In hot water. NOT!

The church's hot water heater died over the weekend. By rights, it should have done so years ago - it was well over 20 years old.

Of course, the lack of warm, or hot, water was not noticed until it was time to wash up dishes following coffee hour. Once I determined the heater was dead I closed the valves to prevent any more leaking and pondered what to do next. How could we clean up all the Easter communion cups and coffee mugs with only cold water?

I had no easy answer. I was stumped, but not dear Diana. A trooper born in the 1930's, she immediately grabbed a big old teapot from the pantry and started heating water on top of the stove. An obvious solution, maybe, but one that had not crossed my mind.

I think we sometimes overlook how much we can learn from other generations, be they younger or older than ourselves. It's difficult to remember now but there was a time when hot water was boiled on a stovetop. That's how it was done for ages, and by golly, it still works. How quickly we forget.

By next Sunday we'll have a new water heater installed and will be back to things as usual. Except, I'm going to keep that old copper teapot close at hand. Maybe someday in the future, when the replacement water heater fails, I can show some young whippersnapper how to heat water the old-fashioned way.


A Jesus we can live with

Something different this time. Rather than a blog post I'm going to direct you to my Palm Sunday sermon.

"Christologies" - an examination of various perspectives on Jesus - is available in either text format for reading, or MP3 format for listening to online or downloading to your device. Approximately 1400 words, about 14 minutes in spoken length.

Text version: http://pullmanmemorial.wordpress.com/sermons/pastor-lee-richards#Christologies

MP3 version (scroll down on the landing page): http://pullmanmemorial.org/sermons/


When will it end?

This winter doesn't seem to want to let go. Temps have bounced around from near 60 to below 30, from sunny and warm to cloudy and cold, from rain to dry to snow. We get teasers of impending spring, then 10" of heavy-to-shovel snow. Mud abounds. When will it end and the transition be complete?

An interesting question, that. "When will it end and the transition be complete?" I've heard variations of this as a hospital chaplain. Sometimes, in the winter of one's life, when death is certain but taking its own sweet time to claim its victim, the frustration mounts among those who wait.

A patient known to have multiple, life-threatening ailments, declines day by day. Then, out of nowhere, a momentary rally, and hope springs anew that maybe, just maybe, death will be cheated this time around. Yet more often than not, such hopes are false, and the next day resumes the slow march to the inevitable.

It's not that anyone wants their loved one to die quickly, but I witness the toll of a slow and lingering death on those who will remain behind, and I sometimes detect a little resentment that their own lives are "on hold" while they attend to the dying.

Death comes in many forms. It may be swift and unexpected with no time to say goodbye. It may be painfully slow, creeping through the shadows of the room, biding its time. However it claims its victim, it also leaves a small death in the hearts of those left behind. We mourn our loss while cherishing our memories of a life departed.

In the end, winter wins. Yet, spring does also come, maybe in fits and starts, but those who know loss will come to know renewal of spirit. Life will resume, even if it is different without the departed. It is nature's way that the seasons of a life will inevitably transition, no matter how long, no matter how we may wish differently.

Snow makes a fine shroud. We can accept that, even as we yearn for a fragrant carpet of flowers in the springing of a new year.


Puzzle pieces

I used to assemble jigsaw puzzles with my mom when I was growing up. We set up a card table in the living room and every night spent some time putting together a 500, or 1000, or even larger puzzle.

More recently I've been getting my "puzzle fix" online. It's quite satisfying to move the pieces around using a mouse and hear the little click when two suddenly snap together. And puzzles seem to go together rather quickly, although that may be because I'm not tackling complicated, 500 pieces or more games. It's also a bit of a pleasure to know that every piece is accounted for, and none have been accidentally lost so that the project can never be totally completed.

How often have we heard of life being referred to as a puzzle? Trying to put all the pieces together to create the big picture, and without knowing what that finished picture looks like? Often it seems like there may be missing pieces, but I'm sure that's because the final pic is just different than what we imagine it to be.

Certainly, Unitarian Universalists tend to approach their theologies like trying to assemble a jigsaw puzzle - but by taking pieces from many different puzzles and trying to wedge them all into one conglomerate. A piece or two from the Tao te Ching, another from the Koran, several from the Bible, some from Thoreau, and Whitehead, and... you get the "picture."

Sometimes these assemblages work like a smooth jazz band, and sometimes the assembler has to use a carving knife to whittle away and make odd pieces fit a preconceived notion. I'm not sure that approach isn't without some merit, at least for that particular individual, but my sense is that the finished picture, or theology, will be better if the bits and pieces fit naturally together.

Have you been puzzling your way through life? How's it going for you?


God or no God, you are welcome here

One of the deepest spiritual needs a person has is for community - a group of others where one can experience Love and acceptance and respect. A place where one can practice being a fully actualized human. A belief in a higher power - call it God or the Spirit of Life or the Great Squirrel - doesn't matter so much as a belief in becoming the best person one is capable of becoming, and being open to the experience.

If you experience awe - whether in a brilliant sunrise, or the mournful eyes of a basset hound, or the cooing noises of an infant, or the colors of the Grand Canyon - if you experience any sense of awe in your life then your spiritual inner self has been touched. Maybe you believe these things are signs of God's great power in the universe or maybe these are just the unfolding of Nature - things that would happen whether you witnessed them or not - but because you do notice them your life is enriched, made better, more complete.

Atheists feel a need to be in community and to worship. Worship is about celebrating what we witness - being thankful for being alive, for having the opportunity to be a part of the world, of the universe. And in joining together with others in community we learn of the joys and sorrows that others encounter in their journeys, magnifying our own view of the enormity of it all.

Pullman Memorial is a church for the Godless as well as the God-believers, but not so much for the God-fearing. For if we speak of God it is a God of Love and not a God of Anger or Hate. Members of Pullman Memorial gather together to worship - to celebrate - the awe in our lives. It doesn't matter so much to what we ascribe the source of the awe - God, Goddess, or the natural unfolding of the universe. What matters is that we do it, and do it together in community.

Atheist, agnostic, Christian, Transcendentalist, deist, Buddhist, Jew - God or no God, you are welcome here, because it is the spirit of a loving community that makes a church, not its theology.

[click here for a more in-depth look at why people with diverse theologies worship in a Unitarian Universalist church]


Quotes: the haikus of sermons

Each week I seek out a quote to put on my church's website, and each day I put up a brief thought, quote, or idea on my church's Facebook page. The word I get back is that these are quite popular, with at least a couple of people looking for their daily "wisdom fix."

It often amazes me how a small handful of words can capture profound perspectives on life. Yet such is exactly the concept behind haiku poems limited to just 17 syllables.

I purposefully try to keep my sermons relatively short, between 1500 and 2000 word count. But when I consider the beauty of a single, well-constructed quote, I wonder if I'm just "flapping my lips" to fill a preconceived time allotment.

Maybe homilies of 500 to 800 words get closer to encapsulating an idea? Yet even these are still a lot of talk compared to a haiku poem.

Perhaps the answer lies in getting it all down on paper - all the ramblings of my brain on the subject - and then stepping back to find the one short gem that is quotable - the "haiku" of the sermon that gets the point across while still leaving the listener room to imagine more.

It's been said that most sermons are long because the preacher didn't have time to write a shorter one. What do you think? Is there an ideal length for a sermon? How long is too long, or how short is too short? Comments welcome.


The sign does not say it all

The image with this post says, "If your beliefs fit on a sign, think harder." Two thoughts are prompted.

First, as Unitarian Universalists we are more often carrying around a long list of unanswered, thought-provoking questions than beliefs. Second, others outside our denomination are always trying to pin us down, wanting us to be succinct and to make our beliefs simple enough that they could fit on a sign.

For the truth is that we - each and every one of us - we do hold a number of beliefs as well as questions that we continually wrestle with. We are known for our thinking harder, and longer, and then just when we think we've got it figured out, reevaluating with new information just to be sure.

I'm reminded of how parishioners in my congregation responded to the Occupy Wall Street protests. Pullman Memorial Universalist Church is sort of in the middle of nowhere. We're located in the county seat of a rural, western New York county, and are pretty much the only choice for people with liberal leanings in a historically conservative region.

Given that, when some of us were inspired by OWS, we chose to make our own protests right here, on Main Street, in front of the county courthouse. Yes, some of the signs were about income inequality, a reflection of the signs in New York City. But each participant carried his or her own "pet peeve" placard to make an overall public statement that a whole lot of issues need addressing.

Our beliefs on signs, urging others to stop and think for a moment about what was happening in NYC and around the world. Reminding commuters that our planet needs help before it's too late. One of our military veterans boldly stating that "War Sucks." You get the idea. And the content of the signs changed during the course of the year that our protests continued - not because our beliefs changed, but because there were just so many issues needing be brought to people's attention.

I guess what I'm getting at is that as UUs, we are famous for thinking harder. We do try to fit our beliefs onto signs, but we do it hoping to spark conversation as much as conversion. And I'd like to think that such is true for many other sign-carriers out there.

See someone with a sign? Why not stop for a moment and engage them in a chat. You both might learn something from the encounter, not the least of which is a new awareness that nearly everybody is more multidimensional than their sign might lead you to believe.