Tag Archives: Unitarian

Poem: how precious this life

Poem: n. A verbal composition designed to convey experiences, ideas, or emotions in a vivid and imaginative way, characterized by the use of language chosen for its sound and suggestive power and by the use of literary techniques such as meter, metaphor, and rhyme.

Precious: adj. highly esteemed, cherished, worthy, valuable

Rev. Arthur Vaeni came down from Olympia Unitarian Universalist Congregation to speak on Sunday – about what’s really important. (A terrific message: you can listen to an earlier version of it here: Four Reasons to Try Something Different.)

It was a Buddhist message, calling us to wake up to the present moment, because life is precious and it’s all too short- a realization make all the more poignant given the gun violence that snuffed out so many precious lives in recent days.

He quoted several Buddhist sages, and read one of my favorite teaching poems “Bugs in a Bowl” ( blogged here).

Bottom line: life is what it is; this moment is what it is; you can choose to resist it (whine, complain, deny) or get into it.

He closed with a poem by Susan Griffin:

Born Into a World Knowing

This will happen
Oh god we say just give
me a few more
breaths
and don’t let it be
terrible
let it be soft
perhaps in someone’s
arms, perhaps tasting
chocolate
perhaps
laughing or asking
Is it over already?
or saying not yet. Not
yet
the sky
has at this moment turned
another shade of blue,
and see there a child
still plays
in the fresh snow.

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President Peter: Rev. Morales heads UUA

President: n. leader of an organization – by election, appointment or personal decision

Peter: n. my old friend Rev. Peter Morales

Rev. Peter Morales, UUA President!

Just returned from Salt Lake City, where a couple thousand Unitarian Universalists from around the country convened for their/our annual General Assembly or GA. Although the workshops, talks, worship services and meet-greets are always worthwhile, this year I went to pimp for Peter – working on the campaign to elect him president of the Unitarian Universalist Association.

And he won! Decisively – with 58% of the votes. I call him “Pope Peter”.  (“President”  is the closest UUs get to pontiff status.)

A combination of factors that led to his victory, IMHO:

  • A clearly articulated platform, with specific goals
  • An opponent whose platform was fuzzy and vaguely stated
  • A richly varied background of multicultural experience ( including in the business world), world travel, education, success
  • Skillful ease with public speaking – without notes
  • Personal charm and sense of humor

I was particularly invested in the campaign because it was I who first brought Peter and his family to a UU church in 1994. The exposure took, and the rest is history.

Now the real work begins. Ours is a venerable but TINY denomination, not natively given to evangelism. Either we grow in numbers and presence or watch ourselves become an interesting footnote in American religious and intellectual history.  The budget has been slashed by 20%.  So whatever gets done, must be done with less.

I send him white light…

Peter’s Prayer

Peter: n.  In this case, Peter is the Rev. Peter Morales, Senior Minister at Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden, CO, and candidate for President of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Prayer: n. an address (as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought; an earnest request or wish

Two candidates are running for President of the UUA – election is June 27. On the UU list-serve about the election, supporters of the other candidate keep questioning whether Peter is “spiritual enough.”  (Full disclosure: I am an active Peter Morales supporter…)

Because UUs aren’t traditional Christians (and most UUs aren’t Christian at all) the issue of “prayer” often comes up. So,  since today is Sunday, and we talk about P-words here, I thought I’d excerpt from one of Peter’s sermons – this one called “Prayer.” This is the last 3rd of it:

. . . So, what can prayer mean to us if we don’t pray for divine supernatural intervention, if we don’t pray for forgiveness, if we don’t pray to a god that is a kind of person? Once we dump out the superstition, what is left?

Quite a lot, actually; quite a lot.

Prayer can be a kind of meditation, a time when you and I open our hearts, open our awareness. Prayer can be a time to reaffirm our concern for other people. Prayer can be a time when we connect with what we hold sacred, a time when we remind ourselves of what is truly important, what really matters to us. Prayer can be a time when we remind our selves of our highest aspirations and a time when we confront, in all humility and honesty, how we have fallen short of what strive to be. Prayer can be a time when we quietly rededicate our selves to becoming what we hope to be. Prayer can be a time for opening our selves to new possibility, to new direction—a time for listening to that quiet, gentle, persistent voice that dwells in us. We have to be quiet to hear that voice; we have to be still.

This is the core of what personal prayer has always been. This is the essence that remains after we strip away outmoded notions of god as a ruler, of god as an all powerful patriarch. Prayer has always been a time of quietly coming face to face with what we hold sacred, what we call holy. Prayer is a kind of relationship, an experience of standing before creation.

Personal prayer need not involve any words. The key is to make time, to reflect, to be still, to allow our selves to feel our connections to life, to others, to the unity of all creation.

Today, as every Sunday, we will offer a pastoral prayer. In this prayer we share our thanks for community. We share our gratitude for being alive, for beauty that surrounds us, for loving friends. We share our concern for members of our congregation who are suffering loss or difficult times. We rejoice with others who have cause for celebration. This is what every community should do—share life’s joys and life’s sorrows, be grateful for what we have, hold the wider world in our embrace, aspire to serve. Our collective prayer is like a hymn. Our prayer expresses our compassion and our hope. Such a prayer helps bind us together. Such a prayer does not require a belief in anything supernatural.

My personal prayer today is for inner peace, for a bit more patience (I dare not ask for a miracle) and a bit less crabbiness. My prayer is for wholeness, for allowing myself to experience the joy of being alive. If I am still and open and centered, gratitude comes over me. I would pray for the wisdom and energy to serve this community effectively.

My prayer for our congregation is that we prosper, that we remain open hearted, that we be a true beacon of compassion, understanding and acceptance. I pray that we help bring wholeness and love to each other, that we honor our elders and raise our children to be kind and strong. My prayer for my world is that it become a place of peace, understanding, and justice, a place where life is affirmed and violence disappears.

When you are still, when you are in that place of profound peace and strong connection to your inner self and to the universe, what is it that you would pray for? When you look at your self, those you love, this community and our world, what is it that you dare to hope for?

I suspect our prayers would have a lot in common. When we stop to be still, to open our hearts, to express our deepest longings, we find that we share much. We want wholeness, peace, joy, love, acceptance.

Once we pray in this way, once you and I allow our selves to be in contact with our innermost longings, when we experience our hopes and express them, then you I and have laid a foundation. For praying without acting is not enough; it never has been.

Prayer is a prelude. Prayer is preparation.

Our true task is not finished. If in my prayer I feel compassion for victims of hurricane Katrina and then fail to do anything, what good is my prayer? If I pray that human life may prosper for millennia to come and then do nothing to help create a sustainable world, what good are my hopes? If my prayer for our community is that we be open and welcoming, yet I never open my heart to embrace new people and make them feel truly welcome, what good is my prayer? If I pray for justice but never work for it, my prayer is simply an act of hypocrisy.

Our prayers will only be answered if you and I answer them! Our love can only find expression through what you and I do. Love is not some fuzzy abstraction; love is acts of love, acts of kindness, acts of compassion. Peace is not concept; peace is a relationship. Justice is a relationship.

Ultimately the person who really needs to hear my prayer is me. The person who needs to hear your prayer is you. The people who need to heed our collective prayer is us.

The first step is to be still, to hear our innermost voice, to be filled by our love for life and for each other.

Let us pray with all of our hearts. Then let us act. Let us live our prayers. Let us become the kind, caring, alive, joyful, grateful, idealistic, world transforming people we long to be.

Let us pray. Let us come honestly and humbly into the presence of all we hold sacred. And then let us be our prayer. When our life becomes our prayer and our prayer becomes our life, then we will truly have learned to pray.

Let us pray. Yes, let us pray.

So may it be. Amen.

Peter for President – of the Unitarian Universalist Association

Peter: n. Rev. Peter Morales, Senior Minister of Jefferson Unitarian Church in Golden Colorado.

President: n. the person (democratically) elected by delegates from the thousand UU congregations in the U.S. to be the leader of and spokesperson for the denomination for the next four years.

Rev. Peter Morales is running for UUA President against the Rev. Laurel Hallman of Dallas. Both are fine candidates, but this election, to be held June 27 at our annual meeting, reminds me of last spring’s primary when I wanted a woman to be US president, but ended up supporting Obama because he was the right person for the job at this time.

Peter is the right man for this job at this time because he has the vision and the practical experience to help us out of our current shrinking mode. With less than 200,000 members you could say we’re but a blip on the American religious landscape these days.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about UUism:

Unitarian Universalism (UUism) is a theologically liberal religion characterized by its support for a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Unitarian Universalists do not share a creed; rather, they are unified by their shared search for spiritual growth. Unitarian Universalists draw on many different theological sources and have a wide range of beliefs and practices.

Both Unitarianism and Universalism have their historical roots in the Christian faith. But by the time they decided to combine their efforts at the continental level in 1961, the theological significance of these terms had expanded beyond the traditional Christian understanding. Today’s UUs appreciate and value aspects of other religions ranging from Judaism to Jainism. Although Unitarian Universalist congregations and fellowships tend to retain some Christian traditions, such as Sunday worship with a sermon and the singing of hymns, they do not necessarily identify themselves as Christians, nor do they necessarily subscribe to Christian beliefs.

The extent to which the elements of any particular faith tradition are incorporated into one’s personal spiritual practices is a matter of personal choice in keeping with Unitarian Universalism’s creedless, non-dogmatic approach to spirituality and faith development.

Let me say this: one of the biggest problems UUs have is articulating what we believe. We have “Seven Principles” which serve more as a code of behavior towards others and towards the natural world than a set of beliefs. Some of us are Buddhists, some are pagans. We have atheists and agnostics too.

It makes it hard to talk about what we’ve got going for us with people who’ve never heard of us! It also makes us really hard to govern when there’s no orthodoxy. A bunch of cats, we are.

Just pulling together a post  into something that actually says something meaningful about UUism is a challenge for me, and I’ve been a UU all my life — as were my parents and grandparents. Pathetic.

Compared to the other candidate, who is even more mush-mouthed than I am, Peter will ( if anyone can) help us share our message more effectively, and herd us into a flock that moves forward together.

His website is here

Process: UU decision-making on a new congregational name

Process: n. : a series of actions or operations conducing to an end

Process: v. to subject to or handle through an established set of procedures ; to subject to examination or analysis

We Unitarian Universalists love process (the noun) and processing (the verb). Perhaps it’s because promoting  the democratic process is one of our seven principles. Perhaps it’s because we like to see all sides of every issue before making a decision.

In practice this means that we talk everything to death. Because we value individual authority as well as community, this also means that when the process doesn’t go “MY way,” we sometimes take it personally – leading irascible members to collect their marbles and go home. (Pissed off forever).

Our congregation was formed in 1953 during a UU period of expansion known as the “fellowship movement.” The idea was to seed small lay-led UU congregations across the country, which would eventually grow larger. Our local founders named the organization “The Michael Servetus Unitarian Universalist Fellowship” after the brilliant bad boy of the Protestant Reformation, Miguel Servet, to honor his death 400 years earlier in 1593.

(Servetus was burned at the stake in Geneva by John Calvin for proclaiming that the trinity was a load of codswallop and not to be found in the bible.  God was a unity, as any idiot could see, he said. His story is actually extremely interesting, but that’s not the point of this post…)

Anyway, we’ve lived with this horrendous mouthful of a name for 55 years. First, Unitarian Universalism is obscure enough. There are only about 200,000 of us in the US because we are not evangelical (nor are we Christian any more). Michael Servetus is known only to the cognescenti; everyone else who sees our name thinks he must be our conceited minister – people actually call and ask for “Michael”. And we outgrew the “fellowship” size years ago.

I’ve thought the name sucked since I joined in 1992. A year ago, three of us, including me, were commissioned by the Board of Trustees to form the “Name Change Exploration Team.”

In the ensuing months we conducted surveys of members, friends and newcomers (a wide net because we wanted to know how the name played out in the greater community) Was our name a barrier to people visiting? Did it communicate who we were to outsiders as well as insiders?  Should we change our name? If so, what names would you suggest?

The response was very positive and 90  new names were suggested. After reducing the list by half lumping together similar names, everyone ranked their top three names, which got us down to six names –five new names plus “no change.”

The “no change” contingent was relatively small, but they were obstreperous. Too often good ideas get killed by the small obstreperous minority so we came up with an ingenious process which neatly bypassed our argumentative natures:

1. We posted one sheet for each of the six names on a display in the church lobby. Every Sunday for a month folks could write advocacy remarks FOR one or more names on post-its. NO dissing a name! Negative post-its were  removed.

2. Then we held a town hall meeting with only ONE microphone – the PRO microphone (no CON).  Everyone had one minute to advocate FOR their preferred name or names; no dissing of the other “candidates.”

3. After everyone had been heard, we passed out colored sticky dots – you could put ONE dot on each name: a green dot = I really like this name; blue = I could live with this name; and red = I strongly dislike this name.  The remarkable thing was how graphically clear the preferences became. Masses of green dots on one name, masses of red dots on a couple of others. When we went further and tallied the dots into weighted totals (Green=3 points, blue=1, and red = -3) one name shot way into the lead because it had by far the most favorables and fewest unfavorables. Good ol’ Michael Servetus plummeted to the bottom due to high unfavorables.

4. Today was the congregational meeting to put the matter to a formal vote (a bylaw change). A yes vote was for the new name; a no vote was for no change. The board president smartly ruled that there would be no discussion because we’d been discussing it for a full year.  The meeting lasted TEN minutes and to my astonishment 88% of the members present voted for the change.

Our new name is not sexy or evocative. None of those suggestions garnered enough support along the way. But our new name is clear, uncontroversial and inoffensive: the Unitarian Universalist Church of Vancouver.

Perhaps you have to be a UU to understand how big a deal this simple change is.  I am thrilled.

Paul Newman passes on: another fine Unitarian

Paul Newman lived in my home town of Westport, Connecticut. I’m told he was a member of the Unitarian church I grew up in, though I left the east coast so long ago I never encountered him there.   But I do remember going to see a play at the high school about 20 years ago when I was home visiting my parents. I was in the lobby during intermission and turned around to find myself eyeball to very blue eyeball with the man himself.  Whoa!

Newman and his wife, Joanne Woodward, were huge supporters of the drama department at Staples High School – my alma mater – they were among the wealthy Westporters who donated a buttload of money to help create a dynamite theatre department at the school.

The new high school theater is AMAZING. My class got a tour of it when we were back for a reunion in August.   A professional-grade theater plus a black-box theatre. At a public high school!

Westport loved Paul Newman. Many charitable organizations loved Paul Newman. The Democratic party loved Paul Newman. His wife, Joanne Woodward, certainly did – they were married for a long long time. My sympathy goes out to his wife and his kids.

Presentation pie

Pie: what unexpectedly lands on your face when you’re trying to be cool.

I was the “preacher” stand-in on Sunday, speaking at a Unitarian church about 60 miles from here while their minister was on vacation. It was the second time I’ve presented this particular sermon. The first time, about five years ago, was at my home church and it went over very well.

In the ensuing years I have gotten much more skillful not only at speaking but at crafting a tight speech/sermon. I reworked the old speech, lightened it up with some humorous quips and images, and added a rousing call to action at the end. It was definitely improved, so I felt confident all would be well.

After what happened on Sunday I can tell I need to go back to improv class, because those skills would have been handy.

Before I was to speak, the Sunday School director invited the kids to come forward for story time.  She started telling them a tale that seemed surprisingly similar to what I was about to talk about. At first I thought, “This is good – I can refer back to a couple of her ideas when I speak.”

But she went on and on, pretty much summarizing in kid’s language what I was going to talk about. As she finished she looked back at me and said, “Heheh, I hope I didn’t spoil your story….”

In Toastmasters we are warned in our introductions never to give away the speaker’s main points. For example you might say, “Today Mary will tell us the story of Goldilocks.” But you’d never say, “Today Mary is going to tell about how a little girl happened into a bear’s home while they were out and had to try every chair, bowl, and bed before she found one that was just right. Mary?”

OK, this woman’s version of the story lacked the depth, detail and brilliance of mine, and she missed some of the juicy parts, but still, she left me holding a half-eaten sandwich.

So I got up to speak and noticed that this was a crowd that likes to keep its distance. Most folks sat as far back as possible; the front five rows were empty. I thought I was in Missouri with the “show-me” congregation. Crossed arms, implacable faces.

Still, I wasn’t worried because most audiences respond fairly quickly to the warmth of my manner (not bragging; it’s true).

Ah yes. The congregation soaked up my words like a sponge. That is to say, my words landed on the congregants and disappeared without a trace.  It was like talking to acoustical tile.

I plowed on regardless and I guess it was all right. Next time I’ll bring bagels to toss into the crowd at the end of every page of text. That would get a rise out of them. But if it didn’t I’d add lox.

Afterwards I talked with a friend who had belonged to my church before she moved to this community. She noted that there were a lot of old folks in the group and said that this was their usual “response” to the sermon.

It made me really appreciate the pleasure of speaking to a responsive audience.  My home congregation really hangs in there with the minister or any guest speaker.   At Toastmasters we are totally attentive to and appreciative of the speaker, even if it’s crap. We know that soon enough we’ll be up front and want that kind of support for ourselves.

On behalf of speakers and teachers everywhere, the next time you’re in an audience, do your part by giving the person up front the gift of your full attention. Laugh, frown, cry in response. You’re there anyway; might as well be fully present.