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Sanctuary: the moral and ethical dimensions of hospitality

Posted by on Mar 13, 2016 in General News, Worship Services

KLCportrait5-053Join us Sunday, March 13 when FPS’s Minister Emerita, Rev. Katie Lee Crane, offers a service on the theme of Hospitality. In 2004, Rev. Crane preached here about radical hospitality as a spiritual practice; now, she explores its moral and ethical demands anew.

Katie Lee currently serves as the Denominational Counselor to Unitarian Universalist Students studying at Harvard Divinity School. She is one of the leaders for the UUA Beyond Categorical Thinking program and, for the UUMA (minister’s association), she is a coach to colleagues and a leader of the “Where Leads Our Call” collegial conversations. She is one of the Boston-area organizers for the InterPlay Race Dance Project.

Katie Lee lives in Boston, Massachusetts with her husband Jonas Barciauskas.

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We Are Seekers

Posted by on Nov 28, 2010 in Worship Services

 We Are Seekers

First Parish of Sudbury
Rev. Katie Lee Crane, preaching

Generation after generation, Unitarian Universalists
continue to examine the religion, reshape it, persist in it and find joy in it.

      • – Rev. Jane Rzepka

OPENING WORDS
                                                       
Our Unitarian Universalist history features generations of people who, by means of private struggle and personal risk, find new ways of being religious. Our founders were doubters, thinkers, people for whom integrity counted. Through reinterpretation and revolution, they found ways to continue their religious lives.

      • – Rev. Jane Rzepka

UNISON CHALICE LIGHTING                                  

Love is the spirit of this church
       and service is its law
This is our great covenant:
to dwell together in peace
to seek the truth in love
and to help one another.

      • – James Vila Blake

COMMISSIONING EXPLORERS…Roberta Altamari

RA: We are ALL religious explorers throughout our whole lives. Wonder, curiosity, learning, and growing are important at every stage of life. Our Unitarian Universalist principles value the freedom to seek our own ways of being religious and encourage us to explore our unique and personal spiritual paths. Separately and together, we explore the sacred light we carry deep within ourselves, the same light that connects us to all living beings in the interdependent web of life. As explorers, we seek to ignite the "light of truth, the warmth of community, and the fire of commitment" within ourselves, among our loved ones, in our communities, and around our world.

When we worship and work and play together, we gather our individual lights and create this beloved community.

As we begin a new year of religious exploring today, will you take this pledge with me?

All:        We are religious explorers. Each of us is on our own life-long quest, yet all of us come together here because we yearn to learn about ourselves, each other, and all that we do not yet know or understand. As we begin a new year together, we pledge to support one another on our individual spiritual journeys. We also pledge to share our discoveries and our gifts with the First Parish community so that what we learn may inspire or help others. This is the way we seek the truth in love. This is the way we help one another.

RA: May love bless our way. May light guide our journey.
Let us begin again.

UNISON READING  Our Fourth Principle, the Green Promise

I invite all of you to join me in reaffirming our forth principle. We will say it first in the words that we adults often use and then in the words our children learn at a very young age. They know it as the Green promise, one of seven Rainbow Promises that we make to one another. Please join me in this brief yet profound reading.

We covenant to affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

We grow by exploring what is true and right in life.

RESPONSIVE READING We have inherited quite a religion
by the Rev. Jack Mendelsohn

We have inherited quite a religion.

  • It is lived. It is not just a set of bromides and pietisms. It is a serious effort to conduct life according to principles and ideals.

It is emotional, heart-swelling. It is even nave. In spite of uncertainty, it does not rule out leaps of faith.

  • It is free, not bound by tradition, inheritance, geography, nor the passing parade.

It is first-hand, a personal experience.

  • It is responsible. It does not try to escape the consequences of decision.

It is growing. It never thinks of itself as perfected and final.

  • It embraces humility, recognizing that faith is not certainty where there is in fact mystery.

It is compassionate. It understands that religions universally wrap their essence in myth. It reaches to grasp and appreciate the truths bound up in the myths of other believers.

  • It is tough on its possessors, committing them to sacrifice, but it is tender toward those who disagree.

It is social, struggling to realize its own vision at community, national and world levels.

  • It is radiant, blessing its possessor with courage, serenity and zest.

This is our history, and also our hope.

SERMON  We Are Seekers   Rev. Katie Lee Crane

My colleague and mentor Jane Rzepka has given new meaning to the phrase "elevator speech." Jane has been in ministry a lot longer than me and, even though I’m older, she’s been one of my most important teachers. But in her latest column as Senior Minister of the Church of the Larger Fellowship (our Unitarian Universalist, worldwide congregation online), she’s really thrown down the gauntlet. She has written a summary of all of Unitarian Universalist history  and I mean ALL, starting with the early third century of the Common Era  in, get this, under 2,000 words!

Before I tell you more, let me explain what we mean by "elevator speech." It is a challenge we make to one another: Explain our Unitarian Universalist faith to someone who knows nothing about it while riding from the first to the fifth floor in an elevator!  

Now back to our religious history in fewer than 2,000 words. After a romp through history from two Greeks, Arius and Origen, who both challenged different, emerging 3rd century Christian notions, to 20th century Unitarian Universalism, Jane concludes: "Every generation of Unitarians and Universalists have questioned the religion they inherited." Our religion has evolved and continues to evolve.

As Samuel Longfellow once said when challenging the Bible as the definitive source of Christian teachings, "Revelation is not sealed."  He wasn’t the first to say it, nor will we be the last. We assume there is no final, definitive, infallible word. Because we are always learning and, as we learn, we make sense of things in new ways. Think Copernicus. Think Isaac Newton.

We are, like those before us, thinkers, doubters, and people of integrity. We examine what we believe. We reshape it and  even sometimes through private struggle and personal risk  we persist in it. In those 2,000 words it’s hard to count how many before us reinterpreted what was taken as "gospel truth." Origen (remember we’re talking the 3rd century here) doubted the existence of heaven and hell; he believed everyone not just Christians would find ultimate reconciliation with God. His ideas became known as universal salvation and were the founding premise of our Universalist ancestors.

In the 16th century, in Transylvania (now Romania), one cocky young preacher convinced his king to issue an edict of religio
us toleration, advocating tolerance of differences in religious beliefs. Today we call ours a pluralist faith  advocating not only tolerance but also engagement with different theologies, philosophies, and world views. And what follows from that, of course, is obvious, but not always easy: engagement with people of different cultures and different faiths. Where do we start? Right here among ourselves. Accepting that we, too, have different ways of making meanings and engaging with one another about what matters most.

Only a few years before the Edict of Religious Toleration, Michael Servetus had been burned at the stake because he dared to challenge the notion that God was three-in-one: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. It wasn’t "gospel truth" he asserted; he could find no mention of this trinity in the Bible. But, in John Calvin’s world, the Bible was the last word. They not only burned his books, but Servetus as well. By the early 1800s, William Ellery Channing reaffirmed the oneness of God and introduced a new theological movement called Unitarianism.

By mid-19th century the Transcendentalists took a dramatic turn toward the mystical at century’s end, the freethinkers and Humanists spearheaded another important movement, born of the Enlightenment. Let’s just say that the 19th century was full of religious explorers in our history!

Jane is right. Every generation questions. Every generation reshapes and reinterprets. We are no exception.

That is why, here at First Parish of Sudbury, we begin our mission statement with the statement: We are seekers…. We believe, and our history is the foundation of this belief, that we need not be bound by tradition, dogma or proscribed creeds. We affirm a free and personal search for meaning.

But that’s only one half of the equation. With that part alone, one might think that anything goes. Nothing could be further from the truth. We insist that ours also be a responsible search. And, while there may be different interpretations of responsible, we can and do hold one another accountable to our principles. These are promises we make to one another  not promises about what we should be believe  but promises about the values we share and how we will walk together in the company of one another.

Sometimes when people learn a little about us  say by about the 4th floor on the elevator  they think "Gee, that’s easy. They can believe anything they want."  Well, you’d better keep them on that elevator! Not so. It’s truly challenging to live our principles. It isn’t easy to be on a private quest in the company of others who are also on their own private quest  especially when most of us are in different places along the way.

A few years ago one of you said to me: "I’m not on a spiritual journey, I’ve stopped right where I want to be and I’m staying there." It illustrates so clearly how virtually all of us are in different places and stages of making meanings for ourselves. One person comes here because feels she’s ready for a spiritual growth spurt. Another comes because he feels broken-spirited and needs our compassion  and some space to sort things out. Still another feels she’s come down right where she wants to be.

It’s a little like the well-known comparison of world religions where they say: all paths lead to the top of the mountain. Except we’re not all going up. Nor are we necessarily going somewhere in particular. We may be just where we want to be or we may be resting a spell while others sprint right on by us. You see, meaning-making can and does happen anywhere. There is no special enlightenment promised at the top or in any other particular spot. You may discover insights just as easily while you rest as you do while you are sprinting toward a goal.  

In a congregation like ours, we are spiritual companions. We are our own guides and, at times, we serve as guides for one another.  We find our inspiration from many sources: our own experiences, people we admire, and the wisdom of the centuries. As Jack Mendelsohn says in today’s responsive reading: as Unitarian Universalists we understand that religions everywhere and throughout history wrap their essence in myth. We see the value in understanding and appreciating the stories of many religious traditions, whether we agree with their messages or not.

Here’s an example. Preaching at a summer worship service, one member extended an invitation to those of us who’d like to learn more about the Bible. She acknowledged somewhat sheepishly that, until recently, most of what she knew about the Bible came from movies starring Charlton Heston. (I don’t think she’s alone in that!) But, now, given where she is in her particular religious explorations, she feels drawn to know more. For herself, yes, but also so that she can understand better the perspective of friends, relatives, and others for whom the Bible is more than a collection of stories that shape two of the world’s religions. It is, for many, the word of God.

My husband and I accepted that challenge and agreed to lead a conversation about the Bible this year. Details will follow. I will bring my own knowledge and a Unitarian Universalist perspective. Jonas, who is a trained theologian and a practicing Christian, will bring quite a different outlook. He has recently engaged in his own study of the Bible. He is looking not only at the stories, but also at recent scholarship, and at translations and interpretations that may shed new light on the stories that we find in both the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Bible or, as some of us know it, the Old and New Testaments. We hope not only to explore the Bible, but to do so in the context of an interfaith conversation.

If you think it odd that UUs are looking at the Bible, consider the impressive line-up of UUs throughout history who have done exactly this: Origen did it. So did Servetus. And Thomas Jefferson. (Jefferson was a Diest and did not belong to any religious community. Though he is said to have commented that he would become a Unitarian if he were to become something!)  Then there is the lesser known Joseph Stevens Buckminster, called to minister to the congregation at the Brattle Street Church in Boston in 1804. He is said to have "launched an almost legendary career of preaching and bible scholarship.

Forty years later Theodore Parker was virtually blacklisted by his own Unitarian fellows for preaching his belief that certain biblical stories, such as the miracles attributed to Jesus, were, in his words, transcient, not permanent, and therefore not crucial to understanding the underlying message. Even Isaac Newton  who as far as I know was NOT a Unitarian  was well known in his day for his biblical scholarship.

Yes, you say, but all that was a long time ago. We UUs don’t do Bible study today. I respectfully disagree. Our former Unitarian Universalist Association president, the Rev. John Buehrens, now the minister in Needham, recently published: Understanding the Bible: An Introduction for Skeptics, Seekers, and Religious Liberals. Many UU congregations are using it to launch explorations of the Bible. We will bring it into our discussion here, along with the scholarship of other liberal theologians such as Shelby Spong and Marcus Borg.

Still, if the Bible’s not your thing, there are other opportunities for exploring. You may consider joining a Chalice Circle where gatherings of six to ten people meet together for two hours each month to discuss a topic where we share various spiritual, moral or ethical perspectives. These groups follow a prescribed format that encourages deep listening and thoughtful attention to what each person says. Four Circles will hold open circles in October.

If you can’t commit that much time, you may be able to stay a little longer on a Sunday for the Hearthside Chat following most worship services. We simply gather to continue the conversation about the topic introduced in the worship service t
hat day.  

Two of you have offered to lead a workshop on the Enneagram. You may know it as a way of identifying personality types. But it is actually rooted deeply in ancient wisdom traditions reinterpreted in modern times by George Gurdjieff and, more recently, by Oscar Ichazo. Gurdjieff used Sufi techniques of sacred dance and movement to help students discern certain features of their inner world. Ichazo is credited with the contemporary interpretation that is used by many as a spiritual tool to move toward deeper self discovery and understanding.

Suffice it to say that we are seekers. The spiritual quest is lifelong. And here at First Parish of Sudbury there are many ways to seek meanings for ourselves in solitude and in the company of one another.

We are here, together, to encourage one another and to accept one another for who we are, and  where we are.

CLOSING WORDS

I close with our congregation’s mission statement:

We are First Parish of Sudbury, a diverse and welcoming community of spiritual seekers; we strive to learn together and support one another as we celebrate life’s important moments and serve the larger community.


This text contains copyrighted material and may not be used or distributed without permission.


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The Faith Quilts Project

Posted by on Jul 9, 2010 in Worship Services

 The Faith Quilts Project

First Parish of Sudbury
Rev. Katie Lee Crane, preaching

Hands to work and Hearts to God
The Faith Quilts Project

OPENING WORDS, Rev. Katie Lee Crane

From a card that sits in my office:

  • Assume that in spite of the ways we have been divided, it is possible to reach through those divisions, to listen to each other well and to :change habitual ways of acting which have kept us separated.
    • -Ricky Sherover-Marcuse

UNISON CHALICE LIGHTING

We kindle this flame:
Heat, light, energy,
burning passion,

in this chalice:
the common cup of seeking
humanity;

that we may find a way
to heal injustice
in our world.
               -Suzelle Lynch

READING  Interfaith Dialogue through Play Doh by Christopher Buice

A number of years ago I helped to organize an exhibition by a group of Tibetan Buddhist monks who were touring the country. These monks were here to demonstrate the Tibetan art of butter sculpture. I didn’t know anything about butter sculpture at the time, but I was glad to help organize the event.

Part of my responsibility was to find home hospitality for the monks. One local family with two small children agreed to host two of the monks. The couple was a little nervous because the Tibetans did not speak English well and they did not speak Tibetan at all. Of course their fears turned out to be unwarranted. The Tibetan monks were wonderful guests. They found nonverbal ways of communicating.

During their visit the monks happened to notice the two small children playing with play-doh. The monks got down with the children and started playing with them. The Tibetans and the children played together, molding many different shapes and combining various colors. It turned out that play-doh was a lot like the material the monks used for their butter sculpture. So the children and the monks discovered that they like to play with the same stuff. They laughed and had fun together. They were able to overcome differences of culture, language, age, and religion through their common enjoyment of play-doh.

Adults communicate with words…. But any child psychologist will tell you that play is the language of childhood. Play is how children communicate with one another and make sense of the world. Some theologians would even say that play is how children learn to participate in the larger Creativity in which we live and move and have our being….Adult Christians look to the Bible for meaning, Muslims to the Koran, Hindus to the Vedas, and Buddhists to the Sutras. But children of all faiths find meaning and renewal through play. For them (and for us) play can lead to the renewal of mind, body, and spirit.

PRAYER Crazy Quilt  by Jane Wilson Joyce

The Liberty Bell in Philadelphia
is cracked. California is splitting
off. There is no East or West, no rhyme,
no reason to it. We are scattered.

Dear Lord, lest we all be somewhere
else, patch this work. Quilt us
together, feather-stitching piece
by piece our tag-ends of living,
our individual scraps of love.

SERMON         Hands to Work and Hearts to God, Rev. Katie Lee Crane

Let us sew love. (S-E-W as well as S-O-W)

In our world there is most certainly hatred, injury, discord, despair, and sadness, but, blessedly and in spite of everything and everyone that would have us believe otherwise, there is also hope and joy and faith and love. For those of us involved in The Faith Quilts Project it is, quite simply, our small effort to mend the world. Like the Jewish call to tikkun olam  the call to repair the world  we are sewing love, we are mending the world. And we’re doing it with stitches and stories.

Clara Wainwright tells how she felt compelled to do SOMETHING in the days following the attacks of September 11, 2001. One television documentary called "Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero" drove home for her the power of faith for both good and evil. It was faith that motivated the attacks, but it was also faith that sustained some who were attacked. It was faith that held out hope for some of us and while others abandoned their faith in the face of despair. As a collaborative quilt-maker for more than fourteen years, Clara turned to her art to find a means of expressing her feelings and fears about the polarization of our world.

It was a simple idea, really. Invite people to make collaborative faith quilts. It might be a quilt made by a single faith community, or perhaps a quilt that represented a dialogue between two or more faith traditions. It could even be a multi-faith quilt such as the two "We Bostonians" quilts in progress for the Boston Public Library. She knew from experience that the process is fun  almost like adult play  but she hoped it would inspire deep thinking about one’s faith and meaningful dialogue. Working with fabric and each other, the process short-circuits some of the usual barriers people encounter when talking with others about subjects so sensitive and personal as one’s faith.

It’s like the story of the Tibetan monks and the American children. Collaborative quilt-making is a form of play that transcends theological, religious, cultural and language barriers. Clara had already been bringing together people to create collaborative quilts. Rarely did the people sew. Nor were they necessarily artists (or, at least, they didn’t think of themselves as artists). Often they had something in common, but seldom did they know each other well. Sometimes they literally did not speak the same language. But what they created together was staggering in its beauty and its power.

I know this because my first encounter with these collaborative quilts was when I attended an exhibit of Clara’s work at the DeCordova Museum a few years ago. I was stunned by my response to some of the quilts. They were like icons, drawing me into something deeper that moved me to a place where I had no words. I returned again and again to see the quilts. And to sit with them, letting them take me to that place. For me, it was a holy place. It was a transforming place. It was one of those experiences when you see or hear or experience something that you know has changed you and the way you make sense of your world.

Quite separately, I came to know Maggie Herzig. Some of you will remember Maggie’s earlier visit to First Parish as our guest during the "Wheel of the Year" exploration of some of the world’s religious traditions. She spoke of her interfaith family: Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Muslim. And she spoke of her work at the Public Conversations Project, known as PCP, where she and her colleagues facilitate constructive conversations on difficult issues. Really difficult issues  like pro-life and pro-choice folks talking together…constructively! Just this week’s latest newsletter from PCP offers resources for helping those of us who want to have constructive political conversations with people on "the other side." Knowing of Maggie’s professional and personal interest in interfaith dialogue, Clara reached out to her and The Faith Quilts Project was born.

Now there are dozens of quilts in progress. There are multiple Jewish and Christian quilts and two Islamic Quilts  one of the first was made by our neighbors at the Islamic Center in Wayland. I know of two UU quilts  one at Arlington Street Church (pictured on the cover of your order of service) and another at First Parish in Cambridge. There is a Ba’hai quilt, a Wiccan quilt, and a Mormon Quilt in process. Th
ere’s the quilt made by Gloucester Catholics whose churches are closing and consolidating into one; they stitched something of each congregation into the quilt that will travel to the church that remains open. There’s a marvelous quilt fashioned by one congregation’s youth in conversation with the congregation’s elders about their Judaism. There’s the deeply moving quilt made by people living with Alzheimer’s disease  some of whom forgot even the most basic symbols of their lifelong faith in just the few weeks it took to complete the project. Their words and images are surrounded by a border of self portraits made by loving caregivers. And, then these words across the center: "We remember."

Barry Gaither, Director and Curator of the Museum of the National Center for African American artists is reaching out to the African, African-American, West Indian, Cape Verdean communities seeking quilts representing their voices and faith experiences. Our own youth advisor Kristy Wacek and friends whose spiritual explorations and devotions include the Hindu Goddess, Kali, are beginning a quilt to help them exchange and express the meanings they find through Kali. They hope the process itself will deepen their understandings and facilitate more meaningful conversations in their little intentional spiritual community.

I’m hoping that some of the urban-suburban partnerships, such as those we know of through our membership in Cooperative Metropolitan Ministries might yield some collaborative quilts  like, for example, our own Sudbury United Methodist Church and its partner the Greenwood Memorial United Methodist Church in Dorchester or the Medfield UU congregation and its partner, Bibleway Christian Center in Dorchester. I even dream of a Sudbury Faith Quilt  with all twelve faith communities represented  hanging someday at the Goodnow Library.

The project will culminate in April of 2006 when at least fifty Faith Quilts will be displayed throughout Boston in places like the Cyclorama, Boston City Hall, and the Boston Public Library, the Museum of African-American Art in Roxbury and Cambridge’s Multicultural Arts Center as well as Dorchester’s Codman Square Health Center. Jeremy Alliger, founder of Dance Umbrella, is spearheading the plans for a month-long celebration of Faith, the Arts and Community which, in addition to the display of the Faith Quilts, will include exhibitions and performances of faith-inspired music, dance, art, poetry and film.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. And it’s the "what," really, not much about the "who" or the "why."

The project includes lead quilters, artists and dialogue consultants who facilitate each project. But the most important "who" are the folks who come together to explore  together  their respective spiritual journeys and faith traditions. In a day when we hear so much talk about moral values, these people are daring to talk about their values right out loud and then stitch them into a thing of beauty for all the world to see.

It’s a radical thing to talk to one another about faith. And it’s just as radical to listen to one another without judgment.

The Shakers had the expression "hands to work and hearts to God." That’s what this seems like to me. Lord, make us an instrument of thy peace… Let us sew love.  Quilt us together, feather-stitching piece by piece our tag-ends of living, our individual scraps of love.

What happens in the process is part old-fashioned quilting bee, part story-telling, part play and part deep spiritual exploration. And, when all the parts come together it is indescribable. It’s new. It’s beautiful. It undoes all the stereotypes about how we can’t talk to one another about religion. In fact, it’s based on the premise that we MUST talk to one another about religion. Or, risk a broken world, severed and splintered by religious misunderstandings.

When I learned of the project, I literally begged to become involved. I had seen Clara’s quilts. I’d met Maggie and I knew that everything about this project resonates with my deepest call to ministry. I remember telling you when we first met that I sought both ways with words and ways without words to make meanings. It’s why  though I am no artist or dancer  I choose movement meditation as a form of prayer and collage as a form of spiritual journaling. I told you that I believe stories are the way we change the world: one story at a time, one person at a time. Native American writer Leslie Marmon Silko says it this way:

I will tell you something about stories,
[he said]
They aren’t just for entertainment.
Don’t be fooled
They are all we have, you see,
all we have to fight off illness and death.
You don’t have anything
if you don’t have the stories.

If we dare to open up to another person with something about ourselves, there is a very strong probability that the other person will dare to open up to us. And so we will dance together, going deeper and deeper into who we are at our core.

This is pretty easy when you are talking with someone who seems a lot like you. Perhaps you have similar educational or cultural backgrounds. Perhaps you share a love of music or computers. Maybe you are both dealing with aging and ailing parents. Or, maybe you are both UUs who grew up in the Catholic or Jewish tradition. It becomes more challenging to have what Maggie would call a "constructive" conversation when there are profound differences between you  the kinds of differences that usually create barriers.

But when you have a common project  a hands-on, shared effort  sometimes constructive conversation can evolve out of the shared experience. This, of course, is the fundamental mission of The Faith Quilts Project: to deepen interfaith and intercultural understanding by gathering together people of diverse faiths to share their deeply held beliefs through collaborative quiltmaking.

A final word about the quilt behind me: Mending Baghdad. Technically, this is not one of the fifty Faith Quilts, but it is a collaborative quilt and it is an act of faith. In the build-up to the Iraq war, Clara and several artist friends wanted to do something to, in her words, "turn our rage into beauty." They decided to invite a group of artist friends to do a project that would help each process their thoughts about the war. Clara’s project was this quilt. She created the basic image from a newspaper photo the morning after the U.S. bombed Baghdad. It was the "shock and awe" period. In the weeks and months and, now, years, since the war began she invited people to "mend" Baghdad by adding to the work-in-progress. Some of the stitches are invisible, some are clearly visible  the Arabic writing, certain architectural details and one grandmother-granddaughter team’s desire to add green grass along the Tigress River.

When I first saw this hanging in Clara’s studio, I had that same stunned reaction I’d had at the DeCordova. It drew me in. It captivated me. It would not let me go  and to this day, it will not let me go. I am particularly drawn to several tiny images in gold thread in the lower right. Someone chose to "return" the precious antiquities that had been looted from the Iraqi national museum  sacred and ancient objects that are precious not only to a nation but to a host of religious traditions.

I want to stitch my tears into this quilt. I want to say to the people of Iraq and people of all nations: "I am sorry." I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

And I want to believe that by holding the vision of beauty in the face of rage, we can  each of us in our own ways  do a little something to mend the world. We can sew love.

Mending Baghdad is still evolving, stitch by stitch, and will remain unfinished, says Clara, until the war is over. Then, she hopes it will find a home in Baghdad where, perhaps, those
who see it will know we cared.

CLOSING WORDS

We live in a time where violence and fear polarize, where religion is politicized and where values are put on trial. People feel threatened, isolated, and wonder how to live out their faith in a world such as this. The Faith Quilts Project is our little effort to change the world  one stitch, one story at a time.

Let us sew love.

Katie Lee welcomes two very special guests and collaborators on The Faith Quilts Project to our Meeting House this morning.

Clara Wainwright is the project’s artistic director of the project. She is a quilt-maker and public celebration artist. She has worked with youth and adults over the past fourteen years on more than 40 collaborative quilts. She founded First Night, a New Year’s Eve celebration of the arts and community which has served as a model for celebrations in over 200 cities around the world.

Dialogue Consultant Maggie Herzig, is a founding associate of the Public Conversations Project, a nonprofit organization in Watertown that designs and facilitates constructive conversations on difficult issues.

Katie Lee chairs The Faith Quilt Advisory Council made up of a diverse group of people  artists and clergy, quilters and museum curators, media professionals, educators, interfaith and international project directors — who consult, support and promote the project.

Something about the quilts you will see…

Mending Baghdad is drawn from the horrifying images of "shock and awe" which initiated the war in Iraq. I left the collage unfinished and invited many people to participate in "mending" Baghdad. At the International Institute’s Dreams of Freedom Museum, the Cape Ann Historical Museum, my studio, the DeCordova Museum and the Kennedy School of Government, people "secured" buildings, added architectural detail, humans, trees and grass, and messages of peace. Note several people’s "return" of some of the gold treasures looted from the Iraqi National museum (lower right). I was particularly honored to have the involvement of several Iraqi Americans. Eventually, I hope to find a place in Baghdad to give this work.                                        – Clara Wainwright

We Bostonians is a Faith Quilt in progress. It is one of two quilts designed to be a permanent installation at the Boston Public Library, both exploring the diverse and interacting spiritual paths of 68 local people. The panel you will see contains the self-portraits of local people, including First Parish members Adi and Rutty Guzdar. The portraits are framed by the words of writer Karen Armstrong in her book The Spiral Staircase:

We used to think that science would answer all our questions and solve all the mysteries. But the more we learn, the more mysterious our world becomes yet we do have glimpses of transcendence even though no two experiences of the divine are the same.

For more information about The Faith Quilts Project, go to www.faithquilts.org

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The Trinity

Posted by on Jul 9, 2010 in Worship Services

First Parish of Sudbury
Rev. Katie Lee Crane, preaching

Unitarians Reject the Doctrine of the Trinity: Why?

Show me your proofs…. Work some miracle. Utter some prophecy. Show me something divine in you which other[s]do not possess.

      • – William Ellery Channing

OPENING WORDS                                

We are said to exalt reason above revelation…. Our leading principle in interpreting Scripture is this: that the Bible is a book written for men (sic), in the language of men (sic), and that its meaning is to be sought in the same manner as that of other books….

We reason about the Bible precisely as civilians do about the constitution.

      • – William Ellery Channing

UNISON CHALICE LIGHTING

We light this chalice to affirm:

  • that new light is ever waiting to break through to enlighten our ways

  • that new truth is ever waiting to break through to illumine our minds

  • that new love is ever waiting to break through to warm our hearts.

      • – Wayne Arnason

WORSHIPPING WITH OUR CHILDREN

It Just Doesn’t Make Sense a story about William Ellery Channing

Our children are learning about Unitarian Universalism in their classes this fall. So, this morning, all of us are learning about some of the same things: our UU history and theology. If you have children in our religious education classes, ask them to tell you what they’re learning.

I want to tell you the story of a little boy from Rhode Island named William. He was born right in the middle of the Revolutionary War. They say he was smaller than other boys, and a little frail, but he could do all the things that they did and he was very good in school. He had brown curly hair and was well-liked by his friends and neighbors.

One day, William’s father took him to hear a preacher who was very popular at the time. Lots and lots of people came from near and far to hear what this man had to say.  He didn’t shout or anything, but he talked a long, long time. He said that God was angry at the world and that all people were sinners, except for a very few that God had picked to be saved.

In fact, that’s what William and his brothers and sisters heard often when they went to church: the world is bad, the people in it are bad, and the worst is yet to come!

On this particular day, though, William began to question these things. After all, when the preacher was finished, the congregation stood and sung praises to God. William wondered: "Why would people praise a God who told them they were sinners and insisted they would go to hell?" On the way home he thought about it some more. As he and his father drove along the seashore on that sunny afternoon and he wondered: "How could this beautiful sea be bad? How could my father be a sinner? Or my mother? Or grandmother? Oh, he knew some people did bad things like swear, or keep slaves or drink too much. But he wasn’t sure that was bad enough for the awful and unending punishment the preacher had described.

"It just doesn’t make sense!" he kept thinking. "It just doesn’t make sense!"

William didn’t have any answers, but he had lots of questions. He kept asking questions and thinking about things as he grew up. He asked questions in school. Sometimes he questioned what he read in books. And, even after he grew up and became a famous preacher himself, he asked questions. He was always trying to make sense out of things.

There is a lot more to William’s story  and I hope to tell more of it another day  but I what I want you to remember today is that William asked questions and sought answers that made sense to him. He looked in books and asked teachers and tried to figure things out for himself. He thought there was always more to learn and that, even kids like himself, might discover something brand new and important. William grew up to be one of the most famous preachers in Boston and a great leader who some call the "Father of Unitarianism."

Remember his name: it was William Ellery Channing.

READING from Unitarian Christianity by William Ellery Channing

When Channing gave the ordination sermon for the Rev. Jared Sparks in Baltimore in May of 1819, he set out to make a statement for the liberal point of view in a growing argument between liberal and conservative Christian believers. Liberals rejected the doctrine of the Trinity and the innate depravity of human beings, both of which were defining tenets of the orthodox Calvinist tradition. Channing’s sermon became the rallying cry of the liberals, gave their movement its name  Unitarian — and eventually led to the split of the two factions and the organization of the American Unitarian Association.

…[W]e believe in the doctrine of God’s UNITY, or that there is one God, and one only. … The proposition, that there is one God, seems to us exceedingly plain. We understand by it, that there is one being, one mind, one person, one intelligent agent, and one only, to whom underived and infinite perfection and dominion belong. We conceive, that these words could have conveyed no other meaning to the simple and uncultivated people who were set apart to be the depositaries of this great truth, and who were utterly incapable of understanding those hair-breadth distinctions between being and person, which the sagacity of later ages has discovered. We find no intimation that this language was to be taken in an unusual sense, or that God’s unity was quite a different thing from the oneness of other intelligent beings.

We object to the doctrine of the Trinity, that, whilst acknowledging in words, it subverts in effect, the unity of God. According to this doctrine, there are three infinite and equal persons, possessing supreme divinity, called the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Each of these persons, as described by theologians, has his (sic) own particular consciousness, will, and perceptions. They love each other, converse with each other, and delight in each other’s society. They perform different parts in man’s redemption, each having his appropriate office, and neither doing the work of the other. The Son is mediator and not the Father. The Father sends the Son, and is not himself sent; nor is he conscious, like the Son, of taking flesh. Here, then, we have three intelligent agents, possessed of different consciousness, different wills, and different perceptions, performing different acts, and sustaining different relations; and if these things do not imply and constitute three minds or beings, we are utterly at a loss to know how three minds or beings are to be formed. …we have no proof, that all the agents and persons in the universe are not one and the same mind. When we attempt to conceive of three Gods, we can do nothing more than represent to ourselves three agents, distinguished from each other by similar marks and peculiarities to those which separate the persons of the Trinity; and when common Christians hear these persons spoken of as conversing with each other, loving each other, and performing different acts, how can they help regarding them as different beings, different minds?

We do, then, with all earnestness, though without reproaching our brethren, [italics mine] protest against the irrational and unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity. …We challenge our opponents to adduce one passage in the New Testament, where the word of God means three persons, where it is not limited to o
ne person, and where, unless turned from its usual sense by the connextion (sic), it does not mean the Father. Can stronger proof be given, that the doctrine of three persons in the Godhead is not a fundamental doctrine of Christianity?

…We believe, then, that Christ is one mind, one being, and I add, a being distinct from the one God. That Christ is not the one God, not the same being with the Father….

RESPONSIVE READING The Free Mind by William Ellery Channing

I call that mind free which masters the senses, and which recognizes its own reality and greatness:

  • Which passes life, not in asking what it shall eat or drink, but in hungering, thirsting, and seeking after righteousness.

I call that mind free which jealously guards its intellectual rights and powers, which does not content itself with a passive or hereditary faith:

  • Which opens itself to the light whencesoever it may come, which receives new truth as an angel from heave.

I call that mind free which is not passively framed by outward circumstances, and is not the creature of accidental impulse:

  • Which discovers everywhere the radiant signatures of the infinite spirit, and in them finds help to its own spiritual enlargement.

I call that mind free which protects itself against the usurpation of society, and which does not cower to human opinion:

  • Which refuses to be the slave or tool of the many or of the few, and guards its empire over itself as nobler than the empire of the world.

I call that mind free which resists the bondage of habit, which does not mechanically copy the past, nor live on its old virtues:

  • But which listens for new and higher monitions of conscience and rejoices to pour itself forth in fresh and higher exertions.

I call that mind free which sets no bounds to its love, which, wherever they are seen, delights in virtue and sympathizes with suffering:

  • Which recognizes in all human beings the image of God and the rights of God’s children, and offers itself up a willing sacrifice to the cause of humankind.

I call that mind free which has cast off all fear but that of wrongdoing, and which no menace or peril can enthrall:

  • Which is clam in the midst of tumults and possesses itself, though all else be lost.

SERMON Unitarians Reject the Doctrine of the Trinity: Why?

The idea for today’s sermon came to me on a Tuesday, late last July. You know how it is: I was the "carpool Mom" that day. I had to buy a few groceries. I was moving my study from downstairs to upstairs. The garden was all weeds. Guests were coming…. You know, the usual.

And there it was, a query via e-mail: "Why did Unitarians reject the doctrine of the Trinity?" Now, the answer to that question could easily fill a dissertation and certainly take a five-week class in Unitarian history and theology. So, I waited until I had more time. And when "more time" didn’t come right away, I waited some more.

Well, one thing led to another, and, finally, I am responding (though I still wish I had more time). I must thank my e-mail correspondents for their patience. I hope the information I can provide is as interesting to them and to you as it is to me.

The doctrine of the Trinity, as we learned in this morning’s reading, is the belief of three persons in one God: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; it holds that Jesus is not only human (God’s Son) but also divine (God, himself). For most Christians, both eastern and western, this is a central and important doctrine of their faith. The doctrine of the Trinity was formally defined and adopted at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E.

This council, the first ecumenical council ever to be held, was a gathering of church fathers (probably numbering between 220 and 300), summoned together by the Emperor, Constantine, to deal with the so-called "Arian controversy." At the heart of the controversy was a theological question about the divinity of Jesus. Arius, a Libyan born priest who served one of the principal churches at Alexandria, was the chief proponent of the idea that Jesus was human, not divine  not God in nature. This concept had a large and powerful following. Athanasius, who later became Bishop of Alexandria, was one of the most vocal champions for a different point of view: that Jesus was both human and divine.

At its heart, this was a theological deliberation among the greatest theologians of the day. According to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, the council "appears to have begun with informal discussion between the Arians and the orthodox, followed by a solemn opening by Constantine himself." At the council, the Arians presented a creed for consideration. But Athanasius led the opposition to adopt another creed, what we now call the Nicene Creed, which contains four anti-Arian statements. [There is a copy of the Nicene Creed in your order of service, today.]

Scholars do not know whether the assembled Fathers meant for this to be the last word on the subject  some suggest that it was their intent that the discussion continue. Certainly, the controversy continued. At successive councils through the decade of 350 C.E. the two sides won and lost ground respectively. By 359 Jerome wrote: "The whole world groans to find itself Arian." Eventually, though, the orthodox views prevailed. The creedal statement written at the first Council of Nicea became widely accepted in both east and west, thanks in large part to the theological expositions of three Cappadocians: Basil, Gregory of Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa.

Even after it was eradicated from the empire, however, Arianism retained a foothold among a few Teutonic tribes.

I give you all this background for several reasons. First, because many Unitarians trace a piece of their lineage back to the Arian perspective. But, more than that, I mention it because, in my opinion, the central issue is not just about the divinity of Jesus or the definition of God, it’s about how people make sense out of things; about how people come to understand what they believe.

Looking at it purely from our present-day Unitarian Universalist perspective, it’s about our fourth principal: a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

For a moment, though, let me continue with some history. Remember the Arian foothold in the Teutonic tribes? I strongly suspect that’s how the same issues surfaced among the people in Zurich in 1525 when the radical wing of the Swiss reformation decided to establish a pure Church, reformed from the ground up, based on strict adherence in every particular to the teachings of Scripture, which they accepted literally and tried to follow faithfully. It is almost certainly the origins of the anti-trinitarian sentiments in Italy and Geneva, and probably also in Poland, perhaps Holland, and certainly Transylvania in the 16th century. In fact, the first official use of the word unitarian occurred a century later, in 1638, in Transylvania, a province of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which became a part of Romania after World War I. This, of course, is why there is still such an active Unitarian presence in Romania, today.

I’ve just covered about four of the five weeks of that hypothetical course on this topic and I haven’t even gotten to the threads of unitarianism (or anti-trinitarianism) in England and, then, the United States.

Not every Christian dissenter objected to the doctrine of the Trinity on the same grounds. For some, it was an issue over the divinity of Jesus. For others, it was about the authorita
tive source. The Bible, specifically the New Testament or Christian Bible, was thought to be the proof text for theological issues; opponents argued that they could find no definitive evidence in the Bible for the Trinity. Others argued that the Bible is a human document, written and interpreted by fallible human beings, hence we cannot draw from it categorical conclusions about something so important as God.

William Ellery Channing, whom I will return to in a moment, said: "Christianity becoming identified, by means of creeds, with so many dark doctrines, is looked on by many as a subject for theologians to quarrel about, but too thorny or perplexed for common minds…."

I think he’s right. The debate was mostly among the educated elite, the philosophers and theologians, the great minds whose passion and, often, profession was to interpret and articulate the tenets of the faith. In every age, there rose up voices and visionaries who attempted to explain and teach what they understood to be the truth.

In short, it is a classic example of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Except for one thing. The Christian Church, particularly the Roman church and the Eastern Orthodox Christians, have, on occasion, articulated a set of truths that they sincerely believe to be unchanging.

By contrast, there have always been voices who argue that revelation is continuous, never fixed.

That leads to my final history lesson of today: the role of liberal New England Christians in defining a unitarian point of view.  

In New England, Calvinism was the dominant Christian theology. By the end of the 1700s  around the time that our meetinghouse was completed  Calvinism had moved to the beliefs you see on the other side of today’s insert. New England Calvinist doctrine of the late 18th century stressed that: human beings are totally depraved as a result of original sin; God decides who is predestined for heaven or hell (good works mean nothing); Jesus died only to save those few elected by God; and, once saved, always saved (bad deeds mean nothing).  They say that Israel Loring, the first minister to serve in what was then the western precinct of Sudbury, was rooted strongly in this Calvinist tradition.

Liberal Christians, began to reject the increasingly strict and severe tenets of Calvinism. Culturally, people were becoming more secular and more literary. Influenced by the rational, Enlightenment Movement in Europe, they began linking intellectual and artistic pursuits with religious and moral ones. Instead of talk of depravity, the liberals began to emphasize human moral capacity. They honestly began to believe that human beings were capable of good moral choices.

The young minister of the Brattle Street Church, Joseph Stevens Buckminister, used a new form of biblical criticism to take on the orthodox point of view. (Research such as that of the Jesus Seminar does the same thing today.) Buckminister questioned the authenticity of some interpretations of the Bible, concluding that only a very few of the various books contain substantiated evidence that affect the doctrines of Christianity. He noted one verse in particular, I John 5:7 as a "notorious" example of "willful interprolation." That verse, in the King James Version of the Bible, reads:

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.

Do you see what is happening here?  Do you notice the parallels to Arius and Athanasius? The details of the arguments differ, but the big picture is the same. Orthodox thinkers hold fast to one doctrine. Liberal thinkers dispute that doctrine and offer a different interpretation. The controversy heats up to a boil. In short, the great thinkers of the day wrestle with theological issues.

Enter William Ellery Channing.  We have been listening to his words all morning. He is thought by many to be the Father of North American Unitarianism. Certainly it was his ordination sermon in Baltimore that gave the movement its name. To the orthodox Christians of his day, rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity was the most heinous of crimes because it implied a rejection of the divinity of Jesus. Unitarians! That’s what they called the liberal dissenters. Unitarians, a nasty, hateful epithet.

It was Channing who accepted and defended the label, Unitarianism, and who, more than anyone else, gave us a definition for it. With one sermon, Unitarian Christianity, he became the chief spokesperson for the liberal point of view. It was  immediately  one of the most controversial sermons ever written, and, we now know, one of the most enduring.

What we must remember today, in what many call the post-Christian era of Unitarian Universalism, is that Channing and the other liberals were solidly Christian. Unlike the 20th century Humanists who professed no belief in God, the early Unitarians believed in God. They believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the one chosen by God to bring good news. They believed in the authority of scriptures, especially the New Testament.

To Channing, who considered himself a liberal Christian, it was a matter of interpretation. To Buckminister, it was a matter of applying reason. "It [is] our bounden duty" he said, "to exercise our reason upon [the Bible] perpetually." Neither felt the Bible was the word of God; instead, they felt it was the work of humans inspired by God.

Fixed doctrines, then, and creeds, to Channing, were an insult to human reason. He believed revelation is continuous. He could not  and would not  attach his beliefs to things until he could make sense of them.

In other sermons, Channing referred to the "divinity in us," and our human likeness to God. For him, the real controversy was not so much a rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity (that is, a rejection of Jesus as God); it was much more about the affirmation human nature (that is, that there is a bit of God in all of us).

For Channing, the issue wasn’t so much whether you did or did not believe in the Trinity, but whether you were free to make meanings for yourself.

The history lesson could go on and on. The theological nuances could be much more finely articulated. It would take months to research and report on all the ways Christians, both eastern and western, have interpreted the doctrine of the Trinity and, months more, to do justice to those who opposed the dominant  and eventually, doctrinal  statements about it. (In just fifteen minutes, Jonas gave me a foot-high stack of references that represent a few of the Christian perspectives on the Trinity. My own stack of Unitarian resources is equally high.)

But my point is this: In every age there will be those who enjoy the intellectual challenge and the spiritual rigor of theological interpretations. It is what we all do: make meanings for ourselves from what we know. I cannot say definitively that Arius was right and Athanasius was wrong. Or that anyone elsemyself included  has THE ANSWER. I can only say that all of us are struggling in our own ways to make meanings and that, as a Unitarian Universalist, I am committed to affirming everyone’s right to a responsible search for truth and meaning.

I conclude with Channing’s statement read earlier this morning:

We do then, with all earnestness, though without reproaching our brethren, protest against the irrational and unscriptural doctrine of the Trinity.

Only this time, I ask you not to reflect on his statement about the Trinity, but on his very important qualification: [We reject this,] without reproaching our brethren. This, it seems to me, is as great a legacy from Channing as his theological position. He believed strongly in his position. He doubted the position of his opponents, but he never, never doubted their right to have that position.

For me, that is the great legacy of the early
Unitarian history and theology and the foundation on which our fourth principal solidly rests.

…………………

We opened with a traditional Christian expression of the Trinity. Listen, now as we close with two contemporary interpretations of the Trinity.

 
CLOSING WORDS

The discussion is not over. I close with the words of Karl Rahner, a 20th century Jesuit theologian who wrestles with ways to bring complex doctrine, such as the Trinity, to ordinary Christians. His perspective refutes everything I have just said. I do not ask you to accept it, necessarily, but I do ask that you listen, and hear it, and accept the reality that it contains his "truth," and may, just possibly help  you or someone you love make meanings for yourselves.

…the doctrine of the Trinity is not a subtle theological and speculative game, but rather is an assertion which cannot be avoided.

[adapted] We must accept the simple statement that is, at once, so incomprehensible and so self evident: God is the holy and abiding mystery, the God of infinite distance and absolute closeness, present in the spiritual depths of our existence and in the concreteness of our corporeal history.

Several texts referenced in this service

  • APOSTLES’ CREED*

This is a statement of faith used only in the Western Church (no Eastern Orthodox Churches make the same statement of faith). Though its affirmations can be supported by New Testament evidence, the creed itself is not of Apostolic origins. It is first noted around 390 C.E. and was popular during the reign of Charlemagne. It was frequently used in the Middle Ages (7th and 9th centuries), and is still popular today.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Amen.

  • NICENE CREED*

This profession of faith was issued at the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. to defend against the Arian belief that Jesus was not truly divine. [Arians believed that Jesus was created by the Father and that therefore he was not God by nature, but a changeable creature, his divinity having been bestowed upon him by the Father.] It is used by Christians in both Eastern and Western traditions.

We believe in one God, the Father, the almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen.

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. Through him all things were made. For us men and for our salvation he came down from heaven: by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died, and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfilment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets.

We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the ressurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Amen.

  • Statement by North American Calvinists — "T.U.L.I.P."*

Calvinism began in the Netherlands in 1618 as one of the reform traditions that took exception to the prevailing teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. When Calvinism spread to North America, it became exaggerated and extreme, resulting in the following beliefs:

T = total depravity; powerless over sin
U= unconditional election; predestined by God for heaven or hell
L = limited atonement; Christ died only for the elect
I = irresistible grace; we cannot say "no" to God’s grace
P= perseverance of the saints; once saved, always saved

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Have Faith In Democracy

Posted by on Jul 9, 2010 in Worship Services

 Have Faith in Democracy

First Parish of Sudbury
Rev. Katie Lee Crane, preaching

      • Make a religious commitment to democracy.
      • Have faith and vote!

OPENING WORDS, Rev. Katie Lee Crane

Sound the alarm early and loud.
Wake the nation.
Fill the car with neighbors.
Drive to the polls.
This is it.
Now is here.
We decide.

UNISON CHALICE LIGHTING

May all who gather here bring their ideals, dreams, and songs. May this flame signal a call to a dedicated and constructive life, and may it help us to garner energy and enthusiasm for a higher purpose and a common good.

    • – Loring Prosser (adapted)

RESPONSIVE READING The Idea of Democracy by Abraham Lincoln

As labor is the common burden of our race, so the effort of some to shift their share of the burden onto the shoulders of others is the great, durable, curse of the race.

As I would not be a slave, so I would not be a master.

This expresses my idea of democracy. Whatever differs from this, to the extent of the difference, is no democracy.

Our reliance is in our love for liberty; our defense is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all people in all lands everywhere.

Destroy this spirit, and we have planted the seeds of despotism at our own doors.

Those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and cannot long retain it.

Why should there not be a patient confidence in the ultimate justice of the people? Is there any better or equal hope in the world?

Let us have faith that right makes might, and in that faith, let us, to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.

READING Our Fifth Principle adapted from an essay by Earl Holt

We affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.

It may seem unusual for a religious body to include a commitment to a political method in its defining principles. Perhaps it is less surprising, though, if we remember that both Unitarianism and Universalism were born here in the formative years of the American Republic, each of them decisively influenced and shaped by the same Enlightenment ideas and values that gave rise to the American Revolution and American democracy.

It is no accident that many of the founders of the Republic were also leaders in the formation of Unitarianism and Universalism, including, among others, Benjamin Rush, Universalist signer of the Declaration of Independence, and Joseph Priestley, the scientist and Unitarian preacher who was a strong influence on Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Their religious convictions were crucial in their formulation of America’s political creed, for as James Madison would say later, "What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?" Political and religious ideas interpenetrate. For example, the political notion that a people have a right to self-government grows out of religious conviction that human beings have the capacity to shape their own destiny, that they are not mere puppets on a divine string.

Democracy, to put it another way, is more than a mechanism of governance. It is an expression of faith in the power of human beings to shape their own lives, a faith that is most explicit in the ideals of our Unitarian Universalist religious tradition.

One of the most articulate and important advocates of this expression of faith was A. Powell Davies. Democracy in his view "is the social and political expression of [a] religious principle," that all human beings are kin and humankind a family; "and at this higher level," he said, "the spiritual unity of the human family is declared to be unrestricted by nation, race, or creed." This "Religion of Democracy," as it has been called, or "The Faith Behind Freedom" is obviously not intended to be the unique possession or treasured value of a single sect or denomination, ours or any other. Its application is universal so we commit ourselves to its implementation not only in our own congregations but also in society at large.

It is important to note, too, that our covenantal commitment to the democratic process is explicitly linked to the protection of an individual right: freedom of conscience. In recent years, the most tireless advocate of this principle was the Reverend Paul Beattie, founder of Unitarian Universalists for Freedom of Conscience. Bettie articulated a vision that would encourage the widest possible diversity and pluralism in our congregations:

I want my Unitarian Universalist church to include Christians, Theists, Humanists, and others. I want its political discussions to include Republicans, Democrats, Consumerists, and Libertarians. I want discussions of economics to include Milton Friedmanites and John Kenneth Galbraithians, Marxists, socialists and capitalists, or free enterprisers. Such inclusiveness, which grows out of a radical congregational polity, the free mind principle, and the noncreedal approach to religion, is the only possible basis for modern Unitarian Universalism.

There is always a temptation for humans to seek something more safe and certain, especially in the face of rough passage. Paul Beattie called this temptation the great illusion.

We have to learn and relearn in each generation that the quest for certainty is the great illusion. We have to learn and relearn how wonderful it is to say to each person: you must learn to think for yourself and act for yourself  no one can or should do it for you. Many, many people hunger to hear this message and to live it. There is no substitute for the freedom of the mind and the heart and the conscience.

READING Beloved Community adapted from an essay by Richard Gilbert

The term Beloved Community elucidates the liberal religious concern for justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Community is a term both contemporary and democratic; Beloved Community is a term for humanistic, theistic, and other theological perspectives. It implies that ours is a project in loving the neighbor near and distant, an endeavor that is squarely in humanity’s hands  keeping in step with the long Unitarian Universalist tradition of trying to build a heaven on earth.

Beloved Community then is a constellation of values to be lived out by the individual and the religious community in the wider society. Unitarian Universalism seeks to be a "church without walls" in which social concerns become the agenda of the people as they take their spiritual and ethical values into the public arena. Our congregations seek to be communities of moral discourse and social action on the frontiers of living. The congregants become conspirators for Beloved Community  conspiracy meaning "to breathe together." We Unitarian Universalists are a "spiritual center with a civic circumference." We have a proud history of repairing the world. And we live under a prophetic imperative to work for the Beloved Community. We covenant together to live out compassion, equity, and justice in communal life. We are clear that some values are not optional; they must be lived. To refuse to act, to fail to live out our values, is to abdicate our role as spiritual and moral beings.

SERMON         Have Faith in Democracy                      Rev. Katie Lee Crane

Have faith in democracy. I believe fervently in the separation of church and state. I do NOT believe, th
ough, that separation of church and state means that I need to check my moral convictions before engaging in civic discourse. On the contrary, I believe that my religious values shape my civic response and responsibility. So, thankfully, do most candidates running for public office in this election.

Let me say at the outset that this is service is part pep rally, part revival meeting. And, it is for me. (They say ministers preach what they most need to hear.) I am doing this to remind myself how dearly I cherish the freedom to voice my opinion and vote my conscience. I’m hoping to reignite in me what I experience as a call (in the religious sense of call) to exercise those freedoms to sustain the common good. It to help me garner energy and enthusiasm for what lays ahead, regardless of any of the outcomes on November 2. It is unabashedly for me in the face of anxious days and sleepless nights. I hope it is for you, too.

So here it is in a nutshell. I’m worried. I’m angry. I’m afraid. I’m losing faith in democracy.

I’m worried about homelessness and joblessness. I’m concerned about what we’re doing to our most vulnerable citizens: children, elders, those with mental illness, with AIDS, those without adequate protection or resources, and those who fall through the cracks of the system. I’m anxious about health care, and public education, and eroding civil liberties. I lose sleep wondering what will happen to the freedom to choose, the freedom to marry, the freedom to dissent. I’m terrified about the next Supreme Court appointments.

I’m angry. I’m angry about this war which, for me, IS the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons. I’m angry at how we are exporting democracy abroad without protecting it here at home. I’m pissed that human beings are dying for no good reason  children and families because they live in a "war-torn" area, inner city kids because they live on the wrong side of the street. I’m irate that we are using up and abusing the world’s natural resources, often in the name of greed. I’m furious at the murder of countless Africans in the Sudan because somebody has the twisted idea of exterminating a class of human beings. I’m incensed that the sick and the elderly cannot afford medical treatment or medicines. I’m outraged that Jews, Muslims, and Christians are killing each other because they happened to be Jews or Muslims, or Christians. I’m livid that that innocent bystanders get caught in the cross-fire of someone else’s rage. I feel rage, too, rage that some are trying to make "liberal" a dirty word and others accuse dissenters of being unpatriotic.

I’m afraid of what is happening in my country. Afraid that our democratic principles are being distorted to serve special interests. Afraid of how divided and hateful we’ve become. Afraid, in fact, that we are becoming what we say we are most afraid of: terrorists, bullies, occupiers, empire-builders.

I need to stop (though I could go on). I need to remind you  though I hope most of you will need no reminding  that when I speak you are not obliged to agree with me. You grant me (or whoever stands here) the freedom of the pulpit; I grant you (or whoever is sitting there) the freedom of the pew. I am eager to engage in conversation about any of these issues  conversation just like Paul Beattie describes in today’s reading  a dialogue that grows out of the free mind principle, an exchange that can only happen when a radical inclusiveness ensures that no opinion will be excluded. (Bigots, unyielding extremists, and ideologues, however, are only welcome to participate in the conversation if they speak and listen with respect and do not force their opinions on others. There will be no coercion here.)

A few weeks ago, I attended a meeting of UU ministers in this district  all of us from Eastern Massachusetts. We were talking about the election. We discussed our prophetic role (what we can and can’t do from the pulpit); our pastoral role, and our role as witnesses, advocates and activists. During the pastoral part of the discussion, one colleague said she’d recently gotten a call from a parishioner who asked, seriously and with genuine concern, "Is it safe to park there on Sunday morning? We have a Bush-Cheney bumper sticker on our car."

I was broken-hearted to hear that question. I suspect many of us share a similar political perspective, but I do not assume that we all do. One UU minister said that we UUs are freethinkers. We are not a liberal movement for liberal causes. Our task is to keep the doors and windows open, to responsibly search and explore the unknown, inhibited in that quest only by conscience and a concern for humanity.

Like Rev. Beattie, I too want our conversations to be peopled with Democrats and Republicans and Green Party folks and Libertarians. I want our meeting house to host opportunities for moral and civic discourse. I want to hear reasoned and deeply-held opinions that are similar to my own but also ones that are different. In fact, hard as it is in these divisive times, I want to work hardest to preserve the open forum on which our democratic principles are based. I see it as my religious responsibility. I see it as a moral imperative.

That is really why I chose to talk about our fifth principle today, to put things in a religious and moral context. As citizens we have a right and responsibility to vote; as Unitarian Universalists I would argue that we have a religious obligation to participate in the process. Democracy, we heard earlier, is an expression of faith in the power of human beings to shape our own lives. It is an act of courage to think and act for oneself; it is an act of response-ability. Two words: response; ability. This right  this freedom  guarantees us the ability to respond; or it should. In the words of A. Powell Davies, democracy is the social and political expression of a religious principle: that all human beings are kin and all humankind a family. We Unitarian Universalists are called to live that principle.

I know many of us are. You’ve told me how you are supporting the candidates of your choice materially and in so many other ways. You’re making phone calls. You’re going door to door in the rain. You’re standing in the cold with signs. You’re hosting gatherings in your living rooms. Some UUs (even some here) are voting absentee and traveling to the so-called battleground states. A whole group is going from the Winchester congregation as part of the Election Protection poll monitoring program. Many UUs  including many of us here  have been working tirelessly for voter registration. Others on voter education and voter mobilization. And still others on poll monitoring and advocacy.

Of course, regardless of what you are doing now, you must do at least one thing on or before November 2. Vote. Four years ago, according to the US Census Bureau, one in five voters claimed they were "too busy" to vote. Only 36 percent of those 18-24 voted. Only 38 percent of people living in households with income less than $10,000 voted. And only 55 percent of the total voting age population voted. We’re too busy. We think our vote won’t count. We’re apathetic. We take our vote for granted. As religious people who affirm the freedom of conscience and the use of the democratic process, we have no excuse. Vote. Find the time. Find a way. Vote. And, if you are able, help others to do the same.

It troubles me when I hear stories that officials are denying voter registrations, when independent sources verify the validity of those registrations. It pains me to know that seemingly simple-to-overcome barriers  like long waits at the polls, or the absence of child care, or transportation, or the voting machines themselves  may disadvantage certain voters. The folks at Election Protection, a nonpartisan, national partnership to encourage voter participation report that "in 2000, millions of Americans in minority communities were denied their righ
t to vote through a combination of illegal threats and intimidation, poor voter education, poorly trained poll workers and voting machines that didn’t work." In America. Not Afghanistan. Not Iraq. America  land of the free.

This happens to be a national election. If we’re lucky that will get us to the polls in record numbers. Still, I know some will say your vote doesn’t matter here because we know how Massachusetts will go in the national election. I don’t buy that, and I remind those voters that there are important  I would say vital  elections closer to home. In Sudbury and surrounding towns, we have contested elections for our state senators and our state representatives. These, too, are heated and potentially divisive campaigns that deserve your attention…and someone deserves your vote. There are stark contrasts among candidates on the issues  the freedom to marry being a prime example, but by no means the only one.

I chose the two readings we heard this morning because they point out a creative tension in our UU values. Both the right of conscience and beloved community. Both individual freedom and the common good. It’s not always possible to have it both ways. And, frankly, I fear that my country is forgetting about the common good. Too many special interests are fighting for a bigger share of the pie. And the common citizen? Well, some are waiting for crumbs. I also worry that the right of conscience is being tested by those who view dissent as unacceptable. I find the so-called Patriot Act to be dangerous. And that’s just one example. Right of conscience and beloved community. Individual freedom and the common good. Both are necessary. Neither can be wholly sacrificed for the other. But finding the balance  and working together to preserve and sustain it  is our moral imperative. It is our religious and our civic responsibility.

Winston Churchill said "democracy is the worst form of government  except for all the others!

Can we reclaim our democracy? Can we revive our pride and patriotism that was born here, practically on this very soil? Can we sing with pride about the land we love  land of the free, home of the brave? Can we have faith in democracy?

I think we must. It is our religious responsibility. It is our moral imperative.

UNISON CLOSING WORDS

I believe that voting is an act of faith and hope, based on civic and religious values. Voting has an importance that transcends the particulars of any given issue, candidate, or election.

My vote is my voice, and I have a responsibility to my community and myself to use it. As a matter of religious commitment, I covenant to be an active participant in democracy. I will have faith and vote!

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