18 4 / 2013
On June 12, 2005, I was ordained into the Unitarian Universalist ministry by the Arlington Street Church, a historic congregation “gathered in love and service for justice and peace” at the corner of Arlington and Boylston streets in downtown Boston. It was in this community that I discovered Unitarian Universalism and, in time, where I first heard the call to serve our liberal faith.
As many know, on April 15, 2013, Boston’s Copley Square – just a few blocks from the sacred space of Arlington Street Church - was the site of a terrorist bombing, killing three, wounding more than 140 and causing unspeakable suffering and pain. Arlington Street Church responded by organizing an interfaith vigil in the wake of the attack:
I would like to think that if I were still part of that congregation, I would also participate in working to heal the city. I know for certain that I would have attended that vigil, with my heart and mind full of confusion, pain, anger, disbelief that we are facing another act of senseless violence in our nation, a sense of helplessness and, in my strongest moments, a deeper commitment to a life of promoting peace. Perhaps your heart and mind have been full of these feelings too.
As I am now at a geographic distance from Boston, I have thought of how I – how we – can act in loving solidarity with those who have been emotionally, physically and spiritually wounded by this attack - those who have lost loved ones, those who are facing a long road of rebuilding their bodies and their lives, those who have been on the front lines of fostering healing and safety. In this spirit, by the authority of our Social Justice Council, Cedar Lane will donate one half of our plate collection THIS SUNDAY (4/21) to OneFundBoston. This fund was created by leaders in Boston almost immediately after Monday’s attack. You may learn more at http://onefundboston.org/
We are giving 50% of the plate to OneFundBoston as we have already dedicated the yearly allocation of two full plate donations to worthy recipients, the survivors of Hurricane Sandy and Cedar Lane’s Scholarship Fund. However, this 50% donation will be matched by the Ministers’ Discretionary Fund up to $1,000 to further expand our positive impact. I plan to give at least $100 from my personal resources.
No matter how much or how little we donate on Sunday, every penny is a symbol of our solidarity with the people of Boston and a prayer towards a world of “justice and peace.” No amount of money can undo the suffering that erupted this past Monday but our investment in human healing is a testament to all the good that lives in our hearts.
This Sunday, April 21, 2013 our candidate for Senior Minister, the Rev. Abhi Janamanchi, will lead a service reflecting on how Unitarian Universalist can be “A Religion for Our Time.” Sadly, we have been reminded this week of how “our time” is both a time of gifts and opportunity but also great evil and suffering. It will be good to be together, to draw strength from one another’s company, to remind ourselves of our values and the ways we may serve these values in the days and years to come.
Come to Cedar Lane and worship this Sunday so we, in our own way, may “gather in love and service for justice and peace” and – if you are moved to do so – to contribute towards the health and healing of the great city and people of Boston. Until then, I invite all of us to take extraordinary care of ourselves, care of one another and care of all those we encounter in these difficult and challenging days.
Associate Minister and Minister for Pastoral Care
28 3 / 2013
April 14 to 21 will be candidating week. This is often one of the most exciting and invigorating experiences a congregation can go through. During that time there will be many opportunities to meet and get to know the ministerial candidate and to experience this minister, new to the congregation, as a worship leader and spiritual teacher.
Throughout this period of discernment, it may be tempting for some to ponder, even not altogether consciously, “Is this minister the perfect person for our church?” It’s a human impulse to want such things, but of course we know that perfection is not possible. The important question for everyone (including the candidate) is: can we see this relationship leading to greater courage, greater compassion, more vitality and hope and joy for all of us and for all that we serve? Every other consideration is secondary.
- The Rev. Evan Keely
11 1 / 2013
What is the kindest and most comforting way to help someone cope with the death of a loved one?
Certainly any member of the clergy (of any religious tradition) has to grapple with this question, but of course any of us from time to time encounter someone who is dealing with a great loss. Here are some things that I have learned (and of course I am always still learning):
Let them talk about what they want to talk about. My experience with bereaved people is that they very often need to talk about their experiences. This is most certainly not true of everyone, nor is it to suggest that talking is “better” than not for every grieving person. However, there is something in our culture that trains most of us to think that we should discourage the bereft from talking about their experiences, usually out of the fear that “it will upset them.” This can be well-meaning, but it is not always helpful. Ask them what they need, and be prepared to just listen.
Help them get the help they need. Most bereaved people go through normal phases of grief. In some cases, however, for whatever reason, some grieving individuals are in need of more focused care. If someone starts talking seriously about suicide, for instance, that is a life-threatening emergency, and yes, in that life-threatening emergency as with any other, the appropriate response is to call 911. Other grieving souls may not need special care with that level of urgency, but it is not unkind nor inappropriate to point people toward help.
Help them stay connected. Yes, some people need alone time, especially in difficult emotional crises, but sustained isolation is almost universally injurious to the human spirit — and it can be especially so in times of great sorrow. Many of the bereft that I have known have benefitted greatly from remaining connected — to family and friends, to meaningful work, and to communities of caring and meaning, such as we strive to make the church.
May I be able to soften the pain of those I encounter by my words, but even more so by my presence. Amen.
Follow Rev. Keely on Twitter @evanvwk.
04 1 / 2013
Now the holidays are over, and we settle into the winter season of cold yet gradually lengthening days.
Culturally, we tend to regard the “holiday season” as beginning with Thanksgiving Day and ending with New Year’s Day. I often find myself coming full circle at the end of the holidays and giving thanks yet again.
This year, I am thankful for holiday time with my family. Seeing my children relish their Christmas is a joy.
I am thankful for a job that I love. I’m mindful that 2013 is the year my sojourn at Cedar Lane will end (in June), and I’m grateful for having had this relationship. I’m grateful to be ministering to and with dedicated, caring, creative lay leaders whom I admire and respect endlessly. I’m grateful to be the co-worker of intelligent, thoughtful, gifted, committed staff members who inspire me every day.
I am thankful for a life of faith in a religious tradition that, for all its human shortcomings (for all religions are human constructs) and for all its human dignity, challenges and encourages me to seek the truth, to question, to wonder, to find awe and beauty and joy even in life’s unexpected places, to strive toward leaving the world a little better than we found it, and to give thanks.
May we be thankful for the gifts of festive times and of every time. Amen.
Follow Rev. Keely on Twitter @evanvwk.
21 12 / 2012
Last week’s eNews was put together before we knew about the horrid events in Newtown, Connecticut. Since then, we have all had a week to contemplate the unbearable realities that cataclysm represents.
After our worship services this past Sunday, a number of congregants made comments to me along the lines of, “Today is a tough day to be a preacher.” I sensed appreciation in many of those remarks — not for me as much as for preachers in general, for places of worship, places to come to and be together with others in the face of the incomprehensible. It’s important to remember in such times that we are not alone.
Already some are moving beyond solely grieving toward action. I hope we can continue our own conversations as a faith community about how we can respond and the ways in which we can get involved in efforts that we find meaningful and helpful. This is another way in which we are reminded that we are not alone.
O vast and eternal Mystery, called by many names yet never fully known by our mortal minds, help us to reach out, to connect, to build with others a world of possibilities, for our own sake, for the sake of those we love, and for all creation. Amen.
14 12 / 2012
“…if we lose our awareness of the transcendent realms of play, beauty, and brotherhood which are portrayed in the great affirmative works of our culture, if we lose the dream of [Beethoven’s] Ninth Symphony, there remains no counterpoise against the engulfing terrors of civilization, nothing to set against Auschwitz and Vietnam as a paradigm of humanity’s potentialities. Masterpieces of art are instilled with a surplus of constantly renewable energy — an energy that provides a motive force for changes in the relations between human beings — because they contain projections of human desires and goals which have not yet been achieved (which indeed may be unrealizable). In Max Raphael’s formulation: “The work of art hold’s man’s creative power in a crystalline suspension from which it can again be transformed into living energies.” Beethoven was no stranger to such ideas, for he wrote: “Only art and science give us intimations and hopes of a higher life.”
from Beethoven, Maynard Solomon
(New York: Schirmer, 1977) 315-16.
Nominally Roman Catholic, Ludwig van Beethoven had an unconventional approach to religion and spirituality not so uncommon in a lifetime that included the French Revolution, the Napoleonic Wars and the Age of Metternich. While there isn’t much reason to believe that Beethoven had a great deal of enthusiasm for organized religion as it was in his time, he definitely had a strong faith in things of transcendent meaning and worth. In a sense that exceeds the boundaries of any institutionalized faith, he composed a great deal of religious music. His Sixth Symphony, the “Pastoral,” is a hymn of praise in which the creation and the Creator are inseparable. The central movement of his A Minor String Quartet, composed after his recovery from a long and painful illness, is entitled “Holy song of thanks of a convalescent to the Godhead” — an die Gottheit, to the Godhead, the Divinity, and not an Gott, to God. So much of Beethoven’s music is a holy song of thanks not to the God of any one tradition, but to a transcendent divinity that could be found and worshipped and experienced personally, not just in a church, but in nature, in human connections, and of course in music.
While another famous person’s birthday celebrated at this time of year is questionable as far as the date is concerned, we can be quite confident that Beethoven was born on December 16, 1770. Two hundred and forty-two years later, he continues to bless the world.
O nameless and unnamable Mystery of all that is, may our lives be devoted not to narrow concepts of the sacred, but to generously all-encompassing truths of connection, creativity and joy. Amen.
09 11 / 2012
I’m starting to think organization is everything. Well, maybe not everything, but everything worth doing needs to be organized well.
The Montgomery bus boycott dismantled an entrenched and absurd injustice and launched a movement that changed the hearts and minds of a nation. This was accomplished not only thanks to the righteousness of the cause, but because it was well organized.
Hitler was able to rise to power in Germany in 1933 for many reasons, but his being entirely unopposed was not one of them. Lots of politicians and citizens in that country were against Hitler and his National Socialist (a.k.a. Nazi) party, but they were not able to organize themselves effectively.
For years, Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church has been part of an interfaith coalition of activists, Action in Montgomery (AIM). Indeed, CLUUC was a founding congregation of AIM. Through the years of shared aspiration and joint effort, trust has been built. The people of AIM know one another and work well together. They played a vital part in the victory of Question 4 this week. Now the DREAM Act can be implemented in Maryland. Meanwhile, there was scarcely any organized opposition to the measure. It passed handily. It passed in no small part because its supporters were well organized.
In our church, in our businesses, in our governmental structures, and even in our personal lives, are we organizing our time, energy and resources so that we might truly live our most deeply held values? The way we organize ourselves is an important component of how we “walk the walk” of our faith.
O transforming God, God of changes and evolution, of growth and of the long march to greater justice, greater freedom and greater love, be with us in our struggle not only to know what is right, but in our efforts to understand how do to what is right. Amen.
02 11 / 2012
Yesterday afternoon, the Rev. Heather Janules and I co-lead an Adult Programs class which explored the intersection between religiosity and modern technology. We focused mainly on Twitter and Facebook and how we can use them to foster deeper relationships and enhance our participation in the exchange of ideas that is essential to our religious life.
Technology and religion always have intersected, and they always will. In 1440, Johannes Gutenberg revolutionized civilization with his invention of a printing press with moveable type; the first major book this produced was the Bible. The Civil Rights movement changed the way people thought and felt in no small part because television cameras captured and mass-distributed images of nonviolent protestors being sprayed with fire hoses, attacked by police dogs, or bludgeoned on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
New technologies can be confusing and even frightening, as anything unfamiliar to us can be. I sometimes hear people say, “Oh, I’m not good with techie stuff.” Yet these same people use automobiles, ball-point pens, televisions and washing machines routinely with no anxiety. Computers and the internet have simply added a new set of technologies to our lives. New things can provide new fears, but they also offer us new opportunities. As a religious people, whether nor not we choose to subscribe to RSS feeds or download sermon podcasts onto our mobile devices is a matter of personal choice, but we should make those choices grounded in our religious values.
Our religious faith calls us to affirm and embrace a sense of interconnectedness. We often cite this in our advocacy for environmental concerns, and that is a fine thing, but we are also interconnected to other people. The internet is, quite literally, a global network of interconnection. Now more than ever before, the human race is linked in ever-increasingly intricate ways, with all the glorious discoveries and all the frightful perils that entails. In all our interconnectedness, we must remain mindful of the extraordinary opportunities today’s world affords us for discovery and growth, and we must be vigilant in guarding ourselves from the menace of those who would abuse those connections. This has always been true for humanity; modern life has presented new ways of dealing with the age-old question of how we get along in a world in which none of us exists in isolation.
O my soul, embrace a holy curiosity about this ever-changing world, not in a spirit of fear, but with courage, with faith in myself and those I love (however imperfect we may be), and with joy at the endlessly unfolding wonders of human creativity and of all creation. Amen.
19 10 / 2012
A Canadian friend of mine had the opportunity to teach a week-long seminar in China. He soon learned that the culture among the Chinese students in his class held that it’s disrespectful for a student to ask questions of the instructor. In that values-system, asking questions implies that the teacher hasn’t done the job adequately. My Canadian friend had to explain to his students, “Where I come from, asking the teacher questions is a sign of respect. It shows that you are interested in what the teacher is teaching.”
Any culture teaches many things; some of the things our culture teaches us include the idea that it’s not nice to be critical of others. Often it is not at all difficult to discover manifestations of these cultural values among people in religious communities, where being kind is often held up as a goal. “In our congregation,” goes the code, often unspoken yet strictly enforced, “we are kind to one another, so let’s not have any criticism, lest someone’s feelings get hurt.” A great recipe for conflict avoidance, which, as we all know, very often leads to worse (and unavoidable) conflict later on.
A more constructive value, especially for religious people, is the idea that criticism, delivered appropriately and thoughtfully, is actually a sign of respect. It is saying, in effect, “I think you are a mature enough person to hear this.” It is also saying, “I’m upset with you, and I choose to engage directly with you, to remain connected to you, and to give something of myself so we can address what I see as a challenge in our relationship; I do this because I value you and our relationship.” This is not always easy, comfortable or “nice,” but it does demand that each of us act with maturity and treat others with respectful candor. Isn’t this what our religious faith calls us to do and be?
O my soul, may I remember that it is more mature and respectful to address others directly with concerns I have about them. May I remember that being kind and honest, and striving to remain in meaningful and connected relationship with others, is a surer path to abundant life than just trying to be “nice” while avoiding deeper connection and deeper learning about ourselves and others. Amen.
05 10 / 2012
“The manner in which one endures what must be endured is more important than the thing that must be endured.” Dean Acheson (attrib.)
We are accustomed to regard a person’s circumstances when we consider his or her level of suffering. Certainly certain conditions are more conducive to despair than others. Inmates in a concentration camp, survivors of a cataclysmic tsunami or a person trapped in a horribly abusive relationship can hardly be blamed for succumbing to hopelessness and nihilism. However, the reality is that regardless of circumstances, there are three things that can make human life unbearable:
A sense of aloneness. James Joyce noted, “It relieves us to see or hear our own distress expressed by another person.” The sense that someone else understands what we are experiencing can be enormously encouraging and liberating for us. Conversely, the feeling that no one understands what we’re going through, that no one cares, that no one will help us, is universally regarded as one of the most horrible and terrifying experiences a person can endure. Our species is hard-wired to seek support and caring from others.
A sense of meaninglessness. We need to feel that our lives matter, that our personal energies and abilities are dedicated toward something that has a constructive purpose. We also are constantly seeking to understand our suffering in some context that will give it meaning. It never surprises me that so many people believe that a benevolent deity is responsible for their pain; it gives many comfort to think that their otherwise meaningless anguish is part of a benign cosmic purpose, however mysterious or incomprehensible to us it may be.
A sense of hopelessness. When my wife and I were expecting our first child, we met an obstetric nurse who remarked, “One of the things that makes pain bearable is knowing when it is going to end.” (This may be a good thing to contemplate during contractions.) The feeling that things will never get better, that misery is the permanent state of the universe, is not endurable to the human psyche. People who struggle with suicidality often report these kinds of feelings.
We are religious for many reasons; among these is our need to overcome these three horrors. We come together in religious communities so that we may escape the sense of aloneness, and that we might help others to know they are not alone. We come together in religious communities to make meaning out of life, even life’s most dreadful miseries. We come together in religious communities to find hope, and to try to give others hope.
Compassionate Lord, give us the wisdom and the strength to seek others, to find meaning, and to live in hope. Guide us that we may help others to know that they are not alone, for we are with them; that life has meaning, because we love; and that there is hope for all of us. Amen.