Hiatus

Wow, this blog site sure has been jumping the past few days.  I have had the highest readership in the last few days and I thank you all for that readership.   This site will be on hiatus for a while during my move to Tuscaloosa.  I have the good fortune to have the help of members of the Jackson congregation and the Tuscaloosa congregation to help me in that move tomorrow morning.  I no sooner place my belongings in my beautiful apartment in Alabama and I am off for training on interim ministry in Boston.  This means that I will not be back online for at least a week, perhaps two as I need to have internet connection established in my new apartment. 

So dear readers, I will be back online in August.  Blessings abound,

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Published in: on July 25, 2008 at 2:50 pm  Comments Off on Hiatus  

“Stand in Our Shoes”

“In the end, Gentry’s family said Bishop’s execution was justified. ‘Whether you believe in the death penalty or not, stand in our shoes and feel the pain, the loss of someone you love,’ the Gentry family said in a statement.”  (Clarion-Ledger July 24, 2008) 

This is a powerful and important statement made by the Gentry family.   I can only speak for myself, but I do stand with them in their loss of someone loved. Which is why I do not want to repeat that loss by inflicting it on another family.  To do so is not justice, it is revenge.  It does nothing to reduce the pain the Gentry family feels.  Revenge only has the purpose to embitter the heart further. It is incapable of inviting love and forgiveness back into the heart.

A life for a life is Old Testament thinking and rhetoric.  It is based on a theology of a vengeful and wrathful god.  It is based on a theology that the unrepentant and even those who are repentant too late are destined to the eternal fires of hell and damnation.  This is not a theology that embraces the concept that god is love.  It is not a theology that embraces the notion of universal salvation and the reconciliation of all people to their creator.

Where is the faith of a god who is ever present in our time of need? A god who is able to break through the darkest of nights with the light of day?  Where is the faith of life being eternal and death merely being a shedding of the chrysalis body?   Where is the faith of a loving god that embraces all of her children in pain?   Was this faith manifested to the Gentry family in their time of sorrow? 

For Unitarian Universalists who may not believe in a supernatural being to supply these answers, it is certainly answered in the relationships one has with another.  I personally believe it is through my relationships that god’s presence is felt and embraced.  It is through these relationships that I receive solace and comfort. 

One of the most powerful examples of this is in the relationship that Jesus had with the sisters of Lazarus.  Lazarus had died and when Jesus approached the tomb, it is written that Jesus wept.  Mary and Martha came out and expressed their anger towards Jesus for not being there in time.  They had seen Jesus perform miracles and yet, Jesus was not there to heal their brother’s affliction.  He embraced their pain.  He was present to them.  He did not try to argue with them that what they were feeling was inappropriate.  He simply wept with them.   This speaks to me about how to be with others in the presence of pain.  It then behooves me to develop these relationships with integrity and respect. 

In Hinduism, the word namaste is offered as a salutation.  It roughly translates as ‘ The divine in me recognizes the divine in you.”  We can tap into in the divine in others in our relationships.  But to do so also means that we need to re-align our perception of how god moves and has its being among us.  The pain the Gentry family feels is just as divine as the love and joy a family feels at the birth of new member of their family.  We should not fear feeling this pain.  

It is not something we should seek out, but should it come, our faith (regardless of its construct in traditional terms) should be teaching us to embrace it, to feel it deeply, to honor it and to allow our relationships with others to birth us into a new feeling.  Love expressed purely can do this. 

I pray that the Gentry family have family members and friends who are able to help them embrace the pain and to then let it go into the divine arms of love. 

Blessings,

Published in: on July 24, 2008 at 2:15 pm  Comments Off on “Stand in Our Shoes”  
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You’re Gonna Miss This

My time in Jackson has come to a close.   My time in Brighton, MI has been over for a year.  My internship in San Diego is now two years ago.  My time in Chicago at Meadville Lombard is also now gone.  Not to mention my co-founding and  running the Interfaith AIDS Ministry in Danbury, CT.   I thought this song was an appropriate sentiment to times gone by.  Regardless of the challenges those days may have brought me, they were all good and filled with blessings of wonderful people and angels who graced my path.  May your days always be filled with blessings as well…   Here is to the future days that I will soon be looking back on with joy…

Published in: on July 24, 2008 at 2:26 am  Comments Off on You’re Gonna Miss This  
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Another Wrongful Execution

Today was the execution of Dale Leo Bishop convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of Marcus Gentry.   The person who actually dealt the fatal blows that killed Gentry was Jessie Johnson, who is serving a life sentence with no parole. Bishop was an accomplice in this act, there is no doubt about this but he did not kill Gentry.   So why is this another wrongful execution?    The state of Mississippi two months ago executed Earl Wesley Berry, a mentally retarded man with paranoid schizophrenia, who faced execution because his lawyers did not submit the proper paperwork on time.  Bishop suffered from bi-polar disease.  But his lawyer, Bob Ryan, was handling 21 death row cases at the time and simply did not give Bishop the deligence due him.  Ryan is being accused for suppressing evidence that could have helped spare his life.  (Clarion- Ledger July 22 2008)  Bishop’s family could not afford the psychological testing that would have diagnosed him as bi-polar.  This diagnosis occured while Bishop was on death row and was then prescribed lithium.   It is against Mississippi’s law to execute people who are mentally impaired by retardation or by mental illness because of the belief that had they not been so impaired they would not have acted in such a manner. 

Is it just me, or does no one else understand that Mississippi’s legal system is dysfunctional and corrupted.  I use that word in the same sense that a computer program can become corrupted and no longer functions as it should.  The person who actually strikes the fatal blows gets life inprisonment and the person who is the accomplice gets the death penalty.  What kind of crazy justice is this?  A person who is unable to receive mental health services because of not being able to purchase it gets the death sentence, when those very services would have spared his life.  He might have been incarcerated for life but he would have been spared the death penalty because of his mental illness.    The incompetent lawyer who desired only to get the cases off his desk so he sloppily handles the case.  This is not justice.  This is criminal and it seems to be systemic in Mississippi.

I will paraphrase a quote from a letter sent to John Calvin the founder of Calvinism, when he executed Michael Servetus, non-trinitarian, during the reformation by burning him at the stake in Geneva.  To kill a man for justice, is simply to kill a man; it does not bring justice. 

Blessings,

What is your ministry?

One of the gifts that living within a Catholic Charismatic lay community gave me was the notion that each of us has a ministry-a sense of purpose in this life.  Not all ministries were life long, some were for a moment in time, or for a season.  But each person had a ministry, some unique way that they would build up community or enhance the life of others or in other words make a difference for their being. 

This outlook changed the way I did my everyday work.  Whether I was a student in a college studying for a degree or working with developmentally disabled or people living with AIDS, my work was a ministry.  It was the context in which my ministry was to take shape. 

What was also evident to me during those days and for the ensuing years, is that we don’t always know consciously, anyway, how we deliver our ministry to others and the impact that it has on others.  Sometimes it is clear to us like when a person  has fallen through the ice and we just happened to be passing by at that exact moment so we save the person.  We have a clear idea of how our presence changed the fate of another.   Yet mostly we may never know or we may find out years later. 

There is the apocryphal story of the young boy who one day cleared out his locker at school and was walking home.  He had difficulty carrying all of his stuff and another boy happened by and offered him a hand by taking some of his stuff.  They walked all the way to his house, chatting about this and that, and in the process became life long friends.  Years later, the boy tells his friend that he had planned to take his life that day and his friend coming by changed all of that in an instant.    Whether true story or not, the message is clear that this young friend had in some way ministered to the hurt and pain the boy had felt.

We each have a ministry that will build up or enhance the world in which we live.  Each of us have this ministry laid out before us and we can choose to be open to the possibilities or we can deny them.  We can an Ebenezer Scrooge in the living of our lives or we can be George Bailey, making a difference in others lives in small apparently insignificant ways that are in the long run profound.  Blessings,

Published in: on July 20, 2008 at 1:57 pm  Comments Off on What is your ministry?  
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Transitions

Along this road that we call life, we are always transitioning from one place to another, from one emotion to another, from one focus to another, from one desire to another.   Sometimes we do not know that we are in a transition until suddenly we become aware and realize that we have transitioned and no longer are the person we thought we were.  Sometimes our transitions are deliberately planned out, even if the impetus for the transition is not of our making. 

Today, I will have preached my last sermon at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Jackson, MS.  My contract with them is at a close.  I have renogiated a new and different contract with Our Home Universalist for the 2008/2009 year.  And I have negotiated a contract with the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tuscaloosa, AL.   I am in the process of moving my home to Alabama and will only be living in one abode next year instead of living two weeks at a time in two abodes. 

This blog will also be facing a transition.  Since I will continue to be serving Our Home in Mississippi, and doing additional work with a few of the other congregations here, this blog could remain the same with same title:  A Unitarian Universalist Minister in Mississippi. I anticipate that I will still be responding to some of the state wide concerns that affect the liberal religous voice.   However, I will also be serving a congregation and making my home base in Alabama.   Adding “and Alabama” makes the title too long.  So the question that I need to be making is do I change the name of the blog–say to my nom de plume, Serenity Home

If this is your first time reading this blog, Serenity Home is a translation, albeit not entirely a literal translation,  of my birth name.   Fred being my full first name means “Peace”.  Hammond means “Home on a Hill”.   My middle name L is for the “L” of it as my grandfather would say.  

Or do I start a companion blog that will be centered around the life of being a minister for the Unitarian Universalist Church of Tuscaloosa?   Your comments on this decision process are welcomed.  

Blessings, Fred

Universalism: Along A string of Tensions

I have been pondering about universalism alot lately.  The Universalist Herald has had several articles in this month’s issue discussing what Universalism should look like in today’s Unitarian Universalism.  Yes, I said should.  Because that is how this magazine has been taking up the cry to revive Universalist thought. 

There does seem to be a need for a universal message in today’s ultra conservative climate.  In Laurel, MS there is an evangelical presbyterian minister who writes a column on faith, his faith specifically, and he has twice now denounced universalism as heresy.  I responded the first time but decided not to the second time.  His theology is steeped in Calvinism.  I have gotten the impression that most of the community in which I live in Mississippi is steeped in Calvinism.  I was speaking the other day within someone who stated being raised Baptist and was taught, indoctrinated, to believe that if you disagreed with anything that was said you were facing the fires of hell.  It wasn’t until leaving home, meeting other people who did not see the world in such harsh  tones did the realization occur that maybe church had missed the mark. 

But what should that universal message be?  The Universalist Herald has been promoting what I would call a purist universalism.  This is the doctrine that the atonement of Jesus on the cross is freely given to all of humanity, that all are saved, and would be restored to God in the afterlife.  John Murray, oft considered the founder of Universalism in America, believed that there was a period of purification that some would have to go through before this restoration, and Hosea Ballou believed there was no need for this purification as the act of Jesus was sufficient. 

Both John Murray and Hosea Ballou rejected the notion of Original Sin.  This is the doctrine that Augustine of Hippo expanded on and through his efforts became the doctine of the Catholic church and later of many protestant churches.  Original Sin states that when Adam and Eve disobeyed god by eating of the fruit from the tree of knowledge,  that sin and death entered the world; not only did humanity fall from grace but all of creation to this very day.  Murray and Ballou believed that men and women were responsible for their own sin not the sin of some proverbial ancestor.   Jesus’ death and resurrection took care of any sins that were committed paving the way for God to restore humanity to itself.

The Universalist National Memorial Church in Washington,DC has revised the 1899 Universalist Declaration of Faith.  They ask for participation in the reading of this declaration each Sunday.  Reading it is not mandatory.  The revised declaration is as follows:

“In faith and freedom, we are called to bring hope and healing to the world, so that all my rejoice in God’s grace. I believe in the universal love of God, the spiritual authority and leadership of Jesus Christ, the trustworthiness of the Bible as a source of divine revelation, the need for repentance and forgiven of sin, and the final harmony of all souls with God.”  

There is very little difference from the original declaration.  Words that implied a sexist point of view have been removed.  John Murray’s ‘certainty of  just retribution for sin’ has been removed and Hosea Ballou’s belief emphasized a bit more implicitly.  The declaration is in fact a creed. 

I have difficulty with this declaration of faith.   I no longer call myself Christian. I seek to follow the teachings of Jesus but I do not see Jesus as Christ; I do not believe his death served as an atonement for anything; and I doubt his physical resurrection.  Given that these criteria are cornerstone to the definition of Christian, I cannot in good conscience call myself one. 

I question whether the Bible is to be considered trustworthy.  There are gems found within the Bible that are priceless. It is these gems that I mine for when I read the Bible.  But there is plenty in the Bible that has inspired malicious acts against others.  For a text to inspire such evil places it in the questionable box for it to be trustworthy as a source of divine revelation.   

Yet, I think the Universalist Herald might point to the Universalist National Memorial Church as an example of the type of Universalism that needs to be spoken today.  Perhaps.   But I see this growing call to re-claim, revive Universalism as being poised along a string of tensions.  For many of us, this would be a call to repentance for having left our Christian roots and return to the bosom of Jesus, forsaking all others.   

I consider my theology to be universalist.  Universalism for me is the knowledge that the source of all that is and all that is not,  is love.    Universalism as I have come to understand it is the knowing that love is a stream of well-being that flows through all of creation. This love is always there for us to tap into regardless of the circumstances around us. There is absolutely nothing as the author of Romans stated that can separate us from the love of god.  Universal Salvation for me is accessible in this life time.  I do not need to wait for an afterlife to experience it. 

It does not depend on a notion of sinfulness that needs redeeming, nor the death of an innocent man to make it available.   It does not require that I believe in god or Jesus in order to tap into the knowledge / experience that I am loved for who I am.  This love that flows inspires me to create justice for others.  It is inclusive of all paths of spirituality inviting all to swim deep in the waters of universalism.  This is the message that needs to be put out there in ever abundance.   Blessings,

Celebrating Humanity

 The song in this video is the Stream of Life by Rabindranath Tagore.  A translation of which is found in the “Singing the Living Tradition” hymnal of the Unitarian Universalists.  # 529  The Stream of Life

“The same stream of life that runs through my veins night and day runs through the world and dances in rhythmic measures.  It is the same life that shoots in joy through the dust of the earth in numberless blades of grass and breaks into tumultous waves of leaves and flowers.  It is the same life that is rocked in the ocean-cradle of birth and death, in ebb and in flow. I feel my limbs are made glorious by the touch of this world of life.  And my pride is from the life-throb of ages dancing in my blood this moment.” 

Thanks to Erik Walker Wikstrom for the suggestion to watch this video.  Apologies for not being able to get the high definition version on here.  Enjoy!

PS  In case the youtube link does not work you can see this video at the Stride Gum Website, the sponsors of this video here.  CLick on Dancing 2008.

Published in: on July 16, 2008 at 5:25 pm  Comments Off on Celebrating Humanity  

A partisan view of how it all began

The Gallup people released last month their findings on how many Americans believe in Creationism, the belief that God created the world within the last 10,000 years ago including humans as is versus those who believe that evolution was how it all began millions of years ago.   The results have not changed much over the past 26 years when they began asking these questions.  

“Between 43% and 47% of Americans have agreed during this 26-year time period with the creationist view that God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so. Between 35% and 40% have agreed with the alternative explanation that humans evolved, but with God guiding the process, while 9% to 14% have chosen a pure secularist evolution perspective that humans evolved with no guidance by God.”

What is more, 60% of those identifying as Republican, 40% of those identifying as Independent  and 38% of those who identify as Democrats believe in Creationism.    So we have a partisan view of how it all began. 

Sigh… 

Published in: on July 14, 2008 at 5:47 am  Comments (3)  
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Unitarian Universalism: Denomination or Religion?

Mike Myers of SNL fame, had a sketch called “Coffee Talk”, during which the character would exclaim in yinglish ( a non-yiddish word that sounds like it could be yiddish) the she was becoming ‘Verklempt.’   To give her time to re-compose herself she would offer a topic,  such as Holy Roman Empire, neither Holy, nor Roman, nor even an Empire.  Discuss.  She could easily have offered:  “Unitarian Universalist:  Neither Unitarian nor Universalist.  Discuss.” 

UU Blogger Aaron Sawyer has received some criticism for a video he did and posted on YouTube. He responds to the criticism on his blog.  What came up in the discussion is whether or not Unitarian Universalist Association is a denomination or a religion.  I responded in part thus: 

               “If we see ourselves as a denomination that means that we are a denomination of a specific faith tradition such as Christianity. Yet, we no longer identify as a Christian faith. We may have people who honor their Christian heritage and identify as Christian but Unitarian Universalism is not a Christian faith.

               “There are other Unitarian and Universalist faiths out there… are we a denomination of them? Judaism is unitarian in theology. Islam is unitarian in theology. Oneness Pentecostalism is non-trinitarian ( Jesus is the one God, so the emphasis is different) in theology. There is also the Biblical Unitarians. Unity is a universalist faith. And there are pockets of universalism within Methodism, Roman Catholicism, United Church of Christ, and Episcopalian traditions, to mention a few. Are we a denomination of these groups? The closest we could be affiliated would be Judaism because they are also a covenantal faith like we are (there are also some major differences which would separate us) but the others have very strong doctrinal and creedal requirements which we as a whole do not meet.

               “Therefore it seems that declaring Unitarian Universalism a religion is closer to the truth of our identity since the term denomination does not seem to match. I know that there are many of us who will cling to the word denomination for nostalgic reasons but we really are no longer a denomination.” 

Unitarian Universalism is in an interesting bind because as a faith we originated out from strong Christian / Abrahamic roots.  Unitarian theology is the theology that most Abrahamic faiths embrace.  Judaism, Islam, and Baha’i are all unitarian in theology.  They believe that God is one.  Only Christianity broke away from this stance in the 4thcentury with a Trinitarianview of God.  Today, we are seeing a shift in Christianity with the rise of non-trinitarian sects forming within Christianity such as Jehovah Witnesses and Oneness Pentecostalism.  Mormonism is non-trinitarianin that they describe the father, son, and holy spirit as more of a godhead, three distinct beings; father and son with distinct physical bodies and the holy spirit in spirit form. Together they form the godhead. 

What is important to note is that none of the religions that formed out of Judaic roots sought to begin a new religion.  Jesus was not looking to begin a new religion; nor was Mohammed, the founder of Islam; nor was Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism; nor was Baha’ullah, the founder of Baha’i.  They each sought to correct what they saw as errors in the religion they grew up in.  This is an extremely simplistic answer as there are more complex layers and nuances to the founding of these great religions but essentially this is true. 

So what errors does Unitarian Universalism seek to correct?  I think there are several.  The first is that revelation is forever evolving and revealing itself.  Part of that revelation occurs in the discoveries that the sciences unveil.  We have unlocked many of the mysteries of the world through scientific inquiry.  Prior to modern day science there was a belief that the earth was the center of the universe, today we know that we are not the center of the universe but that we are on the edge of a vast galaxy in a vaster universe of galaxies.  This revelation changes how we view our humanity in relationship with the universe and with the concept of god. 

The second correction Unitarian Universalism offers is the interdependent web of all creation.  We see ourselves as interdependent with the life on this planet.  We are not beings given dominion over the creation but interdependent players in the balance of life.  Our actions have a profound impact on the life on this planet.  Species live and die because of our ignorance and arrogance.  Unitarian Universalism seeks to honor that balance by becoming aware of our impact in the environmental arena and to reduce our human footprint on the world. 

The third correction we offer is the inherent worth and dignity of all people. This is our first principle that we as congregations seek to uphold.  We struggle with what that means in our lives especially in the presence of evil.  Yet, when followed, changes the way we treat the other in our presence.  Part of the meaning is in the listening to the often harsh reality of the lives others have lived because of the privileges we may have at their expense.   We seek to value the experiences that everyone lives by seeking systemic changes to situations that create injustices and oppression in the world. 

These and other correctives that exist in Unitarian Universalism seem to indicate that Unitarian Universalism is a religion in its own right.    A religion that is evolving.  Blessings,

Published in: on July 13, 2008 at 11:59 pm  Comments (3)  
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