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The Minister's blog (44)

Rev. David Carl Olson is an engaging speaker, a winner of sermon prizes in history and social justice, a theme speaker at conferences and frequent keynote speaker for groups engaged in the struggle for social change. Olson founded, with others, two congregation-based community organizations in Boston, Massachusetts and Flint, Michigan, and has served on the national steering committees of the UU Latino/a Networking Association and the US-Cuba Sisters Cities Association.

The following words were selected by Baltimore Ethical Society Leader Hugh Taft-Morales to open our consideration of “Separation Anxiety: the First Amendment at Risk.

Hear some Presidential words:

“We have solved, by fair experiment, the great and interesting question whether freedom of religion is compatible with order in government and obedience to the laws. And we have experienced the quiet as well as the comfort which results from leaving every one to profess freely and openly those principles of religion which are the inductions of his own reason and the serious convictions of his own inquiries.” (From proponent of Unitarian philosophy Thomas Jefferson in a letter to Virginia Baptists, the second instance of his use of the term “Wall of separation,” written to Danbury Baptists earlier.)

Another President:

“We in the United States, above all, must remember that . . . we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.” (In 1984, Ronald Reagan.)

Let’s listen to the Supreme Court:

“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?” (Justice Sandra Day O’Connor)

And from our own Maryland General Assembly:

The issue of church-state separation was framed perfectly during an Annapolis hearing on proposed state constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. Republican State Senator Nancy Jacobs said, “As I read biblical principles, marriage is intended, ordained and started by God—that is my belief. . . . For me, this is an issue solely based on religious principles.” State Senator Jamie Raskin replied: “People place their hand on the Bible and swear to uphold the Constitution. They don’t put their hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible.”

And then there is George Carlin who said:

“I’m completely in favor of the separation of Church and State. My idea is that these two institutions screw us up enough on their own, so both of them together is certain death.”

 

In the Order of Service, the following quotation was published for our consideration:

“[The Founders] knew that to put God in the constitution
was to put [humanity] out.
They knew that the recognition of a Deity
would be seized upon by fanatics and zealots
as a pretext for destroying the liberty of thought.
They knew the terrible history of the church too well
to place in her keeping or in the keeping of her God
the sacred rights of [humanity].
They intended that all should have the right to worship
or not to worship, that our laws
should make no distinction on account of creed.
They intended to found and frame a government
for [humanity] and for [humanity] alone.
They wished to preserve the individuality of all
to prevent the few from governing the many
and the many from persecuting and destroying the few.”

(Robert Ingersoll)

Tuesday, 12 May 2015 11:13

Motherless Chil'

Written by Rev. David Carl Olson

This sermon was preached for the Unitarian Universalist Association weekly chapel service on May 12, 2015.

“Sometimes I feel like a motherless chil’.” Such a distant notion for me. I was fortunate to grow up in a household with a mama who was there for me, a Mama who taught me to read at the age of 3 so that when I showed up at J. R. D. Oldham Elementary School in Riverside RI, they didn’t quite know what to do with me.

I had a mama and I had a neighborhood of mamas. Gramma lived just seven houses away, and between our house and gramma’s, I had an aunt on one side of the street and a great aunt on the other. Two blocks away were two other aunts. And in between, all the mamas of my childhood friends. Plenty of mamas in my life.

We were working people. Some of us had daddies with skilled jobs, some of our mamas worked outside the home, and some of us were poor. But it was a time when there was tremendous public investment in our communities. New schools were being built, and an emphasis on mathematics and science as key to our country winning the space race meant that I could take AP physics and Calculus.

While I knew that I would be headed to college, I really didn’t have a clue about how I would get there. It was people from my church who encouraged me in looking at college catalogues, in visiting campuses, in making the decision about where to apply. It was when my pastor announced in church that I had been accepted to college, and my church burst into applause, that I knew that I was being held by a church that was there to help me on my journey.

Baltimore is in pain right now; pain that has been brought to the surface in the uprising that happened just hours after Freddie Gray, Jr., another Black young adult, was placed in the ground. Freddie’s body was buried, but the pain could not go underground. An entire generation of Black girls and Black boys, now Black young adults, women and men and all sorts of gender identities, an entire generation of children are in pain and so are their mamas.

For thirty years now, it has been illegal in Baltimore to be young and poor and Black; there has been zero tolerance for hanging out with your friends. A generation of youngsters have been harassed and oppressed, brutalized and beaten, captured and even killed, by the Baltimore Police Department. A community completely alienated from the Police. A whole generation of people whose mamas could not protect them.

I’m struck that one of the abiding images in the media was the video clip of Toya Graham, the Baltimore mother who saw her son Michael Singleton about to throw a rock at a line of police officers. She “lost it,” she later said, when she stopped him from throwing that rock, when she confronted him, reached up and pulled off his mask; hit him; when this fierce mama would not let her son throw his life away.

I wonder, is there now a church that can be fierce in its relationship with people who live in concentrated poverty, a faith that can, with authenticity and clarity of purpose, be there to help poor people in Baltimore on their journey?

That is what we’re talking about in Baltimore, you know. Poor people trapped concentrated in areas of little opportunity. It is a mistake to look at Baltimore and point to generalized “white flight” as to what created this situation. The people who left Baltimore after the Second World War and in the urban tumult of the 1960s were people who had the capacity to do so. People who had access to government secured mortgages, people who could use the newly built interstate system as a way out of the city, White people and Black people who had the capacity to leave to more robust neighborhoods did. It’s just that our social investment gave more resources to people who had more resources, and the historically disenfranchised people were abandoned as corporate and governmental investment left the inner city. It is a poor people’s problem, and it is a Black people’s problem. And that’s a community that might feel like a motherless chil’.

The state of emergency has been rescinded; the curfew in Baltimore lifted; a new consciousness of the problem of policing is being raised; many things are returning to normal.

But if the norms continue to include a lack of opportunity for poor people in Baltimore City, those are unacceptable norms. They are unacceptable today, and they have been unacceptable for decades.

Twenty years ago, urban planer and former mayor of Albuquerque David Rusk pointed out in his book Baltimore Unbound that without a metropolitan approach to solving the problems of the inner city, both Baltimore City and the surrounding counties would be mired in inequity. And indeed, the Baltimore that needs a new transit system that allows people in areas of high concentrations of poverty to get to jobs in areas of high opportunity, cannot accomplish it without a metropolitan approach. The Baltimore families that are trapped in high concentrations of poverty will not succeed unless a metropolitan approach to housing equity is adopted. The educational system that is populated by poor children will not succeed without a broader, more metropolitan approach where peer relationships between poor and middle income children give all of them a richer experience and give poorer kids a chance to dream of the possibilities that a better education might bring them. And this cannot happen until a more metropolitan approach to education is advanced.

There is good news here for Unitarian Universalist congregations, because it will take people in areas of opportunity—like where many of our congregations are located—showing strong solidarity with people in areas of concentrated poverty to advance an agenda for metropolitan organizing and metropolitan action. Using the substantial power of our congregations and organizing our work with other communities of faith, with our state legislative networks, with experiential learning in the College of Social Justice, with more spontaneous efforts like Standing on the Side of Love—and especially living into a relational commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement, we may be part of the solution that will turn around the situation in Baltimore and, I believe, the many metropolitan areas across the country where an equivalent of the Baltimore Uprising is waiting to break out.

When William Ellery Channing spoke in Baltimore nearly 200 years ago, he gave us all an instruction: speak from the heart . . . preach from experience, that the truth which you dispense . . . [is] not merely words on your lips, but most affecting realities to your mind, and springs of hope and consolation, and strength, in all your trials.

And Sly and the Family Stone urged us further:

Stand!
You’ve been sitting much too long

There’s a permanent crease in your right and wrong.

Stand!
There’s a cross for you to bear
Things to go through if you’re going anywhere.

Let’s go somewhere, sisters and brothers of so many other mothers, so many mamas. Let’s go somewhere. Let’s go somewhere. Let’s stand.

Blessed be.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015 09:58

Prayer after a Funeral

Written by Rev. David Carl Olson

After attending the funeral of Freddie Gray, I shared this prayer with our Unitarian Universalist Association.

 

A Prayer after Freddie Carlos Gray Junior’s funeral

 

O Thou whom no person at any time hath seen,
and yet who hath been revealed in all cultures of the human family
in the simple love of parents for their children as they grow,
in the creativity and imagination, the energy and yearning of youngsters
whose lives reflect the vibrancy of stars,


we grieve at the loss of all human life,
but especially the death of the young.

 

Make real in our hearts the possibility
that our grief may be transformed in the promise

that our weeping “may endure for a night,
but joy cometh in the morning.” 

 

O Mystery, make of us a people willing to be held accountable for our actions,
and help us hold each other accountable, too,
a community of resistance and hope,
that the justice proclaimed by prophets of many ages
may be real among us now,
that peace may fill our people,
and Universal Love overwhelm our estrangement and fear.

 

This we pray by every sacred name, in every sacred tongue,
for every sacred moment. Amen.

Wednesday, 08 April 2015 11:37

Why I Organize

Written by Rev. David Carl Olson

The resurrection story always stimulates my heart to go to the people I miss so much. One of these is Jim Drake, a community organizer and United Church of Christ minister who believed in me, shaped my public personality, and held me to a high standard as we formed Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. Jim died at the end of the summer of 2001, about 18 months after he shared these thoughts with me. I hope they reveal something of a great man to you.

“Why I Organize,” by Jim Drake (c. 2000)

As a child, I grew up in a home which was regulated by the seasonal and daily schedule of the public school calendar. This was of great comfort to me in my youth. Every summer, my father and mother had about three months “free,” and my vacation and theirs aligned perfectly; my dad came home promptly at 4:00 p.m. and we ate “supper” at 5:00 p.m. on the dot. We never missed a Sunday in church together.

I did not choose a life that would toss all of this order and sensibility into the toilet. Somehow, it chose me. When I was 24, I was drawn to the movement madness of the early 1960s.  I moved from being a humble servant of the farm workers causa to being a driven, half-mad “organizer.”  I sacrificed health, family, and wealth on the altar of winning-is-everything.
I was like a $5 a week professional football player.

Organizing, until I was 40, meant winning on the short term. Get the grapes out of the A&P Grocery Chain . . . every store was a victory.  I enjoyed a million victories of this sort, but all ended in defeat. The organization itself crashed and burned, and the pyramid of victories is little more than raw material for a novel I hope to write around the year 2005.

But, at 40, even with a little perspective on how the first 15 years of my organizing career had been for naught, I moved ahead into even more complicated contexts in which to organize. Somehow, I began to understand that organizing was for the purpose of organization, not for victories. I went to Mississippi determined not to let the cause, the issue, dominate.  I had a gut feeling that just bringing persons (black and white) into new configurations of relationship was worth the bother. The vehicle became a woodcutters association. The cause was now relational power. I had never heard the term, had not encountered the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), but somehow I was on a new track.

Now, there is an irony in my effort to honor relatedness.  With my personal family, father, mother, wife, and children, I was totally at sea in the area of reciprocity and respectful relationship. For a time, in Mississippi, it all fit together. But, the more I figured out my role as organizer, I (again) lost perspective as husband/father. What became shaky while on my own, free-lancing in Mississippi, became shattered in the excitement of the years in Texas with the IAF. The IAF became a new toy, and Texas-wide travel to form a new “network” became a cause again.  There is a Texas network today, and it exists in a very small part because it was built at the expense of the Drake network.

Today I organize, I must organize, because I want integrity both for my family network and for the world in which I live. Objectively, the lessons of the IAF tell me that I organize because relatedness in public life, the very survival of our society, and the world’s future depends on my being successful. The symbiosis of family to neighborhood, neighborhood to city, city to state, state to nation, and nation to world, relies on me . . . us as organizers.

Subjectively, I organize because my own mother, sisters, brothers, children, have no hope of inheriting a good world unless I/we succeed.

But, now I organize with a determination that what I build will never again become my causa.  When it consumes me, I consume my family.  And so, for the rest of my organizing career, I want to organize in order to integrate. Integration of the public and the private becomes my new causa.  If any particular issue or institution, IAF included, demands more than the private can sacrifice, then it is no longer organizing. Why do I organize? For Jim, Matt, Tom, Christopher, Mali, Katie and Adrian.

Tuesday, 07 April 2015 20:23

The Womb of Stars

Written by Rev. David Carl Olson

The Antiphonal Reading
by Joy Atkinson
we shared on Easter:

The womb of stars embraces us;
remnants of their fiery furnaces
pulse through our veins.

We are of the stars;
the dust of the explosions
cast across space.

We are of the earth;
we breathe and live

in the breath
of ancient
 plants and beasts.

Their cells nourish the soil:
we build our communities 
on their harvest of gifts.

 

Our fingers trace the curves 
carved in clay and stone

by forebears unknown to us.

We are a part 
of the great circle of humanity
gathered around the fire, 
the hearth, the altar.

We gather this day 
to celebrate our common heritage.

May we recall in gratitude 
all that has given us birth.

Tuesday, 07 April 2015 20:19

Service is our prayer

Written by Rev. David Carl Olson

Universalist minister L. Griswold Williams edited a volume of prayers and meditations useful for services of liberal religion in the 1930s. These words which he compiled are in our hymnal and used by many congregations even today:

Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest of truth is its sacrament
And service is its prayer.

To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve human need,
To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with the Divine—

Thus do we covenant with each other and with God.

Williams first served Universalist congregations during World War I, and was an outspoken opponent of the United States joining the war. His argument was that the capitalists of Germany were at war with the capitalists of France and Britain, and that the workers of the United States should not be sent into war by the capitalists of our country. For this, he was accused of holding pro-German sympathies, and was under surveillance by the Bureau of Investigation while serving All Souls Universalist Church of Marion, Ohio. When he registered with the Marion Draft Board, he cited his religious objection to war and asked to be classified as a conscientious objector. When his congregation told him they would not renew his annual contract with him, he became Minister of First Universalist Church of Lockport, New York, where at least some who supported his pacifism.

Williams would not serve his country in war; but in following his conscience, he was drafted for non-combat service and allowed to serve his time in France with the American Friends Reconstruction Unit (now known as the American Friends Service Committee). As bombs fell in the Marne Valley, Williams worked with Quakers and others in erecting pre-fabricated shelters—the French called them démontables, disassembled. Service, in the midst of grave danger, was indeed his prayer. He wrote this poem about his experiences:

I’ve not made doors and windows for châteaux or palaces—
Only for little wooden démontables
To shelter mostly simple folk
Dripped from the grinding jaws of War.
Red tiles will be for roof, the walls be brown,
And green the white-knobbed doors.

The sections bolt together easily,
As barren as a shed for animals, almost,
Until my doors and windows make it—Home . . .

O patient Master Workman of this world,
Shaper of all this home of humankind!
Teach me the truer trade of making doors and windows for men’s souls:
Windows for letting in Love’s widening dawn,
Doors swinging outward freely on Truth’s pleasant ways.

Such service is, indeed, a prayer that we might not say yet know and do. Universalists of an earlier day, and we, too; called to act in ways that open wide our doctrine Love, that pleasantly pursue that sacred Truth, that show the world and even ourselves how we have used these lives we live to pursue harmony and grow our souls.

Lots of activity at First U this month! Let’s find ways to serve each other and our cause.

The Spiritual Power of Study

Rev. David Carl Olson, Minister
 and Karen Lee Scrivo, Interim Director of Religious Education

February 1

The free and responsible search for truth and meaning, a hallmark of our Unitarian Universalist faith, can be fulfilled in a lifetime of learning. We learn about ourselves. We learn about our world. And we study our own lives and the choices we make. Our Interim DRE introduces herself and her work in a conversation with our Minister.

 

Reading

Jeanne Harrison Nieuwejaar, The Gift of Faith, pp. 78-79

We all, children and adults, need acceptance and affirmation. We need it first in the familys embrace, but as we grow and expand, we need to find it in other places and faces as well. We need affirmation of what we do, validating our skills and talents, but on a deeper level, we ned to be accepted simply for who we are. In schools and workplaces, and in deed in most spheres of society, it is our doing and achieving that is affirmed. In worship, it is the whole self that is engaged and embraced.

 

We need a sanctuary, a safe place, to open the tender true center of who we are, to open it to ourselves as well as to others. Good, healthy communal worship offers such a sanctuary, a place made safe by the shared needs and trust of the worshippers there and by the covenant they make with one another. Sometimes this covenant is explicit. In my congregation we say in unison each Sunday an affirmation that we will be loving, accepting and peaceful with one another. But even when such a covenant is not spoken, in a healthy, nurturing congregation it is implicit. The religious community is a cherishing community, especially in the hour of worship when we are most engaged with the holy spirit of life; it is a time and place of safety. We can be authentically who we are, and we will be accepted as we are, warts and all, as someone once said.

 

In a religious community we are held and affirmed, but we are not the center of attention. To be in community is humbling. It is to be one among many, and it is a corrective to the kind of egocentric spirituality that can grow if we encounter the holy one only in private ways. Humility is a deeply spiritual qualitynot self-debasement of denigration, but understanding the self as an integrated piece of the larger circle of humanity, indeed of all of life. It is to understand oneself as singularly beautiful and significantas every other person is also singularly beautiful and significant.

 

Shared Sermon

(Olson)

This morning and this month, we will be talking about Power. This is a word that strikes many people of faith as difficult and even dirty. We learn, in many religious setting, to be people who are humble, Blessed are the meek, Jesus said, and so many of us think that having power, wielding power, is somehow not religious. Power tends to corrupt, we have been told, and we hope that we are not corrupted, that our leaders will not be corrupted.

            A more functional understanding of power tells us that power is simply the ability to act. When we have power, we can turn on a lightbulbor even Valeris lights, for that matter. When we have power, we can pass legislation that expresses our values in the world, as we have for marriage equality and raising the minimum wage. When we have power, we can achieve things that are consistent with our ethics, our morals, our principles, and can teach and tutor children at the Paca School and plant a garden with the residents of Dayspring Programs. Power is capacity, and the ability to get something done.

            I believe the first power that any of us has is the deep knowledge of our own story, which reveals our values, our intentions. We can study our own lives and see the powerful choices we have made, or the times we made choices where we needed more capacity and found ways to get what our values called us to get done. Karen, I wonder if you would be willing to share some of your story, your powerful witness to your own capacity, your own power.

 

(Scrivo)

My Story

Im Karen Lee Scrivo, and am honored to be your new interim director of religious education and following my inspiring colleague Becky Brooks. This is my fifth interim assignment.  Ive served at the Cedar Lane UU Church in Bethesda; Paint Branch UU Church in Adelphi, Md., and the UU Congregation of Columbia (Md).  I got my start in my home congregation Goodloe Memorial Congregation in Bowie before interim training strongly advised against doing this work in your own church. 

Its been a long and winding road that brought me to Unitarian Universalism, becoming a religious educator and now pursuing ordained ministry.  

I grew up Catholicattending mass, making my First Communion and Confirmation.  It was at my liberal Catholic high school in Lorain, Ohio, that I learned about Eastern religions, meditation, ethics and classical logic.  But I strongly disagreed with the Catholic Church over contraception, abortion and its refusal to ordain women. 

Still, I loved playing guitar with my friends at the contemporary mass each Sunday and enjoyed spirited debates with the liberal priests, nuns and teachers at my high school.

My maternal grandmother took me to lively Pentecostal Protestant services, prayer meetings, and miracle services.  I loved the music and hearing the Bible stories but we were worlds apart theologically over her use of the Bible to justify racism, sexism and condemn homosexuality.

Both my parents taught me to think for myself and ask questions.  My father was a journalist and my mom, a former secretary, were never ones to go along with the crowd. So after high school, I stopped attending church and considered myself an agnostic. 

It wasnt until some 10 years later that my soon-to-be husband Ken introduced me to Unitarian Universalisma denomination not covered in my high school World Religions class. Ken discovered Unitarian Universalism at the UU Congregation of the Quad Cities while working in Davenport, Iowa.  I was working as a journalist in Kent, Ohio. 

When we moved to Maryland and started attending the UU Church of Annapolis, I knew I had found my spiritual home. We were married some 30 years ago by the Rev. Fred Muir, who was in his first year there.  Rev. Muir is still there and were still married and have a nearly 24-year-old son!  A short time later, we joined the newly-formed Bowie UU Fellowship, closer to our home.  

The church has since changed its name to Goodloe Memorial UU Congregation, to honor Don Speedsmith Goodloe, one of the first African-Americans to graduate from then Meadville Unitarian Seminary. When Goodloe could not find a Unitarian congregation to call him, he founded the Bowie Normal School for African-Americans, which later became Bowie State University.

My first involvement with the Bowie church was as a youth director since I often worked Sundays as an Associated Press reporter.  I later become an OWL leader, led Coming of Age, and taught Neighboring Faiths. I learned so much about Unitarian Universalism through teaching and working with the youth.  So when the DRE in my congregation went on sabbatical, I happily filled in.

It was not until years later that I applied to be an interim DRE position at the UU Congregation of Columbia when a Montessori teaching job didnt work out.  I soon found that interim work that made good use of my experience as a teacher, writer and lifelong learner.  And, I worked for a wonderful minister, the Rev. Paige Getty, who inspired me to see my work as ministry rather than simply education.  

While at Columbia, I took an online class at Starr King School for the Ministry on childrens literature and religious education and began to think about ministry.  The next year, I took a class on UU Polity at Wesley Seminary with Rev. Rob Hardies, the senior minister at All Souls Unitarian in DC.  It was there I decided to answer the call to help people of all ages in their spiritual search.  A call, I realized that I had first heard in Catholic high school but didnt know how to translate.

I knew I wanted to attend UU seminary.  There are only two Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley, California and Meadville Lombard Theological School in Chicago.  Starr King had the earlier deadline.  In the process I learned more about Starr King and its commitment to anti-racism and creating communities that counter oppression and decided that that it was the best fit for me.  Its been an amazing and transforming journey.  And I hope to be graduating this May!

 

(Olson)

Choosing Unitarian Universalism is your story of exercising the power of thought, of expressing your personal power. Becoming involved in churches, and then discerning a call to full-time ministry, this is a story of engaging congregational power, and especially a congregation learning the power of study together. I want to share a story of Gift of Faith (p. 93).

There is a story of a little girl who asked her parents, as they drive to church one Sunday morning, What do we get at church? In response to her parents puzzled looks, she said, At the library, we get books; at the bank we get money; at the grocery store we get milk. What do we get at church?

It is the wrong question, of course. Although we get much at churchstrength, knowledge, challenge, spiritual insight, ethical clarification, moral support, healing, friendship—“getting is not the appropriate intention to bring to this experience. Nor is the intention of doing. Although in fact we may listen, talk, pray, think sing, hug, and wash dishes, the doing is not the primary intention either. 

In our society of agendas and tasks, action items and deliverables, religious community stands apart. We gather not to get, or to do, or to achieve, but simply to be, to be together in particular waysways of seeking and celebrating and supporting, ways of connecting, binding together the fragments of our lives into a unified, centered whole, binding together the solitariness of individuals into the strength of community. The binding together is never complete, however. It is an ongoing process. This is what religious community isprocess, beingness. 

            And so my question, not unlike that of the little girl: what do we get from this Interim time? Why do we have an Interim Director of Religious Education?

 

(Scrivo)

Whats an Interim DRE?

One of the best descriptions of interim religious education work Ive heard from whats known as the Romero Prayer, written by Bishop Ken Untener for a celebration of departed priests.  Archbishop Romero was the leader of the Catholic Church in El Salvador, who spoke out against poverty, social injustice, government assassinations and torture. Romero was assassinated while offering Mass in 1980. The words of the prayer, while attributed to Archbishop Romero, were never spoken by him.  Ive taken the liberty of shortening it a bit.

It helps, now and then, to take a long view.

Nothing we do is complete.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness,

No program accomplishes our mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

 

This is what we are about:

We plant seeds that one day will grow.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces effects beyond our capabilities.

We cannot to everything,

and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that.

 

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way,

an opportunity for the Lords grace to enter and do the rest.

 

We may never see the end results,

but that is the difference

between the master builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders

Ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.

The interim period for religious education is like that.  It is a time of reflection, conversation, dreaming and goal-setting.  It comes during a transition in religious education leadership and provides a chance to step back and assess the RE programwhats working, whats not, and most importantly what are the congregations hopes and dreams for life-long learning for children, youth and adults.  It helps the congregation see where theyve been, where they are now and where they want to go. 

As an interim religious educator, Im not here to change things but to help you discern and articulate what you hold dear and where there are new opportunities for growth. To do this, I will be asking questions and reflecting back what I hear and see.  And sharing with you the current trends and best practices in religious education.

There are several specific tasks that we will be working on together:

1)  Understanding this congregations religious education history

2)  Discerning your unique religious education identity (Who are we today?)

3)  Connecting with the Unitarian Universalist denomination

4)  Understanding and planning for leadership changes

5)  Creating a vibrant and robust religious education for the future.

Well start by looking at the congregations history of religious education. The rest of the tasks dont necessarily happen sequentially, and often overlap.  Every congregation is different in its focus and approach. Well be talking about this more in the future.

In the meantime, Id like you to be thinking about what kind of person you want a youth who has graduated from your religious education program to be?  What values and qualities would s/he exhibit?

 

(Olson)

This Interim Time is usually a time of one or two years. Well be with you for these next five months, and then I hope well be working with another religious education professional for the next yeargiving ourselves the time to sort things out, to begin to see the right mix of gifts needed for a diverse, downtown church like ours with the gifts of paid and volunteer staff that we bring. But Iwho inhabit the historic role of being the pastor to this congregation and the public teacher of morality to our neighborhoodI think religious education happens far beyond this place. Heres what Jeanne Nieuwejaar has to say: Gift of Faith (pp. 56-57)  

Parents are the primary religious educators, and the home is the center of religious development. Although the larger religious community is an essential component in growing a lasting faithfor both parents and childrenthe home, especially in the early years, is where the childs living unfolds, where meanings and values are rooted, where both crises and celebrations are most likely to occur. 

Attitudes in the home are conveyed to children every dayattitudes of patience, respect, affection, generosity, hospitality, deep listening, an open heart and mind. Art and other images in the home [and church] also convey values and spiritual meanings, both subtle and explicit. Green plants, bowls of shells or rocks, mobiles or wind chimes to catch the movement of the air, windows open to a garden beyondall of these bespeak a spirituality.

The power of our faith, the power of our quest for new ways of being more fully the best that we can imagine, this power arises from an outlook on life, an enthusiasm for humanity, and a confidence in our capacity to learn and to grow. I wonder, what is your philosophy of religious education?

(Scrivo)

Whats My Philosophy of Religious Education?

When people ask me about the purpose of religious education, I think of the words of two Unitarians : 20th century religious educator Sophia Lyon Fahs and 19th Century minister: William Ellery Channing.

Sophia Lyon Fahs said:

The religious way is the deep way, the way that sees what physical eyes alone fail to see, the intangibles of the heart of every phenomenon. The religious way is the way that touches universal relationships; that goes high, wide and deep, that expands the feelings of kinship.

And Rev. Channing said:

The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own; not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own;

not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth; not to form an outward regularity, but to touch inward springs;

not to bind them by ineradicable prejudices to our particular sect or peculiar notions, but to prepare them for impartial, conscientious judging of whatever subjects may be offered to their decision;

not to burden the memory, but to quicken and strengthen the power of thought; not to impose religion upon them in the form of arbitrary rules, but to awaken the conscience, the moral discernment.

In a word, the great end is to awaken the soul, to excite and cherish spiritual life.

It is my hope that together we will work to touch universal relationships and awaken the soul and excite and cherish spiritual life in our children, youth and adults.

Amen and Blessed Be. 

"Bending the arc of justice once again"  is the title of a recent op-ed by Professor Parsonya Wise Whitehead of Loyola University (Baltimore Sun, Dec 12, 2014). This commentary was brought to my attention by a leader of our church, in part to celebrate the source of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s paraphrase of Unitarian abolitionist Rev. Theooldore Parker with the phrase, "the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." Prof. Whitehead asks that we pay attention to this moment in our lives, this 50th anniversary of the marches in Selma and the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Dr. King, this moment when our society is reeling from the impunity granted to extra-judicial killings by agents of the state of unarmed Black men.

She spoke of her own example. "I have spent the semester teaching about Ferguson in my classroom. My students wanted to know what they could do to be part of the change they believed was happening around the country. I told them they should focus on changing themselves and their communities. I had them spend some time examining and confronting their own racial biases. I taught them about the social construction of race and class and assigned follow-up readings to help guide our discussions. I taught them how to facilitate difficult and emotional (but necessary) conversations about race and class. I told them that years from now, they will not remember the tests that I gave them or the parties they attended, but they will remember that this was a time when they actively grabbed the reins of democracy and worked to bend the arc closer to justice."

I visited Chicago this week to attend Winter Convocation of Meadville Lombard Theological School where I am a Teaching Pastor to ministers in preparation in the Baltimore region. The question of a lucid, compassionate, committed response to the state of our country was a theme of our conversations, and I sought a way toward clarity for me, for my students, and for the congregation that I lead and serve. How shall we respond to the reality of the hurt and pain in our cities--including our own Baltimore? How shall we deal with the work that is before us, a work Prof. Whitehead describes as "tiring and frustrating" when Black folk "have to prove to people, every day, that #BlackLivesMatter."

A brief conversation on Facebook among members of our congregation called for the need for mixed-"race" groups to come together for consciousness-raising about this moment. I applaud the sentiment for consciousness-raising, and especially when it leads to action. But I also know that lucid action can lead to consciousness-raising, and it may be that there are enough avenues already described by the movement of Black and other People of Color for White folk like me to be engaged and thus to grow in our consciousness that, indeed, #BlackLivesMatter, and that Black lives are in danger by the status quo which holds (and holds back?) us. It may be that White People need to use the rational sense which is the hallmark of our religion of reason and "walk the talk" of our faith, engaging our heads and allowing the walk to win our hearts.

My dear colleague Rev. Alma Faith Crawford asked that I understand that many Black people have had enough of explaining, for years and decades and centuries, their lives and the injustice they experience, and maybe we are past the place for conversation only. Maybe we can simply look at what is already available on YouTube and Twitter and all the social media we have, and simply commit ourselves to being part of holding the police, for example, accountable in a just way for the work that they do for us all. In the midst of such work, we may examine our own racial biases, and we may engage the "difficult and emotional (but necessary) conversations about race and class" which will assist in the raising of our consciousness. And we may bend the arc of justice in the way that is appropriate at this time, this moment of profound dislocation and dissatisfaction by some of us, which many others of us see as distant and happening only to "the other."

I look forward to our continued conversation--and action--to be about justice bending.  

Wednesday, 07 January 2015 16:14

Worship? Really?

Written by Rev. David Carl Olson

Human beings are impelled,
    not compelled,
      by the power of God
        to fulfill the good potential of their lives.
The impulse toward wholeness in humanity
   is predisposed to good,
     though it can be weakened or distorted
         by chaos and conflict.
Authentic worship keeps it alive
   and restores its integrity.

 

This assertion helped form the Universalist convocation known as "The Humiliati," a group of men--largely identified with the theological school at Tufts University--who found Universalism in the mid-20th century a moribund lot. Their belief was that they needed to state universalism in a new way for their time. In part, this reflected the growing acceptance of universal salvation--or, at least, the growing rejection of damnation among protestants in the US. 

 

So they introduced a new symbol, the circle with an off-center cross, to represent their openness to what had been given by Jesus and his followers, but a sense that it was mystery which is at the center. They introduced a bit of scandal when a minister was ordained not to the Christian ministry, as had been the practice, but to the Universalist ministry. And then they made it all the more confusing by wearing very traditional clothes, including collars and stoles; made worship more liturgical and ornate, and spent a lot of time talking about the spirituality of our faith.

 

These ministers had all been trained under Dean Clarence R. Skinner, the great social justice prophet of 20th century Universalism, and while they did not reject their teacher entirely, they did, as a group, have a sense that no social justice action can last without a deeper spiritual core. And so that is where they began.

 

I preached last week a "question box" sermon, including answering a serious question about worship. "What, or whom, do we worship? Is worship about gratitude and reverence, or is their some element of subjugation or at least submission? etc." I loved that question!

 

If has made me revisit my own sense of the "why" of our common celebration each week. I hope this is a question that I never believe has only one answer. But this notion of the Humiliati--our need to balance our wholeness and goodness against the weakening effect of chaos and conflict--speaks to me. 

 

I come to church to consider the things of ultimate worth. I seek a body of people ready to do the same. I hope to draw from our encounter with each other--and with "The Mystery"--Life, mine and ours; and Integrity.

 

That might keep me coming back for a lifetime.

Monday, 29 December 2014 16:59

Harry Potter or Samwise Gamgee??

Written by Rev. David Carl Olson

Harry Potter??

A comment was made about our church services a few weeks ago where I was called "Our Harry Potter." I will confess (blush, blush) that I have very little understanding of what that comment means. I have not read Harry Potter, although my nieces and nephews have, and explained the books to me (with great joy!). Still, I have had to "punt" dinner conversations that turned in Harry's direction. I can usually apply a little theological education to the themes raised--and I can handle the rolling eyes of the children I love.

I have to say that there is something attractive about being referred to as a title character of a best-selling saga. What I like most of the reference is the fact that Harry is learning, is building relationships that last, and is growing in skill. I think, too, of his desire for a correct assessment of situations, what we call in organizing knowing "the world as it is." Being powerful is great. but understanding how much power and how little power we have is an invitation to grow greater power through solidarity with others. And that works for me, as the leader of a religious community. I need to be humble about the kind of influence we have on the world today just because of our theological, ethical and moral convictions. Our faith asks great things of us and proposes greater things for the world--and without healthy humility, we can be so arrogant.

I remember when I was leaving my ministry in Boston, one community leader talked about the work I did as President of an important congregation-based community organization, Greater Boston Interfaith Organization. That leader hoped I wasn't offended when she called me not Frodo (of Lord of the Rings), but Samwise Gamgee. She said that I was willing to let other people appear in the title role, that we encouraged other people to grow in their leadership capacities, and were the strong, loyal and committed companions to those who were called to carry "the Ring." And when necessary, I accepted the fact that I might need to bear the burden of the Ring when the acknowledged leaders were unable so to do.

That is, to me, what skillful and faithful ministry seeks to be about. To intuit the gifts of people and share that intuition with them; to acknowledge and nurture their leadership of our community and its liberal and liberating mission; to accompany people in their leadership and especially in their growth; and to be grateful for all that we accomplish together.

I'm not sure what of this is about the wizardry of faithful relgious leadership, and what is about the virtue of loyalty. Both, I think, are needed in building Beloved Community. But I am so thankful to be able, in my daily life, to touch the lives of people who are trying to make meaning with their own lives and with their families and public relationships, and even the wider world.  This work of redemption can be a sacred and fulfilling labor. And all in anticipation of a New Year, just hours away . . .     

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