Monday, October 23, 2006

A Sacred Circle Service

Join us for ritual and meditation honoring the turning of the Wheel into the dark time of the year. Samhain (sow-in), also meaning "summer's end", familiarly known as Hallowe'en and All Hallow's Mass, is the beginning of the new year for some who follow an Earth-Centered spiritual path. This is the time when the veil is thinnest between the world of the living and the realm of the ancient ones.

Beginning with this celebration of Samhain, we will be offering the Sacred Circle Service periodically as a gathering for ritual, meditation, drum and chant for those who are seeking a deeper connection to the Earth's changing seasons and the phases of the Moon.

Join us this Sunday, October 29th at 7:00 pm in the McKeeman room, and be on the look out for more Sacred Circle Services throughout the year.

Write to for more information.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Belief and Discernment

Delivered by Warren Brown
July 23, 2006

Sunday Morning Service

Years ago, I had a business that often required me to drive long distances at night. To pass the time, I listened to books-on-tape, or music on cassette, or occasionally late night talk radio. One night, in Fall of 1996 very early in the morning, I was tuning around the distant AM stations when I came across a show that I hadn’t heard before. There was a scientist talking with the host about a comet that was traveling toward Earth.

“Cool, a talk show about astronomy,” I thought. Now, I’m not a scientist, but science has always fascinated me. So I settled in to the conversation.

The scientist was Dr. Courtney Brown, a tenured professor at Emory University. He was talking about a recently taken photograph of the Hale-Bopp comet that at the time was on its approach passed Earth. Hale-Bopp, most of you will remember, was one of the largest comets to travel by our planet in over one hundred years. It could easily be seen in the night sky without a telescope.

The photo that Dr. Brown was talking about had been taken by someone he referred to as a “top-ten university astronomer.” What made this picture interesting is that it appeared to show something more than the comet. The photo showed a large object behind Hale-Bopp – an object that he said was up to four times the size of Earth. This object was originally discovered by an amateur astronomer named Chuck Shramek, who had been tracking the progress of Hale-Bopp. Dr. Brown’s photo seemed to support the object’s existence. Even more interesting was that according to Shramek the object didn’t correspond to any known bodies on the star charts. But what really piqued my interest, was when Brown stated that the object seemed to be actually traveling along with the comet! More astonishing yet, he maintained that it was not a natural object and that it was traveling in a way that seemed to purposely shield its view from the Earth behind the bright comet!

Well, at this point, my 2 o’clock in the morning brain was racing. “Are these guys saying that this thing is a space craft being piloted toward the earth using Hale-Bopp as cover?” Yes, that was exactly what they were saying. This was astounding! If true, it would have been the beginning of one of the most significant moments in the history of planet! All of our past assumptions about everything - the cosmos, life, and God would be put to the test.

I was excited. But, I wasn’t ready to be sold yet. News of this scope naturally kicked my skepticism into overdrive. On one hand, someone with seemingly respectable credentials was making the claim. And there was the corroborating photograph. Dr. Brown even asserted that he had contacted the Greenwich Observatory who was supposedly also following the unidentified object. Also, I was aware that some of the great scientific minds of the time considered life on other planets, not only possible, but probable. It stood to reason that sometime, a sufficiently advanced alien culture might just show up.

On the other hand, this was an extraordinary claim. And my source of information – well, the authority of commercial talk radio anytime of the day should be considered suspect – talk radio at 2 in the morning is even more dubious. Besides, Dr. Brown only identified the author of the photo as a “top ten university astronomer.” He said that the scientist was arranging a press conference to officially announce the discovery, and wanted to remain anonymous until then. Hmmm…

Still, as the show signed off the air, promising to keep abreast of developing information, I was thrilled at the prospect. But at the same time, I was determined to find news that would support these claims.

So the next day, I bought several newspapers. I scanned the TV. I listened to the radio. Surely, news like this would get lots of coverage. But nothing. No articles. No stories. No commentaries. About the aliens coming to earth - there was only silence.

Now, I’m not big on conspiracies. So reluctantly, I had to admit that if the media wasn’t covering this story, there was a good chance that it wasn’t credible. That night, I tuned back in to the radio show. They were still talking about the aliens. And I learned more about Dr. Courtney Brown from Emory. His field was and still is political science, not astronomy. He’s also the director of the Farsight Institute – an organization dedicated to scientific remote viewing – a process that uses psychic ability to “see” events in distant locations or back in time. Apparently, it was three of his remote viewers that identified the Hale-Bopp companion as a metallic structure filled with aliens. Well, I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions about remote viewing. But to me, it sounded like pseudo-science at best, and sadly I concluded that aliens were probably not about to land.

It turns out that the show I was listening to was the Art Bell show, a regular haunt of those interested in paranormal oddities and conspiracies. I later heard that Dr. Brown’s corroborating photo was a fake and that Chuck Shramek, the amateur astronomer that had found the object was using his star chart program incorrectly. The object he “discovered” was indeed a known star.

For me and for most people who heard about Hale-Bopp’s alien companion, that was the end of the story. We had listened to the claims. We critically examined the evidence. And finding them unconvincing – like it or not, we rejected the whole notion.

But there were others who heard the assertions of Chuck Shramek and Courtney Brown who came to very different conclusions. Marshall Applewhite was the charismatic leader of a small religious sect in California. He and his 38 followers had access to the same information that I had. But rather than rejecting the contentions about aliens, they embraced them. Applewhite and his group became convinced that not only was a ship on its way, it was coming for them. In fact, they were so sure, that a few months after Art Bell broke the news on his program, all 39 members of the Heaven’s Gate cult quietly and methodically committed suicide in preparation for their galactic voyage.

How could such a thing happen? How could these people, when presented with essentially the same information that I was, come to believe such radically different things? Those questions have haunted me ever since.

How do we form our beliefs? How do we validate or invalidate them? And how do those beliefs affect our lives? For UU’s, these questions are central to our 4th principle: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” It’s important that we think about the things that we believe.

I meet with a group here at the church called UU Baggage Inspection. Once a month we get together to examine and discuss a foundational spiritual concept. So I was excited when one of our first topics was “belief.” It gave me the excuse to do a little research on the subject. And while I was only able to scratch the surface of a very complex issue, I found the information useful and enlightening.

Beliefs concern those ideas that we consider true, but have no proof. We hold many, many beliefs – some are profound, and some are ordinary. We may believe an intelligent God guides the universe. We may believe our kids sometimes lie about finishing their homework. We may believe in a woman’s right to choose. We may believe our co-workers are shameless self-promoters. We may believe that we can succeed if we only try. We may believe that Fords are better than Chevys. We have beliefs about everything and everyone around us. All of those beliefs work together to create our world-view. And they color everything we see.

Where do these beliefs come from? Some we get from others. As children, many of our beliefs come from our parents. Others we get from friends or teachers or ministers. And many, we come up with on our own.

Michael Shermer, psychologist and founding publisher of Skeptics Magazine has studied and written extensively about the formation of beliefs. In his book “How We Believe – Science, Skepticism, and the Search for God,” he argues that beliefs often start with something that we as humans are particularly good at:

Did you see the square in this pattern?

This graphic illustrates something humans are very good at. We are pattern-seeking animals. Recognizing patterns in our world has always been crucial to our survival. For example:
- Early hunters noticed that their hunt’s were more successful when they stayed upwind of their quarry.
- And when they began to farm, they learned that cow manure is good for crops.
Even today…
- We learn early that when crossing the street that dangerous cars are likely to be speeding by,
- Later we notice that if we drink too much we’ll feel bad the next day.
- Or as I’ve found out on occasion, if I act like a jerk, people will treat me like one.

As we recognize patterns, we can begin to make assumptions about our world - assumptions that we put together to form systems of belief.
- If we look both ways, we won’t be run over by a car.
- We should drink in moderation.
- If we don’t act like jerks and treat people with respect, we’ll get along better with those around us.

Michael Shermer asserts that this process of assembling patterns into beliefs has through evolution become hardwired into our brains. It’s a system he’s dubbed the “Belief Engine.” And it works so well, that if we’re not careful, it can cause us problems. It turns out that we’re so good at seeing patterns, we sometimes see them when they are not there.

This time, look again and try not to see the square.

It’s difficult to do. Our brains fill in the missing pieces.
There’s not really a square there –
Only four Pac Man shapes.

We’re predisposed to see the pattern. Once we’ve identified it, a pattern is difficult to reject, even if new information contradicts it. Not only that, we tend to see the patterns that we want to see, and deny the patterns that we don’t.

When I shop at the supermarket, I always try to figure out which will be the fastest checkout line. But no matter how carefully I choose, the person ahead of me always has an item that won’t scan, or has forgotten his or her bonus card and needs to have the number looked up, or has a coupon for two bottles of dish detergent but only picked up one. In the meantime, the people who were at the backs of the other lines when I walked up are now on their way to the parking lot. The pattern always is – that the slowest line will always be the one that I choose.

Of course, I know that’s not really true. In fact, every time I’m at the store, rather than just getting in any line, I always try to calculate which lane has the fewest items and the fastest checker - even though, I’m probably right less than half the time.

So, why do I persist in this belief that I can pick a fast checkout lane? It may be partly because of who I believe I am. The strong image I have of myself is that of an intelligent and rational thinker. Therefore, I believe that I have the mental acuity to be able to read all of the variables in the checkout lane to determine which will be fastest. The fact that I fail more than succeed, doesn’t harmonize with my self-image. As a result, I deny the pattern and preserve my delusion.

It’s the same for all of our beliefs. They have to be in harmony. So if new patterns of information come along that support our existing beliefs we’re disposed to accept them. On the contrary, if new information challenges our beliefs we have three choices. Our first reaction might be to reject the new information. Or we can try to make it fit our existing beliefs. Otherwise, we must change or discard our conflicting beliefs. For strongly held beliefs, this can be a very difficult thing to do.

Heaven’s Gate founder Marshall Applewhite was a very troubled man. He struggled with mental illness and his own sexuality. In his thirties, he had admitted himself into a psychiatric hospital for hearing voices and to be “cured” of his homosexual urges. Unfortunately, the medical community wasn’t able to help him. So instead, he sought solace in an increasingly bizarre system of beliefs. He believed that he was a messenger from an “Evolutionary Kingdom Level Above Human.” who had been sent to earth and placed in his current “human container.” He was rejecting his humanity, and perhaps overcoming his inner conflict.

His mission was to prepare the world to be recycled to the next evolutionary level. To aid him, he gathered a number of followers whom he also indoctrinated into his beliefs. The members of Heaven’s Gate were isolated from the outside world - including from their family and friends. They were given new names and forced to take on androgynous identities. Applewhite controlled all information, not allowing his followers to watch television or read anything he did not approve.

When Courtney Brown’s news of an alien ship reached the group, it was altogether consistent with their beliefs that it was coming for them. To be swept away from their troubled existence on Earth, must have been cause for celebration. But in the months that followed Art Bell’s show, the contradicting evidence would have become increasingly difficult to reject. In the end, death may have seemed the only way to retain “the truth.” When Applewhite elected to die, his followers were obliged to do likewise.

Thank goodness the Heaven’s Gate episode was the kind of rare and tragic event that’s not likely to personally touch most of our lives. But the warning is clear. Wrong-headed beliefs are the cause of sadness and suffering everyday, everywhere. In Iraq people regularly justify killing themselves and others because they believe it will be pleasing to God. Elsewhere others succumb to scams because they believe the stories of unscrupulous con artists. Many of us know people who reject relationships with family members whose sexual orientation clashes with their beliefs. And how many here aren’t willing to work for the growth of our congregation believing that more members will destroy the intimate nature of our community?

Conversely, how much better is a society that challenges beliefs of racial or gender superiority? Our environment improves as beliefs about pollution change. And how much more effective are all of us in everything we do if We Believe We can make a difference?

A mountain of information comes at us everyday on which we form judgments. We should all be critical of the messages we receive. But we shouldn’t discard information just because it challenges the things we believe. As Michael Shermer reminds us, it’s easy to deceive ourselves. Many of the beliefs to which we cling limit rather than expand our possibilities. We all have beliefs that are worth keeping and others that should be modified or thrown away. Discernment is the process of deciding which is which. I challenge all of you – which beliefs could you change that would make your life better?

Quite a few of us are here today because we rejected beliefs that we had grown up with. We sought a place where we were free to believe as our own heads and hearts guided. UU’s are good at challenging beliefs. But we should never be complacent - not if we are to affirm and promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

May your beliefs bring you strength in adversity, comfort in uncertainty, and peace in quietude.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Our Church Blog Needs Writers!

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Would you like to try your hand at writing on this blog?

We would love to have you! Send an email to and we will get back to you with a request for the appropriate information.

See You On Sunday!

Living Wage - A Matter of Faith

Sermon Delivered by Jamie Goodwin
October 15th, 2006
Sunday Morning Service

They say, when you writing a sermon, that you should never apologize. They say that you should come from a place of understanding, dedication, and passion. They say that you should just put your ideas out there and allow the congregation to respond to them as they will.

But I still need to say this; with today’s sermon I am distinctly aware of three things.

First, there will those of you out there who disagree, passionately. Know that you are loved and respected, and in my case admired.

Second, political issues are complicated and detailed and one sermon will not be the solution to the problems of poverty or opportunity that our country faces.

And third, talking about a problem is all well and good but there must be a call to action, there must be a wave of individuals working, moving for what they believe in order for change to happen.

At its heart, the issue of Living Wage is about one simple idea. A job should keep you out of poverty, not keep you in it.

"We look around every day and we see thousands and millions of people making inadequate wages. Not only do they work in our hospitals, they work in our hotels, they work in our laundries, they work in domestic service, they find themselves underemployed. You see, no labor is really menial unless you’re not getting adequate wages."

That is part of a speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. a little less than a month before he was killed in 1968.

There are numbers, I could bore with the details of how with inflation and standard of living increases that the minimum wage today has about 4 times less buying power than it did when originally enacted. I could tell you about how the increase in corporate profits is somewhere along the line 10 times that of the increase in minimum wage workers salary. I do encourage you to look up these numbers, do a search online, but for me the issue is about so much more then mere numbers.

I mentioned earlier how I believed that any call to social justice must also be a call to action. Words are not enough, but they are enough to make place to start.

Saint Vincent de Paul said, “It is not enough to give soup and bread; this the rich can do. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give them.” He was born poor you see, and at his families urging was ordained in the church. His intelligence and ability to organize had him quickly climbing the ladder of power in 17th century Europe.

In those times it was not unusual, and it may not be unusual now, for wealthy families to hire a private Chaplain to minister to them. Vincent was doing so in Paris in 1613 when he became increasingly aware of the peasants around him, peasants who were barely given enough food to survive, who in a very real sense where treated as less than human.

It is amazing to me that nearly 400 years later we are still talking about basically the same issue. We are still talking about how when people are left to live in poverty and shame they loose a portion of their humanity. They are treated as less, as unworthy, as a blemish to be tolerated (because we still need them to plow our fields, and build our homes) but to be otherwise ignored.

A month or so ago I went on a trip to Chicago. Any of you who have ever driven to the Windy City from here know that your trip takes you through Gary Indiana. Gary is one of our cities that was founded by a corporation, The United States Steel Corporation to be exact. Traveling down I-90 you will notice a few things about Gary. On the right you will first see the mill itself... it is huge, covering an expanse of land that in many ways feels shameful for some reason you cannot quite put your finger on. On the left, quite literally across the tracks you will see the city buildings, the quite pretty downtown area. And just a little further down the road the run down, barely standing homes of the people who live and work in the area.

The disparity of the people who serve the mill and the city and the corporation and city government itself is so obvious to an outsider as to be embarrassing, and I am sure an outsider would see the same driving through Akron as well.

The divide between the have and the have-nots has grown to a size not seen sense the days of St. Vincent de Paul. Not seen sense the industrial revolution, and we have a choice to make. Do we continue down the path were the vast majority of our neighbors remain uncared about and uncared for. Or do make a difference in their lives, in all our lives.

The first minimum wage laws where passed in the United State in 1938, and for sometime after that kept pace with economic and corporate growth. Many of us who work in manufacturing continue to earn fair wages and have a good quality of life. It may not surprise you to learn that many people who are working at minimum wage levels are employed by the government itself, and many others are working for industries that are subsidized by government funds.

The people who are living in abject poverty are most often the same people who are cleaning our public spaces, laundering our clothes, and preparing and serving the meals to those with wealth and power.

Once again we turn back the clock when in 1776 the year of the founding of our nation, the Scotsman Adam Smith said in his work “The Wealth of Nations” “It is but equity . . . that they who feed, clothe and lodge the whole body of the people, should have such a share of the produce of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged.”

Wages reflect our personal values and our nation’s values. Wages reflect whether we believe workers are just another cost of business—like rent, electricity or raw materials—or human beings with inherent dignity, human rights and basic needs such as food, shelter and health care.

The minimum wage is where society draws the line:

This low and no lower.

In 1966 martin Luther King Jr. addressed the General Assembly of Unitarian Universalists; and our current President William Sinkford was there and remembers;

Dr. King never lost hope. And we need to sustain our hope as well, to create our own “stone of hope.” I recall hearing those words, “stone of hope,” from Dr. King as I sat in a crowded room at the UUA’s General Assembly in Hollywood, Florida, in June of 1966, listening to him deliver the Ware Lecture. Dr. King decried militarism, economic injustice and the scourge of racism. He invoked the words of Jefferson and Lincoln, a call for Americans to live up to the ideals that this country was based upon. And he called for Unitarian Universalists to be part of this struggle, reminding us that “when the church is true to its nature, it stands as a moral guardian of the community and of society.”

Today I call upon Unitarian Universalists to honor Dr. King’s memory by renewing our commitment to peace and justice. I believe there will be backlash every time the circle of equality is widened, but I hew my stone of hope with these words: “The arc of the universe is long,” said Dr. King, quoting 19th century Unitarian abolitionist Theodore Parker, “but it bends toward justice.”

Have no doubt this is the work of the church, of our church.

Ginger Luke, the Director of Religious Education at River Road Unitarian Church says it better than I.

So is the living wage an important enough issue to engage the congregation in years of educating and dialogue? Is the living wage too specific an issue? What I believe wholeheartedly is that poverty in the United States is a religious and ethical issue, which threatens the very essence of the way we live. Poverty shatters the worth and dignity of our people.

Recently throughout Unitarian Universalism there has been much discussion about just what is it that binds us together as a religious community. We do not all believe alike, as I said earlier, we do not all think alike not theologically or politically. None the less our vision is grand and our religious community offers us nothing less than the opportunity to work together to make change in our world.

Prophetic voices throughout the ages have called upon their nations to show justice to the poorest and most vulnerable in society. The Prophet Amos exhorts the people of Israel, “Hate evil and love good, and establish justice. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Then, and now, the assembled people of faith are called upon to establish justice for low-wage workers, whose cries are so often heard across our land.

Buddhist Master Tich Nhat Hanh says

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing,
and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn ways to
work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals.

The Buddhist concept of Right Livelihood, or non-harmful ways of making a decent living, is understanding that we all need the basics: food, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Grinding poverty, for those who are working as hard as they can, leads to constant suffering and fear. Everyone, without exception, wants to live with dignity and safety, in happiness and in peace. When we help others, we help ourselves.

The Persian Muslim Sufi Thinker, known to us as Saadi has this to say,

To worship God is nothing other than to serve the people.
It does not need rosaries, prayer carpets, or robes.
All peoples are members of the same body,
Created from one essence,
If fate brings suffering to one member
The others cannot stay at rest.

This is the work of people of faith; this is our work if we are brave enough to take it on. We believe that WE can make a difference. No one will do it for us, as Gordon McKeeman said from this pulpit “But, you say, we are so few… If we are few, it’s all the more reason for us to speak up with our lives.”

I ask that you please pray with me now.

Let the world be changed, for I long to see the end of poverty;
Let the rules be changed, for I long to see all jobs pay a wage that enables a life of dignity and sufficiency;
Let the rules be changed, for I long to see trade bring justice to the poor;
Let my life be changed, for I long to bring hope where good news is needed.
In the strength of Spirit and inspired by Compassion, I make this promise to work for change, to strive for justice, and carry always a message of hope and dignity,
To all of humanity.

Amen and May It Be


We are a welcoming congregation, committed to:

- building a community founded in love, trust, and freedom
- supporting each other in our spiritual journeys, and
- taking our common ideals to the wider community in action and service.

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On this blog we hope to share a little about what makes our Church special, unique, and an interesting place to be.

We also hope to share some our perspectives, ideas, and important up and coming events.