Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

A UU church’s new 8:30 am worship service for atheists–in Tulsa

Last Sunday an usher gave me a long newspaper clipping from the Tulsa World, with an article about his sister’s church there and about my colleagues who serve at All Souls Unitarian.  It’s nearly our largest congregation in the UUA.  (By the way, “All Souls” is one of the most common names for our UU congregations.)

I just did a google search so I could link you to it, and found that many blogs are hot on its trail. I smiled at the one that put quotation marks around the word church in its blog headline.

This article has a very thorough and clear explanation of our Unitarian heritage as well as a good summary of demographic data about the fastest-growing group of people in religious landscape–those unaffiliated with an organization or distinct tradition.   Some of them–but not all–are non-theists or agnostics.  \Okay, here is the article!


November 19, 2012, 6:07 pm
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Giving Speaks  is pleased to share this guest blog post by the Rev. Neal Jones* ~

People can be funny about money.  I know some people with lots of money who act like they’re barely scraping by, and I know some people who are barely scraping by who are as generous as kings and queens.  When it comes to money, perception can have little to do with reality.

How much we save and spend has more to do with our mindset than our bank account.  Some people have a mindset of scarcity, a “glass half empty” outlook.  They expect money, time, and love to be hard to come by.  These resources could run out at any time, leaving you high and dry.  You need to grab them and cling to them to make sure they don’t slip away.  It’s hard to be generous with a clenched fist.

Some people have…

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“Come As You Are” — UUSS Sermon from Veterans Day, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2012

Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento, California

Songs: #21 (in Las Voces del Camino):  “Ven, Espiritu de Amor,” “America the Beautiful,” vv. 1-3; #201 (in Singing the Living Tradition):  “Glory, Glory, Hallelujah (Since I Laid My Burden Down)”

Yoga Practice with Paige:  Warrior Pose (Stepping Forward), Seated Breathing (Acceptance)




Pastoral Prayer

Now I invite you to a time of contemplation in word and silence.  Please take out the insert for hymn #21, “Ven, Espiritu de Amor,” so you have it handy at the end of this time.  We’ll remain seated to sing, and will hear the song played through once again before singing.

Now please settle your mind and spirit.  Notice your hands resting. Notice your feet and bodies, resting in the Spirit.  Notice the breath of life…as I offer these words.

Spirit of Life and Love, give us hearts full of gratitude for the gift of life and the gift of this new day.   As nights grow long and the air grows cold, we can be grateful for all who bring light to our lives, and for all sources of warmth. We keep in mind those recovering from hurricanes and snow storms, and those providing help.  We hold in our hearts all people around the globe made vulnerable by rapid climate changes now taking place.

Today is Veterans Day.  Let us extend prayers of care and thanks to all who have served, and to those now on active duty or in the reserves.

Let us also extend prayers of care and thanks to those for whom the call to serve has led them into other ventures, and often into harm’s way:  those working in the diplomatic service, volunteers in Peace Corps and Americorps, journalists working in dangerous, repressive places around the world, public safety employees in local communities, and activists who put their bodies on the line to bear witness to injustice and oppression in lands near and far.

We call to mind any veterans we know and love, and others who give of themselves in service. Let us now speak the names on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

At this time we may be thinking of loved ones we have lost to death—those lost recently, and those whose absence we mark at this time of worship.  Let us now speak the names on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

We reach out in care to those facing a family crisis, medical challenge, financial distress, heartache and loss, and burdens of the mind or spirit.  Let us say the names of those people we have on our minds.  Either whispering to ourselves or calling out our concerns for others to hear, let us now speak the names on our hearts into the space of our sanctuary.

Life has its light moments and joyful milestones also.  We give thanks for the moments of celebration, and we invite those names or events to be spoken into the space of our sanctuary.

May one another’s good news give all of us reasons for joy.

As we conclude another nationwide election, we can breathe a sigh of relief.  Now as the advertisements and arguments have subsided, may tensions ease.  May all of us be open to hear the hopes and longings of all our neighbors.

Let us move ahead with gratitude for this messy blessing of democracy.  From sea to shining sea, may the spirit of wisdom and stewardship guide our elected officials.   May all of us be guided by compassion.

Spirit of Life bless us, and bless this world with peace and healing.  Blessed be, and amen.

[Moment of silence.]

Now please remain seated for singing #21 together after we hear it again.  Ven, Espiritu de Amor.  Come, Spirit of Love.

Sermon:  Come As You Are


Driving on a summer day in the wooded hills of southern Indiana, I slow down as the state road takes me through a town with one flashing yellow traffic light: Bean Blossom.  On the left hand side I pass a memorial park celebrating a late great Blue Grass musician (Bill Monroe).  On the right I pass a clean white wooden church with clear windows.  It stands out against a bright blue sky.  Up high inside the gable, a painted sign: “Bean Blossom Mennonite Church.”  Just below the name, it says: “Strangers Expected.”

I’m not sure what that means.  Mennonites are an old sect, with connections to the Amish and the Quakers.  Most are of German ancestry.  Services are traditional; clothing is conservative.

Strangers Expected.  As a marketing slogan, a bit ungracious.  If it’s aimed at curious neighbors and seekers passing by—telling us that visitors are welcome—it’s at best antiquated.  Strangers?  Up-to-date wording would say: newcomers, visitors, guests, friends-to-be…

Maybe it’s telling us that visitors are expected — so, you better visit!  That’s kind of bossy.  Well, I am passing by on my way to Bloomington, where I will go to a UU church in the morning, so I can’t visit the service here to find out what they mean.  Before driving on by, I take a picture with my phone.

Strangers Expected.  I wonder if the sign is aimed at that church’s own members.  An existential reminder:  We’re all strangers here, in one way or another.  There is so much that we do not yet understand about one another, so much we do not know.  Whether first timers or long timers, we have much to learn, much to share, of ourselves.  Perhaps that is what it’s for.

Here in Sacramento, the regular invitation seen by visitors to our website says:  “Come As You Are.”  The words mean: Dress however you feel comfortable.  But the words mean more than that.

Come as you are.  Bring your whole self to this congregation.  Bring your history, your personality, your identity, your love.  Your hopes, passion, talent, creative enthusiasm.   Bring your loss and your lamenting.   Your doubts, quirks, bad habits, weaknesses, and failures.  Bring your energy and your exhaustion.  There is room to grow here, room to risk, room to be less than perfect.

It’s not a condition of participation to have your life nice and tidy, “issues” taken care of, questions answered, spiritual mess cleaned up.  If each of us waited till we had it all together before coming to church, this place would be empty.

It is not required to have all your stuff together before building a community for yourself.

Over the years, it has hurt my heart when someone says to me they feel embarrassed to come back to church, or to come for the first time, on account of their present condition… of grief, confusion, self-doubt, singleness, unemployment, underemployment, or having medical needs or emotional challenges.  This is when we need community, not when to shy away from it.

There are two main reasons that people start attending a spiritual community.  One reason is that somebody has invited you.  The other one reason is a transition in your life.  A new child, relocation, new job, lost job, retirement, death in the family, loss of relationship, an unwelcome diagnosis.

On the other hand, a big life change also can leave us shaken, and we may stop involvement in a community, or not even start going to one in the first place.  It’s a paradox—in our pain or doubt, just when we need caring people, we may keep them at arm’s length. When we need a place to belong, we may allow loneliness to keep us away.          Don’t do this!  Come as you are.  At its best, a spiritual community accepts us as we are, wherever we are.  And then it opens us to the challenge to grow beyond who we are, to be more than we were before.   We have to start somewhere. Why not start where you are?

Healing, self-acceptance and self-transformation are done best with the support of other people.              James Luther Adams, the great Unitarian theologian and activist minister of the 20th century, said:  “Church is a place where you get to practice being human.”  Come as you are.

A story from over ten years ago.   I received a phone call from a stranger, a woman living near the town of the congregation I was serving at the time.  She said that her father was in a local hospital with a terminal disease.  He needed someone to talk with.  He had requested a Unitarian Universalist minister. “Is that something you do?” she asked.

Her father was not a member of any church.  When she and her sister were young, he had taken them to a UU church elsewhere for Sunday school, but not for very long.  Knowing her age, I calculated that it would have been in the 1960s or 70s, back when I had attended church with my mother.  Ours was a middle-of-the-road Protestant congregation.  Attending was a regular thing, but I can’t say our family was immersed in the life of the congregation.  We did not bring our whole selves to church.  We kept the community at arm’s length.

Back then, churchgoing was just what you did, not something you chose to do because you felt a need for something more, a need for greater depth in life.  In those days, many congregations reflected the larger culture’s preference to stay on the surface of life, to avoid the depths and be quiet about the tender places of our lives.

Back to the woman’s request for me to visit her dying father.  Though I was busy, I made the time.  After services on Easter Sunday, I went to the hospital.  I made my way to a critical care unit.

There was little of the small talk that usually takes place between strangers.  I introduced myself, and he started talking.  “I’ve been doing a lot of soul searching,” he said.

He told me that he had married and had two children.  His wife had divorced him when the children were young.  After the divorce, he dated, but never remarried.  But the main burden on his mind was older than his divorce.  He told me that when he was 18 he had entered the Army.  He fought in Europe during World War II, as a member of the Army Signal Corps.  He shot at enemy soldiers.  He told me that he could justify his actions by the necessity of stopping the Nazis.  However, it was still a burden to think that he had probably killed other human beings.

For a young man who grew up with principles of nonviolence, he said, it was a disorienting experience.  He had never been able to resolve it.  He told me that he had never kept his wartime experiences a secret.  However, almost nobody had seemed to be interested.  Nobody had invited him to talk about his time in the war.

After telling me all this, he said, “What can you do for me?”

I said:  “I could listen some more; I could tell you my thoughts about what you have told me, or I could pray with you.”

He said:  “I’ll take all three.”

He talked more.  He had been a dentist for many years.  After earning a doctorate in re-constructive dentistry, he had worked on teams of volunteers who repaired cleft palates in people all over the world.  After his retirement, he became a volunteer leader in his town.  He established Head Start early education programs in the school district, and served on the board for years.  This man was the gentlest soul I had met in a very long time.

After talking he became chilled.  He requested a warmed-up blanket.  A nurse brought one, but he still shivered.  I asked for a few more.  By the time he was bundled up, he was agitated and anxious.  He asked me to sit with him for a while until he became calm again.  I sat in silence in a chair near the foot of his bed.  After a while, he said, “Thank you for staying with me.”

I said,  “I am honored to be here.”

After a while, he was ready to resume conversation.  The silence had given me time to think about what I might say to him, and time to pray about it.

This is what I told him.  I said that we cannot undo or erase the actions we regret.  But even if we cannot justify our actions, we might be able to understand how it was that they happened.  Then, with the life we have left, we can make choices that reflect what we value and what we believe in.  I asked him if his work as a dentist and his years of volunteer service had been his attempt to make life-affirming choices.  He said yes, that’s what he had tried to do.

The last part of his request of was a prayer.  Before I took his hand to pray, I thought I should ask him about his concept of the divine.  This was his answer:  “God… represents… the totality of all the love and caring that has ever existed.”

I prayed to the Spirit of Life and Love, asking for comfort and peace for him and those he cared about.  I prayed that he might know that he was forgiven.  I prayed that he might know what a blessing his life had been.   I gave thanks for knowing him.  I concluded:  Amen.  (It took effort for me to use the word forgiveness, but this is what I think he was seeking.)  Ninety minutes after we had met, we said goodbye.   He died the next week.

He said that he had never kept his wartime regrets a secret.  But few people had asked him.  He carried those burdens alone, for too long.  What if he had been part of a community that had asked him?  What would it have been like if he could have unburdened himself in a caring congregation? What a gift it could have been for younger people in a congregation to hear this man tell his story!  How many stories need to get told?  How many stories don’t ever get told?

Of course, we do not reveal our most meaningful stories easily.  We need safe places to be ourselves, in all our tenderness.  That is what we strive to do in this place.  Through our Ministry Circle groups, Lay Ministry volunteers, Youth Groups, adult classes, worship services, and  Parents’ Group, we strive to be and provide a safe place.  To welcome you as you are.

We even have an activity called Strangers Feasts.  These are dinners in peoples’ homes, sharing the roles of hosts and cooks.

Through many opportunities for fellowship and connection, we strive to welcome one another–not as idealized, perfect people–but as whole people.

Come as you are.  Bring your whole self here.  You choose when and how.  Of course you decide how and when to show yourself.  You decide when to reach out… whether it’s asking for help, or offering it, whether it’s inviting others to go hiking, play a board game, work on an event or a project, attend a show, or make a play date with your kids.

Let us keep on learning, keep on practicing what it means to be human.  We practice being human together.

Let us connect with one another as we are, without hiding our shadow sides, without ignoring our need for the warmth of others.

Let us connect with one another as we are, bringing forth our light and our warmth.  So may it be.  Amen.

Testimonial by Bonnie for Capital Campaign >”Building the Beloved Community”<

This is it!  We are concluding the public phase of the capital giving campaign.  Next week is Celebration Sunday, when we celebrate this campaign and our community with services for all ages.  We will also announce how much people have committed over the next two calendar years and how much was donated in the First Gifts Sunday last week.  Right now we have raised $1.2 million in commitments from around 200 participants, so we are on our way to achieving the campaign’s Stretch Goal of $1.5 million.  Each $10,000 gift now also garners an extra $1,000 match from a donor family.  Thanks to everyone for your hard work and generosity.  A Commitment Form may be downloaded at this link.

Sunday, November 11, 2012, by Bonnie

My commitment to the Capital Campaign is not like my regular pledge to UUSS. This campaign is specifically about our buildings and how we use them, which got me thinking about my own history with this building.

I first set foot inside this building sometime in the mid 1990’s. A friend was playing in a community concert band and invited me to her concert. I distinctly remember sitting right over there and being so distracted by the banners around the room that I hardly paid attention to the music being played.

To give some context to this, let me say that growing up, my family did not attend church and we didn’t discuss god or even the absence of god. In my teens the concept of religion seemed exotic.

I was envious of my friends who had spiritual roots and could identify themselves with a religious label. I tried several on for size, but nothing seemed to fit. I concluded that organized religion was just not for me. I was a misfit, without an island of misfit thinkers to join.

So as I sat through my friend’s concert, for the first time in a long time I saw a glimmer of hope in what these banners suggested about openness and curiosity. My own curiosity about this place simmered in the back of my mind for a while, but I still didn’t feel like I was ready to commit to some group that required me to deny or defend any skepticism I might have.

But after my daughter was born, I found myself willing to re-engage in the exploration. So in the fall of 2000, I came to a Sunday service. This time I sat way back there –right next to the door in case I had to make a quick getaway.

But no one tried to convert me to anything, and while I was still skeptical, this space felt warm and inviting. I had a baby at home, so my attendance was sporadic, and I still sat way in the back, but I realized that sitting in this space for an hour or so on Sunday mornings provided me with a kind of nourishment I had never before received but discovered I had deeply missed.

About a year after that first service, I sat right back there, inside the lobby, where extra rows of chairs had been added to accommodate the people who couldn’t fit into the main hall. It was the Sunday after September 11, and I was so grateful to have this place to come to. For the very first time I felt like I could identify myself with a religious organization, and that I might actually be a “Unitarian Universalist.”


My daughter must have been about five years old when she first started attending services with me. She was absolutely fascinated by the lighting of the chalice and was quite dissatisfied with the view from the back of the room. It didn’t take long before she asked if we could sit in the front row—in the chairs closest to the chalice. I was completely caught off guard by my reaction.

Although I might have considered myself a Unitarian Universalist, I still saw myself as a newcomer, certainly not someone who had the right to sit in the front row of someone else’s church. I tried everything I could think of to convince her that the view was just fine from where we were. But she didn’t buy it. She looked me right in the eye and asked: “Mommy, why can’t we sit in the front row?”

How do you explain to a five-year-old a lifetime of doubts about church and religion and not belonging anywhere? She clearly felt like she belonged here. So, I let her lead me to that seat right there and we watched as the chalice was lit. It became our routine to sit in the front, and gradually, her confidence rubbed off on me. It may have taken me almost a decade from when I first set foot here, but I finally felt like I belonged–to this community – to this place.

And whether it was attending Sunday services, watching a Theater One performance, or coming to the annual Christmas tree trimming party, this place has nourished me in countless ways over the years. It was a year ago this December that Ben and I stood backstage, and peeked through the opening in the curtains as we watched each of our daughters light candles right down here.  A few minutes later, we joined them, and Doug led us through our wedding vows.

So now, I feel like this building and I, we go way back. We are old friends. And like an old friend, I don’t want to take this place for granted. I am so grateful that as my daughter navigates her way through her teens that she has this place to ground her. And I like to imagine that at some point in the future, someone like me might wander in, take a look around, and find a spiritual home here.

So, it is with deep gratitude for those who built and maintain this place that I am supporting the Capital Campaign.

“Jules Verne Eats a Rhinoceros” — Theater One continues Saturday through Monday this weekend

– I was pleased and proud to attend opening night on Saturday of  an interesting play with a strong cast and an effective set.  Thanks to cast and crew for this gift, this fruit of your hard work. “Jules Verne Eats a Rhinoceros” is the story of Nellie Bly, once the world’s most famous woman reporter. The play centers on the New York newspaper wars that pitted Joseph Pulitzer against Randolph Hearst -giving rise to the tabloid news that now dominates media.

Friday and Saturday at 8:00, Sunday at 2:00, and Veterans’ Day Monday at 7:00 PM.  Sign-language interpretation is during the performance on Monday, 7:00 PM!  Last show Sunday, Nov. 18.
Tickets: $12 for students and seniors, $15 for adults.
See more and buy tickets at this link.
See a Youtube video of cast & crew interviews and scenes at this link.

Testimonial by Tiffany for Capital Campaign >”Building the Beloved Community”<

by Tiffany , Sunday, October 21, 2012
I first started coming to UUSS in the late 80s for the “intellectual stimulation” of the excellent Forum lectures that were held right here every Sunday morning at 9:30.

Sometimes I would look around and up at the banners and it would occur to me, “I think there’s a church here. I should check it out some time.”
The first few times I actually attended services, I found it all a bit odd, offbeat, refreshing, and intriguing. It felt comfortable. I didn’t feel like I had to pretend to go along with anything that was said or sung. Then I found out that since it was summertime, the services were lay-led and were more casual than the regular services that would begin in September. Ah, that explained it.
You can imagine how mystified I was when I came to some regular services later on, and still no crucifixes on the walls, no Bible verses, and sermon after sermon with themes that were so inclusive, so full of universal truths, so understandable, that I began to suspect that people with all kinds of different beliefs and backgrounds could feel at home here.
My own religious background had been very sketchy and eclectic, a patchwork quilt of Church of Christ, Christian Science, Unity, Luthern, Catholic, with a splash of LDS from a period in high school when I sang with the local Mormon Youth Choir (and went on some really fun trips), and Islam, from the years I lived in Algeria and was married to a liberal Muslim in a very traditional family.
At UUSS, at the beginning, it was hard to get straight answers to some of my questions, like, what do UUs believe? Is this a church or not? If anyone can walk in and attend services, what is membership about? There was a phrase I heard fairly often: “we are a community of seekers” and that touched me. I got it. UUSS is like a spiritual half-way house, a place where you can reflect and deepen your learning and draw from all the wisdom traditions to find your own path. So when I met people who had been members for 20-30 years, I thought, “Gee, it’s sure taking them a long time”–because I thought that once you figure things out, you leave and settle down someplace with your “real” faith.
It’s been 23 years now. I joined. My husband Clair and I were married here. UUSS became central to our lives. We’ve been involved in more committees and activities than you could shake a stick. I remember the workshops on Women in Film that changed the way I look at movies. I learned about the power of myth and how to decode the meaning of dreams. What good times we’ve had – at the Millenium Celebration, at an “Offda” Scandinavian Night, sharing some of our Paris adventures at a Cabaret singalong. We’ve danced here. I was in several Theater One plays here. We’ve grieved here and shared the deep, powerful experience of gathering together as a community to remember and say goodbye to dear friends.

Here are some things I’ve learned: you never stop learning; you never stop seeking; people with all kinds of different beliefs and backgrounds do feel at home here; it’s not our beliefs that define us, but our values and actions; Unitarian Universalism is my “real” faith.
I’ve learned that membership matters. The thoughtful commitment we make when we become members, of our time, talents and support, creates a real bond that connects us to one another. I’ve also learned that the more I’ve participated and the more I’ve contributed, the stronger the bond and sense of belonging I feel in return.
It gladdens my heart to see the plans we are making now to ensure that UUSS will grow and thrive for the future generations who will find their spiritual home and haven at UUSS.

Testimonial by Barbara for Capital Campaign >”Building the Beloved Community”<
November 9, 2012, 10:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Good morning – I’m Barbara, and I originally stumbled across this place looking for religious education material for our children.  But the reason I’ve stayed for the last 15 years relates to the quality of my connections here.   This is a place where a person can end up with all kinds of connections.

For me, some of them have been very personal and healing.

Like when I was on a lay ministry retreat at a time when my personal life was in great disarray.  Without going into specifics, I felt like I was about to step off a cliff during the middle of the night.  I felt very alive, but also very distressed, scared, and vulnerable.  My emotions were turned inside out.  And as I shared this at the retreat with people I’d grown to trust, Doug said,  “Maybe we should do a laying on of hands.” I had no idea what that was, but it sounded like it might be good, and I felt safe with them.   So I said ‘okay’.  They had me lay down on the floor and they sat down and made a circle around me.  I was asked if there was some particular way I wanted to physically express myself.  After I thought about it, I decided what I really wanted to do was to yell as loud as I could – so I did.  And when I had finished yelling as loudly and as strongly and for as long as I needed – they had their hands on my head and shoulders and hands and feet, and began softly singing to me, and when the time was right they gently helped me sit back up again and join the circle.

There are all kinds of connections here.

A few years ago I had the privilege of co-teaching the OWL [Our Whole Lives] class on human sexuality to our junior high school group.  In regular school kids often learn about human reproduction, but this class is different, and very holistic. Initially the goal was to help kids just feel comfortable discussing the topic, so they could quickly get to the point where they could think and talk about things like values, elements of good relationships, listening (what a concept!), sexual orientation, gender identity, peer pressure, the media, as well as basic physiological issues.  I would have loved to have had such a class when I was a teenager.  And of course after 5 months of this, I felt connected not only with the youth, but also very bonded with the other three teachers.  It felt deeply satisfying.

Connections here span the continent.

Our youngest son, Cameron, who for a while was in the RE program here, went to the US Naval Academy.  One of a number of things that surprised and bothered him there was that on Sundays, first year plebes are given special time off  – if and only if they are going to an organized religious activity, only traditional, mainstream religious groups qualify.  He thought this objectionable and unfair, and with help from a variety of sources, including the Annapolis Unitarians, as well as our very own Roger Jones – Cameron founded NAFA – the Naval Academy Freethinkers and Atheists.  Although they’re still working on a number of issues, on Sundays the new Plebes who don’t identify with traditional religion now have an approved place to go to, as do all the midshipmen.  They are frequently joined by local Unitarians.  And freethinkers, atheists, and agnostics are all recognized as legitimate groups.  It is a big deal there.

The last vignette I want to share relates to things we experience together during Sunday services.

It is a simple story.  Doug was in the pulpit and the theme was related to social justice.  I was sitting next to Thelma — and as the service ended, the last hymn was Circle Round for Freedom.  As we sang it, strong feelings welled up inside me and tears started rolling down my face.  And when the song ended and everyone was starting to leave, I just sat there, and I looked at Thelma, who was also sitting there, and noticed she had tears all over her face, too.  So we remained there, the two of us, first feeling comfortable saying nothing, then easing into talking about the experience and our tears, how the service and music had moved us, and ending with us each giving each other big hugs.  I’ve always liked the words to the song, and feel like it relates a lot to what happens here at UUSS.

[Barbara singing, solo voice]

Circle round for freedom, Circle round for peace,

            For all of us imprisoned, Circle for release.

            Circle for the planet, Circle for each soul,

            For the children of our children keep the circle whole.

I come here to feel part of the circle.