“Faith Like a River” course to be offered


This fall I’ll be facilitating a new course called Faith Like a River. Our faith is understood through its history, and here is a chance to learn about it in a
living/breathing way. Here is how the UUA describes the course:

It explores the dynamic course of Unitarian, Universalist, and Unitarian Universalist (UU) history — the people, ideas, and movements that have shaped our faith heritage. It invites participants to place themselves into our history and consider its legacies. What lessons do the stories of our history teach that can help us live more faithfully in the present? What lessons do they offer to be lived into the future?

The class will be on Thursdays with a choice of daytime or evening classes the times to be chosen by whoever signs up.  It will run from October 24 through December 5 (these are new dates; disregard the earlier ones that had been posted).  Sign-up sheets are in our Fellowship Hall on the table.

— Reverend Frieda Gillespie

Photo (cc) by Photnart and published under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Reflections on stewardship

asset_upload_file996_144710By Rev. Frieda Gillespie

Note: Reverend Frieda delivered this sermon on February 17.

I frequently hear that people don’t understand the word Stewardship. It’s really a simple concept. It means taking care of what you care about. It implies a feeling of responsibility, common trust, and obligation to pass along what you have to future generations, to leave it for others in better shape than you found it. All of that is stewardship. Every year we do a pledge drive. We ask you to give from your heart to NSUU. We ask you to be good stewards of what you love here. All of this begs the question “Why is it important that NSUU exists?”

A colleague who is one of the ministers of the UU church in Rochester, New York, gave his answer to this question. He said that we are all wounded by the world and how we are in the world. We are wounded by materialism, by the greed we see among those who run our economy. We can’t buy anything without contributing to someone’s mistreatment. We can’t eat anything without wondering if there are poisons in our food or water. We hear daily about disasters both human-caused and natural, about poverty, about violence, about injustices around the world and in our communities. We carry around the burden of pain for all of these things consciously or unconsciously. The great liberal religious imperative is that we bear witness to and care about all of these things.

My colleague believes that first and foremost our work as a liberal religious faith is to provide the time, place, and tools for healing these wounds. I think that he is right. If we are fearful, overburdened, sad, and despairing, there isn’t much chance that we will be useful in any meaningful way to anyone else. Continue reading

Reflections on the tragedy in Newtown

chaliceBy Rev. Frieda Gillespie

The beauty of this holiday season was certainly tainted by the stark reminder from Newtown, Connecticut, of the capacity of human beings in our brokenness to destroy others. I know that we have all been grieving for the families of the 20 children and six adults killed in Newtown by a young man who we may never understand. The fact that he was able to access automatic weapons is something for which we all have to take responsibility. Unless these weapons are banned with strict enforcement, more atrocities will occur, and ultimately we are the ones who decide that.

There will be new legislation regarding gun control proposed, and we can support it by contacting our senators, congressmen, and congresswomen to demand their support for it. We can make it known wherever possible how we feel about weapons that fire 800 to 1,000 rounds per minute being in the hands of private citizens. I’m not even sure I want them in the hands of the military. I heard a clergyman on television talking about “holy impatience.” I think that is what we need to motivate us to speak up and out about gun control. We mustn’t be patient with people who are entertained by shooting guns or who think that having assault weapons will protect them. If you have any doubts about the importance of gun control, read this thoughtful op-ed from the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof, which is online here.

I also hope that people will understand that autism doesn’t make people violent. Autistic people can react with extreme fear and resistance to stimulation that wouldn’t affect a typical person. But being autistic doesn’t make a person any more violent than a typical person. There are children, however, who grow up with a personality that alienates them from others, which leads to a dwindling spiral of rejection and hostility from others and within the child. Couple that stress with a high IQ, and you may have a child who one day explodes into violent acts. There is no easy treatment for personality disorders, and it is rare for a parent to be able to cope with the violence that such a child presents. There should be help for these families, and there is for some in some cases, but not nearly enough — and not nearly enough is known about how to treat them. For a beautiful description of life with such a child, here is a courageous article by a woman whose 13-year-old is deeply troubled for no apparent reason.

I can relate to her because of what I went through with my daughter, who isn’t autistic but can be violent and lacks empathy for others. She and I were very fortunate to be living in Massachusetts, where there are services available for her. We were lucky to get those services and to have the promise of adult residential services ahead. Not all parents are able to ask for help or able to receive real help when they do ask. Even so, there is so much we don’t know about this type of mental illness, how to help those who have are afflicted with it, and how to help families who are held hostage by it.

May we cultivate a “holy impatience” for dangers that can be reduced or eliminated, and may we approach the problems of the mentally ill and their families with compassion and intelligence. If we could do this as a nation, so many more people would have a happy new year.

Thinking about the Occupy movement

By Rev. Frieda Gillespie

“I should really join the Occupy people because …” Have you been hearing people interviewed on the news say something like this lately? I think I must have heard it said on TV or around my town dozens of times in the last two months — usually by someone frustrated by something, a coupon that wasn’t accepted at a minimart, or anger at National Grid over how long it took to get power back.

I’ve also heard the question “What is it they want, anyway?” probably as many times. I’ve heard the scoffing and skepticism about whether such demonstrations result in any meaningful change. The goals of the Occupy movement — to raise awareness and effect change in the injustice that exists in our economy — are very near and dear to us as Unitarian Universalists. Many UUs in the area have gone into Boston to show support for the movement there, and UU ministers and lay people have gone regularly to give vespers services on Sunday afternoons.

How has this movement moved you — or not? I am particularly struck by their process. They are working hard to come to consensus and include all points of view, trying to be the change they want to see in our economy. They have resisted hierarchical organization — which has been said to be one of the reasons they cannot succeed, since there is no central institution to make demands.

These are very bright, mostly young people who are willing to give a great deal of themselves for what they believe. Their power is in their persistence, and Occupy has become a symbol of standing up against the tyranny of greed and power gone uncontrolled. So far, they have accomplished keeping the issue of economic disparity in this country in the public conversation. But does that conversation ever reach the halls of the financial institutions that brought our economy down? For that matter, has it reached the senators and representatives making budget decisions on our behalf in Washington? It certainly doesn’t appear so.

Change happens very slowly, and this grassroots movement is more likely to affect the hearts of ordinary and diverse citizens than any in positions of power. Still, “speaking truth to power” has far-reaching effects, and over time changes the very culture upon which the powerful must depend to do the things they do. To a great extent they operate with the freedom we give them.

In this season of light returning, opening hearts and souls to love and peace, may we take heart and be inspired by these young and young-at-heart activists.

I wish all of you a light-filled holiday season!

To learn more about Haitian Vodou

We had a packed meeting room last Sunday! It was great to see. We learned something about Haitian Vodou and asked a lot of questions, but still just scratched the surface of this complex religion and philosophy of life. Our vodouisant guest speakers recommend the following two books to learn more about their faith:

  • Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti, by Maya Deren (Amazon.com link)
  • Mama Lola: A Vodou Priestess in Brooklyn, by Karen McCarthy Brown (Amazon.com link)

They are also very open to questions and can be reached via e-mail:

  • Adam McGee: amcgee {at} fas {dot} harvard {dot} edu
  • Manbo Maud Evans: mmevans70 {at} yahoo {dot} com

— Rev. Frieda

Books recommended by Rev. Frieda

I’ve referred to a couple of books recently that people have asked about. The first is The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist. She was an executive with The Hunger Project for many years and has a wonderful perspective on money and how it can be a fulfilling force in our lives rather than an anxiety producing one.

The other book from the Easter service is Saving Jesus from the Church, by Robin Meyers. He is a UCC minister who describes the origins of many of the church’s professed beliefs and encourages Christians to return to the teachings of Jesus rather than worshipping Jesus Christ.

Why is a Big Mac cheaper than a salad?

I promised last Sunday that I would post the picture I talked about and some references for learning more about how our food is produced and what we can do about the injustices, health and environmental issues. First, here is the graphic from the AlterNet article. There is another source article in the New York Times.


The film that I think is a “must see” is called Food, Inc., and since it was nominated for an Oscar this year, it can be found at any movie rental place. Join in the discussion after church next Sunday to see some clips and discuss them with others.

The journalist I referred to is Michael Pollan. He’s written several books, of which I’ve read one: In Defense of Food, which is an excellent treatise on the history of processed food in this country and what he’s learned about healthy eating. He is also the author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma and Food Rules, a book of aphorisms to help us navigate the mysteries of labels and packaging.

One of the most important ideas Pollan presents, IMHO, is that we are meant to be in relationship to our food — we are part of the web of life, not an opposing force. It’s really about our place in the world.  In the words of Wendell Berry, whom he quotes in his book:

Eating with the fullest pleasure — pleasure, that  is, that does not depend on ignorance — is perhaps the profoundest enactment of our connection with the world. In this pleasure we experience and celebrate our dependence and gratitude, for we are living from mystery, from creatures we did not make and powers we cannot comprehend.

Blessings on your food journey. I’d love to hear your stories.


Honoring Mary Daly, pioneering feminist theologian

See full size image

Mary Daly

Mary Daly, radical lesbian feminist Catholic theologian who taught at Boston College for 33 years, died Monday at the age of 81.

Daly was a pioneer in challenging patriarchal leadership and theology in all organized religion. Her theological writings and courses essentially started the feminist theology movement, which thrives still today at many seminaries.

Her extreme feminism caused many to reject her, but no one can say she didn’t influence positive change. Those of us who are female ministers owe a lot to her courage and teachings. You can read more about her at NPR or on Wikipedia. Thank you to Amanda Symmes, who brought the news to me.

In Faith,

The meaning of Ramadan

We have entered the season of Ramadan, a period of fasting, prayer, and spiritual study for Muslims.

The radio program Speaking of Faith has gathered stories about the meaning of Ramadan from Muslims all over the country. They are inspiring and touching, and are a wonderful way to get to know our Muslim neighbors better. I commend them to you.

On the Speaking of Faith website, you can listen to the original program, “Revealing Ramadan,” or listen to the uncut versions of the stories presented. You’ll also find poetry about Ramadan by Adnan Onart, one of the callers. By clicking here, you can listen to his poems “Ramadan in Dunkin’ Donuts,” “Morning Prayer,” and more.

If you are offered food by a stranger this month at sundown somewhere — maybe even a Dunkin’ Donuts — it just might be an invitation to participate in the breaking of the Ramadan fast.


Watch the UUA General Assembly

General Assembly, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s annual denominational meeting, is taking place in Salt Lake City right now.

There will be worship services, musical performances, workshops, award-winning sermons, the vote for the UUA president, study/action issues and much more.

Twenty-five hours of live, streaming video will be broadcast, and is happening right now.  Click here to start watching. Links to past video will be posted so that you needn’t watch it live.

This is a great way to participate if you aren’t able to be there. See our democratic process in action and experience the many ways you can learn or be inspired. It’s almost as good as being there.