As has become a tradition, two Sunday sermons this coming August will be chosen from among those preached at Cedars at least a year earlier by Revs. Barbara and Jaco ten Hove.
Your vote will help decide which ones get a second life this summer (on Aug. 4 and 25). Ballots with selected sermon alternatives will be inserted in the Order of Service on two Sundays, June 2 and 9.
Comin’ on winter, it is—often an introspective time, when we earthlings reflect the planet’s call to hunker down through the darker days, literally and metaphorically; when the web of creation moves more internally; when the invasive vines of our own soil maybe go dormant, too, and allow us to dig a bit inward. This is as it should be: our natures in harmony with Nature. “Wake, Now, My Senses,” even as the earth’s call is to slow down.
So I chose Awareness as an overall theme for this sermon heading into winter. But “Slouching Toward Awareness” may or may not ring any bells for you, referencing, as it does, a William Butler Yeats poem that has been formative for some of us, at least by giving lesser poets a way to work into our titles that evocatively docile word: slouch.
Like many people, Yeats was in a fiercely reflective mood after the horrors of World War I, when he crafted his poem called, “The Second Coming,” which I take to be a reality check for Christians, and meaningful to others as well. It’s always risky to excerpt from a poem, but here’s my dangerous attempt to pull out just eight lines:
- Turning and turning in the widening gyre…
- Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
- Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…
- The best lack all conviction, while the worst
- Are full of passionate intensity.
- Surely some revelation is at hand;
- …And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
- Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Today marks for us the beginning of the Holiday Season, so we acknowledge the importance compassion plays during this time of year and in the many religions of the world. Though at times it seems as if religion is used as a club to hurt those who are different, if you dig just a bit, you discover that compassion is at the heart of all major religions. As an example, let me call you into worship with a wonderful story from the Jewish Hasidic tradition. (Scholars have discovered versions of it throughout the religious world.)
- A Rabbi had a conversation with God about Heaven and Hell. “I will show you Hell,” said God and pointed to a table. The people sitting at it were starving and desperate. In the middle of the table there was a large pot of delicious stew. The people round the table were holding spoons with very long handles. They found that it was possible to reach the pot to take a spoonful of the stew, but because the handle of the spoon was too long, they could not get the food back into their mouths. The Rabbi saw that their suffering was terrible.
- “Now I will show you Heaven,” said God, and they went into another room, exactly the same as the first. There was the same table and the same pot of stew. The people, as before, were equipped with the same long-handled spoons—but here they were well nourished,laughing and talking. At first the Rabbi could not understand. “It is simple,” said God. “You see, they have learned to feed each other.”
Storytellers, Saints and Scoundrels: Folk Narrative in Hindu Religious Teaching
- , adapted by Kirin Narayan)
May I, may you, may we—may all of us be filled with loving-kindness. What a wonderful wish, what a powerful prayer! Wouldn’t it be marvelous if around the world religious people of all kinds sang this song and meant it? How different things would be if humans blessed the world with love and compassion instead of teaching hatred as a religious value!
Continue reading The Universal Spirit of Compassion
Page references from Healing the Heart of Democracy (by Parker Palmer, 2011, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco)
“Building Bridges,” #1023 in Singing the Journey:
Building bridges between our divisions, I reach out to you, will you reach out to me? With all of our voices, and all of our visions, friends, we could make such sweet harmony.
Certainly one of the most momentous times of division in our land was the Civil War between the States, which began its four-year swath of ruin in April 1861. Any “sweet harmony” in the still formative and supposedly United States seemed swept away by voices of dissension and warmongering. Would the Union and its ambitious democracy even survive? It is perhaps hard for us today to imagine the anxiety and discord that swirled so dangerously at that time.
In early March of 1861, just weeks ahead of the opening attack on Fort Sumter, newly elected President Abraham Lincoln made his first inaugural address, as sabers rattled. The closing paragraph of his speech, offered in the face of such deep-seated division, has resonated across the chambers of time and speaks to us still during yet another extremely divisive election season that has many of us dispirited and worried. Listen to Lincoln’s message, spoken as Civil War was imminent:
We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battle-field, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature (27).
“(T)he chorus of the Union” will again be “touched…by the better angels of our nature.” This could seem like overly idealistic, unrealistic talk, given what was unfolding. But Lincoln was on to something important, and stayed true to his notions throughout the bitterly destructive war, despite public opinion often against him.
The author of our reading this morning, Jim Wallis, calls himself a “public theologian” and has been known to speak at upwards of 200 events a year, addressing “the crossroads of religion and politics in America.” He is a progressive evangelical Christian, founder of Sojourners, a nationwide network of similarly optimistic religious folks “working for justice and peace.” One of his more recent books gives evidence to his approach. It’s perhaps wishfully titled: “The Great Awakening: Reviving Faith & Politics in a Post–Religious Right America.” (Would that we were in a “Post–Religious Right America”!)
But Wallis’s earlier book, God’s Politics, which was mentioned in the lead article of one of our UU World magazines (“The Religious Left“) and is the initial focus of my talk this morning, also has a catchy subtitle: “Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It.” It’s a rambling treatise that nonetheless contributes a lot to this public discussion, especially as an important qualifier to the Religious Right.
Continue reading The Answer to Bad Religion
Just so there’s no confusion, if you were to search the internet for references to the term “BothAndia,” you would find mention of it almost entirely in works associated with me, so I have to be accountable for whatever fallout there is from this invented expression. It has become one of my favorite words, along with “inexorable” (which means steady, unstoppable)—and today I get to use them both in the same sermon title!
I find BothAndia to be a very handy and expressive tool, especially as an adjective — “bothandian.” But more than that, it helps me highlight an important, maybe even essential liberal religious value: inclusion. And I will draw your attention momentarily to some early Eastern European roots of the Unitarian side of our religion, by profiling two pivotal moments that are decidedly “bothandian.”
I believe the arc of the universe is leading us—slowly, perhaps, but inexorably — toward BothAndia, an idealized state of being, where “both/and” solutions to apparently oppositional dilemmas are eagerly sought, found and utilized to strengthen the common
good. This inclusive vision is in contrast to reliance on more closed and often absolutist “either/or” responses to life’s challenges.
My hope is that after I do this here, any of you will be at least a little bit better able to explain what we stand for and why our heritage matters, both then and now. To be able to adequately speak up for our religious perspective in the current national climate is a challenge I hope none of you will shy away from, since we are the latest generation of both caretakers and innovators of a “freedom that (both) reveres the past (and) trusts the dawning future (even) more” (from Hymn #145, “As Tranquil Streams”).
In any community and on any individual path there will be struggles, adversity, trials of one sort or another. Such is life. The strengths we muster to face any challenge come from deep within us. When pushed, our individual hearts and the heart of a community often draw from the resources that we have collected, the inspirations that guide us, during times easy and hard.
Resilience would seem to be a valuable quality—spiritual or otherwise—to bring to the fore, certainly when challenge knocks us for a loop, but also as a healthy, proactive part of one’s life. I agree with Gigi Leach, that stasis or merely recovering from adversity is not progress. I’m convinced that using a lens of resilience can help us strengthen both our individual and collective paths forward, especially if, as seems likely, the 21st century will continue to throw the weight of the world at us in ways that we don’t expect—or at least don’t want to expect.
Christmas approaches once again and I am not the least bit tired of it. My house is brightly aglitter, my CD player is all-Christmas-all-the-time, and I’ve been reading Christmas stories and watching Christmas specials with joy. For here’s my secret: I love Christmas. Yes, I do. I love everything about it (except for fruitcake and newspaper ads).
Today, as we worship together in this Unitarian Universalist congregation, a place where skeptics and holiday humbugs are most welcome, I invite you to open your hearts to Christmas, if only for a moment. There’s a lot to love about this crazy season and I hope to give you some of my reasons why.
Death is ultimately about balance. It is the dark other side of life. It is a mystery that generations of humans have sought to understand. It happens to us all, yet it is something most of us deny, even to the very moment it takes us.
I am afraid to die. There, I’ve said it. But I don’t say it easily. I’m a minister. I’m supposed to know how to face death. I have dealt with death often. I have seen it come unwilling and unasked for like a villain, and I have seen it come as a welcome friend. But I have only seen death come to others. I can’t be a witness at my own deathbed. I must leave that job to others.
- Meaning Writ Large, Part 2: Power Theology, given by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove on February 1, 2009 (PDF)
- More Than the Sum of Our Wants, given by Rev. Dr. Barbara W. ten Hove on February 8, 2009 (PDF)
- Premises and Promises, given by Rev. Dr. Barbara W. ten Hove and Rollene Wells on March 15, 2009 (PDF)
- Our Living Tradition: A Tribute to Forest Church, given by Rev. Dr. Barbara W. ten Hove on September 27, 2009 (PDF)
- The Spiritual Formation of the US Constitution, Part 1, given by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove on October 4, 2009 (PDF)
- The Spiritual Formation of the US Constitution, Part 2, given by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove on October 18, 2009 (PDF)
- Wounded Words, given by Rev. Dr. Barbara W. ten Hove on October 25, 2009 (PDF)
- The Heart of Universalism, given by Rev. Dr. Barbara W. ten Hove on February 21, 2010. This sermon won the 2010 Universalist Heritage Sermon Award. (PDF)
- A Natural Step for Earthlings, given by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove on April 25, 2010 (PDF)
- The Perplexing Paradox of Progress, given by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove on August 8, 2010 (PDF)
- Into the Garden (about paradise), given by Rev. Dr. Barbara W. ten Hove on November 14, 2010 (PDF)
- Quantum Theology, Part 1: Rocks Ain’t What They Used to Be, given by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove on January 9. 2011 (PDF)
- God is Not God’s Name, given by Rev. Dr. Barbara W. ten Hove, February 20, 2011 (PDF)
- Atheism is Always Right and Always Wrong, given by Rev, Jaco B. ten Hove on February 27, 2011 (PDF)
- Quantum Theology, Part 2: A Biodiversity of Spirit, given by Rev. Jaco B. ten Hove on May 1. 2011 (PDF)