Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men

Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men was originally published in the Our Home Universalist Unitarian monthly newsletter for December 2009.   

Another year is coming to a close and our thoughts begin to drift to the holidays of gift giving, parties, and celebrating each other’s company.  These are all good things to do; especially as our economy still struggles to rise from the ashes of mortgage and banking schemes of greed that backfired on millions of people. So what does this season of joy mean to us in the face of such struggle?  Is there true hope that shines over a manger in Bethlehem?    I believe there is. 

Conservative Christians see the birth of Jesus as a fulfillment of the promise of God to redeem the world from sin. To participate in this redemption a person has to confess with their mouth that they have asked for forgiveness of their sins and accept Jesus into their hearts. To quote Joel Osteen; to say this prayer transforms one into a Christian.  

Unitarian Universalists tend not to believe that a simple confession of the mouth will save or transform anyone.  It is not words alone that save us.  If there is a contention between liberal and conservative religion, perhaps it is whether repeating a prayer will save a person from anything let alone from judgment day.  This is not the hope that shines bright each December.  

No, the hope that shines bright is the belief that we can indeed fulfill the promise of “Peace on earth, Good will toward men.”  The purpose of Christmas is not eternal salvation as Rick Warren’s popular book of the same name claims but rather to instill the hope that humanity can evolve to the point where violence—physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual violence—towards one another no longer needs to be the norm.  This sort of transformation does not happen over night, it takes diligence.  It takes discipline, rigorous discipline of the every day kind for that sort of transformation.  

I spent over 20 years of my life as a Charismatic Christian. I have seen many things that I cannot explain.  But the one thing I can explain is why individuals who claimed to be instantaneously freed from addictions (defined as broadly as possible) did not remain in their sobriety of that addiction.  It did not last when the holy chills of the moment wore off unless they committed themselves to the work of one day at a time.   Jesus’ command to “go and sin no more” was not just an idle saying.  As anyone in alcoholics anonymous can tell you it takes a recommitment every day and sometimes every hour, every minute to fulfill Jesus’ word of “go and sin no more.” 

It is the same for all of us.  The spiritual journey is not a blanket that is wrapped around us on a cool evening but a diligent stoking of the fires of warmth and generosity.  It is not a check off list— complete laundry; buy groceries; accept Jesus into my heart—that’s now done, where’s the party? The teaching of Jesus’ to love our neighbor as our self takes the kind of discipline that a person in AA takes to remain sober. Unitarian Universalists believe this is the way towards the Christmas promise.   Whether you claim to be a Christian, a Unitarian Universalist, a Jew, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Mormon; by whatever stripe you are healed, work out your salvation not just in words but in your commitment to actions that bring peace on earth, good will towards all.  Blessings,

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Published in: on November 29, 2009 at 4:19 pm  Comments Off on Peace on Earth; Good Will Toward Men  
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A Crisis of Faith

A congregant came to me today stating they were experiencing a crisis of faith.  A good conversation followed.  Without going into to the details one of the comments in the conversation referred to the various doctrines that are out there.  Who is right?  Who is wrong?  Each claim to have the correct doctrine.  What is one to believe?  What if they are right and we are wrong? 

Unitarian Universalism is a creedless faith.  We do not claim that one doctrine is the correct one above all else.  Instead we covenant to support one another in the living of the question, to support each other in their quest for meaning and truth.   The question will always be asked.  It might be a different question that arises but a question will always be asked.  A crisis in faith will always occur at some point in our lives.

Jesus was once asked the question what was the greatest commandment.  He answered according to the Christian scriptures, 

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Matthew 22: 37-39 NIV)

The rest as another wise rabbi once stated is commentary.  Now Unitarian Universalists may have a hard time with the phrase “the Lord your God.”  But if we consider what is being stated with this phrase is not just a divine entity who rules over all of creation with a firm and heavy hand but rather that which is ultimate, that which is the greatest good, that which is worthy of our devotion, that which is honorable, that which is just; then the phrase “the Lord your God” takes on a different connotation.   To live our lives with that level of passion in what we do is a transformative act.  It will shape everything we do with our lives in the here and now.  

The rest indeed becomes commentary.  It no longer matters if I believe that Jesus was born of a virgin, died on the cross for my sins, or even if he rose again from the dead.  Nor does it matter if I believe that God is One or if God is three in one or if there are many Gods.  Nor does it matter if I believe in reincarnation or if this is the only life I live.  The doctrines becomes commentary. 

The essence of all religions using slightly different words perhaps boil down to these two commandments.  For the Buddhist, for example,  it is to be mindful in all things; to be awake to this present moment.  When we are awake in the Buddhist sense then we are engaging our whole heart, mind, and soul. 

How one goes about living their life in this manner is open for debate.  For some it may be by embracing Christianity.  For another it may be in embracing Buddhism or Islam, or Hinduism, or Wicca.  But to do so with passion, with ones whole being is to love the Lord your God with ones whole self.  To express this love to others is the second part of this mystery. 

I told this person a bit of my own travel through crises of faith.  When I was still a conservative Christian and still in the closet, I worked with people living with AIDS.  There was one man who I would visit and bring dinners to him almost every night.  He had been excommunicated from his church and from his family, except two of his 13 siblings, because he had HIV/AIDS .  The church believed that this meant he wasn’t sincere in his repentance because if he had been, then he would not experience this dreadful disease. 

Our doctrines sometimes narrows our lives rather than expand them.  Our doctrines should expand our understandings of love and not narrow them. 

Anyway, I would visit this man who had become bed bound.  This was in the days when hospices would not accept HIV/AIDS patients and he was not so sick that he needed hospitalization.  So he only had these two siblings who would visit and several volunteers.   This one night, I brought dinner over.  He was asleep.  So I decided to stay and sit with him and pray.   As I was praying, I looked over at him and in the dim light of the room, I saw in that bed not Jesse (name changed)  but rather Jesus lying there.  Or what I would have thought Jesus would look like lying there.  

I was entering a crisis of faith as I was beginning to wrestle with my identity as a gay man.  Here before me was another gay man who appeared to me as  Jesus to me at that particular moment.  How do I love someone who is gay and the antithesis of the doctrines I embraced?  How do I love myself enough to be able to love another?  How do I reconcile the doctrine with my experiences?   The answer in that moment seemed so simple. 

To see everyone as worthy of  devotion, worthy of love, worthy of service, worthy of life.  It was shortly there after and a few more eye-opening experiences that I came out of the closet.  And entered another crisis of faith with my Christian community regarding what I was finding true and what they taught as true.  

There will probably always be a crisis of faith that will release new questions and new wonderings about the nature of this world.  But I believe if I hold to the standard of  loving the utmost highest good with my whole heart, mind, and soul then the rest will be commentary.

Published in: on November 13, 2009 at 3:05 pm  Comments (1)  
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Sermon: Five Smooth Stones: Mutual Consent

(This is the second of a series of sermons at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa reflecting on James Luther Adams’ Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Relgion.  8 November 2009 (c) )

Reading: Good Fences Make Good Neighbors by James Luther Adams (From a sermon he presented at Appleton Chapel in Harvard University’s Memorial Church, Cambridge, MA in 1984.) 

In the old days at Harvard, earlier in this [20th] century, the former Appleton Chapel was located on this spot where we are at this moment.  At the worship services that much larger chapel was filled with hundreds of students.  The reason for this is simple. Attendance was required.

In those days the doors were locked when the bells stopped ringing.  No late students could enter the chapel.  The monitors then stood in their several places to record the absentees. 

On the occasion when required attendance was formally abolished at the instigation of the university preacher, Professor Francis Greenwood Peabody, he said in his address that he had been studying compulsory attendance at chapel in various parts of the commonwealth, including the state penitentiary in Concord.  The only difference he could find, he said, between chapel services at Harvard and those at the Concord penitentiary was that in Concord the monitors carried guns, an appropriate symbol for coercion.  For some years the Yale Chapel retained the practice of required attendance.  I recall that Dean Willard Sperry of Harvard Divinity School reported that when he was guest preacher at Yale he could not from the pulpit see the faces of the students.  In protest against compulsory attendance they hid themselves behind their newspapers, and the preacher could see only an expansive patchwork quilt of unfolded newspapers.  Subsequently, Yale Chapel also abolished the practice.  We may say that the abolition of required attendance means that religion and compulsion are by nature incompatible.

Five Smooth Stones: Mutual Consent

We last left our hero, James Luther Adams, a prominent 20th century liberal theologian with the first stone of liberal religion. To recap, Adams speaks of five components that are essential to liberal religion. 

“These five components were titled the Five Smooth Stones of Liberal Religion based on the biblical story of young David who single-handedly slew the opposing giant and enemy of the country with five smooth stones and a slingshot.    These stones are the following:  1) Continuous revelation, 2) Mutual consent and not coercion need to be the basis of all human relations 3) Moral obligation towards the establishment of a just and loving community 4) Denial of the immaculate conception of virtue and affirm the necessity of social incarnation and 5) the resources (divine and human) that are available for the achievement of meaningful change justify an attitude of ultimate optimism.”[1] 

The second stone of liberal religion is “Mutual consent and not coercion need to be the basis of all human relations.”  Now it may seem like common sense to us that this indeed needs to be the case.  It is part of our heritage as religious liberals.  But recent events reveal to us that mutual consent is not the experience of all human relations. 

It has even been argued that there are times when mutual consent is not even the best way to behave in some human relations.  We saw this argument being played out in the defense of using torture to interrogate known and alleged terrorists. 

Former President Bush in defending the use of torture (as defined by the 1984 Convention Against Torture which was signed by President Reagan and ratified by the US Senate in 1994) said in a radio address explaining his veto against a congressional bill against water-boarding and other abusive interrogation techniques: “This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe. …We created alternative procedures to question the most dangerous al-Qaeda operatives, particularly those who might have knowledge of attacks planned on our homeland.” Bush said. “If we were to shut down this program and restrict the CIA to methods in the [Army] field manual, we could lose vital information from senior al-Qaeda terrorists, and that could cost American lives.” [2]

 My point here is not to debate whether a former president did or did not violate an international agreement on torture; nor whether he was correct in his statements that torture yielded accurate and vital information regarding terrorist activities to attack the US.  My point is that the use of torture in any format is an extreme use of coercion in human relations and therefore violates one of the principal cornerstones of liberal religion.

So where did this notion of mutual consent in human relations originate and become part of the liberal branch of religion?   Adams argues that just like chickens that establish a pecking order, “Liberalism, in its social articulation, might be defined as a protest against ‘pecking orders’” in favor of mutual consent.  Mutual consent has its roots in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the gospel records of Jesus’ teachings.  It resurfaced in the Reformation with the teachings of Martin Luther declaring the priesthood of all believers.   It found its way into the foundations of the early congregations in New England with the Cambridge Platform, a covenant honoring the mutual consent of autonomy between congregations.  This protest continues today and is most noted in the vote against the prescribed pecking order of this society with the overwhelming election of America’s first African American as president.   

Adams states, “This protest often found its sanction in the basic theological assertion that all are children of one God, by which is meant that all persons by nature potentially share in the deepest meanings of existence, all have the capacity for discovering or responding to ‘saving truth,’ and all are responsible for selecting and putting into action the right means and ends of cooperation for the fulfillment of human destiny.”[3]

It is from this theological basis that free inquiry is essential to liberal religions as well as liberal societies and governments.  If a person is seeking infallible guidance, Adams states, “they are not going to find it in liberal religion.”  The refusal to submit to divine authority –be it a pope, scriptures, or doctrine has been stated as our mortal sin from the true path of orthodoxy.  Adams answers this charge by stating it is pretentious pride for anyone thinking “capable of recognizing infallibility, for they must themselves claim to be infallible in order to identify the infallible.”[4]

Yet, the process against the pecking order towards mutual consent is found in the free inquiry and study of “the words of the prophets, in the deeds of saintly men and women, and in the growing knowledge” of human nature and the universe through the sciences “that evoke the free loyalty and conviction of people exposed to them in open discourse.”

To evoke the free loyalty and conviction of people through open discourse is perhaps the biggest challenge that we face today in this country.  There are those from conservative religious circles that want to coerce society to resemble their ideals, their theology, their hardened rules and protocols denying the words of the prophets, denying the saintly deeds of men and women, denying growing body of knowledge on human nature and sciences that contradict the doctrines that they claim as divine truth.

These conservative religious bodies seek to pre-empt open discourse by using platitudes and rhetoric that no longer have any authoritative weight except within their circles of faith.  To engage openly and honestly without resorting to doctrines and rhetoric would perhaps cause their own faith to begin to question their prized doctrines and see the bondage in which they have trapped themselves.  Yet if they were to enter into open dialogical debate without resorting to two thousand year old texts; they would find their faith come alive in amazing transforming ways converting them to honor the ever more inclusive spirit of love. 

I speak from my own spiritual journey of conservative Christianity to liberal Unitarian Universalism.  It was with openness to mutual consent, a covenant of being, that I entered into this dialogue and found the waters there liberating me to love justice in new and profound ways.

I mentioned torture as being an extreme form of coercion.  Tactics used to coerce information do only one thing; they rape the individual of their dignity of being human.  Tactics that deny the bodies of knowledge from the psychological and sociological sciences that detail the harm done to the person.   These tactics of coercion reduce the person to an object, a thing and in doing so reduce the abuser to an object as well. 

But there are other forms of coercion occurring today that requires noting.  One is the long standing battle to have prayer in the public schools. This resurfaces every couple of years since it was removed from schools in 1962 as being unconstitutional.   It is a form of coercion of the conservative religious to insist that a public prayer be said.  The question remains as to whose prayer would be said?  A Christian Prayer complete with “In the name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray?”  Or a Muslim prayer?  A Hindi prayer?  A Buddhist Metta?  A Wiccan chant?  And who decides? 

Several years ago now, the UU congregation in Danbury, CT sought to place an advertisement in the local paper.  It was an ad developed by the denomination.  It showed a photograph of two women with the headline: God does not have to be male, straight and white.  The newspaper refused to publish it as they felt it did not match the moral standards of the community.   It is argued by prayer in school proponents that the moral standards of the community would be the measure in which to choose the public prayers in school.   And when they state moral standards they mean their particular brand of moral standard. 

Our reading this morning by James Luther Adams highlights the incompatibility of compulsion and religion.  But the incompatibility is far more sinister than that.  Adams discusses Reagan’s argument for a constitutional amendment for public prayer in schools.  Reagan harkened back to the ancient civilizations of Rome and Greece falling because they had abandoned their gods.  He believed the alleged decline of morality in this country is the result of our doing the same.  Adams states Reagan’s defense calls “for the revival of a compulsory feature of the authoritarian government of the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.” It was the practice of the magistrate to enforce the faith of the church and to “wield the secular arm on behalf of God and country.” [5]  It is this practice that the conservative religious wish to impose on the rest of the country with the public prayer in school debate. 

President James Madison in summarizing the First Amendment said, “Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform.”[6]  It is this compelling others to conform that liberal religion opposes.  

We find this coercion to conform in the continuing battle to overturn Roe v Wade.  There is a doctrinal belief of those seeking to define the rights of a woman over her own body as being equivalent to murder and seeking equal rights protection for the unborn.  The problem is not that a religious doctrine exists for members of a specific religious group regarding prohibiting abortion.  The problem is compelling others who do not belong to their religious group to abide by their doctrines.     

There is also the coercion of conservative religious regarding the equal marriage amendment that failed by a mere five percent difference in Maine this past week.  Those wanting equal marriage rights argued for the right to define what is a loving marriage and family and for those definitions to be honored by the state.  Those not wanting same gender marriages to be recognized used coercive tactics of fear to compel the voters in Maine to vote down the amendment which would have ratified the legislative vote of the previous session.  Their doctrine that marriage is defined by one man one woman is based solely on a selective reading and interpretation of texts from a culture we can never fully understand.  They have declared their doctrine to be the only correct one and are attempting to compel other religious and non-religious groups to adhere to that doctrine.  It is a coercive act to place inalienable rights of whom one can enter into a covenanted relationship with, such as marriage, to the vote of the majority.   There is a powerful commercial where a young man goes door to door, from village to village, asking if he may have the hand of his love in marriage.  The covenant of marriage is a local covenant; to have to seek federal or state approval is a sign of the coercive powers of oppression. 

Many in Maine and in California believe that the denial of recognizing same gender marriage under the law means they are in the right.  However, time will prove that where people are free to govern their own bodies, to form with love and respect their own relationships and have these decisions be honored by the governments in which they live is a more dignified way to live. 

Liberal religions, Unitarian Universalists as one example, are often criticized for allowing diverse opinions to being shared within the realm of the congregation.  It is the erroneous thought that we stand for nothing or that we can believe whatever because we allow and even encourage the expression of diverse opinions. On the contrary it is with deeply held convictions that we seek to allow our individual voices to be heard. 

We have come to understand that revelation is continuous and therefore may arise out of any sector of our congregation and from any sector of our society.  Therefore we seek to ensure that all are free to live their lives to their fullest potential.  We seek to remove the impediments of oppression where ever they may be found.  

James Luther Adams wrote:  “I call that church free which in charity promotes freedom in fellowship, seeking unity in diversity. This unity is a potential gift, sought through devotion to the transforming power of creative interchange in generous dialogue.  But it will remain unity in diversity.”

The path towards mutual consent is a path fraught with rocks of incomplete understandings.  It is therefore a continuous evolution of new insights and understandings that can only be discovered in an open dialogue.   It means that not everyone will be on the same page at the same time.  It means that some will have the same information and interpret it with slightly different nuances but if those people are able to remain open to those who have come to slightly different interpretations; then a more complete understanding may prevail.  Liberal religion seeks to be the place where these discussions can take place. 

We liberal religious folks tend to shy away from being evangelical regarding our faith, yet it is important that our message is heard in the market place of ideas.  Not in a coercive manner compelling others to believe as we do but in a consensual manner where all voices are respected and heard. In doing so, liberal religion seeks to be the yeast that leavens the whole of society towards justice and equality for all. 


[1] Fred L Hammond,  Sermon Five Smooth Stones: Continuous Revelation,  October 25, 2009  UUCT

[2] as found at  http://pubrecord.org/torture/160/bushs-torture-quote-undercuts-denial/

[3] Adams, Five Smooth Stones of Liberalism as found in The Guiding Principles for a Free Faith.

[4] IBID

[5] Adams, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors  The Prophethood of All Believers, ed. by George K. Beach

[6] Annals of Congress, Sat Aug 15th, 1789 pages 730 – 731  as found at http://candst.tripod.com/tnppage/qmadison.htm

Sermon: Love is the Doctrine

Sermon delivered at Our Home Universalist Unitarian Church on 1 November 2009. 

Love is the Doctrine by Rev. Fred L Hammond 

We say this covenant every week.  “Love is the doctrine of this church, the quest of truth is its sacrament and service is its prayer.”  What does this mean to us as we close out the first decade of the 21st century?   What does this mean to us as we close out the first year of a new presidency?  What does this mean to us as we debate and argue over health care reform, equal rights for gays, the escalating war in Afghanistan, bailouts for the oligarchic financial system, and the dismantling of agencies that successfully advocate for the poor and the oppressed?  

What does this mean—indeed?   I read a lecture by one of the pillars of our faith, Alice Blair Wesley, and these two sentences popped out at me, “What ought the lay members of a liberal free church understand our kind of church to be about, now, in our time?” She answers, “Strong, effective lively liberal churches, sometimes capable of altering positively the direction of their whole society, will be those liberal churches whose lay members can say clearly, individually and collectively, what are their own most important loyalties, as church members.”[1] 

Their most important loyalties.  It is difficult to articulate this as church members.  We have so many different loyalties, even within a congregation of our number, our loyalties are varied.   And to then place it on a denominational level, what are our loyalties then?  It is hard to encompass the scope of it all.  And harder still to understand how we could be on opposite sides of an issue.  

Yet, we do not dictate or demand uniformity of belief in our congregations.  We do not say to a potential member, if you are not in 100% agreement with us on this or that issue, this or that doctrine, then you cannot be a member here.    We strive, sometimes successfully, to let those differences fade into the background as we seek to live our covenant. And that brings us back to the question, what are our loyalties as a church?  What do we serve when we come together on Sunday mornings?  To what ends are we serving when we go back to our weekly schedules?  

“Love is the Doctrine of this Church, the quest of truth is its sacrament and service is its prayer.   To dwell together in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve human need, to the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine—Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.” 

If this covenant is indeed where our loyalties lie individually and collectively as a church, then how does this play out in our daily lives?   According to Random House Dictionary a sacrament is “a visible sign of an inward grace; something regarded as possessing a sacred character or mysterious significance; an oath; a solemn pledge.”   So when we state that the quest of truth is its sacrament, it means that we visibly, solemnly seek truth as an act of love.  We recognize that this love has a mysterious significance to us, that truth might remain elusive to us or that we might only see glimpses of an unfolding reality.   But to seek truth as an act of love opens us up to the possibilities of transforming our ideas, our bigotries, and our biases for something more inclusive, something more embracing in the other.  

To love our neighbor as we love ourselves is not an easy task to do.  We do not always love ourselves in the fullness that love has to offer us.  We sometimes carry within our beings the scars of abuse; either familial or societal, or the scars of oppression; either internal or external phobias that hold us down from our potential.  And so it is hard to sometimes love someone else when we do not love ourselves very much.  And as we vow to seek truth as a sacrament of that love, it is sometimes difficult for us know how that love should manifest in our midst.  But that is what we seek to do as we honor and uphold Love as our doctrine. 

Service is its prayer; service is love’s prayer.  How are we in service to one another?  How is that a prayer?  Here prayer takes on a much larger meaning than just a desire for something to happen.  For example, it is more than just asking the powers of the universe to restore to health a friend who is ill.  It is asking and acting together.  It is thought and action combined.  Service is action.  Prayer is the desire for the difference to be made in love.  It is doing what is needed to help that friend recover their health, and what that may be is myriad of possibilities.  Service is relational.  It is transactional.  It is transformational.   

It is one thing to ask for equal rights for sexual minorities.  It is another to ask and to combine it with service.  Opening the doors of the church so that PFLAG can meet here to offer support to families of gay children is service as a prayer.  Opening the doors of the church so teens have a safe place to gather and express themselves in discussion, music, and poetry is service as a prayer.  The prayer is that gays would find acceptance in our community.  The prayer is that our teens will find avenues where they can develop into their full potential as loving compassionate adults. The answers to these prayers begin with the opening of our doors.  

The common goals of this questing for sacramental truth and service as prayer are to dwell in peace, to seek knowledge in freedom, to serve human need.  To dwell in peace does not mean silence.  Peace does not necessarily mean tranquility.  Peace is a state of being that is assured that all is well even when the earth is quaking beneath us. To dwell in peace is an assurance that regardless of what you or someone else is going through that you are not alone but in covenanted community.  

When the Unitarian Universalist congregations in New Orleans and the Mississippi coast were destroyed by the effects of Katrina, as devastating and heartbreaking as that was for them personally, there was peace that held them knowing that they were not abandoned by their denomination.  People from across the country came into their communities to help them rebuild and are continuing to help them rebuild is the proof of that assurance.  There is peace that they will survive. 

When the news of the Knoxville shooting at the Unitarian Universalist congregation occurred, as painful and heart wrenching as that event was, there was a peace that assured them they were not alone in their grief.  The community congregations regardless of doctrinal differences poured out their hearts to the members of this congregation.  And so did members of Unitarian Universalist congregations across the country, some by offering their skills in trauma counseling and others in their cards and notes and money for the surviving families.  

And here in Laurel when ICE agents raided Howard Industries and arrested 600 plus workers on suspect that they may have been undocumented. Some of them were some of them weren’t.  There was an assurance of peace to those families by members of this congregation by dropping off food supplies to the families that suddenly lost their income. And there was an offer of peace when I stood with them in prayerful vigil, the only local clergy person, when they sought for their personal affects and final paychecks.  I was moved at how grateful these families were that someone, who represented to them a loving presence of the church, was there to stand in witness of their plight. To dwell in peace does not always mean tranquility but it does mean assurance of a supporting presence.  

To seek knowledge in freedom.  It may seem to be an odd thing to have this as a goal of this covenant but it is essential, for without it we have coercion, manipulation and propaganda.   This is perhaps more important for us today.  We have in this country a movement that seeks to shape the knowledge that is available.  It will take congregations like ours to recommit to this ideal that knowledge needs to be sought in freedom to ensure that our nation remains free.  

There is a resurgence of McCarthyism in our nation. This is being defined as “the reckless, unsubstantiated accusations, as well as demagogic attacks on the character or patriotism of political adversaries”.  We are seeing it through the irresponsible journalism of the Fox network.  It is one thing for a newspaper or television to have a conservative slant but it is another when the newspaper or television begins to use their resources to create the news they wish to cover. When I was studying journalism in my undergraduate work, the number one rule in journalism was to report the news, not become the news.  Fox News has in its manipulation of information restricted the freedom needed to find knowledge and their efforts have made them the news. 

Fox news is a source and one of the primary sponsors for the tea party protests that have occurred this past year.  These protests are based in falsehoods and misinformation propagated by Fox News.  They have grossly overcovered these events to give the appearance that they were larger than they really were.  For example, they gave on site coverage for a protest that no one was still in attendance.  And when another protest march was taking place in Washington, the National Equality March, a group that Fox news does not support, Fox did not cover it themselves and downplayed the attendance to a mere 70K which was the number allegedly in attendance at their teaparty protest the week before. Every other news network reported that upwards  to over 200K people being in attendance.   

But in case I be accused of mud-slinging with bias, let me add that the other news networks are not innocent in their manipulation of the news or their hindering of conveying knowledge.  They have taken a back seat when misinformation is spouted on their networks.  They do not do the fact checking that is needed when someone with an agenda, be it liberal or conservative, spouts unsubstantiated figures as if they are factual.  All of the news networks have failed their mission in reporting accurate news and instead are reporting opinions about the news.  Opinons that have one purpose and one purpose only and that is to divert attention away from an open and honest debate to one that is simply divisive.  The health care reform debate is just one example where the news networks have failed in informing the American public the facts of what true reform will mean to the average American.  

These words in our covenant are not simply nice words to say.  They have meaning in today’s climate of retrograde politics.  And these words could potentially mean risking our freedoms to support them like they did in the McCarthy era. 

To serve the human need.  James Luther Adams once said the purpose of church was to practice being human.  Church should be a place where our humanity is held in the safety of the sheltering arms of the congregation.  It is also a place where we can begin to serve the human need.  In our congregations regardless of size there is someone who is in need of a hug, a listening ear, or a word of encouragement.   There is someone in our congregations that need to be seen for who they are and not who they are forced to be in the world outside these doors. 

Yes, the human need exists beyond these doors and we have already mentioned how we have made a difference and are going to be making difference in these lives.  But for this one moment, take a look around you and see who is here in this room right now.  This is where we begin to serve the human need.  Right here, right now.  

To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine—

We affirm in our principles that we are all part of the interconnected web.  Many have come to believe that this means all of creation, not just humanity.  And so all souls has an expanded meaning of all creation growing into harmony with the Divine.  The Divine can be seen as not just a godforce but also as a lifeforce, a creative force that when we are in harmony with it  allows creation to fulfill its fullest potential.  

Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.  Thus do we promise, pledge, vow, to be our highest loyalty as individuals and collectively as members.  And when we fail, as surely we will, we will revisit these words and begin again to love, to seek truth as love’s sacrament, and service as love’s prayer.   Blessed Be.


[1] Alice Blair Wesley,  Our Covenant: The 2000-01 Minns LecturesLecture 1: Love is the Doctrine of this Church  2002  Meadville Lombard Press

Published in: on November 7, 2009 at 6:36 pm  Comments Off on Sermon: Love is the Doctrine  
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