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!

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

An Exercising Article

An Excellent Article

The high point of my athletic career came in my senior year of high school. I was Captain of the North Yarmouth Academy Panthers Cross Country team. We were, in the world of Maine “school boy” sports somewhat legendary for three things: a) possessing the most hair and earrings, b) always qualifying and always finishing last (if fewer than five of your runners finished you were disqualified) and, c) cheering for every other team at the race.

It was this last aspect of our corporate personality that won us our moment of glory. At the Western Conference Championship, the largest race of the season (unlike many “Championships” every school attended) over 200 high school runners lined up along the starting line at the Valhalla Golf Club in their best uniforms (and bandannas and earrings). This glorious scene creating an image, I am sure, not unlike that of the battle lines in Braveheart. It was a beautiful sight.

As the tension mounted, a race official walked out in front of us and started the ritual call of attendance. In his best manly-coach voice he would ask each team in turn if they were ready and, in turn, each team would holler and chant in their most intimidating fashion. We, the runners from NYA, would cheer with them. This was not at that time considered appropriate behavior (we actually tried shaking everyone’s hands earlier in the season, but the coaches and officials felt that wasn’t in the competitive spirit, so by this time we were closely watched). Finally, the man got to us--tucked away in an inhospitable corner--and true to form, we waved but did not cheer. However, everyone else did! They gave us a rousing ovation and we loved them for it (I fear Waynflete Academy, standing next to us, got hugs). Of course, they should have cheered, we were the team they knew they would beat. They did. We lost in our usual spectacular fashion.

I mention this story because my son started “Tee-Ball”. It marks another step for him and his parents in the world of organized sport. Also, I am thinking of this moment because of an article in the UU World Magazine which I found both inspiring and a bit frustrating. It was inspiring because of the title (Exercise as Spiritual Play) and the content. It was frustrating because the author, Lisa Watts, runs marathons.

Now, it is not Lisa’s fault that she is gifted and driven. These are good things. No, the frustrating part is that these are gifts that I do not possess. It makes it rather hard for me to identify with some of things she is saying. In fact, for those of us among the “last picked” it may be difficult even to think of exercise as “play” at all. So, as an old hand at being a team burden, I present you with some additional comments to what is an excellent article…

1) Make play a habit
I walk my son to school every day. I will also, on a nice day, hop on my mountain bike, blow out my knees and crash into a tree or rock (does anyone know how to “true” a wheel? ...seriously). I swim on Sunday afternoons at the YMCA “Family Fun Swim”. Maybe you other non-marathoners can do some things like this.

2) Set some goals

Why don’t you throw caution to the wind and make your goal “having a good time on a nice day”? I suggest a picnic lunch and some sightseeing.

3) Do it with friends
This one is awkward since many of us would be more of a burden than a joy to our friends in feats of strength and agility. I refer you to numbers “1” and “2”. My friends, I know, would probably rather go for a hike with me than put up with my antics on a bike or (gasp and groan) on a playing field. However, I do know of a group of equally uncoordinated friends who started a league (really bad lacrosse, anyone?).

4) Appreciate your body

I always eat the salad at Rotary lunches and make one for dinner, too.

5) Don’t sweat the setbacks

Right on!

6) Remember to rest

Remember the picnic basket.

7) Worship your heroes

There actually are cases of people who have eaten and exercised their way back to fitness and health. They are worth knowing and emulating. This doesn’t mean you should have a poster of “Subway Jared” on your wall, but he does have something to say about nutrition.

8) Give up some control

Again, right on!

9) Remember gratitude
10) Enjoy the journey

So, I must sign off now! Just remember, we all need to stay fit and healthy, even if we are awkward and slow…

Sunday, April 17, 2005

"Art of Happiness I" (Sermon)

Here are my sermon notes from last week. My apologies for its lateness. It is first in a series entitled "The Art of Happiness". The title of this series came from an article about a lecture by one of my predecessors at Eliot, Waldemar Argow. It was written in 1965 and implies a certain relentless optimism that can be hard to find these days. It interested me...

Argow scholars (if there are any) will know that there are two of them (father and son) The Argow mentioned here is the younger. The title of this sermon came from 1 Peter. One other note: as the first in a series, I find that it has an "introductory" feel. Others might as well....

The Imperishable Seed
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
Eliot Church

The Rev Waldemar Argow
Among the most influential ministers
Ever to serve the Eliot church
Used to tell a story about a little girl
Who was wiser than she knew:

The girl had been playing with her father
Who was simultaneously trying to read the paper
Now, his daughter was quite distracting
So, in a fit of desperation the father
Tore a picture of a map of the world out of the paper
Cut it up in pieces
And set the girl to putting it back together again

Much to his surprise
The little girl quickly returned
With the map accurately repaired
No doubt sensing a previously unnoticed
Gift for geography, the father asked her
How she had put it together so quickly

At this point the girl turned the paper over
And showed that the other side
Had a picture of a man
I put the man together, she said and the world came out all right

To this Argow concluded
If we would learn to put ourselves together in the right way
Maybe the world would come out all right

In many respects this is the task of religion
To put ourselves together for the sake of the world
In the words of St. Peter
To be born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed
Through the living and enduring word of God

An imperishable seed
Not one that can rot or fail to grow
But a seed that lives and grows eternally
Through a connection to the Divine
To the energy that keeps us all

How to do this/How to make that connection
Remains the challenge to humanity
How do we plant the imperishable seed
In ourselves and how do we make it possible for others
To get themselves together?

The answer to this question lies in the
Development and practice of the Art of Happiness
Now, I am speaking of happiness
In its broadest sense
That is, in the same way that Thomas Jefferson
And the other writers of the Declaration of Independence
Meant it to mean
When they placed it along with Life and Liberty
As inalienable rights

So the Art of Happiness
Means more than being happy in the short term
But generally happy, content, and connected

However, even in this broad sensewe are talking about a feeling, a personal
As well as a corporate state
Today we heard from some the great works of Wisdom Literature
The Tao Te Ching, Ecclesiastes, and the Fragments of Heraclitus
Each deals with experienced faith
It doesn’t so much concern itself
With science or art or the theological niceties
Of the professional academic
But with the way in which lives are lived

Bible Scholar Milton Horne puts it this way
When writing about the Book of Proverbs
The meaning of life is not found in the macro-assumptions one holds but in the way one manages life’s micro-significances

In order to manage those Micro Significances
To perfect the Art of Happiness
(As with any art)
We need to have a basic understanding of its tools
And its limitations
Our brush and canvass
Are the tools of faith and reason
One for the recognition of order and beauty in creation
The other for the exploration of that beauty

Also, in the case of this art
We need to recognize two very important facts
The first is that Evil exists
And the second is that we all die

That is to say that our imperishable seed
Cannot stop bad things from happening
Nor does it make us immortal in this world

The fact that there is evil in this world
Is more controversial than one might think
After all, on the surface one person’s evil
Can be another’s good

If good was an easily identified absolute
(The argument goes)
Then there wouldn’t be as many wars
People wouldn’t starve
Poverty would be eliminated
And on the personal level, we wouldn’t argue quite as much
Over things we feel strongly about
We would achieve clarity and consensus with little effort

Still, not everything is relative
Evil exists, real evil
We all have the capacity to do harm
And not just accidental, but willful harm
To others

There are plenty of situations, I think
Where one person’s evil
Is another person’s evil, too

Do we need examples?
Look at the Ten Commandments
You shall not commit murder,
You shall not commit adultery
You shall not steal
You shall not bear false witness
Against your neighbor
I can think of few situations
Where the violation of these rules
Constitutes a good or a right act
Even if one person benefits
Or is forced into the action

In the seemingly contradictory statements
And circular concepts of the wisdom writers
There is an attempt to identify rules of right living
Part of the purpose of the wisdom literature
Is to help us to identify the good
And separate it from our own self-interest

The book of Proverbs says
Plot no evil against your friend
Your unsuspecting neighbor

And implies a communal responsibility
The writer is telling us not to do evil to others
Not only for our sake but for that of the community
The rules of life, when they are at their best
Are for the benefit of all people and things
Not for the few

In the pursuit of Happiness
We aren’t necessarily expected to look toward the experts
Ecclesiastes states:
The wise ones know in their hearts the right time and method for action

And Heraclitus warns us:
What are these people’s wits, who let themselves be led by speechmaking crowds, without considering how many fools and thieves they are among, and how few choose the good? The best choose progress toward one thing; a name forever honored by the gods, while others eat their way toward sleep like nameless oxen.

We can move toward enlightenment
Under our own power
Or unquestioningly accept
The rules and teaching of others
Become unthinking followers/Nameless oxen ourselves

Liberal Religion is sometimes described
As a faith not for sheepBut for goats,
Not for dogs but for cats
There is some truth in that
Nor would we want to have it any other way
As Thomas Jefferson once said:
Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there is one, God must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded faith.

But there is one thing that we cannot reason ourselves toward
That we cannot change or avoid
And that is the presence of death

We have talked about this before
In some detail and about Buddhist thinker
Thich Nat Hahn and his belief that birth and death are illusions
That we are like the little wave,
Worrying so much about crashing on the beach
That we forget that we are a part of the ocean

This sentiment can be found in Heraclitus, too
When he states The way up is the way back/The beginning is the end
And The baby born under the new moon under the old moon holds her grandchild in her arms
Birth and death are part of the natural cycle
And (to paraphrase a line from JRR Tolkien)
All we have to do is try to make sense
Of what we do with the time we are given

Still, this can be cold comfort
(The acceptance of mortality)
And because of this we, both as individuals
And as societies, try to fill in the blank spaces of the unknown
We try to explain both evil and death

Sometimes get so confused that we believe that death is evil
When we do this, fear can take control
And we can start to hide behind elaborate fortresses
Of strict belief
No longer willing to seek or accept the truth
Gilbert Murray (A classical scholar
And major supporter of the League of Nations)
When discussing the decline of Athens
Called this fear a “Failure of Nerve
He said that the decline of Athenian culture
Was caused by the rise of
Pessimism; a loss of self-confidence, of hope in this life and of faith in normal human effort; a despair of patient inquiry, a cry for infallible revelation… It is an atmosphere [he says] in which the aim of the good person is not so much to live justly…but, rather, by means of a burning faith, by contempt for the world and its standards…to be granted pardon for unspeakable unworthiness and immeasurable sins.
In other words, they took that man on the back of the map apart

Now, it would be wrong to say that the Bible
Didn’t send a message laced with fear of God
And of the Divine wrath
But the pursuit of wisdom
Requires that we not be overcome
By our anxieties and concerns
Otherwise we and the world may not come out all right

This year’s sermon series is about that
About picking up the pieces
About how not to suffer a failure of nerve
How to persevere in a faith that can be challenging
And that while providing shelter and security in a storm
Can like all faiths still leak a little bit and toss us about

I will be honest with you:
The religion of Waldemar Argow
And John Eliot and Walter Kring
And I would say of Jesus
And the disciple Peter, too
Has always been the road less traveled
But it is our road; it is our religion, our science and our art
It is worth doing well

Argow once wrote that
Religion is an affirmation of the essential goodness and nobility of life, and a way of living a life so conceived. It is a consecration of the highest of values…and a technique for realizing those values and living by them.

So this spring
We, too, shall practice and think
About the Art of Happiness
And the Imperishable Seed

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Biblical Humanism

I recieved quite a few requests for my sermon last week and promised that I would post it here. I will do so soon. Things have been a little nutty so I am having trouble finding the time to sit down and put in the final edits...

Meanwhile, I have linked an article about Biblical Humanism (click on the post title). I have been interested in this concept for some time, particularly because, in the Unitarian Universalist context, the word "Humanist" is rarely combined with "Biblical" these days. Of course, Humanism is, like Christianity, a broad term that means different things to different people and even to the same person in different contexts. Ain't language grand? Anyway, there it is for anyone who wishes to read it. I particularly like the flow chart with all the circles and arrows...

Also, I "googled" a brief description of Christian Humanism for comparison.

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Kashmir Bus

Here is a story that has been somewhat lost in all of the excitement about the Pope and the Papal succession. This is the tale of the first bus service in a long time between Indian and Pakistani Kashmir. The link above (when the title is underlined that means there is a link) is to a story in The Hindu. There are other places to find information on this as well. I encourage you to do so. This small step toward peace is worth our attention.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

Deserted Island Books

Before I get into the whole book list, I would like to say "thank you" to the congregation members who stepped in and helped out my son this morning. For those of you who were not there and know my 6-year-old, he threw up in church today during the first reading. My wife (his mom) wasn't there... Anyway, thanks a bunch! It is nice to know that we are a part of such a caring community.

Ok, here are the five “desert island” books. First, however, I am making some assumptions. I am envisioning a long stay and also that there is food, etc. I always suspected that, really, the geographical metaphor we are discussing isn’t a desert island so much as a deserted island (with food, water, etc.). Otherwise, obviously, I would take books with some nutritional value.

As I said before, I am assuming the Bible and the works of Shakespeare are already supplied on the island. The Bible, in particular, would be something of a necessity for me. My choices also reflect the belief that Perkins' Christian Simplicities has been committed to memory as per the first question in the last "meme" post.

Book # 1 Fragments, Heraclitus (Penguin Classics, 2003)

I discovered Heraclitus in Greek Philosophy class at the University of Maine. He was a writer of “Wisdom Poetry” at a time when the Buddha, Lao-Tzu and Confucius were all beginning to make their long mark on the world (6th century BCE). Obviously they didn’t have little meetings of smart people to discuss their ideas, but much of what Heraclitus has to say is similar to the work of these others. We do not have a lot to go on, so he remains shrouded in mystery.

What we do have, while sparse, leaves a great deal of room for meditation and interpretation. There is fragment #37, for example, “If everything were turned to smoke, the nose would be the seat of judgment.” Something to ponder while building a bamboo shelter.

Book # 2 The Persian Wars, Herodotus (Modern College Library Editions)

The Persian Wars is a book I read once as an undergraduate (Bates College this time). I would like to read it again. It is long and it is multi-layered. A good read if there aren’t any other distractions. Of course, you cannot have Herodotus (5th Century BCE) if you don’t have…

Book #3 The Peloponnesian War, Thucydides (Penguin Classics)

Here is another classic of history. I read it quite recently (and discussed it in a February post) but, still, I would be lost without it. Naturally, in order to get the best out of Thucydides (5th Century BCE) one needs…

Book #4 The Rise and Fall of Athens: Nine Greek Lives, Plutarch (Penguin Classics)

No island study of ancient Greek history would be complete without this baby written by Plutarch (1st Century CE). Composed of short biographies of folks like Solon, Theseus and Alcibiades, it is, remarkably, something of a page-turner...

Book #5 Selected Poetry, Robert Browning (Penguin Poetry Library…such variety!)

Poetry in general is something that continues to give well after the first reading. Browning would help where Greek history cannot. Also, it would take a desert island to truly do Browning justice as he requires (at least for me) a certain amount of effort and concentration.

Postscript: I am a little surprised by the results of this exercise. Most of these books come from two undergraduate courses, both of which I remember fondly. A big “thank you” should go out to the two professors who gave me a lifelong interest in ancient philosophy. They are Michael Howard, my adviser at the University of Maine and John Cole, Professor of History at Bates College. I graduated from UMaine in 1994. That is a long time to be interested in something and not get paid for it! They must have done their work well...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Goodbye John Paul

I have a Christmas ornament that my family purchased way back when Karol Jozeph Wojtyla became Pope. It is a bit frayed and not terribly attractive even when it was new! Every year, however, it goes on the tree. It is partly because it has always been there. However, that is not the entire reason.

I am a protestant. While I was baptized in a Catholic church and attended a Catholic school for one year, I have never really considered myself a part of the Catholic faith. However, as someone who has made things spiritual and religious a life-long career, I have a great deal of respect for John Paul II. Like any religious leader, he was charged with making sense of the world through faith and also making faith make sense in light of world developments. Nowhere is that harder than in the world’s largest Christian sect.

Whatever the Pope says or does ripples throughout the world and affects how people see not just the Roman Catholic Church, but churches and religion in general. I used to be surprised when I would be asked if Congregationalists (!) and Unitarian Universalists (!!) were "followers" of the Pope. I am not any more. He has been the most prominent face of Christianity for a quarter century. I could go into the reasons, of course, but I am thinking today not so much about John Paul, but about Karol.

I have disagreed with him in so many ways. I am not just a protestant but a liberal one at that! There are issues such as abortion, gay rights, and women in the priesthood (to name just a few) where my view drastically diverges from that of the Pope. However, I have cheered him on as he campaigned for peace in the Middle East and elsewhere. Also, I have admired the faith and perseverance of a clearly devout human being.

That humanity has been obscured, somewhat, over the past few days. The retrospectives and the waiting has contributed to a remarkable amount of hype and hyperbole. I hope that now we can focus on Karol Wojtyla's humanity. If we do we will see someone who tried hard to fight for what he believed in. We will also see someone who was neither perfect, nor infallible. Soon we will be looking toward the Vatican to see what new direction they will go in. Right now, however, it is time for all of us--liberal and conservative, friend and foe--to say goodbye not to an office but to a man.

Friday, April 01, 2005

An Interesting UU Christian Sermon

There was a sermon preached this week at the chapel service at UU Headquarters. I am still digesting it. I highly recommend that you all take a look (whether you are UU, UCC, Eliot Church member, or other). Feel free to comment, too. At Eliot we can often feel somewhat distant from the internal workings of our two associations. However, in this case, Ethan Field is talking (in part) about us! Our church is an active part of that UU Christian world. I wouls also love to hear from folks wha are not part of the Eliot community. What do you think?

Questions we should ask ourselves:
What do other UUs think about Christianity?
What do they think about UU Christian churches?
Do they think of us?
Is it interesting to hear that younger religious liberals are drawn to the liberal Christian experience, story, and theology?
Does this have any meaning for Eliot Church?
What do we think the UCC talks about?

Finally, I would like to note that Peacebang has also posted the sermon (and some comments) on her blog...