Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Smart Church: The Season of Light

By Connie Goodbread, Congregational Life Staff

It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. - Peter Benenson

The reason for the season is the human fear that the sun will leave and never return. In the northern hemisphere the sun, the giver of life, light, warmth and sustenance spends less and less time with us as we approach the Winter Solstice. In the Northern hemisphere the dwindling days reach their climax between Dec 20 and 22. In the southern hemisphere it happens between June 20 - 22. The days grow shorter and shorter and colder and colder. Darkness is scary! All humans are afraid of the dark. If  the sun does not return to the sky our children starve. Can you even begin to imagine how it must have seemed to our ancestors, the dwindling days, the long nights and the cold. There are more holidays that happen around solstice than any other time of year. Our ancestors built monuments to count the days and watched the sun, I am sure with great fear, hope and anticipation. Some of these monuments were built in hopes of  trapping the sun - tethering it to the Earth. Some were built as temples but all seem to watch and mark the days. All seem to try to help us to control the uncontrollable. 

The discovery of how to make fire must have seemed like a great human triumph. With this discovery we could at least fight off the encroaching cold and darkness. Gas lamps lit our homes and villages - that also must have been a great leap out of the darkness.

The very first town in the United States to be lit by electric lights was Wabash, Indiana on March 31, 1880. People came from miles around to watch. What must that experience have been like? To have moved from the dark into the light in one moment.  It must have been miraculous. I am sure people prayed and cried and were moved to tears.

More than a century later as we move into the time of the Winter Solstice we should take some time to pray, meditate and think about just how lucky we are. Yes, things move too fast and it is hard to keep up with all the changes. Yes, there is great struggle in the world and so there is a great temptation to think that ours is the only generation to struggle. We are still not feeding all the children. We are still mongering hate and cursing one another. We are still at war. But we join the ranks of our ancestors – there has always been great struggle in the world.

If we were watching from a distance - would we see the struggle that is going on now all that differently from what humans have always struggled with forever? Susan Smith and I often say that we appreciate the struggle. We say this about the struggle that happens for Unitarian Universalists as we struggle with our individual faith development. But human struggle, of all kinds, is important. The struggle to be born. The struggle to become as fully human and as alive and aware as possible. Then finally the struggle to let go of this life and move on. Struggle is what life is all about.

We may fool ourselves once in a while, like our ancestors - thinking we can tether the sun and control the universe but it is just us fooling ourselves so that we won’t be afraid of the dark. The only thing we have control over is our own behavior. Luckily we have companions in the struggle - we are all in this together and that is what should give us great comfort.

In this season of love and light - be a light unto the world. Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 2, 2013

We need to be more generous with Unitarian Universalism.

by Kathy McGowan, Congregational Life Staff

I am in love with Unitarian Universalism. It makes me very sad to think that we are such a small denomination. I believe that the world needs us.  If there were more UUs living out our faith in our lives every day, the world would be a better place.  I truly believe this.

What do you say?  Are you ready to get generous with UUism?  I mean really generous.  It might mean giving up something that is dear to you personally.  It might mean giving up something that is important to your friends. You might become uncomfortable during worship on Sunday mornings because it has changed. You might have to get to know people that you are not sure you want to know.

What if we cared more about changing the world than we did about having “our wonderful church” for ourselves each week?  What if we started to be known as that church that uses American Sign Language interpreters all the time, or the one that pipes in the service to the local homeless shelter.  But perhaps that is not thinking big enough.

What if our Unitarian Universalist congregations were the ones called when the local community needed to hold a real dialogue on difficult issues.  We might be the ones called because deep listening is one of the values that we hold so dear that we have trained compassionate communicators, mediators and facilitators to help our communities.

We might value hope so much that our congregations become the think tanks for alternate ways of living.  If we lived out the value of joy, we could be the congregations where people drop by in the evenings because “it seems like there is always something fun happening at that place”. Maybe our commitment to compassion has been so strong that we have become the place where lower, middle and upper classes now gather to strategize on how to work together to battle the common enemies of poverty and racism.

I am probably not thinking big enough yet.  I am not being generous enough with Unitarian Universalism.  I need you in order to think bigger. How generous can we be with our faith to truly make the world a better place?