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!

Monday, October 31, 2005

Fear Itself

Well, this is my 100th post! How exciting is that?!

To celebrate this momentous event and, of course, the holiday (Halloween), I have posted yesterday's sermon. I should say that the sermon took a turn away from ghosts and goblins and more toward societal ills. Still, that can, at times, be a strength. I have been thinking this week about Rosa Parks, Aung San Suu Kyi, and the 2,000 soldiers who will not be coming home from Iraq, among others. There are many people to pray for it seems...

Anyway, my sermon written (as usual) in the form I deliver 'em...

Fear Itself
October 30, 2005
by: Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

This past week we marked the death
Of civil rights leader and legend Rosa Parks
Who once said
I have learned over the years that when one’s mind is made up, this diminishes fear; knowing what must be done does away with fear
When we look at our own lives
And at the state of our world
I think we all sometimes wish
That we were as brave as she was

Because there are times
When everything around us seems to be changing
And changing so fast that it is hard, really, to keep track
Of all the coming and goings
During these periods of chaos; decisions
--The right decisions--must be discerned and made
The status quo which so recently seemed so comfortable
Seems less strong and wise
And each of us is required to dig down deep
To find that well of courage
To face our fears

Rosa Parks lived during a time of change
And she made the right decision
Another person from a different era
Who had decisions to make
Was president Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Who said in our reading this morning
The only thing we have to fear is fear, itself
Now, I realize that a select few of you
May be able to remember that speech
But, if you are my age
(If you went to High School in the '80's)
FDR’s era has been conflated a bit
And The only thing we have to fear
Has become interchangeable
With The day that will live in infamy
Pearl Harbor
But Pearl Harbor was in 1941
And the First Inaugural Address was in 1933
So the fear of which the President spoke didn’t have to do with the war
But with a situation that may sound familiar to many of us today

In 1933 the nation was experiencing an economic depression
Exacerbated in part by a natural disaster
First a drought and then the dust storms
Made worse through human error and poor planning
And resulting in the impoverishment and relocation
Of an awe-inspiring number of people
In the area of Oklahoma and Texas

People were afraid and confused
The way things had always worked
Wasn’t working anymore
The best plan was no longer clear and
Seeing through to our nation’s future
Was as hard as looking through the clouds of dirt
Rolling over the Texas Panhandle
So folks started blaming each other
Immigrants, unions, freemasons and communists
The government, from Herbert Hoover on down
Was blamed as well
And certainly they seemed to be as confused
And frustrated as everyone else

In the midst of this came Roosevelt
The former Governor of New York
This nation will endure as it has endured [he said]
All we have to fear, is fear itself

All we have to fear is fear, itself
Why is the condition of fear
The one thing, the lynchpin in the wall that holds us back?
Now, certainly this idea seems a bit simplistic
We all can probably think of other things
To be afraid of
But the new president had a point

Much more recently
The Nobel Peace Prize Recipient
Aung San Suu Kyi put it best, I think
When she said that Fear is not the state of civilized people
She, too has had to make hard decisions
This past week brought the cumulative number of years
That she has been under house arrest to 10
For resisting the fear-based government of her country;Myanmar

To put her statement another way,
It is only through our ability to be civilized
To reason to problem solve in community
That we will be able to survive the hard times
And the emotion of fear is what breaks down those bonds
It is the very thing that causes people to blame each other
To “point fingers” as we say today
It is what precipitated many of the darkest moments in our history
From the Japanese internment camps
To segregation
To the torture of detainees in Iraq
In the words of the philosopher Bertrand Russell
Collective fear stimulates the herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd

That is what fear does to us
It makes us circle the wagons
To define not so much our friends
As our enemies
And fear hardens the line between us and them
What FDR was saying not so long ago
Is that we fail when we succumb to fear

So, how do we overcome fear?
We have been talking about collective fear
About the herd and the mob
But the answer to the problem
Is the same in our private lives as well
For many, the best answer can be found
In the first letter of John
There is no fear in Love, but perfect Love casts out all fear

The answer then, is to love
An easier thing to say than to do
(After all, FDR was known to fail spectacularly from time to time)
And This is for two reasons
The first, is that it is hard to forgive
And the second is that it is hard to act

For example, fogiveness
May at times be hard to find
In Aung San Suu Kyi’s heart
Rosa Parks may not have been feeling all that loving
Toward the police officers who came and took her off the bus
The victim of a crime or of a terrorist attack
Probably isn’t at first
Thinking about forgiveness and love either
So much as running away or fighting back
But love needs to be there
Not Valentine’s Day love
But the love born out of respect for life
Even if it seems a one way street

So, it is hard to forgive
But we have to, as Desmond Tutu once pointed out
Without forgiveness, there is no future
And given our ability to kill and starve each other
With great efficiency
Tutu’s statement is literally true

Still, what makes this love that casts out fear
Even harder to attain
Is that it calls us to act
It isn’t enough to feel sorry for those who are suffering
Or for people who are oppressed
And to try not to hurt others when we can
As I have said before, this love calls us to act
In fact, it is our love that makes us work to help others
That forces us to take stands on controversial issues

Think of all that Paul went through
In his work because he loved God and he loved humanity
Many a time [I have been] face to face with death. Five times I have been given thirty-nine strokes; three times I have been beaten with rods; once I was stoned, three times, I have been shipwrecked…
His list goes on and on
It is hard to stand up for what you believe in
It is hard to sit in the front of the bus
To try a new thing
To think creatively about problems
In such a way that you risk chastisement and isolation
Yet this is what this love requires of us
It is what the times require of us as well

But just because it is hard
Doesn’t mean that such a life
(A life of Justice and of action
A life not of fear but of love)
Doesn’t mean that such a life is without rewards
That is it merely a joyless but noble slog through our days

For all the people we have been speaking of today
Found a way to take their perfect love
And grow from it
They became more human for their struggle

In the words of Martin Luther King
Forgiveness is not an occasional act, it is an attitude
And it is the very attitude
That King speaks of
That helps us to overcome our fear
In order to make that right decision
Even if the price of that decision is high
(As it was for him)
For fear relies on ignorance
And forgiveness requires
That we seek to understand what scares us

In fact, this cycle of forgiveness and action
Based in that Divine love
Makes it easier to do so again
It makes us strong

Think of Paul
Paul didn’t write down that laundry list of suffering
Just because he was looking for sympathy
No, he was making a point
For many people back then believed
Just as many people today believe
That the best way to fight what we fear
Is not with understanding but with force
That a show of strength requires us to be physically combative
Or intellectually inflexible
To admit no mistake in judgement
No error in action

In fact, there are those who believe
That to love your neighbor as your self
To turn the other cheek
To forgive
Are clear signs and tools of the weak
To them Paul writes
I am well content with weakness, contempt, persecution, hardship, and frustration; for when I am weak, I am strong

Paul’s story tells us that
Love strengthens us
Because we are loved in return
Forgiveness of others strengthens us
For we are then able to forgive ourselves
Our ability to see the good in others
Makes it hard to hate and
Shows our anxieties to be our own creation
When this happens
We, too can survive the storms and shipwrecks
That come with a life of faith and conviction
And achieve what enlightenment
There may be to be had in this world

This is the hope
It is the hope not just of Paul and Jesus
Rosa Parks and Mohandas Gandhi
But of billions of average people
It is the hope that Will and Ariel Durant are wrong
When they tell us that The first lesson of history is that life is competition That animals eat each other without qualm and civilized people consume one another by due process of the law.
Not that this hasn’t been true
But that it doesn’t need to be

Maybe instead we can dream with Isaiah
When he says
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,and the leopard shall lie down with the kid:and the calf and the young lion... together;and a little child shall lead them."

Maybe then, too
We can build a better society
One where all the people have a place at the table
And where really all we have to fear
Is fear, itself

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Guest Sermon

Well, it isn't exactly a guest sermon...

This was preached by Tod Dimmick, our Church Moderator this past Sunday as we dedicated our steeple. After much work and money, the Eliot Church completed a rather massive repair/renovation to the front of the church. Naturally, we had a party. In addition to Sunday's service we gave tours of the steeple and bell tower and in the afternoon celebrated our new piano with a recital in honor and memory of Joan Brack, a former pillar of our congregation and of the MetroWest Community. Our own Dr. Stephen James was the featured performer.

Incidentally, the term "Many Backgrounds...One Community" that Tod mentions, is the name of our current Eliot Church "marketing" campaign.

Service 10/23/05
A Spire
Tod Dimmick

In a way, today’s topic is easy. It is, after all, the first thing you see as you enter South Natick. It towers over us as we sit here. It has loomed (some might say “leaned”) over our thoughts, not to mention our budget, for several years. It is a source of expense, and of income, of pride and of concern. It’s a complicated thing, this simple spire.

A cynic might argue that a steeple is an impractical thing. If our church were a suit of clothes, such a person might say, the sanctuary might be this jacket, and the steeple… this necktie. No practical purpose indeed.

But carry this analogy a bit further, and the contrast is stark. For many of us of the male persuasion in this room have a tie, and few of them are the same. Each reflects our personality, each shows that we are different, and each one, when we tire of it, goes to decorate a Halloween scarecrow, or into the trash. It’s a casual thing, a frivolous thing, and if it serves any purpose at all, it makes a lighthearted personal statement.

Not so for our perhaps impractical, but slightly larger steeple.

What is in a symbol? One could structure an entire university course around the role of symbolism in our lives, so here let’s limit ourselves to a few snapshots of our spire from different, but related perspectives.

Time takes on new meaning under this spire
Our steeple offers us at least one trait in common with great monuments of the world. It inspires us to think beyond narrow self-interest, indeed outside of this place in time. You have heard our leaders on the Steeple Committee, Bob, Fred, Michael, and Dave, talk about “The 100 year solution”. What, exactly does that mean?

Let us engage some friendly magic, and transform this sanctuary into a time machine to travel a century into the future. The year is 2105. It is a cool, rainy Sunday morning in October, and the congregation gathers. Families are here, widows, retirees, a young couple planning to be married. A baby cries, and is gently lofted in to the Buckingham Room. (Times change, but some things stay the same.) The people are different. The paint may be different, even the sanctuary may look different. But the steeple is there.

And wonder of wonders, the great granddaughter of one of us in this room is on Building & Grounds! Carrying on Bill Brodnitzki’s legacy as manager of the church building, she is responsible for maintenance of this space. After the service (the title of the sermon, by the way is “From Eliot to Eliot, Sermons of the first 350 years of the Eliot Church”) She climbs with a friend up into the steeple. They carefully look over everything, and say to each other “wow, those old timers, back in 2005, they did it right. They really cared about us”. And note, please, that she did not say that they cared about this church. She felt that we, in 2005, cared about them.

Through our efforts today, we send a message across time that, with a bit of luck, our great, great grandchildren will hear. The message is that we, the people of this generation, have faith in our community, and faith in the people who will stand in this place when we are no longer here.

So we return to good old 2005. But our journey is not quite complete, for time is a continuum, and what we have today is built not just for our great grandchildren, but built on a foundation laid by our predecessors. And so we must look back in time as well. Imagine a few of the citizens of this place. A man named Leonard Perry was elected clerk where you sit in February, 1828, 177 years before our current clerk, Victoria Pache. Horatio Alger stood where I am in 1870, the year the clockworks in the Ladies parlor was originally placed in the steeple. Or perhaps one of the women who, for the first time, were allowed to become members in 1883 after congregational vote. Perhaps they might smile to know that we are taking good care of their church.

We cannot reach for immortality, for that will never be in our grasp. But a legacy, and a tradition of stewardship that will stand through time, that we can strive for. We can do that. We have been given a great opportunity and a great challenge. As Tolkien wrote, “all that we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us”.

The Steeple reflects, and inspires, Courage and Faith
Two years ago our congregation decided to invest simultaneously in a full time minister, and this steeple project. Each separately a big step, together an unquestionable risk for our small church community.

Once the decision was made to engage in the steeple project, we could have done it halfway, cut rate. Did we do that? No! Our Steeple Committee, with our support, decided instead on a 100-year solution, to reach for the sky. Ask anyone involved and you know that there was never really any question of doing it right. You see, we have to look at ourselves in the mirror, and answer to the future occupants for our actions.

What gave us the strength to do this? It is perhaps a bit glib to claim the ethic of “doing it right”, but that instinctive answer goes in the direction of something deeper. Doing it right implies belief in what is right, and that it matters. That begins to sound suspiciously like Faith. Faith in ourselves, and faith in the future. Faith is what gives us the determination to take risks.

And so if we stand for anything as a church community it is faith, and hope, and belief that we ask questions, and look at the world, in a way that has value and meaning and grace. What better way to show this than through our physical works as well as our spirits, to reach towards heaven?

One Steeple represents unity, or as the message of our new ad in the papers puts it, “Many Backgrounds… One Church Community”
Our steeple is a symbol, one that makes me think of other such symbols, such as the New England favorite, the lighthouse. The image of a lighthouse, a proud tower fixed to solid rock amidst the stormy seas, connotes strength and safety. A steeple stands for a different kind of security, but there are common elements. Behind our rushing to work, to school, on errands, to our services here, above our celebrations, and as silent witness to our grief, it is here. To paraphrase Adam’s recent words, it just is, and we are comforted.

It’s a funny word, community. This is a big country, and an even bigger world. In the old days, people who lived near this church didn’t travel very far from it. The word community in that time possessed simultaneously a physical and spiritual meaning we know only in a distant sense. Conventional wisdom is that that notion of community is, if not extinct, at least an endangered species. That in our hectic multi career, move coast to coast, drive-through lives we don’t even have time for community around the family dinner table, much less a cluster of homes around a meetinghouse church. I agree with a lot of that perspective. It is all to easy for me to mistake being busy with being fulfilled, and it is a rare occasion, often here in this space, when I allow things to slow down enough in my life to soak in what, and who, is around me.

But in another sense the notion of community is changing. The sense I speak of here is troublesome. Whether we hear the news of Iraq, or Israel, or Washington, people too often define themselves by what separates them. Limitless communication fosters chat rooms, online games, and so-called communities oriented around all kinds of obsessions, some healthy, some less so, but increasingly strident. These fractious groups give a member a feeling of belonging, even if he or she never knows other members. A religion of the necktie, gone horribly wrong. I’m different from you, therefore I won’t associate with you. Or worse.

Our steeple stands in contrast, as a symbol of a community we all might aspire to: inclusive, rather than excluding. That a person here comes from a different religious background is not suspicious, it is an opportunity. (We no longer, of course, seek to convert people with different beliefs, as was once the mission of this church.) That one of my friends is passionate about helping the poor of our town, while another finds inspiration in teaching our children, while another in caring for members in need, and yet another finds fulfillment in study of Asian religions, all together make our community a joyous, meaningful learning experiment in life. To me, our steeple transmits that message. It stands at a bustling intersection of diverse lives. We come different, but we celebrate that which is the same. And we have much to celebrate. We believe in the value each of us brings into this place. We believe that there is good in this world, and that the role we play is a part of that good. And we recognize that in coming together we share dreams and hopes. This steeple reaches towards the sky for all of us, to show that that which we have in common brings us together and makes us stronger.

“Many Backgrounds… One Church Community”. That message took many revisions, but when we arrived at that line, suddenly we all nodded our heads. Out of the many, one. One spire. One church, Bringing diverse life views together as one. Isn’t that what we are all about? It’s just a symbol, of course. But symbols take strength from real meaning behind them. And the meaning… that’s our job.

And so our steeple challenges us

If a lighthouse is a beacon for ships tossed on the waves, a steeple such as ours shines over our community, a lighthouse of the soul, shining a message of friendship and hope. Our steeple is our lighthouse. Thousands of people pass by every day who never even cross our threshold, but I like to think that we nevertheless share some of that message. This is a role much needed in the stormy seas of today’s world.

Our steeple is a prominent symbol, and, it must be said, how well we care for it speaks volumes about who we are. To go through the time, and expense, and sacrifice for something like this begs the obvious question: what does it stand for. And by proxy, what do WE stand for? That’s an uncomfortable question. That is the sort of probing that delves not only into the role of this church, but also the meaning in our own lives. That’s a heavy load; well deserving of a new steel I beam, if such a thing exists for one’s beliefs.

We have one Spire. Not two. Not one for each of us. One. Our church is about a group of people together, with one mission.

With this effort, we have set the bar high - a standard against which we now might measure ourselves in other endeavors. As we care for our members and friends in this sanctuary, do we similarly set an example? As a church community, do we stand as a symbol? In our own busy, creative, whirlwind lives, do we inspire? Will that person, in 2105, say to her friend “and that Annual Report from 2006 shows that once this project was completed, the entire church was energized. They went on from there to grow as a community that journeyed through life with a sense of wonder, and thanks, and energy. Boy, it must have been great to live in a time like that. Those must have been great people to know.”

And could I speak to those heirs of ours a century hence, I would agree with them. These people are, indeed, great people to know. The sky is the limit.

I submit to you this is one message we can be proud to send into the future.

Years from now this place will be here, and our new steeple will preside. And if we are true to all that this spire represents, a bit of us will be here too. With this we show that we have something to say, that we, calling across the years, have dreams and love to share.

I took my hands off the railing. I dared to look far out to sea where a vast fog bank was billowing up the coast. I turned again and watched the lights coming on in the hillside town of Stockton Springs on the other side of the Penobscot River.

Then I chanced to look straight up. As I had at the open window of my boyhood bedroom, I reached my hand to the emerging stars and waited for God’s touch.
Maybe the reaching was that touch.

-Bill Henderson

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Now For Something Completely Different

I anot sure if this is theologically significant but I have been watching Power Rangers with my sons. Actually, I am slightly older than "The Greatest of All Rangers," Dr Tommy Oliver (Played by this guy), but I remember my brothers' enthusiasm for the medium. For those not in the know, it is relentlessly campy and sometimes just plain bad. No special effects budget here! So, for all those past and future pre-teens out there, here is a wicked keen web page for all your Power Ranger needs. The boys particularly enjoy DinoThunder and Space Patrol Delta (SPD).

Friday, October 14, 2005

A Couple of Things

1) Here is an article written by the Rev. Krista Taves that illustrates aome of the assumptions I am talking about. The starting point here is that we are a separate religion rather than a broader gathering place for people of various faiths and traditions. This assumption that we are in some way a cohesive tradition is putting the cart before the horse, I believe. I agree with her that not all faiths are equally true, that we need to emphasize the responsibility in our search, etc. What I disagree with is the context.

Also, to paraphrase something that Matthew said below, I do not see this as a "Christian vs. Non-Christian" debate. I see it more as a discussion between "seekers" and "finders." My congregation, Christian as it is, is also the spiritual home to many Atheists, Buddhists, and Jews. They come for the lively discussion and debate as well as the respect we show them. They, too, would be surprised by this new UU Religion that claims to speak for them.

2) Ok, I'm done with that for now. In all of the excitement of the past few days I neglected to mention that last Sunday we hosted the Natick Praying Indians and their Clan Mother Caring Hands Silva. They are the descendents of the members of the first church located where our's now stands. It was founded by John Eliot as a Christian mission to the Native Americans in this area. That, my friends, is the short version of why we are called the Eliot Church. We had (as we always do when they are here) a great time. Thanks also goes out to Don Peters, a member of First Parish in Sherborn for his excellent sermon. Incidentally, the Natick Bulletin and Tab had a nice article about the day...

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

My Uncommon Denomination

Being the minister of the Eliot Church is, for the most part, like being the minister of any congregation. However, Eliot’s status as a community church affiliated with both the UUA and the UCC does, at times, give me something of a “bird’s eye” view of the happenings in these two affiliated institutions. As I have mentioned before, we do not, as a congregation, spend a whole lot of time thinking about our two “denominations.” Mostly we are concerned with the community of the church and the community in which the church rests.

Sometimes I miss the close connection that my previous churches had with district and association events in the UUA. However, upon closer inspection, I usually conclude that the distance may be necessary. Distance has been hard to maintain lately. Both the UUA and the UCC are engaged in marketing campaigns. The UCC “God is Still Speaking” campaign is going great guns while the UU “Uncommon Denomination” campaign is moving a bit more slowly. In both a great deal of time and energy has been put into promoting them. There are brochures, mugs, T-shirts, stoles, banners, and a million other things. The most ubiquitious example of this is the “UCC Comma.”

I am impressed by the work that went into these programs. However, I have also seen a darker side to this enthusiasm. As I am a Unitarian Universalist minister, I have probably seen it more on the UU end than the other so my comments rest primarily in that direction.

The "Uncommon Denomination", other marketing materials and, yes, even the new focus on the “language of reverence” all seem to me to be a product, not just of a desire to “brand” the institution, but to explain a new direction. In fact, often in feels like there is an urge on the part of many in the UUA to found a new religion from our previously loose confederation. I am concerned.

I am concerned not so much, as some seem to think, because I am feeling nostalgic for the good old days or because I somehow fear a brave new world where the “truth” is told by our visionary UU faith. I am pastor to a young and energetic congregation that is not afraid of either change or a growth in perspective. The reason I am concerned is that I do not see much vision or grounding in this conversation outside Eliot and other local churches. I do not see much growth in perspective coming from the UU Leadership.

Let me tell you a brief parable that may help to illustrate what I am saying: I know a teacher who once made an assignment for her class where she told everyone to use their imagination to paint a picture of spring. It could be anything that came to us. To show folks what she was looking for, she provided a picture that she had made of a big yellow duck on a pond.

Everyone got to work painting. There were baseball players, baby animals, assorted flocks of birds, one person even decided to paint a night scene! Everyone was having a good time and things seemed to be going well until the teacher started to get upset. Why you may ask? It appears she meant that we could paint anything we wanted as long as it was a yellow duck on a pond.

That is how the UUA culture feels to me right now. Our tradition is one that encourages exploration and creativity in matters of faith and spirit. Yet the messages I am receiving seem to point in one uniform direction. When this happens I feel like I am back in that classroom. What if I want to paint a lacrosse player eating a hot dog instead of That Duck? What if I want to have pasta instead of lukewarm oatmeal? What if I want to be a Christian in the UUA instead of a “Unitarian Universalist,” whatever that means once it is fully divorced from its historical roots? What if I wanted to be a Secular Humanist or a Neo-Pagan for that matter? When I have asked these questions (and I have repeatedly) to people who claim to lead the UUA, they do not have an answer but to point back to "the plan". Some, in fact, get annoyed that I even brought it up.

I ask these questions now and I will do so again because I have to. I am the minister of a church that sees itself as part of a liberal Christian movement--one that is ecumenical (interfaith, in fact)—and one that is dedicated to spiritual growth within its own tradition. This is a tradition that belongs to neither the UUA nor UCC so much as it belongs to the Eliot Church and other individual congregations. This idea of many diverse communities coming together is something that attracted me to the UUA in the first place. While people still talk that game. In reality, it seems to have taken a back seat to centralized programming.

So, will there be a place for us? I certainly hope so.

Friday, October 07, 2005

World Online

I have been terribly remiss as of late in not pointing out the excellent work that my friend Chris Walton has been doing at the UU World! There is now a permanent link down by the UUA, UCC, and the United Church News.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Grosse Pointe Sermon

I have been asked to post my evolution sermon but, sadly, it is ridiculously long and will have to wait until we update the church page...

Here is the Sermon I preached in Grosse Pointe. Like I said before, it was good to be back. I am glad to have had the opportunity to see everyone again and spend some time with Rev. John.

I have two notes:
1) When I gave it, I departed quite a bit from my text at the beginning. GPUCers reading this will note the difference.

2)The hymn mentioned is "We will Keeep a Place for You." It is a children's recessional, written by John Corrado.

Coming Home
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church
Sept 25, 2005

Yesterday I took my son Conor over to the house
Where we spent the greater part of our year here in Grosse Pointe
(For those of you who don’t know
It is the formerly grey house right next to the driveway)
It was an interesting feeling
As, no doubt it is for many of you
When you go back to where you once belonged

We all, at various times,
Experience that feeling of returning home
During the holidays, maybe
Or, like me, on a business trip

Sometimes, if our home
Has been elsewhere long enough
And if there has been enough change
It becomes hard to place yourself, to see how and where you fit
Time and distance make different people out of us, after all
But for me, everything seems to be fine in Grosse Pointe
The Original House of Pancakes is still tasty
And the church still welcoming
As the hymn sung both here and in my church in Natick says
We will keep a place for you
Wherever you may go

Everybody should have a home
Everybody should have a place
Where they feel they belong
Where the faces are familiar and the people
Both challenging and welcoming
Everyone should have a home
And everyone should have a faith community
That they can call home, too

Have any of you heard people describe their church as a “home”?

What do we mean by that?
What makes us feel comfortable in this place
Or in any house of worship?
What makes us pick one community over another?
Well, for one thing,
We often are brought to the church that first time
By someone we know
And therefore have already begun
To create those connections
That turn strangers into friends

But there is more to it than that
Finding a church home
Can be as hard as shopping for a house or an apartment
And it shares with the house-hunt
A variety of the same concerns
What will it cost?
How does it look?
Will it meet my needs?

But, as with a house, when the church becomes a home
It is because of the people who live there
Who share and connect
Tell the stories and make the memories

Now, I am going to make a wild guess and say that your home
And your family are not exactly
Like your neighbor’s home and family
And so it is even with members of your extended family
Who live elsewhere
It is the same way with our congregations

Were we today at the Eliot Church, my usual stomping ground these days
You would see a cross behind the pulpit
And experience communion the first Sunday of every month
But we, too are Unitarian Universalists

And were you to attend the Episcopal Church next weekend
It would be different from both us
And the Conservative Synagogue
Is different from all three
And yet, though we choose to articulate it differently
And believe different things
We are all people of faith
And have more in common than not

Now, one thing that makes these church homes similar
Is that we all practice some form of hospitality

One of the things that we like to do at Eliot
Is read the Bible (in addition to many other things)
And one passage that speak to what we are discussing today
Can be found in the letter to the Romans
Contribute to the needs of the saints; [and] extend hospitality to strangers

Now the first part
Contributing to the needs of the saints
We understand (At least when we consider
that the saints that are being spoken of
Are really just normal folks like you and me)
And, for the most part do contribute
Not only in big cataclysmic events
Like hurricane Katrina
But in smaller ways
Like the local food pantry
The work of the Outreach Committee
And to the Church itself, for example

People are inherently good, after all
And when there is an obvious need
We try to fill it
But the idea of extending hospitality
Is a trickier one to grasp
(Though we do it all the time)
It is harder to understand

What makes us hospitable, rather than helpful?
When I think of extending hospitality these days
I think of the people who invited evacuees from the south
Into their homes
The colleges and universities that opened their doors

But also, the work that this church does at the Guyton School
This, too is an act of hospitality

Hospitality is a spirit of welcome
That we all carry with us
And that, when we feel like it
We lift up and use
Opening our arms and our hearts
Making the other
A part of us
Bringing people home
Sometimes literally
And sometimes metaphorically

Sure, in a crisis we want to help
And we practice the spirit of hospitality
When we volunteer
But those are the institutionalized versions of this spirit
With a set goal and a specific length of time
The true practice of hospitality
Of openness is a spiritual discipline
That is blessed with a wealth of possibilities
In our daily lives

When I speak to my church and to others
About the idea of hospitality
I ask them to consider all that goes on
To make church happen on Sunday morning
A not so small group of people
Each and every week work hard to put this party on

From the flowers in the sanctuary
To the Religious Education program
The clean building, the beautiful music
And the order of service
All require somebody (or some bodies) to do it
More often than not, these people are volunteers

Now, what has motivated these people
(many of them sitting here with us today
who would tell you modestly,
that I am making much of a small thing)
What motivates them to make this place
A welcoming place for the rest of us?

Is it habit? A sense of duty, maybe?
Sure, probably for some
But the driving force, at least in many of our church homes
And other institutions
Is love
Love not just for the church, but for the people in it
The congregation past, present and future
Again, we read from Romans
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law

This is the same love, so basic to human existence
That we have seen in the tragedies that have been on our minds lately
But, while it sometimes asks us to sacrifice ourselves
Or, more often, our things and our time
To the greater good
This love gives back, otherwise we would be
Mere shadows of ourselves
No, in fact, like the famous Ebenezer Scrooge
When we learn divine hospitality
When we cultivate a welcoming spirit
We are given fullness and life

Denise Cooney, a New Jersey paramedic
Who was among those who went to help
At the World Trade Center four years ago
Said recently I don’t want you to remember
What we lost, I want you to remember what we gained. Compassion and insight.

This compassion and insight Cooney speaks of
I believe, is in all of us
And maybe on that day we didn’t so much gain a new thing
But have an old, pre-existing thing revealed
The prophets of all the great religions
Have been calling for us to see this love
This tie that binds
For many, many years

And houses of worship
Stand as an example of this love
In a world that sometimes seems to be growing
Increasingly cold and insensititive
Our church homes call us to reach out
For example, I was reading the most recent copy
Of the Grosse Pointe Unitarian

And was pleased to see that people were coming together
To help support Christ the King Lutheran Church
Which is having severe financial problems
Another example can be seen in Wellesley Hills, MA
Where the congregation has decided
To pay this year’s mortgage
For one of the UU churches in New Orleans

True hospitality means
That we travel through some rough spots
Always acknowledging the pain
Sometimes sharing the pain of others
And working through it
The Reverend Gordon “Bucky” McKeeman
Once said If we choose to care, if we choose to love, we choose not only the ecstasy of meaning but we choose with it the devastation of loss, which is another way of saying that the burden that weighs us down is also the means of keeping us afloat

There is choice that implied choice
In the comments of McKeeman and others
Between engaging the world
And disengaging
However, it is something of a no-brainer
We only get, as far as we know,
One go around on this earth and most of us
Would like to experience it in the most profound way possible
Mckeeman says
If we don’t care, we are nothing
I don’t know about you, but I like being something
In your home, you are something
You are somebody

And not just because you care, but because others care about you
The Islamic mystic Rumi
Said in our reading today
You may seem the microcosm/but, in fact, you are the macrocosm
The branch may seem like the fruits origin
But, in fact, the branch exists because of the fruit
We are the macrocosm, we are connected, he tells us

This is why we can see the transcendent
Both alone on a mountain top
And on a sidewalk in Times Square

Just like the fingers on our hands are a part of our bodies
So are we part of nature, the world
And the Universe

Let us live honorably, the writer of Romans tells us
Let us live honorably

A sentiment that can also be seen in Buddhism
The Buddha realized 4 methods of speech that bring peace to our lives and the lives of those who surround us.
1. Words of Honesty: 2. Words of Kindness:
3. Words that are Nurturing: Words that comfort rather than harm the heart,
[And] Words that are Worthy: Speaking only what is worthy and valuable for the moment

These rules may not be so much to make God happy
As they are to make us happy
To make each other happy
To help us welcome differences
To open our hearts
Our minds and our doors
To new experiences and new ways of being
Becoming open to the flower
Blooming in the hedge
That Basho wrote abut so long ago

And as this welcoming spirit grows
We can in the words of another poem by Rumi
Make peace with the Universe
Take joy in it
Resurrection will be now
Every moment a new beauty
And never any boredom

Monday, October 03, 2005

Oh My!

I just realized how long it has been since I posted on Unity! Things have been more than a bit hectic lately. Among other things, our Church/RE Administrator resigned and we are still looking for a new one. Anyone looking for work?

Last Sunday (not yesterday, but the week before) I went a preached at the Grosse Pointe Unitarian Church, where I interned some six years ago with the Rev. John Corrado. It was fun to be back. I also did a wedding for some old friends and visited Belle Isle and Pewabic Pottery. I also ate at the following restaurants: Fishbone's, Hong Hua, The Original Pancake House, and Hazel and Roberto's Coney Island. I recommend them all to anyone who has the opportunity to spend some time in Metro Detroit. In fact, I recommend that everyone find the time to spend there. Detroit is a fascinating place.

Finally, here is the history of American Coney Island, located in downtown Detroit. Check out the "Coney Island Kits" being billed as a fundraiser for schools and churches! American isn't the original (you can find that here) but is one of the most famous. I meant to visit it on ehtis trip but ran out of time! When I retire, I am going to open a Coney Island in some benighted place (like pretty much anywhere in New England). In a world that enforces uniformity, it is inspiring to know that there are still some regional delicacies.