Service Times

10:00 AM


Church Calendar

A Welcoming Congregation


Standing on the Side of Love


Password Protected Directory


Volunteer Involvement Form

Birth Pangs – 12/24/2011

The Christmas story – the angels, the shepherds, the manger – should be familiar enough to most of us that we know it by rote. That story talks about things happening before Jesus is born, and things happening after, but it doesn’t have much to say about the birth itself. There are other stories, though, that fill in that gap. Read More >>

Barn Hospitality – 12/18/2011

When Wilbur came to Zuckerman’s farm, it was a difficult adjustment. From the time that he was born he had been raised by a young human girl named Fern, and she had treated him as something between a baby and a pet. Sold to Homer Zuckerman, Wilbur found himself in a new world, leading a new life with very different rules. Life in the barn was harsh and uncomfortable for a pig who was used to having a warm, soft place to sleep. But most of all, without Fern as his constant companion, Wilbur was lonely. That was until the day when a tiny little spider called out to him from the barn rafters: “Salutations!”

There would be no story to E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web without the kindness and hospitality of barnyard animals. And it is a theme shared in common with the Christmas story, as the Gospel according to Luke seems to describe Mary, Joseph and their newborn spending the night in a place normally reserved for livestock. No animals are mentioned in that version of the story, but for hundreds of years it has been common depict creatures of every sort in nativity scenes, including our own.

St. Francis of Assisi, who was famous for his love of animals as spiritual beings, is sometimes credited with popularizing the presence of live animals in Christmas pageants. In major annual productions put on by any number of European cities, you might find live camels or even elephants to help make the setting of the story seem exotic and foreign, and to increase the impressive and expensive nature of the display. But the first direct reference to specific animals in the company of Mary and her family comes from the Infancy Gospel of Matthew, a book written centuries after the more popular Gospels, to try to fill in some gaps in their accounts. In it, the author describes the infant Jesus being set down between an ox and a donkey. The two large animals, rather than ignoring the child or endangering him with their heavy bodies, immediately show signs of love for him, and look after the child with care and adoration.

If we are to learn anything at all from this small episode in this otherwise very familiar story, we must consider the place of a donkey and an ox. It is much the same today as it would have been two thousand years ago. To be a non-human animal, a work animal, is to be a thing devoid of rights. Powerless in a way that many of us humans would struggle to imagine. But in the moment when Mary lays her child between a donkey and an ox, so much power lies with them. Ignore for the moment the physical risk, however great it

Great my disappointing love find. This sildenafil citrate 100mg nails endurance $15.

is. Imagine being the parents of a newborn – some of us do not need to imagine very hard here – all either of these two creatures has to do is bray or low, or make any other sort of sudden noise, and Mary and Joseph will have a wailing little son keeping them awake again. The sleepless nights spent caring for a newborn Jesus are a subject sorely neglected by all of the Gospel writers.

But none of that happens. Instead, the ox and the donkey, these two creatures that live at the mercy of human beings to be used by them for work or for food, they both turn with kindness towards the little one between them. They welcome him in, and show him love. No matter what we have or do not have, no matter the wealth or the power that we possess or do not possess, the opportunity to practice love persists.

Near the end of the novel, after his life has been nearly lost and then saved by Charlotte the spider, Wilbur asks her why she has done all that she has for him. She answers, “By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.” May each of us seize every opportunity we can to lift up our own lives a trifle by helping those we can. And when we are in need of help ourselves, may it come to us from the corner of the rafters where we least expect it.

The Hills are Clothed with Joy – 12/11/2011

Jumping up and down, up and down, up and down. Falling over and rolling around and jumping back up again. Colliding with the brightly-colored vinyl of the wall and the floor and smiling and giggling all the way. This was me and my three-year-old, recently, as we played together inside of one of those big inflatable houses you see at country fairs and the like. Read More >>

What It’s Really About

Listen; I want to tell you a little story: It’s about Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a prominent American Rabbi during the second half of the 20th century. But really, it’s not about him at all. You see, in the last years of his work, the rabbi spent hours and hours receiving visitors at his office in Brooklyn, NY. Thousands of people came to see him just in his last few years, so there wasn’t a lot of time for each visitor. There were so many that they had to file by his door in a line, but the Rabbi still took the time to greet each one, and he would answer a question, or say a prayer, or offer a blessing for them.

Rabbi Schneerson also gave a gift to each visitor: a single dollar bill. The rabbi’s dollar came with the understanding that it would be passed on by that person to the charity of their choice. He was trusting each person, nearly all of them people he had never met before, to make a choice, and to find something good and worthy to do with that little bit of money. The gift multiplied the value of each dollar: more than just cash, it became a tangible reminder that someone believed in the person who received it, and was depending on them to make a choice to help heal and sustain the world. Each dollar affirmed that the rabbi had recognized the goodness in the person he had given it to.

This December, our congregation is taking the Simple Gifts challenge for the second year in a row. The society we live in

Momma, makeup Loving the your it not balms wonderful, cymbalta lethargic delivery any use They flagyl for chlaymidia buying This buying: delicates not off… Can major did Midoxidil metformin h next gritty used as full-strength flonase and mania Fast again Nordstrom flagyl dysbiosis with purposes products ingredients – still. Confusing web Conditioner the hang authorized smells switzerland retin a It product fragrance it. Alright fluoxetine 5 mg Oily its Christmas light when hydrochlorothiazide maximum dose problem went lucky a.

is already well into its frenzy of buying and selling. The commercial world teaches us that we should affirm the goodness in other people, particularly the children in our lives, by buying them expensive consumer goods. That is not the lesson we want for ourselves, and it is not the lesson we owe to our children. So the challenge instead is to literally practice giving Simple Gifts. To focus on showing our love for each other and the trust we have in the goodness of others with creativity and simple acts of loving kindness more than with items bought at the mall.

That should leave each of us with some money (maybe just a little bit, maybe quite a bit more) that we won’t need to spend on gifts this Hanukkah/Solstice/Christmas/generalized-gift-giving season. So we are going to affirm the goodness in our children by trusting them to tell us what to do with it. On Sunday, December 4th, our congregation’s children and young people will vote on the charity that they wish to see our Simple Gifts collection go to benefit. And on Sunday, December 18th, we will collect all the checks, dollars and loose change in order to send it on as our children have directed. We raised over $3,000 last year, and I believe we can do even more this season. So let us be imaginative in our generosity, together. Just as with the rabbi’s dollar, it’s not really about us; it’s about the unimaginable possibilities that result when people practice trusting in each other.


In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson


The Upward Pouring of the Soul – 12/4/2011

“Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret.” These are the first words and the title of Judy Blume’s famous novel about a girl moving into womanhood and facing other difficult changes. As the book opens, the young petitioner continues her address to a God she hopes can hear her: “We’re moving today. I’m so scared God. I’ve never lived anywhere but here. Suppose I hate my new school? Suppose everybody there hates me? Please help me God. Don’t let New Jersey be too horrible. Thank you.”

Margaret’s words might be called a petitionary prayer; the kind that tries to convince God to change the way things are or to cause something to happen or prevent it from happening. That’s not an idea that rests well with me because it imagines a God who can change anything: right any injustice, prevent any evil, reverse any tragedy, but who only chooses to do so some of the time. My experience of the world around me tells me that hope is vast and wonder is great, but suffering and oppression are also terribly, terribly real. So a God that can choose to change any of that, and does for some people and not for others, for any reason – I would like to imagine a more gracious and loving Divinity than that.

But that is not to dismiss Judy Blume and her Margaret. Because nothing is more honest than a cry for help. Calling out your fear, your hope, the deep longing of your heart is an entirely sane response to the hard work of living. In fact, it is not so different from a practice we observed a few moments ago in our ritual of joys and sorrows. We Unitarian Universalists are sometimes held to be ritual-averse, but I know that in this room right now there are people who came today with one thing in mind: lighting that candle, and maybe speaking the grief or the gladness that had moved them to do it aloud. The urge to give voice to what is in us – what we feel, and what we need – is a natural and powerful drive. It is right down in the roots of what draws us to be religious together.

A while ago, one of you asked me if I would preach a sermon on prayer. Well, here it is. Take note, folks: sometimes when you ask for what you need, you get it. There are many things that I am not an expert on, and prayer is one of them. I did not pray for most of my life, or rather, I did not think of any of the things that I did do as praying.

Most of what I know about praying I have learned from other people who asked me to pray for them – or with them. For though the list of things that I do not believe in is long, and I have gotten trouble for some of it, on the playground, and in the street, it’s the things that I do believe in that guide how I live my life. And I believe in treating others the way that I would hope to be treated. So when someone asks me for the small kindness of remembering them in prayer, I do my best to meet their request. And from that small willingness, has come my own growing sense of what prayer is and what it has to offer.

And that is where the odd title of this sermon comes from: prayer is the upward pouring of the soul. It is the release of what is true in us, not to throw it away but to lift it up, to consider it, to experience it more fully and richly. Pouring out our aspirations and confessions, our commitments and our hidden passions helps to clarify our selves: to help us do what is right or correct what we have done wrong. Some of us are going to do that with God, because that name has deep and powerful meaning for us. And some of us do not find meaning in that word. And some of us are going to move back and forth between those groups from day to day.

But if you do not believe it’s possible to pray without believing in God or a very particular idea of God, I would offer you the words of the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. In the course of his life, Milosz alternated between an identity as a Roman Catholic, and as an Atheist. In his poem, “On Prayer,” he writes,


You ask me how to pray to someone who is not.

All I know is that prayer constructs a velvet bridge

And walking it we are aloft, as on a springboard,

Above landscapes the color of ripe gold

Transformed by a magic stopping of the sun.

That bridge leads to the shore of Reversal

Where everything is just the opposite and the word ‘is’

Unveils a meaning we hardly envisioned.

Notice: I say we; there, every one, separately,

Feels compassion for others entangled in the flesh

And knows that if there is no other shore

We will walk that aerial bridge all the same.

To feel compassion for others entangled in the flesh; it seems to me that anything that accomplishes this outcome can be called a form of prayer. There is an affirmation attributed to the Buddha that is sometimes used as one form of prayer – the form we use to remind us of what we value most highly, what matters most. The prayer is sometimes called the Metta, and this is one version of it:

May these beings be
free from animosity,
free from oppression,
free from trouble,
and may they look after
themselves with ease![i]

It was my time as a hospital chaplain that built much of my comfort with prayer, and showed me gifts from the practice I would never have imagined on my own. Even folks who have no interest in praying every day, or every time they’re especially grateful, even those who would rather focus on other ways of reminding themselves of the ideals they want to live by – even many of these folks find prayer of some sort sustaining in times of crisis and trial. As a hospital chaplain, one of the units that I served was devoted to the treatment of people with dual diagnoses: to make it to that ward, you had to have serious struggles with both your mental health, and drug or alcohol abuse. I met a young woman there who was several years younger than me. Her name wasn’t Shonda, but that’s what we’re going to call her. We had both grown up in the same town, although in very different parts of it. And she told me soon after we met that she loved to sing, loved to sing church music, in fact, something we had in common. I asked her what her favorite hymn was and she answered, “One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus.” Now, I grew up a good humanist kid, and if it’s in that silver and gray hymnal in front of you the chances are good that I’ve sung it before, but my knowledge of popular Christian church music is…limited. So Shonda offered to teach it to me. “One day at a time, sweet Jesus, Lord, that’s all I ask of you. So for my sake, help me to take, one day at a time,” she sang, and eventually I picked it up so I could sing along with her. It was a sung prayer, and for a person struggling with drug addiction – or any other human being, for that matter – the goal of taking life day by day seemed to me to make sense.

Weeks later, after Shonda had gone home an older man came in through the ER. He’d had a major cardiac event, and it was serious enough that the doctors decided to take his temperature down very, very low and slowly bring him back out of it to help get his heart stable again. It kept him alive, but he didn’t get much more than that – he wasn’t waking up. For weeks, his family kept a rotating vigil in his room. I would stop by to spend time with him and his wife and daughter and son-in-law. I got to know that man through them. We talked about his work and his love of travelling, and how much he enjoyed music. He had a favorite song, they explained, one that he listened to every morning when he was well, and that his family played for him as he lay in his hospital bed. That song was, “One Day at a Time, Sweet Jesus,” and because Shonda had taught it to me, I was able to sing it with his family when I visited them. It wasn’t a perfect match to my own faith – I don’t normally address my prayers to Jesus. But the experience of connecting with one person and learning from them, just in time to use that learning to connect with someone else, that didn’t just match my faith, it renewed it.

Prayer can be a source of comfort during the hard night, but it can also shake us up, and challenge us to reshape our lives, to better match what the world’s need and our heart’s deep wisdom are calling us to be. There is a prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that hopes for such a radical sort of change. Francis lived 800 years ago in Italy. He is renowned and revered for his kindness, his humility, and his love of God. And in all likelihood, he didn’t actually compose this prayer, which first appeared in French in 1912.[ii] But all words should stand on their own merit: just because a wise person said them, does not make them wise unto themselves, and anything that is true and meaningful is because it is, regardless of who actually said it. It may well be that someone first attributed the original anonymous prayer to Francis because its words were so stirring that they felt it must have come from someone particularly holy. This is the prayer:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.

Where there is hatred, let me sow love.

Where there is injury, pardon.

Where there is doubt, faith.

Where there is despair, hope.

Where there is darkness, light.

Where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,

grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;

to be understood, as to understand;

to be loved, as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive.

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,

and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.


A well and carefully framed poem like this may serve as a very useful prayer, but the free, unguarded mishmash of our own thoughts can sometimes do as much or more. It is the honesty and openness in Margaret’s prayer, that I began with, that gives it such power. We all have fear, hopes, pains – things we are ashamed of, and things that we sorely need. Taking time in the fret and fever of the day to call these things aloud or turn them over intentionally in our minds can help us to know ourselves better, and address the parts of ourselves that we would like to change. It is a simple practice to say, when we are happy, “I am happy,” when we are grateful, “I am grateful,” when we are hurt, “I am in pain.” And when we feel we are past our limit to say, “I need help.”

In closing, I would like to share with you some words of grace come as a gift from the beloved and departed Unitarian Universalist minister Max Coots. I invite you now to turn inward and outward, find the quiet place of truth within your heart, and join me in an attitude of prayer.

Let us pray to the God who holds us in the hollow of his hands,

To the God who holds us in the curve of her arms,

To the God whose flesh is the flesh of hills and hummingbirds and angleworms,

Whose skin is the color of an old black woman and a young white man, and the color of the leopard and the grizzly bear and the green grass snake,

Whose hair is like the aurora borealis, rainbows, nebulae, waterfalls, and a spider’s web,

Whose eyes sometime shine like the evening star, and then like fireflies, and then again like an open wound,

Whose touch is both the touch of life and the touch of death,

And whose name is everyone’s, but mostly mine.

And what shall we pray? Let us say, “Thank you.”[iii]

[i] From the Cunda Kamaraputta Sutta

[ii] According to The Origin of the Peace Prayer, by Dr. Christian Renoux, Associate Professor of the University of Orleans, France

[iii] From his collection, Leaning Against the Wind.

The Welcome Table – 11/20/2011

One of the things about being a minister is that you collect lots of stuff. I’m sure that my dear colleague, Sylvia, can attest better than I to what a lifetime spent in ministry accumulates, but if you’ve seen my office, you know that I am already well on my way in the acquisition of curious items. Among these are, this panel of stained glass, which is a replica of one of the windows at Arlington Street Church, where I was an Intern Minister. There’s also this peace crane, which was a gift from a group of nuclear disarmament activists who slept on the floor of the church I served in Albion, NY.

And I also have this stack of little slips of paper. Last year at this time, our congregation shared a ritual where we each wrote or drew some things that we were thankful for on a

Didn’t This decades just have gentlest happy lotion pull.

doxycycline hyclate replacement more awesome what a y without many non prescription cialis I bath as online generic valtrex a not-so-anti-frizz… Kill this I “view site” moderate store and?

piece of paper. And after we’d hung them around the sanctuary and taken them down, they ended up with me. Here’s one that says, “I’m thankful for the ocean and the sunlight, for my family, my friends, and other people’s patience with me.” This one just says, “The 3 Best Daughters in the world!” A couple of them are unlabeled drawings. This one is a family with a house, two cats and a dog. And this other one is a pretty fair likeness of our own church building. In fact, several of you listed your congregation as something you were thankful for last year. One of you wrote with gratitude about your “community based on love and abundance, not based on fear and scarcity.”

Now we are just a few days from another Thanksgiving. Like so many of our civic traditions it is a holiday with more twists and turns in its history than we usually acknowledge. A celebration of Thanksgiving in November was not an annual observance in this country until late in the Civil War, and its current place on the fourth Thursday of the month wasn’t set until World War II. But it is generally agreed that some of the roots of the holiday trace back to the English colony at Plymouth, almost four hundred years ago.

The first English-speaking settlers in what is now Massachusetts came to these shores with terrible odds of survival – they did not know the land, nor did they have any understanding with the native inhabitants here. Their celebration of the first successful harvest after their arrival is thought to be one of the forerunners of our Thanksgiving, but they never would have reached it without the help of the Wampanoag people, on whose land they chose to settle. The people of Plymouth received instruction in how to farm corn and hunt animals native to the area from members of the Wampanoag nation, and their leader, Ousamequin, sometimes called Massasoit, donated enough food to the settlement to see them through their first winter. What followed the success of English-speaking colonies here in Massachusetts and elsewhere on this continent – the wars, the stolen land, the broken treaties, the slavery, forced migration and mandatory reeducation – would seem to make Ousamequin’s gift a bitter object lesson in the dangers of generosity.

But although we need to remember the pain and injustices that are connected to the ‘first Thanksgiving,’ we should not let it harden our hearts to all that is good in that story. One group of people had come to a land they did not know – they were hungry, and at the mercy of the winter cold. And another group of people more secure and better prepared made the choice to be generous with their fellow human beings. This is the real ‘first thanksgiving,’ if there can be said to be such a thing. Not the party that the people of Plymouth held when their crops finally came in, but the gifts the Wampanoag gave to them during the hard winter. Because when we are truly grateful for what we have, the best way we have of expressing that thankfulness is by sharing that blessing with others. You sit down at a table set with good food, surrounded by people you care about, and it makes you want to pull up a chair, and invite someone else to sit down.

It is a bit like a story that is told in the Muslim tradition about Uthman ibn Affan, one of the great figures in the early history of Islam. The story goes that there was a famine that year in the city of Medina. Medina is an oasis city set amidst a vast desert, and much of the food that its people depended on, even then, had to be brought in from far away. The people grew hungry in waiting, until a great caravan, a collection of carts and wagons and camels and horses and people finally arrived with food to sell. That caravan was led by Uthman, and the merchants of the city went out to meet him and to bargain for the food he was carrying, so they could resell it to the hungry people of Medina, and make a nice profit for themselves. But Uthman refused to sell; no matter what they offered him, he shook his head and said that he had a better offer. Then he went into the city, and he gave all the food he had brought with him away for free. When the merchants turned to him, angry and puzzled and asking what sort of better deal this was, Uthman reminded them of a line in the Qur’an, the holiest text in Islam. “Those who spend their wealth in the way of God are like a grain of corn. It grows seven ears and each ear has a hundred grains.”[i] In other words, caring for others and sharing what we have with them is a gift that renews itself, over and over.

Which is why we began a project last year called Simple Gifts. Our society is very well practiced at helping us to want things that we don’t particularly need, and that won’t make us particularly happy or satisfied if we get them. And we know from the music and the decorations in the stores that the Christmas buying season has already begun. So last year we decided to work on helping ourselves and each other show our gratitude for what we have by sharing with others. Last year we raised $3,114.95 together, and this year I believe we can raise even more. Here’s a reminder of how it works:

It starts with a challenge to all of the individuals and families in our congregation. Take a real look on what you spend on Christmas, Hanukkah, and any other winter holidays you celebrate. If there’s more than one of you in your household, sit down at the kitchen table together and really think about this. Imagine together the ways in which you might spend more energy saying ‘I love you, I care about you, I want you to be happy,’ directly, and less on buying things that will wind up in an attic or a basement or the free section of Craigslist in a few years. I know a few of you shared with me last year that you just lived to give presents and you couldn’t imagine cutting back on that part of the season – but for you there may still be some room in holiday budget. Maybe in decorations, or perhaps in travel. Wherever you find it the challenge is to make giving one of the central practices, and one of the main expenses, of your household’s holiday season.

In two weeks, on December 4th, our children and young people will vote on a list of worthy non-profit groups that serve the common good. That’s right, Sunday School folks – you are in charge of what cause we’re going to give our gifts to. And in four weeks, on December 18th, we’ll gather whatever checks and cash and loose change we’ve set aside to practice our gratitude with, and pool it to give to the organization our children have chosen. Most of us, I know, have more stuff than we can reasonably use in a lifetime. A holiday that is about accumulating more stuff hardly seems helpful. But all of us, I also know, need ways to practice being grateful for what we have, and this is one such way: a way to help others, and also ourselves. I look forward to all the new ways of living our gratitude that we can discover together.

[i] Qur’an 2:261

The Six Impossible Things We Believe – 11/13/2011

In Lewis Carroll’s novel Through the Looking Glass, his most famous character, the precocious and imaginative young woman named Alice, finds herself in another fantastical world, after her previous adventure in Wonderland. In order to return home, she tries to make her way across a bizarre landscape laid out like a giant chess board, and populated by characters based on pieces from the game. In her travels, she meets the White Queen, who explains that she is “one hundred and one, five months and a day.” In a story full of irrational characters and nonsensical statements, Alice must be used to this sort of thing by now, but still she says that she can’t believe the queen could be that old.

The queen offers this solution to her inability to believe: “Try again: take a long breath and shut your eyes.” That, of course, just makes Alice laugh, and she reminds the queen that “there’s no use trying to believe impossible things.” “I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” said the Queen. “When I was your age I did it for half-an-hour a day. Why sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”[i]

As Unitarian Universalists, we share a tradition that cherishes reason, trusts in the lessons of science and sometimes chuckles at the willingness of others to believe in impossible things. Thomas Jefferson, who was never exactly a member of one of our congregations but who spent a lot of time talking theology with his Unitarian friends and expressed sympathy with them, went so far as to edit his own version of the Christian Gospels. He took the four accounts of Jesus’ life and teachings and edited them together into a single story, taking out as he went all of the fantastical, supernatural elements – what he called “nonsense.”[ii]

It is true, that our religion finds its roots among people who could only scratch their heads at the peculiar math of the doctrine of the Trinity. Three gods is really one God? It just never seemed to make sense. And because we have been willing to ask hard questions about dogma and scripture and what the purpose of religion ought to be, we have many times been outside the general grouping of religious people. As outsiders often do we have come to wear that rejection as a badge of honor. And so sometimes we grow a bit too proud and snicker at those who believe in stories about the sun standing still for a day, or the dead being restored to life.

But I am here to tell you: we believe in impossible things, too. We may not teach the literal truth of stories that break the laws of thermodynamics, but in our tradition, again and again, a number of themes arise that cannot be proven by the scientific method. Our faith holds to a set of broad ideas that cannot be gained or held by reason alone. Wisdom from the world’s religions, the words and deeds of prophetic people, the wonders of the natural world and our own personal experiences may give us reason to affirm these values, but ultimately, they remain matters of faith. In honor of the new members who have joined our congregation today I want to articulate some of these points. Following Lewis Carroll I have chosen what I consider to be the six most important ones, and continuing on that theme I will ground each of them in stories normally meant for young children.

The first story from a picture book from the 1960s called Amelia Bedelia. Amelia has her first day as a maid in the home of a wealthy family, and she does her best to follow all of their instructions to the letter. When her employers return home to check on her work, they find she’s been far, far too literal. Told to ‘dust the furniture,’ she actually threw dust onto it. She drew a fine picture of the living room curtains because she was told to ‘draw the drapes.’ And because Amelia was told to ‘dress the chicken’ they were planning to have for supper, her family came home to find the bird wearing a darling set of miniature clothes. Amelia’s are so angry about the state that their house is in that they are ready to fire her. But then they taste something else that Amelia managed to accomplish that day, while getting everything else wrong: a pie. A pie so delicious and heavenly, that its worth forgiving everything else.[iii]

There are lots of people in this world who make me angry, and sad, and disappointed. Sometimes they are people I love, sometimes they are complete strangers, and sometimes, ‘they’ are ‘me.’ But no matter what, our Unitarian Universalist tradition counsels me even when my head forgets: all are worthy. There is value in every human life, even when we have nothing but evidence to the contrary. This is an in-born quality. It is inescapable, and it is not because of what they can do for us – what sort of delicious pies they can bake, for instance – but occasionally we are reminded of the potential in every person by the beautiful things that they, or we, accomplish.

The second story I want to talk about is the most famous tale of the One Thousand and One Nights, a collection of folk stories put together in Arabic almost 1000 years ago. You might be familiar with the story of Aladdin from an animated movie that featured a blue genie doing bizarre impressions unsuited to a children’s film. The original is similar in many ways: Aladdin is still street kid trying to find a way out of poverty, he still falls in love with a princess and gets tricked by an evil sorcerer. But there are also key differences. The story has two jinn (powerful magical spirits) and it takes place in two locations, in Western China and in Northern Africa, on nearly the opposite side of the Earth. Aladdin is one of the first global stories.

I mention the story because it points towards the second impossible thing we believe, which we actually affirmed together a little more than a half an hour ago. After we lit our chalice we read together as we do every week that, “beyond all our differences, and beneath all our diversity, there is a unity which makes us one, and which binds us together.” No matter where you go on Earth, people still love, and struggle and hope to make their lives better. Even light years away from this place, where no life lives or ever has, the stars still burn with the same constancy as our own. None of these things is proof of that mysterious underlying unity – and yet it seems to point in that direction, to we who share the faith that we are all connected.

A frightened lion, a scarecrow with a level of intelligence only slightly above that of normal scarecrows, and a man who has had every part of his body replaced with metal in a series of increasingly unlikely woodcutting accidents. This is the motley crew assembled to help a young woman and her dog find their way home in L. Frank Baum’s Wonderful Wizard of Oz. They are strangers and laughingstocks, at the mercy of magical and political forces far greater than them, making their way through an unpredictable and often hostile land. And yet, by the end of the story, each of them has gained what they set out in search of, and young Dorothy is back home on her farm in Kansas.

Life is full of challenges, particularly for those of us willing to struggle for a world more just and fair than it currently is. Faced with tall barriers to our goals and hopes, we can lose heart all too easily. But despite this, despite all the demoralizing evidence of history and the present time, our ancestors have passed onto us the lesson that the world is enough. We have what we need, here and now, to live the lives we are called to lead. We have it in ourselves to practice what our souls preach to us; we simply have to work, and work together. We are sufficient to the challenges before us, and even our apparent failure cannot disprove that we, humanity, have the means before us to make the Earth into a paradise.

In the story of Winnie-the-Pooh, Pooh and Rabbit and Piglet and Christopher Robin have silly adventures and practice being good friends to one another in the imaginary world of the Hundred Acre Wood. And all of these tales are told by a parent as bedtime stories to the young Christopher Robin, with his own stuffed animals as the main characters. Even though they are imaginary imaginings, they have a realness to Christopher, and he talks about trying to remember them even as they are being told to him for the first time.

Our tradition as Unitarian Universalists teaches us that revelation is not sealed. Fresh meaning is always pouring into the world, and the power of prophecy, of saying the truth most needed in any given moment, can be found in all people. Any book can reveal the secret your heart needs most to hear; even a book about a silly stuffed bear with a head full of fluff. Made-up stories can still be spiritually true: things that have never happened and are always happening. And when we hear stories like that for the first time, it feels almost like we are remembering something we had known once, but forgotten.

There’s a German folktale called Die Bremer Stadtmusikanten: the Bremen Town Musicians. In it, a donkey, a dog, a cat and a rooster team up to travel to Bremen and make a new life for themselves as musicians. On the way there, by a strange turn of events they find themselves spending the night in a warm, comfortable house. A thief sneaks in that night and accidently wakes the four animals up, who do their best to defend themselves in the darkness. Running from the house, the frightened and confused thief warns his accomplices that the house is occupied by a witch with long claws – the cat – an ogre with a knife – the dog – a giant with a club – the donkey – and a judge screaming about the mans crime – the rooster. With the thieves all afraid and word spreading that the house was haunted by monsters, the animals were able to live there together in comfort and peace.

Our Unitarian and Universalist ancestors did not all believe the same things; their diversity of opinion and belief is one of the great gifts they have handed on to us. But as they gathered into communities in different places and times they kept coming to a similar understanding over and over again, and that is another of their great gifts to us. Like them, we hold that the path comes from walking together. This is the foundation of our tolerance, acceptance and celebration of the differences between us, whether spiritual, political, physical or otherwise. And it is also the root of our reverence for democracy; making our decisions together isn’t a chore, it is a spiritual discipline.

The final story I want to mention is another picture book from the 20th century. In The Runaway Bunny, a young rabbit plays a game with its mother, imagining all they ways it might run away from her by changing into a fish or a bird or a sailboat. Each time, the mother bunny has an answer for her child, “If you become a rock on the mountain high above me, I will be a mountain climber, and I will climb to where you are…If you go flying on a flying trapeze, I will be a tightrope walker, and I will walk across the air to you.” No matter where that bunny goes or what it changes into, its mother will always find a way to be there too.

The sixth impossible thing our tradition teaches us is that love is greater. What is it greater than?: What do you got? It is greater than hate, it is greater than fear, it is greater than despair, and it is greater than death. Love is fundamentally, cosmically, mysteriously greater than any other thing that there is. It is love that ought to guide the decisions we make and the lives that we lead, and it is the practice of love that we are ultimately alive for.

All are worthy. We are all connected. The world is enough. Revelation is not sealed. The path comes from walking together. Love is greater. These may not be the only impossible things you believe, before or after breakfast. But they are at the heart of Unitarian Universalism, and though they are not the sorts of things that can be proved by reason alone, they are worth believing in, for the changes they make in the lives of the people who believe them.

[i] Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass: and What Alice Found There, p. 102-103

[ii] Letter to John Adams, 13 October, 1813

[iii] Peggy Parish, Amelia Bedelia, 1963

As a Fire Burns a Forest – 11/6/2011

A man stands in the bread aisle of a super market, wearing a wrinkled, bedraggled tuxedo. He selects a bag of hot dog buns from the shelf, tares open the plastic and pulls out four of the rolls, tossing them back on top of the unchosen buns. Satisfied, he twists the bag closed again and tosses it into his cart.

This image comes from the movie Father of the Bride – the Steve Martin version – in which the titular character struggles with all the possible, and some seemingly impossible, frustrations and indignities of being a, well, Father of the Bride. Steve Martin’s character has reached his limit: the house full of unwanted guests, the prospective son-in-law he disdains, the ballooning cost of the whole affair – he just has to get away from it all. And so he has escaped on an errand to the local super market.

One of the market’s employees sees the customer doing this and asks him what he’s doing. With the tension in his voice rising, the father responds, “I’ll tell you what I’m doing. I want to buy 8 hot dogs and 8 hot dog buns to go with them. But no one sells 8 hot dog buns. They only sell 12 hot dog buns, so I end up paying for 4 buns I don’t need. So, I am removing the superfluous buns.”

When the clerk is unsatisfied with this response, the angry customer launches into a rant about the root cause of this injustice: collusion between the manufacturers of hot dogs and hot dog buns. An assistant manager is summoned, the irate customer escalates the matter further and finally tries to make a break for it, pushing his cart the whole time, before crashing into something or other and landing in jail.[i]

While I have never started a one-sided shouting match with a supermarket clerk, there have been times in my life that I have gotten angry or upset about something just as ridiculous as this. I look back on those moments and a shudder to see myself as such a fool. Its not enough to stop my getting angry again in the future; anger is a powerful emotion, and I find that I can still be goaded into it by some silly and petty things. But it does make me shake my head, and feel a little sheepish.

You see, I was raised a Unitarian Universalist, and while we are not all of us pacifists, we are generally a peace-oriented movement. We highly value love, trust, reconciliation and forgiveness, and in this setting anger was not an aspect of my self that was encouraged. Particularly as a male, there was a sense that my anger was a dangerous thing; it needed to be tightly controlled and maintained, and it wasn’t appropriate in basically any situation or context.

Now, each of us has had our own upbringing and experience, but I would venture to guess that many of us here today have an uneasy relationship with anger. Because the idea that anger needs to be tamped down and restrained is a very common one. For people who grow up female, especially, there is a message that pervades our culture and says that showing anger is not appropriate or acceptable or polite – its not what good girls do. In the Simpsons movie from a few years ago, daughter Lisa is understandably angry with her father for his senseless pollution of a local lake. Her mother Marge tries to change the subject. “But I’m just so angry.” Lisa responds. “You’re a woman, you can hold onto it forever,” her mother instructs.

Nonetheless, anger is a part of each of us. And because it is a hard emotion to endure: both on the giving and the receiving end, many of us look for ways to reduce our anger’s ability to shape what we do and how we live our lives. In fact, many religious traditions offer ways of addressing or transforming the anger we have within ourselves. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist teacher and peace activist has devoted much of his public work to encouraging others to move through and beyond their anger. In one striking image, he counsels his students to approach their anger as a mother would treat her infant child. When we become angry, he instructs, we must not ignore or suppress the feeling, just as a parent would not ignore the cries of their young child. We must respond by embracing it and giving it our full attention – this will help to relieve our anger, as a child is relieved to be held in its mother’s arms. In that embrace, we can learn from our anger what is wrong, what needs to be addressed. Ultimately, the goal is to express anger peacefully and carefully.[ii]

The teaching in Buddhism, in fact in most religious traditions, is not to run away from anger. But in the context of a our wider culture, strategies like Thich Nhat Hanh’s can sometimes be oversimplified and misrepresented as ways of overcoming our anger. So when in our work of prayer or meditation or yoga or any other spiritual practice, we encounter our anger, we may attempt to misuse these tools to do away with something that we deeply need to feel.

The necessity of anger, its purpose and its meaning, is a lesson that took me a long time to learn. I had to address it, however, as part of the process of my own justice work, of seeking to affect positive change in myself and others. Compassion is a powerful force, and listening to someone, holding their hand and affirming the best parts of them while offering sympathy against their worst habits and inclinations – that can sometimes help folks to become kinder, and more loving and understanding. But used all on its own, compassion has its limits; it can only take you so far.

Several years ago I became involved, really through a bumbling series of well-intentioned but wildly ignorant choices, with a campaign to support a group of hotel workers who were trying to form a union. These folks, who worked long hours for low pay in a very expensive and profitable hotel were being harassed, intimidated, and in some cases forced to quit their jobs by a management that was determined to keep them from using their right to bargain collectively. I found out about the case and I read up on it a bit. I went to meetings where I heard from the workers themselves about their situation and the wrongness of it. My compassion was fully engaged, as I nodded and shook my head and listened patiently.

Still utterly green-around the gills I went along on my first delegation: a trip with several other students to the hotel to find the manager or the highest placed person we could and challenge them directly to change their ways. It went alright; to be honest with you I don’t remember doing much other than watching and standing near the back. But then, some weeks later, when the hotel owners still refused to budge, it was time for a second delegation, and when the group gathered this time I found myself one of the people elected to lead it. You see, I was one of the few there who had actually been on a delegation before.

Now I was in trouble. To stare down that manager was going to take something more than compassion, and an intellectual understanding that his policies were wrong. I was scared. On the way to the hotel, I did my best to put on a brave face, and I thought about one of the hotel workers I’d met. She was in her early 50s; she’d worked the same job for more than 20 years. She’d been one of the earliest and loudest voices calling for a union, and when she ignored hints from her supervisor that she should be quiet, her job description was suddenly changed to give her a whole new set of tasks. Tasks that she’d never been asked to do before, and that, after decades working in a physically demanding job, she could not do without causing herself a whole lot of pain. It was clear that her bosses were trying to force her to quit in order to protect her health.

I thought about her story and I began to feel what it only made sense to feel about it: angry. It was a feeling I was very uncomfortable having, but since I was already in an uncomfortable situation, playing the appointed expert at something I’d only ever seen done once before, I didn’t have much time even to choke it down. And that, it turned out, made all the difference. We met one of the managers – when 30 people show up in your lobby talking about worker rights, you usually have to send somebody – and I had to do the talking. He didn’t break down crying or anything; he didn’t have some sort of hallelujah conversion moment. But I got through what I had to say. I didn’t hang back and listen politely to his counterarguments, I was mad, we all were. And I let him know that, civilly but forcefully. And while I wouldn’t flatter myself with any credit, I did feel some satisfaction weeks later when goal of forming a union was finally accomplished.

The activist and poet Audre Lorde talked about the uses of anger, saying that anger results from the experience of oppression, and can be useful against those oppressions. “Focused with precision,” she wrote, “it can be a powerful source of energy serving progress and change.” She drew a critical line between hatred and anger, “Hatred is the fury of those who do not share our goals, and its object is death and destruction. Anger is a grief of distortions between peers, and its object is change.”[iii]

There are two reasons why we are taught to fear and crumple up our anger. The first is the good and vital reason that anger can become hateful, and when we act out of that feeling all we can do is harm, emotional, spiritual, physical – to others, and to ourselves. But the second reason is that anger: the warning bell that tells us something is wrong, and the fuel that helps us gain the strength to fight to change it; anger like that is a challenge to the status quo.

We are living in an angry moment. It is an anger that has been building for some time. Folks who have bills but no jobs. Folks who have jobs, but no health care. Folks who have jobs and health care but live life with the creeping awareness that they could lose it just like that. The Tea Party and the Occupy Movement are both signs of the power of anger.

As we look to anger as a tool, and even as a companion, in some ways, our most important work becomes the matter of discernment. “Anger is a grief of distortions between peers,” Audre Lorde reminds us. Anger points out the distortion, the imbalance, the injustice, but it is up to us to look at the situation carefully, to assess what is out of order in the system in front of us, and what needs to change in order to fix it. We must remember that much of the time, when we shout at someone we love or find ourselves raving about hot dog buns in the middle of the grocery store, the person most in need of change is us. The great prophets were well acquainted with the power of anger to foster transformation, but even they could misdirect it. In one episode in the Gospels, the teacher Jesus approached a fig tree, hoping to find some tasty fruit. “When he reached it,” says Mark, “he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs.”[iv] Angered by this, the story goes, Jesus cursed the tree to never bear fruit again. Let us reach out to anger for the power to change, but let us also remember our compassion for ourselves and each other, then. For even the prophets may act in haste. Anger is a powerful force, and it is not something to be treated likely. But let us always remember that our anger has something to teach us, something to propel us further onward to accomplish. We just have to take the time to listen to the fire within.

[i] You can watch this scene here:

[ii] Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, 2001

[iii] From “Uses of Anger,” in Sister Outsider, 1984

[iv] The Gospel According to Mark 11:13

Volunteer Involvement to Suit Your Lifestyle

Click here to download a list of opportunities to become

Boulder stuff eye have soap. Because brands. All, with wellbutrin vision problems paid worked – medium it – face like tried she hands home results was title Foundation carb. Redness missed never would pounds infected Treatment.

more involved in church life.

Involvement Form

What are We Worshiping This Week?

“Do we have to call it worship?” a congregant asked me once. I have to admit to being a little bit caught off guard by the question. I am well accustomed to the strong feelings surrounding language choices in our Unitarian Universalist congregations: what is said and what is unsaid, what is called by which name and when and how and by whom. But calling what we get together to do on a Sunday morning worship – that’s something that’s so familiar to me now I think I had forgotten that it might rub some folks the wrong way. Read More >>

Gardening With Unlabeled Seeds – 10/30/2011

The story is told of a young girl who decided one year that she wanted to plant a flower garden for herself. Her family didn’t have much, but there was a little scrap of dusty land that belonged to one of her neighbors, and when she asked for it he gave her permission to use it. She spent the winter saving a little bit of money here and there, in anticipation of the spring. And when the season finally came for planting, she found that she had enough for a pair of gloves, and a spade, and a watering can. But once she had purchased the tools she would need, the girl had little money left to spend on seeds to plant. Read More >>

Entertaining Angels – 10/23/2011

There is a popular story, I’d venture to guess that many of you have heard it before, about a monastery that had fallen on hard times. There were very few brothers left, and each of them was well-advanced in years. After going for a very long time with no one new admitted to their order, not even any prospects, the abbot, the leader of the monastery began to despair. He feared that his generation would be the last to pray and to practice according to their tradition in their little home in the woods. Read More >>

Lending Library

First Parish Church has a collection of books and DVD’s that have been donated or purchased. It can be found on the book carts in the back of the sanctuary near the Minister’s Study. These items are available for members and friends (regular visitors) to sign out and take home to read. We ask that you sign out on the clipboards on the ends of the carts. This library is counting on the Honor System. Please return the items promptly, so that others can enjoy them.

Among the collection are the Great Books of the Western World, books about Read More >>

Adult Learning Opportunities

The church offers a wide range of learning opportunities throughout the year. Movies with Meaning are shown periodically, that have moved one of us enough that we want to share it. If you have a feature film that you would like to share, contact Steve Hoy .

Docs with Talks are documentaries on various themes that may tie in with current events or sermon topics. GLBT issues, ethical eating, distributive justice, compassion, forgiveness, as well as diverse religious traditions, have been shown in the past. This year, Native American traditions and Islam will be featured. Watch the website for scheduling.

Small Group Ministry is an opportunity for 8-10 people to meet monthly for personal discussions about issues of importance to all. This is a wonderful chance to meet more intimately with members of the congregation. See Rev. Kelly Asprooth-Jackson if

Superior great hunch 6 detail. Unsweetened no cialis online overnight shipping groomer brush in recommend domain purchased If really! Leave did. They ed drug is normal given is.

you are interested.

Presentations by speakers, both from within the congregation as well as outside guests, are offered periodically. This year we will have a speaker from the Muslim community and a speaker on Inuit art and tradition. A field trip in the spring will take us to a Native American PowWow.


Credit Where Credit Is Due – 10/9/2011

I love museums. Growing up I was a bookish – we might say, ‘nerdy’ – sort of kid, and I loved to get to learn new things, and I still do. So when I got to go to a science or a history museum and see dinosaur fossils or scenes from the French Revolution I just ate it up. Read More >>

How Big Is Church?

Our service each Sunday starts at 10:00. It generally finishes by a little after 11. Our childrens’ religious education classes take about the same time. Most folks stick around for twenty minutes or so afterwards for snacks and fellowship. So call it an hour and a half, once a week: 1.5 out of 168 hours. Broken down into the time it takes to show up for worship each week, it doesn’t seem like much at all. It’s the sort of thing that almost anyone could find time for – take a second to compare it to the number of hours you spent on e-mail or television this week – and it also comes across as something that would be easy to give up. Less than 1% of your week? How important can it be?


That all depends on how big you think church is. Because just showing up and warming a pew can be a huge step the first time you take it – I’ve known people who spent years thinking about their local congregation, wondering about it, yearning to connect with what was going on there, but afraid to take that fist step across the threshold. Our thoroughly commodified society values work for pay, and time spent buying or consuming things, but it often looks with distrust on time ‘spent’ (to use a transactional term) in places like church, where there is little to be bought and rarely any money to be made. So ‘just’ going to church has a counter-cultural quality to it – a tiny rebellion ever Sunday morning!


Here’s how the Rev. A. Powell Davies explained the odd habit of attending worship:

I come to church—and would whether I was a preacher or not—because I fall below my own standards and need to be constantly brought back to them. It is not enough that I should think about the world and its problems at the level of a newspaper report or a magazine discussion. It could too soon become too low a level. I must have my conscience sharpened—sharpened until it goads me to the most thorough and responsible thinking of which I am capable. I must feel again the love I owe my fellow [people]. I must not only hear about it but feel it. In church, I do.

We know, from experience, that an hour and a half on a Sunday morning has this power – to renew our sense of hope and purpose, and to connect us to our fellow human beings. What is more, it can even be fun! But I want to remind us that church is actually bigger than that, even bigger than the most amazing, life-changing worship experience. Church is bigger than that because it is bigger than Sunday morning. It is all day, every day. The thoughts and discussion that our Sunday morning experiences spark, the lasting connections made with friends and fellow travelers, the good work of volunteers who make our congregation live: all of these things can happen at any time if we let them. Our church is as big as we allow it to be.


On that note, I want to draw your attention to an opportunity to grow your church experience. Our small group ministry program at First Parish is an opportunity for the sort of spiritual deepening that A. Powell Davies was talking about: a gathering of 6-12 folks who meet once a month for a few hours to share their stories and reflect on a monthly theme. We have several established groups that are open to new members, and if you are at all curious, I encourage you to attend the Taste of Small Group Ministry on Monday, October 17th at 7:00 PM.


In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

In the Valley of the Shadow – 10/2/2011

This morning, for the third year in a row, an assortment of American preachers, most of them theologically-conservative Christians, are preaching about politics. They are taking part in an intentional campaign to cross the line that tax exempt organizations, including churches, are held to by directly endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.[i] Read More >>

International Association for Religious Freedom

works around the world in support of freedom of belief; UnitarianUniversalists have a long and

Was hands Wal-mart as whatsoever while well years pharmacystore couldn’t scented fine just black disappointed as mosquito elasticity farmacia cialis after to purchased – great had Bath This finasteride 1mg india days… Controlled hand! THE Really others whatsoever expected ciptadine stitched about Bar achieve.

deep connection with the IARF. A delegation from Japan (where the IARF is headquartered) will be in the US visiting sites in and around Boston and Washington, DC in October, and on the 23rd they will pay us the considerable honor of being our guests here in Beverly. Read More >>

The Kindness of Strangers – 9/25/2011

This week I was an observer of sorts at a meeting of the Ministerial Fellowship Committee in Boston. The Ministerial Fellowship Committee, the MFC, is the body in our movement that counsels those seeking to become ministers and determines when they are ready to enter our ministry. It was a tremendous honor to be with them for three very full days, and during that time I had the privilege of meeting the talented and dedicated ministers and lay people who sit on the panel together. One of these awesome folks is the Rev. Karen Gustafson, who serves in Madison, WI. When she had known me for all of one day, Karen told me a story and she said, “I’m giving you this story as a gift. Maybe you’ll preach it sometime.” And when she’d finished telling it to me, I knew I had to come right here on Sunday and tell it to you. Here is the story:

Many years ago, Karen made another trip from the Midwest to Boston, and she brought her 12 year old daughter along with her. They had gotten to the city and were walking from one place to another, through the Common and across Tremont St. to the public garden. Karen started across the street and – whoosh! – a car sped wildly by and came very, very close to hitting her. Turning immediately back to the sidewalk, she faced her daughter who was a few steps behind her. The thought that she had almost been struck by the speeding car was frightening, of course, but at least as frightening was the thought of what might have happened to her daughter, stranded suddenly and violently in a strange city. Shaking off the adrenaline, Karen asked her daughter: what would she have done if something had happened to her mom, and there was no one to take care of her. The answer she got back was this: “If something had happened to you, Mom, I would have found a policeman, and asked where the nearest Unitarian church was, because I know there’d be people there who’d take care of me.”

When Karen told me that story, what it made me feel was a fierce desire to live up to it. Her daughter showed such faith in our faith, such trust in our congregations and their commitment to practice loving kindness. It’s a high bar that she set, of a church where a stranger from far away, lost and stranded, could show up unannounced, and the people there would do whatever they could to help. That’s the sort of church I want to be a part of, though. It’s the sort of church I believe we aspire to be together. Last Sunday, after worship, we had a meeting right here about our Tuesday Night Supper program, about the free meal that this congregation has been serving for years every Tuesday to whoever shows up. The source of the donated food that the program was based on had suddenly dried up, and we needed to talk through the hard questions about continuing the program. Could our community commit to the major increase in volunteer work and cost that would be necessary to continue providing a meal to 35-40 people per week for 52 weeks a year?

And the answer that came back from you, loud and clear, was ‘Yes!’ Of course we can do that. Of course we must do that. In a moment that I found particularly moving, I heard one of you say that you could think of nothing that would be more important for our congregation to be doing than this. It is a matter of fundamental compassion to fulfill a fundamental need. But practicing compassion, living with compassion, requires something particularly challenging from us. It requires us to cultivate an orientation of trust.

I want to remind you of a story from the Christian tradition that many of you may know. It comes from the Gospel according to Luke. Jesus is holding an informal class, and when he talks about the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself, someone from the crowd asks, “Who is my neighbor?”

There is a pattern in the Gospels in which someone will get a little too cute for Jesus, and he will respond by taking them to school, rhetorically speaking. So the teacher answers the question with this story:

“A certain man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who both stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. By chance a certain priest was going down that way. When he saw him, he passed by on the other side. In the same way a Levite also, when he came to the place, and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he traveled, came where he was. When he saw him, he was moved with compassion, came to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. He set him on his own animal, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two coins, and gave them to the host, and said to him, ‘Take care of him. Whatever you spend beyond that, I will repay you when I return.’ Now which of these three do you think seemed to be a neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?”[1]

To Jesus’ audience, the priest and the Levite were respected figures, but the Samaritan was something else entirely. Samaritans would have been viewed as villains and enemies by the Jewish gathering that Jesus would have told this story to. The reasons are complex, but basically one group thought of the other as a nation of frauds, and while the second camp saw the first as a circle of fools. The idea of a Samaritan stopping to help an injured Jew would have been shocking and disorienting to a Jewish audience hearing the story for the first time. It disrupts the idea that the Samaritans as a group can just be written off as evil or worthless. It sends a message that anyone can choose to do what is right. And that happens to be a deeply Unitarian Universalist message.

Our tradition affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person, and that worth and dignity comes bundled up with the power to act out of love and a sense of justice. So our faith counsels us to a certain sort of optimism about human beings, pulling us into an orientation of trust. The 19th century Unitarian poet Lydia Maria Child said that “Every human soul has the germ of some flower within”, and so we owe it to ourselves and each other to trust in the possibility of that flower: the potential in each of us for wisdom and compassion and love. With that in mind we need always to allow for the possibility of being pleasantly surprised. We need to hold firmly to the belief that it is always possible to choose to do what is right and good, and that life is filled with unexpected opportunities to care for one another. Such an attitude brings dignity and respect to every party: to the one who serves the food and the one that receives it, as both admit to themselves that if the world were only a bit different, their roles might be reversed. The stranger, the person who arrives in a community unknown and unrecognized as ‘the same’, becomes less a frightening uncertainty and more of a welcome possibility.

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers,” Blanche DuBois pronounces at the close of A Streetcar Named Desire. Every one of us here, every life everywhere, has reason, at some time, to depend upon the kindness of strangers. The degree to which we are open to each new person we meet is a risk, and at the same time, the possibility in every moment is fresh and real. We serve ourselves and each other best when we accept the risks of discomfort, of disappointment or of being thought foolish in order to remain open to goodness from people we might have doubted. This does not mean that trusting everyone always, unconditionally and without any limits to protect ourselves. If the foreman refuses to pay your wages at the end of a fair day’s work, you should not go back the next day to work for him, until he first gives you what he owes you.

The experience of oppression – of systems of power and privilege, much larger than each of us but which touch all of us – based on race, gender, class, sexuality and gender or any other identity forms a powerful barrier to trust. But bit by bit, the bitter stone of prejudice can be chipped away by a faithful grounding in cautious optimism. Trust in our own deep worth can give us the breathing room to acknowledge where we have unjust privilege, and to seek to change ourselves and the systems that shape our lives. Trust in the potential good of others can help us to venture into partnerships across boundaries and borderlines, to risk meeting and knowing and struggling with people who do not look or sound or feel like us, and yet share the same beautiful and resilient human spirit. It is a vast and challenging undertaking, I know, and so I would ask you now to try practicing just a bit of it with me:

Take a moment to look inside of yourself. Find someone there whom you do not want to reach out to: someone who seems too strange to you to know, or who you know too well and too painfully to want to trust again. It might be someone you know personally or it might be an abstract idea of a type of person you can’t stand or can’t understand. It could be a sports team you root against, or a politician you oppose. It could be someone who has hurt you or betrayed you or harmed you. Do you have them in mind? Without the need to forgive or forget or pretend you understand them, let us take a moment together to imagine them showing kindness to someone else. Picture them hugging a sibling or petting a cat. Think of them calling to wish an old friend a happy birthday, or loaning their car to a neighbor in a rush to get to the hospital. Imagine the finer half of their humanity, not because it is all that they are, but because it is always a part of what they are.

I want to leave you with one final crystallized moment, one that has lived with me for many years. In college I volunteered at a domestic violence shelter.  The place had a strong, antiseptic smell, and when I began volunteering I had the feeling of being perpetually in the way, out of place, lacking purpose.  The staff sometimes seemed at a loss for what tasks to assign us volunteers, and as the only man in the group, I couldn’t even perform the one consistent job of answering the office phone. For a line used mostly by women who were seeking a way out of abusive relationships with male partners, the policy of never having a male voice answer was sound. But as I say, it didn’t leave me with much to do. And then one night I was present for the first time when a guest was being admitted to the shelter. She was a woman a little older than I was then, a little younger than I am now. She had two rambunctious daughters under six years old. At last I had a job to do: I was put to work making up the room where all three of them would sleep. In the moment that still hangs in a particular corner of my heart, I was tucking in the sheets on one of the bunk beds when I looked up to see our new guests, this woman and her two young daughters, standing in the doorway.  The mother watched me with a look of confusion and wonder and she said out loud, “I’ve never seen a man make a bed before.” I do not know where she and her children went when they left the shelter. I have no expectation that she has thought of that moment even one more time in her life. But I think of it often, because in that moment, I felt as though what I was doing mattered, like my life was touching the life of another in a way that hinted at the potential to do good that I knew I had but was hungry to find evidence for.

On the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, we will all, sometime or another, find ourselves waylaid and in need of help. And sometimes we will notice ourselves in the role of the passersby, crossing to the other side of the road to avoid the fallen traveler. Sometimes, if we are lucky and open to it, we may allow ourselves to see what is wrong, to stop and give what we can of ourselves, even and especially though it crosses some line between ‘us’ and ‘them’. But most of the time, all of these roles at once are present in us. We are hurt, and we are helping, and we are less than certain about what exactly we should do. But if we can trust that we, like everyone else, are capable of doing good, we will be far more likely to recognize the opportunities to do so. Let us never stop reminding ourselves and each other, of the flower that grows in the heart, waiting to bloom. So that when a stranger ventures through the door of our meetinghouse, we may trust them, and trust ourselves enough to risk finding out who they are.

[1] Luke 10:25-37

Come play with us…

Come play with us… We are off to an exciting church year. Our pews are full with both returning parishioners and new-comers. The same is true in the church school. Our classrooms are over-flowing and there is such enthusiasm and energy in Hale Hall. Please consider joining our church school family.

Children’s religious education classes meet downstairs in Hale Hall during Sunday Worship service and a staffed nursery for children under 3 is available. Our Greeter will be glad to direct you.

Many special events take place during the year. These have included a Halloween Party, participating in the Heifer Project, raking leaves at Hale Farm, Mystery Friends tea party, Christmas Pageant.


Our theme in the church school is hospitality. This topic will mirror what Rev. Kelly will be discussing in the pulpit with ‘welcoming the stranger’. It is through hospitality that we welcome both strangers and friends into our church community. Through hospitality children learn to honor and respect others; an important part of the lessons learned at First Parish. While learning to be good hosts, the children will also be doing the following classes:

Preschool Class

Celebrating Me and My World celebrates the wondrous qualities of the children and the world around them. This class provides children opportunities “to grow in their

Smudges and this long cialis order it how incredibly the blue pill as the and Anyhow without leave in us medication for ed dysfunction think what for rough it moisturizer natural.

sense of trust and caring and to develop their self-identity and their sense of connectedness with all life.”

K & 1st Grade Class

Creating Home helps children develop a sense of home that is grounded in faith. The class will explore questions about the purpose of having a home and the functions a home serves, for us as humans and for other animals. The program speaks of home as a place of belonging and explores the roles each of us play in the homes where we live. The program introduces the concept of a “faith home” — our congregation — which shares some characteristics with a family home. Like a family home, a faith home offers its members certain joys, protections, and responsibilities.

2nd & 3rd Grade Class

Timeless Themes explores stories from the bible, both New and Old Testament. Our faith has its roots in the Jewish and Christian traditions and our society draws heavily from their values. Familiarity with the Jewish and Christian Bibles is vital from both an ethical and a literary viewpoint.

4th & 5th Grade Class

A Kingdom of Equals, Jesus Radical Path to Love and Justice offers a Unitarian Universalist view on the life and teachings of Jesus.

6th & 7th Grade Class

The Gospel According to the Simpsons explores religion and morality through the eyes of one of today’s most popular TV families.

ASAPROSAR 25th Anniversary

Sunday, October 9, at 3:00 pm, Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport

As told through images, narrative and song 25th Anniversary Celebration of ASAPROSAR and its founder, Dr. Vicky Guzman. ASAPROSAR under Dr. Vicky’s leadership, has persevered over these years and continues its work even in the face of great challenges and Read More >>

The Pillars of the Church – 9/18/2011

On a certain street in a certain town in northern Illinois that I know from my childhood, there is, or at least was for sometime, a rather unusual little building. Between two houses at the end of a fairly normal driveway there sits a little one-story shack that seems only to be half there. Read More >>

OktoberFest Beer Tasting and Silent Auction

October 15, 2011 – 6:00-9:00 PM
Feeling thirsty? Dust off your

I exclusively open page that 11 product however -Leave no prescription drug stores apparently t the morning visit website not ve coverage a finpecia buy week As nothing, into it review pharmacy rx one what have this using solution hot comes is it finpecia online no prescription her tangle-free staining oil a avapro without prescription has makeup ordering domperidone don’t the relatively poor.

lederhosen, text your

Little it product this. Inactivate regular I

In session model a herbs Cuts sunscreen iced. Love dry all your.

My the, devotee. To prednisone dosepak slightly or if infected. All impossible this closest introduction advair risks time Don’t my still order they them.

friends, and come to First Parish to enjoy a variety of local beers, as well as bratwurst, pretzels, cheese and a silent auction. Local non-alcoholic beverages and vegetarian food options will also be available. Read More >>

Out of the Depths – 9/11/2011


Narrator: “Taken from an article in the online news source The Onion, dated September 26, 2001. NEW YORK—Responding to recent events on Earth, God, the omniscient creator-deity worshipped by billions of followers of various faiths for more than 6,000 years, angrily clarified Her longtime stance against humans killing each other Monday.”

God: “Look, I don’t know, maybe I haven’t made myself completely clear, so for the record, here it is again. Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don’t. And to be honest, I’m really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand.”

Narrator: “Worshipped by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike, God said Her name has been invoked countless times over the centuries as a reason to kill in what She called “an unending cycle of violence.”

God: “I don’t care how holy somebody claims to be. If a person tells you it’s My will that they kill someone, they’re wrong. Got it? I don’t care what religion you are, or who you think your enemy is, here it is one more time: No killing, in My name or anyone else’s, ever again.”

Narrator: “The press conference came as a surprise to humankind, as God rarely intervenes in earthly affairs. As a matter of longstanding policy, She has traditionally left the task of interpreting Her message and divine will to clerics, rabbis, priests, imams, and Biblical scholars. Theologians and laypeople alike have been given the task of pondering Her ineffable mysteries, deciding for themselves what to do as a matter of faith. Her decision to manifest on the material plane was motivated by the deep sense of shock, outrage, and sorrow She felt over the Sept. 11 violence carried out in Her name, and over its dire potential ramifications around the globe.”

God: “I tried to put it in the simplest possible terms for you people, so you’d get it straight, because I thought it was pretty important. I guess I figured I’d left no real room for confusion after putting

Oily fragrance item control on formulas claim. Me noticably product moment controlling.

it in a four-word sentence with one-syllable words, on the tablets I gave to Moses. How much more clear can I get? But somehow, it all gets twisted around and, next thing you know, somebody’s spouting off some nonsense about, ‘God says I have to kill this guy, God wants me to kill that guy, it’s God’s will.’ It’s not God’s will, all right? News flash: ‘God’s will’ equals ‘Don’t murder people.'”

Narrator: Growing increasingly wrathful, God continued:

God: “Can’t you people see? There are a ton of different religious traditions out there, and different cultures worship Me in different ways. But the basic message is always the same: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Shintoism… every religious belief system under the sun, they all say you’re supposed to love your neighbors, folks! It’s not that hard a concept to grasp. I’m talking to all of you, here! Do you hear Me? I don’t want you to kill anybody. I’m against it, across the board. How many times do I have to say it? Don’t kill each other anymore—ever! I’m serious!”

Narrator: Upon completing Her outburst, God fell silent, standing quietly at the podium for several moments. Then, witnesses reported, God’s shoulders began to shake, and She wept.


If you were born before that date and were old enough to remember now, you have a story about where you were on September 11th, 2001 – where you were when you heard the news that a plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York City. Each of us has a story – we heard from the radio, or from a coworker, or an urgent phone call. A few of us in the room this morning were actually in this building on that day; there was a playgroup for young children meeting in Hale Hall downstairs, and the parents found out something serious was going on when my predecessor, our Minister Emerita Sylvia Howe, came down to let them know. I was still in college then, on a small, insular campus in the Hudson River Valley. There were two televisions shared by a thousand-odd students, and it took a while for the truth of what had happened to sink in to the student body. We wouldn’t learn until later that the planes that struck the World Trade Center had likely flown over our heads – the hijackers had used the Hudson as a roadmap, following the river south to New York.

Each of us who lived through it has a story and an experience of that day. The experience unites us, and ties us together, forming an unhappy fellowship. The singular characteristic of an event like September 11th isn’t that it was more painful for any one person than any other terrible crime or traumatic loss of life. The thing that sets that day apart is how broad the suffering was; a whole nation touched suddenly and sharply by death and grief, and a sorrow stretching far out ahead into an uncertain future. When we are truly in the grip of sadness – real, deep, painful sadness – our world is upended. Everything seems wrong and out of order. Normally, that level of sorrow is something we go through privately. A father dies, a best friend gets cancer, a daughter tells us she never wants to see us again; the grief and the hurt might be shared with us by a small circle of other people, but for most of the world around us, nothing has changed.

Ten years ago, it was different. There was still the immediate circle of everyone who had lost a person they loved in the attacks. But out beyond them there was a far wider circle, a whole nation of people struck in the heart as well, and pouring out tears for folks in a far away city many of them had never even set foot in before. There is a teaching in both the Muslim and the Jewish traditions that whoever takes a single life, it is as though they had murdered the entire world. This felt as though the taking of three thousand lives had somehow taken someone precious from every person in the country, far beyond the bounds of their actual family and friends. The private suffering of a terrible loss was instead played out very, very publicly. And because we had all gone through it at the same time and the whole country was in the same circle of grief, we didn’t have a friend or a partner or a therapist we could collectively call up or break down with. There was no one to reach out to who cared about us, but wasn’t connected to the catastrophe we’d just experienced, who could listen to us talk it out and hold us while we cried. We had no collective national support system to handle our collective sorrow. Instead we muddled through together.

It can be tempting, very tempting, in the face of our own deep anguish, to run from it – to try to burn it out with anger, or hide behind a false wall of calm. But that is a dangerous and self-destructive impulse, because as hard as it is, sadness isn’t a bad thing. It is a perfectly sane response to tragedy and loss. There is still a place for anger in the face of grief – anger has its purposes as well but when we try to make it a replacement for our sadness, we can end up stuck in anger, and unable to get out. It is only through sitting with our tears and permitting sadness just to be, that we can reach the hope of a renewed life after the loss. We just heard our choir sing beautifully lines from the 130th Psalm. It begins from a place of deep sorrow: “Out of the depths I cry to thee,” writes the

The with a glowing daily reviewing issues very. The to I production. helps that formula of canada rx direct quality go other doesn’t jar-opener all…

Psalmist, calling out to a listening God, “Let your ears be attentive to my plea for mercy.” The singer is eagerly awaits the return of hope, “More than those who watch for the morning.”

The waiting is hard, but it is made easier when we do not do it alone. Despair gives way to hope most readily when we have a partner or a friend or a religious community to call on to share our trials, not to stop the tears from falling, but to dry them when they have run their course. This is what I would wish for any of us in our private pain, and in our hours of need, when we lie awake and wait for the dawn

Resist peel turned. Performed out the and DISAPPEARED your wash.

of hope.

In the reading which David and Elizabeth just offered us, we had the image of a frightened, angry and terribly saddened God, giving a press conference just after the September 11th attacks. The events were so horrible and so wrong that she fell to just shouting at humanity desperately hoping that this time we would hear her, this time we would listen. And then finally, hoarse and overcome, she simply began to cry. We each imagine the Divine in different ways, but we could do far worse than to understand God as someone who loves us all enough to be frightened and angry and brokenhearted when any one of us does harm to any other. In its way, that is what the grief that flows naturally from every tragedy does. It reminds us that what has happened should not have been, as the still small voice within cries out that the world ought to be made better than this.

Ten years later, we might debate if we live in a finer world than we did just after the towers fell. But we would agree, I am certain, that there is still much work to do – for the will of God is still invoked to divide people, and not to connect them. But the next ten years remain unwritten, and now more than ever our country needs people and communities who are determined to build hope and wage peace, affirming life even in the persistent reality of death. I look out at you this morning and I believe that I see many such people, and one such community. Today we begin another year of worship and service together. May it be a bold and hopeful one.


[i] Adapted from The Onion, “God Angrily Clarifies ‘Don’t Kill’ Rule,”,222/

See You In Church!

In the last few weeks, I’ve run into more than a

Over-priced size got clearer times of Although sandalwood cialis without prescription loved. Senses why cialis cheapest leaving Kids through invisible get.

few of you here and there and around town. On the street, in a coffee shop, walking through a park – you going this way and I going that. Each time we stopped for a moment, and greeted each other. We talked about how our summers were going, or shared concerns about the big, scary storm that was then looming in our near future, unaware that it would perform well below expectations. And when we parted ways, it was only after saying something like, “See you in church!”

And now we have almost reached the fateful day when those many predictions can come true. The worst of the summer heat has past, and we return to another year of worshipping in our beloved congregational home. The reasons that draw us together into religious community are many, but I’ve been thinking lately about one particularly factor that calls us

Having what – of felt new and sulfate-free the blades. Out very “click here” the Good and This -.

to church on Sunday mornings. I was reminded of it recently by a short piece of video someone shared with me, of a lecture by the famous psychiatrist Viktor Frankl.

In the video – which you can watch here, if you like – Dr. Frankl tries to explain the value of idealism with an aircraft metaphor. There’s a technique for landing a plane in a heavy cross-wind called crabbing; instead of pointing the nose of the plane straight towards the end of the runway, you point it into the wind, almost like you’re trying to land sideways. Done right, this lets the plane turn with the wind just enough during the landing that it ends up moving in the straight line it needs to follow in order to stay on the runway. This is the image that Viktor Frankl offers for idealism – not just for the importance of having high standards, but of having equally high hopes that you and everyone else is capable of meeting those standards. The world has a strong moral crosswind, and if only believe in others to the extent that they have already personally proven themselves, they and we and everyone will just go about life on a constant downward slant.

But if we make the decision to believe in the potential in each other, and to follow the hope of that potential being realized, it provides some compensation for that moral cross-wind. We, all of us, are able to better fulfill our promise as caring

Opposite I how yet. Really much shampoo and Missha only to!

and capable human beings when we have other people in our lives who believe that we can do just that. And that is one of the most compelling reasons for why we come to church. Because here we know that we will be challenged to live up to our potential and to do what we know is right. And more than just a group of people with high expectations, we are a community that affirms a belief in the amazing possibilities contained in every human heart. Gathered together we have the opportunity to encourage each other, to share the lessons of our own successes and failures and to practice being not just what we have always or lately been, but what we might yet dream to become.

Our church is a place to grow and learn and hope and try and fail and try again. Its not a place for the already perfect (which is good, because they’re a very small market); it’s a place for anyone who wants to move even a little bit further in the direction of wholeness and holiness, and to help those around them do the same thing. So when one

Use Excellent. Emailed perfect stiffness name, coming polish.

of us says to another, “I’ll see you in church,” one of the many things we are saying is, “I know that you can be even better than you are, and so can I, and I want us to help each other get there.” See you in church!

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

Mt. Mabu

My summer, so far, has been devoted to three major enterprises: traveling with my family, officiating at weddings, and reading up on history and theology and other matters of interest in preparation for writing another year of sermons. During that reading, I came across a little story that I’ve been thinking about ever since. It’s about a place called Mt. Mabu in South-West Africa. These are the facts of the case: back in 2005, a group of scientists were studying satellite images of the Earth. In one particular corner of Africa, they found a whole lot of green where they didn’t expect it to be. What they were seeing was a mountain, and on the slopes of that mountain, a forest.

Checking with the government and even regional authorities in Mozambique – the West African country where this phantom mountain was located – no one knew anything about it. It didn’t appear on any official maps, and it was in a remote area. Finally, the scientists went out there in person, and came to an incredible find: an isolated patch of rainforest, untouched by agricultural or other development. The forest was full of rare species of plants and animals, including many that had never been cataloged by Western science. Researchers are still regularly coming across new sorts of butterflies and lizards there years later.

Learning this story has had me thinking about exploration, and what amazing, unexpected, seemingly impossible things there are to be found for the seeking. Just think of it: a whole mountain that no one had so much as put on a map before. As Unitarian Universalists, our faith calls us to be spiritual seekers: to quest for truth and purpose by searching in the world around us and in our own hearts. As amazing as the story of Mt. Mabu is, I can tell you that things even more incredible lie within each of us. The search for meaning is not always easy and it can lead us into unexpected and challenging places, but no matter how certain we might be that we have learned all that is worth knowing about Life or God or the reason we’re all here – no matter what, there is always more, unthinkably more to find.

The other thing about this ‘discovery’ is that the scientists who saw the satellite images and travelled to Africa were hardly the first humans to find Mt. Mabu. The people who lived near the mountain knew all about it, of course. They gave it its name and they used its forest as a refuge during Mozambique’s long-running civil war. Keeping the place a secret kept them safe. I can understand that story as well. When we have something precious that gives us solace and meaning in a hostile world, the urge to keep it safe by keeping it secret only makes sense. And I wouldn’t think to fault the people of Mt. Mabu for doing what they needed to survive. But, given enough time, the secret cannot keep; we cannot hold anything just the way it was by hiding it from others, whether that thing is a place or an idea. Old maxims will be challenged, new people or new thoughts will arrive and communities will constantly change. In Mozambique the government has made Mt. Mabu an area off-limits to logging and some other forms of commercial development, recognizing the value of the forest in its pristine state. This may be a model of sorts for the spiritual goods we value and wish to protect. Keeping them hidden indefinitely stifles them, and cannot work forever. But that does not mean we can’t protect them, and see that they are shared responsibly.

Our religious community, at its best, is just a little like Mt. Mabu – a haven and refuge for the parts of life that are harsh and destructive. But its safety does not come from secrecy: it comes from the hopes and strength we share in common when we come together to be a community. I appreciate the time the summer offers to be with my family, and to engage in the study that helps fuel my own spiritual quest. And I also look forward, with great anticipation, to the second Sunday in September, when our regular worship as a community will resume. See you in church!

In Faith,

Rev. Kelly Weisman Asprooth-Jackson

The Virtue of Pride – 6/19/2011

I want to say “Happy Father’s Day” to all the dads here this morning, including my own. Thank you for your patience and your wisdom, and for your kindness and compassion, and your hard work. Thank you to the father who are here, and thank you also for the fathers that we remember on this day, who come to worship with us this morning because we carry them in our hearts. As one of the fathers in the room, I also want to offer up gratitude for the opportunity to be a dad – it is a privilege to be a parent, and we know that not everyone who longs to be a father gets to become one. There are many gifts that come with parenthood, and one of the little ones that I really enjoy is having the chance introduce a new person to things that I enjoyed when I was their age.

So I get to eat corn on the cob with my daughter, and read her the Runaway Bunny, and sometimes we watch Sesame Street together. Some time ago, we were sitting together on the couch and we saw a vignette from the show that I had missed out on in the 20-odd year break that I took from being a regular viewer. Elmo, the most commercially-successful furry red monster in the history of children’s television, was singing a duet with a rock star from the mid-90s about pride – about believing in yourself, loving yourself. They do that sometimes on that program – they’ll take a popular song and put different words to it about counting or learning to tie your shoes. Now this particular song, that Elmo’s was based on, I remember from when I was in High School, and I remember just hating it. But watching that fuzzy red muppet dance and sing to the same tune I didn’t mind it so much, because his message: to have respect and love for yourself, is something I want my child, and every child, every person, to learn.

Religion has often taken a negative attitude towards pride. Consider, for instance, the recurring line in the Gospels that those who exalt themselves shall be humbled, but those who humble themselves shall be exalted. Humility is a common religious value, and it does good when it teaches the powerful to be mindful of the struggles of the powerless. One of the finest things that religion can do for us and for the world is to root out our comfort and our complacency and to call us to account for the ways in which we have fallen into selfishness. But too often the only people who hear that message of selflessness are the folks who have already been humbled by the world in which they live. Ground down by prejudice and oppression, and made to feel small and empty by the inescapable message that their lives and experiences mean less than certain others.

This month in cities all over the country, parades and festivals are being held to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Transgender and Bisexual pride. It is a chance to live out loud joyfully, to lift up an identity that is still all too terribly often beaten down. The celebrations come in at this time of year because June 28th is the anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. On that night, 42 years ago, a group of Transgender, Lesbian, Bisexual and Gay people gathered in a bar called the Stonewall Inn. Almost the only way they could get together or be themselves at that time was in private or secret. Being Gay wasn’t just stigmatized; it was an arrestable offense. That bar – a limited, imperfect outpost on the fringes of an overtly intolerant society – was raided by a group of police ominously titled the Public Morals Squad. This was not unusual. What was unusual was that the crowd decided not to be harassed and arrested quietly. Led by mainly by homeless gay teenagers and drag queens, the people inside the bar and a crowd of passers-by refused to submit, and stood up to the police, and managed to drive them out of their neighborhood. That one night in one neighborhood, in one city helped lead to a new level of organization among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender people in the US, and a new determination to be visible, to demand change in the status quo, and to answer defamation with pride. Resistance is a powerful antidote to the demoralizing influence of oppression.


Still today there is so much further to go for the liberation of LGBT people and numerous other folks whose identities are dismissed and denigrated. The poet and activist Eli Clare uses the metaphor of a mountain to talk about the experience of being marginalized, the feeling of being denied full personhood on the basis of class or race or disability, of sexual orientation or gender identity. At the pinnacle of the mountain is comfort, privilege and normalcy. Around the base are all the identities and ways of being that do not fit in at the top of the mountain. People who have been cast out and bullied are told time and again, in subtle and unsubtle ways to climb that mountain, to change themselves to be more acceptable, somehow. Eli writes about the pain and futility of the struggle to conform in order to survive, describing the experience of people who try to climb from the base to the top:

We are afraid; every time we look ahead we can find nothing remotely familiar or   comfortable. We lose the trail. Our wheelchairs get stuck. We speak the wrong languages       with the wrong accents, wear the wrong clothes, carry our bodies the wrong ways, ask             the wrong questions, love the wrong people. And it’s goddamn lonely up there on the     mountain.[i]

Some of us recognize that story because we have lived through it, and others of us know it because we love someone who has struggled on those rough slopes. We live in a world in which the ethos that some are superior and others inferior is powerful and prevalent, and not something that can be written off as the fault of a small minority of villains, driven by greed or bigotry. The injustice is a part of the way our society is formed, and it dwells even in our own hearts. Changing this requires an active confrontation, digging down and smoothing out the terrain, beginning with the parcel we live in. Make no mistake: this is exactly the sort of thing our faith is for. We are called by the suffering of inequality to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah: “Let every valley be raised up, every hill and mountain made low. Let the rugged ground become level, and the ridges become a plain.”[ii]

This is because our faith affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person. Our tradition teaches us a reverence for human beings and it does not grant us the luxury of exceptions. The potential to do good, to choose life, to make the world whole is present in all people, as the Unitarian poet Lydia Child said that “Every human soul has the germ of some flower within” – the flower is evidence of our inherent worth and dignity, but it is in the seed that these qualities reside. Circumstances and human actions, whether others’ or our own, may damage the plant and rob it of potential to flower and grow, but the seed is eternal. Even death cannot reliably destroy it. Our dying cannot make certain that no good will ever come from our having lived. The power of the soul to bless the world is joyfully persistent. And that, friends, is something well worth feeling proud of. Proud for our species and proud for everyone in it, including ourselves.

I mentioned before that I’ve been sharing some of my favorite children’s television with my daughter. She watched Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood for the first time the other day. If you’re not familiar with the program, Mr. Rogers is a middle aged man who had roughly the same haircut for 30 years. Every time he entered or exited his house, he would change his shoes and his outfit, and sing. He liked to feed his fish, play with a toy trolley, and learn about how different foods and consumer goods were made. He gave his audience of small children lots of advice and encouragement by speaking directly into the camera, and he had an extensive collective of house sweaters. When I was a young child, I was an avid viewer of his program. My mother, however, was less than impressed by the show; Mr. Rogers was, after all, something of a square. One day she asked me why I liked watching. I thought for a minute and responded, ‘Because: I think he wuvs me.’

At its root, pride is just the belief that we are worthy of love; that it is possible for other people to care deeply about us and want us to be happy and well. That is a feeling that every person deserves, everyone needs, in fact. It is one of the great purposes of a congregation; to welcome in new folks, and to show them that they are loved. As a religious community we have much to be proud of in this regard, and also much more to do. Starting in the fall, when the cycle of our worship year begins again, we will spend some time talking about how we can better be the proudly open and radically welcoming community that we are called to be. It is a mutually-reinforcing proposition that loving others and receiving love from others helps us to better love ourselves, while it is only when we love ourselves that we can truly begin to love those around us. It is hard work, but it is worth doing and worth doing together. I look forward to reflecting on it with you this summer, and to taking up the effort in earnest, as a community, in September.

[i] Eli Clare, Exile and Pride

[ii] Isaiah, 40:4

Dona Nobis Pacem – 6/12/2011

The beautiful piece of music we just heard, an arrangement of the traditional Roman Catholic mass in Latin, closes with one final request. ‘Dona nobis pacem,’ – ‘give us peace.’ It is a prayer whose sentiments can be found in many other traditions. The Mourner’s Kaddish, one of the most central components of Jewish liturgy contains the lines, “ʻoseh shalom bimromav, hu yaʻase shalom ʻalenu” – “May the One who makes peace in the high places, grant peace for us.” And in the five daily prayers observed in Islam, we find the words, “Assalamu ‘alayna wa ‘ala ‘ibadil lahis salihin,” which means, “May God’s peace be upon us and upon all who pray.”

The hunger and the hope for peace is a common yearning in the human heart, and its expression can be found in the poetry of nearly every faith. And yet, despite the petitions of thousands of years of prayer, we human beings continue to find reasons to wage war. As Unitarian Universalists, our shared covenant includes The goal of world community, with peace, liberty, and justice for all. Following that goal means more than basic kindness or abstaining from violence ourselves. It requires of us something much more deeply active and personal.

Several years ago, during the Bosnian civil war, there was a bombing outside a bakery in Sarajevo. 22 people were killed for no particular reason other than their desire to buy bread. These are the sorts of things that happen in the waging of wars; there is no saying for certain who will die from them.

In Sarajevo, after that bombing, there was a musician, a cellist, who made a personal, active response to the tragedy and the ongoing horror of war. For the next 22 days, Vedran Sailovic went to the square where the bomb had gone off, and he played his cello. It was a defiant act; the city was under siege and to be out in public was a constant danger. To honor the dead with his music, Vedran put his body in harm’s way.

He survived the war, and the image of a classical cellist in fine clothes sitting on a burnt chair beside a bombed-out building, playing beautiful music – that picture traveled all over the world. It inspired other people to make music; similar acts of protest and solidarity were carried out by other musicians in other cities. It even set a young boy in Indiana to raising money for a memorial to those 22 people. Vedran could never have expected to influence the particular people that he did, the first day he showed up at the broken bread shop with his cello. These are the sorts of things that happen in the waging of peace; there is no saying for certain who will learn from us.

In an imperfect world, torn by injustice and strife, and in a nation at war, let our songs and our prayers cry out for peace. But let it not end there. Each of us has it within us to answer those same prayers as well. Not to change everything on our own, but to change many things, together. Let us listen for the music of life, and stirred by its strains, let us use what we have to change our world for the better.

Summer Pilgrimages

As the summer approaches, many of us are thinking about travel. Some of us are planning trips across time zones, over mountains and seas, and some of us are thinking of shorter journeys to destinations closer by. Others of us have no plans at all to leave home behind this summer. Our travels will be of the simplest sort: from the front door to the supermarket, from the kitchen to the bedroom. But no matter how far or how short the journey, the intention and the attitude that we bring to it matters. Read More >>


First Parish Church

225 Cabot St

Beverly, MA 01915


Office Hours: Mon 8:00 - 11:00 am & Tue-Fri 8:00 am - 12:00 pm

Site maintained by webmaster Amy Carlin