Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

February 1, 2015: “The Light From Our Beacon”

“Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”
— Albert Einstein

Time for All Ages “The Little Red Lighthouse”

There’s a little piece of land that juts out into the Hudson River, on an island called Manhattan. The piece of land, called Jeffrey’s Hook, is more of a bump than a peninsula, but it protrudes out into an area of the water that is kind of treacherous for boats. At night, and in the fog, in the days way before radar and GPS, passing boats ran the risk of running aground, or running into each other as they came around the bend.

In 1889, the city put a 10-candle power light on the end of a pole that stuck out over the water, and that helped. A little. Boats still came and went, and they still ran into each other or ran aground.

So, in 1921 the City of New York found a lighthouse. It was a red lighthouse, only 40 feet tall, that sat unused in Sandy Hook New Jersey. They dismantled the little lighthouse and rebuilt it at Jeffrey’s Hook, and for six years it served well, providing a light bright enough and high enough to keep the passing boats safe, whether they were freight steamers or tug boats or canoes.

Six years later, a funny thing happened. Right alongside the little red lighthouse a tower began to be constructed. It sat opposite another tower, 4,700 feet away on the other side of the river, and eventually a gray bridge 90 feet wide would run between those towers, a couple hundred feet above the water, suspended by great big cables.

It’s called the George Washington Bridge, and it connects the Washington Heights borough to Fort Lee, New Jersey, and they have great big bright lights at the tops of them, 604 feet above the water, 15 times higher than the lighthouse.

You can see a picture of them lighthouse and the bridge on one side of the insert in the order of worship.

Now, you would think that having such a massive structure alongside it would make the little red lighthouse kind of useless, wouldn’t you? The bridge is so much bigger, it’s visible from miles and miles away, as are their very bright white lights.

And you’d be right. The City of New York decommissioned the lighthouse 17 years after the bridge was completed. They turned off its lights, and talked about auctioning it off and having it removed from the site.

But the funny thing is that the little red lighthouse was such an interesting sight that a children’s book had written about it when the bridge first opened.

It was a crazy popular book in which the lighthouse is a hero. It was the Goodnight Moon of its time. A whole generation of people knew about that little lighthouse, and learned from it that everyone has value, everyone can make a difference, and even the smallest among us can be a hero.

There was public outcry to not auction off the lighthouse. The city couldn’t get rid of it, so the Department of Parks and Recreation took it over. In 1979 it was put on the National Register of Historic Places, and in 2002 the City relighted it for the first time in 54 years. Now, it’s a popular tourist attraction and there is even a festival right there at Jeffrey’s Hook every year to celebrate its presence.

Just goes to show you how much we can fall in love with buildings, especially when they do the important work of shining light and helping people find their way.

Personal Reflection, “Light and Love,” Sharon Waite

On cold winter days in NorthEast Ohio, I search out a couch in my home that is in the sunlight. There is something about the light and warmth that calls. But I’m not the only one. I usually have to move a cat or two or my husband Dan who got there before me. The bunny Penelope will move into the rays of sunlight entering her cage. Even the chickens are keenly aware of sunlight. They stop laying eggs if they don’t have over 14 hours of light.

My mother and I share artwork. We’ve gone in halfsies on pottery. She has the artwork at her place until she rearranges the furniture, then the piece of art comes to me until I rearrange my furniture, then the artwork goes back to her and so on and so on. I currently have the pottery piece, let’s hope she doesn’t notice it when she visits.

Right now, my mother has this fabulous lamp that she picked up at an Art Show a few years ago. It stands about yay high, has long sculpted stems in a sand-type medium ending with two flower bells, looking like a spray of lily-of-the-valley. Here let me show you. (bring up lamp). When you click the switch on the lamp, each flower bell takes its turn being lit, and both bells can be lit at the same time. It has a remarkable glow – soft and inviting – you almost feel like you’re in a fairy’s garden, as if a fairy has just tapped each flower bell with her fairy wand.

What makes this lamp extra special in that underneath the lamp, my mother wrote my name. When my mother dies, this lily-of-the-valley lamp will live at my house and every time I turn it on, I will be reminded of my mother and how her love of art and light merged.

Our former church building was a 25 room 1920s Tudor mansion called Greystone. It was a gorgeous home with rectangular panels of cream outlined by chocolate brown trim on the outside, and dark wood paneling on the inside. Col. Frank Scott and his family started clearing the land in 1923. His new home called “Chesterfield” was completed in the following year. 36 years later, East Shore Unitarian Church enters the home in December 1960. And we filled that church building. We grew and grew and grew until we and the mansion were bursting at the seams. And just like a growing family, we made the decision to move into a bigger home. We had to decide what goes to the new church building and what gets sold in the Silent Auction and what gets donated. And on that final week as I was wandering the rooms, making sure everything was out of the closets and the cupboards, I stumbled upon a find in the 3rd floor ballroom – yes, it really was – in the storage closet. A chandelier had been overlooked. A 1920s very large decorative milkglass bowl with 3 ornate chains for support from the ceiling. Here let me show you. (bring up chandelier). This is the biggest lady bug catcher I have ever seen! It’s 17 inches across with sockets for 3 light bulbs, and look at this chain. The larger links are ornate as are the three supports. The milk glass has flowers embossed around the edge and lined designs on its surface. I’ve never seen this light fixture lit up because the wiring is old and unusable. I can only imagine how absolutely stunning it looked in its heyday with the yellow incandescent light glowing through the opaque white glass.

Ahhh – a love of light and a light of love. And a light from our long ago home. What was it like to gather in a stranger’s home in 1956 because your Unitarian light wanted to shine? Six people held an exploratory meeting on February 5, 1956. A week later, they were joined by 14 more! Now there were 20 people in the area who wanted to shine! Three months later, East Shore Unitarian Fellowship was formed with 41 Founding Members. These people wanted to see a Unitarian church in their neighborhood and set out to shine their beacon – their light of Unitarianism.

Reading “Unitarianism is Discussed by Group Here”

This morning’s reading is from the News-Herald, an article without a by-line from February 7, 1956:

A small group of interested persons met at the home of Lincoln Christensen, 4462 Center St., on Sunday evening, to discuss liberal religions.

Jesse Cavileer, minister of the Unitarian Society of Cleveland, led the informal discussion on Unitarianism, “a movement fundamentally characterized not by any creed, but by its adherence to the principles of complete mental freedom in religion, the unrestricted use of reason in religion, and a generous tolerance of offering religions,” according to Mr. Cavileer’s short definition.

Tentative plans were made to contact all known Universalists and Unitarians in the surrounding area, as well as those others who might be interested in forming a fellowship.

Another meeting will be held in the near future. Further information may be had by contacting Mr. Christensen at WI 2-3941 or C. G. Heltman, at WI 2-3162.

Sermon “The Light From Our Beacon,” Rev Denis

Today feels like show and tell.

I found this scrapbook in the archives. [Hold it up.]

On the spine it’s dated 1956 to 1961. The first entry is the News Herald article Sharon read, and the last is more than a dozen photographs of Graystone, the Mentor mansion that became the home of the congregation in 1961. They aren’t the kind of photographs that would be taken to show off the beauty and charm of the place, they’re the kinds of snapshots insurance adjusters would take of broken pipes, electrical panels and cracked concrete. You can tell by these pictures that the romance of the mansion was eclipsed by the reality of its disrepair.

Contrary to what many newer folks might believe — those of us who came along after moving into this building, that is – Graystone was not the first home of the congregation founded as the East Shore Unitarian Fellowship. The first meeting of six souls, as you just heard, was in the home of Lincoln Christensen. Eventually services moved to the Dudley Field Rec Center for a short time.

Mostly preachers came from other Unitarian congregations in the greater Cleveland area:

Rev Jesse Cavileer, UU Society of Cleveland

Rev Robert Killam, from….I don’t know where

And Peter Samson, of West Shore in Rocky River

The most common speakers were lay leaders like Lincoln Christensen and Charles Heltman.

By March, the group was drafting bylaws and forming a steering committee and Women’s Alliance.

By the end of the year, they were meeting at the Knights of Pythias Hall. In December, they had their first child dedication, and extended the “right hand of fellowship” to the 100th adult member. All documented by articles in the News-Herald and the

That was a lot of growth, right away, and there it stood for the first few years.

The services – which were never called worship – were very head-centered. Ministers were referred to as “mister.” There were few hymns, no prayers, and the “talk” was followed by discussion. Despite the fellowship’s lofty goals, Sundays were pretty traditional. Look a the picture: women referred to by their husbands’ names as they were pictured caring for children. Men were on the right and women on the left as they listened to a men lecture on topics like

How to Build your own religion

The Challenge of our Times

And, The Four Pillars of Liberalism

East Shore was typical of the fellowship movement of the time.

In their Curriculum “Faith Like a River,” Jackie Clement and Alison Cornish describe the Fellowship movement succinctly. The plan for creating fellowships around North America

“was launched in 1947, the AUA would grant recognition and offer assistance to groups of religiously liberal laypeople gathered without a minister. … A fellowship was defined as a minimum of ten religiously liberal laypeople who expressed sympathy with the purposes of the AUA, had bylaws, and made an ongoing financial commitment to the AUA. …

Postwar America [was fertile ground to plant] Unitarian fellowships. Many began in heartland towns where universities were located, reflecting a growing interest among well educated Americans in individualism, humanism, and social activism. …. The fellowships organized across the country were not conceived or intended as “churches in the making.” They attracted people who were interested in a strong degree of participation in their local religious community. …. They were “Do-it-yourself and lay-led,” where “members ‘joined an experience’ rather than an institution.”

The spirit of individualism that characterized fellowships sometimes undermined efforts to create structures necessary for the group to function, and each year, some fellowships ceased operations. But an extraordinary number survived and even thrived.1

They thrived because of the guts and determination of the folks who founded them, the generation that has come to be known as the “Greatest Generation,” a term coined by Tom Brokaw in his book of the same name.

Twenty four years ago, William Strauss and Neil Howe, authors of Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1528 to 2069, posited that there are only four types of generations, running in cyclical patterns, repeating throughout history.2

Based on this seminal book, we can break our living generations down in cycles. Bear with me while I outline them.

Civics are the Greatest Generation, born roughly 1901 to 1924

Adaptives are the Silent Generation, born 1925 to 1942

Idealists are the Baby Boomers, born 1943 to 1960

Reactives are Generation X, born 1961 to 19813

Another set of Civics, the Millenials, born 1982 to 2004

And finally, another set of Adaptives, the littlest among us born since 2005, a generation that as far as I can tell doesn’t have a name yet.

The Greatest Generation, the oldest Civics among us, are primarily concerned with the common good and making the world a better place. Strauss and Howe spoke directly to this cohort of individuals:

“Yours is a rationalist generation. In the tradition of the eighteenth century patriot-scientist Benjamin Rush [a Unitarian] Civics have always come of age believing that history does or should move in orderly straight lines. For much of your lifecycle, this attitude brought you hope. … [Based on our understanding of generational cycles, we believe] your special strengths will rekindle, thanks ultimately to a values-laden nurturing style associated with much of what you dislike … in younger parents and leaders.”4

Keep in mind here that they are not talking about the personalities of all individuals. They are talking generally about the overall character of a very large group of people, character determined by the circumstances of their time.

Historical Civics included Thomas Jefferson and Cotton Mather. The Greatest Generation included Walt Disney, Ronald Reagan and Lee Iacocca, and they see a lot of themselves in the Millenials like Mark Zuckerberg and other twenty-something IT innovators. They’re builders of institutions and social networks, with a strong need to make sense of a world that has seemed chaotic and scary, marked by social upheaval and war.

Those first members in those first few years, the original founders, were folks like Lincoln and Alice Christensen, Charles Heltman, and Helen Ranney and dozens of others, who’ve all since died or are no longer able to join us. A few members of the Great Generation of Civics are still among us, as are the folks who were a little too young to be among the founders: The Silent Generation, the Adaptives. We’ll be celebrating that group in the spring, when the weather is better, the attendance is more predictable, and the snow birds have returned.

But for right now, let’s look at what Strauss and Howe have to say about the Silent Generation, those Adaptives among us who are currently about 73 to 90 years old.

“You are part of an other-directed generation that comes more easily to an appreciation of the mind-sets, virtues and flaws of those born before or behind you. …

“[I]n the spirit of the aging William Ellery Channing or John Dewey, you might search for evidence to support your intuition that civilized [humanity] can, in the end, produce happy endings – as long as everyone remains open to new ideas and allows a little give and take.”5

It was one of you – Jack Weinberg at the birth of the Free Speech Movement – who coined the phrase “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Now that you’re over 70, where does that leave you? You’re a cohort that has been overshadowed by the power of the generation before you that built everything and the size of the generation after you that sought to dismantle it, and you’ve quietly done the work that needs to get done, asking for little.

It probably won’t surprise you to know that no member of the Silent Generation has been president of the United States. We went directly from Greatest Generation Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bush the elder to Baby Boomers Bill Clinton, Bush the younger and Barack Obama.

Personally, I’ve had a bunch of experiences in all of the churches I’ve served of referring to a Silent Generation person an as a “revered elder.” I’ve always meant it earnestly, respectfully, but have mostly been met with … well, resistance at best … and open hostility at worst. Some hate being called old, because old is bad. Some really hate being called revered, as if they don’t deserve it. And some just hate the whole thing, preferring to stay in the kitchen where nobody can see them.

The great thing about the Silent Generation, as a whole is that you two uncanny abilities that serve well: you see what has to get done, and you just do it, all the while able to discern the difference between what can change and what should change.

But here’s the thing. Here’s what I want to ask of all the elders of our congregation, all you folks who’ve been trained to be adaptive and to not impose on anyone else: You have skills and knowledge that we, the Baby Boomers and GenXers need you to pass on to us.

We need you to stop doing all the work and hand it off to us, as we honor you and celebrate you for who you are and your role in making this place what it is.

We need you to let us treat you as the revered elders you are.

The founders of this place, the first 100 who joined in the last half of the 1950’s built East Shore. They got an article in the newspaper just about every week, got the word out to religious liberals across four counties, and recruited speakers to help them re-imagine what religion could be. They lived out Einstein’s belief that “Science without religion is lame” and “religion without science is blind.” They brought the group from the Christensen’s living room and in a very short time made a home in Graystone.

But it was you who made the big sacrifices, you who paid the mortgage, and took the leap to move into this building. You’ve heard the earth cry and responded. You’ve reached out for new members seeking truth and freedom. You’ve heeded the cries of suffering and responded compassionately.

A few months back, I talked about the attitude with which you built this place. Recognizing that a crumbling mansion on the edge of a freeway – though beautiful and full of memories—had become a fool’s errand. From a place of energy and generosity, you took a huge risk and built this building to meet the needs not only of yourselves and your children, but of the people who had not yet come, seeking a religious home.

“If we build it, they will come,” you said, referring to the movie Field of Dreams.

But I pointed something out that Sunday. The character of Ray, played by Kevin Costner, hears a voice in his cornfield. Over the course of a few months, the voice tells him three things: If you build it he will come. Ease his pain. Go the distance.

I pointed out that you had built it, and built it well, but that maybe now is the time to take the next steps… to ease the pain of a hurting world, and to make the commitment to go the distance, to really commit to something big.

It’s time for us to pay attention to the hymn written Thomas J. S. Mikelson, born in 1936, that to me feels like an anthem written for his generation. It’s time for us to awaken a clear vision of ministry, and brighten out pathway with radiance, mingling our calling with everyone willing to join us, as we transform not just our community, but the whole darned world with our care.

Like Sharon and her mom, you’ve been the keepers of the lamps, the loving keepers of the history that made us who we are and provided for us the tools to do the work. We’ve got this incredible building, and this beacon, this pyramid, that is not only a symbol of our aspirations, but also a beacon that shines a light on the world. 
It calls people in, people seeking a brighter, lighter way, but it also reminds us of the work that we have to do, even when it feels like bigger churches are overshadowing us.

As we enter into our 60th year today, I have a request of everyone. (Everyone, not just the few people able to make here through all this snow.) We need to really honor our elders, to lovingly coax out of the Silent Generation the wisdom they’ve used to carry us through the decades, so we can build on this incredible foundation and be like that little red lighthouse: resolute and relevant. I know, elders, that this is a tough request to make of you. But please. Let us honor you…and if you have a way in which you’d like to be honored, please let me know, so we can do it.

Maybe you want a party in the spring after the worship service in which we celebrate your accomplishments.

Maybe you want somebody else to step up and take responsibility for a program or event you’ve been carrying.

Maybe you want a venue in which to tell your stories….a video project or a collection of essays, or a chance to talk uninterrupted and without agenda.

Maybe you could share your odysseys with us.

It’s going to take some commitment, and some letting go, and maybe even some patience when we don’t do things exactly as you would, but I promise it will be worth it.

So let’s start by exploring our history.

Could I get a couple of volunteers to help out after the service? I need two people to take this binder out to the narthex with a notebook and some sticky notes. And I need elders, you all who have been here for decades, to go through the scrapbook looking at pictures, and identifying people you know. And if you have an idea for something you want to share, or something you want to let go of, let one of the volunteers know, so we can have a record of it and follow up.

This weather might not reveal it today, but we really do have a bright future ahead of us.