Sermons

Upcoming and Past

Upcoming Sermons

The Meaning of Home

Sunday, December 6, 2020 Rev. Mark Ward, Lead MinisterUUSC and Guest at Your Table Our Unitarian Universalist Service Committee will lead a service inviting us to consider how our justice efforts support the notion of home, a place where we are safe, secure, and cared for. Sunday afternoon we will...

What’s Water?

Sunday, December 13, 2020 Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister We’ll explore how the writer David Foster Wallace used that question from a Sufi teaching story to prod us to reflect on how we think about the present moment.

At Peace With Mystery

Sunday, December 20, 2020Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister The stillness of the longest night of the year invites us to embrace the dark and with it the mystery it holds.

Christmas in Story and Song

Thursday, December 24, 4pm Zoom Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister and Rev. Claudia, Minister of Faith Development This live Zoom service will blend the best elements of our traditional Christmas Eve service, with wonderful stories and music, and a candle lighting ceremony.

What I Love About Islam

Sunday, December 27, 2020 11am Rev. Mellen Kennedy, Guest Minister The tension & misunderstandings between Islam and the West are tragic and unnecessary, according to our speaker, minister of the Springfield UU Meetinghouse in Vermont, chair of Inayatiyya: a Sufi Path of Spiritual Liberty, and...

Past Sermons are listed by date. 

Click on title to open.

Moving Towards Gratitude

Sunday, November 22, 2020 11am Live ZOOM Service
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister and Jane Bramham

Gratitude is the balm that soothes weary souls. This Sunday we’ll explore how.

What IS an Anti-Racist Congregation?

Sunday, November 15, 2020 11am Live ZOOM Service
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Our Board of Trustees has set UUCA on a path to be an anti-racist congregation. This move is grounded in our UU faith, literally requiring us to act for justice.  But what does it mean to be an anti-racist congregation? What are we currently doing? How will we change, because we surely will.  What are our dreams of what is possible?

Now What?

Sunday, November 8, 11am Live ZOOM Service
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

 This live service will be a moment to take stock of how our lives have been changed by this most consequential election.

Gaia, Mother Earth and the Oneness of Everything

Sunday, November 29, 2020 Jim Scott, Guest Artist

Come celebrate the earth with the music of renowned UU musician Jim Scott. Jim is a composer, guitarist and singer and former member of the Paul Winter Consort who has contributed several hymns to UU hymnals. Join him for this live Zoom service.

Rising From Our Grief

Sunday, November 1, 2020 9am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Gratitude is the balm that soothes weary souls. This Sunday we’ll explore how.

The Call to Revolutionary Love

Sunday, October 25, 2020 Live ZOOM
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development

In this time when our highly polarized nation prepares to vote, what does love call us to do? Join us for a service inspired by the work of Valerie Kaur, author of See No Stranger: A Memoir and Manifesto of Revolutionary Love. Kaur asks us to reclaim love as a revolutionary act so we will explore Kaur’s mission of fighting for justice through the ethic of love — love for others, our opponents, and ourselves.  (Yes, she means love for those with whom we deeply disagree.  What does that even LOOK like?)

I Hear You

Sunday, October 18, 2020
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister & Carol Taylor

Do we? Hear each other, that is? In a time of toxic politics, how do we develop a discipline of listening?

On Second Thought

Sunday, October 11, 2020
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister & Joyce Hooley Gingrich

Uncertainty is one of the shoals of the religious life. We think we’ve got things figured out and then, oops, along comes something that throws us into doubt. Maybe that’s not an altogether bad thing.

Here and Gone

Sunday, October 4, 2020
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

The change of seasons always offers a good reminder of the ever-evolving flow of life. How do we come to terms with the fact of impermanence?

Mutual Liberation

Sunday, September 27, 2020 9am link
Rev. Scott, Neely, Guest Minister

Beyond being an ally, in the fight for racial justice. That we may all be free.

Bio: Rev. Scott Neely serves as minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spartanburg, SC. He is a facilitator and strategist for Speaking Down Barriers, an organization that uses dialogue to build our life together across the differences that divide us. In April 2015 he presented a TEDx talk on race and racism entitled “What Will I Teach My Son?

Here For You-Forgiveness

Sunday, September 20, 2020 9am link
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Our forgiveness service this year focuses on how we hold ourselves accountable, and how we respond when we fail.

We Are…

Sunday, September 13, 2020 Live ZOOM Service
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

We begin our fall worship season with Ysaye Barnwell’s song of celebration to gather us once again as a community memory and hope. In this time of COVID, meeting and worshipping online, who do we proclaim that we are?

Fear Itself

Sunday, September 6, 2020 9am ZOOM
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

The last time our nation was struggling to recover from economic catastrophe, then-President Roosevelt urged a way forward centered on renouncing fear. Here we are again in economic calamity with fear, once again, in the driver’s seat. Perhaps there’s another way.
Click on this link for a print version of the service.

Our Multigenerational Water Service-Safeguarding the Water

Sunday, August 30, 2020 (Live ZOOM Service)
 – Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Celebrate water and the life it supports with an amazing, amusing cast of characters.
Join us for this year’s Live Zoom version of  our annual water service.  Be prepared to share your water from home representing places in your life or places you would like to visit once the pandemic subsides. Puppeteer Jennifer Murphy has created a special toy box theater for the telling of this year’s story.  You don’t want to miss this.  See you there!

Speaking of seeing you there, we really do want to SEE you.  It’s half the fun of these live events.  If at all possible, please leave your camera on; everyone wants to see each other.  It’s all we’ve got for now.

 

Creative Circles

Sunday, August 23, 2020
Jane Bramham, Worship Associate

Every day we are creating new educational, occupational and recreational realities; cheering those creating needed vaccines; and reviving or adding new artistic skills to our creative toolbox.  We gather to celebrate and nurture our universal creative spirit, and to attend to how creative the useful can be.
Creating your worship space
Do you have a button jar?  Or just a loose button or two in the drawer?  Set them with your chalice or candle near your watching device.  
You can download and print a coloring page connected to Time for All Ages

The New Normal

Sunday, August 16, 2020
 – Rev. Lisa Bovee-Kemper

We welcome back Rev. Lisa, our former Associate Minister, now Developmental Minister of the Greenville (SC) UU Fellowship, who reflects on the thrills and chills of trying to solve adaptive challenges using technical solutions. (BTW, it’s not going well.)

It Takes Practice

Sunday, August 9, 2020
Matt Meyer, Guest Artist

Our favorite songs, whoever the artist or whatever the style, were created in a strange alchemy of study and inspiration, of strict practice and of letting go. Spiritual Practice and social justice work are a similar combination of dedication, muscle memory, and perhaps a little divine inspiration. Join us for a musical exploration of learning to risk, building the muscle memory of courage, and the spiritual practice of relationship.

Matt Meyer is a musician and worship leader who has led hundreds of services for UU congregations across the country. He has a degree in hand drumming and serves as Director of Community Life for Sanctuary Boston.

We Remember

Sunday, August 2, 2020
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the US twice dropping atomic bombs on Japan. We reflect on how we remember this world-changing event as the generation of both Japanese and Americans who experienced it are dying.

Click on this link for a print version of the sermon.

Poetry Sunday

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Our theme this year is “Uplifted Together.”  Indeed, we hope that this Poetry Sunday will do just that–uplift us as we “gather” together. You can anticipate an inspirational lineup of poetry, original and/or published, as well as music that will make our hearts glad, thanks to our musical director, Les Downs. In these turbulent times, allow poetry and music to be a balm that lifts, encourages, and delights.

Living in Storyland

Sunday, July 19, 2020
David Novak, Storyteller and Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Stories, whether they are our own or from ancient traditions, shape our lives and our sense of meaning. Today, we’ll explore how stories are operating in these times and how they help us make sense of them.

Bio: David Novak tells stories to enhance learning, engage emotion, and find common ground. A performing and teaching artist with over 30 years of experience, David is an A+ Fellow for the North Carolina Arts Council, instructor for the graduate storytelling program at East Tennessee State University, and veteran of the National Storytelling Festival, as well as schools and stages across the nation. David’s international tours include Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Poland, and the Czech Republic. A recipient of the Circle of Excellence from the National Storytelling Network and formerly Master Storyteller for The Disney Institute. David lives in Asheville and regularly leads workshops and gives concerts for The Mountain Retreat and Learning Center.

Spiritual, Religious, Neither?

Sunday, July 12, 2020 – Video link arrives at 9am (We will be experimenting with Live Zoom worship at 11am)
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

In these times of societal disruption, what is the role of the church in grounding our spirits and nurturing hope? Join us for an exploration of how our individual journeys led us to this non-dogmatic tradition known as Unitarian Universalism. You will hear from participants of the “Haunting Church” program as they share reflections from their search for meaning and connection.

What’s Democracy For

Sunday, July 5, 2020 – Video Link Arrives at 9am –
Rev. Sally Beth Shore, Guest Minister

The development of American democracy is intertwined with the development of our faith, important enough that our 5th principle states “we affirm and promote the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large.” I was taught that democracy was the best system of governance because it was fair. But what if this is an incomplete view? Starting with the unofficial motto of the United States, E pluribus Unum (Out of many, One) we explore the tantalizing possibility that democracy’s aim is not fairness, but success through unity. If we understood this, could we use it to help mend the rifts in our society?

The Rev. Sally Beth Shore received her MDiv from Meadville Lombard Theological School in 2012 and was ordained by the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville in 2013. She has been a member of UUCA since 2001. She and her husband, Michael, raised their children, now 24, 22, and 19, here. She has just completed a year of interim ministry with the Unitarian Universalists of Transylvania County.

Rooted, Inspired and Ready

Sunday, June 28, 10am, 2020
General Assembly

We join thousands of UUs across the country in online worship prepared by leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association and presented live at 10 a.m. Click here to view.

The Meaning of Life

Sunday, June 21, 2020 – Video link arrives at 9am
– Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

The old cartoons tell you you need to climb to the top of a mountain to ask a guru about this. Maybe we don’t have to go quite so far.

UUCA would like to recognize congregants that are considered essential workers during the COVID-19 outbreak. If you are (or know a UUCAer who is) a healthcare worker (medical or social), an educator, a grocery store worker, a community volunteer, or any other job that is considered essential, please let Venny know. Stand up and be recognized, you have earned it!

You Gotta Own It

Sunday, May 31, 2020 9am
Rev. James McKinley, Guest Minister

It was the middle of a 24-day raft trip through the Grand Canyon last December. It was cold, I was suffering, and the Canyon is the ultimate “no way out only through” experience. When I mentioned it, my daughter’s response was, “Ya gotta own it, Dad,” where “own” is embrace and love and “it” is me, who I am here and now.

 That “a-hah” moment and phrase have become my guide, touchstone and koan in more adventure, study, personal growth and now the solitude, isolation and disruption of sheltering in place. My hope is that our reflections together reveal a helpful touchstone or two for you.

Rev. Jim McKinley retired in June 2019 as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hendersonville.

The Seventh One

Sunday, May 24, 2020 9am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

It’s been argued that with our seventh principle – affirming and promoting respect for the interdependent web of existence of which we are a part – we Unitarian Universalists were given our key to the future as a religious movement. What might that mean? And look for a fun story from the Fletcher-Williams family and a bridging ceremony honoring our seven graduating seniors.

Click on this pdf for a text version of this sermon.

Credo Sunday

Sunday, May 17, 2020 9am
Coming of Age Class

“Who am I?”
“What does my UU faith mean to me?”
“What does it look like to live Unitarian Universalism?”

Finding answers to these questions requires some serious effort—exploring, excavating, interpreting, and differentiating from societal programming…not for the faint of heart! Our Coming Of Age youth have been hard at work this year trying to answer these questions for themselves, and they would like to share their journey with YOU on Credo Sunday, May 17!  This is a multigenerational service–all ages are welcome and encouraged to attend. Please join us and prepare to be inspired, moved and entertained! Please join us and prepare to be inspired, moved and entertained!

The Sixth One

Sunday, May 10, 2020 9am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Our sixth principle is where UUs go global: where we extend our concern far beyond our local situation and aspire to helping to bring about a community of all humankind united in peace and justice. How do we respond to these grand hopes?

Click on this pdf for a text version of this sermon. 

The Great Transition

Sunday, May 3, 2020 9am
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development

Heard of the Great Depression?  Maybe now we are in the Great Transition.  We know things are going to be different sooner or later, but in what ways?  Can we take this time right now, this pause from our daily routines, to imagine how we might be different as individuals, as families, as neighbors, as congregants, as citizens? What if this isn’t a pause but a reset?

Liberating the Earth-Earth Day

Sunday, April 26, 2020 9am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Around the world, skies clear of smoke and smog due to social distancing remind us of the true beauty and wonder of the Earth. For all the fear and stress surrounding COVID 19, it also offers us a chance to explore how we might liberate the Earth from two and a half centuries of humankind’s polluting ways.

Flower Communion Service

Sunday, April 19, 2020
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development

Join us for a celebration of Spring as we listen to the story of Norbert Capek and the ritual he created to bring people closer together. Please bring a flower real or created by you to our virtual coffee hour at 12:30 PM. Members and friends of all ages are invited to share a photograph of a favorite flower (real or created by you). E-mail it to faithdev@uuasheville.org

Easter-Renewal in Trying Times

Sunday, April 12, 2020
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

The Easter story has long been a touchstone for people who are struggling. Now we face another struggle, new to us but not to humankind. What does this ancient story offer to us today?

Click on this pdf for the text of this sermon.

The Fifth One

Sunday, April 5, 2020
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister and Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development

So, what is “affirming and promoting the democratic process” doing in the middle of the principles of a religious body? Well, let’s just say that, yes, it has something to do with liberation.

Click on this pdf for the sermon text.

The Wisdom of “What Now?”

Sunday, March 29, 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Tiffany Sapp, Guest Minister

As a hospital chaplain, Rev. Tiffany Sapp encounters the questioning connected to suffering. Often, the questioning is phrased as “Why?” But she’s discovered that a Unitarian Universalist response often comes in the form of a different question, “What Now?” Come explore how we can navigate the difficulties of life together.

The Problem With Heaven

Sunday, March 22, 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

The power claimed for the theological notion of heaven is that it’s what we all want. But what if it’s not what we want, what if it’s the last thing we want?

Click on this pdf to read text of sermon.

The Fourth One

Sunday, March 15, 2020 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

There it lies at the center of our seven principles: “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” Can it hold this august place that we give it?

Click on this pdf for sermon text.

Celebration Sunday

Sunday, March 8, 2020 9:15 & 11:15am
Annual Budget Drive Team & Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development

With song, story, and inspiring words, we close our annual budget drive with a celebration of all that we make possible as people committed to the work of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Asheville.

No audio or text available.

Rekindling Moral Imagination

Sunday, March 1, 2020, 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development
In these challenging times we are called to imagine possibilities that do not yet exist and are based on the good and the just.  As always, we are called to action! Join us in an exploration of how our UU faith can sustain our moral imagination during moments of despair.

YRUU Service

Sunday, February 23, 2020, 9:15 & 11:15am
Friendship and Community
YRUU Youth
Join us for the annual YRUU- Young Religious Unitarian Universalist multigenerational service. Youth will reflect on friendship, community and the positive effects they have on our lives. Children in grades 3 and up are invited to join us. Childcare will be provided for those in grade 2 and younger.

Living Bravely, Giving Generously

Sunday, February 16, 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister, Will Jernigan and Wes Miller, Annual Budget Drive Co-chairs
It’s a time these days when we need to be brave, when we need to step up to what our values call for from us and support each other in doing it. We begin our Annual Budget Drive celebrating the role that each of us in this congregation has in making that happen.

Click on this PDF for sermon text.

The Third One

Sunday, February 9, 2020 , 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Acceptance & encouragement, what nice words! What could be hard about them? Today we’ll explore how our UU Third Principle can challenge us.

Click on this link for the pdf of this sermon.

From Concern to Action

Sunday, January 19, 2020,  9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development

Join us as we honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and reflect on how we can put our values into action.  As Rev. King said, “Every step toward the goal of justice requires the passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”  Let us explore ways of translating those concerns into purposeful action for justice in this new decade. Special guest, Womansong, will be providing music for our multigenerational service next Sunday

Magi and Wise Men: A UU Perspective

Sunday, January 12, 2020  9:15 & 11:15am
Phil Roudebush, Guest Speaker

The magi or wise men are regular figures in accounts of the nativity celebrations of Christmas and are an important part of the Christian tradition. Epiphany, which traditionally falls on January 6th, is a Christian feast day and western Christians commemorate the visit of the magi to the baby Jesus. Phil Roudebush will explore the magi story from biblical, historical and contemporary religious viewpoints with thoughts on how Unitarian Universalists might view these scholars and their message.

Click on this pdf to sermon text.

The First One

Sunday, January 5, 2020, 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister 

We begin the New year with a reflection with the first of our UU principles, which calls us to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity. How does this principles call us to live and grow? We will also be welcoming new member to our congregation.

Click here for a pdf version of the sermon.

Christmas Music, Revels & Stories

Sunday, December 29, 2019  11:15am (SINGLE SERVICE)
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister

Our musical guest for our service on December 29 will be Musicke Antiqua,a 13-member recorder consort of musicians who perform in costume and offer historically informed live performances and educational programs designed to inspire appreciation of early music and support its study.
    Musicke Antiqua began as a recorder trio in Brevard, NC, in 2001, and now includes 13 members from several areas of Western North Carolina, including UUCA members Jim Manhart and Nanette Muzzy-Manhart.
The single service, will be coordinated by Lead Minister Rev. Mark Ward and Worship Associate Susan Andrew and will include stories, readings and a meditation.

The Long Goodbye (audio only)

Sunday, December 1, 2019
Rev. Iris Hardin
Dementia’s effects on memory impacts many of our lives and relationships in profound ways. Join us for worship on Sunday, December 1st, when we try to make meaning of the disease sometimes called “the long goodbye.”
Bio: Iris Hardin, MDiv, facilitates Advance Care Planning for the Mission Health System. Prior to relocating to Asheville in 2017 with her spouse Clyde, she worked in the Boston area as a Hospice and Palliative Care Chaplain and Bereavement Counselor.

Who, What Deserves Our Attention (audio only)

Sunday, November 24, 2019
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
In a world where so much shouts for attention, today we turn to people’s stories of hope gathered by our UU Service Committee that aren’t as loud as some but just as worthy. We will be invited to welcome these folks and many more like them as Guests at Our Table this holiday season.<i>Click on title to continue</i>

Transformed by Forgiveness (audio and text)

Sunday, October 6, 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development
Forgiveness isn’t easy. It takes courage and vulnerability to forgive those who have hurt us. And yet the ability to do so can be transformative. Can we choose to cultivate love instead of hate in our hearts? Can we always forgive? Should we always forgive? Join us for an exploration of the complexities and possibilities of forgiveness.

READING

To Forgive by Desmond Tutu
To forgive is not just to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things: the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.

However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred. Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator.

If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator.

You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.

But the process of forgiveness also requires acknowledgement on the part of the perpetrator that they have committed an offence. I don’t like to talk about my own personal experience of forgiveness, although some of the things people have tried to do to my family are close to what I’d consider unforgivable. I don’t talk about these things because I have witnessed so many incredible people who, despite experiencing atrocity and tragedy, have come to a point in their lives where they are able to forgive

Sermon

Last Wednesday I watched a video of 18 year-old Brandt Jean offering his forgiveness to the woman who killed his brother a year ago. Amber Guyger, a white Dallas police officer was sentenced to 10 years in prison for killing Brandt’s 26 year old brother, Botham Jean, after Guyger apparently mistook his apartment for her own. Botham was in his apartment watching TV and eating ice cream when he was shot. Brandt’s statement included his saying, “If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself, I forgive you. I know if you go to God and ask him, he will forgive you.”[1]

Is there a possibility of restorative or transformative justice beyond the punitive for Amber Guyger? We know that she will serve prison time and will have the rest of her forever-changed life to contemplate her actions that resulted in the taking of an indisputably innocent life.  After his statement, Brandt asked the judge for permission to give Amber Guyger a hug. It was granted and he did.

Brandt’s words and the image of his embrace of his brother’s murderer – this unconditional act of forgiveness that elicited both praise and outrage from the bipolar twitterverse.

There was praise for a young man responding to personal tragedy with compassion based on his Christian values. There was outrage, anger and frustration with what some perceived as a continuation of a history of black people forgiving white people when the same grace is not extended to them. And, there was dismay with a 10 year prison sentence for the taking an innocent life. I found myself feeling outrage because of our well documented propensity – historical and current – of disproportionately incarcerating black men and youth and disproportionately suspending or expelling black youth from our public schools. But my outrage at the seemingly light sentence was tempered by the impossibility of knowing the motivation and in-the-moment emotional and cognitive state of the woman pulling the trigger. How can that be judged? And how can it be adjudicated?

This morning I invite us to reflect on the complexity of forgiveness. What was your response to this story? As I listened to Brandt’s statement I recognized he made a choice: he chose to forgive. His forgiveness did not condone his brother’s murder. His statements implied that he was not seeking revenge. He responded to this tragedy, a year later, with compassion, grounded in his Christian faith and going as far as saying to Guyger that there was a possibility of redemption; that if she were truly repentant God would forgive her.

We have seen this theologically grounded response before. In 2016 during the trial of a white supremacist who massacred 9 people in their church during a bible study gathering, some of the survivors and family members who spoke forgave him. Because this was explicitly a racially motivated killing, there was concern that forgiveness interfered with accountability for the horrific consequences of white supremacy culture.

In these two tragic incidents, religious doctrines provide the foundation that allows family members to forgive; they can begin the process of healing that cannot occur if resentment or the desire for revenge is allowed to consume them as they seek to regain their lives and adapt their daily existence to the new reality of loss.

I may not share the theological concept of divine judgement that motivated the families of the slain, but I must admit to a most sincere admiration for their gestures and the courage to act on their beliefs.

In our Unitarian Universalist tradition, we do not have specific religious language around redemption and grace. We take inspiration from various sources and personal spiritual practices as we grapple with the reality of evil and its manifestations. We reject the notion of original sin while recognizing that we all have a capacity for good and evil. And when evil and misfortune strike, we step up, offering each other comfort and support. For UUs, our covenant to affirm our principles includes respect for all beings. That covenant binds us and holds us accountable to each other. So do the many covenants we create as participants in congregational life.  When we miss the mark, we recommit to our covenant and begin again in love. Even when we or others fail, we don’t give up. We work to repair relationship. We work to re-enter that sacred space of covenant, of fellowship, of commitment to love and to doing the larger work that can only be accomplished in community.

And yet, when others transgress feelings of anger, bitterness, and hatred are inevitable. They are part of being human. Holding on to them can be self-destructive, weighing down our spirits and closing us off to the possibility of moving into a future with a transformed narrative: a victim becoming a survivor.
We can’t change the past, erase transgression, but we can choose our response. Do we hold on to resentment, anger and grudges? As Desmond Tutu reminded us remaining in a state of anger and resentment locks a person in a state of victimhood making [the person] almost dependent on the perpetrator. He said “if you can find it in you to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator.” This changes how you tell your story. I think it allows for a transformation from victim to survivor.

And it’s not an easy path. There are many questions to consider: What if the person won’t apologize or express remorse? Does forgiveness require reconciliation with the offender? What if the transgression is deemed unforgivable? Each person will answer these questions for their particular situation maybe with support from a therapist, a spiritual leader, a close friend. Brandt was able to forgive his brother’s killer. We do not know what his process was for reaching that decision a year later. I wonder over time how it will impact his family, his community and Guyger? UU minister Forrest Church explained it this way many years ago:

“This is how forgiveness works well. When we forgive her we don’t change her, but ourselves. We liberate ourselves from all obligation to continue bitterness. This doesn’t reverse the past. It doesn’t remove from the record whatever crime was perpetrated against us. But it changes the present and the future.”[2]

Forgiveness can change the present by allowing us to be liberated from carrying the story of the perpetrator. It might even allow us to be curious and shift from asking “why me”? to asking “why them”? Why would someone do that? I think that is the empathy Charlie was talking about in his opening words. Reaching that level of empathy takes time. Each person decides their readiness and capacity for forgiveness. I close with a prayer written by Mpho Tutu, Desmond Tutu’s daughter who is also a Christian minister:

Prayer Before Prayer

I want to be willing to forgive

But I dare not ask for the will to forgive

in case you give it to me and I am not yet ready.

I am not yet ready for my heart to soften.

I am not yet ready to be vulnerable again.

Not yet ready to see that there is humanity in my tormentor’s eyes.

Or that the one who hurt me also cried.

I am not yet ready for the journey.

I am not yet interested in the path.

I am at the prayer before the prayer of forgiveness.

Grant me the will to want to forgive.

Grant it to me not yet, but soon.

Acknowledging the complexity of forgiveness, and recognizing the importance of forgiving ourselves as well as each other, I invite you to partake in the “Litany of Atonement” inserted in the Order of Service. We will sing the first verse of hymn 218. Then, you are invited to repeat the litany “I forgive myself. I forgive you. We begin again in love.  When we finish, we will sing the second verse of Hymn 218.

[1] https://www.newsweek.com/botham-jean-brother-bryant-offers-forgiveness-hug-amber-guyger-dallas-1462868

[2] Life Lines by Forrest Church, p 98

 

Common Courage (no audio or text available.)

Sunday, September 22 2019,  9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, Guest Minister
For nearly 80 years, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee has been advancing UU values by working with justice makers the world over confronting unjust power structures and challenging oppressive policies. Join us to hear UUSC President and CEO Rev. Mary Katherine Morn, describe how deeds of common courage are transforming the world; one brave, ordinary act at a time.

There Are Covenants Amount Us! (audio only)

Sunday, September 15, 9:15 & 11:15am
Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Have you heard that Unitarian Universalism is “covenantal not creedal?” What does that mean? Interestingly (and probably surprisingly to you), there are several covenants that inform our relationships here at UUCA. Let’s explore the ways that covenants underpin our behaviors, our mission, and even the theological grounding of our faith.<i> click on title to continue.</i>

Love Is the Water (audio only)

Sunday August 25, 10am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister and Rev. Claudia Jiménez, Minister of Faith Development
Once again our annual intergenerational Water Service features puppets, stories and songs as we explore what the ways of water teach us about change in the world. Please plan to bring with you a little water from a place that is special to you to intermingle in our ceremonial bowl. <i>Click on title to continue.</i>

 

The Theology of Improv (audio & text)

Sunday, August 18, 2019 10am
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development
What does the practice of improvisational theater have to teach us about living? Join us for a reflection on how the curiosity, playfulness and vulnerability of improvising can enrich our lives.<i>Click on title to continue.</i>

This month marks my first-year anniversary at UUCA. It has been a year of learning, juicy challenges and building relationships. When I consider what preparation I had for this job of being a minister I recall my first seminary class: Creative Encounters: Ministry as Improv. You might be thinking, “Really?! You mean they make all this stuff up?!”

Well, as with anything in life, there are no scripts, in many ways we do make it up as we go along. We are always improvising to life as it reveals itself to us, day by day. Like the jazz musician in our reading who was classically trained, our perception of the world emerges from the interaction between our experience, our expectations and the unpredictable events of the day – the quotidian ‘stuff’ of life.

The idea of ministry as improv made sense to me – ministers should be prepared for anything: requests for spontaneous prayers and invocations; unscheduled pastoral conversations and “a few words from the minister.” That is why when I moved to Asheville last year as part of my professional development, I took improv classes. It was not only a way of meeting people in my new community but also groundwork for my work with you.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been challenging myself to move beyond my comfort zone.  And, it wasn’t easy. I tend to be very detail oriented and a planner so the concepts of spontaneity and improvisation are, well, difficult. Nevertheless, I did it! I survived 8 weeks of improv training with total strangers. In terms of this sermon, which I assure you is not improvised, I take inspiration from Ralph Waldo Emerson who said of preachers that they “deal out to the people [their] life passed through the fire of thought.”[1]   Go Ralph Waldo! I love the image of our lives passing through the fire of thought!!

This morning I share with you a few takeaways from my experience with improv, a year later.

But first: How many of you are familiar with improvisational theater?
You may be familiar with professional improv through exposure to Tina Fey, Amy Poehler or Steven Colbert. Improv doesn’t always have to be funny. It is basically theater without a script in which the players (in improv the actors are called players) create a scene in the moment based on a phrase or word provided by the audience. It is a spontaneous, collaborative, creative, and for some of us, scary experience.

Improv players prepare by playing games to involve our voices, bodies, our creative impulses by miming, chanting or acting out short skits (Examples: Catch, The Expert).  Augusto Boal, a Brazilian theater practitioner described games as “warm ups to shed inhibitions and establish a form of theatrical communion”[2] I think the games we played accomplished that. We started out as a group of strangers, awkward and probably mortified who learned to play well together and share a lot of laughter.

What were the rules of playing well in improv that generated such laughter?
One takeaway was accept your partner’s offer and advance the scene. Your partner says: Look, what a beautiful green sky! You respond: It matches my green hair…” Notice how that is different from Your partner says: Look, what a beautiful green sky! You respond “But, it’s blue!” That shuts down the conversation. The first scenario is an example of a foundational principle of improv: responding with “yes, and.” You accept their idea, not necessarily their point of view. You choose your response.

I found this principle to be life changing. When I took the Ministry as Improv class I was serving my final year on a county school board in Florida. I had a difficult relationship with my conservative and intransigent colleagues. As a result, I entered board meetings defensively, prepared to argue my positions. I was a “but” person. I usually preceded my responses with but… and deepened our disagreement as they in turn, became more defensive. After improv class, I changed my strategy. I still prepared well but preceded my arguments with yes, and have you considered instead of “but”…. That seemingly small modulation changed the tone. My colleagues didn’t always agree but they were more willing to listen. Our conversations were less combative. And, sometimes they even agreed.

I don’t always remember this strategy, and I keep trying. It has also been helpful in dealing with the news. Lately, the cruel treatment and policies of the administration toward immigrants have been exasperating. My initial response is anger, followed by what can we do?

Last week in a meeting “Faith Communities Organizing for Sanctuary” I listened to accounts of the Bus Ministry organized to help asylum seekers passing through Asheville, visits to lawmakers and the detention center visits being organized, efforts to host and sponsor asylum seekers and a workshop “Anti-Racism and Sanctuary Training on Sept 13 hosted here at UUCA (visit the Justice Ministry table for details)…. All of that gave me hope.

Yes, we lack moral, compassionate leadership in our country when it comes to immigration, that’s real, and caring people are organizing to speak out and act against the hate some of our leaders promote and enshrine in policy.

Another takeaway from improv is the importance of being in the moment, meaning paying attention and listening deeply. If I approach a scene trying to plan a response that will get laughs, I will miss “gifts” from my partner. In improv, “gifts” are information about the character or relationship being established in the scene that will help improvise a response. Being in the moment makes us vulnerable, especially if, like me, you’re used to planning and controlling. That’s why improv is challenging for me. Comedian Amy Poehler describes it this way, “We all think we’re in control of our lives, and that the ground is solid beneath our feet, but we are so wrong. Improvising reminds you of that over and over again.”[3]

A benefit of being in the moment is that we can embrace silence. In improv, that is very helpful because when your scene partner says something totally off the wall (and that happens often), being comfortable with silence allows you to gather your thoughts and respond. I wish I had taken improv when we were raising our daughters: pausing before responding and being creative in my responses may have added humor and levity amidst the complexity of those improvised parenting moments. I think my partner, a jazz pianist, understood this approach somewhat better than I.

I recently listened to a podcast “The Worship Whisperer” no, I’m not making that up, in which colleague Rev. Glen Thomas Rideout proposed a little more playfulness and levity in worship planning. He shared an improvisational exercise for Worship Associate training. In the group you call for an object, call for a worship theme, call for a liturgical element and then invite a participant to weave those together and create the element on the spot: closing words, opening words or prayer. We have some or worship associates with us this morning. What do you think? Up/down gesture

A final takeaway (there are more, but there isn’t enough time) is that “it is not about you”, imagine that? In improv you are basically working on building trust and supporting each other. Your job is to make your scene partner look good. If you are seen as focusing on yourself and trying to be funny or witty it will be hard for your scene partners to trust that you have their back. The humor usually happens organically when you connect with each other. The more you play together, the more you’ll know how to gift your scene partner and make each other shine. That is a refreshing attitude in an American society that worships rugged individualism.

Ultimately, I think good improv is all about relationships, and isn’t it the same in everything we do? It is about community building, like we do here at UUCA strengthening and nurturing our community. The “I” focus that interferes with trust building in improv also interferes in nurturing the communal “we” in a congregation. And, how often do we mistakenly think that even in religious community it’s about what I want, what I am comfortable with, what I need? If we are to create a truly welcoming beloved community -because this is where it starts-what are we willing to do to be welcoming to all?  It is important, if we want to create a diverse community of spiritual seekers that embraces African American, Latinx and Indigenous People who traditionally already consider the family, tribe or community before individual advancement.[4]

Oh, and one more really important takeway…It’s OK to fail! Really, it is. One of the reasons I accepted this job a year ago is that UUCA is willing to experiment with programs like the Wednesday Thing and in all ages worship. I feel comfortable experimenting here knowing that the goal isn’t perfection. Mistakes are opportunities for growth and learning.

In improv, when missteps occur each actor will do their best to make the others look good and move the action forward.  The attitude of making one’s scene partner look good, is an attitude we can use in our everyday lives to help us be more compassionate when others make mistakes. One of my favorite warm ups was the entire group raising up their hands and shouting “I failed” (lets do that) How did that feel?

Failure means you have acted. Without risk, there is no change, no sparking of the imagination to explore other possibilities.

This coming week, I invite you to consider the ethos of improv (not theology, “I failed!)

play,
be in the moment,
support your partner
embrace uncertainly and imperfection
find ways to use “yes, and” thinking.

These are strategies that can help us build the inclusive, welcoming beloved community we talk about as well as cope with the justice challenges facing our world.

And be on the lookout for the gifts. In the words of Rev. MaryAnn McKibben Dana who is also a fan of improv

“Life is constantly handing us stuff.
Gifts, sometimes.
Tragedies, too often.
Opportunities, all the time.
To be the change we wish to see in the world.
To respond to hate with love.
To not let the darkness have the last word.”[5]

May it be so.

[1] Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), U.S. essayist, poet, philosopher. Address, July 15, 1838, “The Divinity School Address”

[2] Games for Actors and Non-Actors, Augusto Boal, p2

[3] https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/09/05/upright-citizens-brigades-comedy-empire

[4] Salsa, Soul and Spirit: Leadership for a Multicultural, Age, Juana Bordas, p18

[5] God, Improv and the Art of Living, MaryAnn McKibben Dana, p 180

The Journey (no audio or text)

Sunday, August 11, 2019 10am
Rev. Julianne Lepp, Guest Minister
This service will explore the theology, poetry and legacy of the poet, Mary Oliver.
Bio: Rev. Julianne Lepp has served the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Eau Claire, Wisconsin since 2010. Originally from South Carolina, she is always grateful to visit her family in Asheville and further points south. She lives in Wisconsin with her partner Karl, two teens and her mother-in-law. She has three new kittens that are keeping her busy this summer! She enjoys writing science fiction, reading voraciously, and being involved in community organizing and activism within her community.

Out of the Stars Have We Come (text only)

Sunday, August 4. 2019 10am
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
The summer skies open wide and invite all sorts of meandering. Join us as spend a little time exploring what those pinpoints of light bring to mind.

READING

From Searching for the Stars on an Island in Maine by Alan Lightman

 “It was a moonless night, and quiet. The only sounds I could hear was the soft churning of the engine of my boat. Far from the distracting lights of the mainland, the sky vibrated with stars. Taking a chance, I turned off the running lights, and it got even darker, Then I turned off my engine. I law down in the boat and looked up.

A very dark night sky seen from the ocean is a mystical experience. After a few minutes, my world had dissolved into that star-littered sky. The boat disappeared. My body disappeared. And I found myself falling into infinity.

A feeling came over me I’d not experienced before. . . . I felt an overwhelming connection to the stars, as if I were part of them. And the vast expanse of time – extending from the far distant past long before I was born and them into the far distant future long after I will die – seemed compressed to a dot.

I felt connected not only to the stars but to all of nature, and to the entire cosmos. I felt a merging with something for larger than myself, a grand and eternal unity. . . . After a time I sat up and started the engine again. I had no idea how long I’d been looking up.

SERMON

Summers are made for star-gazing expeditions like the one that Alan Lightman takes us on. Funny, isn’t it? It seems to take trips away from home – to the sea shore or camping in the mountains – to lure us outside to look up at the skies. Soft, sultry nights tug at us, and we wander outside and turn our eyes skyward.

Apparently, this is a thing these days, a practice some call “skying”: peering at the night sky with no particular end in mind, just receiving, taking it all in. And there is so much to take in.

It doesn’t take long looking over the spray of stars that greets us on a clear summer night for the oceanic feeling that Lightman describes to come over us. It is like opening a window on the universe, as if for the first time we really take in everything around us.

Before long, though, we start noticing patterns and someone will start calling out constellations. “There’s the big dipper. Find the side opposite the handle, follow it up. and, yep, there’s Polaris, the north star,” the point around which the whole sky seems to revolve. This goes on for a while and a few knowledgeable ones will start naming other stars. There’s Vega, one of our nearest neighbors, and Deneb. And so on. Before long, though, the talking stops, and we are left with the immensity before us.

Years ago when I was working in newspapers I was given the opportunity to cover science. I came to this assignment not as an expert but as an amateur, in the literal sense, one who was endlessly fascinated with science, who loved delving into almost every dimension of it.

Astronomy, though, was one field that was fairly new to me. As it happened, the institution that was the source of most of my reporting, the University of Wisconsin, was a leader in the field. So, I needed to orient myself quickly.

I quickly learned that the primary focus of astronomers’ work these days are phenomena we star-gazers cannot see: stars or galaxies too distant to be see with the naked eye or in wavelengths – infrared, radio waves, x-rays, gamma rays –  that are invisible to us.

And what a chaotic, tumultuous universe they reveal! Stars exploding or spinning at inconceivable speeds, galaxies crashing into each other with ravenous black holes at their centers.

Serendipitously my time in science writing coincided with the heyday of the Hubble Space telescope. Also, lucky for me, the government was anxious to publicize the telescope’s findings. And so periodically I would receive fat packets of prints and slides of the Hubble’s latest discoveries.

The images were breath-taking: lacy nebulae – remainders of exploded stars – in stunning colors, swirling galaxies, clouds of bright gas that were stellar nurseries, and perhaps most astonishing of all, the image dubbed the Hubble Deep Field. We have a large reproduction of this image in this building in the light well just behind Sandburg Hall. It was created by focusing the Hubble camera for 10 days on a tiny spot of the night sky right near the Big Dipper that appeared to be totally empty of stars.  How tiny a spot? Essentially, the size of a tennis ball seen at 100 meters.

In that apparently starless speck of sky, the Hubble captured an image of around 3,000 galaxies, equivalent to the number stars we see on a clear night. They have since repeated the exercise, just in case there was something extraordinary about that spot. But there wasn’t. They found essentially the same thing.

Imagine that! In every speck of dark sky between the stars that we see we could expect to find around 3,000 galaxies, another night sky full of nothing but galaxies, each of them home to hundreds of billions of stars. To this, add the fact that the light captured in that image had been traveling millions, perhaps billions of years before it entered Hubble’s lens.

So, the Hubble Telescope gives us a feeling for not just the astonishing plenitude of the universe – there is so much! – but also a greater feeling for time. In that image we are looking back to a moment some three-quarters of the way back to the Big Bang. Indeed, even in the visible night sky the stars that seem to twinkle and glow for us, represent ancient history.

The light we see is hundreds, thousands, maybe even millions of years old. And so it’s likely that some stars we see today winked out of existence thousands, or even millions of years ago, but it will not be us, but our descendants who discover this.

The more we learn about the stars, I can’t help but wonder if the image that best communicates the truth about the night sky might be not a static picture of the night sky but one of the last paintings that Vincent Van Gogh completed just before he ended his life. He called it “The Starry Night.” Do you remember it? Amid shimmering centers of light the sky is swirling with color, giving us an image of a universe that is not static and distant but dynamic, active and in tumult.

Van Gogh, who rejected organized religion, once wrote to his brother, Theo, that nonetheless he had a need for religion. So, he said, “I go outside at night to paint the stars.”

For us, too, the stars stir thoughts that turn us to religion. In the presence of such impossible vastness, what meaning can we find for our lives, our brief three score and 10?

The biologist Ursula Goodenough wrote of going on a camping trip in college shortly after sitting through a physics class. In the class she learned many of the details of our Solar System: the sun forming 4.5 billion years ago out on one of the spiral arms of our galaxy, the Milky Way, while a disc of rocks, water and dust spinning around it collected into planets, including ours, the Earth.

Then, how the Earth itself evolved wit life emerging and covering the planet And how the Earth will continue spinning and evolving until in about 5 billion years the Sun will expand and turn the Earth into a cinder.

“I found myself a sleeping bag looking up at the sky,” she said. “Before I could look around for Orion or the Big Dipper, I was overwhelmed with terror. The panic became so acute that I had to roll over and bury my face in my pillow.” The starkness of the picture was too much and created for her a kind of “Is that all there is?” moment. Maybe you’ve had one of those, too.

After all, we remember that all those constellations we have fun searching out we’re grounded in stories, stories that oriented people to a narrative of how the universe came to be and our place in it. And those stories were good at reassuring us that, as daunting as the world, the universe may appear there were forces greater than us seeing to things, forces that could somehow be appealed to and persuaded to work in our interest.

If that isn’t so, if we’re on our own down here, then where does that leave us?

Goodenough said she spent many years simply avoiding the subject, finding it too depressing to think about. In time, though, she came to the conclusion that she was satisfied simply to regard the world, in her words, as “a strange but wondrous given,” something that she was satisfied to accept and regard as “a locus of mystery.”

Alan Lightman said he finds it a comfort wandering about the small island of Maine where he kept his cottage reflecting that, as he put it, “the material of the doomed stars and my doomed body are actually the same material. Literally the same atoms.”

The universe, after all, began in a sea of hydrogen and helium, clumps of which later collapsed into stars. It was in those stars that those early gases were fused Into all the larger atoms that make up the universe. And as those early stars exploded and spewed those elements all throughout the universe they later coalesced Into planets, then organisms, then us.

“It is astonishing but true,” he said, “that if I could attach a small tag to each of the atoms of my body and travel with them backward in time, I would find that these atoms originated In particular stars in the sky. These very atoms.”

So then, the words of Robert Terry Weston’s meditation are literally true: “Out of the stars in their flight, Out of the dust of eternity, here have we come.” We are not adrift in a cold meaningless world: we are home in the place of our origin, connected via the atoms in our very bones to all things.

Once we get done imagining ourselves as somehow special, creatures given a unique destiny from some supernatural hand, we can tune into a truth that is far more profound: that we are a manifestation of an amazingly creative, endlessly evolving universe, creatures of inherent worth whose being, whose destiny is tied up with that of all things.

And so, looking out on the night sky we get a ring-side seat on all of this, knowing that the fires we see burning in distant stars are of a kind with the fires driving the cellular machinery of our bodies. And that’s not all. The fires that drive us impel us to survive, and not just survive but to continue beyond our three score and ten, not us as individuals, but us as carriers of life, creating and nurturing future generations.

For, we see that along with all the gases and such of the Big Bang there was born a tendency toward connectedness. It didn’t have to be there but somehow it emerged, and having emerged it made possible the universe we know. Quarks combined into atoms, atoms into molecules, molecules of increasing complexity into life, life in its latest manifestation into humans.

And humans – we curious, fragile, inventive creatures – turn out to possess one trait that offers us hope for the future, a trait the embodies once again that tendency toward for connectedness that was born with the Big Bang – the capacity to love. “This is the wonder of time; this is the marvel of space; out of the stars swung the Earth; life upon Earth rose to love.”

And so, I do not despair on looking at the night sky. True, it is astonishing in its vastness and complexity. Like Ursula Goodenough I do not seek to take it all in or understand it fully.  In its whys and wherefores it is a mystery. And still, it fills me with awe, with gratitude and joy. To be alive, to simply be is a grace. What a wonder that out of all that is, this being that is me emerged and is present now to be part of the stream of life, capable of building on the human heritage of love.

I do not begrudge that in time my life will end – though I do hope that that time is a ways in the future. Instead, I am content to know that, as the poet David Ignatow wrote,

“I am of the family of the universe,” and so “in no way shall death part us.” For me, there is peace in that understanding.

“This is the marvel of life,” Robert T. Weston declares, “rising to see and to know; Out of your heart, cry wonder: Sing that we live.”

 

Poetry: A Matter of Life and Breath (no audio or text available)

Sunday, July 28, 2019, 10am
Poetry Sunday
Coordinated by Virginia Bower, Sammy Fong, Charlie Marks, and Mariana Warner
The theme for this year’s Poetry Sunday is “A Matter of Life and Breath.” Take a breather from busyness and join us. You will be welcome here, as always.

It’s About Time (audio only)

Sunday, July 21, 2019
Rev. Tobias Van Buren
Time is woven through all we are and do, but what the heck is it? How do we regard it? Are we enslaved, driven and dragged by time? Does it weigh upon us? My sermon will suggest ways to become liberated from time-bondage.
Bio: Tobias is a member of UUCA and also an ordained UU minister. He has a BA from the University of South Carolina and an M.Div. from Starr King School for the Ministry. He served congregations in Atlanta, Baton Rouge & Beverly, MA, then left ministry from 1979 to 2013 to do shrimping and crabbing and developing a clam-oyster farm in the Charleston, SC area. He also enjoys gardening and fiction writing. Tobias and his wife, Winslow Tuttle, moved here in 2018 and are active in UUCA.

Seeking Community and Civility in an Uncivil Society (audio only)

Sunday, July 14, 2019
Rev. Ed Brock, Guest Minister
We will explore what creates, destroys, undermines, and sustains healthy relationships between individuals AND groups. Rev. Brock’s remarks will be based on his recently published book Optimal Relationships.

Bio: Rev. Ed Brock is UU minister who specializes in transitional ministry and is an Accredited Interim Minister. Rev. Brock lives in Atlanta, Georgia with his wife, Alphise, and their two daughters. He is also a licensed psychotherapist and has written a book entitled “Optimal Relationships: A Path Toward a More Civil Society.”

Breath of Life (audio only)

Sunday, July 7, 2019
Rev. Scott Hardin-Nieri, Guest Minister
What if we could understand animals? What would they communicate with us about what they see and what they are experiencing? What kind of invitations might they offer to the human community? Rev. Scott Hardin-Nieri will explore these questions weaving stories and sacred text.
The Rev. Scott Hardin-Nieri is partner, dad, spiritual director, pastor, and sojourner. He is the Director of the Creation Care Alliance of Western North Carolina and Associate Minister of Green Chalice of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Prior to living in North Carolina, Scott and his family served in the vulnerable cloud forest of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Scott is ordained with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and enjoys accompanying people during transformative experiences.

E Pluribus Unum (audio only)

Sunday, July 23, 2019
Rev. Terry Davis, Guest Minister

About our annual July 4th celebration, The New York Times columnist Paul Krugman asked, “Is America today, in any meaningful sense, the same country that declared independence in 1776?” Are we “out of many, one” as our national motto states? As we reflect together on this upcoming Independence Day and the values of freedom and unity it celebrates, let’s also consider what our UU values may be asking of us in these complicated times.
Bio: Rev. Terry Davis, who recently moved to Asheville, was ordained to Unitarian Universalist ministry in 2010 at the Unitarian Univeralist Congregation of Atlanta after a 25-year career in corporate communications. She has served as minister in Atlanta and St. Louis, as well as serving as the resident chaplain of the women’s maternity center at Atlanta’s Emory University Hospital. She recently consulted for the UUA office of Stewardship and Development and currently provides pulpit supply to UU congregations in Western North Carolina. A native of Washington, DC, Rev. Davis earned her Master of Divinity degree from Candler School of Theology in Atlanta in 2008.

You Are So Beautiful (audio only)

Sunday, June 23, 2019
Rev. Lisa Forehand, Guest Minister
Beauty, our theme this month, may easily conjure up images of natural beauty, but today we’ll also spend some time looking at our own beauty. Is beauty really just skin deep? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder? Let’s appreciate the natural beauty around us and also unpack our ideas about own physical beauty. We walk around in our bodies every day, but do we love them?

 

Music Sunday (no audio or text available)

Sunday, June 2, 2019, 10am (single service)
Dr. Leslie Downs, Music Director
Performed by the UUCA Choir, All Ages Choir, The Sandburgers, Tabitha Judy, vocalist, Stephanie Quinn, violin,Mandy Guilfoyle, cello, Morgen Cobb, percussion, and Dr. Leslie Downs, Music Director.
11:30am UUCA Annual Meeting

Curiosity and Sin (audio only)

Sunday, May 26, 2019
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development
As the biblical story of Adam and Eve shows, all people are curious about what it means to be a sexual being, but our hypersexualized society and the shaming that often comes from how people read that story makes it hard to talk about. Come hear how this is an important reason why Our Whole Lives (OWL) is an integral part of Faith Development for all ages at UUCA.

Coming of Age Credo Service (no audio or text available)

Sunday, May 5, 2019
Coming of Age Youths
All church year, our ninth-graders have been working with their teachers and mentors to address the question, “To what do I give my heart?” or “What do I believe?” Come experience the results of this challenge.

All There (audio only)

Sunday, April 7, 2019
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
“Are you all there?’ It’s a question we get asked when we’re staring into space, disengaged from our surroundings. Sometimes we go for some time feeling split between an inner self of experience and an outer self that we show to the world. This week we’ll explore how it is to live “all there,” present and whole.

An Unfinished Journey (no audio or text available)

Sunday, March 17, 2019
Rev. Mark Ward , Lead Minister
The history of the Civil Rights movement is told in moments of achievement – protests made, laws passed – but the deeper work of justice is focused on the continuing journey of freedom. This Sunday we’ll recall the 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama: what it achieved and what it tells us about what remains to be done.

Moving With Metta (audio & text)

Sunday, March 10, 2019
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
The Buddhist practice of “metta” offers a way of guiding our lives by the principles of loving kindness. This Sunday we’ll explore what that might mean for us and how we might orient ourselves to this practice.

Reflections from Dan Damerville

In the service today,  we’ve talked and sung about  and practiced  metta — a quality of  heart and mind that figures prominently in Buddhist religion and psychology.

Although exotic sounding in the Pali language of ancient Buddhism, ​metta​ translates in  English  as  loving-kindness, warm heartedness, goodwill, and, my favorite, plain old friendliness.  However we refer to it, this quality is essential to making everyday human  interactions enjoyable and positive.

Earlier, Reverend Mark led us in a  metta meditation that has the avowed aim of increasing one’s kindness or friendliness, even toward people we might not have such  feelings for.

Given that we all value loving-kindness, the idea that we can cultivate such feelings by  deliberate practice might seem odd.   Typically, we think a feeling is something we either have or don’t have, not something that we can dial up a few notches through practice.

Even so, research shows that even a modest practice of metta meditation – such as several minutes a day, several days a week — can ease us in the direction of thinking about and interacting with others in a more kindly way.  As a long-time meditator I know  that when I include ​metta​ in my daily practice, (something I don’t always do) I am simply  a better version of myself, one who is more clearly inclined to think better of and interact  with other people in a more friendly and kind-hearted way.

It should be said that practices like ​metta​, ones that target specific characteristics such  as kindness, are not what most people think of when the topic of meditation comes up.

Instead, we are probably  familiar with more wholistic forms of meditation such as  Zen,  T M and insight or mindfulness, all of which convey more general psychological and even physical benefits to those who practice them.

Although often presented as something mystical or other-worldly, meditation is nothing  more nor less than exercise for the psyche, for the mind and heart. And like with  physical exercise, belief is not necessary.

Believe it or not, if you lift heavy weights several times a week for a month, you will grow  stronger.

Believe it or not, if you practice any of the more general forms of  meditation fairly regularly, results happen, over time your mind will grow calmer, clearer, more flexible  and responsive.  And if you practice ​metta ​meditation your heart will grow warmer toward others and toward yourself.

In closing, I offer good news:   Current meditation instruction and support is much better  than in the past,  Even ten years ago, someone wishing to learn how to meditate might  have to learn from a book, (possible, but not easy) pay a lot of money to an outfit like Transcendental Meditation,  or even travel to some exotic land to learn from a master.  All that has changed, and for the better.

Today, the internet and the cell phone — those notorious weapons of mass distraction  and needless agitation —  can be used to the opposite effect, to calm and clarify the mind.  Numerous websites and phone apps provide high quality instruction, most of it free.  Finding these resources is as simple as making a computer search for “best  meditation apps and websites).  One meditation teacher I particularly like is Tara Brach  at tarabrach.com.

If you would like to learn from an actual as opposed to a virtual teacher and, perhaps, meditate with other people, you’re living in the right place,  Asheville, not surprisingly, has quite a few teachers and groups that provide instruction and ongoing support in various styles of meditation.

Which brings me to my very favorite local meditation group, one that  meets right here in  the sanctuary.  For over two years UUCA has had a meditation and study group called  he Buddhist Fellowship.  Despite that name, many, maybe most, of the members don’t  identify as  Buddhists.

We meet the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of each month from 7 to 8:30 to meditate together  and discuss issues related to Buddhist oriented psychology.  Information related to upcoming meetings is available on the online congregation calendar.  We would love for you to join us.  Namaste ya’ll. Dan Damerville

Reflection on Bodhicittta, Metta, Virginia Bower

“All through the day, I, Me, Mine, I, Me, Mine, I Me Mine…”
You know the song—and isn’t it fitting for the time in which we live?! Every day, I collect experiences of “me-ism,” acts involving people being so caught up in themselves that they can’t even imagine the effects of their acts on other people—folks who, for example, block the street with their car because they’re waiting on someone they dropped off while 10 cars, meanwhile, pile up behind them—like that—we all have our own examples—people who we deem “selfish”—“self consumed”—“self-absorbed.” I, Me, Mine…could be a serious condition.
. . .
I’ve had a spiritual practice most of my life—since I was about 15—poetry, gurus, Hinduism, Buddhism, yoga—some of those early concepts for tapping into higher consciousness included whatever might lead to a “higher self,” to “self realization,” to “self awareness”—selfish? Self aware? So as I read my dharma lesson or meditate or practice yoga, I seem to be paying a lot of attention to myself—am I being self-ish? Or self-aware?

I recently had a backache—never had this kind of backache before—and it dawned on me how little sympathy I’d ever had for all those others who’d shared with me their backache—and now, since I was experiencing it myself, I really knew what a backache was—I felt it—and I would never be callous again to someone who shared with me that they had a backache—it hurts! I’m so sorry I wasn’t more sympathetic! Or compassionate!

I was delighted recently, when, after my 47-year-long spiritual journey, I finally had a little bit of insight into a basic Buddhist teaching, which for me is where understanding metta begins. Bodhicitta means “basic goodness” and as a Buddhist concept, it means the basic ground that is at the heart of every human being—kind of like the “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” UU principal?! The problem that many of us have with being in touch with our own basic goodness is that that basic goodness gets obscured, clouded over—through so much living—stayin’ alive—reacting—relationships—competition—losses—feelings of being less than—basic goodness, that essence, can get covered up. If my essence is basic goodness, then your essence must also be basic goodness—but I have a hard time seeing that basic goodness in you because in truth I’m not totally clear on what it is in me—I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to get rid of all that I thought did not measure up: the residue of a crappy childhood; all those times I’ve been really mean in my life; all those bad decisions, all those times I felt like I just didn’t measure up. If people knew who I was with all these flaws, they probably wouldn’t like me; I might not even like myself! Surely I could never reach Nirvana—or even more modestly, a state of feeling like a decent human being—with all this muck and mire attached to my being! I had to get rid of this stuff, all the grime, wash it all off OR maybe pretend like it wasn’t there and maybe pretend to be someone else other than who I am in the process; it all seemed to be handicapping me, preventing me from attaining more saintly qualities, and thus in need of being gotten rid of—wouldn’t that be the way to get back to my basic goodness, i.e., remove the undesirable in order to find the desirable?

Seems my understanding was a bit turned around—and so thank goodness for my study of Buddhism and for my practice—and Buddhism is, after all, mostly a practice—since I have come across some very generous and insightful teachings—specifically that any chance I have for self-realization or enlightenment depends not at all on getting rid of anything but rather of being aware of and making room for, perhaps uncovering…all that is me—those qualities that I’m not glad I have, the habits that too often prescribe the automatic way I look out and perceive the world, that judgy part of myself that never takes a break, with me, with others—but the trick is not in identifying, through self criticism, what needs to go, but rather coming closer to who I am by allowing what exists in me the space to be—and coming to know that—from the pretty to the warty, from what I can accept to what I have a hard time accepting. Pema Chodron, a beloved Buddhist dharma teacher, talks about the need for intimacy with self, for unconditional friendship with ourselves that must be the ground for the possibility of unconditional friendship with others—she calls this maitri or metta. Self-knowing, knowing ourselves intimately is always the starting point. And if I can stay—another pith Buddhist instruction—with everything, esp. those areas I’d rather run away from—and I’m an expert at running away—through food, drink, denial, shopping—then I can come to know my basic goodness—maybe not instantly, maybe not today, but back to that idea of Buddhism being a practice—when I know loneliness in myself, when I can stay with that instead of running away, when I can consider it a way of coming closer to myself, I can see more clearly and compassionately another person who is experiencing the same—perhaps this is also compassion—Pema says that compassion is between equals.

So back to my insight: it involved my clear realization that I could never know what basic goodness or loving kindness is without experiencing it in and towards and for my own self—no platitudes, no intellectual exercises—and that it is really my responsibility to experience this basic goodness, bodhicitta, in myself so that I can see it in others—it’s my work. If I’m to be of any use as a tool or a channel for upliftment in this world, I must take on the mature and brave, maybe even heroic task—putting on those grown-up panties—of accepting my own humanity—and my own basic goodness. Only then can I practice another Buddhist concept which is committing to help alleviate suffering in this world (no small project!)—I can only know basic goodness by experiencing it as my self, knowing that I am one vessel that holds the same basic goodness that every other vessel holds—and in this way I come to know, love, and have compassion for myself so that I can come to know, love and have compassion for others. Bodhicitta, in this way, seems related to maitri, metta…loving kindness.

Mary Oliver was right—we really do NOT have to be good, we do not have to walk on our knees for a hundred miles through the desert repenting, we only have to let the soft animal of our body love what it loves; we only need to see the sun behind all the obscurations. We don’t even have to wait to get a bad backache before we can develop compassion. We only have to practice knowing ourselves—Pema might say, “Coming closer to ourselves”—and in the knowing, practice loving kindness—for ourselves, and for others.

Self-ish? Self-aware? There’s probably a difference…But all I know is I need to start right here with me and feel kindness towards myself—but perhaps in doing so, I can also know and feel kindness for you. Virginia Bower

Celebration Sunday (audio only)

Sunday, March 3, 2019
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Come help us celebrate this amazing congregation, all that we are and all that we do. There will be wonderful music, good words, and best of all our community joined as one. Please fill out and bring with you the financial commitment form you received in the mail for the coming year form, and we will receive them.

Should We Sing “Amazing Grace”? (audio & text)

Sunday, February 24, 2019
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
“Amazing Grace” is a song loaded with history and knotty theology. This year’s auction winner of the sermon topic, Phil Roudebush, asked that I grapple with how we UUs might respond to it. So, here we go!

From Chronicles 1 17:16-17

Then King David went in and sat before the Lord and said, “Who an I, O Lord God, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far? And even this was a small thing in your sight, O God, you have also spoken of your servant’s house for a great while to come. You regard me as someone of high rank.”

This House      by Kenneth Patton

This house is for the ingathering of nature and human nature.

It is a house of friendships, a haven in trouble, an open room for 
the encouragement of our struggle.

It is a house of freedom, guarding the dignity and worth of every person.

It offers a platform for the free voice, for declaring, both in times of
security and danger, the full and undivided conflict of opinion.

It is a house of truth-seeking, where scientists can encourage 
devotion to their quest, where mystics can abide in a community of searchers.

It is a house of art, adorning its celebrations with melodies and 
handiworks.

It is a house of prophecy, outrunning times past and times present in visions of growth and progress.

This house is a cradle for our dreams, the workshop of our common endeavor.

SERMON

My most memorable experience with the hymn “Amazing Grace” came in the early 1980s. Debbie and I had recently moved from the New York-New Jersey area, where we were both raised, to Charleston, West Virginia, where I was working in my first newspaper job.

The move was a big change for us in many ways and not least when it came to religion. We had been married in Princeton, New Jersey, in the Unitarian Universalist church where I had grown up. And back there UUs had seemed just part of the religious mix. In Charleston, though, the tiny, lay-led fellowship we found was clearly outside what seemed a mainstream of evangelical Christianity.

Its members included some transplants, like us, but also a fair number of locals who had had their share of battles with the predominant religious perspective. So, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised that one Sunday when a visiting minister invited us all to rise and join in singing “Amazing Grace” several in attendance sat instead in stony silence, their jaws set and their arms folded across their chests.

We Unitarian Universalists can have long arguments about what hymns we sing and why. In fact, we’re famously known as people who stumble through hymns because we’re reading ahead to see if we agree with the words. (More about that later.)

But I think it’s fair to say that “Amazing Grace” is a uniquely challenging case, which, I suspect, has something to do with  our member Phil Roudebush, who won the church auction item to name a sermon topic, zeroing in on this hymn as my topic. Gee, thanks, Phil. But also I have to say that this hymn,  how it’s been used and how we respond to it to offer grist for some fascinating challenges for people committed to the broad liberal path of religion.

So, let’s begin with the origin story, which takes us back to about the middle of the 18th century. Our protagonist is John Newton, born in 1725. By now you’ve likely heard the story of this son of a merchant seaman whose devout mother, died of tuberculosis when he was young. Off he goes to boarding school, then joins his father shipboard.

It is said he learned to love the sea, but not the merchant life. Shy and bookish, he spends much of his time in books. But then comes a shock when he is press-ganged, essentially forcibly enlisted, in the British Navy. After a few years of that brutal living, the Navy foists him onto a slave trading ship, where malaria and dissolute living break his spirit.

His defining moment comes one night when his shoddily-built ship starts falling apart in a storm. Watching waves wash his shipmates overboard,  Newton says, the words appeared in his mouth: “If this will not do, the Lord have mercy on us.” Somehow, he survives the night and Newton marks that as the moment when he first felt what he considered God’s saving grace, his religious awakening, “the hour I first believed.”

It’s worth noting that his conversion doesn’t end his work in the slave trade, though later he did oppose it. That only happens when a mild stroke ends his seaman’s days. He then digs into religious study, eventually persuading a landlord at the parish of Olney to ordain him, even though he lacks a university degree.

That doesn’t trouble his parishioners, many of who are Illiterate laborers and traders. And they like the simple hymns he writes often as an alternative to the more difficult psalms.  Early in 1773, he offers them a new one based on the verse from First Chronicles that you heard earlier. It is the passage from the Hebrew scriptures when David expressed his gratitude to God for assuring him that his progeny will always be blessed. “Who am I that you have brought me this far?” It is for him the ultimate expression of grace, the undeserved, divine bestowing of love and care, something that Newton felt his own life had taught him well.

“Amazing grace (how sweet the sound)

that saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see.

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

and grace my fear relieved.

How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.

“Through many dangers, toils, and snares I have already come.

Tis grace has brought me safe thus far,

And grace will lead me home.

“The Lord has promised good to me, his word my hope secures.

He will my shield and portion be, as long as life endures.”

“Yes, when this flesh and heart shall fail

and mortal life shall cease.

I shall possess within the veil a life of joy and peace.

“The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

the sun forebear to shine

But God who called me here below will be forever mine.”

 

 We can’t be sure what tune that hymn was first sung to, but we know that it wasn’t the one that we sing today. That pairing didn’t happen for another 50 years when John Newton’s words were joined with a tune in American composer William Walker’s Southern Harmony. You’ll notice that the words are a little different from the version most widely used. ‘The “ten-thousand years” verse was added later and others were dropped from most renditions.

 It didn’t take long for the song to catch on, appearing in hymnals and songbooks, including those of the shape-note singers. It also was widely embraced in the black gospel tradition, where it was reshaped again.

We don’t have time today for a full discussion of the hymn’s fascinating evolution and history. But it spread across religious traditions and then was picked up mid 20th century by musicians such as Pete Seeger and Joan Baez as part of America’s folk revival. It soon became a country music standard and was recorded by dozens of musicians across music genres,  from Eric Clapton to Aretha Franklin, topping the charts in a 1971 recording by Judy Collins.

How to account for this hymn’s “amazing” popularity? At least in part, it has to do with the nature of the music and the nature of the message. There’s a beautiful symmetry to the simple tune that makes it eminently singable and satisfying. And while there is a very clear theology underlying the song, it doesn’t hit you over the head, which makes it appealing to diverse audiences. Who hasn’t experienced moments of wretchedness, of dangers, toils and snares and found themselves or at least their spirits rescued by totally unexpected, unexplainable words, actions, or compassionate presence of another?

It’s telling that the hymn doesn’t insist that we regard this grace as divine intervention. It simply offers gratitude for being the recipient of it. It gives us room to make of it what we will.

 As I said, though, Newton’s words were grounded in a very clear theology, one that regarded God as the author of all things, that regarded all humans as wallowing in sin from the day of their birth, sin that only God’s unmerited salvation could relieve. It was this theology that my friends in West Virginia had in mind when they angrily crossed their arms in protest when invited to sing, a theology they rejected, yet that earlier in their lives had been used to shame and demean them.

 So, I understand. And while I have never had that experience, I have to admit that knowing their experience has made me, too, a bit wary of this hymn. It has helped me understand why in our hymnal the editors gave people (again, reading ahead to see if they agree with the words) the option of singing “soul” in the first verse instead of Newton’s “wretch.” It’s not that the singers never feel wretched about themselves but that they may not care to affirm a theology that denies the inherent worth and dignity of all people that we affirm, even when we feel shamed and debased.

What’s interesting to me is that the hymn is there at all. Our grey hymnal, “Singing the Living Tradition,” printed in 1993, is the first to include it. Previous hymnals, printed in 1964 and 1935 respectively, did not. I do not know the thinking that went into including it, though I expect it was a lively discussion. What I suspect is that editors of that hymnal felt that “Amazing Grace” was a powerful part of the religious landscape that it would benefit UUs to experience. As evidence of this, I’d point to other hymns grouped within several pages of “Amazing Grace,” such as the Lutheran standard, “A Mighty Fortress”  and the spiritual “Precious Lord, Take My Hand.”

So, should we UUs sing “Amazing Grace”? Sure. We can find in it the expression of a universal human experience of rising from despair. Whatever its history or theology, it speaks to us of the need to hold out hope of renewal, even in the most troubled times.

And I think that is what made it so powerful to hear President Obama end his eulogy for the nine parishioners of Mother Emanuel AME church with an acapella rendition of “Amazing Grace,” his hesitant baritone growling out the first couple of notes as clergy behind him smiled, stood, and joined in, with the President’s voice, low and slow, reaching into the black gospel tradition, throwing in his own musical ornamentation to draw out the melody and draw in his listeners.

It was not theological disquisition he had in mind. It was healing; it was hope. It was a moment to affirm that bigotry would not prevail, that the nation would disavow hate. And the way forward that he implicitly offered was for all of us to be both givers and receivers of a profound grace that reaches across all that divides us. Whatever our errors, our foolhardiness, our wretchedness we have the capacity, we people of inherent worth and dignity, to rise up and begin again.

Breaking and Rebuilding Trust (audio only)

Sunday, February 10, 2019
YRUU Class
As UUs, we strive to make our worship as inclusive, encouraging, and supportive as possible to all parts of our faith community. As a radical expression of that commitment, today’s worship is designed and delivered entirely by our YRUUs–high school youth (in grades 10-12). Prepare to be inspired by what motivates this crew, with this month’s theme of Trust as the framework for their exploration–venturing toward what poet Albert Huffstickler lifts up as that dark edge where the first light break

In What Shall We Trust? (audio & text)

Sunday, February 3, 2019
Rev. Mark Ward, Lead Minister
Sooner or later on our spiritual journeys, we come to the question of the foundation of our faith, what grounds us and opens us to our true selves in compassionate engagement with the world? Today we’ll wrestle with how we might answer that question.

The author Brene Brown, who writes on issues of shame and vulnerability, says she was struggling over how she might illustrate the importance of trust in relationships when her school-age daughter offered her a metaphor that she felt worked.

Her daughter told her about an upsetting episode at school when friends in her class had shared with others the story of an embarrassing incident that she had told them. The story caused a small uproar in the class when the other students in the class began to make fun of her. The teacher told the students to calm down.

As a discipline tool, she had kept a jar of marbles on her desk, agreeing to add marbles when the class behaved well and to remove them when they didn’t. When the jar was full, she would arrange a treat for the class. As the noise level rose, the teacher warned them that she would start taking marbles from the jar.

Brown’s daughter, though, said she didn’t care. She was mortified and would never trust anyone again. What should Brown say? What would you say?

Brown explained to her daughter that trust wasn’t something that you turned on and off. It was something more like the marble jar, where we added and subtracted trust based on our experience. One of our goals in life, she said, is to find “marble jar friends,” people who we find, as a rule, will add marbles to our jar, who we can depend on to be honest, caring and fair.

“As a rule” because we all mess up now and again. But “marble jar friends” are people who are willing to be vulnerable to us and reach out to us, apologize for the injury they do. In further research, Brown said she was interested to find that often it was not the big events but small things that had the most impact on building trust.

She recounted a story from the psychologist John Gottman. He told of one night when he was reading in bed when he got up for a moment just to go to the bathroom. On the way, he walked by his wife, who looked sad. As it is with us sometimes, his first impulse was to walk by.  After all, he was anxious to get back to his book.  But he didn’t. Instead, he sat next to her and asked,  “What’s going on with you, babe?”

It is in such moments, Brown said, that trust is built. And it reminds us how vital trust is in our lives. We’ve all known moments when like Brown’s daughter we’re ready to declare that we’ll never trust again. But in truth that is never an option.

 Trust is essential to our wellbeing, and we will always find somewhere to place it, even if sometimes that trust has not been earned. Indeed, it is the source of much grief that we extend our trust to unreliable sources, to people who abuse it or disregard it. One of the great lessons of growing up Is learning how and when to give our trust and learning to heal and grow when it has been betrayed.

 The lessons of trust in relationships apply equally to a deeper sense of trust that underlies how we are present to and find meaning in the world. This is trust at the center of what we call faith. Faith is a word that we often struggle with because it is interpreted in different ways. Years ago, the theologian Paul Tillich described faith as a “restlessness of the heart,” a drive within us triggered by, in his words, “our awareness of the infinite” of which we are a part, but which, he said, we do not own “like a possession.”

Like trust, faith is integral to our experience as human beings. It has at its heart in a yearning for authenticity, for connection, for at-homeness in the universe. Whether or not or however we articulate it, faith manifests itself in our lives in our decisions about how we interact with each other and the natural world. Like trust, it grows and deepens as we grow and evolve, and equally, it can bring us grief when we struggle with betrayal and loss.

One historian of religion, Wilfred Cantwell Smith, has argued that faith can cause us grief when it becomes equated with beliefs that are framed as intellectual propositions, dogma that separates us from our experience. Apparently, at some point in our history in the West religious leaders concluded that the heart was not reliable, that only rigorous intellectual argument could ground faith. Yet, this move, he said, removed faith from its original source.

Faith, he argued, is not an intellectual proposition but an emotional almost visceral affirmation. “The religious life,” he wrote, “begins with faith, and faith is finding within that life something to which one gives one’s heart.” And we give our hearts only to that which seems to us adequate or promising; in short, that which we trust. Whatever we humans may affirm intellectually, he said, we are ultimately guided, driven by that in which we trust, that in which we have faith.

I make my spiritual home in this religious tradition because is a place where, when you enter, we do not tell us you what faith is, supplying you with unchallengeable propositions about the nature of the world, the divine and all the rest. Instead, we ask you where your heart rests and invite you to deepen and grow your spirit with us, as together we work to understand what is called of each of us in our brief lives to help bring about hope, justice, and peace.

It operates in a sense as a kind of “marble jar” theology. where the faith that each of us brings evolves in each other’s company, where we process experiences that test and shape what seems true to us, then offer our hearts to each other, finding in that vulnerability the possibility of awakening to deeper truth.

 In our lives, we experience epiphanies as well as disappointments and losses, and each of these changes us, often in ways we could not anticipate.  And at times those experiences cause us to let go of once-powerful convictions or ways of looking at the world that no longer serve us.

 In time, as Sharon Salzberg puts it, “we learn to trust our own deepest experiences” while being held in a community of trust. “No matter what we encounter in life,” she says, “it is faith that enables us to try again, to trust again, to love again.”

In time, like an ever-filling marble jar, trust grows and deepens. As it does our awareness widens, and our awareness is imbued, is colored with meaning. This is how we go about building our heart’s true resting place, a place where even amid the storms of life we have a bedrock trust we can turn to.

James Fowler, who we heard from earlier, proposed some years ago that there were identifiable steps, six different stages, that people moved through on the way to a fulfilling faith. We begin with the faith of childhood, he said, where we essentially receive what is given, and then, as we grow, we have opportunities to widen and deepen our faith, moving toward what he calls a universalizing faith of the widest possible focus.  But, of course, advancing age doesn’t assure us of achieving spiritual maturity. There are any number of reasons why any of us can get stuck at one stage along the way.

As Fowler put it, if we are to be companions on the globe we are in need of “good faith,” faith sufficiently inclusive to binding ourselves as a human community to each other. Our faith, he said, “must name and face that deep-going tendency in us to make ourselves and the extensions of ourselves central in the world.”

We must somehow link ourselves “to communities of shared memory and shared hope with which we join in symbolizing our human condition and in enacting the vision that can animate and give new life.” This requires on our part humility, curiosity, and grace, to listen and know we have much to learn, to make common cause in gratitude, trusting in the truth of our common destiny.

I have pondered throughout preparing this sermon over how I might articulate what my own sense of trust has evolved to at this point in my life, how I might frame the conviction that underlies my own hopes, where, in the end, my heart rests.

As I have told you before, I begin with a trust in the natural world, this glorious, surprising Earth, with no need for intervention from afar. And when I look for the foundation of my hope, what guides me, transforms me, awakens me, I find it in something that I intuit but cannot prove,  yet which consoles me and emboldens me even in the most frightening times. I’m not even sure these are the right words, but let me try.

It is that there is present in each of us and among us a profound and generous love of which we are capable, and that in that love is the hope of the world. This is, as I said, nothing I can prove. I only know that my heart sings when I act in its behalf, when I let go of my fears, shame, or uncertainties and admit it without reservation into my life.

It is a trust that offers no certainty that I won’t be hurt or disappointed. Indeed, the vulnerability it demands of me, assures that my heart will be broken, and not just once but over and over again, but never irreparably, and each time opened to new wisdom.

I cannot know where it will take me from here, but my heart rests in the conviction that if I can keep it in my sights – and I don’t always succeed at that – it will serve me, those I know and love and the world and bring about some small measure of peace in the brief time I have left in this life.

Caroline Bartlett Crane and the Seven Day Church (no audio or text available.)

Sunday, January 27, 2019
Rev. Claudia Jimenez, Minister of Faith Development
Ministry on the frontier and in our denomination was challenging enough in the 1800s. The resilience and perseverance of women ministers like Rev. Bartlett Crane despite being shunned by the Boston patriarchy are even more remarkable and heartbreaking. What can we learn for today from pioneer women ministers who were nurturing families, making church more welcoming and promoting engagement beyond the walls of the church?

Beyond Indignation (audio only)

Sunday, January 20, 2019
Rev. Claudia Jimenez
Join us as we honor the legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and reflect on how we can put our values into action. As Rev. King said, we have to be maladjusted to injustice. It is not enough to celebrate accomplishments of the past or be indignant about continued racism, inequity and oppression. Let us explore ways of engaging purposeful action for justice.

Learning UU History

For six weeks, 14 UUCA members, with 8 to 10 average weekly attendance, learned amazing stories about our own Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist history.  Our origins go back to the earliest days of Christianity but would eventually find Christianity only one of many important religions.  Our religious ancestors played significant roles–and many lost their lives–in the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century.  We learned of how much of our history is intertwined with the history of our nation.  We were astonished at how forward thinking our faith leaders were in social justice moments in our nation.  And we watched with some concern the events of the walkout at our own General Assembly in 1969 by our Black Affairs Council. We then read with some heightened interest and even greater concern the Rev. Dr. Mark Morrison-Reed’s article “The Black Hole in the White UU Psyche.”  Our history is one we can be proud of AND learn from!!!

Would you like to learn a little UU history?  Come to The Wednesday Thing program on January 30, at 7:00 as we play The Storyline, the UU History Card Game!

In photo:  Clara Barton, Rev. Olympia Brown, Viola Liuzza, Francis David, Rev. Hosea Ballou, Rev. William Ellery Channing

Connect with us on Facebook

We are solar powered