This I Believe

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

All nine of us who serve as Worship Associates at the UU Church of Nashua (NH) will be sharing what we believe during this morning’s service.

All nine of us in under 60 minutes. We need to allow time for opening and closing hymns, an outreach offering, Spirit of Life. That leaves only two to three minutes for each of us to crisply articulate whatever “answers” we have found to the spiritual questions that all of us ponder throughout our lives.

I thought I would share my own thoughts with you, since I’m usually asking others what they believe.

Kim Crawford Harvie, Minister of the Arlington Street Church in Boston, spells G*d with an asterisk. This asterisk is nice shorthand to reflect the conundrum of my religious wonderings since I became skeptical of the paternalistic view of the divine, the concept of God I was raised with.

And while it’s easy for me to reject that view, it’s not as easy for me to say that there is no divinity.

Our rational minds, thinking both logically and abstractly, and enabled by the scientific method, have discerned that the universe was formed in a big bang some 14-billion years ago. We have watched and modeled planets, stars, galaxies, and black holes. We probe the microscopic spaces of the atom and have subdivided it into waves and a myriad of particles. Between these two extremes, governed by natural laws that we have uncovered, we have also discovered the concepts of compassion, justice, and love.

Observing this incredible abundance of nature and life, and trying to comprehend it all, I suspect some sort of creative force propels the universe. Not a totally deterministic force that predicts each and every sparrow’s fall, rather a creative force that embraces randomness and works through quantum mechanics, evolution, free will, curiosity, and imagination.

Richard Kearney, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, has written a book titled The God Who May Be. The first line of his introduction is the provocative assertion that “God neither is … nor is not … but may be.”

“What I mean by this,” he says. “Is that God, who is traditionally thought of as act or actuality, might better be rethought as possibility.”

The creative force that started the universe has given us life. Whether that process was intentional or random doesn’t really matter.

We are here, each of us, with too few years to respond to the possibilities before us. Do we embody the promises of compassion, of justice, of love?

If we do, we will rise to become worthy agents of the creative force, helping to make real Kearney’s God of possibility — a G*d I can believe in.

Send to Kindle

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged | Leave a comment

Raw Faith

Last week I finally had the opportunity to see the movie Raw Faith. The film tells the story of Marilyn Sewell, Unitarian Universalist minister, as she makes the difficult decision to leave her Portland church and, amidst her doubts and deliberations about the meaning of her life, falls in love.

The portrayal of Marilyn’s life journey is deeply moving. Marilyn’s transparency in sharing her life is inspiring, and filmmaker Peter Wiedensmith’s telling of the story is amazing, considering this was his first such endeavor.

If you have the opportunity to see the film, do so. It’s available for download now, is scheduled for airing on TV, after which it will be available on DVD. You can watch the trailer below.

I had the privilege to interview Marilyn about her spiritual journey, which became Episode 20 of this podcast. You can listen to our conversation here, which I think nicely complements the movie. When Marilyn and I spoke, I had not yet seen the film.

Send to Kindle

Posted in Of Interest | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

My Soul

Through the happenstance enabled by Google, photographer Mark Ellis contacted me recently to share a time-lapse video he produced over the past year. Entitled My Soul, the scenes were shot in northern Minnesota, often on bitterly cold nights. The title of the work reflects the song by Peter Mayer which accompanies the stunning views.

I commend Mark’s creation and hope it may bring you a sense of quiet and peace amidst the frantic and chaotic lives we often lead.

You’ll find Mark’s web site here and Peter Mayer’s web site here.

Send to Kindle

Posted in meditation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Transcendence

Core to being spiritual, in my view, is maintaining a sense of transcendence. That’s a “big word” way of saying connecting with the mystery and wonder outside of ourselves and our humdrum routines.

Probably the most effective way for me to maintain that connection is through nature. Growing up at the base of the Sierra, I particularly resonate with the majesty of the mountains. Yet any view of the grandeur of the earth triggers that transcendent reflex for me. That’s why I love Terje Sørgjerd’s photography. Here’s his latest, with views from western Norway.

Send to Kindle

Posted in meditation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Worship

Michelangelo's image of God, from the Sistine Chapel, courtesy of WikipediaI’m working with three members of my church to plan a worship service on the meaning of worship. We intend to explore what draws Unitarian Universalists to church for a communal hour on Sunday mornings.

When I was 8 or 9, my mother started taking me to church. Initially we attended a Methodist church, largely because of the children’s choir and Boy Scout troop. Around the time I started high school, we switched to the Baptist church, which my mother had attended before I was born. In these churches the meaning of worship was clear: we went to worship God, and when we prayed, we prayed to God.

One of the hallmarks of Unitarian Universalism is the right to fashion one’s own view of a deity, assuming such a concept is meaningful. Indeed, many in our pews consider themselves atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, etc. and find no relevance in the idea of a supernatural power. Some number of our parishoners arrived with what Rev. John Buehrens (UU minister and former UUA President) has termed the religious bends. The diving metaphor is apt, reflecting the need these souls feel to decompress from the guilt and damnation of their prior religious experiences.

Given this theological background and diversity, the term worship  in a UU congregation is probably neutral, at best, and pejorative to some — which prompts the question whether a UU worship service is an oxymoron. Yet, ironically, Rev. Sue Phillips (UU minister and district executive) has described worship as the beating heart of every congregation.

Despite the common perception that worship requires a deity, the word stems from the Old English term weorthscippen, meaning “to ascribe worth to something.” That root provides the basis for answering the question what brings UUs together on Sunday morning? What is it that we find worthy?

In UU fashion, we each articulate a unique answer. I come to church seeking connection, a connection with transcendence, a transcendence that will allow me to be present before the mystery and meaning of life. My Sunday mornings are most always rewarded through words that bring insight and inspiration, music, and a nurturing community of fellow travelers.

I don’t go to church to worship the God of my upbringing. I do go to rekindle the sense of awe for the grand and creative forces that drive the universe and brought me life. I go for the insight and inspiration that will enable my journey to be worthy of the days I am given.

Send to Kindle

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Perspective

Are you in need of perspective, a sense of your place in the world, a reason to step outside the busyness of life and reconnect with the grandeur of nature?

If so, watch this time-lapse production by Norwegian photographer Terje Sorgjerd. You’ll find the story of his amazing production here.

The Arctic Light from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

Send to Kindle

Posted in Of Interest | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Be Spiritual – Episode 24

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

UU Chalice by Inga Johannesen, UU Church of Chattanooga, TNMy guest this episode is Cynthia Schroer.

Cynthia began her religious life as a devoted Catholic. In time she became disillusioned with the church and — in one of those unexpected coincidences of life — a search for a preschool led her to a UU church and a new religious home.

Since that serendipitous encounter, her spiritual journey has blended Unitarian Universalism with Buddhism. Unitarian Universalism provides the space within which to sculpt her beliefs, Buddhist meditation a means to be active spiritually.

During our conversation, Cynthia shares the challenge of parenting as a UU and her most formative spiritual experience: childbirth.

To listen to this 40 minute episode, use the above audio player, download the mp3 file, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Our theme music is Floating Souls, composed and performed by Ambrish and made available royalty-free thanks to Music Alley from Mevio. The chalice artwork was created by Inga Johannesen, of the UU Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

More Information

To explore some of the topics Cynthia refers to in her conversation, check out these links:

Your comments on this episode or the podcast are always welcome. Use the links below to comment or share with friends.

Send to Kindle

Posted in Podcast | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Face of god

Captured by Norwegian photographer Terje Sorgjerd. You can read the details of the project here.

Send to Kindle

Posted in meditation | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Be Spiritual – Episode 23

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

UU Chalice by Inga Johannesen, UU Church of Chattanooga, TNMy guest for Episode 23 is Roger Comstock, a longtime Unitarian Universalist who joined the UU church in Atlanta in 1963. In addition to sitting in the pews, Roger has served as the executive for four of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s districts, with the distinction of being the first lay-person appointed to that role. He also served on the Board of Trustees of the UUA.

As with all my guests, Roger’s spiritual path is unique and fascinating; the journey has taken him to the intersection of mysticism and quantum mechanics.

This episode lasts a full hour. To listen, you may use the above audio player, download the mp3 file, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.

Our theme music is Floating Souls, composed and performed by Ambrish and made available royalty-free thanks to Music Alley from Mevio. The chalice artwork was created by Inga Johannesen, of the UU Church of Chattanooga, Tennessee.

More Information

To explore some of the topics touched upon in my conversation with Roger, these links may be helpful:

Send to Kindle

Posted in Podcast | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christmas Reflections

At a party given by a billionaire on Shelter Island, Kurt Vonnegut informs his pal, Joseph Heller that their host, a hedge fund manager, had made more money in a single day than Heller had earned from his wildly popular novel Catch-22 over its whole history. Heller responds “Yes, but I have something he will never have — enough.”

From Enough: The Measures of Money, Business, and Life, John C. Bogle

Thanksgiving weekend, I watched the news for signs of how retail sales would fare this holiday season, hoping for a healthy increase. My interest was largely because retail sales are a bellwether for the economy, and we all are anxious for it to recover. I must also add my personal stake: sales of cell phones and other wireless devices benefit the company I work for and, therefore, my own fortunes.

Nonetheless, while hoping for strong retail sales, this Christmas season troubled me just as so many past ones have: I feel that we’ve lost the meaning of Christmas by too much merchandising and materialism. How much is enough?

Working in the wireless industry, I see firsthand how easy it is to succumb to the desire to have the latest version. Each year brings a new model and, inherently, the obsolescence of the current version. Take the iPhone, arguably the most innovative and explosive of the so-called smartphones. Following the original iPhone came the iPhone 3G, iPhone 3GS, and the current iPhone 4 — each faster and with more features. Many consumers have rushed to trade their old iPhones for the latest version.

How many cell phones, TVs, computers and printers — functioning and not — do we have cluttering our homes?

How much is enough?

The meaning of Christmas — to me — is not the birth of the divine as a child, it’s the spiritual act of giving, giving simply and giving humbly.

My daughter sings with the choir at her high school. Every December they perform a holiday concert and spend a day singing at many of the town’s elementary and middle schools, usually with a luncheon performance at the Rotary or some other local organization.

This year, my daughter asked her fellow choir members if they would volunteer for an extra and unofficial performance, singing carols after school at an adult day-care center operated by a local hospital. The hospital offers a medically-supervised support program for adults, many elderly, many with dementia, who are cared for by their families when they are not at the center. My daughter volunteers there.

18 choir members sang, and you can imagine how their voices filled the small facility. My daughter recounted how wonderful and heartwarming it was to see tears in so many eyes, from a gift as simple as singing a few Christmas carols.

A simple gift, yet so deeply meaningful.

I’m not saying that we should forgo giving the new camera or the latest technology rage — like the iPad this year.  Let’s remember, though, that these purchases are not ends, they are means. They don’t make happiness, they don’t bring fulfillment, they don’t create meaning or memories.

Meaning and memories come from checking in, being present, listening, laughing, investing time for sharing and understanding.

The new camera may memorialize the special time or place. The new phone may make it more convenient to stay in touch and have those deep conversations. Yet they don’t do so by themselves.

A former colleague and dear friend is losing his wife to cancer. Through many seeming miracles of research and treatment, they’ve had more than six quality years together since the cancer metastasized. Despite the good battle waged, she is now under hospice care, and they face the nearing reality of her death.

Suprisingly, their Christmas letter was upbeat:

Our focus has shifted of late to cherishing each day and continuing to celebrate the gifts we have been given. This Christmas, more than ever, we realize how important it is to believe in the magic, to celebrate every day, and to remember the precious moments that make up a life.

That, for me, reflects the essence of Christmas.

First, the season reminds me to acknowledge and celebrate the gifts I receive each day — the sunrise, the snowfall, the kind deed, laughter — and then to pass these gifts along in my own unique ways, simply and humbly, to create those precious moments that make up a life.

I took our family dog for a walk this morning, as the snowflakes gently fell around us. When we arrive back at the house, she fetches the paper, picking it up in her mouth and bringing it into the house, in exchange for a treat. This morning, as I do every Sunday morning before asking her to fetch, I untied the plastic bag to pull out the paper, removed the large number of advertising supplements, and placed the news-paper back into the plastic bag, now light enough for her to carry in her mouth.

Christmas may be over, but the after-Christmas sales are just starting.

Thank you, but I have enough, more than enough to enjoy a fulfilling life.

Send to Kindle

Posted in Thoughts | Tagged , , | Leave a comment