The Prairie State
After a long journey getting 2017 rolling (and traveling to New York in March only to miss services to care for Austin during his unfortunate flu-ridden weekend), I was able to take a quick mid-week drive up to Chicago, Illinois. Having been stationed at Naval Air Station Glenview in the mid-1980s, it was a look back at my past while making an honest inquiry into my future attending seminary.
I was visiting Meadville Lombard Theological School for their 25 Hours @ Meadville Lombard – Prospective Student Conference. The conference included time with current seminarians, staff, faculty, and the school president, while also enjoying the company of other prospective students from around the country.
Highlights of my visit:
Architecture: Just the modern Spertus Building itself is a reason to tour. With the views of Grant Park and Lake Michigan, one tucks themselves among the stacks of historical leather-bound books in the Wiggin Library.
Fahs Collaborative: The Fahs Collaborative is a “laboratory that brings people together to explore and create innovative ways to deepen faith through educational encounters” (a Meadville Lombard program).
Vespers: Wednesday evening service on “Covenant,” prepared and led by Meadville Lombard seminarians attending spring intensives.
President’s Dinner: Excerpt viewing of the film, “Defying the Nazis: The Sharps’ War,” followed by open discussion with President Lee Barker, Provost Dr. Sharon Welch, and Historian/Meadville Lombard Archivist John Leeker.
Lecture: As prospective students, we were warmly welcomed into Dr. Mike Hogue’s class, “Cosmos & Ethos – Climate Justice & Theology,” joining in discussion and group thought on questions about systematic and constructive theology.
Congress Hotel: Although the weather wasn’t cooperating on the rainy Wednesday, the stay at the Congress Hotel, with direct views of Grant Park and Lake Michigan, were nonetheless amazing and inviting.
But, with all the glamour and intellect, it was the spirit of the people that brought kinship to us all in our endevour to learn about becoming Unitarian Universalist leaders through lay leadership and ministry. Atherton, a shared space with a view, brought safety, warmth, and the belonging feeling that one relishes in a place of acceptance and diversity.
— Special thanks to Jim Proctor, Officer of Recruitment, for the relentless planning and warm welcome, and to Seminarian Jon Coffee, Meadville Lombard Regional Coordinator & Interim Chaplain of Pastoral Care at Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church, Knoxville, Tennessee. Jon was the first to greet us and the last to hug us as we left on our separate ways.
Still with the goal of seminary swishing around in my thoughts, I decided to take some graduate courses in literature. With my bachelor’s degree in English, I chose a liberal studies program focusing on gender, religion and social issues, while also working to improve my writing skills.
Needing to write about an epiphany in my life, I was facing a deadline and had settled on something plain-Jane to get the job done. But when I began writing, the story was not so plain at all.
What fell onto the page was my early steps to finding my own religion, or even so, finding Unitarian Universalism.
From my early years as a veritable latchkey kid, spending more time tromping between school and (insert name of the latest-independent-fundamental-Baptist-church here) than I did getting my ass home.
It all spilled out, bouts of brimstone by greased old men in cheap suits, missed Sunday evenings with Mickey and The Wonderful World of Disney, and years of over-involvement, prayers for heathens, and groups of righteous people joining to discuss the second coming while eating ambrosia salad with tater tot casseroles, always ending our prayers with the name of Jesus because only heathens prayed only to God.
It was the awareness of an awakening. A growth that I hadn’t acknowledged. The discovery of my faith in the joining of words, in poetry, in writing, in essays and speeches, and my transcendence beyond the faith of my fathers.
I was 16-years-old, and I had taken the first step to my own freedom of religion.
The Free State
It was a mixed weekend of sunshine, rain and snow at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Frederick. The youth were running the show while winter was outside fighting its best to hold off the promise of spring.
Although I would have truly loved to have heard the sitting minister, Rev. Dr. Carl Gregg, speak, he had turned over the helm to the teenagers to prove their place within the congregation. With the promise of an intriguing title, “Golf Balls to Water,” the youth easily delivered a presentation worthy of their teachers and mentors.
With a mixture of topics on prayer, meditations, and personal musings, the youth took turns talking about faith and about their personal paths to discovering their own truths and experiences with devotion, and with finding faith in life and in self. Without a doubt, the truly enlightening stories and experiences spoken by these young adults reflected the powerful community and faith of the UUC of Frederick. We can only hope, that as represented in these youth, the words of their entire generation are full of the hope, truth, and love so important within our faith.
UUC of Frederick is home to a beautifully designed campus full of light and vision, and is certified as a Green Sanctuary Congregation. It was truly a beautiful weekend home in the country for us on our travels.
* Just in case you can’t see the captions for the two pictures above (run mouse over them or click for slide show), this little bird is nesting in the middle of the UUCF parking lot!
For information on attending the UUC of Frederick: http://frederickuu.org/home/index.php
Example of the Golf Ball Philosophy: http://www.pickchur.com/2011/03/golf-balls-in-the-jar-the-philosophy-professor/
To learn more about the Green Sanctuary Program: http://www.uua.org/environment/sanctuary/index.shtml
The Heart of Dixie
Located in Alabama, near the home of the Civil Rights Institute, is the beautiful mountain crested sanctuary of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Birmingham, a church with a proud history of uncountable contributions to the promotion of racial equality in the South. Nestled in the woods, it is surrounded by patios with full gardens and a scrolled gateway, welcoming even in the stark of winter.
On my visit, the Rev. Lone J. Broussard spoke about “Our Blue Boat Home.” Although the song of the same name (by folk singer Peter Mayer) is familiar to most Unitarians, Rev. Broussard stressed the need for our faith to overcome our “compassion fatigue” as related to the ongoing issues of global warming, and to humankind’s limitless reaping of the earth’s bounty without regard to her future. While requesting such a task, she also explained how the possibility of self-sufficiency has been achieved by many, including the Danish Isle of Samsø, a model for eco-friendly living as well as progressive example to us all.
Metaphorically speaking, she went on to describe the “elephant in the room” that sits and makes himself at home, eventually wandering off when ignored, well expressing our own convictions as they come and go with whatever happens to be the ‘popular’ cause of the day. Yes we need improved gun regulations, and yes we need to be concerned with equal rights, and yes we need an end to war–but what are these issues without a home for humankind and the abundance of life that we share our earth with?
In ending, Rev. Broussard asked the old question, “How do you eat an elephant?” (Of course, the answer is one bite at a time!) However, I would love to now ask that we all invite Mr. and Ms. Elephant into our homes for tea, questioning them in detail, inquiring, drilling and finding our compassion once again within their stories.
To learn more about the UUC of Birmingham: http://www.uucbham.org/
For information on the Isle of Samsø: http://www.visitsamsoe.dk/en/
Peter Mayer’s website: http://www.petermayer.net/news/
To hear Peter Mayer’s “Blue Boat Home”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YtZUM0JhLvc&list=PLD5C3A9F3B5204E83
The Lone Star State
Texas! Back to my home state but still so far from home! Today Austin and I attended the First Unitarian Church of Dallas in none other than the Lone Star State. Although the church community began there over 100 years ago, the current Frank Lloyd Wright-esque sanctuary is an homage to fluid space and shared community. The architect, Harwell Hamilton Harris, truly designed what he described as “a clearing in the forest,” all completed with a dominant burning chalice guiding attendees to the peace within the space.
Led by Senior Minister, Rev. Dr. Daniel Kanter, today’s service was one honoring the church’s “UU of the Year” for service and deeds completed within the church community (and in the greater Dallas community at-large), followed by a sermon titled, “Too Christian, Not Christian Enough.” Dr. Kanter well expressed the historical ties to Unitarianism, but also to those that led to the path of his suggested true labeling as a “Free Church.” One that is neither too Christian, nor Christian enough, in that so it is perfectly balanced without confines to secular and non-secular labeling alike. A place where Christians and Atheists commingle in celebration of diversity and compassion. A place where all whom support and commit to the seven UU Principles can live, learn, and love without judgment or inequity.
Stirring the passion was music provided by “emma’s revolution,” a fun and modernly folksy duo of Sandy O. and Pat Humphries. Austin and I both especially loved their song, “Peace, Salaam, Shalom,” written in response to reactions to the attacks on 9/11.
If you live in the Dallas area and would like to attend First Unitarian, you can find information about their services and events at www.dallasuu.org. Be sure to take time to explore the campus and have coffee with the UUs attending there. They will be glad to welcome you!
From the First Unitarian website, “As the largest liberal religious congregation in Dallas and one of the largest Unitarian Universalist congregations in the country, our history lives on today. We remain a progressive oasis in Dallas; a harbor for lost and wandering people without a compass for their religious natures; a place to read, discuss and move against tyrannies of the mind, heart and body; a treasure of wisdom and strength for our children; a community within which to weather the difficult times and celebrate the joyous times of life; and a voice of reason and challenge in an increasingly conservative religious landscape.”
Hey you, over there, even you are welcome here!
“Whatever the faiths you have known or the flags of your heritage, you are welcome here. Whoever you are and whomever you love, you are welcome here. Whether you ran in here today on little feet, or walked briskly, or ambled in, or rolled in, you are welcome here.”
(UUCEP Worship Associate Script)
Above are some of the first words you will hear when attending a Sunday Service at the UU Community of El Paso. They are truly heartfelt by those among us.
Ours is a faith of acceptance and each one of these words can be taken in the most literal sense. Whomever you are, no matter your background, you are welcome without regard to race, class, national origin, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity/expression.
Unfortunately, many are in search of our faith without realizing it even exists! If you would like a more liberal, educational, and accepting faith environment, visit a UU community this Sunday. If you’re unsure where your beliefs lie, a great way to get help is to take the “Belief-O-Matic” quiz at Belief Net: http://www.beliefnet.com/Entertainment/Quizzes/BeliefOMatic.aspx It is a truly fun and enlightening quiz that can both affirm your chosen faith, or show you a new path to spiritual exploration.
As a creedless faith, UU’s rely on the support and acceptance by our members of our 7 Principles:
Our 7 Principles
1. The inherent worth and dignity of every person
2. Justice, equity, and compassion in human relations
3. Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations
4. A free and responsible search for truth and meaning
5. The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large
6. The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all
7. Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part of
As I go on my 2013 pilgrimage, I hope to bring the meanings of these words to heart and to share. It’s simple to list words as they come–simple to list the principles. But what I hope to convey is the emotion behind the words and more importantly, the belonging to the words that come with our faith.
To learn more about Unitarian Universalism, or to find a community near you, please visit: www.uua.org or click on the chalice in the right-hand column of my blog. If you are unable or unwilling to attend a physical location, you can explore UU’ism through the Church of the Larger Fellowship: http://www.questformeaning.org/
For more information on the UU Community of El Paso, visit: www.uuelpaso.org