Sunday, March 27, 2011

03/28/11--"Affrilachian Journey" by Frank X. Walker

What a treat we had today as Frank X. Walker, founder of the Affrilachian poetry movement, shared with us some of his poetry and related it to our ongoing quest for racial reconciliation.

Mr. Walker read to us his poem "Amazing Grace" and shared parts of an unpublished manuscript on the death of Medgar Evers. 

Mr. Walker apologized to those of us expecting a sermon but said that perhaps his poetry would do some of the things a sermon did.  I believe it did.

Go out into the world.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

02/20/11--"Theodore Parker: The Best Hated Man in America" by Rev. Annie Foerster

On this thunder gray Sunday morning, our candles look so beautiful.  Annie says, "The candles of sorrow burn as brightly as those of joy."  Ruby Malone's memorial service was on Friday, February 18, and we are all cloudy with our sadness but burning bright with the joy of knowing her.

Kara Allen shared her testimonial of how First Unitarian has transformed her life.  As a stay-at-home mom, Kara values the chance to meet her small group and the chance to get to know so many talented people. 

In the guise of Mrs. Parker, Annie shares the story of Theodore Parker.  Parker was controversial during his time.  Some would say he still is.  He was fluent in many languages and a true scholar, so much so that even the well-studied Unitarians called him overly academic.    He found himself in the controversy that troubled Unitarians at the time.  He was a Naturalist, holding no special place in his beliefs for Jesus.  He doubted the authenticity of miracles.  He supported Ralph Waldo Emerson's Speech to the Harvard Graduates. He studied the tenets of Transcendentalism that saw the mark of God on all things.  He believed we could understand God using intuitive truth.  He believed that man is divine and could realize that divinity outside of the church. 

His supporters loved it.  Parker was bringing life into religion.  His detractors feared his "rampant individualism".  He was shunned from pulpit exchanges with churches in Boston.  His message was too controversial.

The people loved him.  The religious authority at the time did not. He worked too hard trying to spread his message amid hostility. He died of consumption at age 50 in Florence, Italy, leaving Mrs. Parker sad.

Theodore Parker, preaching at the Boston Music Hall. 

02/13/11--"William Howard Taft" by Rev. Sharon Dittmar

Sometimes I see the William Howard Taft plaque on the wall of our church and think, "I wish our church produced one of the more exciting presidents."  There have only been four presidents with Unitarian or Universalist credentials--John Adams, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, and William Howard Taft.  To my eye, Taft is stuck in a three way tie for least interesting UU president.    However, my eye is not always seeing what it should.  As Sharon's sermons often do, this sermon helped me see things in a different way.

The Taft family has certainly made their mark on Cincinnati history and the history of our church.  William's father, Alphonso Taft, was a member when we were located at our original 4th and Race site.   As an attorney, Alphonso argued that bible readings should not be read in school--surely something that our Unitarian church would have supported.  Their family was always associated with our church and even when he lived in Washington, DC, William Howard Taft still donated money to our church.  He loved Cincinnati and he loved this church.

I loved the little details that Sharon found.  His nickname was "Big Lub."  He returned to Cincinnati soon after his inauguration so that he could participate in the rededication of his alma mater, Woodward High School.  He was considered unambitious because he "only" wanted to serve on the Supreme Court, not to become president.  It was his wife, Nelly, who encouraged his presidential bid and it seems like the job never suited him.  Even his own mother did not picture him as presidential material, saying, "They do not want you as their leader but they cannot find anyone more available."  We've all had the experience where someone has expectations we feel like we need to live up to.  I wonder what Taft actually wanted for himself?  He seemed ambivalent about the presidency. 

One of his weaknesses (and one of my own) is that he didn't like disharmony.  This is not a trait that makes you a very memorable president.  His predecessor, Teddy Roosevelt, seemed to thrive where there was disharmony, and thus he ran against Taft in Taft's second presidential ticket.   The Bull Moose ticket split the vote and threw the election to Wilson.  Taft was a pretty easy target for Roosevelt.  Taft didn't have the fire that his challenger did.  How would history have been different if, perhaps, William had the ambition of Nelly or the ego of Roosevelt?  How would history have been changed if Taft's UU principles were more evident in his work?  It's a lesson to me that I shouldn't take a job where my light can't shine.

His stint as Dean of University of Cincinnati Law School and as Supreme Court Justice were more to his liking.  But that desire for harmony, to get a whole court to agree, was not practical.  His tenure on the court had some low points.  Though he served with the liberal Oliver Wendell Holmes and Brandeis, some of the court's decisions read very conservatively now.  For instance, the Sakko and Vanzetti Case might play out differently if it were judged by a Unitarian Universalist in 2011.

We are the product of our time.  Taft was shielded from the poor and the rebels because of his family's great wealth.  In the same way that I was unable to see, he was, too.  Maybe I can learn to forgive our forbear for what seem like mistakes to me and learn to be proud when I see that plaque.

Go out into the world,

Saturday, February 12, 2011

02/06/11--"Ours to Do" by Rev. Sharon Dittmar

Bodhicitta is analogous to the broken heart--always seeking, but not quite achieving.  And Saint Exupery's Little Prince reminds us that "what is essential is invisible to the eye."  What does this have to do with our recently adopted vision statement which reads:

We will be a liberal religious haven
Sustained by tradition,
Boldly seeking justice,
Gently transforming lives.

Our discussions regarding our vision were meticulously tracked by the Strategic Planning Committee and posted for all of us to consider.  An ad hoc committee took those comments and produced a draft.  The draft was offered for comment and revision and the final vision statement was produced and shared.   Soon, it will be made into song by Shelly Denham Jackson, a member here in years past. 

Rightly, our minister noticed that our emphasis was on our social justice outreach.  Our work in Avondale, Cease Fire, the Pride Parade, and Interfaith Hospitality Network are just a few examples of the good we do for others.  She also noticed that we didn't make much mention of our own faith development.  That is just like us.  In the years I've been a member, I notice that we are practical and proud as opposed to amateur and servile.  We enjoy the social justice work because it's for others and it produces a quantifiable effect.  We play down our personal faith development because it requires us to sit, as Sharon would say, in our "soft spot."

We are not tender with ourselves.  We, as a society and perhaps a congregation, have a low tolerance for discomfort.   When we are not tender with ourselves, we cannot have the truly spiritual experiences that are possible for us.

Jihad is a word that many have stolen for their own uses but Sharon reminds us that in its original sense it means "the struggle to know self." We are involved in this jihad every day.  Sharon reminds us "Live in your soft spot.  Let yourself make mistakes.  Boldly be tender.  People who spontaneously break into song cannot worry about who is singing in tune."

Meditation teaches us how to live with the pain of our lives.  It is bold to be tender.  Letting go of hurts and addictions that harden or mask our true self is probably one of the most difficult things we could do.  We have to love ourselves enough. 

I am glad to report that after Sharon's sermon we sang "Standing on the Side of Love" boldly together.  And, indeed, some of us were singing out of tune, but boldly and beautifully. 

Go out into the world,

01/09/11 "The Sacred, The Holy, The Divine" by Rev. Annie Foerster

Fifteen new members and their children joined us on this morning.  It is a joy to see our community growing.

According to the poet Allen Ginsberg, spirituality should be like singing in the bathtub.  I loved this image.  Unpracticed, not for an audience, and purely for its own joy.  I would do well to remember this.

Rev. Foerster asked us what altars we have in our home.  Where is the sacred center of your home?  There are places where I like things to be "just so" because I think they're beautiful.  She talked about the junk that is precious to children--sea shells, gold paper, pretty buttons--that they collect and hold sacred.  I have some of these kinds of things collected on top of my dresser.  I have always held these small items in high regard but I would have never called it my altar until today. 

Many of us have rejected the deity or practices of our previous religions.   "If I've rejected the deity, haven't I rejected the sacredness?" Annie reminds us that there is joy in all.  She describes some of her own altars--quilts she made, a collection of bulls, Buddha, and Guanyin.  "When I notice them, they are holy.  When I look at them, I remember." 

Annie mentioned the book by Linda Sexson, Ordinarily Sacred.  And the poet Anne Sexton's "Welcome Morning."  There is joy in all.

Go out into the world,

Monday, January 3, 2011

05/14/00 Flashback Sermon: "Beneath the Blowing Bag" by Rev. Sharon Dittmar

Sharon's topic on May 14, 2000 was the film I love, American Beauty.  I think of the sermon and the movie's tag line "Look Deeper" fairly often.  I ran across this artist during my regular traverse of the internet:

and thought it might be a nice time to share with you Sharon's sermon on the movie that inspired the artist, Daniel Wurtzel

Go out into the world,

Sunday, November 14, 2010

11/14/10--“The Gospel of Inclusion (Or: ‘Why am I a Universalist’)" by Rev. Bill Gupton

Rev. Bill Gupton of Heritage Universalist Unitarian Church took the pulpit today.  His career path has included stops as journalist, minister, and yoga teacher.  He said Heritage is "where the Universalist comes first." His sermon reminded us of what a radical and rational concept it is to support the inherent worth and dignity of every person. 

Universalist, Gupton says, is the grammatical modifier.  You can be a Universalist Hindu, a Universalist Sufi, a Universalist Jew, or a Universalist Christian.  The Universalist side of our faith believes that we are all saved, universally. 

Rev. Gupton shared the story of Rev. Carlton Pearson, a former Pentacostal bishop who has embraced Universalism.  His story was covered by UU World and This American Life.  Rev. Pearson, the conservative leader of a mega-church in Tulsa, had a change of heart when he found that his best friend was gay.  His religion told him that this man would go to hell.  Pearson started to doubt a god that would punish his friend, a man he knew to be good.  He started to preach a more universalist message.  All were saved in God.

Pearson was soon rejected by his faith.  All Souls Unitarian Church of Tulsa, a mostly white congregation, offered Pearson and his remaining followers to share space at their church.  Their combined efforts have created the UUA's largest congregation in America.  That is radical in Oklahoma. It's radical everywhere. 

This radical love is something to learn from.  It is radical to accept all comers--gay, straight, black, white, gospel, classical, urban, suburban. . .  It's what All Souls and Pearson did.  It's what our UUniversalist principles call us to do.

Go out into the world,