If not, they could be enslaved or killed.

The Discovery Doctrine is a concept of public international law expounded by the United States Supreme Court in a series of decisions. The doctrine was Chief Justice John Marshall’s explanation of the way in which colonial powers laid claim to newly discovered lands during the Age of Discovery. Under it, title to newly discovered lands lay with the governments whose subjects discovered new territory. The doctrine has been  primarily used to support decisions invalidating or ignoring aboriginal possession of land in favor of colonial or post-colonial governments.

John Marshall who is most credited with describing the doctrine, did not voice wholehearted support of the doctrine even while using it to justify decisions. He pointed to the doctrine as simple fact, looking at the possession-takings which had been supported by it as things which had occurred and had to be recognized. The supposedly inferior character of native cultures was a reason for the doctrine having been used but wether or not that was justified was not relevant for Marshall.

The Doctrine governs United States Indian law today and has been cited as recently as 2005 in the decision of Sherrill V. Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y.

{Light the Candle of Knowledge}

Prayer

Following the lead of the pontiffs before him, Pope Francis apologized to the people of Bolivia for crimes against the native peoples during the so-called conquest of America, and repeated calls for economic justice for the world’s poor.

“I say this to you with regret: Many grave sins were committed agains the native people of America in the name of God, “Francis said. “Like Saint John Paul II, I ask that the church ‘kennel before God and implore forgiveness for the past and present sins of her sons and daughters.”

The Light of Silence    Deacon Jennifer Lewis, St. Andrews, Episcopal, Readfield

Silence may be either positive or negative.  When we are silent in the face of oppression and injustice we become part of that oppression and injustice.  And silence may also be indifference.  Silence holds no magic in itself.  It may just be empty space.  But when we enter it consciously, with the intention of being in communion with one another and with God, it becomes a place of prayer which may be beyond words.  It may be a place where we hear or sense divine guidance, and it may be a place where changes start to happen.  I invite you, if you will, to enter this time of silence, taking with you the knowledge, and the feelings connected with what you have just heard, and to simply sit prayerfully with them, allowing the Spirit’s work within you and among us.

{Light the Candle of Silence}

Prayer:

Light of the world, we join our hearts together now in silent waiting, to feel your Spirit move among us and to guide us.  We confess that at times we have perpetuated injustice through our silence, we have avoided that which discomforts us, or have been silent simply through thoughtlessness or lack of knowledge.

We are thankful for the gift of prayer; for times in which to pause and seek your guidance; for times of silent communion with you and with one another.  May we yield ourselves to your Spirit of Love and of Truth and allow that Spirit to fill and inform all we do.  Help us to still our minds now and simply be receptive to your Spirit.

{Silence{

Musical Interlude

Light of the Humanity   Rabbi Erica Ash, Temple Beth El, Augusta

Jewish tradition teaches that God created one person so that no human could claim that he or she was better than anyone else. If we all come from a common ancestor, then we are all equal. Unfortunately, history shows us that this is not the case. We do put ourselves over our brothers and sisters. We are flawed. We make mistakes. We miss the mark.

It is powerful to be able to look at our wrongdoings. For, only when we look at where we are, can we begin to move to where we would like to be. While we humans are flawed, we also possess the ability to change. And that is a great gift.

The Hebrew word for repentance, teshuvah, literally means to turn. We have the ability, every day, to turn ourselves towards the right path. One small turn can, over the course of a lifetime, mean a great change. We have the ability to acknowledge what we have heard here today, to take it into our hearts, and to chart a new path together. We have the ability to make things better.

Being a person of faith does not mean always being right. We know, that we often error. But, it does mean not giving up hope; not being stuck in hopelessness. One of the greatest actions we can take is to acknowledge where we have missed the mark, and to take responsibility to create the world in which we want to live. To look at the truth and to move forward, together.

The rabbi’s teach that a person should have two sayings, one in each pocket, the first should read “I am but dust and ashes” and the second “For my sake the world was created.” They teach that we should take these out when we need to read them. When we feel high and mighty we should remember we are from the earth and to the earth we shall return. When we despair, we should remember that the world was created for the sake of humanity.

May we move forward together, acknowledging that we are but dust and ashes and giving thanks for our ability to live up to our highest selves and to be the people for whom the world was created.

{Light the Candle of Humanity}

Prayer: Oh God, we give thanks for the human family, with all its shortcoming and all its beauty. We hope that our examination and acknowledgment of our faults may cause us to live as our best selves. We pray that we may be moved by this time of reflection, and that we may begin to create the world in which we want to live.

The Light of Hope  Lorna Doone, Peaceful Heart Sangha, Tich Nhat Han (Buddhism)

Today we’ve reminded ourselves that we are safe to be fearless in seeking truth and knowledge which are vital to being in right relationship with one another and with God, and we have also reminded ourselves that we all share one human story – one filled with both acts of inhumanity and with acts of generosity and love.

We come to this American celebration of Thanksgiving with renewed dedication to truth and to right relationship with native peoples.  We know there is much further to go, but we start the journey together with hope.

A series of native American prophecies, now referred to as the Seven Fires Prophecies, describe seven eras or epochs through which native peoples were going to have to live. Each era, or epoch, was called a Fire. The seventh fire of these prophecies talks about a time when the world is be-fouled, when the rivers and the waters run bitter with disrespect and the fish become too poisoned to be fit to eat.

Penobscot woman, Maria Girouard, in her talk at an event last November at USM suggested that we had now reached that time.  “So, what’s next?” she asked.  “What’s next?” A period of great hope is prophesied next.

If we choose the right road, the road of spirituality rather than the road of materialism, then the seventh fire will light the eighth and final fire, an eternal fire of peace.

Some of the native ancestors call it the great healing.

“Many” Maria said “believe we are entering the time of the great healing now. But the great healing is not a spectator sport.  It’s a critical call to action. All peoples, of all races and religions must come together and work for the good of all.  And in order for any change or healing to take place the truth must be told, and received by compassionate ears.”

She continued: “The old traditions say that this new time, this move toward a more harmonious world will begin in the East and will sweep across Turtle Island (a native American name for the north American continent) like the dawn of a new day.  So, here we are, perfectly positioned in Wabanaki land where the light from a new day first touches Turtle Island.”

If we cherish the traditional image of Thanksgiving, where colonizers and native peoples joined together in peace and brotherhood, let’s cause that to be a reality in our own day and age.

As Maria said “Thank you for being here to participate in this time of hope.  The ancestors have been expecting us.

{Light the Candle of Hope}

Prayer:  Let us give thanks for hope. We give thanks for the hope that each new day can mean an end to injustice and oppression, and the healing of its effects; that we are always capable of turning toward truth, and opening our hearts to one another.  We know that these are what enable us to break the cycles of the past and move forward in faith and with hope.

Reading: Reparations by  Penthea Burns, Co-director, Maine-Wabanki R.E.A.C.H.

I rose before the dawn

This morning

I sat alone

And turned on no lamp

Comforted by the dark

I sought to understand

Myself

 

And all of history

 

I know what we’ve done

 

I acknowledge

The taking

Your land

Your ancestors’ lives

Your children

Your language and prayers

We took the untakeable

To feed a hunger

That was only in our minds

 

I acknowledge

The lies

Doctrines and destinies

Spencer Phipps

And old westerns

My history books

Executive decrees

Unsigned court orders

I don’t even know

How many treaties we broke

 

I acknowledge

The terror…

The overwhelming use of force

Mass numbers

Burning churches

Trails and trails of tears

In a darkened cellar

One small child stands alone

Perfect and beautiful

Exposed and vulnerable

Taken and severed

From what she needs to be whole

To belong

To be home

To know her people

So that she may know herself

 

I acknowledge

The silence…

Invisibility and denial

My privilege

Which allows me

To hide from harm

To protect my interests

While you are exposed

To risk

We have never recognized

Nor measured our debt

So we awaken now

To do that accounting

 

I acknowledge

That hope…

Depends on our people

Finding our shared humanity

Standing for what is good in our world

And in ourselves

Hope depends on our people…

Repairing the takings with generosity

And justice

Making amends for the lies

With a truthful look at history

At ourselves

Restoring those terrorized

With healing and compassion

Compensation for our silence

By listening and bearing witness

And speaking out

Silent no more

Hope depends on…

Knowing that we do not own

That we have no authority from God

Except a mandate to love one another

To love this land that we call home

To live in peace together

 

I know what we’ve done

I have heard your stories

Witnessed your tears

Been amazed by your resilience –

That you are still here

 

While our collective acts

Are written on my heart

Our crimes need not define us

For I know, too, what is possible

When we choose justice and compassion

When we choose to acknowledge

And repair

To stand in solidarity

 

This is the time

This is the hour

Shall we fulfill our mandate

And remember who we are?


 

Light of Action      Rev. Carie Johnsen, Unitarian Universalist Community Church, Augusta

In October I attended the Parliament of World Religions. I had the opportunity to meet and visit with Steven Newcomb from the Shawnee and Lanape tribes. He is also the founder of the Indian Law Institute. It is his research and scholarship that informs the movement to expunge the United States judicial system of the Doctrine of Discovery. I asked him what is needed from the faith communities in this work. He responded, “The churches need to put as much time, energy and resources into restoring indigenous culture as they have in destroying it.” He added, “And the churches need to stop telling our children their tribal traditions and religious practices are wrong. Our children our killing themselves at a rate seven times higher than in non-native communities.”

I stand before you today to ask you to join us, the capitol area religious leaders, in this work of truth, restoration and healing. Our work is not to look back with blame. Our work is not to cling to guilt. Our work is not to cast more judgment and shame. Our work is to look forward into the future and decide what we can do to be part of building a world where peace, harmony, and celebration of diversity leads us on.

Each of us can take one step forward. For some of us in the room, arriving today and listening with open heart and curious mind is courageous. We are grateful you are here. For some of us, writing letters or calling upon legislative leaders is a new road. We are grateful for your prophetic voice. For some of us the road will be education and awareness, a waking up to new perspectives to guide our actions. We are grateful for your inquiring minds. For some of us examining our own use of indigenous traditions, rituals and practices through the lens of dominate culture, white privilege and cultural appropriation will be a painful process. We are grateful for your willingness to put the oppressed communities before your own needs.

Each of us will decide what action we can and are willing to take to restore indigenous culture. I encourage you to begin this journey with the Culture Cards your received at the door and the Thanksgiving Prayer in your program. Use these at your thanksgiving table this year. Begin a conversation in your home with friends and family. I invite you visit the Maine-Wabanaki REACH table following the service to hear about Ally training workshops. There you will find additional resources to guide you in your work to be part of a world where peace, harmony, and celebration of diversity leads us on.

{Light the Candle of Action}

Prayer: Spirit of Life, Love and all that is Holy, we stand at a crossroads. With the wisdom of love lighting our way, we acknowledge wrong doing. With courageous love lighting our way, we commit to rising boldly with hearts and minds and voices to rebuild that, which has been torn asunder. With just love lighting our way, we commit to a world where healing and reparations create a new story with new endings to lead the way. May we, the hands and eyes and ears and hearts of God, bring the healing balm of God’s love to all people, in all places, now and forever more. Amen.

 The Light Within       Rev. Al Boyce, Volunteers of America

We light one final candle this morning. It is the light that shines within each of you. It is the light you carry with you into the world. May you find the courage, compassion, and love to share it generously with those you meet along the way. Truth, restoration and Healing is our work. It is your work. It is my work. May your light shine brightly and illuminate the way that others might see and be inspired to embark on a journey of their own.

{Light the FINAL Candle}

Let us join together in our closing hymn “Guide My Feet” Please rise in body or spirit.

Closing Song   “Guide My Feet”

 Benediction                                                                                                    

Seeds of Inspiration

Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel
Gellionnen Unitarian Chapel (1692)  on the mountain above Pontardawe and Trebanos

It seems that during my time in Wales, I had become of bit of a topic of conversation in the village of Llangadog and Llandovery.  I was told someone had thought it quite strange that I would travel to a rural part of Wales to stay in a village of less than 800 people for five weeks.

I’m not completely sure if they thought I was strange, or my behavior strange. Either way, they found my extended presence in rural Wales a bit odd.

As an American Unitarian Universalist, I am used to being misunderstood.  Very often people have never heard of us, let alone know about us.  All too often, if they have heard or know about us, they think us a bit of an anomaly, some would go so far as to say we are a cult. So it seems, I have traveled several hundred miles only to find myself in familiar company.

I arrived in Wales with an open agenda and a clear intention: to engage in a spiritual and ancestral pilgrimage

~ to be still in the land of my ancestors, discover a bit their story, walk in their footsteps, and look at how their living shaped mine.

~ to partake in village life, meet the people of the Wales and return home with a connection to my Welsh heritage.

~ to enter into a time of contemplation, reflection and writing; to cultivate spiritual practices to guide and sustain me and my ministry.

~ to discern what God is asking of me – who is God calling me to be; how shall I serve Love (capital L Love) in an aching world.

My first task: to discern what matters most, where and how shall I sustain my call to ministry.

You see, after several years of ministerial service, my grounding and rootedness in Source or God, as I understand it, had gotten lost in a sea of service to a vital and dynamic congregation.  In an effort to serve everyone, be all things to all people, my spiritual life and the source of my being, had gotten a wee bit waylaid in my ministry to others.

This task of navigating a spiritual journey amid the demanding overscheduled days of ministry is a bit like driving in Wales where the narrow farm roads with tidy hedgerows block your view and give little warning of what is coming around the bend or what is down the road to the right. This limiting aperture is simply unrealistic in a diverse, complex, and complicated global world community. Moving forward as the road or schedule and life dictates without some inner, wiser or divine compass guiding us is a bit like driving in the rain without windshield wipers and a radio blasting.

When driving through the rich pastureland and mountain roads of Wales, one learns very quickly it matters what road you take.  Equally, it matters what one believes and to understand this freedom to believe, as our wisdom, reason and experience dictates, came at grave peril. No one new this better than the early dissenters in the United Kingdom, the people who risked everything when they challenged the teachings of the Established Church.

The story of the Welsh dissenters dates back to 1662 when England passed the Uniformity Act requiring all clergy to sign an agreement supporting the teachings of the Church of England.  Two thousand clergy dissented and the concept of non-conformity was established.  The clergy and their followers risked their jobs, their homes, their families, and, in some cases, their lives, when they chose to promote the religious freedom and beliefs we take for granted today.

During my five week stay in Wales, I had become completely captivated by conversations with the Welsh people, farmers, scholars, clergy and Unitarians.  Listening to and reading their stories of discrimination, harassment and persecution brought alive in my mind a time of religious passion and chaos, and a time of religious conviction.  In this act of bearing witness, centuries later, to the remarkable stories of persistence and conviction, I was inspired.

In his book Welsh Chapels, Anthony Jones describes the Dissenters of the 17th, 18th and 19th century as “the beating heart of Wales[1]hardy saplings that had put down deep roots, refused to be dislodged and grew into ‘the mighty oak of Welsh Dissent.”  It is their story that I was intrigued by from day one to day thirty-five.

In my quest to know my ancestral story, I was surprised to discover a brave and courageous religious history of tenant farmers – honest, hard working people seeking greater opportunities for their children.  Their perseverance and determination, sheer tenacity and faith led them through the uncharted lands of the Dakota Territory; yet it was their participation in the emergence of protestant traditions that surprised me the most.

As early dissenters from the established religion, they served various independent Capels as deacons and lay ministers.  My pilgrimage through Wales became a time of walking in their footsteps and walking in the story of our shared faith.  This journey of visiting ancient chapels and graveyards as well as the old farms and barns where the earliest nonconformist met served to integrate the stories of my ancestors and the stories of my chosen faith tradition.

My intrigue deepened when I happened upon this excerpt from Anthony Jones’ book Welsh Chapels.

“Cwmglo was inconspicuous, a dingle of sylvan beauty, screened by a profusion of dense corpses and tall overhanging trees… But even in the delicious seclusion of Cwmglo the Dissenters were not free from molestation. Though their minds were fixed on the things of the spirit, their ears were always alert for the footsteps of the informer. A shaking bough, or a quivering bush, or the snap of a twig in the undergrowth, made their hearts beat faster, their blood run cold. The soothing influence of hymn and sacred song was denied them… gleams of the modern street-lamp. The only light to guide their faltering footsteps was afforded by the moon or stars. When the sky was overcast they stumbled over the trackless mountains in an inky darkness that only country people know… hidden in the trees around Cwmglo was a gabled farmhouse of considerable dimensions… Its occupier was himself a Dissenter, and when his fellow worshippers requested of him the use of one of his barns for a chapel, we may be sure that he readily acquiesced. An empty barn all year round on a farm well-known for its productive meadows might, it was thought, arouse the suspicions of an erstwhile passer-by. To delude the curious, therefore, the barn was stored with hay during the weekdays, and emptied for the services on Sundays. The congregation was not seated when the service was in progress – a standing position was more conducive to instant dispersal should escape become necessary. The rostrum was crudely built of timber felled in the contiguous woods. A rush of light that flickered wanly in the draught from the ventilation holes in the walls, provided the only illumination and to keep themselves warm they wrapped their feet in straw… “

This story of Cwmglo is the story of the Unitarian Chapel Hen Dy Cwrdd at Cefn Coed.  The original rostrum from that barn is where the service leader preaches today.  In the recent past the congregation went back to that barn, carried with them the original rostrum, and held services.

I came upon a similar family story in my final days in Llandgadog.  A farmer in Gwynfe shared the story of nonconformists meeting in the barn on the farm Pantmawr where my great great great grandmother Margeret Morgan was born and raised.

While my Congregational and Methodist ancestors walked alongside the Unitarians in the fight for religious freedom, I have come to learn their path to choosing what mattered most opened long before the way of the Unitarian. While my ancestors were given the freedom to worship in 1689, the same would not be offered to the Unitarians until 1813.  The consequences the non-Trinitarians faced were often more severe.

When the minister and members of the Unitarian Church, Llwynrhydowen, in LLandysul voted against the squire in 1876, they were evicted from their church building, lost their jobs and suffered hardship of poverty and persecution for years. The Welsh Religious Buildings Trust tells the story,

“In the mid 19th century, the congregation could number anywhere up to 600. It was a part of a radical Unitarian culture within a Welsh rural setting, resistant to successive waves of evangelical revival emanating from the epicentre of Welsh Calvinistic Methodism not far to the north. As such these communities became collectively known as the ‘Black Spot’.

In 1876 it was the scene of a national scandal when the congregation and its minister William Thomas (also known as Gwilym Marles) were evicted by the local landlord, John Lloyd of Alltyrodyn. Lloyd cited their ‘radical’ non Tory, Unitarian ideologies as a breach of their lease.

After the closure, the popular minister addressed an outdoor congregation of about 3000, with his back to the locked and chained chapel. Due to the national interest prompted by the eviction, a fundraising campaign saw a new chapel created, but after the death of Lloyd his sister had the building returned to the congregation. Unfortunately by this time, Gwilym was in ill health and died before he was able to attend the opening ceremony of the new chapel. His remains were laid at the new chapel and it was subsequently dedicated to his memory.”

While we (Unitarians in the UK and Unitarian Universalists in America) have similar trajectories in our theological evolution, our emergence as religious liberals in the United States was not as perilous.  With the separation of church and state in the United States came the freedom to self determine religious beliefs. Still these foundational beliefs of Welsh & English Unitarianism and Unitarian Universalism in the United States have guided our common faith traditions for generations.

Centuries of teachings and experiences, science and reason affirm the truth of what was at one time considered illegal, subject to persecution; while at the same time, thought by countless others to be absolutely visionary.

Grateful for our dissenting forefathers and foremothers who cleared that dense forest of religious persecution, we arrive here at this point in history – comfortable and safely settled in our lives where the freedom to determine for ones self what matters most is our touchstone.

We, the twenty-first century Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists, are privileged by the martyrs and religious heroes, Acts of Toleration and Constitutions and Bill of Rights that separate church and state. We, the descendants of centuries of radical dissenters and nonconformists, remain the minority across the globe. Yet our vision, our people, our values continue to shape the world in profound and transformative ways.  Countless generations later, our conviction that freedom to choose one’s own belief is foundational. Yet at the end of the day, it is not so much what we believe but how our beliefs impact the world we live in.

These words from Philosopher and UU Dr. Ronald J. Glossop poignantly articulate our shared conviction to this basic truth.

The kinds of beliefs we have influence how we behave. Knowing what is true is important. But having true beliefs is not the most important thing in our lives, and having true beliefs about God is not the most important thing in religion.

The most important thing in religion is being committed to furthering goodness. Promoting goodness includes finding out what is true and helping others to acquire [for themselves] such knowledge, but it also includes furthering love and compassion and justice.

And it involves doing this whether or not there is a God helping us to accomplish it.”

We might do well to ask ourselves, “At the end of our days, will we be able to say we lived grounded in beliefs that compelled us toward goodness and love, healing and wholeness, joy and abundance for all of humanity.”

If we can answer “Yes!” then our ancestors – those who walked before us and cleared the woods of falling debris – have not fought and suffered in vain.  For in our living, we are a testament to their living, and we honor them well.

[1] Anthony Jones, Welsh Chapels, National Museum of Wales (1984) xi.

 

Got Water? What Is Water Communion Without Water?

Opening Words “In this land”

In a land that knows the effects of water deprivation, of soil dry, cracked, and barren, of parched forests vulnerable in the heat to fire and infestation,

In a land where the racial, ideological and theological differences become weapons for public discourse and the means to retaliation

In a land where one person thrives with abundance while another child goes to bed hungry and their neighbor sleeps in a box at the park,

In a land where consumerism trumps the human right to dignity and respect; a land where a person’s claim to a living wage for a fair days work is fraught with another person’s greed,

In a land where technology advances too quickly, making human interaction burdensome and the sound bites or facebook likes become the expression of the day,

In a land where lingering is lazy and success is measured by the number and size of the toys gathered in the vacation home,

In this land, yes it is in this land, that we gather,
Here in this sanctuary, made holy by your presence,
We gather hungry for something deeper
Something to sustain us in the human strife of daily life.

Here in this hour
Made holy by the mingling of my spirit with yours, we pause
To gaze upon God’s grace as it is known in the face of our fellow travelers.
Spirit of life, love and the holy, we’ve arrived
To see the beauty in each other’s eyes
To fill the longing empty heart
To encounter life in all its foibles and all its glory.

Spirit of life, love and all that is holy
Let us be together in the silent pause of anticipation
As we light this chalice,
As we gaze upon the holy in thy neighbor,
Thy friend.

Reflection “Standing at the Well”

We stand at the well together. The well where thirst is quenched, dreams are born, spirit is replenished.

We gather with anticipation, water in hand, ready to tell the story of our summer sojourn. The story of our pilgrimage to places and people familiar and new, the story captured within, like a letter in a bottle.

We may have approached our summer sojourn with the intention of a pilgrimage, mindful of our distant destination.

Just as a woman in Sudan sets out for a two hour walk to collect water to provide her family with the sustenance for life, we set out on a journey to feed our weary souls, to provide ourselves and our family the spiritual sustenance of life – connections with family and friends, experiencing and resting in the beauty and splendor of creation’s playground, crossing borders to a new culture – a time to be with the stranger and expand our understandings and experiences of how we might live.

Just as the Sudanese woman returned another two hours later with water, so too do we.
Just as the human body knows longing for meaning and purpose, so too does it thirst for water.

Water – the source of life
Water – the substance of a parched life gratified
Water – that which quenches and sustains
Water – the symbol of our stories, our journeys, our values lived

One might say all of life is a pilgrimage, in which we partake blindly, mindfully or as a matter of survival.

How many of us traveled this summer in a drought ridden area?

Who witnessed the corn dying at less than three feet tall, long before the crop could be harvested?

Who witnessed the cattle grazing upon a dry field in search of the occasional green sprig of grass?

Recall this experience or imagine it anew in your mind’s eye.
Recall this drought now, as we sit here, water in hand.

Consider the millions of locations across the globe – Texas, Sudan, Australia, China, Russia and even Greenland, where people and animals, the sentient beings, the plant life, search for water in the barren land.

In my daily sojourn to the church, I drive by a local storefront where people bring car loads of empty bottles to a spigot attached to the side of the building. I witness the weekly sojourn of Mainer’s whose access to clean, safe, and I’m assuming affordable water, is a weekly chore.

Yes, here in Kennebec County.

Further south in Fryeburg, Maine, Nestle Corporation, under the guise of Poland Springs, is suing the town to drill new wells in Denmark and pipe water to their water loading stations.[1]   In arguing “their right to grow market share supersedes the town’s right to control” creations natural resources, Nestle seeks to “turn ordinary water into a billion dollar industry.”[2]

Yes, here in Maine.

This summer while traveling in the Black Hills of SD with family and friend, the spiritual and physical deprivation of the drought was evident throughout the two weeks of travel, but it was my experience in Custer State Park that was transformative.

The contrast of the dry streams amid a homage to a man who decimated the spirit of the indigenous people – the Sioux, Lakota, Cheyenne, Ponca and Arikara People of the plains – was to say the least, painful.

While I walked across the land to the parched buffalo watering hole with my empty bottle ready to retrieve water for today, I was painfully aware of the levels of spiritual and physical drought that were touching my life, my story at that moment in time.

While the lack of rain and the resulting drought were affecting the rivers and streams, fauna and foliage of the Black Hills, the history of genocide and oppression, followed by the lack of opportunity and the continued appropriation of indigenous culture and history by the EuroAmericans, was affecting the spirit of the native people of the plains.

The reality of my summer sojourn sank deeper as we drove through the reservation in the big SUV to our comfortable lives. Lives physically and spiritually sustained by over four generations of Scandinavian pioneers willing to homestead the unforgiving prairie during turbulent times, willing to farm the land taken from the indigenous people.

There on the parched land with the oppressed spirit as my backdrop, I stood face to face with the reality of my privilege; silently greeting the unsuspecting people’s whose shoulders I stand on, as I partake.

Recognizing my privilege, recognizing the brutality by which it was taken, recognizing the ongoing subjugation of people already dispossessed.

There in search of water to tell the story of my travels, the truth of my life on this barren land became a stark telling of spiritual oppression, spiritual thirst and longing.

While white men sold the trinkets and the dolls at every souvenir shop along the way, while the state seeks to sell land of the native people, to break the treaties of my ancestors, I, a white woman, a product of this story of power, oppression and genocide, was perpetuating the illusion at a watering hole in Custer State Park.

The stark truth of it all, as we live from our place of privilege is that we walk upon the land of another, oblivious, complacent or fully aware. We stand on the shoulders of another, the child worker in the cocoa fields of west Africa or cotton fields of Egypt, the Mexicano crossing the dessert to make a living in the service industry so that we might be comfortable in our cotton sheets with a chocolate on our pillow when we arrive at our resting place after a long day’s journey.

Got Water? What is a water communion without water?

It is a communion where we honor our journey, name our spiritual thirst and how it was satiated. We bear witness to our pilgrimage to the well where our parched souls were quenched and nourished.

And

We tell the story of the person who lives a very different pilgrimage to the well, so that we might consider how we are blessed. How we have been graced with abundance, So that we may consider how we will live our days. How will we walk more gently and mindfully so that others might simply live.

This is not an easy task but it is a necessary task. It is never comfortable to stand face to face with the contrast of have and have not. To acknowledge our privilege comes at the cost of another’s dignity and survival.

Yet, is it not better to name it and acknowledge it, so that we may live informed, asking,
How shall I live now?
How shall I love beyond my walls?
How shall I celebrate the oneness of life, the source of life?
How shall I participate in a life that is more sustaining than not?

And, as we consider these questions, as we live them out in our daily action,
may our lived unity with all of humanity, with God’s sentient creatures, never be the same again. Never be the same again.

Let us be together in silence as we consider the journey.

Meditation

I invite each of you to consider what spiritual or physical thirst was quenched by your summer sojourn. You can do this alone, with the person next to you or in conversation with the people with whom you gathered your water.

Consider the location where you collected your water, the people you were with, the moment shared.

Do a bit of theological mining. What is the story within the story? What touched your heart, opened your mind, or brought hands for service into the care of creation? What intentional or unsuspecting modern day pilgrimage served to deepen your journey?

See if you can name what spiritual longing was quenched in ten or less words. It is not the story we are seeking, we hope you will tell this later in fellowship.

We invite you to go deeper, what part of you was opened anew, affirmed or comforted; where were the connections with life and love, humanity and nature made stronger, wiser and richer. Then name this in ten words or less, capture the essence on the piece of paper in your Order of Service. You will be asked to read this as you come forward to add your waters to the collections.

Water Communion

{Water is received in two clear vessels in the front of the sanctuary. Every 5 sharing and pouring will be an empty bottle symbolically poured into the second empty vessel. This vessel will remain empty throughout the collection as a symbol of those who live without water. Every 5th pouring is followed by a couple members of the choir singing a short refrain of ”Bring a little water Sylvie.”

Each empty bottle will have attached a short vignette of a sentient being, vegetation or community, living without access to sufficient, safe, acceptable, physically accessible and affordable water for personal and domestic use.

The ratio of water to empty bottle represents the ratio of people living in the world without access to acceptable water. The current world population is 7,036,123,899[3]. At the same time 884,000,000 people lack access to clean water.[4] = ratio of 1/5. A gathered community of 100 will thus need 25 empty bottles with vignettes.}

Blessing

In sharing, we name what is most vital, what we value in our days
In witnessing, we bless the journey of another
In collecting, we see our unity amid our diversity

{Water from each vessel is symbolically taken and poured into a third vessel }

In pouring the water symbolizing drought and deprivation, in pouring the water symbolizing abundance, we acknowledge they are one and the same, without thirst there is no quenching, without longing there is no gratitude.

In mingling of these waters, we are reminded of our oneness with all of creation, our interdependent web of existence.

These waters have known life and death, joy and sorrow, tears and laughter, love and hate, commitment and complacency, damnation and salvation, abundance and deprivation.

These waters have traveled the global atmosphere by the grace of nature and the will of humanity.

Just as water, the sacred source of life
cycles from the ice in Antarctica
to sweat in India, to deserts in Darfur,
to summer pleasures on Sebago lake
to the rainforest habitat of the Amazon,
we too simultaneously experience
and witness the cycle of drought and abundance,
deprivation and privilege, and our place in it.

It is in the sharing and witnessing,
in the collecting and pouring,
and in the mingling of the sacred
that these waters are made holy.

May it be so.

Benediction     

We stand at the well together,
May our unity be the dream which guides our travel
May our daily lives be a pilgrimage to life sustaining for all
And may we live, so that others, may be replenished when they arrive.

[1]www.stopnestlewaters.org/communities/fryeburg-me. September 3, 2012

[2] www.soh2o.org “Save Our Water”

[3] US & World Population Clocks.   www.census.gov/main/www/popclock.html. August 30, 2012. 10:27 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.

[4] UUSC Water Facts: Water. www.uusc.org. August 30, 2012. 10:27 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.