President’s Column (March 2011)
By Tina Huesing
Coordinating Council (CC) meetings are very much like extended family reunions and, in that respect, a little like retreats.
We plan them, sign up, set aside other responsibilities to make time, look forward to seeing our friends again and welcoming new people, and then often travel long distances to get to the meetings. We enjoy being together, debate and laugh, eat and drink, time flies, and when we say good-bye, we look forward to seeing each other again soon.
At our summer CC meeting in Brussels, we thanked Linda Gheysen for having served as Vice President for the last two years and welcomed Kristina (Krissy) Ferris as the incoming VP. Read more about Krissy on page 10.
The CC meetings between retreats, typically held in January and July, last a whole day and thereby give us the opportunity to not only go over the necessary “business” items, but also to engage in meaningful discussion. In Brussels we took time to discuss the pricing structure and grant policy we use for our retreats.
We want all EUU members to attend our retreats. They are like family reunions for many of us, and it is important to us that the entire family attends. If you are an EUU member, we look forward to catching up with you. We want you to be part of our lives and we want to be part of yours. That holds true in good
times and in bad times. So if you are experiencing something wonderful, do come and spend the weekend with us and share. And if you are going through some rough times, do come and let us try to lighten your load, if only for a weekend.
Make time for the retreats. Put them in your calendar and bring your mother, father, daughter and son. Please invite your friends or your kid’s friends along as well. We welcome newcomers and are always happy to see new faces.
To ensure that all members can attend, and that nobody has to stay at home for financial reasons, we offer grants. Do ask for a grant if you’re going through a dry spell and would like to attend but feel you can’t afford the expenses. The retreats just wouldn’t be the same without you. You are doing all of us a favor if you ask for a grant; we want to see you. We miss you when you’re not there.
If you have never been to one of our retreats, have wanted to come for some time but couldn’t find the means to go, do contact us as well. We want to get to know you and will try to make your participation possible.
Please send a confidential grant request to our treasurer. Email and postal address can be found elsewhere on this page. I look forward to seeing you at one of our next retreats,
In Fellowship, Tina
Open unto me - Finding Faith in the Forest
By Rev. Richard Boeke
Did you know Jesus was a singer? In Matthew, at the end of the story of the Last Supper, we read: And after they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives” - Matthew 26:30
The heart of religion is in singing, and stories, and silent awe. In our fellowship, we shared the words of Howard Thurman:
Open unto me – courage for my fear.
Open unto me – hope for my despair.
Howard’s father died when Howard was only six years old. As his mother worked as a maid, Howard read the Bible to his grandmother who had been a slave. But besides the “Faith, Hope and Love” of First Corinthians, she requested no readings from the Apostle Paul. Howard asked her “why?” She replied, “When I was a slave, the Slavemaster's minister would come to preach to us several times a year, and he would always preach from the Apostle Paul. His favorite text was, Slaves, obey your masters. I promised myself that if I were ever free, I would not have to listen to the Apostle Paul again.”
To renew his soul, Howard would walk at night along Daytona Beach. He told us, “As a boy, in Florida, I walked along the beach of the Atlantic Ocean in the quiet stillness that can only be completely felt when the murmur of the ocean is stilled and the tide moves stealthily along the shore. I held my breath against the night, and watch the stars
etch their brightness on the darkened canopy of the heavens. I had the sense that all things – the sand, the sea, the stars, the night, and I-- were one lung through which all of life was breathing. Not only was I aware of a vast rhythm
enveloping all, but I was part of that rhythm, and the rhythm was a part of me. Many years later … I recognized the experience as being in itself religious, even as being mystical.”
In “The Peace of Wild Things,” Wendell Berry writes, “When despair for the world grows in me and I wake in the night at the least sound in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be, I go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. I come into the peace of wild things who do not
tax their lives with forethought of grief. I come into the presence of still water. And I feel above me the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Is this prayer? Unitarian Poet Mary Oliver gives her answer:
“I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed This is what I have
been doing all day.
Tell me What I should have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your own wild and wonderful life?”
Paying attention is her form of prayer withinthe realm of God called nature. She defines prayer from this perspective in her poem entitled “Praying” [Praying, Thirst, p 37]
“Just pay attention, then patch a few words together and don’t try to make them elaborate. This isn’t a contest but a doorway into thanks and a silence in which another voice may speak …Just pay attention.”
She tells us:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on. …
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting#
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
Open unto me – strength for my weakness
Open unto me – wisdom for my confusion
And after they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives …Then Jesus came with them to the Garden of Gethsemane. He said to his disciples, Sit ye here while I go and pray. He took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee. He said unto them, “My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death. … (Mark 30, 36-38).
As at other times in his ministry starting with the temptation in the wilderness, he goes out in nature to pray. The trees and the sky are his temple. Of the anguish in the garden, the Southern poet Sidney Lanier writes,
Into the woods my Master went,
Clean forspent, forspent.
Into the woods my Master came,
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him:
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.
To me, the time in Gethsemane is the most important part of Jesus at Easter. If you visit the Coptic Churches in Egypt, they are full of smiling faces of Jesus. There are no statues of stations of the cross. There are no bloody paintings of the Crucifixion.
In Egypt and in Asia Minor, the most ancient churches celebrate a shining paradise. In Orthodox Churches at Midnight, as Easter Sunday begins, the resurrection is celebrated, people hug and kiss with joy. Boys stand near the girl they want to kiss and take the opportunity.
Open unto me – forgiveness for my sins
Open unto me – tenderness for my toughness.
How do we create a culture of forgiveness? Peter asked, “How many times shall I forgive – Seven times?” Jesus answers, “Until seventy times seven.” Yet millions are unforgiving. Many of us have a hard time even forgiving ourselves.
To help build a culture of mutual respect and forgiveness, Muslim Eboo Patel has organized the Interfaith Youth Core. It brings young people of many faiths to work together on projects. I confess I have mixed feelings about it, because the Tony Blair foundation has given it a large donation. I like to think of it as Blair seeking forgiveness for
the tragedy he caused by following George Bush into Iraq. But I support Eboo Patel, who is doing good work. He writes:
“The greatest problem facing the 21st Century is the problem of the faith divide. The faith divide does not separate Muslims from Christians, Gentile from Jew, or believer from non-believer. The faith divide separates people who want to live together as brothers from people who want to perish together as fools.”
On Holy Week I watched a procession from the Anglican Church following a man with a great cross on his shoulder. They were joining the Good Friday Service of “Horsham Churches Together” (partner churches of other denominations). Unitarians cannot participate in Horsham Churches Together. Some think that we are eternally damned because we do not affirm the Trinity. As in millions of towns on this earth, they keep up the faith divide.
They insist that their belief has divine sanction and others do not. Lord, help me to forgive others even as I seek to be forgiven.
Open unto me – love for my hates
Open unto me – light for my darkness
This fall, "What shall you do with your wild and wonderful life?" Shall you revere the Jesus of love and forgiveness?#Or shall you revere what many churches have made of him: Christ, the judge who divides us between heaven and hell. On April 3rd in the Review Section of the Guardian, there was a thoughtful review of Philip Pullman's new book, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ.
The reviewer is Archbishop Rowan Williams. He draws on his own study of Dostoevsky to link #The Grand Inquisitor to Pullman's story of the "twin brother" of Jesus, who is the "Scoundrel Christ."#It is the argument that "... Jesus was too radical for ordinary human consumption, and for his memory to survive at all, you will have to lie about him ..."
Archbishop Williams tells us that the book is “a very bold and outrageous fable, …Pullman’s …passionate fury at corrupt religious systems of control. …but also introducing a voice of genuine spiritual authority. But that is what Pullman’s Jesus undoubtedly is.” Like Albert Schweitzer and Howard Thurman, the new book opens us to a Jesus of love and forgiveness. As Rev. Ashley Hills told us in a recent sermon in Horsham, Jesus never asked anyone:
1) to become a Christian
2) to believe in the Virgin Birth
3) to believe in the Trinity. The word is not even in the Bible.
Jesus never taught us to believe in the right creed. With stories and parables he taught us “to love God and love thy neighbor.” The rest is commentary.
May each of us find time to follow the example of Jesus:
Walk into the woods.
Under the trees, find Oneness to bring back into the world.
We cannot bring peace to the world
unless we first have it ourselves.
EUU member Rev. Richard Boeke has served as both Chai rand Secretary of the World Congress of Faiths (WCF). He coined the word, fideology, the study of faith as trust. He has served as Secretary for the International Council of Unitarians and Universalists(ICUU), and lectured on Michael Servetus for the ICUU. He was founding President of the U.S. Chapter of the International Association for Religious Freedom (IARF). For several years he was Vice President of a Shinto Shrine (Tsubaki America).
Early in his ministry, he was a U.S. Air Force Chaplain, and served churches in the United States before moving to England in 1995. He was elected a Vice President of WCF in 2007. In 2009 he organized the WCF London Series, “Affirming Religious Puralism”.
Unitarians around the world – the Khasi Unitarians
By Vicki Roberts-Gassler
At the ICUU Council Meeting last fall in Romania, it was emphasized that one of the main things we gain from such gatherings is a chance to hear each other’s stories. The stories of the Khasi Unitarians especially appealed to me, so when my husband Scott had a chance to attend a conference in Agra, India, son Gregory and I followed along, and we all went to the Khasi Hills to see for ourselves. Here’s a little taste of the stories from there.
In those hills in the northeast part of India over a hundred years ago, a young man called Hajom Kissor Singh came to some conclusions about his new Christian religion that put him at odds with the Calvinism he had recently converted to, but his thoughts were very similar to the conclusions Unitarians had reached in England, the US and much earlier in Reformation Transylvania. For him, God was one, all-powerful and all-forgiving. With this compelling idea, he founded the Unitarian movement among his people, convincing others of his way of thinking and ultimately building up a church organization that now counts between ten and fifteen thousand adherents in Shillong and the rural areas of Meghalaya. He remains a hero to the Khasi Unitarians, and Founder’s Day is their biggest holiday.
We were very warmly welcomed in Shillong by Pearl Green Marbaniang, one of five Unitarian ministers among the Khasi, in
charge of coordinating the visits of foreign Unitarians. He had arranged accommodations for us in a nice guest house in the beautiful hilly city among the pines, and Derek Parriat had dinner with us; I knew both Pearl Green and Derek from ICUU meetings. The next day we met Darihun Khriam, another minister; she accompanied us to the orphanage in the tiny village of Kharang, about 20 or 25 km, a two-hour drive on some rather basic roads, away from the capital.
Khasi families are usually able to take in the orphans in their extended families, but sometimes this cannot happen, so a few
years ago the Khasi Unitarians began working with the Unitarian Universalist Partner Church Council to build a Unitarian orphanage. The land was donated by a trust left by British Unitarian minister Annie Margaret Barr, who worked among the Khasi between her first visit in 1934 and her death in 1973; the Annie Margaret Barr Children’s Village is named for her. The C.V. opened in January 2009, and by the time we visited in December, the first 13 children, by then from 3-1/2 to 13 years old, had adjusted well and really become a family. We fell in love with all of them, and were treated royally during our
brief stay. We were able to experience their life in this safe space, where they were enjoying their school vacation, first keeping their home spotlessly clean, and then spending hours playing cricket on their small field, half the time chasing the ball into the surrounding garden.
For us it was up-market camping out: it was chilly and there is no central heating there. It’s life stripped to the necessities. The children spend time gathered around small charcoal burners, and the day the electricity went out, they proved to be very handy with candles. They are well fed, with some meat as part of their diet, potatoes and rice as staples, with seasonal vegetables.
Khasi culture is matrilineal and matrilocal. Children take the mother’s family name rather than the father’s, and when they marry, men move to their wife’s village. There are several other matrilineal tribes in central India, but the Khasi are quite unusual in that the youngest daughter inherits the parents’ land and possessions, and is responsible for caring for them as they grow old. We heard more about how this works from Nangroi and Bari: Nangroi Suting is one of the lay ministers for the Unitarians, who has a day job as a village school teacher. His wife Bari, who works in Shillong for the state agriculture
department, is the youngest daughter of her family. Bari explained that the youngest daughter is considered to be wise and good at personal relationships, and holds the family together.
Nangroi is the main minister – there are only five of them – responsible for the Children’s Village, or the C.V. as they refer to it. Bari’s parents live steps away from the C.V.; her mother was one of Rev. Barr’s orphans.
The Khasi Unitarian church today
Five ministers, all with some American UU training, serve 39 congregations; two work full-time for their Union, three have “day jobs.” The organization also numbers seven fellowships, and they run 42 village schools. We can only hope we are worthy of their friendship.
A statement of faith was adopted by the
Khasi Unitarians, and reported in 1888
by Singh in the Unitarian:
We believe in
(1) the Unity of God
(2) Fatherhood and Motherhood of God
(3) Brotherhood of Man
(4) Love, Union, Worship,
(5) Faith in Immortality.
RELIGIOUS EXPLORATION AT FALL RETREAT
OCTOBER 29-31, 2010 in MITTELWIHR, FRANCE
CHILDREN AND YOUTH:
COME ONE, COME ALL
HAVE FUN WITH US
AT THE RETREAT IN THE FALL!
Just like their parents, UU kids get a major recharge at our retreats. It’s an opportunity to come together with other UU kids, fellow people growing up in freethinking families a lot like their own. They are free to play and learn in a safe, understanding space. This fall the fabulous UU will meet again, joined by new people, as always, who will be welcomed warmly into our groups.
Naturally they also learn about what being a UU means, thanks to the RE program. Although providing a full education on UU beliefs in little over one day every six months is quite a challenge (we hope parents are filling in the gaps, perhaps with fellowship programs), nonetheless we try to explore the main areas of religious investigation.
Over a two-year period, we rotate four very broad areas in a cycle:
a) our Judeo-Christian heritage,
b) Unitarian Universalist forebears and beliefs,
c) earth-centered religious beliefs
d) other major world religions, like Hinduism, Islam, and Buddhism.
It is lucky for us that UU forebears and beliefs are the program just when the retreat takes place in Mittelwihr, close to the home of Albert Schweitzer, a major humanitarian hero and member of the UU Church of the Larger Fellowship.
We organize classes based on attendance and age, but we usually have a teen group, a pre-teen or Explorers group, and a younger Treasure Hunters group. Through stories and activities, they will learn about notable Unitarians and/or Universalists, some, famous like Albert Schweitzer, and some, who deserve to be better known than they are, like Margaret Fuller.
The older children may also look at some Unitarian and Universalist founders around the world – from Francis David, who started the Transylvanian Unitarian church in the 1500s to John Murray, who started Universalism in the very early days of the United States, and from Hajom Kissor Singh, founder of the Khasi Unitarian church in 1887, to Rev. Toribio S. Quimada, who brought Unitarian Universalism to the Philippines in 1954.
Younger children will find out about Universalist Clara Barton, founder of the American Red Cross, and Unitarian Henry Bergh, who started the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
Unitarians and Universalists who have achieved great things inside the church and within social justice movements of all sorts are numerous. We will have time to learn about only a few of them during our brief time together. We hope that our adult members will help us out by coming costumed as favorite UU heroes, and be ready to share an important fact about their hero with the children.
Vicki-Jane Roberts-Gassler and Janie Spencer-Bellet have taken on the position of EUU CO-Directors of Youth Religious Exploration (DRE). They will be overseeing the program for the 2010-2011 year. They are both former DREs, so the job description is not new to them. Passionate
about religious exploration, children and youth, and the EUU, they are happy to serve our EUU family. Little known facts: Both of them have children, who have moved to LaLa Land (Los Angles) to break into the movie industry, and both of them read mystery novels in their free time. Great friends, they enjoy working together.
«For Unitarian Universalists, religious education includes all the ways that children, teens and adults grow toward their potential as compassionate, ethical and fulfilled human beings!». - CLF
By Logan Deimler
Following the conclusion of the ICUU Theological Symposium, nine EUU members and one Burundian met with Rev. Jill McAllister and Rev. Brian Kiely to receive training in lay chaplaincy.
Based on the Canadian Unitarian Council’s Lay Chaplaincy Training Program, this one-day workshop covered child dedications, memorial services and weddings. These three services have similar structures. Our instructors stressed that the officiant’s role is to be the non-anxious presence, who is in charge without being controlling. We were also cautioned to always keep our primary audience in mind, i.e., memorial services aren’t for the deceased, but are conducted for the family and friends.
It was an enjoyable day, filled with good information. The highlight was a walk-through of a wedding rehearsal led by Jill. Each of our 12 participants took on a role to help Karen and Fulgence and their “families” prepare for their big day! At the end of our training, we all felt better equipped to officiate at a UU service, should the need ever arise.
Appreciation for the Interdependent Web
By Martha Hicks
One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
There is something inherently joyful about our seventh principle “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
When I ask myself what makes me happiest, the answer that rings truest is when something that is considered used (and therefore useless) finds a new life. Whether it is leftovers from supper being used to create a delightful new lunch the next day or reviving a dying plant by trimming it way back or making cutoffs out of knee-worn pants, I find it most pleasing to be the instigator of creating something from what someone else might throw out.
I think my appreciation of this began as a teenager. When I was fourteen, I spent six weeks with my Aunt Barbara in Suisun City, California. She was a breeder and trainer of hunting dogs: golden retrievers and black Labradors. And in the summer, boy, do those dogs shed! When I arrived from Kansas, the first thing I noticed was dog hair everywhere.
It was hard not to love the dogs anyway. They were loyal, gentle and affectionate and it was clear to me, watching my Aunt take them through their training laps that those dogs would have given up their lives for you. They could plop their seventy-five pounds of love and fur in your lap and lick your face at the same time. But in the beginning, it really bothered me how much their yellow and black coats shed.
One morning before breakfast, I was walking down to visit the puppies and noticed that some little sparrows had landed on the porch. The dogs were in their usual laid back pose, oblivious to the feathered friends hopping around them. As I focused my eyes, still heavy with sleep, I noticed something in one bird’s beak. At first I couldn’t figure out what it was. It was dog hair! The bird was gathering the dog’s soft fur to line its nest.
I remembered all those times I silently grumbled about this cast-off hair, sticking to all my clothes, damp skin and even to the sheets where I slept. It didn’t matter how much we vacuumed, there was never an end to the hair. And here I was watching a bird about to use something I considered a nuisance. I watched it as it flew to its nest. The back porch scene I had just witnessed changed my view of the shedding hair. My feelings were transformed from irritation to the realization of nature’s superb resourcefulness. In the cycle of life, nothing is
Fast forward nine years later. John and I had just emigrated to Australia and I was so moved by his loving nursing of me during an intensive bout with the German Measles, I spent my convalescence designing an embroidered bodice that would adorn a wedding gown. The fact that we couldn’t afford a sewing machine or really even the material to make a gown was a fairly large obstacle, but someone mentioned to me that one
could get linen (ideal for embroidery) with small weaving defects from the Irish linen factory in North Sydney for practically nothing. We went there on the train and I found a huge tablecloth with enough material to make a full length wedding dress for six dollars. Three months and thousands of handmade stitches later and about half an hour before we married, it was finished.
I remember with pleasure, after finally being able to afford a used Singer sewing machine, making John a vest out of old jeans with leather trim from a favorite pair of high topped shoes that had outlived their original purpose. Since our modest apartment building was fortuitously located just around the corner from the Australian Prime Minister’s residence, most of our neighbors lived in opulence. Before the rubbish trucks could come to pick up their “junk” once a month, John and I had already found treasures, just like the birds, to furnish our bare apartment. John made a lamp table out of an old wooden pickle barrel. (It was a real challenge to get rid of the smell!) Our first couch was made out of discarded shelves from the Esteé Lauder factory, where John worked as a fork lift driver.
Through time, things that appear destroyed, things that are shed or discarded are used again. Endings decompose and nourish beginnings, connecting us all to the interdependent web of life. Though John’s and my circumstances have changed considerably over the years, our love for converting the useless to the useful has never entirely left us. As we clean out our attic and basement this summer, maybe some of our “rubbish” will find a new beginning with someone else.
Speaking of the “web”, it may be news to some that, "Tim" Berners-Lee, British engineer, MIT professor and the computer scientist credited with inventing the World Wide Web, is a Unitarian Universalist. Berners-Lee left the Church of England as a teenager, just after being confirmed and being "told how essential it was to believe
in all kinds of unbelievable things." He and his family eventually joined a Unitarian Universalist church while they were living in Boston.
In 1960, his predecessor, Ted Nelson, developed the modern version of hypertext. In his newsletter Nelson wrote: “[It occurred to me] that the future of humanity is at the interactive computer screen, that the new writing and movies will be interactive and interlinked. It will be united by bridges of transclusion [inclusion of a document or part of a document into another document by reference] and we need a world-wide network to deliver it with royalty.” Learning from Ted Nelson's ideas, Tim Berners-Lee of CERN conceived the idea of the World-Wide Web in 1989. He implemented the first successful communication between an HTTP client and server via the Internet in 1990.
Wishing everyone a restful, enjoyable summer!