The Candles Say Love

The Candles Say Love

November 25, 2018

Rev. Douglas Taylor

I have a photograph on my cell phone, set as the background so I see it every time I look at my phone. I see it if someone called or texted, or if I am just checking the time. The photo is of some candles. The candles are arranged to spell the word “LOVE.” I took this photo after a recent vigil. It was the one for the shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida almost two and a half years ago.

The candles say Love. It is a good reminder to me given the frequency of vigils in which I participate and which I attend. The candles say Love. The candles in the picture on my phone were only lit for a short time, a few moments. But they appear to me every day in the photograph, and so they last. And I am reminded, the candles say Love.

There is an important passage in the book of Jeremiah that applies to what I am sharing with you about this photo on my cell phone. Jeremiah was one of the major prophets in Hebrew Scripture. In Jeremiah 31:33, we read that God said: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.” This was radical at the time, and in some ways is still radial today. In short, God was saying, all the law written so meticulously over the centuries, preserved and followed to the letter, all of it will fit in a simpler manner in your heart.

And I look down at my phone and seethe candles say Love. In all the turmoil of the day, as we navigate the hate and the trauma, the disempowerment of the vulnerable, and the slaughter of the innocent, God’s clearest and simplest law is written on our heats. The God I love calls us to Love. Love is the highest law, Love is the guide to lead us through the wilderness, Love it the way through these times in which we live.

Maybe I will sound too much like a philistine saying the Word of God comes to me through the photo I took on my cell phone, but I offer it for your consideration anyway. God speaks in all the ways available for those with the ears to hear. The candles say Love. In the face of ever more mass shootings, can it be far off to suggest God’s response, or what the holy calls for from us, is anything other than love?

I have attended and participated in a significant number of vigils. Tragedy and trouble continue to plague us. We gather and light candles, praying for tolerance, peace, and understanding; praying for a new way forward from the bloody and traumatic path we have been on so far.

This spring will be the 10th anniversary of the shooting here in Binghamton at the American Civic Association. Ten years! I took part in the vigil for that shooting. There have been so many over the years. In my mind I think of the shooting at Columbine High School as the starting point, that was back in 1999. In reviewing a list of mass shootings in the United States, I see that Columbine was not the starting point of anything beyond when I started paying attention.

The one that devastated me most, that shook my faith in our society, was the shooting a Sandy Hook elementary school almost 6 years ago in which six- and seven-year old children were murdered; resulting in no noticeable response from our government or from society in general to stem the tide of these shootings beyond more vigils and more ‘thoughts and prayers.’ That one was hard for me.

My colleague Sean Neal-Barron says “There are not enough candles.” He says “There are not enough candles in the world. Not if we lit one each time death came to knock, for each man gunned down, for each trans person attacked, for each woman left battered, for each child caught in the crossfires…” Sean imagines if we actually held a vigil and lit candles every time, “there would be runs on the stores to buy them… shelves left bare” until eventually it would become common,“another item to buy on the grocery list.” (From “To Wake, To Rise” William G. Sinkford, Ed) I pray we be spared the experience of such vigils becoming common.

That vigil for the shooting at the Pulse nightclub took place at Peacemakers stage; which is out near the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango rivers, along the Riverwalk. A local group raised funds to have the stage built and a larger-than-life statue of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. erected alongside. It has since become a popular spot for vigils and rallies and gatherings. Our UU congregation contributed financially for the statue and the stage, and we have a brick with our name on it down by the Peacemakers stage. It is at that stage, on those steps, where the candles had been arranged to spell out the word Love and I took the picture.

The vigil for the shooting in Orlando, Florida was organized by the Binghamton Pride Coalition with support from the mayor’s office. At the request of the LGBTQ leadership, I offered a prayer. I prayed for the people hurt and wounded. I prayed for the broken system in which we live that allowed this shooting take place, for all the brokenness around us – the broken policies, our broken hearts. 50 people died that night at the Pulse nightclub. Another 50-plus were injured.

In my prayer I said:

We turn our attention this hour to the grief and anguish that weighs on our hearts. We turn away from the clamoring news reports and analysis for a moment. We turn toward one another and to thee O Spirit.

In my prayer I asked:

Shall we talk about homophobia and finding safe spaces? Do we bring up the need for better gun control laws? Can we talk about Islamophobia and about vulnerable communities being pitted against each other? Or Xenophobia or media attention or who is worthy? O Spirit of Life and Love, can we simply talk about how much this hurts? Again?

The shooter was quickly identified as Muslim. It seems that because of that fact, the Wikipedia page describes this shooting as a ‘terrorist attack,’ a phrase that is not used for most of the mass shootings. Muslim communities across the country quickly clarified that the shooter’s actions were not in keeping with the proper behaviors prescribed by Islam. That evening, during our community vigil, there were many Muslims participating, because we, as a full community, refused to be divided.

The local Imam spoke early in the evening, and he left soon after. The shooting and subsequent vigil took place during Ramadan; the Imam had responsibilities back at the mosque for evening prayers to break the fast that evening. Ramadan is one of the holiest times in the Islamic calendar. It is notable that the Muslim community chose to show up in such large numbers supporting the LGBTQ community and rejecting hate.Ramadan is a time of daily fasting for Muslims with a particular call for adherents to live and behave as faithfully as possible.

The Imam had to leave to lead the sundown prayers that signal the end of the fast at the mosque. Yet a significant number of Muslims remained at the vigil throughout the evening. And sitting in the back as I was, I got to witness an event that has stayed with me through the years as a reminder of the power of solidarity and love. Quietly and without fanfare, that large group of Muslims at the vigil broke their fast.

One among them stepped away and returned with cups of water and a bowl of dates so the group could solemnly break their fast. They opted to miss their own prayers to remain with the larger grieving community. I imagine they each silently recited a version of the prayers necessary at sundown, or offered them later away from the public eye.What stands out to me was the way all of this did not stand out. I’d guess maybe a dozen other people even noticed. It was a subtle reminder that more than I see is happening around me in the hearts and choices of decent people.

It was not only the candles that said Love that night.

The mayor spoke, as did several local clergy from many different faith traditions.Families were present among the hundreds of attendees. There was a large card expressing our city’s sympathy for the city of Orlando which people lined up to sign. It was a powerful event; healing and a good reminder of the solidarity we experience here as a town.

Yesterday morning I was hosting a session of Building Your Own Theology for some of the Young Adults in our congregation. We were in a deep conversation about what we mean about people being inherently Good or inherently Bad. We circled around how the concepts of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are social constructs rather than moral absolutes; we talked about cynicism and optimism; we discussed the systemic vs individual. At one point we talked about the people who commit mass shootings.

We agreed that compassion is possible for the perpetrators of such violence. Indeed, there are studies and anecdotal evidence that this type of psychopathic destructive behavior is predictable and preventable if we had the will to address the situation with compassion. The individual stories of these shooters are littered with red flags and opportunities for compassionate redirecting. A better way is possible. All of us have the seeds of goodness within us; in some they lie dormant, awaiting the encouragement to take root and grow.

And on the systemic level, there are steps we as a society can take to prevent these tragedies; again, if we had the will, for example, to take the teeth out of organizations like the NRA by limiting how much money they can pour into the pockets of our legislators. The systems we have in place now almost guarantee we will continue to have mass shootings. #thoughtsandprayers.  

These vigils we keep hosting are not the solution, but they are a recurring opportunity for us remember our resolve to seek and find a better way together.In my prayer at Peacemakers stage two and a half years back I said:

May we learn, O Spirit, to be tender and gentle with the broken places in our own lives, and in the lives of our neighbors near and far. May we learn to be tender yet persistent with the broken places in our society. May we be tender but not complicit, demanding but not unkind. Let us stand up, speak out, and reach out with love.

These vigils we keep having serve to remind us that the candles say Love; that these shootings are not normal; that there is a better way. These vigils are important because they give us an outlet for our personal and communal grief.They give us hope in the face of the temptation of despair. They keep our consciousnesses piqued.

Part of my work as a minister, as a pastor, is to take in the pain and turmoil around me, to take in what is broken and then turn it back out into the world transformed as blessings. Much like those candles lit by grief and distress, and arranged to offer a message back to the world – the candles say Love.

I concluded my prayer that evening saying:

As a person of faith, love is the center of my theology, love is the core of my spiritual practice. Help me, O Spirit,to bring that love to bare on today’s brokenness and pain.

Help us, O Spirit, to transform our grief into action to make a difference. Let our grief and anger be converted, O Spirit, into power, that we may today take one more step toward building a better and safer and saner world.

As Unitarian Universalists, our values lead us to engage with the world, to support the vulnerable, and to speak out for truth and for justice. These mass shootings and other similar tragedies threaten our values. We are called to speak out, to challenge the hate, and to make a difference. It is not easy or simple. It can be overwhelming. But we are in this together. And together we will persevere.

Gathering in solidarity, lighting candles, and saying prayers are all activities we do in response to the hate and destruction. It is one of the steps of rebuilding. It is not insignificant. It helps us to recognize our shared humanity as we call for our political leaders to respond with appropriate legislation. It sends a message to individuals who are hurting that they are not alone. It helps us to recognize the call of Love, the presence of the Spirit across our religious differences, and the demands of compassion in the midst of the difficulty. The candles say Love. Let us do the same.

In a world without end,

May it be so

Resistance Fatigue

pexels-photo-918778.jpegAs we lead up to the 2018 Mid-term elections (remember to vote!), I struggle with the violence and hate I see in the news. A white, right-wing terrorist sent bombs through the mail to the political ‘enemies’ of our current president. Two African Americans were shot at a grocery store in Kentucky. There are continued threats against the legal protections of our transgender and non-binary siblings. There is relentless misinformation and threats spreading about immigrants and asylum-seekers. And on Saturday, October 27th, a gun-loving anti-Semite opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh during their worship service killing 11 people and wounding several others.  As Unitarian Universalists, these incidents (and culture that breeds them) threaten our values. We are called to speak out, to challenge the hate, to make a difference.

Resistance fatigue is a concept for activists dealing with an overload of stress, of being in an unending cycle of fighting against injustice. With so much happening and so many cries for support and attention, people are beginning to feel overwhelmed as the abnormal slowly becomes normal.

How do you stay engaged? How do you combat resistance fatigue? I have been thinking about this a lot (and listening a lot, and reading a lot, and feeling a lot.) Here are some tips I have found.

First: if you want to stay engaged, you need to occasionally back away. But it is a two-part process. Take a break as you need to AND don’t give up. I’ve seen the reminder of how a choir can learn to stagger breaths so the notes are sustained but everyone can rest. You don’t need to attend every rally, re-post every news story, and work every phone bank. In the Pirkei Avot, a collection of rabbinic teachings, it says “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Take a break so you can stay engaged for the long haul.

Second: Be mindful of what you consume. Think of the news like food. It is the nourishment your mind needs to survive. Sensationalized news is like candy, it will cause rot. A balanced diet is best, fill your plate from different news sources and different perspectives. Seek out news about art and science if you feel inundated by politics and social issues. Seek out a deeper version of the headline that upsets you. Be aware of the impact news has on you.

And Third: Listen more. Give a little extra attention to the voices of vulnerable people. Listen to people’s fears; try to hear the unspoken fears behind the news. Amplify the voices from the margins. Part of what you’ll gain is an appreciation that you are not alone and that your part matters.

As Unitarian Universalists, our values lead us to engage with the world, to support the vulnerable, and to speak out for truth and for justice. It is not easy or simple. It can be overwhelming. But we are in this together. And together we will persevere.

Beatific Vision


Beatific Vision

September 30, 2018

Rev. Douglas Taylor


Let me tell you about my vision.

First, let me tell you a story. As part of the process of becoming a minister, we take a battery of psychological inventories, personality styles, leadership styles, conflict styles; this includes the classic MMPI-2. I was part of a group weekend event, and at one point I was talking with another young man from an evangelical tradition. He had just come out of the big interview with the Psychologist where they talk with each of us about the flags that come up in the inventories and assessments. He was shaken. He complained about one question in particular. The question asked, ‘Do you see things that others do not see?’ My friend had answered “yes.” The psychologist leading the interviews flagged that as a concern.

“You don’t understand,” my friend said to me after, I imagine, a frustrating conversation with the psychologist. “In my tradition, it is expected. I’ve seen the Beatific Vision! If I don’t have a vision of God’s Kingdom, how am I supposed to lead the people into it? Of course, I see something others do not see. That’s why I am going into ministry!”

I’ve carried that conversation with me these past two decades; thinking about what I see, what I am wanting the world to see, trying to show others what we can be together as people of faith. That conversation with my friend about his misinterpretation of the MMPI-2’s question (or the misinterpretation of his answer,) was not the first or last time I’ve had this concept brought to my attention, but it is the most memorable.

So, from time to time I ask myself, “What is my vision for our congregation? What do I see that others perhaps do not see?” This practice of asking myself this question has shaped my ministry over the years.

In his essay, “Natural History of Intellect,” Ralph Waldo Emerson commented on this sort of experience. Emerson, you may recall, had been a Unitarian minister before launching himself as an essayist and lecturer for the transcendentalist movement. He wrote:

What is life but the angle of vision? A man is measured by the angle at which he looks at objects. What is life but what a man is thinking of all day? This is his fate and his employer. Knowing is the measure of the man. By how much we know, so much we are.  

Or as Sue Monk Kidd has said: “We become what we pay attention to.” Or, to put even more mundanely, “We are what we eat.” “What is life but the angle of vision?” So, let me tell you about my angle of vision, about what I have been paying attention to.

Let me tell you about my vision.

I see us becoming a living version of the Beloved Community. The vision I have for this congregation – although not exclusively for this congregation – is to live into the experience of being a community of justice, compassion, grace, and mercy. The details involve us engaging across our differences, being together in joy, serving needs beyond our walls, demonstrating resilience and grace to a world polarized and paralyzed by fear. “We become what we pay attention to.” “What is life but the angle of vision?” That’s what I am aiming for. That’s what I see, what I long for us to become.

Last week our Ministerial Intern, Aileen Fitzke preached about vision. She offered a quote from Jennifer Nordstrom’s book Justice on Earth about having a vision that I want to repeat in part: Nordstrom writes:

I hold a vision of Beloved Community beyond the horizon of my own knowing. In this community of human and nonhuman beings, we live with each other and the earth… We have diverse, flourishing cultures that cooperate with respect, and learn from one another without prejudice and hierarchy… We live in tune with the rhythms of our own hearts.

As a side note, I will share with you that Nordstrom’s book will be the UUA Common Read this year. Watch for an invitation from Aileen who has agreed to lead a discussion about the book alter this fall.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. spoke about Beloved Community a lot. I found a clear definition of King’s vision through The King Center in Atlanta GA, the memorial institution founded by Coretta Scott King to further the goals of Dr. King.

Dr. King’s Beloved Community is a global vision in which all people can share in the wealth of the earth. In the Beloved Community, poverty, hunger and homelessness will not be tolerated because international standards of human decency will not allow it. Racism and all forms of discrimination, bigotry and prejudice will be replaced by an all-inclusive spirit of sisterhood and brotherhood.

This idea of becoming a Beloved Community is deeply resonate across multiple religious and spiritual perspectives. The idea is not rooted in a concrete example from the past, instead it is more loosely based on the values we want to carry us into the future: Respect, Compassion, Justice, Decency, and Grace.

Now, I must warn you, this morning’s sermon is meant to be the Capital Campaign kick-off, my “Sermon on Amount,” that inspirational talking-to that gets us all in the mood to generously support the financial endeavors of the congregation – in particular: the Capital Campaign!

To accomplish the blending of an inspirational homily on money with all this talk of vision and Beloved Community, let me tell you another story.

Last week, as I mentioned a moment ago, Aileen Fitzke preached about vision. I sat near the back that Sunday. When it came time for the hymns I tried to not sing too loud. It is different singing up front as I usually do. Usually I try to sing a little louder so as to help lead the hymn, not to show off but to help everyone find their way into the song. But when I am in the congregation, in the back, I need to be quieter, to blend in rather than stand out.

I don’t need to stand out because our congregation is a ‘singing congregation.’ I have visited other congregations who do not sing the way we do. We are comfortable with singing. Other congregations, I can barely hear them singing above the sound of the piano or organ. I’m not knocking those congregations – they are amazing at other things. Here, music is important to us and we like to sing, we enjoy it and that shows.

I know there are some people in our congregation who are not great singers. There are some who do not sing when we do the hymns, or who mumble along, or just hum. And there are some here with professional training, some who sing in the choir regularly, some who sing solos, or play as guest musicians. We have a range of abilities and levels of participation – but as a whole, we are a ‘singing congregation.’

That’s what this Capital Campaign will be like for us.

Yes, we have some soloists, there will be large donors. Yes, we will have some guest musicians, we’ve already received a generous check from a former member. Yes, there will be a core group of people who, like the choir, do a lot of the giving because that is one way they can give and receive joy. The people who sing in the choir do so because they love to sing. They offer the gift of their voices and, for them, it is a gift to offer it. And… there are people for whom that is what it is like with money.

And … ours is a singing congregation. The singing is not done only by the song leaders and the choir. We all sing in our own ways.

The Capital Campaign began with a vision. The team asked us to dream a little. Then the team asked us to put a few particulars on paper. Over time we have pulled that dream closer to reality and practicality. And that has brought us to today. Tomorrow morning, we launch the official two-month focused portion of the years-long endeavor: the Capital Campaign – the actual raising of the pledges.

The Capital Campaign vision has narrowed into two stated goals. First, there is a dollar amount. We are aiming to raise one-and-a-quarter million dollars. Second there is a participation amount. We are aiming for 100% participation from members. I am paying attention to the second goal. That’s the one I care about.

If we reach that first goal and do not reach the second goal, if we raise the money but not everyone participates – we will have a big party and people will be happy… We will build and renovate this place into what we have been dreaming about … And yet … something will feel off. We will have reached the financial goal, but we will not have reached it together. It is not enough to raise the money if we miss the goal of full participation.

I would be far more comfortable reaching the second goal if we only get to reach one of them. Of course, I hope we reach both. Of course, I am going to do what I can to reach both the financial goal and the participation goal. But I want you to know which goal is my priority.

I want every member to be able to walk into the building after we’re done and be able to look around with pride and ownership. It is important to me that each one of us be able to look back and say “We did this.”

We have a variety of voices among us. Some will sing solos, many are in the choir. Some will only hum or mumble along. But all of us are in the song together. Ours is a singing congregation.

In our reading, Rev. Patrick O’Neill shared that when he visited the great Chartres Cathedral, he was amazed by the windows.

“These windows, many of them,” said my guide, “were given one mosaic at a time, piece by piece, coin by coin, by people who wanted to contribute something beautiful to last the ages.”

My vision is not about where we end up, but of how we get there. My visionary goal is not about a result, it is a about the process of arriving at that result. It is less about the amazing window and more about the “coin by coin.” Because, let me tell you about my vision: My vision is for us to live into a version of the Beloved Community together. And to do that, we can’t wait until after the Capital Campaign – that is how we have to do the Capital Campaign.

The only way to become a Beloved Community is to behave a little more each day as people living in a Beloved Community; cleaving to our values of Compassion, Justice, Decency, and Grace.

The only way we will accomplish this Capital Campaign is by doing it in integrity as the community we are and in alignment with the community we long to become. That means we will all move forward together: knowing that we each will take part as we are able, and also knowing that in the end we will have done this together.

In a world without end,

May it be so.


Healing Your Religious Past

pexels-photo-356642.jpegHealing Your Religious Past

Rev. Douglas Taylor

September 16, 2018

Think back to a belief you used to hold, maybe when you were a child, but that you no longer hold to be true. Call to mind, if you can, something you used to believe. Maybe it is about God or what it means to be human. Maybe it is about magic, or how sex or politics work, or the meaning of life or how you fit into it all. Call to mind a belief you used to hold, maybe when you were a child, but that you no longer hold to be true. (pause)

Got something in mind? Maybe? Okay. Hold that thought, we’ll come back to it.

There is a story we tell ourselves about Unitarian Universalism being a “chosen faith.” We say we are a discovered faith. We say that people find Unitarian Universalism and choose to join, typically after having grown up in a different tradition. There is a piece of this story that is deeply true about us and there are some ways that is it painfully inaccurate.

Just out of curiosity, by a show of hands here in the room this morning, how many of you were raised Unitarian Universalist? (Rough estimate from that morning: 10.) Which means everyone else either came to Unitarian Universalism from either a different religious background or no religious background, or you just don’t like voting – which is a different problem we can talk about next month.

A 1997 survey of Unitarian Universalists revealed that almost 10% were lifelong UUs. I am one of those 10% who grew up Unitarian Universalist. But for today, I want to sit with the old story for a few minutes, the one that is essentially true for the majority of Unitarian Universalists.

Over the years, I have noticed that Unitarian Universalism serves as a place of healing for people who have been wounded by the religion of their upbringing. And that is primarily who I have been thinking about as I prepared for this morning’s service.

“But Douglas,” you may be thinking, “I’m not one of those people. I have no hang ups about the religion of my childhood!” Okay, bear with me as I outline the basics of what we’re about this morning. There will be something for you as well; Something about what we keep and what we leave behind as we grow up religiously, as we mature spiritually.

Remember that belief you used to hold as a child or when you were younger? Take a moment and consider: What changed? What happened that you no longer hold that belief? Can you identify the circumstances in which you shifted from believing to not believing? (pause) Okay? Alright. Again, hold that thought – we’ll come back to it.

Back in August as I was setting up my preaching schedule and finding topics and themes, I was thinking about this sermon. It was at that time the report was issued about the massive Catholic cover up in Pennsylvania of child sexual abuse by more that 300 priests over a span of 70 years. That, more than anything, is what sparked my thinking for this morning’s service.

I remember reading an essay posted online about it from an English Professor I know down at Penn State. She had grown up Catholic, but had left the Catholicism of her childhood. She and her wife had been members here for a few years before returning to Pennsylvania. She knew several of those priests in the report by name. She posted about it in an eloquent manner.

She had not, herself, been abused by the priests. Instead she wrote about the grief she was feeling. Grief for the communities the priests destroyed along with the particular lives they shattered. This former-Catholic was working through how to hold onto the good she’d received over her childhood from these priests while in no way condoning or excusing or forgiving the abuse. In condemning the abusive priests and the systemic cover-up, she refused to throw out all the blessings she had received from her childhood among them. That is not an easy nuance to hold.

I was reading a book about relationships by David Richo, When the Past Is Present. I was struck by how applicable some of the content was for this conversation. In particular, Richo talked about the four places fear catches us, four ways in which we get stuck.

David Richo’s book is about romantic relationships. I am talking about our relationships with organized religion, or in particular, the religious and spiritual communities we have belonged to over our lives. But it is interesting to consider the overlap.

Richo talks about the “Four Hurdles” as places we get stuck, ways in which we stop growing and end up simply recycling old patterns and trouble. The four hurdles are found in our recurring experiences of:

Coming and Going

Giving and Receiving

Being Accepted and Being Rejected

Letting Go and Moving On

You can check out the book for how this plays out in romantic relationships, When the Past Is Present. But for today, consider your experiences in religious communities. I don’t want to walk through all four, let me just talk about one of the four through this lens.

Consider how “giving and receiving” can present as either a way into deeper connection or as a hurdle for your spiritual or religious growth. Perhaps this is about money – how was giving and receiving of money handled? Perhaps this is about the sharing of power and authority, or participation in the sacraments and other ministries. Who was in control of the giving and receiving? What was your part, were you expected to only give or only receive? Do those experiences positively or negatively shade how you experience giving and receiving in this community?

The other hurdles (or opportunities) might be at play for your experiences instead. “Coming and going,” “Being accepted and being rejected.” “Letting go and moving on.”

Over the years, I have bumped into a lot of people who say they don’t like organized religion. Some of these people are here in the room right now. It seems to me, many of the stories I hear are tangled up with these four hurdles. And remember, I am not saying we Unitarian Universalists get these things right when others get it wrong. What we have going for us is our express desire to be open and accepting of people.

We could spend a fair while parsing this out, but perhaps that is something you can do in conversation with others later on, on in a class on this topic, or call me and set a time to work through something if you wish.

Many people come to Unitarian Universalism with wounds from their past experiences of religion. And … many come with the grace-filled experiences as well, experiences that nourish them still today even as they disbelieve the doctrines and rituals that framed those experiences. The experiences we carry from our childhood, good or bad, are ours forever. What we do with those experiences as we grow helps shape our capacity to navigate the troubled waters of today.

And I am not intending to single out Catholicism. I brought up a former members response to that news story about Catholic priests, but really that was one example among many. People find their ways into Unitarian Universalism from Judaism, Lutheranism, Mormonism, Fundamentalist Christianity, Jehovah’s Witness and other strict, dogmatic traditions. There is no monopoly on this. Truthfully, Unitarian Universalism has done its share of harm to people over the years as well.

And here is the nuance that makes this all real rather than merely a complaint against the wounds of our past. All of these traditions and communities have also offer positive experiences to people – perhaps to you – that we carry to this day; experiences that nourish us, that we yearn to recreate, that we turn to when we are in need.

I asked you earlier to think of a belief you no longer hold. I also asked you to think about why is changed. Now, I wonder if you can call to mind a nourishing experience – maybe from that same time in your life or maybe from another time. Is there something positive and precious you carry forward from a religion that is no longer your religion? Can you think of such an experience?

When Ferd Haverly and I were planning and talking about this service earlier this week as Worship Associate and Worship Leader, Ferd brought a particular reading to share. I didn’t see quite how it fit with my topic. But then he shared with my why he brought this reading. Then it made sense to me and it fit. I’ve asked him to share the reading, and his reason with you all.

In a moment I will read a prayer of praise and desire by Leonard Cohen taken from his Book of Mercy.  I asked Douglas if I could read these mysterious words because they, like much of Cohen’s work, capture a spiritual sensibility that I find profoundly moving.  They make me feel less alone – part of a shared pilgrimage into the holy.

Douglas’s sermon topic has helped me consider and better understand the Catholic roots of my spiritual interest and longing.

The seven-year-old boy having God placed on his tongue.  The meditative transport of the rosary.  Floating down George Street, a foot above the ground, after having my soul cleansed by Confession.  Dissolving into the wonder of a Gregorian chant. Kyrieileison.

Deep, powerful, myth-laden rituals that will always be a part of me and, perhaps, make me more open to be moved by the mystical musings of Leonard Cohen.  Words that echo my ongoing remembrance of, and longing for Holy Communion.

You let me sing, You lifted me up you gave my soul a beam to travel on. You folded your distance back into my heart.  You drew tears back to my eyes. You hid me in the mountain of your word. You gave the injury a tongue to heal itself. You covered my head with my teachers care, you bound my arm with my grandfather’s strength. O beloved speaking, O comfort whispering in the terror, unspeakable explanation of the smoke and cruelty, undo the self-conspiracy, let me dare the boldness of joy.

-Leonard Cohen – Book of Mercy

It’s complicated. I think what we want is a way to heal from the wounds we may have received from the religion we no longer claim, but also to be able to carry forward the blessings we received from the past as well. And it is not easy to both love and hate what we have left behind.

Often when we have left one religion and find ourselves in another, we are asked to make a full break with all that had been. In Unitarian Universalism, we strive, instead, for integration; to acknowledge the good and the bad, to endure what has been that we may retain what is still precious.

Here is the heart of it all. Are there experiences that were positive and precious that you carry forward from a religion that is no longer your religion? The work is not only in letting go and moving on from the negative elements. It is also in knowing what you carry forward, maybe in simply recognizing there are positive things you want to carry forward.

In the end, it is less about why you left behind and all about what you still want carry. Even if you are one of the handful who never left, you still do well to know and name the nourishing pieces you carry forward as we create our version of a religious community together.

In a world without end,

May it be so.


Carrying the Flame Forward

candle hands

Chalice Lighting for Ingathering 2018 (in four voices)        “Carrying the Flame Forward”


Voice One, Elder (with chalice)

Across the generations we have carried the flame.

We fought the injustice, sang the songs, spoke for truth, and built something lasting.

We join in the line and we carry the flame forward.

(pass chalice and mic to next speaker)


Voice Two, Active Leader (with metal candle lighter/snuffer)

Across the generations we are tending the flame.

Hand in hand together we share in the work of fighting injustice, singing the songs, speaking the truth

And we are here to build something lasting.

We join in the line and we carry the flame forward

(pass the chalice, candle lighter, and mic to next speaker)


Voice Three, Young Adult (with candle)

Across the generations we have been nourished by this flame.

We are singing new songs, breaking old barriers, sharing in the work

And as we find our own space in what has been, we are here to make space for the next person as well

We join in the line and we carry the flame forward.

(set up the chalice and candle on the table, pass the lighting stick and mic to next speaker)


Voice Four, Family with Young Child (with fire)

Across the generations, this flame comes to us.

We are here for the songs, for the justice, for the community sharing the work

We are here now, too, to build something new and lasting. We are ready for a new day together.

We join in the line and we carry the flame forward.

(Light the chalice)