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 30, 2006

The Passing of Red and Other Things Green

Red Aurbach died yesterday. The Celtics icon has been declining for some years and it has been a while since he graced us with his presence on any regular basis (he has usually lived in DC, not Boston). Still, it is sad. His death is one of the final chapters in the end of an era. The real Garden is gone. Now Red, too.

On a somewhat related note, this year marks the first time in history that the Celtics will have cheerleaders. They call them "dancers", however, which is quite a bit more accurate. Cheerleaders usually do stuff like back-flips and pyramids. They even lead cheers which may be a bit quaint for today's modern sport. I realize that the previous absence of cheerleaders had as much to do with the organization's respect for their female fans as their recent presence has to do with improving the quality of Celtic's play. That is to say, absolutely nothing. The more likely reason is the old-fashioned color scheme of the Celtics uniforms. If we--that is, Celtics Province (formerly Celtics Nation)--didn't need them when we were winning, why--in 2006--do we need them now? One of life's great mysteries, I guess....

Here is an earlier post about when I got to meet Red. It is the sort of thing that New Englanders of a certain age do not forget.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Thomas and Sinkford

Thanks to a rather unpleasant cold/flu contracted by my wife, I was able to attend the discussion between Bill Sinkford (President, UUA) and John Thomas (General Minister, UCC) held at Andover Newton last night. I am glad I got to go. It was very interesting, indeed. I was particularly pleased by how intelligent and thoughtful they were. I wasn't surprised, of course, but it is nice to know that our collective movements are so well represented.

Did I agree with them entirely? Of course not! First of all, they didn't always agree with each other. They are separate associations for a reason. Second, we wouldn't be good congregationalists if there wasn't some sense of well-meaning discussion and debate. Still, in the midst of the friendly banter and good natured ribbing, serious topics were discussed and some common ground was found.

I asked them a question about United and Federated churches, soliciting their thoughts about how we can play a role in the dialogue between the two institutions. I thought the answers gave some food for thought and will think on them further. Rev. Thomas brought up one of the potential pitfalls of churches like ours which is that in an effort to get along, the church can--instead of being a place of discussion and growth--become a rather whitebread institution. after the presentation I had the chance to chat very briefly with him and he elaborated a bit. He used the term "non-descript" to describe churches like this and I share his concern. United churches
have the opportunity to be the most exciting, broad and dynamic. It is sad when we go the other way and become more comfortable than helpful.

During the conversation I realized that this is a risk that we at Eliot need to be aware of. In some ways we are doing well. We have multiple orders of service for Holy Communion, for example, that reflect the various traditions that we call home. One is adapted from the UCC Book of Worship. One is from a UU hymn book used by our past minister, Walter Kring. Another comes from the Iona Community and serves to honor our ecumenical status. This one was popular with my predecessor, Michael Boardman. Finally, there is one that I put together that is used on special occasions (Maundy Thursday, World Communion Sunday, etc). The first three are rotated through the months. In addition, I try to balance lectionary-based sermons with more thematic styles. Of course in all cases the Bible plays a central role.

In other ways we could do better in honoring our specific traditions and the Congregational Way as a whole. Sometimes we use our designation as a "community church" as an excuse for ignoring our historical roots. This, of course, doesn't make sense necessarily as there are plenty of Churches in both the UUA and UCC who use the same designation. It is a descriptor, after all, not a third and distinct tradition.

Interestingly, when I first came to Eliot I tried to avoid (and was asked to avoid) using specifically "UU" and "UCC" readings and themes. Now I am being asked to do just the opposite. I think this reflects a greater comfort with my ministry (as I have mentioned here before, I have Dual-Standing) and an increased interest--particularly among newer members--in exactly who and what we are as a congregation.

The fact is, while there are many distinct differences in both theology and culture between the two organizations, we have great deal in common. In particular, we approach the world and our faith in similar ways. It will be interesting to see how our conversation develops at Eliot Church. Certainly the leaders of our movement provided an excellent example.

Last Thoughts:

Here are some random links to Community churches affiliated with either the UUA or the UCC (there are plenty of others)...

Community Church of New York, Community Church of Boston (both UU)

Fairfax (CA) Community Church, Arlington Community Church (also in CA) (both UCC)

Peperell (MA) Community Church (both UUA and UCC)

...and a couple other churches named "Eliot"

Newton, MA, Roxbury, MA

Finally, there was apparently some concern in certain quarters that this meeting was a prelude to merger. I just have to say that the fear is unfounded...

Monday, October 23, 2006

Revival is coming up and will be in New York City. This should be interesting. Unlike the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA, the membership of the UUCF is held by individuals rather than congregations. This makes for a different focus and slightly different interests. For example, the CXCUUA doesn't necessarily need a workshop on being Christian in a non-Christian congregation. However, for most of the members of the UUCF, this is a compelling topic. Likewise, there isn't a "Christian small-group" at Eliot church as all of our groups are, in fact, in some way Christian.

The diversity of the UUCF is its strength. I went to Revival a couple of years ago when it was in Worcester, MA. There were trinitarians and non-trinitarians (yes, there have always been individual trinitarians in our churches) . There are Christians and those who are more interested in the Christian roots of the UUA. I recommend the experience to anyone who can find the time to attend.

As a somewhat-more-than-casual observer I would have to say that Christianity in the UUA is experiencing something of a renaissance. Fewer folks seem to think of Christian Churches in the UUA as quaint living history installations, for example, and people seem genuinely interested in programs like Convocation and Revival. Its a good thing, too. The world needs Liberal Christianity and its message. The UCC, too seems to be growing and experiencing a growth in energy and committment. This is also a good thing, and for the same reasons.

You will note that here at Unity I have posted a link to the Shake Shack Webcam. This is as a service to any Meadville/Lombard Alums who find themselves in Madison Square Park. Why? Its all about the Chicago Dogs. At the risk of offending the New Yorkers in my family, New York is great, but Chicago is greater and being surrounded by all that steel and concrete might make certain fightin' Lombards miss the preserved-meat experience. I'll see if I can scare up an address for Chicago Pizza...

Sermon: Who's the Boss?

So here are the notes to another sermon. Alas! I put a lot of these up, I know. A few folks asked for copies and it seemed easier to just post it here and direct folks to it. Some of the readings came out of a new book from the UUA who's name is escaping me. It is very nice, however...

The others came from the Bible and from a collection of sermons and writings by Henry Ward Beecher.

Who’s the Boss?
Eliot Church
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

No doubt when some of you read
The title for today’s sermon:
Who’s the Boss?
Your mind naturally went to a certain television sit-com
Popular in the 1980’s
And starring the incomparable Tony Danza

In a way, this is fitting
That program was a product of its time
And dealt with changes in gender roles
And class relations
That continue to develop in
Somewhat different ways today
But in the midst of all the madcap mayhem
The dated situations, clothes and hair
Was the serious—even timeless—question
Embedded in its title

For regardless of who we are
What we do for work
What our family and private live may be like (after all)
We ultimately are accountable to
Responsible for
Must serve someone or something

Who is the Boss?
Perhaps more importantly,
Who is our boss?
What rules govern our lives?
It is the sort of question
That can drive someone to church
It is a question that gets at our identity
And at our sense of place and belonging
Our understanding of where we fit in

In fact, this question can move us
In many different directions
Depending on temperament and interests

In our more reflective moments
The search for the answer to this question
Drives our actions
And our thoughts
Because of this
(while we usually begin with good intentions)
We need to be vigilant
As it is tempting to cut corners

In our reading from Mark today
Jesus starts by responding to his questioner
You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.
But this isn’t what the rich man is asking
He is looking for more than that
At some level he must have understood
That there was more to life
Than going through the motions/
Obeying the rules

But when Jesus tells him to sell his possessions
He doesn’t know what to do
He despairs and walks away

The disciples, too, despair
When Jesus says It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?"
One might wonder why they were so concerned
Having done, in most cases,
Just what Jesus had told the questioner to do
But they understood that the issue
Isn’t so much what one owns
But how much value we place on our possessions

In addition many of the things that we hold dear
And that may hold us back
Are not physical objects
But ideas and habits, addictions and beliefs
These can become a burden as much as the objects
That represent them

These possessions that burden us
Are hard to see and comprehend at times
Since we are so close to them
So we often do not know who the boss really is
Uberto Eco, in his novel The Name of the Rose
Writes that When your true enemies are too strong, you choose weaker enemies… Only the powerful always know with great clarity who their true enemies are.
In other words, when we, like the rich man
Try to do the right thing
We often are distracted by lesser problems and difficulties
Smaller ways in which we can improve
And so miss the power that truly controls us

This can be true for groups as well as individuals
Especially when it comes to ideas and beliefs
For example, we can consider the debate
That has raged with little development
Since the 19th century
Concerning how the world came to be
The Creationists on the one hand and Evolutionists on the other
Now, the scientific method
Allows for the possibility that Natural Selection
The theory developed by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace
May some day be proven wrong
(It has been altered and adjusted over the years
As new research and new discoveries
Have given birth to new ideas)
Yet I doubt that one fine day
We will discover that a literal reading of Genesis
Is the most accurate description
Of the beginning of the world

The Congregationalist minister and abolitionist
Henry Ward Beecher
In defense of the theory once said
We forget that the scripture itself…is…a proof of Evolution. There is no fact more absolutely patent than that every moral idea from the opening of Genesis…Every one of the great moral ideas rose like a star, and did not shine like the sun until ages had given it ascension. One thing is very certain, that the human race began at the bottom and not at the top, or else there is no truth in history or religion.

Still, it is hard to give up
The comfort of the past
So that image of Adam and Eve
The serpent and the garden
Exists as fact for many Americans
And out of their belief comes many implications
For the environment, medicine, the rights of women
And other important facets of our lives on this planet

Also, our general western culture
Drives us toward a specific concept of success
We keep score in our lives by comparing how much we make
Our tendency to be defined
By the conditions of our employment
(or what we “do”)
Is so well known as to be barely worth repeating
Yet it makes us look in strange directions
For enlightenment
It makes us seek out lesser enemies
And smaller dragons to slay

Or in the words of Waldemar Argow
A past minister of this church
More people poison themselves by what they think than by what they drink.
Often we human beings accept unquestioningly
Things that just turn out not to be true
Standards that are false and unhealthy
And make them the frame through which we look at the world

But there is also a flip side,
There is another way
Argow goes on to say that
Vastly more people find happiness and contentment by what they hold in their minds than by what they hold in their bank accounts.

This is, I think, what Jesus is trying to tell us
We have the freedom to think what we will
Happiness, enlightenment
These things cannot be purchased
Nor can righteousness, and goodness
Power in this world
Can be obtained with worldly weath, sure
But not understanding, not strength of the heart
And of the soul

We can get weighed down
And we all fall short of the ideal
But our lives, if we wish it,
Can be dedicated to the proposition
That there is a better master to serve
Than the one that tells us
How we have to look, what car we should drive
And where our children absolutely must
Go to college

There is another story in the Bible
That seems appropriate
In it we find Jesus and his followers
At the now famous Passover meal
The “Last Supper”
Down at the end of the table
Some of the disciples are
Participating in an apparently eternal argument
About who among them is the greatest/the best

Jesus hears them and responds
The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves
In this church we provide many opportunities to serve
The reason as I have mentioned before
Isn’t just to do nice things for people
But because humility and service are a crucial part
Of the religious life
So, too we are motivated to participate in other community projects
Like Natick 360

Such work helps us—when it is done with intentionality
To find what in eastern religions
Is often referred to as a childlike nature
Or simplemindedness/Openness
It is the ability to look with wonder at the mundane
It is a great and difficult thing
To put aside the noises in our minds
Our education, the pressures that decide our actions
The basic concepts that dictate our thoughts
And see things as they are
Because, as the writer Benjamin Hoff said
As any old Taoist walking in the woods can tell you
simplemindedness does not necessarily mean stupid

The simple mind is what Jane Rzepka was seeking
At the Brooklyn Zoo
And it is the discovery that Sarah York makes
When in seeking out the deer in her back yard
She actually misses them

Now, Who’s the Boss lasted eight seasons
(A good long time for a television show)

But much more influential
Has been a work called The Wizard of OZ
A highly allegorical movie
That just about every American has seen
(How many of you have seen it?
It is the most watched movie in the country)
The Wizard of OZ
Is about the journey of self-discovery
About leaving the comfortable routine
And what does Dorothy find
After all that she sees and does on her way to the Emerald City?
She makes that same discovery that is made by Rev. York
Namely that The answer to our questions
Can be found in our own back yard

Who’s the Boss?
Certainly in exact formulation
It is different for each of us
But whatever brings us true understanding
Helps us when we are lost
And brings us to touch the Divine
This is what demands our loyalty
Our lives and our faith

May each of us find a way
To take even one small positive step
On our personal journeys
Away from chaos and toward comprehension
To approach this way-too-adult world
With just a little bit more of that simple
And childlike soul
That we have all been gifted with
That we all still possess

Monday, October 16, 2006

CXCUUA Convocation

So we had our convocation yesterday. "We" in this case being the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA. The Council is made up (not suprisingly) of UU congregations that identify themselves as part of Chrisendom. For Eliot Church this is a no-brainer thanks to our continued relationship with the United Church of Christ.

It was good. Attendance was solid. The presentation (entitled "Freedom of Conscience and the Roots of Religious Tolerance") was edifying. We heard short presentations concerning Sebastian Castellion, the English Dissenters, Roger Williams, William Penn and (drum roll) Thomas Jefferson. A certain someone forgot to turn off his cell phone (me) and, therefore, missed a portion of Scott Axford's presentation on Williams, but it was good to see him. The last time I had the opportunity to spend any time with Scott was in Quebec City a few years back when He, Scott Wells, and I went in search of quality tea. It was good to see (and hear!) him. Thanks also to the rest of the presenters and to Terry Burke and Tom Wintle for the meaingful Communion service.

Special thanks should go to Elizabeth DeMille Barnett for putting this together.

Here is the Invocation I gave at the beginning.

Invocation for the Convocation of CXCUUA
October 15, 2006, King’s Chapel House, Boston
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

Creating and sustaining God
Whose steadfast love endures forever
Who gives light and life to the world

Dear God be with us today in our endeavors
Help us to keep the faith of Jesus your son
In the face of adversity
In a world of strangers and adversaries
Please be with us

Be with us
In our work and our ministries
Making us aware of your presence
In the valleys of despair and the mountains of hope

We ask that you be present in our churches
Those that are members of the Council of Christian Churches in the UUA
Those that are UU but not Christian
Those that are Christian and not UU
Move in them O God
So that our faith may be strong and our work just
Always striving for that ultimate peace
That we may find walking in your path


Friday, October 13, 2006

UCC/UUA "Summit Meeting"

I am mourning the very likely fact that I will not be able to go to this. My wife, as I think I have mentioned before, works nights and, therefore, I have the honor of caring for sons nos. 1-3 during that time. They (particularly the baby) wouldn't find a discussion between Bill Sinkford and John Thomas all that interesting. I would.

Please, please, someone go and tell me how it is. This is more than an historical oddity for me. As many of you know, I have an affiliation with both organizations. The Eliot Church itself is an example of the continued relationship that exists between these two great movements. I would be delighted to hear where people think this relationship is going. I would be delighted to contribute as well. Alas! that is not to be. So, once again, I implore you dear reader to get thee to Andover Newton on October 25 to see, hear, learn...and report.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Whose Water Is It?

The UCC News recently reported that the incomparable Lynn Redgrave has lent her talents to a new UCC documentary concerning the growing privatization and impending shortage of water on this little planet of ours. Water, of course, is necessary for our survival and that of every living thing. It's life-giving qualities are also symbolically important (yes, Baptism does spring to mind, no?). Maybe the documentary (Troubled Waters, airing on October 22) may be worth a look.

We sould all ask ourselves what it means when we are so willing to sell our rights to what God has given to us for the sake of convenience (bottled water) and short term profit. It is an intriguing example of human short sightedness and, yes, of greed. It is worth while to note that, while the documentary seems to address the global issue, it is also as American as apple pie. Here is an article about Poland Spring, a division of Nestle, read it and decide "what it means to be from Maine" (from Poland Spring's ad campaign).

After doing some research on this, I may find it difficult to purchase bottled water in the future. It will be a struggle, though. Sometimes one finds it hard to resist the ease of its availability and the generally healthful nature of the product when comapred to, say, Coke. Still, I will think about it. Does anyone know of a sound middle ground?

The article quotes one Jim Wilfong. I have known him my entire life and tend to trust him when it comes to these sorts of things. Ok, it also quotes State Conservation Commissioner Pat McGowan, who disagrees with Jim. I have know Pat almost as long (and they each other, Maine is like that) and he is a good guy, too. However, I have to say that the moral, spiritual, and long term impact on our society and our economy should trump any desire for short-term gains. This is water, people, it should belong to all of us.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Horatio II

It feels like I just blogged on this but then--in my paper and on the news--I have been treated to the hijinx of Representative Mark Foley. Others have posted on this before (see CC) and my opinion can, in general be read in a previous post with a similar title. However, it is worth pointing out that--once again--we see not just a case of inappropriate behavior from someone in power but also a case of others in power being quite willing to turn the other way to protect a buddy.

So, folks, does democracy work? Do we keep our elected representatives honest enough to see when there is a problem with someone in their club? Who are they ultimately loyal to? Is party loyalty the ultimate power? Is it the most important glue that holds us together? That would be too bad, particularly when one hopes that they would put their constituents first or even (dare I say it) the faith that so many seem willing to trot out when it seems expedient. Sexual harrassment is just plain wrong. It doesn't matter if it is Bill Clinton, Foley, or the shift manager at Stop N' Shop. Saying "don't do it again" is not enough. Taking responsibility for you actions to the point where a mistake isn't made in the first place; that would be nice.

I am praying today (as I do every day) for our country and for those who need and seek responsibility from those who have chosen to lead. I pray for the leaders, too that they might remember that they serve for more reasons than feeding their egos and obtaining a footnote in High School History Textbooks. Most, of course, do remember. I am thankful for this and hopeful that, with all that we see and hear going on in the world, we have learned a lesson about the uses and abuses of power.

Baptism and Stuff

I am fighting with my computer which, I am sorry to say, I know very little about. I had to perform a "destructive reboot" now things that haven't worked for a while do and others have ceased working...

We had a lovely Sunday service. Rev. Hank Peirce officiated and preached a lovely homily. It was World Communion Sunday and we served communion as we do the first Sunday of every month during the regular church year. It was nice not to do all the heavy lifting and to get to enjoy the day. It was, in fact, also the day of Baptism for Son #3, which was truly enjoyable and why Hank, his lovely wife, Rebecca and daughter Ruth were with us and not at their usual haunt of the UU Church of Medford.

It was interesting being on the recieving end. Of course, both these rituals (Baptism and Communion) occured during the regular worship service as is befitting for any events this central to the life of the community. They are an active acknowledment of our connection to God and to each other. As for the Baptism, it was great to have our "church family" present to minister to us by accepting our baby boy into the Eliot Church and the Church Universal. Thank you to all who were there and there in spirit.

I am occasionally called upon to serve the bread and wine (we use both Manischewitz and Grape Juice) in other settings. However, this is (in part) so the community may be present in spirit to the homebound. I have also performed Baptisms outside the usual time and place, but my personal preference is for having them during the service (at least for active member families) after all, the congregation has an investment in that child and if one is essentially committing to raise a little person of faith, it is good to have witnesses. Sometimes, things don't work out schedule-wise, of course and, really, that is OK, too.

I have also perfomed Baptisms for non-member (and non-"friend") families. What it means to them, I do not know. I know that it varies. However, I tend to believe that they all must find it significant, for otherwise they wouldn't have gone through the trouble of looking up a minister to do it. Sometimes these non-members opt for having the ritual done during worship. I like that. It tells me that they take religion seriously enough to respect the tradition and to endure what might be a bit of discomfort and inconvenience. I hope that, if they choose not to attend Eliot, that they find a church home that works for them.

Anyway, thanks to Hank and Rebecca for coming down and celebrating with us. Thanks also to my brother Matt and his Significant Other, Anita. We had a blast and I can promise you that Son# 3 will be raised in the liberal church...