I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Friday, January 28, 2005


OK, I know that my official blog advice giver says that you shouldn't post too often and obscure that which has gone before. Also, I know that this isn't usually a problem for me! But this is something of an emergency. You see, no one is voting for the UU Weblog awards. Look, I know that not all of you are in fact UUs, but it is the bloggers that are. You can be anything you want to be and still vote!

Philocrites has put a huge amount of effort into this project and the blogs are quite good. They cover not only issues of religion but of current events and, even occasionally, celebrity news. Unity is nominated for two (Best writing and Best Religious Writing or Theological Commentary). However, they are all worth looking at...

So, after you read my piece about Unity Sunday and the one about Spongebob and the UCC, why don't you go and check out the Awards Page? I think you will enjoy it and you do not even have to vote for me...

Good Surfin'!

PS, Voting ends Monday...

Thursday, January 27, 2005

Unity Sunday

This Sunday our church will be closed and all of us will be making the trip to Natick Center for "Unity Sunday." Called in some quarters, "Christian Unity Sunday," this is the annual joint service of the United Parishes of Natick (UPON). We are not a member congregation of UPON but last year, for the first time, we were invited to participate in the service. The guest last year was the founder of a housing ministry that this church is involved in along with the Upon churches. This was a big step for them and for us, in the past there has been some discomfort among some folks concerning our "UU half" certainly many folks understand their Christianity to be a creedal thing. We do not and it can cause misunderstandings, certainly. Sometimes these misunderstandings can become barriers.

In our case, those barriers are coming down a bit. This year we are attending again. The heading in the draft order of service included a quote from Bill Schultz, past president of the UUA (I didn't even put it there!). Also, the guest preacher is none other than Rabbi Harold Kushner, the famous author and Emeritus Rabbi at Temple Israel here in Natick. Things have changed for UPON and they have changed for us.

Unity Sunday is a great opportunity for the folks at Eliot to both affirm their place in Christianity and to witness to that broader understanding of Jesus' faith and message that has given birth to Christians among us who are also atheists, monists, unitarians, universalists and, of course, agnostics. Really, we spice up any religious gathering. One of the most important aspects of our church community--as with many communities--is that of relationship. Unity Sunday put us in relationship with a special group of people who we see and relate to without thinking too much about what sustains them spiritually as they go about their weeks and days. We are blessed to be a small part of the ecumenical movement.

Actually, you would all be blessed by Unity Sunday. Hey Unity Readers! If you are around this part of the world when the Sabbath comes, why don't you come on over to First Congregational Church in Natick Center (the big one on the common) at 10:30? Rabbi Kushner is bound to stimulate and intrigue us all. There is Childcare and Sunday School for the younger kids and the older ones might learn something.

I am excited and looking forward to this. I hope that others are, too. Participating as part of the larger community always helps me, at least, to sharpen my own perspective and focus. That is just the sort of thing I need at the end of a long, cold January.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Spongebob Goes to Church

I was cruising the web today and found this interesting story from the UCC web page. I am linking it above and, of course, it can also be reached by clicking on the "UCC" link to the left.

I followed this issue casually for a few days and then with increasing interest. It appears that a portion of the religious right has accused Spongebob ( a dish sponge who, famously, lives in a pineapple under the sea) and Patrick (a starfish friend of the sponge) of being gay. They appeared recently in a video promoting tolerance of differences (including, apparently, differences in sexual orientation). The Rev. James Dobson of Focus on Family was not pleased with that at all. However, the gay rumors concerning this pair have been floating around for some time before this latest flare-up. To many of you, this is old news (my dad's blog has a press release concerning the subject from Jan. 20). Still, people are talking about it.

I have been most surprised by how seriously the press has taken this issue. There have been news stories and special interest pieces ( some of which broke in to my "school closing" watch on the morning news). Almost all of them implied that I should be concerned for my children's well being. "Spongebob Preaches Tolerance," yikes! It seems to me that the media (not really so liberal, after all) would be able to tell real news from not. However, I may be wrong--in some cases at least. I do not know if this has to do with the recent elections or not, but I do not recall Tinky Winky getting as much serious air time a few years back.

Just for the record, I love Spongebob and Patrick. I just watched them again this week and--ya know--I still cannot see them as sexual beings. Maybe that is wrong, or maybe it is because they are a talking dish sponge and starfish who live on either side of a squid who likes to play his clarinet out the window of the "Easter Island Head" in which he lives. Well, anyway, as you can see by going to the UCC page, there is a home for all of them in the UCC. Thank God for that!

PS If any of my colleagues out there are looking for work, there might be a "First Parish, Bikini Bottom" in your future...

Thursday, January 20, 2005

My Inaugural Day Prayer (sort of)

Well, its the big day! Our leaders have gathered in the frozen tundra of our nation's capital to witness the second swearing in of President G.W. Bush. I believe even the Mayor and the Governor (Menino and Romney, that is) will be there after having returned home to squash the "bomb scare" rumor of '05. Seriously, I appreciate it. One of the interesting things about this time we live in is the tendency for rumors to proliferate and for paranoia to reign. Before 9/11 we would all start some goofy thing about Ben Affleck. Now, our "not quite news" is a bit more life and death (sorry Ben)...

The president has a tough job and I wish him well. I really do. I hope that he and our leaders can find an effective resolution to the Iraq conflict. I pray that the elections held there are fair, powerful and effective in bringing that country some sense of stability. True, I disagree with practically every point on the president's foreign and domestic policy agenda. Still, I will pray for him today. A member of one of my former churches urged me to do so four years ago. She was a member of the Green Party. However, she felt that the nation needed all the help it could get. It still does. The president may not like your prayer, but you can still pray for him and against his policies (or just for him, if you wish). After all, we need to foster respect among those who disagree.

If I were asked to deliver the prayer at the inauguration, I don't think it would be filled with too much flag-waving or national self-congratulation. This is a great country, yes, and I am proud to be an American. Yet, I do not think that God is any more with us than with the Iraqis we claim as enemies or the French who we apparently do not know what to do with. All of us--that is, every nation and individual--need to pray for understanding and for real peace based on respect and equality.

Here is my prayer for today. I wrote it some time ago in honor of the Million Mom March and have used it many times since.

For the Peaceful
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

This is not the day our swords become plowshares
This is not the day we leave our shields by the riverside
This is not the day we all hold hands and sing one song
This is not the day our streets become safe
That our children need not fear
(That we need not fear for them)
This is not the day that all will give according to their gifts
And receive according to their need

This is not that day
And we are sorry
Dear God we are sorry
For all the weapons we take up
Against our neighbors
For acts of fear
And hate
For missed opportunities for peace
And we ask for your forgiveness

But rest assured that the day will come
And we will march, walk, and crawl
We will stand-up
We will sing and shout
As long as we have strength
As long as we have voices
As long as we have vision, faith, hope, and love

To make it so, to make it be

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Five (or Ten) Books I Am Reading Now

I have been on a reading kick lately. Probably this has as much to do with availability as anything else. I received quite a few books for Christmas and bought a few presents for myself while shopping for others. When I find myself with an abundance of literature, I become confused as to where, exactly, I should start. And so I read them all simultaneously and rotate through them in a remarkably random order until they all slowly reach their end. I am sure I am not the only person who does this, but it may help when I explain that I have finished only one of the following works-in-progress and at least one of them will probably be put aside for a year or two...

The Measure of All Things by Ken Alder
The Five Books of Moses trans. and comm. by Robert Alter
Leonardo Da Vinci by Sherwin Nuland
Heraclitus trans. By Brooks Haxton
Patriot Reign by Michael Holley

The last of these books is the one I have finished. Although its title sounds like a spy novel, it is, in fact, the story of Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots during the 2002 and 2003 seasons (football, for you non-sports types). The others, I think, are self explanatory with the exception of the first on the list. The Measure of All Things tells the story of two French astronomers on search of the perfect measure (the meter as it turns out) and all the trials and tribulations they encounter during the French Revolution.

What these books have in common is that they are all about smart people. Some of them, (Heraclitus, Moses, Da Vinci) are indisputably large figures who have influenced the way the world works and the way we think. They are also mysterious figures glimpsed dimly behind their achievements.

The pre-Socratic philosopher, Heraclitus is probably the least known of the three. I first encountered him as a philosophy student at the University of Maine. Reading Heraclitus again has reminded me of how much this old poet has influenced the way I see the world. Of course, you do not need to be a Philosophy major to be influence by him. What we have of Heraclitus is wisdom literature similar to that of his contemporaries Lao-Tzu, Confucious, the writer of Ecclesiastes and others then and since. “For wisdom, listen not to me but to the Word, and know that all is one.”

The other books are about lesser-known figures. Yes, as hard as it may be to admit it, Leonardo Da Vinci was probably smarter than Bill Belichick is. These books tell the stories of smart people who struggle with adversity, who fail as much as they succeed and who, in their own way, help us to understand the world and our place in it. They also, particularly the two astronomers in Alder’s book, have to compromise and settle for imperfection (for the record, the astronomer’s names are Mechain and DeLambre). In fact, Moses had his bad days. Da Vinci had his spectacular failures and, probably, Heraclitus did, too!

We all, I think, dream sometimes of being the sort of person who can write the great novel, paint the great picture and think the great thought. We even wish that we could go to the Super Bowl again and again. Most of us, of course, will not. Like these famous (and not so famous) “geniuses” we pay homage to today, all we can hope for is to do our best to contribute to the progress of life. If we work hard, we might even reach some level of understanding and enlightenment for ourselves. Hey fellow non-geniuses, there is no shame in that! Really, these heroes of the intellect and Napoleons of the gridiron are more like us than not. Truly that is a blessing and a wonder.

Monday, January 10, 2005

This is My Servant Sermon!

My computer has been terribly ill as of late. This is because of my complete ignorance of things technical. Long ago, I learned to think of these sorts of things as "magic." If I didn't, I wouldn't be capable of blogging. Sadly, I am a very bad wizard...

Anyway, I have decided to post this sermon so that there would be something new. The text was Matthew 3:13-17. The Isaiah Quote is From Chapter 42. The theme of the service was "Servant Leadership." I have been think a great deal lately about leadership both in church and country. This was a way to present some thoughts on the matter...

I should also note how nice it was this week not to have anything going on other than our usual worship service and format. Christmas was fantastic, but many of us, I think, enjoyed the comfort of our usual routine.

Eliot Church, Natick, MA
January, 9, 2005
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

Reggie White, as some of you know,
Died the day after Christmas
Reggie White was a football player
Called the “Minister of Defense”
He was also an ordained Baptist clergyman

Famous for his controversial statements
On race and gender, and for his one time declaration
That God had told him to quit the Philadelphia Eagles
And go play for the Green Bay Packers
White had, near the end of his life,
Started to reconsider all that he had done and said
While playing and proselytizing
In the NFL

He said, in a recent interview
That he had realized that many of those things
He said that God wanted him to do
Were really things that he, Reggie, wanted to do
And that God didn’t particularly care
If the Packers won or not
He concluded after his playing days
That God, in fact, does not need football

Here is my Servant says Isaiah Whom I uphold

The concept of service, and of the servant leader
In religion today is a problematic one
So much of what we say and do in this country
Has been saturated with words of Christian piety
Not always fully understood by those who use them
And used not just by those who feel called
To accept a lucrative multi-year contract
And a trip to the Super Bowl
This tendency toward claiming
To know God’s will exists everywhere

For example, White’s later comments
About God not needing football, after all
Echo those of another prominent figure
In another arena
Former US Senator George Mitchell
During the Iran Contra hearings
Famously told Oliver North
That God does not take sides in partisan politics

This may be an obvious assertion to many of us here today
But, we also know that that it is not obvious to everybody
Rev. Richard Land, for example, a prominent Southern Baptist minister
Looked back on the recent presidential elections and said
Whoever won, it would have been God’s will
He also went on to claim that if John Kerry had won
It would be proof that God was angry
And cursing the United States

Land’s statement, it should be noted
Makes many people
Republicans as well as Democrats uncomfortable
Uncomfortable because it is in direct opposition
To the basic political and religious assumptions
Held by those who developed the modern democracy
And when I say “modern” I am speaking
Of 1776 not 1976

Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister
Of the largest Democracy on earth
Once described this modern (small “d”) democratic
View of religion and the state in this way:
I want nothing to do with any order, religious or otherwise, which does not teach people that they are capable of becoming happier and more civilized on this earth, capable of becoming a true man, master of his fate and captain of his soul.
(Obviously, this sentiment applies to women as well as men)

People like Nehru
Believe that the idea
Of the Divine Right of kings (or presidents)
Is contrary to the principles of a democratic nation
It also flies against the broad-church theology
Of faith communities such as ours

Still, Rev. Land is far from alone
Politics and football account for only two
Of the places
We see this belief in the active hand of God
Maneuvering us like pieces on a chess board

This determinism can be comforting
During moments of personal pain
Or of larger crises
It can be reassuring to think of it all as “God’s will”
That some great tragedy somehow makes sense
But, unfortunately, such a belief system
Also assumes a vengeful God
More interested in passing judgment than giving hope

And it can breed arrogance among the powerful
Who feel that they are being rewarded for divine service
For example, the French King Louis XIV
Once showed a certain lack of perspective
When in a moment of frustration he asked:
Has God forgotten all that I have done for him?

When we think in this way,
When we believe
That we have special and privileged insight
That we are, in fact “holier than thou”
We miss the point of the servant life
The ancient Persian poet Saadi
Said To worship God is nothing other than to serve the people

He tells us in his work that
We need to keep reminding ourselves
That our needs, as great as they are
Are only a part of the picture
And that the suffering of others
Is just as real

To be a servant, to engage in service
Requires much more than the occasional nod
To the larger world and the “little people”
Who made us who we are today
It requires a constant recognition
Of our interconnectedness
And the universality of the call
That is, it isn’t just the rich and famous
Who are answerable to the whole

No, we all are expected and required
To the best of our ability
To contribute
Saadi continues in our reading
To say All people are members of the same body, created from one essence. If fate brings suffering to one member, the others cannot stay at rest.

A statement which many of us today
Would change to all things
Instead of merely all people

Now, when we think of ourselves
As constant servants
A life of service shouldn’t seem
Quite nearly as hard
For we are not necessarily talking about
Becoming like Mother Theresa
Or even of all the things we do
To make the world a better place
(As admirable and worthy as those things are)
Like volunteering and pledging to the Church
Or the service committee
Or choosing a career in one of the service professions
Like teaching, social work, or medicine

What we are focusing on today is an issue of proper attitude
Instead we are talking about an accessible way of life
We can serve God by thinking
And by engaging in the work
Of developing and maintaining the health of our society
All of us need to be public intellectuals
We need to not only know what we believe
But to find out why
And speak out about what we find

Professor Stanley Fish at the University of Illinois at Chicago
Said "I think the definition of a public intellectual shouldn't be fancy at all — someone who travels easily in the world of ideas…and is able to convey the importance and complexity of those ideas in an accessible language."
This, I believe, is something that we all can do

Every one of us is capable of examining an issue
Searching for various opinions and coming to our own conclusion
It is part of what the Unitarian Universalists call
The free and responsible search for truth and meaning
It is a part of our responsibility and freedom as servants
As people who worship God by serving society
It isn’t all about giving money
Or claiming high office
Nor are we waiting for God
To tell us what to do
We are expected to explore
And to find a direction for ourselves
That is what free will is all about

For centuries, free-thinkers have been
Passing their faith through the fires of their experience
(To very roughly paraphrase Emerson)
They have sought out opportunities to be challenged
They have put a high value on self-improvement
And have seen education not merely in terms of institutions
But as a crucial part of the life journey
And a companion to the journey of faith
Benjamin Franklin once said that A Bible and a newspaper in every house and a good school in every district are the principle support of virtue, morality, and civil liberty.
The Public intellectual is not expected
To be an expert on everything
But a student of anything
We can share a passion for food, for history, science and art
We can keep abreast of daily developments
In this country and in the world
This is a service to God

Of course, it can be difficult, at times
To have opinions and to share them
Particularly while remaining open to change
And there are some
Bright sensitive leaders of their communities
Who for whatever reason, do not inform themselves
As well as they should
This is (in a way) understandable, people with convictions, after all
Do sometimes fight and argue
And make those who disagree with them less than happy
Still, if we are willing to engage and to listen
Then we are the ultimate beneficiaries of our efforts

Our work to discover the right way ennobles us
Many of our leaders both great and not so great
In politics and elsewhere often, themselves
Are public intellectuals, they learn and they share
Sometimes they find that those achievements
That have the greatest impact on them
Are the ones that are small and personal

They look back on what they have done
And do not see a field filled with victories
They do not see themselves as figures
In an epic struggle between good and evil
Instead they see a life lived
With the average number of mistakes
With failures and with lessons learned the hard way

When they look back
Like Reggie White, they see
That they are much more like the rest of us
The other servants
The others who moved in society
With whom God is also pleased
And they find satisfaction in what they did achieve

In the prologue to
Sometimes controversial President
Bill Clinton’s 957-page autobiography
He writes:
Whether I am a good man is, of course, for God to judge.
I know that I am not as good as my strongest supporters believe…nor as bad as my harshest critics assert.
He goes on to say
My life in politics was a joy. I loved campaigns and I loved governing. I always tried to keep things moving in the right direction, to give more people a chance to live their dreams, and to bring them together. That is the way I kept score.

To be a servant of humanity and of the Divine
Both in the town square and in our own living rooms
Truly is a Joy

It does not tax us so much
As fill us with the energy and the desire
To discover new and exciting things
Until we find
That nothing we encounter
Nothing we do
Can be called mundane
No matter how small or seemingly insignificant

May we all, in our lives a servants
Learn to keep score in the way Clinton describes
By seeking the small successes
And the small discoveries
And by helping others to come together
And to live their dreams


Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Rev. Peacebang

I have just been made aware of the very neat (and very pink!) weblog of a friend and colleague of mine. She doesn't us her name on the site, so we can call her Rev. Peacebang for now. For those of you who are looking for an interesting spot with various intriguing musings. I highly reccomend it. She can be linked by clicking the title of this post and/or by finding her in my "links."

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Universalist Church for Sale--Cheap!

I was checking out some of the weblogs that I find most interesting and came upon an interesting post on "Boy in the Bands," a blog maintained by my friend, colleague, and long distance member of Eliot, the Rev. Scott Wells. In it he links to an eBay item, namely an old Universalist Church building in New York state.

Scott says we shouldn't be too sad as it has been defunct for some time. Still, I cannot help but feel a little morose. Before coming to Eliot I served two Universalist churches in Northwestern Maine. It is disheartening to see any part of that great tradition sold for parts.

Here at Eliot, not surprisingly, not all of our members are unitarian in their christology. We have a veritable rainbow of views on this subject. We have Unitarians, Arians, and Trinitarians all possessing various theological shades and nuances. We have some atheists, agnostics, and people of Jewish heritage who also have varying understandings of the guy we quote weekly in our services and who we honor once a month during communion (In order to properly reflect these differences, we have three communion services that we rotate through, but that is another post).

Our Universalism, however, is one of the major uniting forces in our collective theology. Many members of the church are not aware of the finer points of the doctrine of universal resoration, but they are Universalists, nonetheless. Otherwise, we would not be able to find a place for so much diversity in what is, after all, a liberal Christian church (though some of our individual members are Christian and not liberal and others are liberal and not Christian).

For the detailed (and ongoing) explanation of universal restoration, I refer you to Scott's blog (in my links section). But basically put, it is the belief that all people, regardless of faith stance, and/or their actions on earth, will go to the same place when they die.

Traditionally, this doctrine was based on the idea that Jesus died not just for a select few, nor for only the "good" people, but for everyone. It is the logical conclusion if one believes in an all loving God, or for that matter, if one doesn't believe in God at all. What changes, I think, would be the idea of where souls go. Most Theists probably have some sense of "Heaven" or "mystical Union" with the Divine. I know I do. Either way, I find it hard to believe that there is anyone who regularly attends services with us who believes that their fellow congregants are going to Hell! The strength of our community, after all, rests on its ability to challenge and to stretch every one of us.

Of course, you will find universalist beliefs outside Eliot and outside the UUA. Thank God for that! Even though this church that Rev. Wells found on eBay is no more. Its spirit moves on in us and, hopefully, through many more of our fellow inhabitants of planet Earth. Long live the Universalist Church!