This Sunday …

November 28th, 2018

 

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Rev. Scott Wells is in the pulpit on this second Sunday of Advent with a sermon titled “Unexpected Hope.” He offers this teaser “Advent is the traditional season of hope, as we anticipate the birth of Christ. But everyday ideas about hope distort our expectations and undercut hope’s power. Lessons will be  from the letter to the Philippians and the gospel of Luke.”

Hope Fogwell and liturgist Pastor David Gatton will lite the second Advent Candle, and  Music Maestro Darryl Winston leads the UNMC Choir in Messiah Music with a solo from Soprano Elizabeth Thomas, and old English carols.

Our Hospitality Host is Christopher Petruccelli who will serve an Indian Food repast from the new 14th Street restaurant Pappe.

It all begins at 11:00 a.m. this Sunday, Dec. 9.

Christmas Eve at UNMC

November 27th, 2018

The Universalist National Memorial Church’s Artist’ Series Presents:

Christmas Eve by Candlelight 

An Evening with International Opera Star

Alessandra Marc

  Conducted by 

Darryl Winston

December 24, 2018 at 8:00 p.m.

Free Concert and Reception

fLYER_iMAGE_Layered

A free-will offering will be collected for the UNMC Building Fund

Universalist National Memorial Church 1810 16th Street, N. W. (at “S” Street)

202-383-3411

unmc.org/opera

David Gatton, Pastor                   Joseph Murphy, Moderator

A Darryl Winston Production

Free parking will be available behind the Scottish Rite Temple, located diagonally across 16th Street from the church, which is located mid-way between Dupont Circle and the U Street Metro Stations. The S2 and S4 buses, which stop in front of the church,  also stop 1 block from the Farragut West Metro Station.

All Souls, All Saints, by Pastor David Gatton, delivered Nov. 4, 2018

November 14th, 2018

This day is special in the life of our Congregation, for we are the Universalist National Memorial Church, the caregiver of the hope and aspiration that all creation will be united in a New Heaven and a New Earth wherein All Souls will live and be in harmony. This harmony will have no fear, no anxiety of what the day or the tomorrow will bring, no hate, no prejudice, no jealousy, no envy, no pride.

All of these negative and selfish dispositions within the human soul, everywhere, will be gone — all destroyed within the hearts of humanity, and even destroyed within the tumult and dangers of nature, and the violence displayed in the universe beyond. All gone, as in the end of an exhale of the used air within us, when for a moment it seems we experience a sense of peace, before we have to breathe it all in again, all that breath of goodness and badness that our souls must live by and through.

When we imagine a new Heaven and a New Earth, when we shed all of these weights and burdens that we as a human race have put upon our shoulders and within our souls, we find created within us something new.

21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Think for a moment what that means to imagine a new heaven and a new earth and to live by that image and that hope. It means, in Isaiah’s image, that the shroud covering all humanity is lifted; the darkness and any shadows not just within you, but within everyone are gone, so that all can lift up their eyes to the sky and see a perfect city descending upon all. For in the story, we are not going to God, but God is coming to live and dwell with us.
In this image, we do not ascend to heaven, but a new city within a new Heaven and a New Earth comes to us. This new place, this new city descends upon us — God, therefore, comes to dwell with us — because all sins, all shortcomings, all the burdens one can imagine have been wiped away, even those within our own souls, for the shroud covered all humanity and therefore made us all in need of healing, all in need of reconciliation, all in need of a new soul. Yes, we were and are and ever will be, as a human race, in it together.
 

That is why we say within this community we want to leave no one behind in this world because we know we are all in it together. We know that one day all souls will be saints and all saints, souls. Why? because all saints are in it together with us, imperfect as we are imperfect, in need of grace as we are in need of grace.
 

Saints, I believe, would be very uncomfortable with being put on a pedestal, because they know deep down they are just one more soul within the sea of souls putting an impression, an image, on the universe.
 
We are in it together because even we at so many different levels know that we do not even know ourselves, completely.
 
As we grow and traverse through life, our minds take in things from nature and culture that affect us in ways in which even we are unaware.
 
And therefore we carry with us our own shortcomings and that of our brothers and sisters. We are influenced by others and our surroundings in ways we do not know.
 
Mahzarin Banaji, co-author of Blind Spot: Hidden Biases of Good People, tells the story of her giving a lecture in a very large hall with hundreds of students. She tells the tragic “Mind Riddle” story of a Father who is driving his son to a soccer game. They are in a very serious accident. The father is tragically killed; the son is seriously injured, rushed to a shock trauma center, whisked into surgery, where the surgeon leans over and says, “I can not operate on my son.” How, Banaji asks the audience, can this be?
 
Now we have a very smart congregation, so some of you may have already heard this. Some of you, having heard if for the first time, may know the answer. But how many of you who are hearing it for the first time, know the answer? I didn’t.
 
The answer is: the surgeon was the child’s mother.
 
After telling the story, and giving the answer, Dr. Banaji noticed this very distressed woman banging her head on the seat in front of her. After the lecture the woman approaches, still distressed, and Banaji says, “don’t be upset, most people, even women, don’t get the right answer.” The young woman responds, “But Dr. Banaji, you don’t understand, my mother is a surgeon.”
 
What does the story tell us? It tells us that our minds categorize things and people naturally in ways that we are unaware consciously. Yes, our minds have been trained to think, subconsciously, that surgeons are men, probably because most of the surgeons we meet are men and our minds have subconsciously, therefore, categorized all surgeons as men.
 
I told this riddle to the most “liberal” women in my week- day office. Only one got the right answer.
As moral as we think we are, as reflective as we think we are, as free of prejudice as we think we are, our minds naturally work in ways to give us hidden biases just by the way we categorize things through the messages and images that our minds receive subconsciously.
 
Yes, as the subtitle of the book says, “Good people have hidden biases.”
 
Yes, we are all in it together, because we need each other to check ourselves, to be our collective conscience, for the very reason that we are influenced in ways we do not know. We need the eyes and ears of each other.
 
Therefore, we must take special care of what images and messages we, our minds, take in.
For example, from the liberal, social science side of things, we must take care when we hear that statistically young African American boys in third grade in a poor center city schools have a high chance of going to prison. We must take care that such information does not subconsciously influence the minds of people to think that these little souls, these children, are inferior, prone to crime, hopeless, and destined to failure. Because when we hear that message, we need to know that it is heard subconsciously by the way our mind categorizes: Inner city, third grade African American boys go to prison. When our minds hear that thought, subconsciously categorize that thought, we have a very dangerous result — a hidden bias that can affect our thinking in ways that are defeatist and can live with that child all the way through his life. We see this played out in all sorts of ways today, don’t we? Just ask a black man how many times he has been pulled over by a cop.
 
In other ways, of course, we are living this out today in mass media and social media by a president who sends all sorts of negative messages about people of color. The caravan of evil rapists and murderers are coming to invade your country! Really? Think of all the racially-tinged code words that we won’t repeat here coming from our leader’s voice. They all are intentionally designed to feed the subconscious mind with prejudice, fear, and even hate.
 
These thoughts are there to promote the message to the nation’s subconsciousness so that we, it is hoped, will categorize people in this way: if you are of color, you are inferior and prone to crime. And you certainly are unwelcome. People who spout these messages can “say” that is not their intent, that they believe otherwise, but it certainly is their effect.
 
Our job, our mission of spirit, is to deny such messages, and to promote the universal message that we are all God’s creatures, we are all God’s souls. And therefore, we must all be cherished.
Who would have thought that our own nation could become so vulnerable to tyranny, to leaders who knowingly tell untruths, who attack the free press — our society’s eyes and ears, as imperfect as they may be. But here we are today, having to make a decision whether tyrannical tactics, presented to our subconscious, are endorsed or rejected.
 
Our nation, just as our souls, is vulnerable to forces of which we are often unaware and vulnerable to horrific messages from bad dispositions that can take root right underneath the ground upon which we stand.
 
So how do we counter such influences? We proclaim, “we are all in it together,” because we all need each other to check ourselves, to help guide us and to inform each other’s souls so that we do not fall prey to a dangerous path whose destination is prejudice, division and hatred —a path that in its beginnings seems so natural — seems so innocent.
 
Germany did not wake up one day and decide to become fascist. It happened so naturally, because the images and words of prejudice that Hitler spewed took hold within the minds of the German people both subconsciously and consciously.
 
When I was in college and graduate school, I would read about the “over soul.” I didn’t, and perhaps still don’t, understand it. Aren’t we just a bunch of individual souls making our way through life as a collection of individual decisions?
I am not so sure. Because what we say to people, the images we foster and give to people, the emotions we display in front of people, are ways of influencing the minds of those around us. This is how we enter another person, another person’s soul and mind, even in ways that we and they are unaware.
 
I love the story of Martin Luther King giving his speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at the March on Washington in August of 1963. It had been a long day, the crowd had heard many speeches. King’s speech had had so many editorial hands on it, and gone through so many renditions the night before, that when King was delivering it, the words were falling flat. As Historian Jon Meacham wrote in his book, the Soul of America, “King was on the verge of letting the hour pass him by.”
 
Then, singer Mahalia Jackson, standing nearby, spoke up. “Tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” King jettisoned his text, spoke from the heart, spoke from all the messages that had been stored up within his soul, and extemporaneously spoke words that became part of American scripture equal to, in Meachem’s words, those of Lincoln and Jefferson. They made, according to Taylor Branch, “a new founding father.”
 
King gave that day a new image of a nation that yet did not exist. ‘I have a dream (an image) that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
 
King envisioned a New Heaven on a New Earth. And by having the dream, the image, he could lead a nation, kicking and screaming because of all the negative images it held, into a new place of freedom for all.
 
And it was made possible, because Mahalia Jackson, standing over to one side, reminded him to “tell ‘em about the dream, Martin.” Without Ms. Jackson, we may never have had the defining moment of our nation being given a new image, a new message of a dream of equality entering the souls of all who heard it, even those who opposed it. King gave them the vision. He knew that someday their minds would come back to it and discover it within themselves.
 
Within this sanctuary, we are the holders of a dream of the final harmony of all souls. Let us together seize the historical moment to perpetuate that vision of a New Heaven and a New Earth and the dream that the shroud that covers all humanity can and will be lifted.
 
Let us be reminded that we are all in it together and that we need each other. That our minds are influenced by the negative things that people say and even by innocent ways our minds categorize things, even by the way good people can have hidden biases.
 
But let us know, as King knew, that our minds are also influenced by the good things we say, the hope we give, the commitment to each other we display, the kind words we speak, the equality and respect we give to all those around us. When we do this, when we are this way, we plant the seeds of the good thoughts that rest within the souls we meet.
 
Yes, even seemingly good people, even principled nations, can find themselves subject to and in danger of tyranny and abuse of power.
 
And Yes, we need to understand that negative images can sow discord and prejudice subconsciously; therefore we need each other to check ourselves so that we can be each other’s eyes and ears.
But more importantly, we know that we must live by and inspire others by a dream that everyone needs, a dream that gives us the image of a new day, a new heaven and a new earth, and a new city that gives us peace, gives us fortitude, gives us an inner dwelling so that our words, our actions, our hearts, when they enter another, do the same.
 
Through this dream, we are all souls, we are all in it together, so that one day, we will be All Saints.
 
Ponder the image of a new heaven and a new earth. It will change who you are. It will even change those whom you meet.
 
Amen.
 
Reading I:
Isaiah 29 : 6 – 9
you will be visited by the LORD of hosts
with thunder and with earthquake and great noise,
with whirlwind and tempest, and the flame of a devouring fire.
7 And nthe multitude of all the nations that fight against Ariel,
all that fight against her and her stronghold and distress her,
shall be olike a dream, a vision of the night.
8 pAs when a hungry man dreams, and behold, he is eating,
and awakes with his hunger not satisfied,
or as when a thirsty man dreams, and behold, he is drinking,
and awakes faint, with his thirst not quenched,
so shall the multitude of all the nations be
that fight against Mount Zion.
9 Astonish yourselves2 and be astonished;
blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk,3 but not with wine;
rstagger,4 but not with strong drink!
 
Reading II:
Revelations 21 : 1 – 6a
21 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”
6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.

 

Never Conquered

November 13th, 2018

Never Conquered

by the Rev. Scott Wells

Delivered to the UNMC Congregation Sunday, November 11, 2018

About six and a half years ago, on February 4, 2012, Florence Green died at the age of 110 years, 350 days. She was the last surviving veteran of the First World War, surviving 95 years after she enlisted.

Florence Green was an officer’s mess steward, serving in the Women’s Royal Air Force at two installations in England. The last of some 67 million in uniform, from whatever nation, and in her way standing for all of them.

I had been waiting for the news for years. One by one, the survivors died off. They thinned out to the last survivor of particular battles, or from particular countries. Henry Allingham was the last soldier to see combat and the last original member of the Royal Air Force, dying age 113 in 2009 and in advanced old age made public appearances as a public face for those who fought and died. Army corporal Frank Buckles was the last American veteran. He died in 2011, at 110, and was buried with honors at Arlington.

The last sailor was Claude Choules, who died in 2011, signed on at age 14 was also a veteran of World War Two but “shunned celebrations of the Armistice, because he was against the glorification of war.” (Wikipedia article)

Florence Green’s service was almost forgotten, only to be “discovered” when she turned 110 and drew the special attention of gerontologists. She downplayed her service, saying on her 110th birthday, “It seems like such a long time ago now.” (Cited in New York Times)

And of course it was. They’re now they’re all gone, and what remains?

This has been a very dry year in Europe. The dry weather has exposed evidence of human habitation, shadows of ancient road and foundations of lost medieval buildings. The lost evidence of battlefields appeared more clearly than usual. Like an old scar, dried by winter: itchy, tender.

We might expect people in different countries to scratch that same itch, but different countries have different views. Last Tuesday, the Guardian newspaper ran a commentary by Natalie Nou-gay-rède about how the First World War is now viewed differently in different parts of Europe, and that the longing sadness seen in Great Britain, France and to a lesser degree the United States is not shared.

Nougayrède adds: “By contrast, in German collective memory, the first world war features much less prominently – perhaps because of military defeat and the dire fate of the Weimar Republic, but also because it is largely overshadowed by the second.”

Additionally, “[f]or millions of Europeans the war did not end in 1918.” as violence rippled through eastern Europe well into the 1920s. The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month was also a beginning. In Poland, for example, this is the centenary of the restored independent Polish state. Indeed, examine the embassies around town and you see that this marked, however temporarily.

Filmmaker’s Robert Newman “History of Oil” sees the First World War undulating from that day to this, not through the Somme and through the trenches, but through the oil fields of Baku, through to the invasion of Iraq.

Even as we bow of heads in reverent silence, there are other people telling other stories about the same events.

My husband Jonathan and I had our honeymoon 15 years ago this week in London and Manchester. November 11th was also on a Sunday that year, and we attended services at the Unitarian Christian Church in Brixton.

The thing I most remember, other than the early appearance of mince pies which I love very much, was the minute’s silence in the middle of the service, right at 11 o’clock. I wasn’t sure what to make of that, since that seems to be more of a civil observance, but being the stranger there I didn’t think too deeply about it, but clearly it has stuck with me. There were still World War One veterans alive back then, and we saw two or three of them being driven in open-topped cars for the commemorative parade – perhaps Henry Allingham among them – which passed the Cenotaph in Whitehall. Since the British lost more in that war than the Americans did, it makes sense the commemorations are sharper and deeper.

But even in the UK, there’s a bright line between what the First World War means, demonstrated is something as everyday as what you’d wear on your lapel. Will you wear a red poppy, or a white one?

The red paper poppy is an essential part of the newscaster’s wardrobe in Britain this time of year, as a remembrance to the dead. Back in 2003, I bought one from a member of the British Legion, and while it’s not quite the same custom here, you see them from time to time. But it is so customary there, that it can easily be seen as an unquestioned, unreflective endorsement of warfare, and so peace activists offer an alternative, bloodless white poppy, with predictable derision by those – a Conservative member of Parliament, say – who see a position to score some political points by abusing a minority opinion.

And so the more I look at that war –the trenches, the mud, the tens of million dead by war, genocide and disease – the more it look less like one thing to remember at one one moment in time. It looks more like the complexity of human life pulled low with millions of ways for us – its survivors – to remember it.

This has a particular meaning in churches like ours. The glowing optimism and faith in progress that fueled and emboldened movements like liberal Christianity went cold. Universalist started to decline in the 1920s. Now, we have removed to a corner of the world’s religious experience and imagination. Our religion is not not a cheery or confident as the pre-World War One religious liberals were. Or as naive.

This building we’re in evidence of a transitional attitude in brick and stained glass. Have you ever wondered what exactly is being memorialized in the Universalist National Memorial Church?

The answer depends on who you asked. At one time, when the plans were being drawn up, it would have been John Murray, who gets the credit for being the first Universalist minister in the New World, and in essence the father of the denomination. But the Scrolls — those written panels in the vestibule — tell a different story about Universalist generally being memorialized here. Of gifts large and small to memorialize Universalist worthies and loved-ones.

The minister of this church in those day was John van Schaick. The parlor is named for him and his wife, Julia Romaine. (The two marble busts are her parents.) He went on a leave of absence from the church to serve in relief work in Belgium with the Red Cross at great personal risk. (The story recounted in his book, The Little Corner Never Conquered. And UNMC member Donna Simonton knows more about the van Schaick mission than I do.)

Also, the Peace Tower is dedicated to Owen D. Young — a late and bittersweet addition to the story of this church, about the peace deal that was too little, too late. Had it worked, the march towards the Second World War might have been slowed or stopped, as the pressure on German war reparations would have been eased.

If we cannot go as far as the religious liberals in the pre-World War One era, then we can recover the common root of optimism, awe, investigation and devotion. And add in a dose of humility and forbearance.

Last time I preached, I talked about the Revised Common Lectionary and how important for me it is both (practically an ecumenically) to hold to a common set of texts.

Which is all fine and well until you preach on Veterans Day, and more than this, the hundredth anniversary of the Armistice that brought it into being. And it’s all fine and well until all of the options for the day are problematic. The lesson from Ruth assumes a woman’s dependence on a man for security, and the letter to Hebrews can easily be used to assert that Christians replaced Jews as the subject of God’s care and purpose, the sinful doctrine of supercessionism. And these were the easier texts!

What can we learn from today’s lessons? First, Ruth. Let’s not forget that Ruth is featured by name in Jesus’ genealogy, and that’s important because she was an outsider and that’s nothing to be hidden or ashamed of. She was a foreigner, and God blessed her. This isn’t an appeal to tribalism, nationalism or racism, and that’s something to be glad about.

The lesson from Hebrews is a bit more complex. It’s author is trying to convince the reader that Jesus Christ himself is the new and better High Priest, who takes the sins of the people upon himself once for all. This is important because God has intervened for our sake; the age of sacrifice is over, and the age of an unity between heaven and earth has begun. Its vision is cosmic, a vision of the eternal that reminds us that successes and failures don’t depend on any particular thing we do. We are not God.

Together, these themes make a powerful combination. A cautious approach, not putting too much stock in one version of a story. An appreciation of variety and diversity. A cautionary tale against hubris, naivety, bias and cruelty. The unexpected nearness of the past times and foreign lands. The dull throb of loss that softens power into honor. These are the virtues that make humane life possible, that are the blessing of surviving literal and figurative wars — and which bring me to my last point.

There has been another subject that had been grinding at us for months, and would have been at the heart of today’s sermon had we not had Veterans Day: the midterm elections. Because if the people in this church are anything like my friends, you were either sick with worry or sick to death. Our country is divided, anxious and politically immobilized. There no trust to let down one’s guard, and it’s easier to antagonize and be antagonized than just about anything else. And, yes, personally I feel that the virtues I value have been discarded by my political opponents in a cheap bid to claim permanent power. It make me sick, but not so sick as to despair.

I rely on my faith to give a context to virtue, and hold me accountable to them. I rely on my faith to know that there is something greater than me, and that God guides, care and judges us personally and collectively. I rely on my faith to snap me out of lazy, sloppy or callous thinking. I rely on my faith to knock me down a peg when I need it and to comfort me when I need it. In short, I rely on my faith to be a decent-ish, responsible human being.

But for the American church, there’s always the risk of being co-opted by American culture. That to be a good Christian is to be a good American, and vice verse. But what part of that equation is in control? Little wonder that people can and do and perhaps should try to build their faith apart from churches.

This is very big problem. Our identity as a church does not come from our national identity, or should not. Treating it as aligned with American values makes the church just one more organization and not a conduit to God’s love and will. Just one more thing to be co-opted. The point is to remember that the church is always political.

There was a good commentary published on September 29 in the New York Times, recently about the question is there a political party for Christians? Rev. Timothy Keller, of Redeemer Presbyterian Church –hardly what you’d call liberal – observed that

“Christians cannot pretend they can transcend politics and simply ‘preach the Gospel,’”

“Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo.” (“Those who avoid all political discussions and engagement are essentially casting a vote for the social status quo.” (“How Do Christians Fit Into the Two-Party System? They Don’t”)

What we – as a church – should never be partisan.

Our faith challenges to see the world in a way that normal political processes don’t understand or won’t abide.

We must engaged in a world that is often unfair and cruel, where well-organized and powerful forces conspire to minimize and hurt weaker and isolated people, ideas and causes. But our approach relies on imagination, patience, mercy, kindness, vulnerability, persistence, curiosity, and compassion. Like grace, it can have unexpected outcomes. Like love, this different way of approaching the world can break your heart and lift you up at the same time.

Political theories and parties cannot comprehend our own messy, complex ideas, challenged as they are by divine mercy. It’s what let’s us look at the battlefield of the First World War and all wars and pray earnestly for the fighters and the dead, and say “but no, not again.”

It is the strength that makes peace more that the cessation of fighting, and so is our greatest pledge and tribute this Veterans Day.

The Rev. Scott Wells Sept. 20, 2018 “Guiding One Another” Sermon

October 3rd, 2018

 

Guiding One Another

by The Rev. Scott Wells

I would like to thank Pastor Gatton for inviting me into the pulpit
this morning, and to you, for welcoming me to the pulpit today.

A couple of weeks ago I got a partial root canal. It turns out that
I’ve been grinding my teeth and eventually a cracked one of them. I
may end up still losing the tooth. I might lose other teeth besides,
because I keep gritting and grinding my teeth. Lately, I’ve been
grinding my teeth every day. Perhaps you understand.

The last two times I preached in this pulpit, the president had done
something awful and I thought it was my responsibility to address that
in theological terms. The hearings of the Senate last week, including
the harrowing testimony we heard, also counts as something awful. But
I want to continue with my prepared remarks, and hope that what I have
to say might spare me some teeth, and spare you some pain, by giving
you strength and resources that the Executive, Legislature and the
Judiciary can neither give nor take away.

I looked at the texts assigned for today in the Revised Common
Lectionary, an ecumenical readings calendar that breaks up the bulk of
the Bible into a three-year cycle. It’s online; you can search
for it. You might be interested in the scope of readings, what
thoughts and feelings they evoke and how the readings relate to one
another. (It’s also a point of pride. The committee that produced the
Revised Common Lectionary included Unitarian Universalist Christians,
and we don’t often have a place at the ecumenical table.) Read the rest of this entry »