Sermons 2016-17

A Clash of Crows and Dragons

A Clash of Crows and Dragons
Rev. Douglas Taylor
October 2, 2016

Imagine. John Lennon asks us to imagine a world of peace. This song along with its message has woven its way into our culture over the years. Imagine what it would look like to live in a world of peace. He offers a few steps into that vision asking us to consider a world without the usual causes or focal points leading us to conflict: no religion, hunger, national borders, or possessions. Do you remember some of the lyrics?

Imagine there’s no countries / It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for / And no religion, too

He puts some details into the dream. Most people are ready to nod and agree that a world of peace is a good thing and they are all for it. I nod and agree to the general sentiment. But when we start considering some of the possible details, some of us begin to have reservations. I, at least, begin to have some reservations. I like religion, for example. I would rather transform religion to include a vision of peace without divisiveness than to eliminate it all together. Visions are easier to agree with. It is in the details we come to disagreement and conflict.

But may I suggest that disagreement and conflict are not intrinsically negative. They are a natural aspect of being in community. If peace were our only goal and value, then it would be much simpler to find agreements in the details. But we also value freedom and personal integrity, justice and joyfulness. There is disagreement and conflict when we allow all our values and goals for life to be seen in the details of our living.

My Colleague Margaret Keip has said it well.

We are always dancing, often delicately and with difficulty, on the twin horns of dilemma. In most instances of human conflict, both horns are in some way true. It is their truth that creates the dance, and it is in this very dance that we are free. Whenever an idea reigns unchallenged by another point of view, there is no freedom because there is no choice.

Thus, conflict is the cost of freedom. If we treasure choice we may also learn to honor conflict and discover it may grant us peace and strength and stature. In devotion to the cause of freedom, disagreement may indeed unite us.
Rev. Margaret Keip

“Conflict is the cost of freedom” she writes. This shows up in the development of communal goals such as the world at peace Lennon dreamed of, as well as individual goals such as personal financial security or training to compete in a race. When my personal dream of running a marathon shifts into the details of training each week, I begin to have conflicts about doing one thing with my time rather than another. I am free only because I have a choice.

This becomes more dramatic when we’re talking about communal goals. The previous two weeks I preached about our choices and our conflicts as they relate to the coming election and the issue of gun control. This week I am focusing on how we create the congregation we need to become – how we live into the Long Range Plan we voted into existence a few years back. We are at the point with those dreams when some of the details have presented the opportunity for disagreement and conflict. Which is good because conflict, as Margaret Keip reminds us, is the cost of freedom and “in devotion to the cause of freedom, disagreement may indeed unite us.”

Before I get into the actual details, let me fill you in on the Crows and the Dragons. It begins with a prominent Wiccan writer and activist named Starhawk. I’ve drawn some lessons about leadership, decision making, and group dynamics from her 1987 book entitled Truth or Dare. I used one leadership exercise in particular with our Board of Trustees last month for our annual retreat. This is where the reference to Dragons and Crows comes from. Interestingly, I find the exercise illuminating not only for leadership but also for navigating conflict.

At essence, the exercise is about group dynamics and leadership roles in non-hierarchical structures. “In every group,” Starhawk says, “certain tasks need to be done and roles need to be filled if the group is to function.” (p 276) So think about the various groups you are in. For the Board of Trustees, we were obviously thinking about our roles on the Board but we also noticed at our retreat how we function differently and fill different roles in family circles, work teams, Small Group Ministry, or in a circle of friends.

Starhawk listed five key roles. The Crow and the Dragon are two of those roles. She also has Spiders, Graces, and Snakes, and I can give you the full exercise if you want it, talk to me later. For now, I want to focus on how we can be Crows and Dragons together.

The Crow style of leadership is most synonymous with what people think of as leadership: visionary leadership. Visionary leaders “take the long view, see the long-term vision, keep in focus the group’s goals. They suggest new direction, make plans and develop strategies, and look ahead to anticipate problems and needs.” (p 278). Starhawk calls this the Crow form.

Crow is a mythic character, particularly from American Indian tradition. Crow flies high and sees far, but more than that, Crow is intelligent. Crows are ranked among the smartest animals. Orangutans, Dolphins, Octopi, Elephants, and Crows are all regular features on the various lists from biologists, cognitive researchers, and neuroscientists. Crows are crafty. You can be the Crow.

All of us have all the various roles within us, we have one or two as particular strengths but that doesn’t mean that’s all we have. We each have the capacity to be the Crow in a group. It is a matter of what questions we pay attention to.

Crows are the symbol of visionary leadership in Starhawk’s exercise. Spiders work from connections, Snakes pay attention to the emotional level of group dynamic, and Graces attend to the energy of the group and of the work. Each brings another nuance to the group, each lifts up another layer of leadership. Each has a role to play.

But Dragons are the ones most likely to clash with the Crows. Crows cast the vision of where our purpose calls us to be. Dragons are the guardians of the resources and ask, “Is this sustainable?” Our Long Range Plan was the work of the Crow, living into it is the work of the Dragon. The Dragons are in the details!

Dragons are the mythical creature usually cast as the adversary. But Starhawk is instead tugging on older mythos for the image. The Dragon is still the guardian of the treasure. This leadership role is the one of grounded leadership. Grounded leaders stay “in touch with the practical, the realistic.” Starhawk says “The Dragon in the group guards its resources and its boundaries and articulates its limitations.” (p 281)

When the Long Range Plan says we are going to put money aside each year in a capital fund for repairing the sanctuary roof – that is the Crow among us. When our budget comes to us as a deficit, it is reality the Dragon needs us to acknowledge. Money is one way there is a conflict between the Crow and the Dragon in our lives, between Visionary Leadership and Grounded Leadership. Consider your own situation as well as that of our congregation. But there are ways other than money that the conflict can play out.

Let me tell you a little of what I see happening and why it matters.

There are three major areas in the life of our congregation that are currently unsettled and open for change. These three areas are at different stages between the visionary-dreaming stage and the detail-decision making stage. But in some way all three are stuck and in need of attention by our whole community to move forward. We are like the horse from our story (“The Horse” by Carolyn Petry), we see the new forest still a little way off but we can’t seem to move forward or cross this very round log. Or I could say we have done our good work as Crows and now we must wrestle with the Dragon. What are these three key areas? They are our physical building, our Social Justice work, and our Sunday morning Children and Youth programs. Each is stalled and in need of attention.

First: Our building. Back in June we took a straw pool of the congregation and heard a significant desire to stay and renovate our current space rather than move to another location or build anew. Not much has happened over the summer with that. Later this month we will take a formal vote on that, which will actually end the work of the ‘Space Task Force’ and begin the work of the new ‘Renovation Committee.’ Then, over the course of the fall, the Renovation Committee will develop the ideas and dreams into plans for the congregation – we’ll finally begin to get into the details. We are on target with this. This one is not really stuck so much as waiting.

Second: The Long Range Plan which set in motion the conversation about moving or renovating our space also had a call to change how we do Social Justice as a congregation. The key element in that 2014 plan involved a shift in which

… the Social Justice Committee become(s) the planners [and] coordinators … for justice and service programs, so that the members of UUCB and of the community become the primary “doers” rather than members of the SJC doing it all.

In short, we are transforming the work of the committee so that we can change how we do Social Justice as a congregation.

Last year the Social Justice Council hosted a survey of what the congregation wanted to do, which justice issues and types direct service we wanted to do. The next step, for this fall, is to engage the congregation again with a little more detail about developing a plan. We need a cottage meeting to get people talking together about this. Again, we are at the stage of shifting dreams into details and again it means the congregation as a whole needs to take part in naming the details. The problem is, the Social Justice Council disbanded recently – mostly due to low participation in the committee and no chair. Rather than scrambling to find a new chair and more people for the committee, the recommendation is to move forward with the next step of re-imagining our Social Justice work and let a new committee arise from the new model.

Third: The Long Range Plan remains mostly silent on the topic of Lifespan Faith Development beyond an acknowledgement that things are going great in that aspect of our congregation. At least they were or seemed to be back in the spring of 2014. Over the last few years, however, some of the demographic and generational changes in society have caught up to us. The current Sunday School model we have relies on significant volunteer commitment and consistent attendance from participants for cumulative learning – and the reality of how people and families are engaging has made that increasingly untenable to maintain. So we are considering a major responsive shift, but a shift to what?

The Children and Youth Programs committee is sifting through the possibilities and will be ready to suggest a few new models this fall for experimentation in the spring. They will be able to do the Crow work this fall and be ready to drop down into the detail work when the Dragon leadership will be needed.

Here is the trick. We can’t simply let each of these three conversations happen independently. They feed back into each other. We have heard from families a desire to have justice-making opportunities woven into the programs for the kids. And if we shift away from the classroom model of Sunday School, there will be implications for how we are using the space which we might need to know as we renovate. And the conversations around Social Justice may lead us to see a new possibility for opening our building or using our space in a particular way.

There is work each aspect needs to do independently, but there needs to be a coordination and shared conversation as well. I’m working with the board and others on how to manage that. But a key piece is that I need all of you to show up as Dragons for this.

We are creating the congregation we need to become. We are living into the Long Range Plan we voted into existence a few years back. Without losing sight as Crows we must now dig in as Dragons. And the Dragon is in the details. It is the opportunity for disagreement and conflict. Which is good because conflict, as Margaret Keip reminds us, is the cost of freedom and “in devotion to the cause of freedom, disagreement may indeed unite us.”

Listen for the conversations. Think about your visions and your sense of our congregational resources. Or take the message more personally for navigating your own conflicts. Be the Crow and the Dragon – welcome the clash for that is exactly how we will find our way forward.

In a world without end
May it be so.

2nd Amendment and Our 2nd Principle

2nd Amendment and Our 2nd Principle
Rev Douglas Taylor
September 25, 2016

A few years back I fell into a conversation with a Gun enthusiast from another congregation at a district meeting of Unitarian Universalists. This is unusual because “Unitarian Universalist” and “gun enthusiast” are not descriptors commonly used for the same person. After about few minutes stopped and said, “Most UUs have ended their conversation with me by this point.” I can smell a tolerance test when I’m in one. Plus, I have found that it is not true to say all UUs do not like guns. And, I learned a lot about guns over that next half hour.

While I suspect it is true that the majority of Unitarian Universalists are in favor of sensible gun laws and restrictions, we might be surprised at how many are also gun owners. The caricature UU on this issue looks like me: I don’t own a gun, I’ve never fired a gun, I have never been given instruction on how to fire a gun, and I have no wish change any of that, and if I were told there was a gun in my house I would feel less safe rather than more safe. But I am not anti-gun. Or, more accurately, I am not anti-gun for society, only for myself.  We Unitarian Universalists are more diverse on the issue of gun rights and gun regulations than we might think. I know a number of UUs who are hunters or shoot for sport or keep guns for home protection.

I don’t know much about guns; but I do know a lot about people, and about the group dynamics side of politics and policies. This is why I am preaching about the 2nd amendment. Not because I know a lot about guns, and think my religion and my opinion on gun violence are related. But because I know a lot about people, and think my opinion about gun violence has been informed by my religious values.

Unitarian Universalism is guided by 7 Principles, the 2nd of which is to affirm and promote “justice, equity, and compassion in human relations.” My perspective on gun rights and gun regulations is most informed by compassion. To what degree does the 2nd Amendment allow for justice and equity? Indeed, the heart of my argument around the 2nd Amendment is based in the values that ground the entire Constitution. It sounds something like this:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.  

[And for fun, listen to this clip from School House Rock about the Preamble: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yHp7sMqPL0g]

The top goal is to create a more perfect union. I find it is important to start this conversation about one of the amendments in the context of the full Constitution. A key element of context worth lifting up is that the Constitution and the first ten amendments (the Bill of Rights) are written in part as a reaction against monarchical government.

In the Federalist Papers, the founders outlined that the standard ‘Bill of Rights’ from other countries was a list of things the king offered to the people. In our case, the Bill of Rights is actually a list of things ‘we the people’ are not surrendering to the government. Another way to frame that is to say the Bill of Rights is not a gift to the people it is a leash to the government.

Remember the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  -Thomas Jefferson

This is very much in keeping with our religious roots. Our human dignity and worth is pre-existing and natural. It is not granted, won, earns, bestowed, or gifted by God or country. We are, according to our government’s founding documents, each born with all our human rights. This concept aligns with our common religious belief about human nature as Unitarian Universalists.

The Bill of Rights is written in that difficult dance of language between the needs of the individual and the needs of the ‘more perfect union’ the individuals are striving to create. We debate whether the 2nd Amendment is about an individual’s right to own a gun or a militia’s right to be populated by armed and trained citizens. The tricky answer, as we heard in the reading (The Second Amendment, A Biography by Michael Waldman), is “both and neither.” (p xiii)

And here is the thing about militias. When the Constitution was written, the word ‘militia’ meant something it no longer means today. There was no standing army at the time of the Constitution and the founders specifically did not want a standing army. They used the word “militia” instead of the word “army” on purpose. They were talking about an armed force but they didn’t want to use the word ‘army’ because that word had structural implications they were trying to avoid. The founders wanted the Minute-men. They wanted citizens, not professional soldiers.

Our current police force and armed forces (Army, Navy, Airforce, and Marines) serve the same purpose today as a well-regulated militia served back in the late 1700’s. On top of that we have the National Guard – which really is the most analogous contemporary institution to what the founders were talking about.

A deep part of why the founders wanted no standing army was to stop the national government from attaining that level of power. They had seen the atrocities committed in other countries when the government ordered its soldiers to crack down on its people. They felt that a state militia would not commit that kind of violence against their own neighbors at the orders of their government, whereas the professional police officer or soldier more easily would. This is the tyranny piece. This is the part in which the founders wanted the citizens to have the capacity to throw off a tyrannical system.

So here is the thing: the 2nd Amendment gun rights groups and militias are right about the founders’ original intent. We are supposed to be able to arm ourselves with serious weapons as a firewall against tyranny. They’re right. The problem is they’re too late. The militias are irrelevant. They don’t have tanks, war planes, missile launchers, nuclear warheads, satellite surveillance systems, chemical weapons, or weaponized drones. All they have are AR-15s, AK-47s, and a few illegal machine guns. They don’t stand a chance of ‘throwing off’ the United States government. They wouldn’t last an hour against the National Guard and Armed Forces if things got serious.

For example, on the one-year anniversary of the shooting of Michael Brown, August 2015, an armed group called the Oath Keepers arrived in Ferguson to monitor the demonstrations. Missouri is an ‘open carry’ state. The Oath Keepers are a constitutionally guided militia, meaning they have formed themselves as a militia as outlined in the constitution and its amendments – although they don’t seem to be state-based and they do carry semi-automatics rather than muskets, so there are some concessions to modern times.  The Oath Keepers in Ferguson were white. The black residents and protesters did not trust this group of heavily armed white outsiders, and St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar went of record as saying they were “both unnecessary and inflammatory.” Neither side wanted the Oath Keepers.

After a few days the small group left town. They had no lasting impact. Interestingly, the first night the Oath Keepers were on site walking around with their assault weapons on full display, three black men were arrested under the suspicion that they might have handguns. Missouri’s ‘open carry’ law must only work if you are also ‘openly white.’ The Oath Keepers had strongly urged the black protesters to arm themselves (à la the 14th amendment) with weapons as well as facts – which just shows how tone deaf they are if they think that wouldn’t escalate things fast.

The only way for the 2nd Amendment militias to go against a police department or the National Guard is through posturing. Do the militia people actually think they can tell the police to stand down? Militias are anachronistic and ineffective. They may be constitutionally correct, but they are too late. They are too late and they irrelevant because the government already has a standing army and a police force. The argument that the 2nd Amendment should be interpreted today as a support for non-governmental militias is deeply flawed given the reality we are living in.

The other major interpretation at play is that the amendment is limited to personal gun ownership. Interestingly, all the laws and judicial decisions over the past several decades have been focused on this interpretation. So let us grapple for a few minutes with the constitutional right of an individual to keep and bear arms.

One of the difficulty I discovered in exploring this is the vague language of the current laws and therefor the current conversation about gun regulation. There are Automatic, semi-automatic, and assault weapons in the mix. A fully automatic weapon is a ‘machine gun.’ It is a weapon used in the military that was made (mostly) illegal for private citizens in the 1930’s. Think about ‘gangsters’ with tommy guns. That’s the type of weapon the ban targeted. It is a weapon that when you pull the trigger, it continues to fire until the ammunition has run out. A regular gun – a pistol or rifle – when you squeeze the trigger, a single round or a single bullet is fired and to fire a second shot you must squeeze the trigger a second time.

A semi-automatic is like a regular gun in that you squeeze the trigger for each separate bullet, with the addition that they automatically reload. Meaning, you do not need to ‘cock’ the gun before firing a second time. These are, for example, “the AK-47 and AR-15 style rifles.” [Note: in conversation after this sermon I have further learned that nearly all guns and rifles are ‘semi-automatic’ nowadays; which complicates the conversation even more.] They are referred to as ‘assault weapons’ by some people. Unfortunately the 1994 federal Assault Weapons Ban defined an assault weapon by certain cosmetic features, “bayonet mounts, grenade launchers, silencers and flash suppressors,” while remaining completely silent on the essential point: how many rounds per second can be fired.

I am an advocate for Sensible gun control laws. What do I mean by ‘sensible’? I mean the same thing most people mean when they say that: closing the loop holes in gun show and internet sales, increasing the strength of the background checks with a waiting period if that’s what it takes for the checks to happen.

I would love to see a shift away from bans that talk about ‘assault’ weapons as defined by cosmetic similarities to bans that talk about automatic and semi-automatic weapons. The Assault Weapons Ban from 1994 lapsed ten years later and is no longer in effect. New York State’s ‘safe act’ is essentially a stiffer version of that ban. But the Safe Act is still using the flawed “assault weapon” language.

I support semi-automatic weapons being banned but I would also support them being merely registered the way vehicles are registered. [Note: in conversation after this sermon I have further learned that while we have many state laws about licensing and registration, there deeper conversation is about the mentally ill, ex-cons of violent crimes, and people on the terrorist watch list or no-fly list – and a federal version of all this.] To drive a tractor trailer, I would need a different level of training and a different license than was required of me for just a car. We can do the same for guns – the operators of the weapons need certified training and licensing (that’s not new), and even specialized training and licensing for different types of weapons such as the semi-automatics if we’re not going to have an all-out ban. Then the weapons, at least the semi-automatics, need a certain level of registration and inspection the same way our vehicles do.

The debate is not about hunting, not about gun collectors, not about home protection, or even basic gun ownership. It is about the use of a certain type of weapon, demonstrably used in mass shootings – the semi-automatic style weapon, that can and should be regulated or even banned. It is not the 2nd amendment blocking sensible gun laws. The 2nd Amendment doesn’t say anything about semi-automatic weapons.

What does the 2nd amendment have to say about a man’s right to walk the streets of Ferguson with his AR-15 style weapon during a volatile protest against police? Nothing. What does it say in the face of repeated mass shootings done with an AR-15 style weapon? Nothing. What was James Madison thinking about such things when he drafted the Bill of Rights? And why would such a ridiculous question even come up?

It was the late Justice Scalia who introduced the notion of “Originalism,” the judicial doctrine of uncovering the original intent of the founders to resolve today’s problems. I tell you that Originalism is unwise. It is to treat our constitution like scripture, as if the authors were infallible. It is religious fundamentalists who insist on originalism, and they do so because they claim God wrote the document – I’m talking about the bible in that case, not the Constitution. No one is claiming God wrote the constitution or the amendments that follow. Why would we treat the Constitution like scripture? It was a flawed document then and still is. We ought to interpret the document through the light of our present understanding and reality rather than blindly ignoring common sense.

Frank Lloyd Wright once quipped “I’m all in favor of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with typewriters.” I submit Wright is correct – the 1st amendment is far more important a weapon against tyranny in today’s context. I have no interest in changing or the 2nd amendment but I will argue for an interpretation that allows for better regulation given the current context, keeping in mind that the full goal is not found in any of the amendments, but in the words and spirit of the Constitution’s preamble. The point in creating the constitution was:

…in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity…

The current state of gun violence in our country is a problem that falls in direct opposition to the stated goals of insuring domestic tranquility, establishing justice, and forming a more perfect union. Always remember, our government’s goal is first and foremost to form a more perfect union. We are still working toward that day when each of us can sit under our own vine and we can each live in peace and unafraid.

In a world without end,
May it be so.

 

Do No Harm

Do No Harm
Rev. Douglas Taylor
September 18, 2016

 

It was the 15th anniversary of the September 11th terror attacks in the evening one week ago as I had the honor to be one of the speakers under the tent at the Islamic Organization of the Southern Tier. Someone told me all the area politicians were at the larger 9/11 event over in Highland Park. Our event had all the prominent religious leaders. We were Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, and Unitarian Universalist.

Many of my colleagues began their remarks with a personal account of their experience of the tragedy. Many offered prayers and spoke of unity and of peace. I did much the same. Instead of a personal story though, I shared a different story to help make the point that we all have choices in how we respond to traumas and tragedies. I shared the cricket story.

Once, two friends were walking down the sidewalk of a busy city street during rush hour. There was all sorts of noise in the city; car horns honking, feet shuffling, people talking! And amid all the noise, one of the friends turned to the other and said, “I hear a cricket.”

As I was telling this story under the tent at the mosque last week, there was an actual cricket chirping just off to the side, clearly audible throughout my remarks. No one had really noticed it before my story called our attention to it. People asked me after how I had worked that trick – I confess that I just smiled and said, “I’m magic.” Anyway, the story continues … “I hear a cricket.”

“No way,” her friend responded. “How could you possibly hear a cricket with all of this noise? You must be imagining it. Besides, I’ve never seen a cricket in the city.”

“No, really, I do hear a cricket. I’ll show you.” She stopped for a moment, then led her friend across the street to a big concrete planter with a tree in it. Pushing back some leaves she found a little brown cricket.

“That’s amazing!” said the friend. “You must have super-human hearing. What’s your secret?”

“No, my hearing is just the same as yours. There’s no secret,” the first woman replied. “Watch, I’ll show you.” She reached into her pocket, pulled out some loose change, and threw it on the sidewalk. Amid all the noise of the city, everyone within thirty feet turned their head to see where the sound of money was coming from.

“See,” she said. “It’s all a matter of what you are listening for.”

                        [Elisa Davy Pearlmain, ed., Doorways to the Soul, (1998) p14]

So what are you listening for? What do you hear and what occupies your attention? For I tell you that in part, what you listen for will determine what you hear and what, in turn, you amplify out into the world around you.

Our world is filled with noise. In the story it is the noise of the car honks and the people shuffling and muttering on the busy street. In our world today it is the noise of fear and ignorance, of anger and violence. So much of the news – particularly the political news – is filled with negative content. It is like the background of our personal lives is a crackling static of hostility.

And yet our world is filled with the sounds of hope and of courage as well. And yet the cricket was really there. What are you listening for? It makes a difference to the people around you and to your own heart. Especially as we round the corner on the last stretch of this election cycle.

The season of politics has been running hard for a several months now and we are less than 2 months from the finish line. Many have commented about the extreme and even nasty levels we have reached in this cycle. The candidates and their supporters seem to be stuck in the negative campaigning style, highlighting each other’s character flaws and how the other is unfit to lead. We the voting citizenry are overwhelmed with information about how bad each of the two major candidates is. But that is not new. We’ve been arguing about not liking the choices we have to choose between for centuries now.

In Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hit Broadway musical Hamilton, there is reference to the presidential election of 1800 in which Thomas Jefferson beat John Adams. The show is true enough to the history on this point. The actual tension was not about that, however, it was about which man was going to beat John Adams. Thomas Jefferson was really running against Aaron Burr for the position of then running against Adams. In that campaign cycle, Alexander Hamilton – a member of John Adams’ party knowing Adams wouldn’t win – came out in favor of Jefferson over Burr saying he was “by far not so dangerous a man” as Burr. This faint praise is basically the ‘lesser of two evils’ argument. Hamilton went on to say he would rather choose someone whose principles did not match his own than someone who had no principles at all. [Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton (2005)] So that part feels familiar.

But it gets worse. The classic example – the benchmark people refer to for political smear tactics – of how one does this is from the “Coffin Handbills” in which the supporters one candidate accused the opponent of various indignities. For example they claimed the other candidate’s wife was an adulteress and his mother was a prostitute, while the candidate himself had committed murder and even cannibalism. In this case the defamation was ineffective. Andrew Jackson won anyway in 1828 against John Quincy Adams. Character attacks and mudslinging have been part of American election politics for a long time.

Unfortunately there is a reason the smear campaign tactic is so popular and prevalent. Unlike that first example of the Coffin Handbills against Jackson, the tactic is usually as easy as it is effective. Voters eat it up. The “Daisy Girl” television ad from the Johnson vs Goldwater presidential campaign of 1964 was famously successful. The commercial portrays a little girl in a meadow; she is picking the petals off a daisy and counting. Her counting is juxtaposed with a launch countdown for an atomic bomb.  “Vote for President Johnson on November 3rd. The stakes are too high for you to stay home.” While Goldwater’s name is never mentioned, there was enough in the news about Goldwater’s stance on war that the implication was enough. And Johnson won. Going negative was effective.

So in terms of extreme accusations in the attempt at smearing the character of the opponent, what we are seeing today is not all that different. Perhaps the biggest difference is not in the content of the smear tactics as in the vehicle by which the smear is conveyed. Anonymously printed handbills are a different animal from viral anonymous facebook posts.

A few weeks back Garrison Keillor said something like this. If you walked down the street a generation or two back and saw a guy waving scandalous pamphlets about a candidate, you could look him in the eye, you could smell his breath, you could hear his ranting; you could make a personal assessment about the man delivering the news and choose to walk away. But now the same sort of thing arrives on your facebook feed and you pass it along because it seems to have some plausibility, something you secretly thought might be true, and who really knows anyway? So you pass it along. Thus the outrageous commentary and analysis that might otherwise be kept at bay infiltrates into our common discourse as reasonable conversation. And as much as high-minded, informed citizens would like to think campaigns ought to be about the content of the candidate’s stances on issues, it is not. Sadly it seems it is about which candidate is presented in the more palatable caricature.

But let me shift away from complaining about the negative campaigning and talk instead on its impact on us. Given that this is the tone of the civic engagement we are being fed, what impact does this diet have on our civic health?

Nicolaus Mills is professor of American Studies at Sarah Lawrence College and the author of The Triumph of Meanness: America’s War against Its Better Self. The book was written back at the end of the 1990’s, and he says:

“With the end of the cold war, we have come to apply the language and thinking once used to demonize our enemies abroad to those we believe threaten us internally. Our fears have led us to act on the basis of a lifeboat ethic that rewards ruthlessness.” [from jacket cover]

His analysis is playing out. For the past few decades we have seen the demonizing of different groups. After 9/11 we quickly demonized Arabs and Muslims and slowly that leaked into demonizing Mexicans. Meanwhile America didn’t let up on demonizing groups of Americans! 

Is there a connection between political rhetoric and violent acts? When people buy bumper stickers that say “Where is Lee Harvey Oswald when his country needs him?” and wear t-shirts with crude insults about the presidential candidates.  The tone of our political discourse is a signal of the un-health of our body politic!

Last week as I sat under the tent listening to my colleagues speak and pray for peace I was reminded that we have a role to play in the face of all this. As I sat there in the parking lot of the mosque under that tent, every time a loud vehicle growled past I wondered if there might be a disturbance, an attempt to protest the fact that Muslims and others are gathered during the anniversary of 9/11. What was I listening for? I think it is important for us to continue to notice the negative stuff, the anger, the lies, the violent and threat of violence floating around in our society. But more than that, we have a role to play in spreading something positive in the mix.

The next time a smear campaign ad comes across your TV or computer screen, notice it but also take a few minutes to seek out the positive reasons why you are drawn to one candidate or another – consider the actual issues, pass along news of your passion for someone rather than your aversion against someone.

I know many of you are doing exactly that. For many it is a difficult task to only spread the good things. The negative is unfortunately as easy as it is effective. But that doesn’t mean it is right. It can be hard to not fight fire with fire, to resist the urge to fling mud back. But part of our work as religious people is to heal the wounds of our world and bring more peace. What are you listening for? What do you pass along the line?

Our world is rife with violence in words and actions. What are you listening for? Our world is brimming with hope and courage. How do we are a community and as individuals cultivate peace? One breath at a time, one choice at a time. What are you passing along the line? Our best tools are truth, civility, and compassion. Stay positive. Don’t feed the demonizing trend. And by all means: vote.

In a world without end,
May it be so.

 

 

What is Unitarian Universalism?

 

What is Unitarian Universalism?
Rev. Douglas Taylor
August 28, 2016

“Unitarian Universalism, isn’t that a cult?”
“Unitarian Universalism, I’ve never heard of it. What is it about?”
“Universital– Unitaral – uh – Unisal; what is up with that name?”
“So, what do you all believe?”
“Unitarian Universalism, is that even a real religion?”
“If you don’t have beliefs, what’s the point?”
“If I visit, what should I wear?”

These are some of the common questions I get when people discover I am a Unitarian Universalist. Several years back I stumbled into one of those conversations. I was at a bookstore with my daughter. After collecting a relatively small stack of books I found her in quite conversation with a young man on the topic of religion. I sat nearby listening for a few minutes and it was clear he was a fundamentalist Christian doing that tricky dance of trying to have an actual conversation despite the usual script for such encounters.

The usual route is for the fundamentalist Christian to listen only enough to use your words as evidence that you are going to hell. But this young man was asking honest, searching questions trying to understand what Unitarian Universalism is all about. Eventually my daughter tagged me, you know like in team wrestling. And there I was having a very earnest conversation in the bookstore about doctrine, difference, damnation and dignity.

Unitarian Universalism, what is that? What do Unitarian Universalists believe? What do UUs believe about God, about Jesus, about the Bible, about life after death? These are the sorts of questions that arise from people who have not encountered much beyond the basic Protestant Christian perspective. In some ways, Unitarian Universalism is a direct, albeit heretical, response to exactly these questions, but only in a strictly historic context.

You see, one of the distinctive features of Unitarian Universalism is that we keep evolving and growing. The religious concepts central to our faith in the 1770s or the 1840s or the 1930s are not the central concepts today. Humanity grows, society changes, science expands our understanding. We grow. Our faith tradition grows with us.

Unitarian Universalism is progressive, non-creedal religion that grew out of the liberal wing of the Protestant Reformation. We grew out of Christianity, yet we are not technically considered a Christian denomination today. We are a bit of a hybrid partly an offshoot of Christianity and partly our own religious tradition. So I have hybrid answers to the particular questions about what Unitarian Universalists believe about God and Jesus and the Bible and the afterlife.

The historic answer also deals with another question I have bumped into over the years: Why do Unitarian Universalists have such a long name? What is with that tongue-twister of a name?

In an odd twist of irony, our non-creedal religion is named after two religious doctrines. Unitarian comes from the belief in the unity of God rather than the trinity of God. Consequently Unitarians see Jesus not as part of the Godhead. Instead Jesus is a wise rabbi, a teacher or even a rabble-rouser who had a particular relationship with God, but was not God.

Universalist comes from the belief in Universal Salvation, that all souls will be united with God in heaven. Universalists see the dominant characteristic of God not as God’s anger or judgment, but God’s love. Consequently there is no hell (or at most, a limited, non-eternal hell. But that is a nuance I don’t really need to wade through today.)

However, ours is a hybrid between the old Christian aspects and a more contemporary spirituality. Today, there are a multitude of beliefs about God and Jesus and the afterlife among us. There is no unifying belief we all hold about any of that. Some of us believe in God, some do not, still others believe in several; some are undecided or need to clarify the concept or use more accurate words. So it is with beliefs of Jesus, scripture, and the afterlife. And, perhaps more importantly, for many people the answers to these questions are not central to their faith or why they are Unitarian Universalist.

Beliefs, today, are not the point. We are a value-centric faith, not a belief-centric faith. One UU theologian, Thandeka, says our core is about “love beyond belief.” What she means by that is that the values and relationships are more important than the doctrines and beliefs; in particular ‘love’ is central. Love beyond belief.

I am about to drift into a conversation about values and covenants, but before I do let me answer one other variation of this type of question based on a conversation a colleague had with someone. The person grew up Christian and had discovered she was an atheist. In asking about Unitarian Universalism she wondered: “Do I have to pray to god?”

My quick answer is: No. But let me expand on that. There are two levels to that question I want to address – what will be expected of you in the community worship experience and in your own private spiritual practice. For your private spiritual practice you will be encouraged to find something that nourishes you spiritually. For some that is prayer or meditation, for others it is poetry or walking or gardening or meaningful discussion. And more to the point – you will be encouraged to discover what works for you, not expected to perform something that works for others.

During community worship, that commitment to personal spiritual practice can be tricky. I always include a time of prayer or meditation in the service. I don’t assume when I offer a prayer, that everyone in the room is ‘praying.’ And I make a distinction in my vocabulary between a prayer and a meditation. A prayer is directed, often to God or the spirit. A meditation is more a time of reflection. Since it is a communal experience, we know it doesn’t fit everyone. But there is a power found in community that is healing. It can’t be coerced or contrived. The way this works is that we each either ignore the parts that don’t fit or translate those parts into the theological or spiritual language that fits. People in other religious communities do this to, we just admit it publicly.

Let me circle back to some of the other common questions that come up about Unitarian Universalism. Is it a cult? People make up definitions of the word cult so they can delegitimize other religions. So I am sure that by someone’s definition we are. But really, no.

Really, according to reliable sources such as the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Cults tend to have a few distinctive characteristics: They are small, unconventional or non-traditional, centered on a charismatic leader, and share a single mindset (and Merriam-Webster adds that the single mindset is “regarded by many people as extreme or dangerous.”) We are small (about 1,000 churches in the US, roughly 200,000 members). We are unconventional and non-traditional – that’s 2 cult-like points against us. However, we fail miserably at the other two points. We are not focused on a single charismatic leader and we don’t share a single mindset. We are a pluralistic tradition dating back to the Protestant Reformation with an emphasis on the democratic process in our structure of autonomous congregations. So, no, we are not a cult.

“So, if you don’t all believe the same thing, do you each believe whatever you want? I had an 8 year old ask me that question once. We already knew each other and he was curious about how Unitarian Universalism worked. He asked, in essence, ‘can I believe anything I want?’ and I responded, in essence, ‘we can each believe as we must, as our conscience demands of us.’ How do you explain concepts like Theological Plurality and the Freedom of Conscience to an 8 year old? I used this analogy.

They say everybody’s fingerprint is unique. I have heard that this is not actually true, but the story is out there and it works for my purposes here. In the same way that your fingerprint is unique, your spirit is as well. How your spirit fits with the holy is particular to you. The experiences you have had, the interpretations you find, even the words you use to understand life and find meaning, all of that has a unique texture that is yours. We can have similarities and patterns, but ultimately each individual’s experience of the holy is unique.

But if you can’t get past the fallacy of the fingerprints for our analogy, look at the trees around this park, I said. We were at a park when my 8-year-old friend asked me this question. Look at the trees. Each tree is different. We can put them in categories, maple trees here and pine trees there – but even then each maple tree and each pine is slightly different. Difference is the order of the universe. As it is with the material world, so it is for the spiritual aspect as well. The answers you find will not be the answers I find. That doesn’t mean one of us is wrong. It just means we are different.

So we gather in community to support each other and sometimes challenge each other. Unitarian Universalism is not defined by what we believe; it is defined by the kind of community we create that supports each person’s search for truth and meaning in life. I use the term ‘covenantal.’ We are a covenanting community, promising to treat each other and our world with respect and care. We are covenantal rather than creedal.

One Unitarian Universalist theologian names James Luther Adams said people come to a congregation for intimacy and ultimacy. They come for the horizontal connections of intimacy: to be known, loved, connected to other people so we know we are not alone. They also come for the vertical connections of ultimacy: to find depth and meaningfulness in life, to connect with the earth and the generations of humanity. I like to add a third axis. We come for intimacy, ultimacy, and agency. Agency is about our own power to make a difference in the world. People come to church to make a difference, to heal the world, to participate in building something better for all people, particularly the poor and hungry and all those in need.

Unitarian Universalism is not about believing in a particular creed or doctrine. It is about making a meaningful life. It is about helping you heal your soul and build a better world. We still have great conversations about God and prayer, karma and reincarnation. We just don’t hold the answers as central to our continuing the conversation.

This brings me to one of my favorite questions I have been asked over the years. What do you preach about when the beliefs are all over the map? If there are pagans and atheist and Christians and Buddhist and agnostics all sitting next to each other in the congregation, what do you preach about on Sunday mornings. Life. I preach about life. I preach about hope and ethics, justice and forgiveness, democracy and spirituality. This coming fall I have plans for a sermon on the 2nd amendment and a sermon about spiritual brokenness. I will be preaching about Non-violence and about the faith of a scientist.

I think people assume I must water down all my messages so I don’t offend anyone. Instead of aiming for the lowest common denominator, I pitch my sermons for the highest common ideals among us. Our values of inclusion and interconnectedness, compassion and transcendence – that’s what I talk about. 

The next question I have is one that has always confused me, why does it seem so important to people that it keeps coming up? What is appropriate to wear to a service? I think I finally figured out what is behind this question. It is about judgment and inclusion. The gentler possibility is that people just want to be respectful of the norms so they can fit in. A harsher possibility is the fear that they will be negatively judged for their clothing at our church. I can only infer that in some religious communities such judgements do happen.

Either way, the answer here is: wear what makes you comfortable. I wear a suit most Sundays. There are a few others who wear a nice shirt or blouse, skirt or slacks, sometimes a jacket or nice hat. Many others wear jeans or shorts, a comfortable, casual shirt. Pink hair is fine, tutus are acceptable. Keep your hair natural or straighten it. Jewelry and makeup, piercings and tattoos are all welcome. I will admit that high heel shoes and three-piece suits are uncommon, but you go ahead and wear what makes you comfortable. We usually talk about inclusion less in terms of clothing and more in terms of age, race & ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identification, religious belief, and economic status. But what you wear and do to your hair – that’s okay too.

So the last question I hear that I want to bring up today is “How do I convert?” You don’t. Conversion is a Christian concept. Instead, we talk about joining and becoming a member. There is an internal level and an external level to this. When you feel like this is your community, when you want to support it, then you have reached the internal part. You belong. Or if you really want to use that language: you have converted. Externally, what we do is have people join the church by signing the membership book and making a financial pledge. Yes, you will be asked to give money when you become a part of this congregation. There is a detailed budget cheet hanging in the hallway if you are curious.

All the stuff we do around here comes from us. We are like a spiritual potluck – whatever shows up is what we have. Or to follow the tree analogy, we are our own thriving ecosystem in which the resources we have come from us and the spirit. That is part of what it means to be Unitarian Universalist. We form community together.

Welcome to the adventure of spirit we call Unitarian Universalism. It is a little different from what you might expect from a religious community, but in all the best ways. We are a curious people, covenanted to accept and encourage each other, willing to be challenged and to grow. Welcome. Won’t you join me in helping heal your soul and build a better world.

In a world without end,
May it be so.

 

Our Seven Principles in Song and Verse

Our Seven Principles in Song and Verse
Rev. Douglas Taylor
August 14, 2016
 

During announcements
Let me offer a little introduction to today’s service. Skimming through the program you will notice we have not Doxology or Covenant, no Joys and Sorrows, no Spirit of Life, no hymns at all really. What we have instead are 8 songs which I will play with their videos. This is a project I had a lot of fun with this summer. For each of our seven UU principles, find a contemporary pop song that has the same message and values. My rules were that the songs needed to be recent – in the past ten years, and they needed to be on the pop radio stations, preferably songs reaching #1 on the billboard charts. It was harder than I thought it would be.

Perfect             (for Principle 1)                                   Pink

Our first song, as our prelude following the Passing of the Peace, is from the artist Pink. She has a long string of number one songs over the years. Her music is driving, edgy and sometimes controversial. She started her career early as part of the Philly club scene at the age of 13; she was performing every Friday night. Pink become an accomplished singer and songwriter within a few years, but also nearly dying from a drug overdose at the age of 15. This song, Perfect, is the clean version of the 2010 number 1 hit. I offer this trigger warning for the video – it features self-harm.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K3GkSo3ujSY&list=PLPDsP3wQpjlUyJR5x0_Fp1M8ovGc2TK_z

Opening Reflection: “in which the project is explained”
I invite you to notice we have listed the UUA seven Principles on the back of our order of service. I have also printed up multiple copies of the song lyrics. And, if you are willing, I have also included a blank card in the order of service. Tell me what songs are important to you and why. Don’t be constrained by the rules I made for myself – tell me about your favorite sonata or opera piece, something from 50 years ago or a song from an obscure independent label. And why is it important to you.  

To connect with the First Principle – the inherent worth and dignity of every person – I chose Perfect by Pink because the lyrics proclaim that you don’t have to prove you are worth. There are a large number of great songs I could have used from artists like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Christina Aguilera. Many song writers are creating songs today with the message that you are beautiful as you are, that you are enough, that you don’t need to change yourself to meet anyone else’s expectations of who you are supposed to be. Some of it is focused on self-esteem boosting, but some of it taps into something deeper about our inherent dignity as people.

Finding something for the Second Principle – justice, equity and compassion in human relations – was a little trickier for me. At first I figured I would use a love song that talked about equality. But when someone recommended If Everyone Cared by Nickelback, it clicked. The message in that song is to treat each relationship like your most important relationship. A line in the last verse says “If they could love like you and me; imagine what the world could be.” So it is still almost a love song but not really.

If Everyone Cared      (for Principle 2)                       Nickelback

Our second song dates back to 2006. Nickelback is considered ‘post-grunge.’ The band’s name “Nickelback” was coined by the bassist Mike Kroeger from his time working at Starbucks. A basic coffee was $1.95 and he was ‘repeating the same mantra as he handed customers their change: “Here’s your nickel back”.’

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-IUSZyjiYuY&list=PLPDsP3wQpjlUyJR5x0_Fp1M8ovGc2TK_z&index=2

Reflection: “in which we learn about my music”
My music is not really pop music. My music is really Blues, Soul, Folk and some 80’s music. Left to my own devices, that’s what I would seek out. My kids have kept me in touch with pop music of the past 2 ½ decades. Each genre and generation creates a cultural identity through music. One element that has become more common in pop music is curse words. So my wife and I are often downloading the ‘clean’ version of a song. It can be a barrier. The Pink song I played is the ‘clean’ version. Several songs offered by friends and colleagues had the “f-word” in the song and I struggled with that a bit but eventually decided to avoid that. But part of the cultural identity of pop music today is entwined with frustration and anger at the world. That’s part of the message. But that is not part of our Principles so I felt it fair to avoid that.

For the Third Principle, I found plenty of sounds about acceptance of one another and encouragement; but not a lot that spoke to ‘acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.’ Oldies like Bette Midler’s The Rose, James Taylor’s You’ve Got a Friend, and Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors rank up there with  Rachel Platton’s Fight Song and Stand by You; Macklemore’s Starting Over; and Katy Perry’s Roar.

Brave               (for Principle 3)                                   Sara Bareilles

Amid the plethora of choices I picked Brave by Sara Bareilles with the line “You can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug.” You have the power to choose life or death, she is saying; choose life.  The song made it to number 3 on the Billboard charts in 2013. Sara Bareilles had earlier #1 hits with Love Song and King of Anything.  The music video features people dancing in various locations in public and is kinda fun. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUQsqBqxoR4&list=PLPDsP3wQpjlUyJR5x0_Fp1M8ovGc2TK_z&index=3

After Spotlight:
Freedom          (for Principle 4)                                   Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams is best known for his amazing hit song Happy as part of the Despicable Me soundtrack.  Williams is no stranger to hit songs. He and his production partner Chad Hugo wrote (but did not sing) over 40% of the popular songs on the radio in 2003 – they wrote songs that became hits for Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg, Nelly, and Jay-Z. Williams and Hugo now have their own recording label called Star Trak, (‘cause they are Star Trek fans too.) Freedom was a single release in 2015 reaching only #30 on the charts, so I am breaking my rule about using only #1 songs here. It reached #1 in Belgium.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VDcCU0sf25Q&index=4&list=PLPDsP3wQpjlUyJR5x0_Fp1M8ovGc2TK_z

Reflection: “in which we get a music lesson and a history lesson”
The definition of Pop Music is simply music that is currently popular. Latin music, country music, disco, funk, grunge, baroque, orchestral, hard rock, heavy metal, death metal, jazz, rock-a-billy, afro-fusion punk, and easy listening are all genres that have a particular identity based on certain musical attributes. Pop is whatever is popular. And yet, others will say you can describe pop by its musical attributes. Pop has a simple beat and melody with lyrics that focus mostly on love and romance. There are notable exceptions to these descriptions, which is mostly where I spent my explorations for today’s project.

For the Fourth Principle – a free and responsible search for truth and meaning – I was surprised to be able to call to mind a lot of oldies by John Lennon (Imagine), Joni Mitchell (Both Sides Now), Bob Dylan (Blowing in the Wind), and the Beatles (Let It Be). But I had sparse choices for more modern options. What if God Was One of Us by Joan Osborne and Tell Me All Your Thoughts on God by Dishwalla are both from 1995; hitting the charts over 20 years ago. I almost picked You Found me by the Fray; but ended up with the one you just heard by Pharrell Williams even though it never made it to #1, he has had several #1 songs so I went with it. I like when he sings “Mind, use your power. Spirit, use your wings.” Basically he is saying we should search with our mind and spirit. That’s the 4th principle. And that last verse is great!

Moving on the Fifth Principle – the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large – I am sure you can call to mind a million songs about democracy and voting and the right of conscience … you can’t? Neither could I. This was a tough one. I wanted a contemporary version of Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up. But it’s not out there. So I cheated. I picked a song that is not on the radio. The Hamilton Soundtrack album has made it to #2 on the charts, so that almost counts, right?

Cabinet Battle #1        (for Principle 5)           Lin-Manuel Miranda

Lin-Manuel Miranda is an artist to watch! He wrote the early draft of his first musical In the Heights while a sophomore in college. People don’t often talk about Hip-hop show tunes or Broadway Rap Battles, but they do when talking about Hamilton.

I need to set the stage a little more for this song. Hamilton is basically a musical about how Alexander Hamilton developed the National Banking system. Gripping stuff. And the musical is remarkably accurate. People are learning history listening to the songs. The scene I am playing is a cabinet meeting. George Washington is president. Thomas Jefferson is Secretary of State; Hamilton, Secretary of Treasury. I picked it because it is a Rap Battle between Jefferson and Hamilton where they both state their case and then Washington tells Hamilton to build coalitions, convince others, and compromise. You can’t just push through because you think you are right. The Democratic Process means you have to listen to others, work with others. It’s good stuff.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mBmTdJ4XTfs&index=5&list=PLPDsP3wQpjlUyJR5x0_Fp1M8ovGc2TK_z

Prayer                                                                        Rev. Douglas Taylor
Eternal Spirit
From whom all things come and to whom all things return
We gather this hour seeking meaning and understanding for our living.
This is our house of faith; this is our hour of worship;
We are a people of many beliefs together as one faith.
We are seekers of peace and light;
sifting through the moments of today
with an eye toward the eternal values that undergird life.
For the blessings of this day, the gathering of these good people,
and for the joys of simple things: we give thanks.
For songs that lift us up and for companions that carry us on:
we raise our voices in thanksgiving.
And for the revival of faith and trust in the face of the tides of life:
let us remember to give thanks indeed!
Help us to respond to life’s gifts with a generosity of spirit
Help us to meet differences and challenges
with an openness and a willingness
Let life’s melody rise and fall with us
Let the rhythm of love roll through our days
Let the music of the universe echo through our steps
And may our songs of our people
be songs of courage, respect, justice, and love
This we ask in the name of all that is holy
May it be so.

Offertory and Song Intro:
Where Is the Love?     (for Principle 6)                       Black-Eyed Peas

Black Eyed Peas started out as a hip-hop group but settled into dance-pop after a few years. They represent an interesting ethnic mix – one member is Jamaican, another Filipino, a third is Mexican-American, and the last is from California. Where Is the Love? was their very first major radio hit. It is about the post 9/11 world, and brings a message heavy with social-awareness. This is our song for the 6th Principle – the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. The song starts with the question, “What’s wrong with the world,” and then lists issue after issue, bringing it around to the poignant question again and again: Where is the love? It made it to #1 on the Billboard charts in 2003 – which breaks my rule about music only from the past 10 years. This one is almost 15 years old.

Now is the time for our offertory …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpYeekQkAdc&index=6&list=PLPDsP3wQpjlUyJR5x0_Fp1M8ovGc2TK_z

 

Reflection: “in which we talk about what is missing and why it matters”
When I started this project I thought it would be relatively easy to accomplish. I figured our UU Principles held general enough values that pop radio would be littered with them. What I discovered was a mixed bag. The 1st, 3rd, and 6th principles were pretty easy – I had several songs to choose from. But the 4th, 5th, and 7th principles were much harder. The 2nd principle just took some reframing on my part to figure out what exactly I was looking for before I could find it. What I think that says about our pop culture is that our society values the messages of encouragement, acceptance, dignity, and self-esteem (particularly from female artists.) Our society also values anti-war songs, songs of world peace and building a better place. However, we don’t really have songs about the use of the right of conscience, interconnectedness, spiritual consciousness, and the search for meaning in life.

The 7th Principle, respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part, was hard to land. I wanted to find today’s version of Marvin Gaye’s 1971 song Mercy, Mercy Me; it doesn’t exist. I found an array of great songs that could work, (What I Be, Michael Franti; One Voice by Wailin’ Jennys; and of course nearly anything by Peter Mayer,) but none of them were on the radio.

Fireflies                       (for Principle 7)                                   Owl City

Owl City is one of the numerous solo projects of a man named Adam Young. All the music was written, composed, recorded, and produced by him while he was living in his parent’s basement and working at a warehouse. Fireflies, according to Young, is a song about bugs and insomnia. But listening less literally and more metaphorically, it is a song about cosmic consciousness. It is about staying awake and seeing the light, about being aware of all the little things around us in our world and how we are not separate from them – we participate with them.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=psuRGfAaju4&index=7&list=PLPDsP3wQpjlUyJR5x0_Fp1M8ovGc2TK_z

Before and After Benediction:
Extra Shout Outs for today: Same Love by Macklemore, Take Me to Church by Hozier, a ton of songs by Green Day and U2 and Kendrick Lamar and the Indigo Girls

Cheap Thrills               (Bonus song)                           Sia

This last song is not connected to our principles in any way. It is just another great song in the long tradition of music that invites us to dance. It is the current #1 song in the country. And while dancing may not be one of our UU Principles, the importance of joy is certainly one of our religious principles in this congregation.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31crA53Dgu0&list=PLPDsP3wQpjlUyJR5x0_Fp1M8ovGc2TK_z&index=8