Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

February 9, 2020: “Where We Make Our Stand”

Admitting that you have little control in the world can be the first step in building resilience and strengthening your relationships to yourself and other people.  For some, that means giving over control to a higher power.  Does a higher power have to be called God?  How do Humanists engage in that process?

Sounding of the Singing Bowl                   Rev Denis  

PreludeSicilienne from Sonata no. 2 for Flute and Clavier, J. S. Bach

Welcome                                                            Shirley Hairston

Opening Hymn #1064 Blue Boat Home

Though below me I feel no motion

Standing on these mountains and plains

Far away from the rolling ocean

Still my dry land heart can say

I’ve been sailing all my life now

Never harbor nor port have I known

The wide universe is the ocean I travel

And the earth is my blue boat home

Sun, my sail, and moon my rudder

As I ply the starry sea

Leaning over the edge in wonder

Casting questions into the deep

Drifting here with my ship’s companions

All we kindred pilgrim’s souls

Making our way by the lights of the heavens

In our beautiful blue boat home

I give thanks to the waves upholding me

Hail the great winds urging me on

Greet the infinite sea before me

Sing the sky my sailor’s song

I was born upon the fathoms

Never harbor or port have I known

The wide universe is the ocean I travel

And the earth is my blue boat home

Call to Worship Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

Rev. Scott Tayler

Welcome to this place of shelter,

Of light and hope provided by our beacon

And made manifest in our lives when we sit in this semi-circle

Able to see each other’s faces and find comfort there.

Rev. Scott Tayler writes:

We [gather] in honor of all that leads us forward,

all that leans down and helps us up after we fall,

all that reminds us why we started,

all that tells us there is still hope and seeds of surprise,

even when no lights are in sight,

even when warmth seems so far away.

May this hour of tender and courageous connection

help us fall in love again with this wild world.

May it reignite our trust that the path ahead will be gentle.

May it tempt us back to joy.

Chalice Lighting              Chris Stalder                       

(Chris reads as Rev Denis Lights)

W.E.B. DuBois once wrote this little prayer, and even if you have difficulty with the very first word of the prayer, it’s still a good reminder for all of us.  He wrote:

Lord, make us mindful of the little things that grow and blossom in these days to make the world beautiful for us.

Joys and Cares (Rev Denis)

when you came in this morning, you had a chance to take a stone from the bamboo bowl at the top of the aisle.  These stones were gathered from the earth, from different local places, by the hands of several different people. 

If you didn’t get a chance to take a stone, and you would like one for our ritual of joys and cares, please feel free to one now.

Perhaps, like me, you came in this morning with a stone you found in a different place.  Or perhaps, you came in with the stone you took last week on your way out.

Wherever you got it, it you have a stone, please hold on to, mindful of it’s strength and solidity, as we share the joys and cares we have for ourselves, each other, and the world.

[Read from the book]

We hold in our heart the more than 700 that have died so far from Coronavirus across the globe, and for the tens of thousands infected, in Wuhan China and beyond. 

We hope for the best possible outcomes for everyone, especially those in quarantine in hospitals, on military bases, and even on a cruise ship. 

We send our best hopes to the World Health Organization, that their expertise may be heard and heeded over the reactionary responses of transient governments.

For these, and all of our joys and cares that remain unspoken, we observe a few moments of silent meditation. 

[Chime.  Invite to altar.]


Torn and confused, 

lonely and enraged, 

I greet the new day with suspicion. 

Spirit of Life, 

show me the gate to healing. 

May I find in my hands the tools 

to craft a way through the pain. 

When even those tools fail me, 

may other hands reach out. 

Let me welcome them, 

and know them as your hands, 

gently holding me, 

keeping me from collapse, 

shaping me and molding new strength 

until I am ready to try again. 


A prayer by Jane E. Mauldin

Reading from Pale Blue Dot, by Carl Sagan                               Chris Stalder

This. Morning’s reading is by Carl Sagan, from his 1994 book Pale Blue Dot, the title of which was inspired by a photograph taken by Voyager 1 on February 14, 1990. The photo was taken at Sagan’s suggestion.  He wrote:

Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there–on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.

Anthem Simple Faith

Personal Reflection               Chris Stalder

In hearing Dr. Sagan’s words, at first they can seem rather despairing.  After all, they are a reminder of much of the folly of humanity across the centuries and millennia, and the propensity of many religions and philosophies to sacrifice this world for the next — whatever that “next world” may be to them.

However, the message Carl Sagan delivers here also offers us hope and resilience.  We have made it this far — despite all the wars, natural disasters, crime and cruelty, mankind has persevered.  And as he mentions, we really have no choice but to persevere if we are to survive as a species and as a civilization.

Coming from a background in my youth of having a love of science and learning, yet also coming of age in a culture where Christian “salvation by faith” was upheld, Dr. Sagan’s book “The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark” was recommended to me over twenty years ago and was a huge influence on developing a Humanist worldview of my own.  Through this work, as in the Pale Blue Dot discourse, I realized our importance comes not from a privileged position in the universe, but rather importance we create for ourselves in our world. 

Many religions and philosophies are big on dogma — what we “should believe” — but not so much on how to translate that belief into action.  However, the Epistle of James in the Bible’s New Testament states: “If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed’, but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it?” So even early on in the Christian religion, I see the beginnings of humanistic thought and the idea that just maybe, we have to do some things for ourselves and each other.

Humanist groups I have been involved with, both in Columbus (near my hometown) and here in the Cleveland area have proven a great opportunity to put values into action.  Activities such as Homeless Stand Down, rallies for equality and human rights, and simply meeting to discuss current issues — be it climate change, economic justice, racial relations, freedom of conscience, and so forth — allow others as well as myself to translate philosophies into tangible actions.  All of these, I feel, embody the Seven Principles of Unitarian Universalism; especially for me, the Fourth Principle — “a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

Resilience — resilience not only is necessary, but very possible when we use reason and knowledge to guide and strengthen our decisions in our personal lives and in our dealings with others around us, and the world at large.

In applying Dr. Sagan’s words from today’s reading, it’s up to us to seek kindness and justice in our dealings with one another and to decide for ourselves the type of world we wish to live in, and the type we will pass on to our descendants.  Earth is indeed where we make our stand — and how and for what we make that stand is up to us.

Sermon “Where We Make Our Stand”          Rev Denis Letourneau Paul

Bible Study with a group of people labeled homeless, most of whom are also mentally ill and/or addicted to drugs or alcohol can push you to your limits.  Especially if you are a leader in a liberal religion like Unitarian Universalism.

I know, because I did just that, weekly, for five years in the tenderloin district of San Francisco, the poorest neighborhood in the city, with the highest concentrations of poverty and crime.  The folks who showed up didn’t come just for the free coffee and donuts, though the offerings didn’t hurt. 

They came to be closer to God.  And although we offered a couple dozen different translations of the Bible, early birds got the privilege of getting one of two King James versions, the versions many of them saw as being written in God’s own language.  They didn’t need the more modern translations.  Those seemed too far removed from the real God, with the power to change their circumstances at will.

You see, none of these good people chose their circumstances.  They didn’t choose to be born into poverty or abusive families,  They didn’t choose to be born to addicted mothers who were also struggling with their own mental health.  they didn’t choose to be diagnosed with schizophrenia at 18.  They didn’t choose homelessness.

And yet, day after day, passersby in the streets, police officers and courtroom judges told them that they had to make better choices, and often said out loud to them that their circumstances were solely their own responsibility.  They should just buck up and fix it.

But how?  How do you fix anything when you feel so profoundly broken and unworthy? 

That’s what Bible Study did for them.  It allowed them to not only connect to others in a safe place, it allowed them to get closer to a God that they could just hand everything over to.  Can you imagine how powerful it is for someone to hand over their suffering to an omnipotent being, in order to not have to carry it alone?

If you’ve ever lived with a debilitating addiction, and you’ve sought the accompaniment of others in 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous or Narcotics Anonymous, you know that power.  Seven of the 12 steps are about a higher power, that which most people in North America call God, and handing over power — especially the power of addiction — to that higher power.

When your life is full of the blessings of abundance and the privileges that come with being white, middle-class, and well-educated, with a healthy family and strong body, the way my life is, that 12-step approach doesn’t seem to work all that well, does it?

Why would I give over control of my life and my circumstances when everything is working so well?  I’m doing a fine job with it.  And as long as everything is going my way, it’s easy to forget that circumstances could change — quite quickly, really — and leave me destitute or powerless. 

It might sound melodramatic to put it that way, but ask any of the tiki-torch carrying white men who descended upon Charlottesville back in August of 2017, and they’ll tell you just how fast things are changing.  Their fear is evident.  And real.  And most of the time, it feels a million miles from us and so we continue with our liberal religious beliefs.

I know I might say it too often, but despite what many say, we are in fact a religion.  We are non-credal, and non-doctrinal, but we are in fact a religion, a group of people who bind ourselves to one another in covenant, again and again.  That’s religion.

Paul Rasor, retired lawyer and theologian, in his book Reclaiming Prophetic Witness, which was a Unitarian Universalist common read back in 2014,  described liberal faith this way:

While there are many ways to describe religious liberalism, scholars generally agree that its most prominent characteristic is a posture of intentional engagement with modern culture.  Religious liberalism starts with the premise that religion should be oriented toward the present, not the past, and that religious beliefs should be in tune with modern knowledge and experience. This adaptive orientation can be traced to liberalisms roots in the Enlightenment[1] . Rather than resist the Enlightenments modernizing ideas, as religious orthodoxies tried to do, liberals embraced them. … As a result, liberals are not likely to feel their faith threatened by new scientific discoveries or advances in biblical scholarship. Instead, they accept these kinds of developments and incorporate them into their religious worldviews. In this way, liberals seek to keep their religious commitments culturally relevant and intellectually credible.

In other words, religious liberals put human experience at the center of our processes of making meaning of our lives.  Religious liberals not only believe in but embrace science.  And the fact that we have done these two things has made us more resilient in the midst of change and even chaos.

We know that we are co-creators of the world, even if it’s in very very small ways.  That there are some things that are in our control, some things that are out of our control, and that by making the choice to live in harmony not only with each other, but with our environment, we are creating the future — and the present — that we want to live in.

Here’s a tiny little example from my life.

Joe and I bought a couch for a little-used room on our second floor.   We call it our snug.  Very British, that term, to describe a room that is small and out of the way, intense for use just by our little pack, us and our dog, separate from the spaces where we work or welcome guests.  Like the rest of our house, it isn’t perfect. Our house was something neither of us would ever have chosen on our own.  Among the limited number of homes available at the time in the area where we wanted to live, and within our budget, it was the one we could agree on, even if neither of us loved it.  We began filling it with things that we owned separately before we met, and few things we had acquired together, not worrying too much about “matching.”  amazingly, it looks good, even if we can’t have decent rugs, because you know, if the dog is going to have an accident, it is going to be on a rug.  We like to think that we make decisions about what to do with our house based solely on our own needs and resources, but the reality is that all of our decisions are profoundly affected by the decisions of previous owners, so we end up having to gut the bathroom down to the studs and joists and remodel it completely because the previous owner (whose name is like a swear word in our house) did some shoddy work and made poor choices. 

Overall though, we roll with the punches, and the truth is that even though the house is not what either one of us would have come up with separately, or even what we would have built together if we were building from scratch, it’s actually more charming as we’ve created the space — in the present — that we want to live in.  And the resistance that we’ve experienced along the way, the obstacles of budget, past ownership, and often divergent tastes, have made us less attached to the outcome and more comfortable with each other. 

In other words, we’ve become more resilient in the time we’ve been the caretakers of this little 100-year-old center hall colonial.

And this place we call our church home is much the same way, but on a grander scale.

This location was chosen among parcels of land that were available at the time, and its aesthetics are the result of a collaboration with an architect most people felt comfortable with married with the vision of the donors and members at the time.  It may not be exactly what everyone wants right now, and it may not exactly for our needs perfectly, we have the opportunity at every turn to be creative with it, and learn from one another.  The result could be — and often is — greater than the sum of our parts.  We didn’t do then and don’t do now anything because God told us to.  And not one of us has ultimate power over everything.  We need one another to get anything done, and as we make these decisions together, within the limitations of our financial and Human Resources, we become stronger, more connected, more resilient.

so, what dos it mean to be resilient?  Well, it can mean a couple of things.  Resilience is being able to return return to what we were without being change at our core, our essence, without being changed, even through the pressure of external forces.  Resilience is also the ability to recover from conflict or adversity.

Like a willow, bending in the wind through a terrible storm, we don’t lose who who we are, and even become stronger because of the pressure. Building resilience is like building muscle.

Of course some of us are like the folks in the Bible Study I lead years ago, recovering from addictions, struggling with physical or mental illness, or even living with financial situations not of our own making.  If not for our whole lifetimes at least for a period.

Now, we could, like the folks in the Bible Study, hand it over to God.  We could look to God and say “God, I can’t handle this.  I need you to carry this for me … or at least with me … for a while,” and we could find strength in the feeling that a higher power could help restore us to sanity, and that in handing it over to God as a savior could even secure us a place in heaven.

But we are religious liberals, people who bind ourselves together in commitment, with a variety of beliefs, all starting with the belief that we should be rooted in the present, not the past, in tune with modern knowledge and experience.  We believe in the ever-evolving understanding that comes from scientific study and research of the world we live in and the human mind and body, not to mention the vast history of human relationships, all of which affect who we are the options that we have for operating in the world. 

We believe in what Greg Epstein, a Humanist Rabbi and Chaplain at Harvard University calls “Good Without God.”  We believe that we can be the progenitors of good in the world, creators of positive change , living in right relationship with other humans and animals, not out of a fear of hell, but simply because its the right thing to do.  We know we can experience satisfaction in doing the right thing simply because it’s the right thing.  And a lot of us, felling that God isn’t necessary or even logical, then God must not exist, and so we label ourselves atheists. 

If you are one of those people, and that works for you and keeps in right relationship with with the world …. Great!

But thinking of ourselves as individual humans on a small planet that’s little more than a dot in the midst of a dusting of stars in the vast, unending universe can make us feel a little insignificant, if we dwell on it.  And when things get out of control, when we face a health crisis or global financial meltdown or political chaos. What happens to our sense of security?  What is it that brings us comfort, and helps us stay strong so that we build resilience, instead of just crumbling in defeat?

We have traditions and rituals. 

We show up here for multigenerational services and events that allow us to find hope in the amazingness of the children and youth who are so different from how we were at that age, and so well adapted to the times.

We make our values clear to them through rites of passage like child dedications, third grade affirmations, coming of age, wedding ceremonies and memorial services.  Our hope is that these children we’ve dedicated ourselves to will adopt our seven principles, and live lives that seek to find balance between the needs of the individual and the group, using the tools we value, tools like democracy, justice, compassion acceptance, encouragement, peace, and liberty while holding ourselves responsible to the task of seeking truth and meaning.

We show up on Sunday mornings and sing together, a radical act in a time when only the most highly paid entertainers seem to have the right anymore to sing publicly. 

We put our joys and cares, the milestones of our lives and concerns for our loved ones and people we’ve never met at the center of our space as a reminder that all human experience matters to us more, and has more lasting effect, than our fears about what happens to us when we die.

We gather in small groups for deep listening and support of one another, to build relationships with each other and the whole.

We show up to work on social justice and charitable causes, knowing that there is strength in numbers and that doing something, anything, is the thing that will keep us from drowning in anger and bitterness.

Multigenerational services and rituals, joys and cares, singing, deepening relationships and working together for a fairer society are all ways of building resilience.  They are all profoundly humanistic ways of building resilience, and all are the kinds of practices that philosopher Alain de Botton calls Religion for Atheists.  He believes that even if we can’t truck with the idea of a higher power holding the hope for us and promising us an afterlife better than this life, we need religion to survive. We need to bind ourselves, again and again, to one another and the world, in a covenant that seeks right relationship, and to ground that covenant in rites and rituals, traditions and practices, that make us stronger, more creative and compassionate.

It’s the things we do together — the big things and the little things — that help us build resilience.  Facing the problems that we inherited.  Creating rituals to mark our shared life.  Adapting them and ourselves to changing circumstances.  making something of our lives that can turn out to be greater than anything we ever could have done alone.

We do so much together.  And I can’t help this feeling that there is always one more thing that we could offer to one another, as a tool for living.  The Prayer Circle is an amazing, surprise success for the 20 or so people involved.  And I believe that it positively affects our whole congregation, even if you don’t realize it. 

But what else can we do?  If that kind of engagement just doesn’t work for you, how can we help you build resiliency? 

The Prayer Circle never would have come into existence if nobody had expressed to me their needs, their hopes, even if they were unformed, undefined, or difficult to explain.  But we put it all together, and made something new, something that on paper should never have worked.

What can we do for you?  Talk to me.  Talk to each other.  Let’s make it happen, so we can all be stronger, more able to maintain our essence in times of tumult and change on this little blue dot we call Earth, this place where we make our stand for humanist values and liberal religion.

Hymn #163 For the Earth forever Turning

For the Earth Forever Turning;

For the skies for every sea;

For our lives for all we cherish,

Sing we our joyful song of peace.

For the mountains, hills and pastures

In their silent majesty;

For the stars for all the heavens,

Sing we our joyful song of peace.

For the sun, for rain and thunder,

For the seasons’ harmony,

For our lives, for all creation,

Sing we our joyful praise to Thee.

For the world we raise our voices,

For the home that gives us birth;

In our joy we sing returning home

To our blue green hills of earth.

Offering of Gifts (Rev Denis)

Our Unitarian Universalist Association offers all kinds of programs designed to make our members and our congregations stronger, ranging from classes in community organizing or conflict resolution to our annual General Assembly, the next of which will be held in Providence Rhode Island in June.   GA is crazy expensive.  It’s hard to get out of there for less than $1,000, even if you do it on the cheap.

The classes are more affordable.  20 or 30 bucks, usually, if you have a way to get there.  They include lunch — usually hummus and pita — but if you don’t have the 20 or 30 bucks and gas money … it ain’t happening.

Unless other folks from your congregation can help you out. 

So this month, we’ll be giving half of your donations not specified for pledge fulfillment to our scholarship fund, so that everyone has equal access to programs that benefit us and the whole world.

Please give as generously as you can.  And if this is your first time visiting, please  let the collection basket pass you as our guest.  Thank you for being here.

Offertory Hymn #1027 Cuando el Pobre

Cuando el pobre nada tiene y aún reparte,
Cuando alguien pasa sed y agua nos da,
Cuando el débil a su hermano fortalece,
Va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar,
Va Dios mismo en nuestro mismo caminar.

When the poor ones, who have nothing, still are giving,

When the thirsty pass the cup, what’re to share;

When the wounded offer the others strength and healing:

We see God here — by our side, walking our way;

We see God here — by our side, walking our way.

Gratitude (Julia)

Benediction (Rev Denis)

Our benediction, our well-wishing for the week ahead, is adapted from the words of Nancy Wood:

Our brothers the stars

Our mother the earth

Our father the sun

Our sister the moon

To our lives give beauty

To our bodies give strength

To our work give goodness

To our house give peace

To our spirit give truth

To our elders give wisdom

Postlude RomanzeRobert Schumann


Today, after coffee there will be a Board of Trustees meeting in the Connect room, the room down the north wing, with the yellow wall and white board.

There will also be a social justice council meeting in the Community Room, right next door.

Tomorrow evening the Men’s group will meet in the Community room

On Wednesday the Prayer Circle will gather in the Chapel at 6:15 AM.  Your can also join via facebook live on the East Shore facebook page.  In the afternoon, the Seventh Principle group will also meet.

Thursday evening, Halcyon will facilitate Theme Thursday, focusing on Resilience.

And at noon on Saturday, Art and Spirituality will resume after a bit of a hiatus.  

Next Sunday, the 16th, is the annual Great Chilly Chili Cookoff.  It’s a friendly competition so bring along a crock pot with you favorite meat, vegan or vegetarian chili.

On Sunday the 23rd we’ll have a congregational meeting.  It’s not a voting meeting, but it’s a chance to talk about our new proposed organizational structure, so everyone can have input before it gets finalized.

Bond of Union  — Church Covenant (Rev Denis)

We join hands in Unitarian Universalist fellowship, pledging ourselves to an individual religious freedom, which transcends all creeds, not to think alike but to journey together.

Extinguishing the Chalice (Rev Denis)