Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

Excited about tomorrow’s talk after church
August 8, 2015, 3:12 pm
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So happy to welcome back Rev. Dr. Jay Atkinson to give a talk  about our religious heritage in Poland in the 1500s. A Unitarian movement in exile, the Polish Brethren had no church but had a printing press.  Consequently, liberal religion had spread through Europe before their church in Poland was crushed. Jay’s Powerpoint shows historic sites, current day Unitarians in Poland, and UU pilgrims from here who went on a tour that he and another scholar guided last summer. At noon in Pilgrim Hall at 890 Morse. Jay will be at church with us at 10:15 too.  Freewill donations accepted.  Unitarian Universalist Society of Sacramento (UUSS)​ August 9, 2015


Liberal THEOLOGY IS NOT for the faint of heart–essay

My colleague Jay Atkinson, now retired from our ministry, has long been a minister-scholar.  Last August he held a UUSS  group spellbound as he charted the origins and subsequent development of our liberal faith tradition and theologies.  He spoke for 90 minutes from a bare outline! 

Here is an essay he gave us as a handout. This is the Epilogue the from the book of another UU colleague, Paul Rasor, who is a professor in Virginia.

Liberal THEOLOGY IS NOT for the faint of heart. It points us in a general direction without telling us the specific destination.  It refuses to make our commitments for us but holds us accountable for the commitments we make. The liberal religious tradition is an invitation, not a mandate. It invites us to live with ambiguity without giving in to facile compromise; to engage in dialogue without trying to control the conversation; to be open to change without accepting change too casually; to take commitment seriously but not blindly; and to be engaged in the culture without succumbing to the culture’s values.  Liberal religion calls us to strength without rigidity, conviction without ideology, openness without laziness. It asks us to pay attention.  It is an eyes-wide-open faith, a faith without certainty.

This book has been both descriptive and critical. At the descriptive level, I have sought to provide a basic introduction to liberal theology. I have done this not simply by describing liberal theology’s identifying characteristics, but also by locating it within its historical, intellectual, and social context. Liberal theology—like any other theology—is not merely a collection of free-standing ideas. It exists in specific places and times, and it belongs to an ongoing and multi-faceted religious tradition.

A vital feature of the liberal theological tradition is constructive self-examination. This is an important process. It helps keep liberal theology relevant to the needs of each succeeding generation. It guards against staleness and rigidity. It becomes a method of built-in accountability. In this spirit, then, I have addressed a few of liberalism’s internal weaknesses and contradictions, and at some points have been quite critical. I have also tackled head-on the difficult issues of race and class that continue to confront liberal theology and sometimes cause us to stumble over our own best intentions. In each case I have offered some constructive suggestions as well. At the same time, I have tried to bring liberal theology into conversation with other currents in the contemporary theological stream. Some of these, such as liberation theology and postliberal theology, are highly critical of liberalism. My working assumption has been that while liberal theology need not adjust to all its critics’ complaints—it could not remain liberal if it did—there is nevertheless much we can learn from them.

Critical self-examination also points to liberal theology’s great strengths. These include its principled open-mindedness, its intellectual honesty, and its commitment to social justice. These are among the hallmarks of the liberal tradition, and they are worth preserving. Today’s theological landscape is highly pluralistic. Many voices struggle to be heard. Some seek dialogue and engagement; others seek merely to shout the loudest. It is precisely in these circumstances that liberal theology’s prophetic and mediating voice is most needed. The early twenty-first century in the United States is a time of increasing dogmatic rigidity in both politics and religion. We are confronted by a worldview of simplistic dualisms. Dissent—even asking hard questions—is seen as a threat; data that do not support pre-set ideas are ignored; deeper analysis of complex issues is avoided. Liberal theology rejects this way of being. It seeks deeper and more nuanced explanations. It understands the inherent complexity and interrelatedness of things. It has learned to live with tensions and ambiguities.  Liberal theology’s willingness to engage in ongoing and thoughtful critique offers an important corrective voice in the public dialogue.

This is important work. But none of us can do this work alone. As much as we need constructive self-examination and critical dialogue, we need each other. We may never come to think alike or to act alike. I hope not. But by participating in each other’s faith journeys, by reaching out to each other and sharing in each other’s struggles to name and claim our theologies, we can strengthen our public prophetic voice and deepen our sense of community and our commitment to a shared faith tradition.

May it be so.

Epilogue from Paul Rasor’s Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century (Boston, Skinner House, 2005)

Voices of the Beloved Community, #5 — UUSS worship service 10/29/12

We had a beautiful ensemble of members’ voices last Sunday, talking about how this religious community has touched their lives. This one is by a member in his early 60s who works in the environmental field and leads Buddhist meditation courses.  There are six entries here in total, including the opening words for the Chalice Lighting.

I did not come to UUSS by accident. When my wife and I arrived in Sacramento in 1988, we based our search for a place to live on three factors: work, the American River, and a Unitarian Universalist community.

We first became UUs at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Davis in 1979. We deepened our involvement at the West Hills Fellowship of Portland, OR in the early 1980’s. When we returned to California in 1982, it was to a rural town on the North Coast with no UU presence. After 3 years without a church, we moved to a larger town in the San Joaquin Valley as committed UUs in search of a religious community. As soon as we arrived, we looked up Unitarian Universalist in the phone book. I called the number. “Where do you meet? Do you have services this Sunday? What programs do you have for children?”  “We meet in a member’s home, but we’re not meeting this week – it’s Super Bowl Sunday.” With two daughters 3 and 6 years old, we decided maybe that was not the congregation for us. So from 1985 to 1988, we drove an hour each way to the UU Church of Fresno to sing in the choir and attend services.  Our girls attended religious education. The community was caring, intelligent, and deeply engaged in the affairs of the day.

So, as soon as we arrived here, we settled near the River and near UUSS. Over the years since then, our places of work have changed, but the River and UUSS have remained. They have literally “been there for us.” The River is a place to walk in nature, to allow the oaks and salmon and egrets to bear witness to whatever sorrow or frustration or joy we bring to that moment.

UUSS offers a different kind of engagement. I love that there are people here who are happy when I am sad. I love that there are people here who share their grief and fear with me when I am feeling grounded.

When we joined, I loved that there were people who were old when I was young. I was in a men’s group and a Latino awareness group called LUUNA with Frank “Paco” Winans.  Frank started offering our Day of the Dead services in 1999 and asked me to take over for him the following year. My wife and I were privileged to visit with him as he was dying in August 2005, to sing hymns to him, and to whisper in his ear as we left “Vaya con Dios, Paco.”

Now that I am old, I love that there are people here who are even older, and there are people who are much younger. I have facilitated the junior high youth group, served as a mentor in the Coming of Age program, and gotten to know children on our Annual Family Camp and through our Valentine’s Day intergenerational activity called “Special Friends.”

UUSS has also been there for our family. When our older daughter began exploring her sexuality as a teenager, she had people at UUSS to turn to with life experiences different than ours. The OWL program gave her a safe environment to learn about sexuality in a group of peers led by adults with a commitment to our youth and supported by a solid curriculum developed by our denomination. When she chose to research the HIV/AIDS crisis for a school paper, she found Steve. Steve was the director of The Lambda Center and he shared his own knowledge as well as the Center library to help her research. Steve moved on to become active in the San Francisco UU Church; The Lambda Center moved on to become the Sacramento Gay & Lesbian Center; and our daughter earned a Masters Degree in Human Sexuality from San Francisco State University. In one of her first classes, the professor asked if anyone in the class had had any positive reinforcement of their sexual identity from a religious community. Rachel was the only one to raise her hand. When she was asked about her own “coming out” for another paper, she wrote that it was no big deal – she felt in our family and in this community that she never had to “come out” in any dramatic way. She continues her involvement with the UU movement and spent the last year in the first program for young adult activists sponsored by the UU Legislative Ministry of California – as a Fellow in the Spiritual Activist Leadership Training program.  She graduated at the UUA General Assembly in Phoenix in June.

UUSS has been there for my family and for me. That’s why I plan to be there for UUSS over the long haul.

Voices of the Beloved Community, opening words — UUSS worship service 10/29/12

We had a beautiful ensemble of members’ voices last Sunday, talking about how this religious community has touched their lives. This one is the personal reflection given before the lighting of the Flaming Chalice.  It was given by a 60-year-old man who is a city government administrative worker.

Twelve years ago I would never have thought of acting in a play.  I would never have thought of standing in front of a congregation telling a story about my life.  I would never have thought of singing in a choir.
UUSS has given me the chance to do those things and more.  UUSS has given me the chance to find my “voice.”
We find our voices through the support of others.  In those twelve years I’ve learned that this community is supportive when one succeeds or stumbles.
Later in the service, we will hear from five fellow members sharing their unique experiences of UUSS.
I light the chalice for finding our voice in the community.

Fridge Magnets–Unitarian Universalism in a Few Words

Our monthly church newsletter has this cute feature, a graphic of the front of a fridge with words from a variety of sources about what our Unitarian Universalist heritage and identity is.

We have one of the most beautiful monthly newsletters around–our capital campaign consultant praised it–but I am not sure how many folks actually read it, either in printed form via the US Mail or the colorful PDF version on our website. But I like doing the monthly blurb for Fridge Magnets. I’ll post some of the prior ones here in the next few weeks. If you have some to suggest, send them to me or just send as a comment below.
Here’s one.

All souls are sacred and worthy.
There is a unity that makes us one.
Salvation is in this lifetime.
Courageous love will transform the world.
And truth continues to be revealed.

–Rev. Mike Morran & Rev. Nancy Bowen, Denver, CO

Revelation Is Not Sealed–Liberal Religion and a Multiplicity of Revelations

The keystone of liberal religion–whether it be Unitarian Universalism or another liberal religious tradition–is that the revelation of religious truth is not sealed, it is ongoing and continuous.  Revelation is not sealed in a book of scripture, in one prophet’s historic utterances, in one set of myths, or any religious authority or hierarchy.  Revelation is not locked up or handed down by a limited few.  It is open and ongoing.

When I lead a Newcomer’s Orientation to Membership at church, I say this.  Then I ask the group:

What can you think of as a source of ongoing revelation of religious or spiritual truth?

Last night 24 newcomers attended an orientation and came up with some great answers.




Awareness of the mutability of human assumptions and certainties throughout human history

from inside yourself–your mind, feelings, conscience


The arts









Sacred scriptures

Religious traditions other than your own


Wow!  This was one of the most fruitful conversations I’ve ever heard in response to that question.  Perhaps it was inspired by the friendly hospitality and nourishing meal provided by our team of volunteers.

What would you add? What questions does this raise for you? Please include them in the comments section.

In Part 2 of this class, we will talk about ways to get connected and involved in the congregation, learn a bit of history of our own church (founded here in 1868) and take a tour of the buildings and grounds, take questions from the class, and talk about what membership in a UU congregation means.  I’ll add that to the blog June 13.

June 9 I will post my historical outline (one of the handouts for this class) Unitarian Universalism–An Introduction.

Another Great Stewardship Testimonial–UUSS–Sunday, Feb. 26, 2012

Next Sunday morning is Celebration Sunday, when members and pledging friends will make their pledges of support for the upcoming budget year at our congregation.   Each Sunday a member or friend has delivered a testimonial about their feelings about the congregation and their financial commitment to its ministries and programs, staff, upkeep and outreach.  I have posted all of them on the blog.  Here is the latest.

Hello and good morning,

My name is Jorge.  About 8 years ago I started to attend this congregation ever since my partner, Ron, introduced me to the idea of Unitarian Universalism.  I was born in a small town in western Panama and raised in strong catholic family environment.  If my Father could see me now in a pulpit, he would fall on his knees shouting …. “ES UN MILAGRO….it’s a miracle.”


Growing up, I was the perfect catholic boy attending mass every Sunday, going to the confessionary and along with it, its corresponding hale Maries and Our Heavenly Fathers as penance for my previous week of mischievous acts.  However, as I got older I started to get more curious about the natural world and wanted to learn more about Science.  Something within me started to question some of the beliefs that I was taught in Catechism. My parents could not understand why I was being so stubborn asking such questions and now I can only imagine what went thru their minds…a heretic son!  So surely, I started to drift away from the Church and ultimately walked away from all the mumbo-jumbo of incoherent ranting, homophobia among many others….the list is long!


Science ignited my mind and beliefs, and taught me to truly seek the truth and not just be a mindless automaton.  I have followed that career truly applying the Scientific Method into my life.


And yet, here I am as a “friend of UUSS” as friend of this congregation speaking out why I support this institution.


I enjoy the camaraderie of peers who charm, challenge and comfort me — I am not alone.  This congregation is indeed a SAFE HARBOR.


I am comfortable with the ongoing ceaseless ferment of ideas here.  I align with the important work of social justice and the path that this UU has carved into our noble history.


I want to help sustain this community, a community for the stranger who may come thru that door next week, who may be seeking what UUs can give.  And I hope, beyond my years on this planet, that such strangers will become like me, supporting this ongoing community.  This place is truly a BEACON OF LOVE and JUSTICE.