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The Search for Beauty by Rev. Dr. Marjorie Matty

Posted by on Aug 16, 2017 in General News, Minister's Column

“The Search for Beauty” by Rev. Dr. Marjorie Matty

There is a saying that was coined in 1613 by Sir Thomas Overbury, “All the carnal beauty of my wife, Is but skin deep.” I am not sure as to what Sir Thomas was eluding to with regard to his wife or how she may have responded, but what I do know is something that I shared repeatedly with my god daughter, Emilie “the most important long lasting beauty is not what we see when we look in the mirror, it is what we hold within us that defines our true beauty.”

As we look into the faces of humankind, beyond the peculiarity of our physical characteristics and delve into our humanness, we see so many different layers of identity. It is difficult to go deeper than clothes and skin to uncover the true beauty that resides within. In Charlottesville, we saw hate, anger, frustration and fear all because of how people looked, dressed, and the signs and torches that they held. Beneath the color of one’s skin or their gender or political views resides so much more. We all herald from the same basic framework, a skeleton, and then layer upon layer sinew, muscle and organ are built and refined. The body alone is an inanimate physical “thing”, a vessel of sorts, until a cultivated mind and inspiration of spirit is added. Unfortunately, in the conflicts that we witnessed this month there was no time or way to go deeper to discuss difference and there was probably little interest to know one another. It is easier to ostracize, persecute and hurt those whom we do not know or see as being a member of our human family, but the one thing that studying DNA ancestry over the last couple of years has shown is that ultimately we are all connected and hardly different at all.

Beauty at first glance is not the real beauty that we ultimately need to acknowledge, true beauty resides far beneath the surface of our being. It resides in the conviction of character cultivated in the essence of one’s soul. Even though I was not in Charlottesville I can imagine the lack of beauty in intolerance and the rhetoric of hate that was being spewed but I can also imagine that there were moments of beautiful grace.

It is difficult to see and experience the reality of our world right now, the greed that inhabits the recesses of our culture, the ugliness that taints the natural beauty that could define our lives, our priorities and the trajectory of our world. The Buddha once shared, “All wrong-doing arises because of mind. If mind is transformed can wrong-doing remain?” Beauty and specifically inner beauty is the worship theme at First Parish for September–an important topic during these challenging, divisive and unpleasant/ugly times in our human history. We cannot force others, especially those who feel disenfranchised or afraid, to remain peaceful, “We cannot obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.” (Dalai Lama) So let us begin this year with courage, love and an openness to see and experience the beauty that lies deep within ourselves and one another.

Blessings and love,

Rev. Marjorie

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message from your minister

Posted by on May 24, 2017 in General News, Minister's Column

Last Sunday I spoke about how in an instant life can change, how a life even though it is courageous, well lived, filled with speaking one’s truth and nowhere near finished can have its trajectory altered. Last Friday afternoon, Alorie Parkhill was on the move, traveling mindfully through her life mid-task, mid-sentence on her way to another place when she was stopped in her tracks by a head-on collision. We know that this is always a possibility to face in this life, there is no planning for such an alternative reality and there is no way to suspend the shock, the sadness and grief that fills us. We can only be with the news and this altered sense of reality that we now face. We may feel like we are free-floating in our lives right now, in shock by this turn of events untethered by what should and should not be possible, juxtaposed with what is now true, real.

There is no sense to be made out of these events, there is no grand plan in which this is an acceptable possibility. So we sit in this place together processing, trying to make sense, afraid, wanting to do something, anything, to make it better, or easier for Craig and his family. The Parkhills and the Willetts are our people and we wish that there was something that we could say or do that might comfort them, when in reality what they need most right now is one another and time.

Friends, in the coming days, months and years, let Alorie’s passion for justice, her intelligence, her call to be a lifelong learner and teacher, her willingness to go the extra mile and her courage inspire us to live our lives more fully. Let her willingness to reach out to those in need of a strong will and mind inspire us to reach out to one another in love during this unbelievably tender time. Grieve, sing, dance, write, share, give from the heart, be kind, be gentle, be open as we assimilate this tragic time into the history of our community. We will miss our sister, Alorie. We will remember her guidance, her plays and stories and snippets of our shared experience. Let them bring us comfort in the days to come.

I am holding you all gently and in the spirit of loving kindness and compassion. If you need me I am here. Please do not hesitate to reach out.

Rev. Marjorie

Please hold June 24th at 2pm as a tentative date and time for Alorie Parkhill’s memorial service, a celebration of life.

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Insights: The End is Near…

Posted by on May 3, 2017 in General News, Minister's Column

The End is Near…

In Boston, Manhattan, Los Angeles or really at any busy intersection, especially during a pride parade one can find someone, usually a man but not exclusively, holding a sign filled with disconcerting images invariably a cross, citing biblical texts, calling for humanity to repent as the end is near. Most passersby give these folks a wide berth. Many of us do not believe in this theology nor do we want to believe in the implications of such an eschatology. We want to instead believe that our future is secure and that if there is a God that s/he will be loving and will ultimately try to save us from ourselves. What I have realized in my life is that if there are end times coming that we, humanity, those of us who are seduced by profit, greed, exploitation of the planet and people for profit, the fearful and intolerant will be responsible. Recently, I have been thinking that some types of end times might not really be all that bad. There are periods of transition, sometimes of loss, definitely times of change that we face that are endings and yet we continue on. Some of these times are incredibly difficult and yet in a study that I conducted many years ago, for my honors thesis, I came to an understanding that what doesn’t kill us might just make us stronger. I would add a caveat to this “what doesn’t kill us, if we are able to frame it in a positive way could be transformative. What would happen if instead of panicking when we think that the end is near we change our way of responding and instead think, “Oh thank the Goddess I desperately need a new beginning.

The theme for this month was going to be “Shine On” but instead I have decided to reframe the theme, “The End is Near, begin again in Love.” I am thinking about our Unitarian Universalist concern for this nation, for this planet, for the many people who are oppressed and for those who turn to violence or self-destructive behavior because that is the only voice/choice that they feel that they have. As Unitarian Universalists how do we frame this Christian notion of the end times into a positive and hopeful message that keeps us inspired and motivated to keep keeping on? Our UU theology would have us believe that one person’s choices and actions can make a difference, one idea shared, one skill taught, one passionate plea spoken aloud can make a difference. Let us find, inspire and care for that still small voice within until it becomes a whisper, a murmur, a call to action, a shout of protest and a commitment to face into the end times and change our course, change our concern into revelation into faith that together we can.

We have come a long way this year. We have faced into some very difficult realizations about this country that we love and are committed to,  and yet here we are living through and rallying in the face of greed, intolerance and fear. The world didn’t end and we will survive, we will be changed, but we will survive and most likely learn so much about the power we collectively wield. Resist, persist, carry on.

Let’s begin again in Love

Peace!

Rev. Marjorie

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Insights by Rev. Dr. Marjorie Matty

Posted by on Mar 1, 2017 in General News, Minister's Column

“Generosity”
There is so much need in the world and I am personally inundated via email and phone on a daily basis with requests for financial support. I am shocked that so many people and organizations reach out to me when I am barely able to have the resources to make an impact, but I try with what I have to be generous. I remember reading somewhere that those that reside at or below the poverty line are, based on proportion, some of the most generous people on the planet.  They give and give and give even though they have so little. I would venture a guess that the “poor” are only poor in monetary means and wealthy where it counts most. I am not poor but I am inspired by the commitment to such acts of generosity. Personally, I have to triage the requests I receive for financial, emotional and physical aid in a methodical way because my heart could bankrupt me if I let it run rampant. At times I fantasize that I use discernment like a fine surgeon deciding on why, how and where my financial support will be most effective. I wish that I was able to fund every single campaign and cause that comes my way but it is impossible to balance all of the requests and needs. I wonder why and what it is that affects me when I am making such impossible decisions about where to send money and spend time and what I should refuse? It is hard to refuse even the inebriated homeless person on the street who pulls at my heart strings. But it is true that I have to be judicious with my generosity. My methodology begins with the obvious… I try to first act locally with friends and family and donate time and treasure to those I love, then I expand out my reach to those organizations and people who can make a difference in the lives of those in my town, county and state. Lastly, I donate to organizations that have a global impact with regard to racial, Identity and economic equality, environmental justice and animal rights. This strategy does not preclude sponsoring someone participating in a fundraiser for a good cause, such as last week’s concert for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) at First Parish.
So where is the spiritual in generosity and stewardship? When we are touched by the needs of others we make a choice whether or not to respond, whether to care enough to be compelled to give of our time and treasure. The ideals that we lean on in that moment of inspiration to give, and to give till we feel it, is a spiritual act of caring and commitment for something outside of our self and our closest loved ones. If we give till we feel it we are reminded of the importance of our connection to what we are called to support and believe in, this is what makes our intention and commitment more meaningful.
As pragmatic as I wish I could be about generosity and stewardship I ultimately turn to my heart, I turn to my spiritual self to help me make informed decisions about how and what to give myself over to. The reason that I am writing about generosity is because March is traditionally the time of our annual canvass at First Parish of Sudbury. As members and friends of First Parish I hope that you feel compelled to share your talents and treasure with this community that is literally yours. It is true that just like every other non profit we contact you frequently asking for your support: can you do coffee hour, usher, greet, serve on a committee, build a habitat house, walk in a fundraiser, come and donate to the auction, make soup or help with the Harvest Fair and share your talents once again?

This month we will be asking for your annual commitment for financial support. Regardless of what you like about First Parish: Sunday service, Religious Exploration, Social Hour, Craft Group, Meditation, Salon, Seekers Gatherings, AA or a program that we have not yet conceived, First Parish is an important part of our weekly experience. Last week, as we brought new members into our community I asked what it is that you like most about First Parish and invariably the answer always is, “you like one another.” First Parish and its members and friends are what should inspire us to be generous. The membership of First Parish supports all of the work and programming of the volunteers and staff of the Meetinghouse as well as the actual cost of the maintenance of the historic building and grounds. Together with a small staff (your guides) we adventure into this life mindfully with an open heart as our covenant calls us to do. We operate with a financially conservative mindset, we run on a very lean budget and we need friends and members to share your wealth so that we may carry the load of this community together.

This year the leadership and I are going to ask you to be a bit more generous. Our strategy calls for us to expand the hours of a specific staff member in the coming year 2017-2018. First and foremost we are hoping to offer Chris Scheller, our director of religious exploration, an increase in hours to 35 per week (he currently has 25 hours per week). The Religious Exploration program has been consistently growing and we expect it to continue to grow in the coming year. We would like to engage Chris in continuing to lead an adult meditation class on Tuesdays at 12:00 and we would like to offer more staff-led adult exploration experiences in the upcoming year. There is also some painting that needs to take place on the Meetinghouse and of course we really would love to do an update on the Parish Hall kitchen. You will hear more about our plans as we share them in the upcoming month of March.
Therefore, I ask you to be generous to one another this year as we endeavor to grow and continue to evolve as a community.
One last point, we do not have a large membership, we do not receive funds from some guiding ecclesiastical body, we do not have some ancient endowment in large measure we are on our own as the stewards of First Parish and we are planning for the long haul. So when you think of giving this year remember that organizations such as Amnesty International or the American Cancer Society need our donations, however, what the general public offers is a drop in a very big bucket, very large donors are truly their focus. These non profit organizations have large staff needs, program and event budgets. For First Parish to continue to exist, survive and thrive we need each and every member and friend to participate because we are such a lean “sharing the love” machine. We need one another to show up and give till we feel it because at the end of the day we are the ones who support our needs and journeys and acts of spiritual care and kindness.
Thank you in advance for your continued commitment and generosity for this community of reason, hope and love.
Be The Light!
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Insights: We Need U! by Rev. Marjorie

Posted by on Feb 1, 2017 in General News, Minister's Column

There are two “U”s in Unitarian Universalism. Our denominational name is probably one of our biggest stumbling blocks for most visitors and new members. Our name is long and unwieldy and does not speak easily to what we all might believe in, without a long clarifying elevator speech. I remember stumbling over the name for this new amazing community that I had joined, Universalistic Unitarians was what I initially told people when I first came out about where I spent my Sunday mornings. For the life of me I just couldn’t get the name right. Not to mention that I did not understand what it really meant to be a UU, I kept waiting for someone to bring out the Kool-Aid because nothing could be this good and not be some kind of crazy cult. I remembering wondering where that other shoe was that was going to drop from some high height to crush my enthusiasm… I remember taking the “new UU class” at Arlington Street Church when I first decided to become a member. The first night I asked a simple question, “Why is the trinity such an issue that we chose to call ourselves, Unitarian?” As you might imagine there were sputters and some attempts to answer with the telling of the history of UUism that did not fill my need to know. My follow up statement was, “there are a lot of cool trinities like Mind, Body, Spirit” that I aspire too – the number three is pretty important in my book. That statement just hung in the air unengaged. Here is the important take away from that night… no one condemned me for asking “why” and ultimately I was the one who needed to seek the answer to my questions about Unitarianism.

With that very first question, asked in earnest, I was clearly destined to become a Unitarian Universalist where one of our guiding tenets is to “question authority.” The secondary symbol of UUism, directly after our sacred chalice, is the question mark – ?. Early on in my “conversion” (I say this tongue-in-cheek with a lot of humor thrown in for good measure) I got involved in and caught the fever for social justice because I felt safe for the first time in a community that held my personal story and my identity sacred. I believed that if society could value all of its citizens, documented or undocumented alike, and work to make the country safe for all of us to flourish without fear, that would be a good thing–a spiritual triumph of sorts. As UUs, or aspiring UUs, we are called to see this world for what it is – the good, the bad and the worst kind of ugly, and we are called to stand up, tug up our shirt sleeves and work to make things better, to aim higher. This was what compelled me to leave my career in high tech and to attend seminary to become a UU minister. I believed that sharing my story of facing fear, loss, and challenge set within a framework of contemporary events and worship could possibly help others reframe their own experiences. For me this life that we know is incredibly spiritual because I choose to see it that way. But, in truth, I also hold that science, mythology, poetry, numerology and every possible belief in-between are equally as amazing, spiritually held or not. That is what I think is amazing about Unitarian Universalism: we endeavor to hold the tension between all beliefs, we encourage evolution of belief. This does not mean we do not hold a singular belief sacred, we just choose not to exclude another’s beliefs in order to be the “winners” or the ones who are right. The one thing that I am certain about for sure in this experience of life is that nothing is certain or permanent. This is scary I know but it gives us a place to begin on a journey to self understanding and soothing.

This month the First Parish of Sudbury, Unitarian Universalist will honor those who are seeking… seeking what you may wonder? How about a spiritual community that believes in the hope that Universal Love can save us all, believes that we can defrost the hardened cynical hearted, believes that all are welcome to bring their differences to the table as long as each of us is willing to have an open heart and mind.

This month is about seeking safety, compassion, a reasonable belief system that you, yes you, craft and evolve as your life evolves. Ultimately we are each responsible for our lives and to intercede in care for others in need. This month we will be reviewing our illustrious history and how we progressed from being part of the congregational church, now known as the United Church of Christ or as one of my UCC colleagues once shared “Unitarians Considering Christ” to this community filled with expansive belief. This month we will be offering stories from new members and those who have stayed with First Parish for half a century or more. This is a month of investigation, questioning, suggesting, walking or rolling together. Also, this is a month to invite those who you have wanted to invite but were afraid or too shy to ask. This month expect a member brunch and a host of discussion about a plethora of topics. If you are interested in engaging in such a conversation and have a specific topic, please let me know.

As much as the world outside of First Parish seems a little scary at times it is our place as UUs to question “why” and to mindfully craft ways in which we can care for those who are in need and whom we need right back. There are two “U”s in Unitarian Universalism because we need one another and we cannot do this work of making meaning alone. We need all of the “you”s that we can gather.

Peace, Beloved Ones.

Rev. Marjorie

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Insights: Staring into the Face of the Sacred

Posted by on Jan 4, 2017 in General News, Minister's Column

hands holding a burning candle in dark

By Chris Scheller, M. Div., Director of Religious Education

Our spiritual theme for the month of January is “staring into the face of the sacred”. What does the sacred mean to you? My own view of the sacred was decidedly influenced by South Asian religious thought during my travels there between high school and college.

Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk, famously quoted a passage of Hindu scripture before the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893, saying, “As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which people take, through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee!” In Hinduism, four of the most common paths to approach the sacred are through selfless service to others, devotional practices of love and adoration towards the sacred through practices such as prayer and song, knowledge and discrimination of the sacred, and meditation. In our own Judeo-Christian heritage, we can find parallels to these four approaches to the sacred.

Like the different images of light we see through different stained glass windows, the sacred looks a little different to everyone depending on our perspectives and beliefs about what is sacred. As Unitarian Universalist Rev. Paul Rasor points out, sacredness is that which we perceive is worthy of the highest respect and reverence and “a vehicle through which we may experience ourselves in deeper relationship with the divine.” Now, we may prefer other words to “divine”, such as simply life, truth, love, the interconnected web, mystery, or that which is. The name isn’t important. What is important is the feeling and experience of the sacred, as Rev. Gretchen Haley writes, in our call to be awake to suffering, in our opening our hearts, in the process of transformation, and in the way that each and every one of us throughout all space and time is simultaneously connected and the same, yet also more diverse and unique than we can ever know.

In our Unitarian Universalist heritage, we have been taught to look for the divine everywhere. Thoreau wrote in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, “The ears were made, not for such trivial uses as men are wont to suppose, but to hear celestial sounds. The eyes were not made for such groveling uses as they are now put to and worn out by, but to behold beauty now invisible. May we not see God?” Of course, as Rev. Harold Babcock reminds us in reflecting on this passage, learning to see in this way will take practice.

So let us marvel in the exquisite uniqueness, the exquisite sacredness, of everything and everyone we encounter. Let us see all life as sacred, whatever that means to you, and approach the sacred in all the ways we can. For there is saving grace there, not just for ourselves, but for the whole world. And let us approach and live the sacred in our own unique ways as we relish the hard-fought religious freedom that is our heritage as Unitarian Universalists. For by doing so we live our truth, we express our own most exquisite uniqueness, and we bring the whole world alive by coming alive ourselves.

Amen, and Blessed Be.

 

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