Open because we want to be

Snow. Cold. Ice. Winds. Whiteouts. Winter weather forecast that caused the churches in our town to close preemptively on Sunday. All of them except two - the Catholic church, and my Universalist church.

Our local news reporter stumbled into the building about 9:30 am, surprised to find us "open for business." His inquiring mind wanted to know why we chose to have service when (almost) everyone else was shuttered for the day.

Immediate response: UUs are not wimps. Second, slightly more thoughtful response: the Catholics are open because they need to be lest their parishioners suffer guilt from missing mass whereas we're open because we want to be, we want to gather for community.

Granted, the weather kept the number of our attendees down but it still was a decent turnout and those who came were glad they did.

52 weeks a year - 52 Sundays a year - and we're open for every one of them. Neither rain nor sleet nor threat of snow... I guess you could think of us Unitarian Universalists as the postal carriers of the spirit.


Because. That's why.

I've heard it said that "Not all questions have answers." And yet, it seems to me there are some universal answers.

"Why?" (Parents know this one!) Because I said so.

"When?" When I say so.

"Who?" Whomever.

"What?" Whatever.

"How?" However.

"Where?" Wherever.

Now, granted, these may not be the most satisfying answers. Inquiring minds want to know, after all, and such inquisitiveness should be encouraged rather than stifled. Great philosophical discussions can be launched from such simple questions, and the opportunity for a teaching moment should not be passed over. But, isn't nice to have a stock answer at the ready just in case?

Of course, most Unitarian Universalists tend to avoid the stock answers and relish the questions. Indeed, we seem to especially like it when there appears to be more than one correct answer. We often reject the yes/no, black/white, either/or solutions and encourage the both/and. Doing so makes it difficult to answer a true/false exam but creates lots of fun (and chaos) with multiple choice. Why? Because I say so.


Words matter. Silence matters more?

My service on Sunday was devoted to the idea that words matter, yet my closing benediction was this...

"Sometimes it is the absence of words that matters. Hear these words by Jacob Trapp... 'If it is language that makes us human, one half of language is to listen. Silence can exist without speech, but speech cannot live without silence. Listen to the speech of others. Listen even more to their silence.' Amen to that."

I often think there is not enough silence in the world, and therefore, not enough quiet in the heart or mind. Finding a stillness when we are continually bombarded by both our own inner thoughts and messages from others can seem near impossible.

Some have been able to meditate and "om" themselves into a higher state of consciousness, sidelining intrusive thoughts for at least a little while. But is that really an experience of silence, or a replacement of other stimuli with a focus on just one sound?

I've read a science research article that found true and total silence can make one go mad. Subjects were placed in a specially soundproofed room such that the only thing they could hear would be their own blood coursing through their ears. No one could stand it for as much as an hour.

So a lament for silence must find the answer in some middle ground - not so severe that we can't stand it but enough that the effect is calming and refreshing. I don't think we need to run off and cloister ourselves like monks with a vow of silence, but deliberately creating some time in the day for some "no talk zone" may have a cumulative beneficial effect.

We make time for exercising our bodies, why not make time for some silence, too?


Asking the hard questions

"What one thing will you do differently this year to improve your life?" Tonight our Wednesday discussion group will meet to consider this question.

The easy attempt at an answer is to approach it as a sort of a New Year's resolution kind of thing. You know the typical ones - lose weight, exercise more, stop smoking or drinking, eat more healthy foods. But those are not the answers we seek tonight.

Tonight we go deeper. What might one do to alter his or her life that goes beyond the ordinary self-improvement tropes? Maybe spend more time outside in nature (walking in the woods, gardening, beach strolling, star gazing, etc.). Perhaps commit to helping others in need (volunteer at a pet shelter, work at a food pantry, drive a van for meals-on-wheels, build a house with Habitat for Humanity, etc.).

Other life-changing possibilities: Learn a musical instrument, or Tai Chi, start keeping a daily diary, read a book on a subject that you've always had curiosity about, carve out time each week to be with children or grandchildren - and have memorable fun with them, attend church regularly.

I'm sure there are hundreds of possible answers, hundreds of ways of changing to improve one's life. In letting my mind "brainstorm" for this short blog post I noticed that everything I came up with requires action, movement, participating and engaging with life rather than sitting around and letting life just happen. That is the secret to transformation - doing something - and I invite you to ponder deeply on what one thing you will do differently this year to improve your life.


Go to L !

Learn. Live. Love. Laugh.   (my Unitarian Universalist credo)

and apparently Emerson's, too.
"Live well, 
Learn plenty, 
Laugh often, 
Love much." 

Ralph Waldo Emerson


Do we teach Universalism?

Do we teach Universalism? We teach the power of Love. We teach how to live life. We teach responsibility for our planet. We teach there is no fear in death or dying. We teach the wisdom of generations of philosophers, theologians, scientists, and poets. So yes, we teach Universalism!


A roof over our heads

It's now a proven fact - George Pullman spared no expense in building a memorial to his parents.

The Pullman Memorial Universalist Church - dedicated to Lewis and Emily Caroline Pullman - was designed by famed architect Solon S. Beman. One of the visually outstanding features of the 1895 building (constructed of pink Medina sandstone) was its red "Spanish clay" roofing tiles.

Alas, for reasons now lost to history, those tiles were removed less than forty years later and replaced with ordinary composition shingles. One can only guess there was a problem with water leaks, which likely had more to do with improper flashing details than with the tiles themselves.

So those beautiful terracotta tiles were taken down and disposed of in the 1930's. Now, as we approach our 125 year anniversary the move is on to restore the roof to its original grandeur, ie, to replace the tile roof. But the question has been - what did those tiles look like? There are more variations in tile design than the average person would imagine, and color variations within each design, too.

Well, as of yesterday we have confirmed exactly which tile shape was employed, and samples of the color are available to us - all thanks to some shards found in a pile of rubble in a basement corner.

1893 Celadon Exhibit
As I stated at the lead of this blog - Beeman as architect, and Pullman as financier, spared no expense by specifying one of the most costly designs of roof tile, known as Conosera. Patented in 1880, it was produced by the Celadon Terra Cotta Company at a plant in Alfred, New York. Conosera tiles made quite a splash at the World's Columbian Exposition, aka the Chicago World's Fair, in 1893, receiving an award for their excellent design and quality. Check out the image of their exhibit for a wild, over-the-top house - and note the roof finials which appear to my eye to be the same as the one used to cap off our church's uppermost peak.

Celadon was bought by Ludowici Roofing Tile Company in 1906 and Ludowici is still in existence, still making tiles. A company rep believes the pattern molds still exist and it is still possible to reproduce the Conosera tiles.

Have you heard the expression, "Be careful what you wish for?" It's exciting to finally learn what our roof looked like when first built, and yet if we opt to be historically accurate in restoration and go with the original Conosera pattern tiles then our expenses just skyrocketed. George Pullman - whose net worth at the time of his death was $37 billion in today's money - probably didn't bat an eye at the cost to erect his monument using the finest materials and craftsmanship available. But now, in 2014, it will take more than a single wealthy benefactor to reclaim the lost glory of this tile roof.

Every donation - no matter how small - will help us reach our goal. If you are moved by history and want to see a beautiful building be once again capped in splendor then I invite you to throw some money in the hat at pullman125project.com

Below are some more images of this tile pattern, some of our original "shards," and photos of two existing buildings showing the flexibility of these tiles to handle curves:

Note the tapered flute, and reinforced nailing holes
Not a broken piece, but marked "Hip Left"
Manufacturer's mark on the back
The broken finial
First Presbyterian Church, Dayton, OH
County Courthouse, Syracuse, NY