The Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford, an open welcoming church.
147 High Street Medford, Massachusetts 02155 webinfo@uumedford.org 781-396-4549
Sermons Delivered by the UU Church of Medford Minister and Community Members
Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
Dan McKanan; May 25, 2014

Reading: Jeremiah 31: 2-6, 15-17

Thus says the Lord: The people who survived the sword found grace in the wilderness;
when Israel sought for rest, the Lord appeared to him from far away.
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.
Again I will build you, and you shall be built, O virgin Israel!
Again you shall take your tambourines, and go forth in the dance of the merrymakers.
Again you shall plant vineyards on the mountains of Samaria;
the planters shall plant, and shall enjoy the fruit.
For there shall be a day when sentinels will call in the hill country of Ephraim:
“Come, let us go up to Zion, to the Lord our God.”

Thus says the Lord:
A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are no more.
Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day, a day when we remember friends and neighbors who died in military service to the United States of America. Today I invite you to prepare for Memorial Day by reflecting on memory itself. What do we remember as individuals? What do we remember as a society? How do our memories shape the future we create together?

A few minutes ago I asked you to remember your loved ones and ancestors who suffered in wartime or in the struggle for justice. Had we spoken those memories aloud, I suspect they would not have fit together in a neat package. Some of us, I suspect, felt inspired by the heroism of our loved ones, while others felt only sorrow at what they had to suffer. When we remember the injustices of the past, some of us may feel fired up to change the future, while others may simply need to mourn. Some of us may remember the past as a tapestry of rich meanings, while others glimpse a hodgepodge of one thing after another. Tomorrow, our memories might be very different than they are today.

That is the way memory is. The past is past, but the way it lives on in the present is always changing. We celebrate Memorial Day to help us remember things we might otherwise forget, but also perhaps to keep hard memories from overwhelming us.

And it has been that way for centuries. I chose a reading from the prophet Jeremiah for today’s service because the Hebrew Bible is especially good at holding together different memories. Writing after his nation had been conquered by the Babylonians, Jeremiah offered words of hope: soon, the people would be planting vineyards on the mountains of their homeland. But he also kept mourning: Rachel is weeping for her children and refuses to be comforted. Only by holding hope and mourning together could he honor the feelings of everyone in his community.

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On Becoming Nobody
Rev. Susan Milnor; February 16, 2014

At the age of 41, Don Snyder, Professor of English at Colgate University, never saw it coming. Well-liked by students, nominated every year for Professor of the Year, Snyder assumed he was on the fast track leading to better jobs at even more prestigious universities. When he received a letter from University officials to tell him they were letting him go, he immediately thought: “They got the wrong guy.”

“Sorry,” the dean said, “we meant you.”

In his book The Cliff Walk, Snyder describes what followed: denial, anger, rationalization, and eventually such deep depression that he began to sleep the days away. He had lost not only his job, but also his money, his house, his colleagues’ regard – everything that promised a good life. But the real meaning came home one day in a conversation with a student when he realized the young man resented him for being fired.

“Man, not another baby boomer out of work. ... Every time one of you guys loses his real job, you take the [crap] jobs at the mall so I can’t ... pick up summer work.”

“I didn’t even see,” Snyder later writes, “that I was standing right next to him on a dividing line between how you imagine your life will turn out and how it actually does.”

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A Place Inside
Rev. Susan Milnor; December 15, 2013

Last week under headlines about throngs swelling Johannesburg to mourn the late Nelson Mandela was one word in large bold type: JOYOUS. No one would wonder why it was there. In grieving Mandela, people were tapping the place deep inside where they had found the fire of life and hope.

But think about it. Would the word happiness have worked instead? I don’t think so. Not the same.

Happiness is good. If you have it or can achieve it, by all means, enjoy it. Who would say no? According to neuroscientist Nancy Etcoff, we are wired to long for happiness. Our national rights include “life, liberty, and the pursuit” – not the state, but the pursuit – “of happiness.” The trouble is, we often identify happiness with things we are trying to get, or be, or have in our lives, and it can be a Sisyphean struggle.

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Our Covenant
Steve Schmidt; September 29, 2013

I well remember the first time I came together with this congregation to join in worship. It was February 8, 2004. I remember the date because it was just two days after I had asked Jon Dan to be my partner. So, in just four more months I will celebrate the tenth anniversary of being with Jon Dan and the tenth anniversary of my coming together in worship with this congregation.

But that first day with this congregation is memorable for many other reasons besides the fact that Jon and I were going together. I remember the warm and genuinely joyful welcome that I received from everybody I met and I was overjoyed to find a congregation come together in worship that shared so many of the values that I had come to hold over the fifty plus years of a religious and spiritual journey which continues even to this day. There were elements of the worship service that almost took my breath away: the admonition to let the collection plates pass if this was my first or second visit; the welcome that told me I belonged here; the sharing of joys and sorrows in this sanctuary where all that is shared is honored without judgment; and the reminder at the end of the worship service that although our worship has ended our service is just beginning.

But as I came again, Sunday after Sunday, one thing began to stand out with more prominence. Every Sunday in less than 30 seconds we recite together the Covenant of this congregation. And in those 30 seconds, I contend, we sum up the entirety of Unitarian Universalist theology. When you tease out the elements of the Covenant you find our Seven Principles as well as the living tradition that we share and from which we derive our principles and theology. And, if you have not noticed already, all the songs we have sung today, the readings we have heard, and the prayers and invocations that have been said have all been nothing more than restatements of the Covenant or one of its elements.

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The Long and Short of It
Michael Glenn; August 25, 2013

How do we deal with the endless changes in our lives? Where do we find stability? These questions haunt us as we encounter good times and bad, triumphs and setbacks. No matter where we look, it seems “There is always something.” Always something to cope with. And inevitably we encounter disappointment, illness, and loss. Is there no place of rest and refuge?

Those who believe in God may find comfort in the notion of an all-knowing, all-powerful being who has taken charge of this whole process, and who has a perspective, plan or purpose. But if you are a non-believer, then what?

The idea for this sermon came when I again stumbled upon the aphorism, “Ars longa, vita brevis” – Art is long, while life is short. This is the Latin translation of a maxim by the Greek Hippocrates, the father of medicine. Hippocrates is saying, it takes a very long time to master the art, the skill of being a physician. But life, the time we have for learning all of this, is short. So this is a perfect condition for feeling uncomfortable ...

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Memorial Day as an African-American Holiday
Lori Kenschaft; May 26, 2013

For many years, I basically tried to ignore Memorial Day. The holiday made me uncomfortable.

I was not really clear what it was about, but I had a vague idea that it was for honoring American soldiers who had died in wars, while Veterans’ Day was for honoring American soldiers who had survived wars. Like many UUs I am uncomfortable with American militarism, and I certainly do not believe that all of our wars have been good and honorable. So I felt uncomfortable with a holiday that seemed to celebrate warfare.

For many people, however, it seems that Memorial Day is mostly a celebration of summer. It is a day for cookouts and parties, for breaking out the grill and wearing the summer clothing. That is all fine. I certainly have no objections to grills and parties. But the part of me that does want to honor the suffering and the sacrifice of Americans who died for our country and its ideals can feel uncomfortable with the Memorial Day that is all about summer, with no sense of reverence.

So, stuck between war and grilled meat, it has seemed easiest just to ignore this holiday.

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Our Problematic First Principle
Steve Schmidt; May 5, 2013

Those of you who know me well or who have frequently heard me talk or preach will know that the first principle is a subject that is dear to my heart. In fact I feel so strongly about the first principle that it was the topic of the paper I wrote as the final step in my getting my Masters of Theological Studies degree. It is also the one point – the only point – where I have received significant disagreement from some of those who have heard me express my opinions upon the meaning of this principle. And so again today, not surprisingly, I am going to address what I am today calling our problematic first principle.

Since I think this principle is so important and since I think that my understanding of it is often seen as problematic I think we should review just what that first principle is before I go any further.

The first principle states: The inherent worth and dignity of every person.

This principle is important to us Unitarian Universalists for two reasons. The first reason is the way in which it is presented and the second is the history of its development along with the history of human affairs since its establishment.

The way in which this principle is presented is clarified by the words that introduce all seven of the principles: “We, the member congregations of the Unitarian Universalist Association, covenant to affirm and promote ...” And then the seven principles are listed.

Lets look at this introduction and what it means to us as members, friends, or visitors of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Medford.

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Stop Striving!
Tammy McKanan; April 21, 2013

Ladies and gentlemen, I hold before you an amazing substance, an elixir guaranteed to make a difference in your life. The list of its powers are vast, it can make you friends, it can heal wounds, it can change hearts, it can ease forgiveness, it can prompt apologies, it can change laws and public opinion. This simple little formula is a surefire remedy for peace and transformational change and it does not take money, or power, or organization, or strategy, or activism. Ladies and gentlemen who will buy this amazing elixir? Ah, of course not.

We are understandably a little suspicious of anything that sounds too good to be true. But the snake oil potions of the past, that is the ones that did not actually harm you, did often help at least a little, at least as good as and in the same way as any placebo. I cannot tell you that the amazing elixir that I am peddling today will solve all the problems any of us may encounter, but it will help at least a little and sometimes it will be magical.

What is this great thing? Stop striving. Stop striving and stay focused on the person or thing right in front of you. Some time back I thought our family needed a mission statement and what I came up with was “We’re not striving!” To implement this was a form of magic. We live in a world that is often focused on the next thing. We answer the phone when someone is already talking to us; we are scheduling the next activity before we finish this one, and we feel afraid that unless we do we will miss out on something important. The irony is that we already are. We are missing out on the gift of what is right in front of us.

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Once Upon A Time
Rev. Susan Milnor; April 14, 2013

Imagine with me, if you will, the beginning of a religious movement. It does not emerge out of visions or ecclesiastical conflict, as we so often expect, but out of personal tragedy and despair. It is the story of John Murray, called the Father of American Universalism, and it is one we sometimes tell as a cardboard cut-out miracle. It is really a story about life stories.

John Murray grew up in Eighteenth Century Ireland in a dour, unhappy Calvinist family. He did not find much to rejoice about in life, but he had a passion for education and pursued it with passion. He even stumbled across some joy when he fell in love with a vibrant woman, Eliza Neal, and in spite of her family’s fierce opposition, finally married her. John and Eliza left Ireland, moved to London, and became involved in the Methodist London Tabernacle.

Everything in Murray’s life was very orthodox until he became aware of a young woman in the congregation who had embraced decidedly unorthodox ideas. She had heard the English Universalist preacher James Relly speak and taken to heart his conviction that a loving God would surely save all people. Murray was so disturbed by her convictions, and considered them so dangerous, that he took a small group of church men to her house to do what amounted to a theological intervention. But he did not get what he expected: a young woman bending to his “wiser” judgment. Instead, she debated with him, challenged him, and asked questions to which he had no answers.

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Standing on the Side of Love: What Does It Mean?
Susan Jhirad; March 24, 2013

I originally planned this service to coincide with “Share the Love Sunday” with other Unitarian churches, and a February. “Standing on the Side of Love” month-long campaign. The snow intervened, but any day is a good day for thinking about love. “Standing on the side of Love” is a beautiful slogan, and it carries with it important stands on a variety of issues. Some of us discussed with Dan McKanan the draft church position on immigration, which flows from our Unitarian principles as well as the Biblical teachings to, “love thy neighbor as thyself,” and “welcome the stranger,” suggesting some specific, concrete actions we can take as individuals and as a church to support and welcome struggling immigrants. Our church has done some of these things in the past: raising money for immigrants and refugees, testifying at the state house with undocumented students, bearing witness at the immigration jails, visiting prisoners, and I sincerely hope we do even more in the future.

At the same time, I confess, I sometimes have difficulty understanding what that slogan, “Standing on the Side of Love” really means. In its original meaning in our church, support for full equality for lesbians and gay couples, it was clear. Loving couples should be allowed to have full rights of marriage and other things, whether gay or straight. But when it started to be extended to issues like immigration and poverty, I thought “Hey, wait a minute.” I am proud that our denomination and our own church have stood on the side of social justice for undocumented immigrants and low income people. But does this mean we “love” all immigrants? Do we “love” all poor people? How many people can we truthfully say we love?

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Be Still and Know
Rev. Susan Milnor; March 17, 2013

At a hermitage in France, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk bows before an altar on which images of Buddha and Jesus rest. As he lights incense to mark the holiness of the moment, he touches each one. Although devoted to the Buddhist tradition, the monk is moved by both figures, and he is spiritually nurtured by the teachings of both masters.

Thich Nhat Hanh is widely known for his many books and lectures sharing the teachings and practices of Buddhism with Westerners. His most controversial contribution, however, has been to interfaith dialogue, particularly between Buddhists and Christians during the Vietnam War. In those agonizing years, Hanh worked hard to bring religious pacifists of different faiths together to stop the killing in his homeland, but his openness to both traditions brought scorn and judgment from all sides. When he participated in an Eucharist with Father Daniel Berrigan, Buddhists around the world were shocked by his “betrayal” and Christians horrified by the heresy. At one interfaith conference, an Indian Christian stood and said, “We are going to hear about the beauties of several traditions, but that does not mean that we are going to make a fruit salad.” When it came Thich Nhat Hahn’s turn to speak, he said with great lightness, “Fruit salad can be delicious.”

It reminds me of the time a Conservative rabbi called me to talk about his concern for the children of a divorcing couple who being sent for religious education at both his temple and our church. The metaphor he drew was of a banquet, where one single entrée can be tasted so much more fully than bits and pieces at a potluck. I understood what he meant, but I could not help saying, “I am minister to a congregation of people who really love a good a potluck.”

It is true that we become religiously centered by knowing a tradition well. As the writer of Psalms said, “Be still and know that I am God.” When we consider a set of teachings, and re-read and rethink them, when we put them into the context of our lives, we understand what is most truthful in them. Yet it is equally true that when we open our minds to other traditions and teachings, we reach new levels of understanding and appreciation.

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The Shoemaker’s Window
Rev. Susan Milnor; March 10, 2013

The world is without a pope. While the media report that the Pope Emeritus will not be allowed to wear the red Prada shoes but will be allowed to live in a palace, cardinals gather in utmost secrecy to elect a new pontiff. Could he be a visionary who will lead the church into the future by ordaining women, accepting birth control, and confronting child abuse for the evil that it is? No one really imagines so, yet even unbelievers are drawn to the drama of it all.

Meanwhile, the season of confidential ministerial search in Unitarian Universalist churches draws to a close. Only eleven days now until offers can be tendered and selections made public. This week I could not help imagining members of a search committee in an anonymous New England church, gathered in front of the fireplace of the parish house to send a signal of white smoke up the probably ailing chimney. We have a minister!

As you well know, this congregation will soon begin a search for its next settled minister. So it seems appropriate for me, as interim, to reflect on where we are. When I came here in October, I found a warm and appreciative congregation that values professional ministry (and has for centuries). I found smart leaders who are dedicated to the future of this church, leaders who have been willing to work closely with me for the good of the whole. I found a congregation that knows how to worship, which is no small thing. You are willing to sing, to laugh, to reflect seriously. There is an indefinable quality that a preacher encounters in a congregation – either a passivity that requires you to put out all the energy or a spirit that meets you half way. You have the latter. I found a congregation that values its children and their religious education. And a congregation that likes to have fun even if we have not done enough of that this year.

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Unfinished Church
Rev. Susan Milnor; February 17, 2013

Recently King Richard III’s bones were unearthed beneath a parking lot in Leicester, England. They lay under the ruins of a medieval priory and, rather stunningly, showed the curved spine of the infamous humpback king as well as several wounds from his final battle.

Some of my colleagues posted on Facebook, “I just love things like that.” I had to say, “So do I.” Something about having history confirmed, seeing the shape of it, solving mysteries, is reassuring. Maybe next we will find out whether Mozart was poisoned or where Amelia Earhart came to rest. The most interesting question, though, was how the scientists identified the bones as Richard’s. It turns out that the DNA was a “virtually perfect” match to that of two living descendants of Anne of York, sister of King Richard III. Without those living, breathing persons, we would never know.

So it goes with history. What happened in the past is always matched to the experience of the living and interpreted by unraveling the interwoven strands of the ages. Still, having just passed the 300th anniversary of settled ministry in this congregation, we may well ask: What can we learn from the congregation’s history?

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Taking Heart to Failure
Rev. Susan Milnor; January 13, 2012

Imagine this. Artist Dennis Patton finally had the kind of success he wanted. With his thirty-foot tall wood and tin-lid sculpture of Don Quixote’s horse – named Untitled Horse – he had created a masterpiece that was getting acclaim. But one foggy night in the San Francisco Bay area, a group of three young people burned the sculpture to the ground. Years of labor went up in smoke.

The next morning Patton called his friend, Victor Preissor. “Vic,” he cried, “It’s gone! They’ve burned Don Quixote’s horse!”

What is the last thing you would expect a friend to say? “Oh, Dennis, I am absolutely thrilled to hear this! I couldn’t be happier for you.” After a stunned silence, Patton told Preissor that he was crazy; it felt like a terrible failure. Preissor responded that while Don Quixote’s Horse was a masterpiece, the artist had been dwelling on it for too long, had failed to produce anything new. “You’ve got important work ahead of you, my friend!,” he said. “The world is waiting for your next masterpiece. Better start working on it!”

I don’t know about you, but I would not be amused. Yet the two men’s conversation ended in appreciative laughter, with Patton acknowledging that he knew he would get this kind of response. As Preissor explained, “Dennis is important, and like all of us, he just needed to be reminded of it. His best work is yet to come.” The conviction from which Preissor spoke was simply this: Success is not measured by our victories but how we recover from our failures – and some sort of failure is inevitable.

Years of living my own mistakes and listening to people’s stories have taught me that one of the greatest challenges we face as self-aware creatures is accepting our own failures. Perhaps we could not get started in this world if we did not harbor the innocent belief that the more blatant failures, the ones for which we really are responsible, will not happen to us. But they do.

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Savoring Humble Pie
Rev. Susan Milnor; January 6, 2013

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The Kinship of Kindness
Rev. Susan Milnor; December 9, 2012

In 1972 a 17-year-old ballet dancer traveled 3000 miles to begin a summer of study in New York City. When she arrived at JFK, her brother, who was supposed to pick her up, was not there. As it turned out, his car had broken down. Clutching her ballet bag, a suitcase and a huge box of pots and pans, the young woman stood silently crying in the middle of the one of the world’s busiest airports.

From behind her a man asked if he could help. Like any of ours might, her heart raced in fear. What did this stranger want? When she turned, she found a sympathetic man, in a wheelchair, who observed that she look lost. She explained her situation, and he suggested that they get a cab. “If you say you’re my niece,” he advised, “the driver will let us share the fare.” Acting on instinct, she hopped into the cab and told the man her brother’s street address. When they reached their destination and she opened her wallet, he waved her off. “Let me. And let this serve as proof that there are, in fact, friendly people in New York.”

It was a touching act of kindness to a young person in distress, yet perhaps the most striking thing was the woman’s longing, years later, to tell the story. She even thought about writing to Dear Abby with her tale. She wondered if the man’s own physical vulnerability had made him more compassionate to others, and she wanted to cultivate the same sense in herself.

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The Point of God
Rev. Susan Milnor; December 2, 2012

Driving up a highway many years ago, I passed a church with a message sign reading: “The Lord was sorry He made man.” Just for a moment, I felt weary. This was surely the unrelenting, angry, father-judge god I learned about in church as a child. It was the god I could not affirm; the god who rejected his own creation; the god who saw that “it” was not so good. The message was like a reproving finger stuck out there waving at everyone who passed. How very sad theologically.

Many Unitarian Universalists grow nervous about the word “God.” One survey reported that 80% of us say we are comfortable with the use of the word to describe “something,” but whenever it comes up, there is also discomfort. Maybe a little anxiety is floating around this room right now.

So take a deep breath and relax. No one is going to tell you that you should believe what you can’t or, for that matter, that you should not believe what you do. Remember Rev. Susan’s first central teaching: Unitarian Universalism frees us to embrace what we are compelled to believe. Indeed, arguments do not much affect the way people feel about using “God.” Instead, think of this. There are many images – many faces – of the divine. Rev. Susan’s second central teaching is that the most enlightening question we can ask ourselves, or others, is not, “Do you believe in God?” but, rather, “What does your image of the ultimate point to?” To talk about this, I need to share a little more of my own religious journey.

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The Most Abundant Harvest
Rev. Susan Milnor; November 18, 2012

During my first week here, I drove off for an appointment one day and got lost on my way back to the church. It was a stunningly beautiful autumn afternoon, and at first I felt grateful to drive along the Mystic Valley Parkway. A riot of yellow and orange leaves, the blue sky, the gray lake punctuated by sails – what could be better? The third time I passed the same stretch of beauty, still lost, I was no longer enchanted, only tired and cranky.

Finally I got my bearings and came down Winthrop toward the church. From a distance I saw a crowd of people and wondered what was going on. Then my eyes widened in panic (and not only because I was driving through the roundabout). The people were at our church! Images of disasters raced through my mind: The building was burning down; a water main had burst; a fight had erupted in downtown Medford between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown supporters. I told you – I wasn’t in a good mood.

Then the truth struck me: It was Food Pantry distribution night, and these folks were lined up to get food. I am not sure whether the tears that welled up resulted more from the gut slam of realizing how many people are hungry, or gratitude that this congregation tries to do what it can to help.

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Voting Rites
Rev. Susan Milnor; November 4, 2012

The story has surely been told in this sanctuary. It’s March, 1965. White resistance to voter registration efforts in the South has led to three voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama. On March 9, Unitarian ministers James Reeb, Clark Olsen, and Orloff Miller, all white, have come to Selma to participate. As they emerge from a diner to head across town for a peaceful protest, they are attacked by local residents wielding clubs. James Reeb sustains head injuries and dies two days later in the hospital designated for care of African Americans.

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Free For What?
Rev. Susan Milnor; October 21, 2012

So many times I have stood in front of a congregation and welcomed people to this free faith. Isn’t it a wonderful thing? A religion that grants you freedom of belief! I remember the feeling I had 30 years ago on the first morning I attended a Unitarian Universalist service. As the mid-morning light filled the sanctuary of that little church and laughter spread through its room, I knew that I had come home.

But I remember a very different kind of light a few years later: the glaring lights of a television camera. I had just finished my theological study and was serving as an intern minister in Atlanta, Georgia. Somehow, early on, I fell into the position of being interviewed about Unitarian Universalism on a local cable television program about religion. I had never been on television, nor did I know I was going to face a fairly hostile interviewer. I was like a deer caught in the headlights.

“What do you mean it’s a free faith?’ Well, there’s no doctrine. “You mean you don’t believe in anything?” No, I don’t mean that. “What do you believe?” It varies from person to person. Dead silence. “Do you believe in God?” Some do. “Do you believe in Jesus?” Not the way you mean. “Do you believe in salvation?” Depends on the definition. “Are you really saying you just believe whatever you want to?”

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Take A Deep Breath
Rev. Susan Milnor; October 14, 2012

When I was an undergraduate, I worked one summer as a packer for an Allied Moving and Storage Company. A friend and I would go into people’s homes and pack up everything, I mean everything, for the movers. On one particularly bad job, I literally drew the short straw. Instead of a huge kitchen, I had to pack the garage, including – are you ready? – a disassembled automobile engine, piece by piece, carefully wrapping each one in newsprint. Ok, not so carefully.

I thought about that experience this past week. Many of the people whose homes we packed, in spite of the privilege – usually at corporate expense – of being relieved of the labor, exhibited a fair amount of emotional distress. Change is not easy.

Let’s admit it. You were not expecting us to meet like this. You were anticipating the beginning of a new church year, figuring out how to educate the children religiously, planning a year of worship. And then you found out that your minister, Hank Pierce, would be leaving to serve another church.

Next, you realized you would have an interim minister. Before long, you found out that someone has been selected. You wondered who this person, this interim, was. (Is that anything like an intern minister? Oh, lord, no offense to interns, but I hope not.) Would she be any good? Would she try to change things?

It is a lot of surprise and a lot of change. So, take a deep breath.

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The Tyranny of Being Right
Tammy McKanan; September 23, 2012

[Note: The reader should first read Dr. Seuss’s “The Zax,” from The Sneetches and Other Stories, available, e.g., here.]

For me, one of the most exciting and motivating aspects of Unitarian Universalism is its promotion of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. In this church, no one is given the answers to the questions: What does it mean to be good? How do I construct a meaningful life? What should I believe? We are given only the guidance of our seven principles and the support of one another. Above all other aspects, this distinguishes us from other faiths. Our faith calls us to the hard, rewarding spiritual work of uncertainty, both in our own lives and in the life of the congregation. We lose both our freedom and our responsibility when we as a church profess something that appears to others to be a shared truth, especially on social and political matters. In short, when we give the impression that there is a right answer and we know what it is.

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Building Community
Michael Glenn; March 25, 2012

One day, somewhere in the 1990s, I got a phone call from my cousin Marcia. I had not seen Marcia for thirty years, but I liked her, and now she had sought me out and found me. I remembered her as a short bouncy girl with lots of energy. I remembered her mother, too, my Aunt Lee – an attractive woman, who always put Marcia down. Lee treated Marcia like “the runt of the family” and it hurt her. As Marcia grew up, she broke away from her family; she became a vegetarian; worked as a cook for people in need; she volunteered in Bosnia to help refugee children, she lived in a commune. For several years she was a loyal friend to a man who was dying of cancer. Marcia was a good person. In fact, she was my favorite cousin. But – and here is where my sermon begins – as we caught each other up on our lives, I sensed something “evangelical” about her tone. And then she said, “Michael, I think this phone call is going to change your life.” My blood turned to ice. WHAT??!! Change my life!!?? “Not if I can help it,” I said to Sue the minute I hung up.

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The Revelation of Encounter
Dan McKanan; February 19, 2012

For more than two centuries, people of faith have been at the forefront of movements for social transformation in the United States. Quakers, evangelicals, and Unitarians worked together to end slavery. Spiritualists joined those folks in the long struggle for women’s rights. Universalists, Freethinkers, Theosophists, Jews, and Christian social gospelers built the labor movement. The civil rights, anti-war, and feminist movements of the 1960s and 1970s blended the embodied spirituality of the black church, the ascetic disciplines of Gandhi, and the magic of Wicca as they overturned ancient hierarchies of power. In today’s faith-based community organizing projects, congregations that are black and Latino, Jewish and Muslim, Protestant and Catholic work together to bring justice to our cities and metropolitan areas. And the Occupy movement has been the site of Christian and UU worship services, of Buddhist meditation, and of pagan rituals.

Though this history is often neglected by a mainstream media preoccupied with the exploits of the religious right, it is not forgotten in the faith communities that are doing the hard work of prophetic change. Most of us know, at least dimly, that we stand on the shoulders of Martin Luther King, Jr., Dorothy Day, and the abolitionists. But we sometimes oversimplify the story of religious radicalism. If we have been inspired by the biblical prophets, we may imagine that anyone who takes the Bible seriously will think like us, failing to notice that many religious conservatives also take scripture seriously. We may focus on the “greatest hits” – on the heroic individuals and the moments of triumph, neglecting the cloud of witnesses who have kept the fire burning during less hopeful times. Or we may assume that the “religious left” has always been separate from its “secular” counterpart, neglecting the activists who have moved freely from the church to the labor union, from deep faith to radical skepticism, or vice versa.

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“We Hold These Truths ...”
David Concepción; January 22, 2012

I will begin my talk on Martin Luther King, Jr. with the words of Thomas Jefferson:

“I advance it therefore as a suspicion only, that the blacks, whether originally a distinct race, or made distinct by time and circumstances, are inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind. It is not against experience to suppose, that different species of the same genus, or varieties of the same species, may possess different qualifications.”

While these words from Thomas Jefferson are not as widely known, they still hold some of Jefferson’s beliefs. The chapter of his book “Notes on the State of Virginia” entitled “On Blacks” is still important to understand Jefferson and the thinking of society on black people at the time. That sentence ends the particular chapter which had other things to say about black people:

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Writing as a Spiritual Practice
Susan Jhirad; August 21, 2011

As a long time writing teacher and sometimes writer, I have experienced the numerous ways writing can be used: As a form of therapy or personal expression, as a means of political advocacy for a cause or a set of ideas, as communication with friends or family or the world at large, as commerce – to sell one’s writing for financial gain and recognition.

However, it can also be a means of exploration of intellectual, emotional or spiritual themes, or even as a kind of meditative practice. Through the process of writing, we often are discovering what we think and feel. As one famous writer once said: “How do I know what I think until I write it?” Many writers have stated that their writing brings out their better selves. Marcel Proust, author of the masterwork À la Recherche du Temps Perdue (Remembrance of Things Past) said of himself that in life, he was a rather superficial person, a social climber, but in writing his book, he came upon his deeper and better self. In a way, although he was a secular Jew, he felt that writing helped him see God.

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Sacred Pie
Jim Kennedy; August 7, 2011

When I find myself in times of trouble, I use a visualization that powerfully reorients me to my place in the universe, and mostly restores a sense of cosmic and karmic order: Seeing the tongues of flame on the corona of the sun dance in majestic energy, unrelenting in their fury and fire.

What makes this solar dance possible? The layers below the corona, the photosphere and the chromosphere. The photosphere is the deepest region of a luminous object. The Sun’s photosphere is composed of convection cells called granules—cells of gas each approximately 1000 kilometers in diameter with hot rising gas in the center and cooler gas falling in the narrow spaces between them. Each granule has a lifespan of only about eight minutes, resulting in a continually shifting "boiling" pattern. Grouping the typical granules are super granules up to 30,000 kilometers in diameter with lifespans of up to 24 hours. These details are too fine to see on other stars.

The Sun’s visible atmosphere has other layers above the photosphere: the 2,000 kilometer-deep chromosphere lies just between the photosphere and the much hotter but more tenuous corona. Other "surface features" on the photosphere are solar flares and sunspots.

In a certain sense, we can look at these 3 layers as the representations of individuals, community and society.

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The Most Radical Place in America
Dan McKanan; July 31, 2011

As many of you know, I have spent most of the past three years writing a big book on religion and the left in U.S. history. The book will come out in November, and around that time I will begin speaking about it at various UU congregations. I have developed a couple of sermons which highlight different aspects of that history, and this morning I have chosen to give you a sneak preview of one of them. I will be talking about the history of radical congregations – all the ways that local faith communities have been bulwarks of social change. And one of the things that many of these congregations did was to challenge the unique authority of the person in the pulpit – in this case, me. Often their services featured sermon talk-back times – a chance for the congregation to respond to what they have just heard. So this morning, when I have finished talking, we will take 10 minutes for you to respond, right here, as part of the service.

For most of United States history, the most radical places in America have been local faith communities. Before there were “People’s Republics” – here or in China – there were “People’s Churches.” The People’s Churches in New Haven and Cedar Rapids, Cincinnati and Kalamazoo, empowered late-nineteenth-century radicals to work for racial and economic justice. Many declared that their only “article of faith” was the “brotherhood of man.” Alongside the People’s Churches there were “Community Churches” and “Free Synagogues.” There were Ethical Culture societies dedicated to ending child labor. There were socialist congregations that were more radical than the Socialist Party itself. Earlier, there were anti-slavery congregations, created because the big white denominations refused to declare slaveholding a sin. Before them there were the proudly black congregations of the African Methodist Episcopal and African Methodist Episcopal Zion traditions. Local congregations gave activists the devoted people, the inspiring words, and the spirit they needed to change the world.

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A Child’s Tale
Jim Kennedy; August 22, 2010

The Wikipedia article on Child Development starts with this comment: The optimal development of children is considered vital to society and so it is important to understand the social, cognitive, emotional, and educational development of children. This branch of thought can be directly traced to the French philospher Jean-Jacques Rousseau whose political philosphy heavily influenced the French Revolution, as well as the American Revolution and the overall development of modern political, sociological and educational thought. His novel, Émile: or, On Education, which he considered his most important work, is a seminal treatise on the education of the whole person for citizenship.

Rousseau’s philosophy of education is not concerned with particular techniques of imparting information and concepts, but rather with developing the pupil’s character and moral sense, so that he may learn to practice self-mastery and remain virtuous even in the unnatural and imperfect society in which he will have to live. The hypothetical boy, Émile, is to be raised in the countryside, which, Rousseau believes, is a more natural and healthy environment than the city, under the guardianship of a tutor who will guide him through various learning experiences arranged by the tutor. Today we would call this the disciplinary method of “natural consequences” since, like modern psychologists Rousseau felt that children learn right and wrong through experiencing the consequences of their acts rather than through physical punishment.

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On Common Ground: Roman Catholics and Unitarian Universalists
Dan McKanan; August 15, 2010

Good morning. I’d like to begin with a disclaimer. My talk today on Unitarian Universalists and Roman Catholics is one I first prepared in Minnesota, and delivered at a couple of UU fellowships there. In Midwestern UUism, people don’t really expect a sermon. We had one guy in our fellowship who always sat in the back so he could escape if too much spirituality came his way. What people wanted was a lecture, with lots to chew on, and that’s what I tried to deliver. So that’s what I have today. I hope to preach here again sometime during the year, and I promise I’ll have a real sermon then.

My perspective on relations between Catholics and Unitarian Universalists is shaped by my personal experience over the past decade. Prior to taking my job at Harvard, I was – perhaps – the only Unitarian Universalist on the faculty of a Roman Catholic seminary anywhere. Granted, it wasn’t much of a seminary – typically we graduated one or two future priests each year, and a couple dozen lay people preparing for ministry in Catholic parishes. I also chaired the undergraduate department of theology at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University. For a while I thought I was the only UU to chair a Catholic theology department, but then I learned of a Catholic college in Detroit that had two UU theology chairs in a row. Go figure.

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Dickens the Unitarian
Susan Jhirad; August 8, 2010

I know you have all heard of Charles Dickens, author of The Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, Great Expectations, Bleak House, Little Dorritt, Hard Times and countless other great novels. In the past year I have been studying more about Dickens the social reformer, as well as the moral and spiritual Dickens, in the process discovering Dickens the Unitarian. In his strong dislike of the harsh, judgmental religion of his time, in 1840 he left the Anglican church in which he had been raised. After a visit to America where he met William Ellery Channing the famous Unitarian minister, Dickens began to attend the Unitarian church when he returned to England. Although he eventually gravitated back to Anglicanism when it became more liberal, he retained a life-long respect for Unitarianism and many of his closest friends both in England and America were Unitarians, like his oldest friend and biographer John Forster, and the novelists Harriet Martineau and Elisabeth Gaskell, contributors to Dickens’ crusading weekly magazine Household Words.

Back in England, he also became close friends with Edward Taggart, the minister of the Unitarian church he attended. He said of Taggart that “he had that religion which has sympathy for men of every creed and ventures to pass judgment on none.” Dickens wrote to his friend Cornelius Felton, a Professor at Harvard, “I have carried into effect an old idea of mine and joined the Unitarians, who would do something for human improvement if they could; and practice charity and toleration.” Later in life, on a second tour of the United States in 1865, he renewed ties with American Unitarians, such as the publisher James Fields, the abolitionist senator Charles Sumner and the Transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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God as a Verb
David Concepción; August 1, 2010
What is a man, if his chief good and market of his time
Be but to sleep and feed? a beast, no more.
Sure, he that made us with such large discourse,
Looking before and after, gave us not
That capability and god-like reason
To fust in us unused. Now, whether it be
Bestial oblivion, or some craven scruple
Of thinking too precisely on the event,
A thought which, quarter’d, hath but one part wisdom
And ever three parts coward, I do not know
Why yet I live to say ’This thing’s to do;’
Sith I have cause and will and strength and means
To do’t. Examples gross as earth exhort me:
Witness this army of such mass and charge
Led by a delicate and tender prince,
Whose spirit with divine ambition puff’d
Makes mouths at the invisible event,
Even for an egg-shell. Rightly to be great
Exposing what is mortal and unsure
To all that fortune, death and danger dare,
Is not to stir without great argument,
But greatly to find quarrel in a straw
When honour’s at the stake. How stand I then,
That have a father kill’d, a mother stain’d,
Excitements of my reason and my blood,
And let all sleep? while, to my shame, I see
The imminent death of twenty thousand men,
That, for a fantasy and trick of fame,
Go to their graves like beds, fight for a plot
Whereon the numbers cannot try the cause,
Which is not tomb enough and continent
To hide the slain? O, from this time forth,
My thoughts be bloody, or be nothing worth



~ William Shakespeare, Hamlet (Act 4, scene 4)

In screenwriting circles, after the script is written a lot of thought no has to go into figuring out a number of pitches for the screenplay. Most coaches suggest you have a five minute, a two minute and a 30-second pitch for your script. Each pitch has its use in a different setting. The five minute is for pitch meetings, the two minute is for parties, and the 30-second one is what they call an elevator pitch. The idea is if you are in a situation where you are on an elevator with a director or producer that you are trying to get your script sold to and you have the ride up to their floor to sell your script idea to them. So many writers try to whittle down the essence of their 120 page script into 30-seconds or less of face time. The idea behind this is if you truly know your script you can distill it to its essence and explain it easily.

In Unitarian circles we have taken this elevator pitch concept adapted it to explaining our own faith. Technically it’s not about explaining our own faith quickly, per se, but explaining our own personal theologies to someone else easily. Our faith can be complex. We believe in religious tolerance and freedom and encourage everyone to discover what spirituality means for themselves. To that end ours is a varied faith that encompasses everyone from Christians to Buddhists to Atheists and almost everything in between. To explain what all of it means to someone can be daunting. As a screenwriter, I can tell you that pitches aren’t easy and as a UU I can tell you that explaining our faith quickly isn’t either. I have been a life-long UU and I really had no words to explain what I believed and define my faith up until a few years ago. In my opinion, it is a huge reason to why we as UUs don’t talk about our faith to others. However if we have a message for the modern society, as we often tell each other, we need to be able to tell people other than ourselves about our faith. So learning to craft your own elevator speech is helpful to understanding your faith and explaining it to others.

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A Time to Steal : How Do We Respond When Law and Love Conflict?
Daryl Bridges; July 25, 2010

Let me begin today with a story:

Once upon a time there lived a grand and wise Sheikh whose kingdom prospered greatly under his rule and he lived in a very fine palace. One day a stray cat jumped the walls into the garden and boldly climbed into the Sheikh’s lap as he was seeing to the affairs of state. Amused at the cat’s boldness and taking this as a blessing from Allah, for cats are sacred in Islam, the Sheikh took the cat as his own. The cat was beloved by the Sheikh and would sit on his lap while he oversaw the affairs of the state, purring soothingly, and would eat from the scraps of the Sheikh’s own table. So loved was the cat that the Sheikh even made for it little silk boots so it would not have to dirty its paws as it walked with him and many happy years past with no complaints between the two.

But one day the cat was sitting in the kitchen watching the Sheikh’s dinner being cooked; this was normal for the cat as she would be fed the scraps once the meal was finished but this day was different and when the cook turned away the cat stole a fish from the plate and fled with it. Enraged the cook chased the cat through the halls calling down curses on it, throwing things at it, and offering endless abuses until the cat leaped over the walls and escaped. The Sheikh, hearing the noise and shouts, came to the cook and asked what was wrong. The cook, furious, explained that the cat had stolen the Sheikh’s dinner despite the many years of charity and vowed to extract proper punishment.

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Peace Minute by Minute
Jim Kennedy; May 16, 2010

Several of us had the occasion Friday to sit at a table with students from the Fletcher School of Government. They came here to help us garden, coordinated by the Building and Grounds committee. As we ate anchovy pizza and discussed mulch, it occurred to me that we might be sitting in the presence of a future Nobel laureate for the Peace prize. Could one of them be as audacious to hope like Barack Obama? Was the sainthood of Mother Teresa in the making, drinking lemonade? The American Friends Service Committee? The international Committee of the Red Cross? Perhaps a future Henry Dunant, founder of the Red Cross, who shared the first Nobel Peace Prize in 1901 with Frédéric Passy, a leading international pacifist of the time.

Regardless the famous references, these young people filled me with a quiet hope for the future as they bandied about their plans for the summer, the last minute details of the school year, preparing for graduation and the appearance of the parental and familial units, a de rigueur part of this particular rite of passage. After they left for the day, we remarked what a nice group of people they were. To a person, they thanked us for allowing them to come and garden, thanked us for lunch, and shared their last few days as students to beautify our church grounds.

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The Frailty of Privilege
Dan McKanan; Spring 2010

I do and I must reverence human nature. Neither the sneers of a worldly skepticism, nor the groans of a gloomy theology, disturb my faith in its godlike powers and tendencies. I know how it is despised, how it has been oppressed, how civil and religious establishments have for ages conspired to crush it. I know its history. I shut my eyes on none of its weaknesses and crimes. I understand the proofs, by which despotism demonstrates, that man is a wild beast, in want of a master, and only safe in chains. But, injured, trampled on, and scorned as our nature is, I still turn to it with intense sympathy and strong hope. The signatures of its origin and its end are impressed too deeply to be ever wholly effaced. I bless it for its kind affections, for its strong and tender love. I honor it for its struggles against oppression, for its growth and progress under the weight of so many chains and prejudices, for its achievements in science and art, and still more for its examples of heroic and saintly virtue. These are marks of a divine origin and the pledges of a celestial inheritance; and I thank God that my own lot is bound up with that of the human race.” ~ William Ellery Channing

This afternoon Tammy, Oriana, and I are heading out to Pepperell for a family celebration in honor of my new niece Abigail, who was born on Tuesday and is being baptized as we speak. I am grateful to all of you, and particularly to [Reverend] Hank, for giving me a good excuse for not being present at a religious ritual that violates my own conviction that all people are born perfect and, indeed, divine. But I am glad that I will make it to the party, for the birth of this baby is the first bit of unmitigated good news my family of origin has experienced in quite a few years.

Indeed, my own experience of moving back to Massachusetts after twenty years in other states has involved persistent encounters with human frailty. Just a few weeks after I arrived on campus last year, I ran into a retired colleague who had been one of my professors when I was an undergraduate. In fact, he was my thesis advisor. I was always a little bit intimidated by him, so at first I hesitated to step up and re-introduce myself. But I finally got up the courage – and he didn’t remember me. Not at all. I said this or that to jog his memory – the years I was in school, the title of my thesis. Nothing. “I don’t remember much anymore,” he said sadly.

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The Class Problem within Unitarian Universalism
David Concepción; Summer 2009
(The article “Not my father’s religion,” By Doug Muder, should be read first to fully understand this sermon’s content.)

The election of Barack Obama as president has been a watershed event for our time, if only for the election of the first black man to the U.S. presidency. Because of this however, many people have said that we have now moved into a “post-racial era.” While such a milestone is important to the dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s – which is arguably the measuring stick of such an event – it doesn’t mean that we have moved past racism, which the name implies. In fact, if we look at the recent events at a Pennsylvania swim club and with the controversy of the arrest of Professor Henry Gates, it’s obvious that racism still lives in very ugly forms. But however important it is to continue the dialog on racism and race relations, that’s not what I want to address. In my opinion, the election of President Obama hasn’t ended the conversation on racism but it has allowed for the conversation to segue into classism.

Classism isn’t a word you hear very often – my spell checker program has never heard of it – but it is out there. It is one of the biggest unspoken problems in our society. Without economic oppression, all other oppressions wouldn’t exist. In anti-oppression circles, we talk about how economic oppression is the umbrella from which all other oppressions hang. All oppression is about dominance, and keeping people down economically is a core component of this. The most obvious is the use of slave labor of an oppressed group to enhance the profits and benefits on the dominating group. But other more subtle forms of economic oppression exists. There is the process of “steering,” in which financial institution steer minority loan applicants (with or without their knowledge) towards riskier adjustable-rate loans with what is called an “exploding loan rate” that jumps to unaffordable levels. Same sex marriage proponents talk of all the economic discrepancies that need to be resolved simply by establishing marriage equality. But these economic oppressions are being dealt within the specific “ism” itself. Yet we hardly deal with the economic realities that affect each member of our society as whole. We hear about class issues like the gulf between the haves and have-nots or accusations of class warfare, but class is an issue that isn’t often discussed in depth. That changed with the financial meltdown this past fall and subsequent aftermath.

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