Each month we explore a theme, and illuminate it through the lens of wisdom. For the 2016-2017 year, our themes are:
September: Covenant February: Identity
October: Healing March: Risk
November: Story April: Transformation
December: Presence May: Embodiment
January: Prophecy June: Zest
July-August: Topics Vary
A selection from recent sermons at Channing Memorial are shown below. Before July 2016, all sermons were presented by now retired Reverend Susan LaMar, unless otherwise noted. For sermons by Interim Minister Reverend Robert Renjilian, beginning in September, please click on the indicated text below to listen to the entire sermon.
A People of Prophecy - Sunday, Jan. 8 @Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
New Year's Burning - Sunday, Jan. 1 @ Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Holiday Reflections on Presence - Sunday, Dec. 18 @ Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
You Must be Present to Win - Sunday, Dec. 11 @ Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Presence - Sunday, December 4 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Bread Service - Sunday, November 20 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Stories within the Story - Sunday, November 13 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Stories as Sacred as Prayers - Sunday, November 6 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
A Community of Healing - Sunday, October 30, 2016 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Loss and Healing - Sunday, October 16, 2016 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Jewish Holy Days - Sunday, October 9, 2016 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Healing - Sunday, October 2, 2016 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
A People of Covenant - Sunday, September 25, 2016 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Covenant - Sunday, September 18, 2016 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
Water Communion - Sunday, September 11, 2016 © Rev. Robert F. Renjilian
The Sanctity of Life, Part III - September 4 by Mel Currie
We are born into the world and the struggle begins – immediately. There is the general environment: toxins, weather. Then there are the other competing life forms: viruses, bacteria, insects. Yes, we can work our way all the way up through the hierarchy of life forms to human beings. Threats are everywhere and we do not always have the luxury to sit back and gaze at them in wonder.
Taking off the Mask: What it’s like to be Pagan at Channing - August 28 by Deanna Grabelle
Channing has from day one felt warm, welcoming, and accepting of me as a whole person. I have never felt that I needed to wear my “mask” at Channing. I have had members of Channing ask me insightfully challenging questions that get my wheels turning when it comes to how I see things and what my beliefs are in certain situations relating to the topics discussed in general conversation and during the sermons.
It has been amazingly comfortable for me here. I cannot say that about any other church I have been to in the 16 years I have been Pagan.
The Road Less Traveled - August 21 by Jodi Davidson
It makes me think of the hymn, Love will guide us… Love will guide us, peace has tried us, hope inside us, will lead the way, On the road from greed to giving, love will guide us through the hard night. So we know deep inside what is it that we will choose to do. That’s where I think spirituality comes in, when we trust ourselves to truly be in alignment and we have a deep knowing that is only possible when we get quiet, we are in relationship with our “still small voice” – some might call this their spirit guide.
Igniting compassion into action - July 31 by Jodi Davidson
When I began thinking about social action and what it means for Channing, true to form as a Unitarian Universalist, I had more questions than answers.
- How can we make the world a better place?
- How can we be a part of the greater good?
- What are random acts of kindness as compared to intentional acts of kindness?
- What can I do? What can we do?
- What does it mean to say there is power in numbers?
- Is it quality over quantity that is most important?
- With so much going on, how can I possibly take on another thing?
- If not you then who? If not now then when?
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
said UU Minister, Edward Everett Hale
Is God Just a Word? - July 24, 2016 by David Fu
And I often mention that even though I enjoy using and find great meaning within the "language of God" and the Bible, I don't consider myself a believer in the traditional sense. Indeed, if you were to ask me "Do you believe in God?", I would likely stammer uncomfortably and then mutter some vague and incomprehensible hedge. I suppose that in this way, I'm no different than any other non-atheist, non-pagan, agnostic, scripture-loving Unitarian Universalist. And I suppose it's no wonder that I feel so "spiritually at home" here at Channing.
Mobility, Decentering, & Community - July 17, 2016 by D. Fountain
Decentering is understanding the world in its social and psychological aspects that hold no single way to read an event. A decentered approach acknowledges many different interpretations from many different individuals. Examples are the ideas of Copernicus, Darwin, Freud, Einstein, and Hubble, modern communications, DNA discoveries, as well as a child growing into an adult.
Mobility has encouraged decentering, but also created a vast human need for community.
My story is a testament to mobility, as are those of most in human society.
We human beings require community. In the absence of local family, what other institution besides church naturally offers such community?
I believe it is time to abandon our view of the limited tribe, to see ourselves as members with unique contributions and history, but one race whose survival rests upon preserving our planet, maintaining compassion for one another, and continuing to follow science toward understanding of our unique place in the universe.
Passing the Torch - June 26, 2016 by Pam El-Dinary (President of the Congregation)
And now the time has come for another leadership transition. Just as there was spiritual discernment in choosing a second term, so there has been spiritual discernment in choosing to end my tenure -- again giving thoughtful consideration to what is best for me AND what is best for the church. Even when a journey seems good at the time, traveling the same path for too long, it's easy to get stuck in a rut.
When I wrote my final President's column for the June newsletter, I reflected on Shakespeare's contemplation that "parting is such sweet sorrow." I wrote about the sorrow I've been feeling in Reverend Susan's retirement, Jillian's resignation (effective at the end of the summer) from the Music Director position to pursue her career goals, and, yes, even some sorrow in the end of my presidency.
It felt so strange to write that last newsletter column, and it was important for me to acknowledge it as such. Much as a new parent marks the joyful milestones of first smiles, first words, and first steps, I've found it spiritually important to mark the sorrowful milestones of "lasts" in this time heavy with transition--Susan's last sermon, Jillian's last choir rehearsal, my last board meeting.
Yet, even amidst the sorrow, there is Sweetness. I admit that there is some relief in taking a rest after 4 years as president. And yet, the spiritual gifts of lay leadership go with me in all of my future endeavors. Patience, Perseverance, Forgiveness, Acceptance, Surrender, Courage, Humility ... for these, I am forever grateful. There is also sweetness in the opportunity for church life to continue to evolve under new leadership.
Still, you haven't seen the last of me. In passing the torch, I'm not running the other way. I will still be around, running alongside you, participating in church life as a "wise elder"--(well, at least as someone who's been around the block at Channing). And I've even got a couple of new church jobs up my sleeve! Although this is my grand finalé as President, you can look for me in other leading and supporting roles, coming soon!
On that note, I'll close my reflections with one final cliché, I mean, metaphor! The truly immortal words of Frosty the Snowman: ♬ "Now I wave goodbye, saying don't you cry, I'll be back again someday!" Yes, I'll be back again--melted down, re-crystallized and in a new form ready for action, as we continue to fulfill our mission to Invite, Connect, Ignite!
The Transformational Power of Ritual (Through the Lens of Improvisational Comedy) - June 19, 2016
by April Foiles
May we hold definitions of our selves and others more loosely. May we fully engage in helpful rituals, trying on new ways of being; acting “as if” that irritating habit our family member has isn’t irritating. Acting “as if” that tailgater on the highway is rushing to the hospital to see their loved one.
May we way say YES, by paying attention to the words and movements of those around us, especially our loved ones. May we say YES with equanimity noticing and accepting what is, and, if we can, thanking what each day offers us as if it’s a gift and if that’s not possible on a given day, accepting what is as material with which to create.
May we offer our AND boldly- offering our word in our shared story -knowing the story won’t turn out like we imagined. Boldly giving our gift –however plain it is, however foolish we may feel. Daring to co-create with others anyway. Daring to co-create with life.
A Devout UU? April 10, 2016
. . . Devotion is something much more, much deeper, much richer even than the emotion-centered words. Devotion – the noun – and devout, the adjective, are getting at something quite different from either intellect or emotion. They are getting at our engagement with something much deeper and far beyond. Spiritually, and ideally, I would add, what you are devoted to, what you are devout about, is the well from which you draw the living water of your life. That water is the values which you drink every day, maybe every minute of every day, in order to live meaningfully.
Those values demand an intention – an intention to live by them – and they call for love – a turning toward those values, unceasingly. Intention plus love equal devotion.
This kind of spiritual devotion is not about a person, or a scripture, or a single doctrine. It is about a way of life. A way of living. A way of being.
Notice, that both the Buddha and Jesus (in the brief readings this morning) were talking about this kind of devotion. It is not about me, personally, said the Buddha to the monk Vikkali. It is about the dhamma, the teaching, and how you follow that teaching in your life. That is what you should be devoted to. Not me.
Jesus said the same thing. Anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. It’s not about me, personally! It’s about what I teach and do and the way I live. That is what you should be devoted to, not me. In fact, if you carry it forward, you can do even greater things than I have done. And, I would add, if you do it together, imagine what you could do!
Live an other-focused life, they both say. It is not only about you. It is about ensuring a just and peaceful world, which can only come about through the behavior, the right actions, of every individual in that world. Do what I have been doing, say the prophets and sages. Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly. That is devotion.
An Easter Reflection – the Butterfly Emerges March 27, 2016
When the chrysalis opens, the lowly worm has transformed.
It takes as long as it takes to become something new, free, beautiful.
The shadow joins the eternal light of the sun; the fragrance of a lily long gone remains to purify and refresh our hearts and our beings.
When our hearts open, love flows forth. Love has wings!
We don’t know what that will look like, do we?
Often our lives feel like a slow, hungry caterpillar, and we chomp and chomp toward some end we cannot see.
Sometimes we feel trapped, captive, in our own little lives, in our own tombs, our own little chrysalises, hearts burning, and we await a word of hope.
Those around us may seem to have better lives than ours.
Sometimes our worlds seem dingy and plain; we forget to look up, and see the one spot of beauty that might invite us out into a fresh, new way of being.
There is always possibility. There is always the possibility of wings! There is always the possibility that you – yes, you! -- can open and express yourself into the most beautiful being.
To Forgive Divine March 13, 2016
. . . [The] desire for vengeance is real. You really cannot, I believe, understand forgiveness without also understanding the desire to give back worse than what someone did to you. The completely natural, appropriate, anger, rage, and the need to feel a desire to do harm to get back at those who do you harm. It’s genetic, I think. How else would our ancestors have been the ones to survive, if they had not won in the battles, taking revenge on those trying to steal their land and their food and their mates. Those feelings are built in to our animal natures. We likely will never do away with them. They are real and they have served us well.
AND they have served us poorly. They have caused immense suffering as the cycle of violence has continued through families, and neighbors, and nations. Animal natures are not the only natures that humans have. We also have spiritual natures, divine natures, that strive for the good and the just. Those two natures, human and divine, have to come together in our real, actual lives. Our animal natures that desire revenge and our spiritual natures that strive for the good somehow have to reconcile. . .
What keeps those [powerful, vengeful] emotions from encroaching into behavior, into actions? Ethics. Morality. And it is historically the role of religion to do two things: First, to provide a safe container for the expression of these powerful, profound emotions(raging at God to do our enemy in); and it is the role of religion to hold us back ethically from acting out of vengeance. Religion, when it is done right, is the link between legitimate fantasy and legitimate action. And what sits precisely on that link? Justice. “Justice is vengeance that has learned its manners” says one theologian.
For Love and Money - March 6, 2016
. . . Here is another way to think about it. Rather than thinking of money as an idol, imagine thinking of it as an icon. A religious icon. Like the icons we see on our computer screens, religious icons point to something beyond themselves. You have to click on them to activate their meaning.
A religious icon is a picture that represents something else, usually a spiritual value. In religious traditions that revere icons, it is not the icon itself that is worshiped, but the particular attributes of the saint represented by that icon. In Russian Orthodox tradition, for example, an image of a saint is not what is being worshiped, nor is the saint him or herself. What is really happening when you pray with an icon is you are praying through that icon to the moral or ethical value for which it stands. And you are connecting that prayer, that deep thinking and reflection, to that value as it plays out in your life. So, for example, an icon of a saint known for his courage would be a window into the pray-er’s feelings of helplessness and need for courage; an icon of a saint known for kindness would open a window into the pray-er’s reflections on and need to receive or give more kindness. An icon of a saint known for honesty would open a window into the pray-er’s need to learn to trust. And so on.
So what about money as an icon? Money as an icon, as a symbol, is a window into your value system, a window into that which is of ultimate concern to you, a window into what you find important and life-sustaining in your values for yourself, for your neighbors, for your community, for your world.
And . . . as the community that opens space for those reflections and conversations and, ultimately, your way of life as a spiritual, ethical, and loving being in a temporal world, it is your church that walks along with you, prays along with you, reflects along with you to open those windows and doors to the soul-work, the spiritual work of developing and acting on your most ultimate values. It is the church that walks along with you to engage the soul-work, the spiritual work of identifying and cherishing the treasures of your heart. That is what it means to love God and neighbor.
If love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, Love of God and love of neighbor is the root of all kinds of good.
Life's Sanctifying Moderation - February 21, 2016
In my theology, in my spirituality, God is not a transcendent being that I “believe” in. Nor is God a complete impossibility, because God is not a noun: not a person, place or thing. For me, God is a verb. God is a verb of being – not something that exists, but being itself, beingness if you will.
And God is a verb of action – God is the process of what goes on in all the seen and unseen relationships that contribute to constant creation – constant new life. And not just new beings, but new ways of being. I don’t know if I am better than a biome – but I know that they cannot exist without me and I cannot exist without them. That’s pretty miraculous. The miracle that completely disparate forms of life complete one another and make a living, complete universe is where holiness, sanctity lies.
A Moderating Sabbath - February 14, 2016
This morning we take up our February theme of moderation. Wisdom traditions worldwide speak of the spirituality of moderation – the golden mean (from Aristotle); the Middle Way in Hindu and Buddhist teaching; balance, and a middle path in Judaism; a middle, moderate, regular, course in Islam; self-control through the spiritual life in Christianity.
For me, these wisdom traditions invite the questions, "how big is the middle way? How wide is the path? What are we balanced between?"
None of them are a single point. They all recognize space and movement. Even Aristotle's golden mean hints at this spaciousness – since the mean does not exist as a single point, then what exactly is golden? Perhaps, I would suggest, what is golden is the wide open space between extremes. Perhaps one meanders along, rather than sprinting along a straight and narrow path. Perhaps, indeed, you take your time. . . .
Sabbath is a means, a method that invites us in to a time when we can moderate our oh-so-unbalanced lives. A time when we let go of effort and allow ourselves to revel in time; to rest; to stop making and fabricating and producing and building in the ways we normally do. It is when we let spirit flow in and change us. So much of our time we are trying, seeking, striving out of our conscious mind. But our minds have room for spirit, too, beyond all the effort we tend to put in to our lives. Spirit that flows best when it is not blocked by so much effort all the time. It's where expressions like "sleep on it," came from. It is why we can never quite think of the snappy comeback when we are in the middle of an argument, but it comes to us hours later. We need Sabbath! . . .