Archive | August 2013

Campfire

 

Anyone bring marshmallows?

How many of you have ever been camping?

I went camping every summer as a kid.  It was the only kind of vacation my family could afford.  Don’t feel sorry for me, though, because we spent two weeks every July in Yosemite Valley.  Those massive granite cliffs, the pine trees, and the green waters of the Merced of that sacred valley are sacred to me.  John Muir referred to the Sierra Nevada’s as a “Blessed Ring of Light.”

We also took our own three children camping every year while they were growing up.  We went to Yosemite of course, but also Zion, Yellowstone, the Canadian Rockies, Cape Cod, the Black Hills of South Dakota, and a lot of other national and state parks.

One of my favorite things was to build a campfire.  The kids always fought over who could start it, but as often as I could I did it myself.  We’d sit around the fire, maybe roast marshmallows, and sing a few songs.  I actually sing a better now than I did then, if you can believe it, but we sang anyway.  Puff the Magic Dragon was one of our favorites.

Mornings were the best campfires though.  I’d try and get up at least an hour before Anne and the kids woke up.  I start to Coleman first to heat water for coffee and then I would build a fire.

We humans have a fascination with fire.  It can be dangerous.  We have only to smell the air today to remember how devastating forest fires can be.  Fire can burn.  Fires can kill.  But they also provide warmth, heat, light, and security by keeping at least some dangerous animals away.

Staring into the flames of a campfire sparks the imagination.  So many of our sacred stories were created around campfires.  Almost all scripture existed in an oral tradition before it was written down.  Wandering tribes shared their stories when they met and shared a fire.  As they continued their travels, they repeated those stories as well as they could remember them.  The stories grew, were embellished, things that made no sense were forgotten.  We know this happened because when the written records were eventually created there were variations.  There are two creation stories in the Bible and a somewhat different one in the Quran.  There are at least four versions of the resurrection story in the New Testament, and a fifth is in the Quran.

Campfires.  Mystery.  It is where we come from.

Every week we light our chalice.  We also light it when we gather in smaller groups, in classes, in meetings, and even at some social occasions. Other Unitarian Universalist congregations around the world also light chalices.

Where our flaming chalice came from is not a mystery, however.  It is fairly recent and well documented.  Much of what I will share with you comes from our national website, uua.org.

“The chalice and the flame were brought together as a Unitarian symbol by an Austrian artist, Hans Deutsch, in 1941. Living in Paris during the 1930s, Deutsch drew critical cartoons of Adolf Hitler. When the Nazis invaded Paris in 1940, he abandoned all he had and fled … into Portugal.

There, he met the Reverend Charles Joy, executive director of the Unitarian Service Committee (USC). The Service Committee was new, founded in Boston to assist Eastern Europeans, among them Unitarians as well as Jews, who needed to escape Nazi persecution. From his Lisbon headquarters, Joy oversaw a secret network of couriers and agents.

Deutsch was most impressed and soon was working for the USC. He later wrote to Joy:

There is something that urges me to tell you… how much I admire your utter self denial [and] readiness to serve, to sacrifice all, your time, your health, your well being, to help, help, help.

I am not what you may actually call a believer. But if your kind of life is the profession of your faith—as it is, I feel sure—then religion, ceasing to be magic and mysticism, becomes confession to practical philosophy and—what is more—to active, really useful social work. And this religion—with or without a heading—is one to which even a ‘godless’ fellow like myself can say wholeheartedly, Yes!”

Sound familiar, anyone?  What this faith inspires people to do, has always been the most important thing.  It is the energy of action.

“The USC was an unknown organization in 1941. This was a special handicap in the cloak-and-dagger world, where establishing trust quickly across barriers of language, nationality, and faith could mean life instead of death. Disguises, signs and countersigns, and midnight runs across guarded borders were the means of freedom in those days. Joy asked Deutsch to create a symbol for their papers “to make them look official, to give dignity and importance to them, and at the same time to symbolize the spirit of our work…. When a document may keep a man out of jail, give him standing with governments and police, it is important that it look important.”

Thus, Hans Deutsch made his lasting contribution to … Unitarian Universalism. With pencil and ink he drew a chalice with a flame. It was, Joy wrote his board in Boston,

“a chalice with a flame, the kind of chalice which the Greeks and Romans put on their altars. The holy oil burning in it is a symbol of helpfulness and sacrifice…. This was in the mind of the artist. The fact, however, that it remotely suggests a cross was not in his mind, but to me this also has its merit. We do not limit our work to Christians. Indeed, at the present moment, our work is nine-tenths for the Jews, yet we do stem from the Christian tradition, and the cross does symbolize Christianity and its central theme of sacrificial love.”

That was back in the day when both the Unitarians and Universalist were largely Christian.  Today we are no longer exclusively Christian – or pagan, or humanist.

“When Deutsch designed the flaming chalice, he had never seen a Unitarian or Universalist church or heard a sermon. What he had seen was faith in action—people who were willing to risk all for others in a time of urgent need.”

Two people who were doing that during WWII were

Martha and Waitstill Sharp. Let me tell you their story.

“In September of 1938, the Munich Pact ceded the the border regions of Czechoslovakia, to the Nazis in exchange for a promise of peace. The flow of refugees to Prague’s Unitarian church increased as Jews, political dissidents, intellectuals, and others targeted by the Nazis fled following the Nazi annexation. The American Unitarian Association asked Rev. Waitstill Sharp to visit Czechoslovakia and coordinate relief work there. The Sharps left for Europe in February 1939. When they accepted that mission they did not know what lay ahead.

At first, the Sharps’ work in Prague included setting up a network of volunteers to obtain visas, passage, education, and employment for refugees. However, the situation for refugees rapidly deteriorated. When it became clear that the Nazis were approaching, the Sharps, instead of returning home, burned their records and vowed to continue their work. The following day, the Nazis marched into Prague.

That same day, Martha guided a top resistance leader to asylum at the British embassy.

 

 

Stopped by Nazi guards three times, Martha used her American passport to get both of them safely through each checkpoint. A few days later, Waitstill arranged for a member of the Czech parliament to be smuggled from a hospital morgue in a body bag.

The Gestapo would not allow the work of people like the Sharps to continue. In July their office was closed and the furniture thrown into the street. Still they stayed on in Prague. In August, Waitstill attended a conference in Switzerland and was not allowed to re-enter occupied Czechoslovakia. Under threat of imminent arrest by the Gestapo, Martha fled Prague alone. The Sharps reunited in Paris, and sailed for home.

In May of 1940, Frederick May Eliot, president of the American Unitarian association, asked the Sharps to return to Europe as representatives of the newly formed Unitarian Service Committee (USC). With much of Europe now under Nazi occupation they worked from Marseilles in Free France and in Lisbon, Portugal.

Among those helped were Nobel laureate physicist Otto Meyerhof and writers Heinrich Mann, Franz Werfel, and Lion Feuchtwanger. Smuggling Feuchtwanger out of Europe posed particular problems as he was on the Nazi’s “most wanted” list. Dressed as a French peasant woman, Martha accompanied Feuchtwanger by train from Marseilles to the Spanish border where she distracted the guards so they would not discover him. When no extra tickets were available, Martha gave up her own ticket so that Feuchtwanger and his wife could sail to New York.

But not all of those the Sharps helped were famous. Martha worked tirelessly to find ways to break through the anti-Semitic United States immigration bureaucracy to allow Jewish children to come to the United States. In 1940, Marianne Scheckler was 12 years old, one of triplet sisters who had fled Vienna with their parents just steps ahead of the Nazis. Now a resident of Laguna Hills, California, Marianne Scheckler-Feder still remembers that day and Martha Sharp: “I remember a figure. She was a very, very elegant lady. Kind of serious and very concerned. You looked up to her… What she did for us was outstanding. It will never be forgotten.”

“What Martha Sharp did, she did for many, but she did not do it alone. The Sharps worked with others from the Unitarian Service Committee and other agencies. One of their closest associates was Varian Fry from the Emergency Rescue Committee. Varian Fry was the first American to be honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem (“Hand of God,” the state Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority) as one of the Righteous Among the Nations, a list that includes Oskar Schindler, made famous by the movie Schindler’s List. Martha and Waitstill Sharp are the second and third Americans so honored.”

“More importantly, their work is recognized by more than 2,000 adults and children that the Unitarian Service Committee helped rescue from Nazi persecution.”

(From Jackie Clement Alison Cornish- Tapestry of Faith as amended uua.org)

 

That story moves me.  It moves me greatly.  Think of it sometimes as we light our chalice in worship.  It is where we come from.  It is also where we are going as we continue, in this faith, to stand on the side of love.

Amen and nameste.

 

 

 

 

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Egypt Again

Can we rebuild the broken hearts

The shattered dreams

Bodies torn by bombs

Will the elders rest in peace

The children learn to play

Parents laugh again

 

Where is the promised land

Struggling to be born

Where Christians Muslims Jews

Pagans atheists and Sikhs

Pray and work

Live and play

Together in the sun

 

Freedom is so fragile

Faith a faint whisper in the night

As burning churches

Mosques and towns

Line the mighty Nile

 

Give pause my friends

A blessing waits

War is not the way

Tend the crops

And feed the babes

Build a pyramid of peace.

That is my prayer for you

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Utah to Become a Russian State

So Utah stands firm in refusing to recognize my marriage.

http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/56729640-78/utah-state-marriage-amendment.html.csp?utm_source=twitterfeed

A driver’s license from CA is perfectly good here.

So are permits to carry concealed weapons.

First cousins who marry in states where it is legal to do so don’t become single when they move here.  Oh, maybe that IS legal here.

“first cousins can marry if both are over 65, or, if both parties are over 55, if the court finds that they are unable to reproduce.”

Just saying, but “Hell hath no fury like a woman whose marriage is scorned.”

Of course you could decide to secede.  I know you are thinking about it, what with all the hoopla about federal lands.  Why not mine your part of the Grand Canyon?  Arizona won’t mind.  We could maybe get money for the public schools that you want to abolish.

If you do manage to secede from the  US  (its been tried before) and if you don’t want to go it alone, Russia might welcome you in.  Or Uganda.

Just saying, but you are known by the company you keep.

Oh, and forget about ever getting the Olympics back.

Rage. – a poem

Rage

My rage it is building

It will not be contained

I must fight for my life

My love and my dream

Shall I burn

Down your temples

And set fire to your lies?

Shall I spit

In your faces

And call you to pay?

For your crimes

Against freedom

For the people who’ve died?

Ah, but

God is my witness

I can do none of those things

I will love

You instead

With pain and through tears

My fury will fuel

The new dawning day

Justice and mercy

Will rain down on us all.

 

Why I wrote this

Cosmic Dance

The little chicken

Was wrong

The sky is not falling.

The earth is

Falling through

A huge Universe

Spinning around

In a cosmic dance

Chickens do not

Study astronomy

 

The ancient peoples

Were also wrong

As they sat

Around campfires

Spinning tales

Making guesses

About God

They made a God

In their own image

They did not

Study theology

Or science

 

The breath of God

Blows through

The universe

It doesn’t help

To study

 

Just listen

To the music

The laughter

And the love

The cosmic dance

Is calling you.

Rise to your feet

And join hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Working on the Wedding

The plans are shaping up.  We have rented a space to hold the wedding: the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in California that we belonged to before I became a minister.    We have a wonderful officiate that has know us for 26 years.  Our rings have been ordered.   We’ve got a idea for a band, one of our daughter’s friends.  Some of the invitations are out via Evite.  Who has the mailing addresses of their friends and family anymore?  Even email addresses tend to be out of date.  We sent facebook messages to get email addresses.

Crazy.

Not as crazy as being legally married for one month and in the midst of planning a wedding,  both  after more than 38 years of being in a committed relationship.

We also set up a fundraising site so that donations can be made to Equality Utah in our name.  We’d really like our marriage to be legal here too.

If you feel so moved, you can donate here.  http://www.gofundme.com/3wiluw

 

Sunday Twitter Feed #uuogden 8/11/13

  1. We do have have fun with twitter!  Read from the bottom up and feel free to check out #uuogden on twitter every Sunday for tweets about the service,  You can read the sermon here.
    1. The 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism. A LOT better than the Mormon 13 Articles of Faith. #UUOgden pic.twitter.com/8S1Kdr0lGu

  1. The 7 Principles of Unitarian Universalism. A LOT better than the Mormon 13 Articles of Faith. #UUOgden pic.twitter.com/8S1Kdr0lGu
  2. Closing hymn “Let it Be A Dance”. Cha cha cha! #uuogden
  3. “Love is the most powerful force in the universe.” ~ Rev. Theresa Novak #GodIsLove #UUOgden

     

  4. Song lyrics by Bob Dylan, Elvis and Huey Lewis in today’s sermon at #UUOgden #StuckOnYou

     

  5. The love that lives here cannot be contained. #uuogden pic.twitter.com/rbs5OCr8st
  6. The love that lives here is not contained within these walls. It is bigger than that. It is stuck in you. #uuogden
  7. @TheresaNovakUU It is ok to take what you need from our community, but don’t leave the rest if us behind. #uuogden
  8. “Go beyond yourself. Don’t just get stuck on you.” ~ Rev. Novak #UUOgden

    Favorited by David Winmill

  9. UU Ogden is sort of a health club. A spiritual health club. Are you getting your money’s worth? #uuogden
  10. Peace be unto you. #UUOgden pic.twitter.com/RtBfba0n4I
  11. Let us love the world through heart and mind and body. (K. Patton) #uuogden pic.twitter.com/dDgZy7H6CC
  12. @dwinmill: Freedom of religion dies not give you freedom from religion but freedom for religion. Rev Scott Alexander #uuogden
  13. @TheresaNovakUU prayers of the people. Comfort and peace in our church , our community and the world. #uuogden
  14. @dwinmill: The Singing Bowl sounded. Worship begins.#uuogden

  15. Our Whole Lives human sexuality course for (for 6th to 9th grade) theme this year is Just Say Know. Love it! #uuogden
  16. Are YOU judged by what YOU wear to church? Maybe it’s time to reevaluate where you go to church. #UUOgden pic.twitter.com/TDJYN8bTxN
  17. Home again. #uuogden pic.twitter.com/qJq56Zt4wN
  18. @TheresaNovakUU Hmmm. Sermon today Stuck on You. Can’t wait to see where Rev. Novak takes this. #uuogden

Stuck on You

Maybe I misspelled the title in today’s order of service and maybe not.  It could be the way it is spelled or it could be the letter “U” instead.  Maybe I left out a letter. Stuck on “UU,” as in Unitarian Universalism, has a nice ring to it. I remember Bill Hackett telling me about speaking before this congregation years ago, and saying that his joining this church was all about you and you and you.

It is a fun “play on words,” but is also a serious subject.  What is church about?  Why are you here?  Is it about you?  What does that mean?

It is the same question implicit in another of our acronyms, YRUU.  Young Religious Unitarian Universalists, our youth group.   It causes a giggle because it can be said, “why are you, “you”?

Some people shop for churches the way they shop for health clubs.  Maybe that makes some sense; we are at least in part, a “spiritual health club.”  Attending regularly, getting involved in our church community, tending to your own spiritual growth is as good for you as regular exercise.  But it is better if congregants don’t think of themselves as consumers, wondering if belonging to a church is worth their while.

 

Are you getting your money’s worth here?  What is your return on your investment of time and resources?

What is the quality of the coffee served?   Is the sound system fabulous? Are the pews comfortable?  Are the bathrooms spotless? Is it too hot or too cold?  Is the preacher entertaining enough?

 

All of those things can matter to a visitor or a casual attendee, and we need to pay attention to things that might cause someone to be reluctant to join us.  But if you are “stuck” on UU, then like in our reading this morning, you become, “intoxicated” by having a free and authentic faith.  You cannot help but live it.  You stick around when things get hard and even if they get boring or too hot.

Unitarian Universalism is about you, about what you believe and who you are.  We want you to explore the deep questions here.  Your answers may change over time, but they are ones that belong to you as an individual.  We have common principles and values.  We have expectations for how you relate to this community and to the wider world, but your beliefs are your own.

Some people get stuck on the “you” part, and think that church should all be about them: what they need and what they like.  It is important to remember that there are a lot of us here and that we all have different needs and different preferences.  Hopefully at least part of our worship services will speak to everyone who comes through our doors, but it is highly unlikely that everyone will like everything we do each and every week.

Some people come to church simply for the community.

They come to make friends and to have social contact with a group of people that strives to stay open minded.  That’s OK.  Churches serve that purpose, just as we try and help our members in times of trouble.

We visit people in the hospital and take meals to people when they are injured or ill.  We provide comfort to each other in times of grief and in times of despair.  When you have been held in that way, or when you have held others, the church community becomes a home for you.  Not quite a family home, because families tend to be closed systems, but instead a home where all that might wish to come are welcomed inside.

I hope you feel welcome here.  I hope you appreciate what a special place this is.  I hope this church is providing what you want and need from a religious community.

But I also hope you go beyond yourself.  Don’t just get stuck on you.  For every pain and fear you have ever felt in your own life, remember that others have suffered too.  Take what you need, but don’t leave the rest of us behind.

What Bill said was, that for him it was about you, and you and you, and you too.  You may not have been attending then, but it still about you.  It is about us, the big we with a capital “W”.  When the members of the church do something for one of our members or in the wider community, if they are “stuck on UU,” then whatever they are doing is, in some senses, in our collective name.

 

Evelyn Bertilson with her activism of behalf of the public libraries, our many volunteers at Outreach, our environmental activists, all of you represent this church so very well because you quite simply are living our values.  You are UU to the core.  It shows in what you do.

It isn’t always easy living our values in the world.  Of course we make mistakes.  We are human.  But there is something very special that keeps us strong.

 

When I was thinking about what I would say today, I listened to a couple of the old songs.

 

One by Bob Dylan:

“Clowns to the left of me!

Jokers to the right!

Here I am stuck in the middle with you.”

It isn’t such a bad place to be, stuck here with you and you and you.

Elvis Presley, the King, sang

“You can shake an apple off an apple tree

Shake, shake sugar

But you’ll never shake me

Uh uh uh no sir-ee, uh, uh

I’m gonna stick like glue

Stick because I’m stuck on you”

 

Another song, done by Huey Lewis and News:

Yes, it’s true, (yes it’s true) I am happy to be stuck with you

Yes, it’s true, (yes it’s true) I’m so happy to be stuck with you

‘Cause I can see, (I can see) that you’re happy to be stuck with me

 

Do you think it is funny to be quoting love songs about church?  I don’t.  I am stuck on you.  I hope you are stuck on you too; because it is about love here.  Standing on the side of love, letting love guide us, listening to all the sighs and prayers, worshipping with our eyes, our ears, and our fingertips, bringing our whole selves here, and dedicating our lives to a future where there is more love in the world.

 

That love lives here, but is not contained here because it is bigger than these walls could ever hold, that love embraces each of you.  It dances around with you and you and you in every moment of your life.

 

It is stuck on you.  It will not let you go.  Once you let it in, once you let it, that love will guide your life, it will show you where and how to go.  It will lead you to the green pastures that the Scriptures speak of.  It will make your enemies into friends, or at least people for whom you can feel some compassion.  It will be with you in the dark and scary times.

 

Ah, love!

 

It’s why I come to church.  I want to feel the love and the power it has to change the world.

 

The Rev. Joanna Fontaine Crawford says that liberal churches don’t need to worry so about other faith traditions.  Our “competition is the cheap brunch and Sunday morning shows and THE HARDEST COMPETITOR…. SLEEP.”

 

“Why is your church better than sleep?” She asks.

 

Sleep is good.  None of us ever seem to get enough of it.  I know I don’t.  But you come to church anyway, don’t you?  You did this morning anyway.  I haven’t seen anyone sleeping in any of the back pews today.  Some of our elders nod off sometimes, but they are entiltled.

 

I think people are drawn to a church when they find a faith and a community that makes them feel more alive. One that gives their life some more meaning than they might find in it otherwise.

 

The Spirit lives in community, not in isolation.  We come together to be reminded of who we are and of how much power we have together to make a difference.  We get some comfort for our hurts, a dose of hope for our souls, maybe a flash of insight or understanding, and most of all a sense that love really is the most powerful force in the universe.

 

Let that love in.  Get stuck on it.  Take it out into the world.  Amen and Nameste.

 

Bigots/Religious Freedom – Not

As a minister in a faith tradition that practically invented religious freedom, I really hate it when bigots use religious freedom as an excuse for their bigotry.

I read the article below today and got irritated again.  It doesn’t take too much these days.

http://dailycaller.com/2013/08/07/overstock-com-exec-launches-effort-to-defend-religious-liberty/

Back in Utah, I am tired of my recent legal marriage in California not being recognized here.

The anti-marriage equality folks seem to be falling all over themselves trying to pretend their main concern is protecting religious liberty.  Give me a break!  What about the religious freedom of churches  and clergy who believe in marriage equality and have for a long time?   Unitarian Universalist ministers, myself included, have officiated at same gender weddings ceremonies that are exactly the same as those we have done for opposite gender couples. The only difference has been that some of those marriages were not recognized by the state or the federal government.

Why is civil marriage a religious concern anyway?   Why are clergy even authorized to sign legal documents for the state?  Whatever happened to the separation of church and state?

From the article:

“In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, Jonathan Johnson, Executive Vice Chairman of Overstock.com, grew worried. While he liked the federalist arguments he heard, he worried about the equal protection arguments. At some point,” he remembers thinking, “equal protection and free exercise of religion are going to run into each other. This makes sense. What happens, for example, when a same sex couple comes to an Orthodox rabbi, asking to be married in a synagogue?”

That last question is beyond absurd.  What would happen if a Hindu couple asks to be married in a synagogue?  It would depend on the synagogue’s rental policy I suppose, but they could certainly say, “We only do Jewish weddings here.”

Different faith traditions have a LOT of different rules for who they will and will not marry.  Catholics can’t be divorced and marry in the church.  Interfaith couples will often seek out a Unitarian Universalist minister to marry them because  their own clergy won’t unless one of them converts.  Some clergy require extensive premarital counseling.  Some clergy (FLDS for example) will marry several young girls to one old man.

As a minister, I can refuse to officiate at any marriage that violates my ethical or religious beliefs.  For example, if I believed a couple was in an abusive relationship, I would refuse to marry them.  They could not sue me, even if I was wrong about the nature of their relationship.  If I wanted to, I could also refuse to marry a couple because they both had blue eyes and I believed that more  genetic diversity is important for couples planning to have children.  Even for a dumb reason like that, they couldn’t sue me.

Yuck.  These arguments aren’t about religious freedom; they are about bigotry.

Trust me, every couple wants to be married by someone who will bless their union with an open and willing heart.  They might complain about the difficulty ordering a cake or flowers when they run into bias there, but they definitely aren’t going to ask a hostile clergy person to have a major role in their special day.

Pat Robinson and the Westboro Baptist Church are not on anyone’s list for who they want for their  gay wedding.

Mazel tov.

Railroad

How narrow is the gauge

Of the tracks you’re riding on?

How steep the grade

How long the journey?

Are you the engineer

Opening the throttle?

Shall you drive

The bullet train?

Maybe ride instead

The lone caboose

With a view of where

You’ve been?

If you take the sleeper car

You’ll be surprised

At the journey’s end

 

I think I can

I think we can

Leave the tracks behind

Forge a path

Among the trees

Stand silent by a stream

The highway gleams

The whistle blows

The river winds its way

Beneath it all

The earth still turns

Among the stars

Riding the rails of grace

Through the universe