Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Religion: Do You Take it With or Without? by Rev. Annie Foerster

A sermon preached on Sunday, February 8, 2015 at Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

When people find out that I’m a Unitarian Universalist minister, their first question if often, “Is it true that Unitarians don’t believe in God?” Up until now I have given the wrong answer. Actually, I have had a number of wrong answers that I used.

My Non-Authoritarian response has been, “I can’t speak for all Unitarians.” My Equalitarian response was, “Some do and some don’t.” My Teleological evasion was, “Everybody believes in something.” My Ontological come-back was, “We understand the concept.” Finally, there was my Ecumenical response: “Which God are you asking about?”

But, as I said, up until now I have given the wrong answer. After due deliberation and calm consideration, I have decided that the next time I’m asked the question, “Do Unitarian Universalists believe in God or not?” I am going to give the proper response, the right answer. I’m simply going to say, “Yes.”

Now that might surprise many of you. You may be thinking, “She certainly hasn’t talked to me about this.” According to recent surveys about half of Unitarian Universalists on their own would answer, “Definitely not!” But I’m still going to say yes, and I will tell you why: It’s the wrong question.

If others have to ask that question of any person with a stated religious affiliation, you can bet they’ve already assumed the answer is no. If they heard that Unitarian Universalists are a sect, or believe we’re part of a Humanist conspiracy to bring evil into the world, as some people do, they are going to hear NO, no matter what I say. And, if they believe that their God—their single, unimaginative concept of God—is the one true response to the question, the only maker and shaker of the universe, they have to hear YES, no matter what I say, because that is the only answer that makes sense to them. That’s why it’s the wrong question.

From experience, I have come to realize that what is really being asked is, “Are Unitarian Universalists religious?” The Western mind, in the traditions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity, without God, or without Allah and Mohammed, or without God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, there is no religion. If there is even a rumored suggestion that some Unitarian Universalists do not worship someone or something called God, then how can we be a church, a religious community? To the Eastern mind, this dilemma is not so obvious. The Buddhists do very well with a god; we’re all gods, they teach.  The Hindus do very well with hundreds of gods.

Now, if I were asked the real question, “Are Unitarian Universalists religious?” I would have no second thoughts, no hesitation. From my belief that religion is an inborn facet of humanity, and that how you consciously live your life, how you order your life, and how you celebrate your life, are your religious responses to that fact, I would answer, “Yes, Unitarian Universalists are religious. They are reflective, thoughtful, compassionate and kind.”

Having dismissed the original question, I would like to go back to it. This God business still gives some of us a great deal of trouble; it makes us very nervous as a group. For many it smacks of the I’m-going-to-tell-you-what-to-believe school of religion, which stands against our belief in freedom of religion and the individual response to religious experience. For others, it hits at superstition and the supernatural, which stand against our belief in rational thought as the basis of faith.

In the traditional, Western Judeo-Christian comprehension of religion, it could be said that I am an atheist, although I do not label myself that way. One Sunday, a visitor of another faith took me aside during coffee and said, “You never once spoke of God. Is this common in your church?”

It’s true I don’t invite God into the sanctuary every Sunday that I preach. That is primarily because of my training as a semanticist, not as a theologian. I know that the word ‘god’ is loaded way beyond the concepts it points to. There is an excellent chance that you would not know what I meant—would not understand my intention. There is a strong possibility that you would not respond to my use of the term in harmony with its intent until we have had more conversations about it.

In other churches and synagogues, my Christian and Jewish colleagues speak freely of This house of God and address their congregations as God’s people. This is a kind of shorthand for a symbolic concept that already has agreement among them. We don’t share such an agreement, you and I, so we don’t use or respond to the symbol.

There are many forms of the term to which I don’t respond. To the jealous and vengeful entity, who chooses sides and pre-selects the winning team, whom the Ancient Hebrews called God, I certainly do not respond. To the creator, who has today and all eternity already figured out, who operates me like a puppet, and who punishes me for my pre-ordained transgression, who the Calvinists called God, I do not respond. To the builder who set up a universe the way people set up model railroads, and then walked away, who the Newtonian deists called God, I do not respond. To a super Daddy or heavenly Mommy who expects a compliant and eternal child, or to a supreme Ruler who demands a kneeling and humble servant, whom many call God, I do not respond. I can imagine these symbols, by they are not in my imagination, indicative of the sacred that I find in life.

Out of personal experience, out of rational thought, out of intuitive understanding, out of creative imagination, out of spiritual sensitivity and out of moral imperative, I do respond to many aspects of life religiously—that is: morally, reverently, thoughtfully and compassionately—but I choose not to name them God. Konstantin Kolenda, in his book Religion Without God, wrote: The idea of God is our recognition of our own longing to take our highest ideals seriously. The idea of God is our recognition of our own longing to take our highest ideals seriously. To that I respond. It is your own response to life, your own highest ideals, that I would have you consider this morning as I continue to discuss the concept of God.

Some detractor of a God-concept would have us believe that the primitives created God out of ignorance, to explain all that their lack of knowledge and understanding could not otherwise explain; or out of fear and smallness. Rather, we should be astounded that their sophistication. Dostoyevsky wrote, “What is astonishing is not that God should exist, but that such a noble idea should enter the head of such a despicable creature as humanity.” This evolutionary smugness we possess belies the fact that after new knowledge is gained and new moral attitudes accepted, we will be the primitives to future generations. I prefer to think that we all, at whatever age or evolution we exist, confront certain human questions, and that our response to them can be framed in a symbol, a metaphor, that we relate to religiously, not out of ignorance, but out of our need for deeper meaning than mere words can express.

When Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers made a series of video programs on religion some years ago, many Unitarian Universalist were transfixed before their television sets. We were allowed into these religious questions without the discomfort of standing too close to the familiar, and possibly once rejected, religious answers. And when Campbell turned to the camera and said, “But, Bill, God is a metaphor,” and smiled that smile that seemed to say, “Don’t you get it?” some of us breathed a little easier. We got it. Throughout religious history, God has stood in metaphor for the human response to the eternal questions. And what are these questions?

Where did all of this come from? Who hasn’t wondered where and how it all began? In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu wondered when he wrote:

Something mysteriously formed,

Born before heaven and earth,

In the silence and void,

Standing alone and unchanging,

Ever present an in motion,

Perhaps it is the mother of the world.

I do not know its name.

Call it the Tao (the Way).

For lack of a better word, I call it Great.

 
Lao Tzu did not choose to call his understanding of the beginning of the world God, but Tao, the Way, saying there is a beginning, let us call it the mother. This all we know, he said. The rest is the nature of things. Don’t look for other answers Just seek the Way. Others have chosen to respond to the question of beginning with the metaphor of a creator, of a build, or shaper, planner or parent. Whether the response chooses the metaphor or the metaphor suggests the response, is not always clear.

What happens when I cease to be? All of us, at one time or another in our lives, face that terrible aloneness, the confrontation with our own mortality, the knowledge of death. Keats wrote, as if writing for us all:

When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain, . . .

When I behold, upon the night’s starr’d face,

Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,

And think that I may never live to trace

Their shadows with the magic hand of chance:

Then on the shore

Of the wide world I stand alone, and think

Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.

How we respond to the inhospitable universe and to the finiteness of existence often depends upon our personalities, our experiences and our successes or failures in life. The metaphors we choose to acknowledge or explain death are either ones of companionship, strong support, or the extension of time beyond knowledge. The metaphors say: I am not alone; I have something to lean on; there is time enough and space. The metaphors say whatever is required to respond to the question. The metaphor is the response and the response is the metaphor, because the question is no universal, so underlying, so overarching, that an intellectual response I not sufficient.

How we respond to the mystery of life—to our very existence; to the awe that awakens in us a sense of a power outside ourselves; to the feeling of harmony that sometimes envelopes us—the oneness with time and space; how we respond to revelational insights; to that which is transcendent but connect us; or to that which is imminent but separate from us, is a part of our religious identity. Our response both shapes us and defines us, and out of our response comes the metaphor for life that symbolizes and directs and anticipates our future responses.

Our response to life is made in celebration and in mourning; in acknowledgement and in gratitude; in transformation and in renewal. It sustains us in the search for what is good and the struggle with what is evil; it widens and deepens the self and connects us with that beyond ourselves. Our responses are infinite, and so are our metaphors.

Maybe it would be neater to imagine all our responses as one God, but I prefer the playful and imaginative response of the Brihad-Aranyak Upanishad that claims knowledge—Knowledge!—of 3,306 Gods and also 33 Gods, and 2, and 1 ½ and 1 God. The 3,306 Gods are their Powers—the things they can do, like sunrises and sprouting seeds. The 33 Gods comprise eight excellences: fire, earth, wind, atmosphere, sun, sky, moon and stars; plus 11 laments—which are ten sighs and the self; plus 12 months of the year, which carry the whole world along and around; plus thunder; plus animals. The 2 Gods are food and breath.  The 1 ½ are the Wind that purifies and the World that prospers from the purification, so close are they that they cannot be counted as two. The 1 God is Life itself. And all of them are metaphors.

Often, in religious institutions, we are taught the metaphor before we experience it. That is when it is most convenient to have a sing name—God. But when our personal experience is not the same as the teaching, we conclude that we do not believe in the metaphor. By extension, we do not believe in the concept. And, when we allow ourselves to create new responses, new metaphors, we are understandably reluctant to call them by the old name, the old metaphor we rejected.

That is why the question is wrong. It should never be, “Do you believe in God?” It should not even be, “Do you believe?” The question, if it must be asked, should be, “What is at the center of your experience and faith, and know and response? Can you tell me just one of its 3,306 names?

From the pulpit, I do not speak of God, except in the intellectual sense, as I have today. But I do speak of Life, as the great and transcending mystery, and as the wondrous and terrible gift. I speak of the enigma, the blessing and the curse of Life. I could, if pressed, call that God, but I choose not to. I speak of the power and the empowerment of Love—of the gift we give of accepting on another as we are, while challenging each other to become more than we are. I could, if pressed, name that God, but I choose not to. I speak of Grace—of gifts from the universe, unexpected, undeserved, unexplainable—gifts like happiness, treasures like friends. And I could, if pressed, imagine these as God. But the name and the metaphor seem too small. And so I struggle with language that will never be sufficient for meaning, just as you do. And I believe what I have come to believe and try to share the best of that, just as you do.

And that is why, when I am asked if Unitarian Universalists believe in God, I know the real question, and I will say, “Yes, we are a very religious people.”

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Build Your Own Worship!

Friends,
Who would have suspected that my first church snow day would come in March, in Texas of all places?  If you’re anything like me, your first thought was “What do I do now?”  I would encourage you to take this Sunday “off” as an opportunity to worship in your own home, either with your family or in solitude.

There are lots of ways to do so!  If you’re on your own, find a quiet moment to consider that big question you've been pondering, to appreciate the beauty around you, or just to meditate.  If you have a house full, maybe this would be a good morning for gathering together and singing your family’s favorite hymns (I can tell you I’ll be rocking my own rendition of How Could Anyone pretty soon), telling stories from our 6 sources (you can find lots of them here), or having a conversation about what you are grateful for or what it means to you to be a Unitarian Universalist. 

If you really do prefer a more traditional observance, there’s always the Church of the Larger Fellowship, which streams services online at 7 PM (Central Time) on Sundays and 1 PM on Mondays.  You can find lots of sermons and music on youtube as well—try building your own worship service!

Whether you find yourself alone or with others, consider spending some time in observance of our faith and traditions today.  Explore what faith means beyond the walls of our sanctuary, and above all, stay safe and warm!
Blessings,

Meredyth

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Meet Our Teachers: Carol Higbee Iannuzzi

Dear Ones,
I cannot express how lucky we are here at DUUF to have the amazing team of dedicated women and men teaching our youth.  This week, it is our privilege to introduce Carol Higbee Iannuzzi, and let her tell you a bit about her role with our Explorers!


What class do you teach? 
Fire Breathers
 How long have you been teaching?
I started teaching with this past summer UU Evolution classes.
 What does an average Sunday look like in your classroom? 
We usually have on average 5-7 teen youths, however we had as many as 10 show up on a Sunday. We start out with donuts and go around the class with brief introductions and any shared joys and/or sorrows. We have interesting discussions over a world religion and usually try to have an artistic activity incorporated into the time together.
 What is your favorite part of teaching that class? 
The interesting questions and exciting participation that the teens bring to the discussions.
 Was there anything that surprised you when you started teaching? 
Yes, I was surprised how much enjoyment I would get from the interaction and enthusiasm that the youth bring to the discussions in class.
  How has teaching helped your own spiritual journey? 
I feel I have more meaning in my life with teaching and the classroom interaction with the youth versus having previously worked in a corporate career that I did not feel fulfilled in at all.
 What is one thing you’d like the congregation to know about your students and about being an RE teacher? 
The students are always eager to learn, insightful, and bring so much fun energy to the classroom. As an RE teacher, you not only learn from the preparation for the class activities but also from the thought provoking questions and insightfulness that the students bring to the class discussions.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Something New is Starting!


What is a covenant group?

Covenant Groups or Small Group Ministry programs exist in many Unitarian Universalist congregations as a way for people to explore their deepest understanding of life in the midst of a community of faith.

Here at DUUF, they are groups of 6-10 people, DUUF members and friends, who gather twice a month to connect with each other and discuss a predetermined topic. The sharing and deep listening that take place foster intimate connections and a sense of shared community that are often difficult to achieve in a large congregation such as ours. While they are not support groups, members do support each other by listening with empathy and caring for and helping each other when the need arises.

Why are they called covenant groups?

Because each group creates its own covenant or agreement which outlines the guidelines they choose to abide by in their meetings. Covenants usually specify when and list communal expectations such as listening respectfully, speaking one at a time, practicing kindness, and maintaining confidentiality.

When do they meet?

Groups meet twice a month on a regular day, such as the second and fourth Tuesday of each month. Some meet in the evening, while others meet in the morning or afternoon. Starting in January 2015 groups will meet on the 2nd and 4th Thursday from 7:00pm to 8:30pm, the 2nd and 4th Saturday from 10:00am to 11:30am, and the 2nd and 4th Tuesday from 6:00pm to 7:30pm. Groups will continue until the summer 2015. Childcare is available.

Where do they meet?

Groups meet at DUUF in one of the classrooms.

What happens at the meetings?

The way meetings go varies from one group to another, but they follow the same general pattern. First, opening words are read and a chalice is lit. Then members check-in with a brief update on how they are doing. The majority of the time is spent on reflection and discussion of the predetermined topic. In some groups, members check-out with their final thoughts on the topic. To conclude, closing words are read and the chalice is extinguished. Some groups take turns providing refreshments; others do not.

Who leads the meetings?

Each group has a trained facilitator, and most have a co-facilitator as well.

Tell me more about the topics.

Topics are selected by Lifespan Faith Development staff and vary each week. Up to a week before each meeting, participants receive an email about the topic, any related readings and/or pertinent questions for discussion. A sampling of topics includes:

Prayer                       Pilgrimage 
Balance                     Science and Spirituality
Forgiveness               Aspects of Islam
Ethical Reasoning     Gratitude
Aging                         Home
Peacemaking            Money
Play                           Grace

How do I sign up for a covenant group?

Forms are available through the first week in January both online:  http://dentonuuf.webform.com/form/14661/ and in paper form in Fellowship Hall. You may also email covenantgroups@dentonuuf.org with questions or for more information. 
 
 

 

Help Grow Our Future!

It is a fact: we have WAY more children at DUUF than we have ever had before. We are so fortunate to have so many opportunities for young people to explore what they believe, what our different sources teach, relationship-building, cultivate ethics and promote justice, and to explore their best version of themselves. Thanks to the hard work of volunteers this year and over the past several years we have really blossomed! Now YOU can help grow our future!
 
If you believe in creating opportunities for children to explore their own free and responsible search for truth and meaning, please visit our fun, interactive flower-themed display on the wall in the Fellowship Hall where you’ll be able to see some of the many aspects of our weekly lifespan faith development. You will also see some of the people who do these various and sundry tasks. Most exciting of all, you’ll be able to sign up yourself and get involved with this truly remarkable group of people.
 
There are lots of ways everyone can contribute. You can help with things like:
  • learning and exploring with our youth in a class (choose one of four different age-ranges),
  • checking the playground to make sure it’s clean and safe before services,
  • making posters,
  • crafting Spirit Play story boxes
  • helping to clean and organize our supply closets,
  • bringing a snack for our teachers once in a while,
  • and so much more!
There’s guaranteed to be some way everyone can contribute to the program.
 
We’ve even got an opportunity for you to get involved in adult faith development if that’s more your style. We’ll be hosting an adult faith development planning meeting on Tuesday, January 13th at 7pm at the fellowship and we’d love to have your input as we move forward.
 
 
You are an important part of our DUUF community. Thank you for your presence. If you'd like to take the next step of supporting our community, please contact Meredyth Fleisher, Director of Lifespan Faith Development at dlfd@dentonuuf.org or 940-566-1286.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

SHOP 4 DUUF!


ChaliceArt has generously donated ten stunning chalice necklaces for us to sell to raise funds for DUUF. Each is an artful, unique, one-of-a-kind treasure not found on their website or anywhere else. Prices range between $75 and $250. Pictured here are five of the pieces that will be for sale.
 
THIS WEEKEND ONLY during
 
Hanging of the Greens on Saturday 12/6 (5:00pm to 8:00pm)
 
and
 
Sunday 12/7 after services
 
Just in time for Christmas, you can purchase a special gift for yourself or someone special AND at the same time raise funds for DUUF. Wearing a chalice necklace is a great way to draw you back to our UU principles, show your UU spirit AND support DUUF.
 
100% of the money received goes straight to DUUF.
Any unsold pieces will be returned to ChaliceArt so that they can sell them elsewhere.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

New to UU!

You are invited to our New to UU Orientation, Saturday, Nov. 8th from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm. If you're wondering what Unitarian Universalism is all about, if you'd like more information about the path to membership at DUUF, or if you are a new or longtime member who hasn't attended orientation before (or in a while), please join us for food and fellowship.
 
Please RSVP ASAP to membership@dentonuuf.org.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Financial Peace University at DUUF


 (a nine-week course beginning September 10, 2014

taught by DUUF member Nick Day)

 Most people struggle to make ends meet. They just have too much month left at the end of the money. If you have made mistakes and feel like your money vanishes each month, you are not alone. In fact, 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck, regardless of income. Financial Peace University is designed to teach you and your family to get out of debt, stay out of debt, and build wealth. During the 9-week course the class will meet to watch the video lesson and participate in discussion groups that will change your whole attitude about money! This class will break through the common financial jargon and explain how money really works in a simple, easy-to-understand style. During this life-changing class, you will learn how to:

 
Get Control Of Your Money
Follow the step-by-step process for getting out of debt and staying out of debt
Put together a monthly spending plan that really works
Set financial goals and communicate about money

Stop Struggling To Make Ends Meet
Protect your family from life’s emergencies
Eliminate the stress that comes from financial problems
Save and invest for your future

Tell Your Money What To Do
Know what insurance to buy . . . and what to avoid
Get great deals on the things you buy
Buy or sell a home the right way
Plan for your retirement and make the right investment choices

Change Your Family’s Future
Utilize a good money plan to strengthen your marriage
Unlock the power of giving to change your community
 
Financial Peace University at Denton Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 1111 Cordell Street, Denton, TX. Classes will be held Wednesday nights beginning September 10 (and finishing on November 5), from 6:00 to 7:30pm. Led by DUUF member Nick Day. The cost of supplies is just $99 per individual (or couple). Free childcare is provided for families who register in advance (please register by September 1). Please contact Nick at nick@gohlkepools.com for more info or to register. 

Splash Day


DUUF Splash Day 2013 was our BIGGEST splash experience EVER...
but that was before
 
 
 

 
be part of the fun
on Saturday, August 23rd
from 4:00pm to 8:00pm
 
 
How to participate (choose one or more):
·        Dive in! We will have an inflatable water structure (and kiddie pools) for children and the young-at-heart.
·        Bring a dish/beverage to share for the potluck.
·        Eat.
·        Bring chairs/blankets for sitting on the lawn, or borrow one from inside (or c'mon inside if you prefer air-conditioned seating).
·        Bring a friend.
·        Bring two friends.
·        Have fun!
·        Meet someone new.
·        Reconnect with old friends.
·        Eat.
·        Start a jam session.
·        Start a chicken dance.
·        Take pictures for next year’s flyer.
·        Tweet about your experience.
·        Check-in on Facebook.
·        Eat.