Sunday, March 20th’s Sermon

Rev. Emily Burr will present a sermon entitled “Democracy as a Religious Concept.” If we believe in separation of Church and State, why do we have “democracy” in our Principles? What role does conscience play in our affirming and promoting democracy? Robin Charles will be our
musician.
We the People

Rev. Brendan Hadash, “Compassion for Muslims?”

Rev. HadashPresident Obama made his first trip to an American Mosque last month.  He praised the tolerance shown by Americans from Thomas Jefferson (who was a Unitarian) to Dwight Eisenhower. He said that the rhetoric against Muslim Americans has no place in our community. Compassion is one of the core values of Unitarian Universalists. How can we take practical steps to show compassion for Muslims and to one another?

UU Islamic resources from Rev. Hadash

Here is a wonderful group which has a speaker’s bureau, curricula, etc.: https://ing.org

(Islamic Network Group – educating for cultural literacy & mutual respect)

Here are the 3 programs Rev. M’ellen Kennedy offers: http://www.peaceandunitybridge.org/events/

Here is contact info for NE mosques:

http://www.peaceandunitybridge.org/resources/mosques/

There are also lots of books and films on peaceandunitybridge.org:

http://www.peaceandunitybridge.org/audiovideo/films/

http://www.peaceandunitybridge.org/print-media/

Other sites with info on Islam: http://www.peaceandunitybridge.org/resources/links/

Curricula on Islam: http://www.peaceandunitybridge.org/programs/curricula/

Charlotte Lehmann, “True GRIT”

Charlotte Lehmann will be joining us for the first time with a Sermon entitled, “True GRIT: Passion, Perseverance and Staying Power.

A little about the topic:
In this service, we consider the role of what sociologist Angela Duckworth calls GRIT in being successful and productive people. True GRIT involves the character traits of passion, perseverance and staying power which is applicable to organizational systems as well as individuals.

A little about Charlotte:
Charlotte Lehmann, raised in the Upper Midwest, is a life-long UU. She is a Candidate for Ministry in the UUA, and currently serves the First Church in Belmont (MA) as the Acting Director of Children’s Religious Education. Charlotte has M.Div. from Meadville Lombard Theological Seminary (2012), a M.S. and a B.A. in Geological Sciences (UMAINE, 1991 and Mt. Holyoke College, 1983, respectively). She is also a SUNDOOR certified Master Firewalk Instructor and Breathwork practitioner. Charlotte loves spending time in the outdoors, traveling, cooking, choral singing, reading and watching movies, to name a few favorite activities.

Searching for Truth and Meaning

This Sunday, Rev. Emily Burr will present a sermon entitled, “Searching for Truth and Meaning.” Robin Charles will be our Musician and Susan Haines, our Worship Associate.

KUUF will be joining us for this service and for Soup and Bread after. If you are able, bring soup to share. All are welcome to join us for this meal and in welcoming KUUF.

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This Year’s Evolution Weekend Service

Thank you, Vince, for a thought provoking Evolution Weekend. For those of you who missed the service, there have been a number of requests to make the content available. So here it is.

The children’s story was Older than the Stars by Karen C. Fox, Illustrated by Nancy Davis.

The Reading was: The world around you is not the real world EW 2016-02-14 Reading.

The Sermon follows or can be downloaded here: EVOLUTION WEEKEND 2016-02-14 Science and Faith.

EVOLUTION WEEKEND 2016 – SCIENCE AND FAITH

OPENING WORDS

Nature is relentless and unchangeable, and it is indifferent as to whether its hidden reasons and actions are understandable to man or not.

CHALICE LIGHTING

All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered; the point is to discover them.

I feel both blessed and anxious to be up here before you today. The quality of sermons this year has been high, and thematically they have fit together well. I hope today I can both match the quality and continue the dialog.

Now I have a confession to make- I’m an idiot. Alright, I learned somewhere not to make blanket derogatory statements about myself, but instead to ground critiques in the specific. Let’s say Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday made me feel like an idiot. Not because I care about Frank; I only know it was his centennial because it was the theme of that day’s crossword puzzle. It’s because that’s the day (actually around 3 the next morning, as I was having trouble sleeping) that I came to a revelation while considering the topic of today’s sermon. So my deficiency is that is took me over 56 years, and over a decade of giving Evolution Weekend services, to come to this revelation.

And that revelation, simply, is this- that science is about the way things are, and that faith is about the way things should be. This single sentence sums up succinctly my thoughts on this issue, and I think it captures well how the UU principles speak to it. Of course, I’ve already parted ways with some of you – not about me being an idiot, of course (I’m sure at least one person still agrees with that), but as to the degree that faith is about the way things are, and I think that divergence will grow the further we stray from the comfy confines of our congregation. But I ask you to bear with me as I make my case.

When I say science is about the way things are, I also mean it is about the way things were and the way they will be, and faith is about the way things should have been and should be in the future. Before we delve into what I’m trying to say, let’s define our terms.

Both science and faith are ways we seek to understand the world. Science relies on the scientific method – positing hypotheses and experimenting to test the validity of those hypotheses. Faith finds its sources in personal experience and sacred texts. Both have something to tell us, but what and how they tell us is very different.

Science deals in cold, hard facts. Matter is composed of elements. Combining two Hydrogen and one Oxygen molecules makes water. The gravitational force of the moon creates tides. The earth orbits around the sun. These are known, incontrovertible.

But these haven’t always been seen as facts. The fact that the sun is the center of the solar system was first proposed in the 16th century. The earth wasn’t the center of the universe, much less the solar system, before then, and it didn’t magically change from flat to spherical before that. Oxygen, Hydrogen, and gravity were all discovered in the second half of the 18th century. But they just didn’t spring into existence then.

Science crawls slowly forward. Einstein published his theory of relativity in 1915. Three days ago, scientists announced they had confirmed the existence of gravity waves, which had been referred to as the last aspect of that theory to be demonstrated. Copper is regarded as the first element discovered, around 9000 BCE. The latest discovery, of Ununseptium, with the atomic number of 117, occurred in 2010.

And because it relies on experimentation, the scientific journey toward knowledge is not smooth, but fraught with competing hypotheses and missteps. Some errors are simply that. Lord Kelvin miscalculated the age of the earth by not considering that heat might be conveyed at different levels of efficiency beneath the earth’s surface. Einstein himself included a cosmological constant in his theory to allow for a static universe. He removed it when Hubble showed that the universe is expanding. But it turns out to be needed to explain the rate of expansion of the universe.

But while science in general is skeptical, individual scientists may be less so. In other words, the path towards truth can be thwarted by those who falsify results in search of fame or fortune. The Piltdown man and the Piltdown chicken are fake fossils that were created by fame seekers. The tobacco and pharmaceutical industries have paid for false studies to protect their profits.

Our understanding of the world has surely advanced throughout human history, but there is still much that science cannot explain with certainty. Some questions are just yet to be resolved, but others are outside the purview of science. Here is where faith comes into play. The most obvious question in this realm is: is there a god?

One source for the answer to that question is sacred texts. These have different answers to this question, as well as different interpretations. While the Abrahamic faiths all ascribe to belief in a single deity, many other faiths are polytheistic, or at least have polytheistic variants. And within Christianity, some faiths believe in the Holy Trinity, while others reject that description of the divine. And the various texts are subject to interpretation, whether due to translation into different languages or simply in the explanatory writings of religious authorities.

The other main source of faith knowledge is personal experience. Prophets and saints claim to have encounters with deities, or to be able to read signs or omens provided for their discovery. Lay people also have experiences that confirm or alter their views on the divine. Each person comes to their own views on this question.

Some, in fact, many, would say this is the most important question of all. But there are many other questions within this realm. Is there an afterlife? What is the meaning of life? How should we live- that is, how should we treat others, what is an ethical life? I would argue that this last question is the most important, that our actions are more important than the answers to the more abstract, philosophical questions.

So we have two different ways of answering questions about the world around us. This brings us back to my personal revelation. Each of these lenses have their strengths in helping navigate life; it is in our interest to use them where they fit best.

And science is best at explaining the material world. So many things in our daily life would not be possible without science. Since the discovery of the first tools, mankind has had its lot improved by innumerable scientific discoveries, both large and small. I’d like to highlight just one. Earlier I spoke of the theory of relativity. One aspect of that theory is that time is variable; the further one gets from a gravitational body, the faster time passes. Why does this matter to us? Well, do you have one of these? Or maybe a GPS device in your car? The satellites in geosynchronous orbit that provide GPS must account for the different rate that time passed at their altitude. Without the understanding of relativity, we wouldn’t be able to make GPS work.

This doesn’t just apply to GPS. It applies to the Big Bang, and climate change and evolution. We, the human race, must use the best science available to understand, care for, and improve the world. It must be the bedrock on which our decision making is based. And here is where faith comes in.

We must rely on the lessons of faith to tell us how to apply what science shows us. For the lessons of science are neutral. The material world doesn’t care if we know them or apply them. If we ignore them, or apply them poorly, we will face the negative consequences, just as we reap the benefits when we apply them successfully.

And there are choices to be made. We can make nuclear weapons, biological weapons, chemical weapons. We can practice eugenics, carelessly modify genes and clone, overuse antibiotics. We can make other foolish choices, or we can be wise in our application of science. How does faith help us make the right choices?

As I said before, I don’t think belief in a particular god, or in god at all, helps us answer these questions. Leaders have used god, or the promise of immortal life, to spur followers to commit evil. Differing beliefs over the true nature of god have been the source of many wars. No, it is the ethical principles given to us by faith that help us make the right choices.

Again, these principles vary among faith traditions, but there is one overriding principle that is common to all. If you aren’t thinking of it already, you’ve haven’t been paying attention to this year’s sermons, or to our unison affirmation. That principle, of course, is love. If you think about it, all our UU principles are about love. Love of self, love of other, love of the natural world. The one least related to love is essentially the topic of this sermon- the free and responsible search for truth. While one could make the argument that love of truth is a quality of love, the search for truth is more properly classified as the province of reason.

Thus, if we apply the principle of love to the choices provided us by science, we can’t go wrong. That’s it. Of course it’s not as simple as that, but at its root, that is my revelation. We use science to determine what is, and what can be, and we use faith, or love, to determine what should be within those parameters. End of story.

Now the impetus for this sermon is Evolution Weekend. Those of you who have been here for one of these before know it is an event sponsored by The Clergy Letter Project to provide an opportunity for serious discussion and reflection on the relationship between religion and science, specifically on the topic of Evolution. The founders of the project were alarmed that some religious leaders were attempting to use their positions to undermine the acceptance of evolution as reality. They knew that “Religious people from many diverse faith traditions and locations around the world understand that evolution is quite simply sound science; and for them, it does not in any way threaten, demean, or diminish their faith in God. In fact, for many, the wonders of science often enhance and deepen their awe and gratitude towards God.” This year around 400 congregations will be participating, and almost 14,000 members of the clergy have signed the letters affirming this statement.

Usually at some point I give an update on legislation trying to restrict student access to the teaching of evolution. Fortunately this has been a quiet year. A bill in ND has already been defeated, but one in OK is still alive. And I must point out that when I Googled evolution news to check on the state of such legislation, the top hit was evolutionnews.org, a site dedicated to debunking evolution, showing the lengths the antievolution forces will go to.

This year the suggested theme for Evolution Weekend is ‘Exploring Ways to Engage in Complex Discussions in a Civil Manner.’ I don’t know that I’ve done that theme justice. I hope I’ve engaged in a complex discussion in a civil manner. But I don’t think I’ve provided any tools that will help you to do so. I didn’t revisit my sermon on tolerance, a previous Evolution Weekend topic, as I think that is too broad to add to my chosen topic. But I’m sure I can dig it up if you’d like to hear my views on that subject.

I also feel I’ve given short shrift to faith today. For faith has more to offer than I have suggested so far. In addition to the ethical principles that fit my revelation, faith has much to give. In an uncertain world, people draw on their faith for solace, for reassurance, for meaning. Just as we all come to different views on the divine, and different though similar moral codes, we all fall along a spectrum as to the degree we get meaning from faith. And there is evidence that those for whom their faith is of higher importance experience health benefits (so much the worse for me), from less depression to longer life spans.

I had thought that an even more powerful case could be made for the role of faith, that there were actually studies that showed a positive outcome for what is known as intercessional prayer. This is prayer that is undertaken for the benefit of a third party. But in attempting to find evidence of this, I found that the most in-depth actually showed at best no correlation between intercessional prayer and 3rd party health outcomes. But that won’t stop me from me from engaging in my personal version during joys and concerns. When I am present enough to be intentional, I seek to join the positive energy from the joys and send it to those whose need was expressed in the sorrows.

Because I’m a sucker for a ritual. I thought I’d written myself into a corner, but I managed to work my way back around to the cover of the order of service. It’s my vision of the closing circle, which right about now is probably making you all truly thankful I don’t consider myself an artist. But while this crude image shows different spirits in community, it doesn’t reveal my personal ritual during closing circle, one I have never shared before. During the first two lines, I try to make eye contact with each member. Then I close my eyes and try to feel ‘the planet’ and raise my head for ‘each soul.’ I close by looking around the circle again, trying to imagine the children of the children of those in the circle.

I mention these not because I expect you to care about my personal rituals, and certainly not to follow them. I just cite them to demonstrate how individuals use faith to infuse life with meaning, without that faith necessarily having anything to do with material reality. And it brings me to one last point.

There are several versions of the argument that science is just another faith. The simplest explanation to refute this claim is to examine the two definitions for the word in, e.g., the Merrriam Webster dictionary. The first is ‘complete trust or confidence in someone or something,’ and the second is ‘strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.’ And the trust that individuals place in science is based on the myriad daily proofs of its veracity. Or the trust they place in scientists on larger ideas that they may not fully understand, e.g., the Big Bang, is based on the confidence that have in the scientific method, based on millennia of results. It’s ironic that those who try to equate science and faith use a logical, reasoned argument to try to persuade, rather than expecting us to accept on faith that they’re equal.

Let me close with one more quote from Galileo: I think that in the discussion of natural problems we ought to begin not with the Scriptures, but with experiments, and demonstrations.

Thank you for giving me your ear. As promised in the order of service, I have a video provided by the Clergy Letter Project that gives a different perspective on this question. I will be happy to screen it, or, if people would prefer, I can put it on a CD to borrow. Oh, and Happy Valentine’s Day.

 

BENEDICTION

Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. By faith we acknowledge a heritage from many traditions, which call us on our own search for truth and meaning. Faith is knowing that our existence makes a difference, that we are important, and that we are integral parts of the human experience. Blessed be.