of Scituate, Massachusetts
First Parish
Unitarian Universalist Church
by Pamela M. Barz on November 5th, 2017

On All Souls Day we remember the love which connects us, living and dead.  Read the whole service here: 

by First Parish on November 2nd, 2017


by Pamela M. Barz on October 29th, 2017

"Halloween invites us to embody and engage our fear of death and that’s why we celebrate it here in church every year on the Sunday before All Souls Day:  The Universalist All Souls Day assures us that those we love who have died are still part of the love which holds us all, whatever each of us may believe about what happens after death.  The pagan Halloween reminds us that though we too must cross that line, we can safely inhabit the fear."  Read the entire sermon here:


by Pamela M. Barz on October 22nd, 2017

"So much of what we believe and embody today comes from Martin Luther – that each of us has our own relationship with the divine and it is up to each of us to cultivate that relationship, that we can help one another in that process but that no one can speak as divine authority for another; that there is a grace or love at the heart of all life which we do not need to earn or to merit, but available to every person and that our call is to show our thanks for this gift by
helping others, that each person is equal before God and should be so before humanity as well, and that doing and understanding theology is the work of all people, not just the learned."  Read the whole sermon marking the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation here:

by Pamela M. Barz on October 15th, 2017

Why do bad things happen?  Why do good things happen?  Why do we suffer?  Why do we benefit?  Is someone in charge?  Is there a plan?  Human beings have pondered these questions for thousands of years without settling on an answer.  When something good happens do you attribute it to an outside force which chose you?  Or is it just the luck of the draw?  Does everything happen for a reason?  Or do events come to us at random?  Read the whole sermon here:


by First Parish on October 5th, 2017

Read about Sunday services, our Halloween Silent Movie, volunteering at Cradles to Crayons, new New Testament class, Unity Dinner and many more happenings in our latest newsletter:  http://conta.cc/2z01b9t

by Pamela M. Barz on October 1st, 2017

Four generations coming home at the end of a day of subsistence farming, moving boulders, bringing in dirt, building up soil, planting trees to hold it there against the washes of rainstorms, cultivating vines, and finally harvesting the fruit. Four generations. The generation who began that work would never even see the vines, much less taste the wine, and yet they had the vision to take on this grueling work to feed great-granddaughters and great-grandsons they would never know. (Read the whole sermon here:)

by Pamela M. Barz on September 17th, 2017

Who were your childhood heroes? How has your regard for them shaped your
life path? (Read the whole sermon here:)

by Pamela M. Barz on September 10th, 2017

Think about the sea changes of your life... (Read the whole sermon here:)

by First Parish on September 7th, 2017

Read about Water Communion, Womensphere, Quest Hike and all the other September happenings here:  http://conta.cc/2wLMAO3

by First Parish on August 2nd, 2017

Read about our Goal-setting retreat, Summer worship, the Community Book discussion, and "Ask a UU" at Heritage days here:  http://conta.cc/2uW4yOy

by First Parish on June 29th, 2017

Read about Summer Services, new UUA president, and Baldwin book discussion here:  http://conta.cc/2unN4aT

by Pamela M. Barz on June 4th, 2017

So much to take in. How to make sense of it all? President Trump’s
withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate agreement; investigations into ties
with Russia; proposed cuts on funding for Medicaid, food stamps, programs for
people with disabilities, and education; renewed attempts to ban people from
predominantly Muslim countries; Russia’s role in our election and our government;
erosion of trust with our allies; the murder of two men and the severe injury to a
third who defended two women on a train in Portland last Saturday, and now last
night the attack on London Bridge … I could go on, but already it’s overwhelming.
And these are just the events and news of the past week!
What can we do? - beyond coming up with definitions of covfefe, shouting at
the tv, laughing ruefully at Randy Rainbow’s parodies, or more seriously, sobbing or
withdrawing? How are we to respond? Is there anything we can do to shape a
society worthy of all children? What can we do as people of faith?
Well, for a start, we can go fly a kite! .....
Read the rest of the sermon here:

by First Parish on June 1st, 2017


by First Parish on May 5th, 2017

Read about the Spring Fair, Dinner & a Movie, and our Annual Meeting here: 

by Pamela M. Barz on April 2nd, 2017

           At our monthly meeting of the Scituate clergy this past Tuesday, we were introducing ourselves to Estelle Margarones, the new minister at First Trinitarian Congregational Church.  In addition to the usual information – name, the church you serve, how long you’d been in Scituate, we each said something we were passionate about in our ministries.  I talked about helping people within the church and outside it to transform their lives and the world.  And all my colleagues, more or less, named the same thing!  None of us is in ministry to convert people to our particular understanding or faith tradition.  All of us are working to help people, inside and outside our congregations, find connection, healing, and ways to use their gifts.  I commented on this theme when we’d gone around the table, and Bob Schipul, the interim minister at Christ Lutheran Church, I thought, raised his hand.  We don’t usually raise hands to be called on, but I said, “Yes, Bob?”  And his hand just went up higher.  Everyone else around the table was nodding, and I finally realized that Bob didn’t just have one arm up in the air; he had the other arm stretched out.  Since I clearly wasn’t getting it, he explained, “like the cross – we connect with God and with each other; not one or the other.”  I thought it was a lovely image of faith for those for whom the cross is a powerful symbol, but since it’s not a symbol I use, I started wondering if there was a gesture which could sum up our stance. 

            What would a UU pose look like?  I turned to some of our First Parish yoginis to help me.  Milena Davidova responded to my email, and we started to work out together a UU yoga pose.   I liked the arm out to connect, but since I don’t believe in a God up in the sky, the arm pointed up needed to move.  What about outstretching it too?  Pointing with the first arm?  No – that narrows our perspective and limits our reach and our embrace.  Pointing downward indicating our connection with the earth?  Perhaps.  But Milena and I settled on reaching it behind.  That direction indicates our welcome of all people; and if many of us find the presence of God in the world around us and in our connections with other people, that arm still points us to the divine, just with a different point of reference.  The arms also point ahead and behind, tying us to our past but pointing us to the future. Like the words “aspire” and “beacon” in our vision statement.  They point us to the future but also remind us of our past history, when our church spire was a beacon of safe harbor to ships at sea.  We want to bring our past with us into our future; the words and the outstretched arms remind us to do that.  
So there are the arms.  Now the feet?  The stance needs to be wide, rooted.  But should they point ahead?  Or outward?  And the gaze?  Should the eyes look ahead or outward?  Milena showed me that as UUs we didn’t have to settle on one position – she saw it not as an either/or but as a flow – and how UU is that?!  So here’s our UU yoga flow – a movement between Warrior 2, gathering up the past but pointing us forward, and the five-pointed Star pose, embracing all here and now.  And what lovely symbolism in the names themselves – Warrior 2, a pose of strength but also of peace; and the Star, shining out, offering not one light but a cosmos of twinkling lights, like all of us, sending out our energy to the world.

            This flow is one way of embodying our liberal religious understanding of the divine present in the everyday world, of human beings inherently good – made of star-stuff - and of our shared call to flow, to fight, to stand, to help all people be rooted in that strength and that love.

  Thank you, Milena, for demonstrating the poses and the flow and for holding them for so long – that’s not easy – try it at home!   And it’s not easy to live it out in the world today.  So often we get pushed into just looking backward or forward.

Take the song the choir sung earlier about Bonnie Prince Charlie.  I assumed that the song was written around the time of the events it remembers:  how in 1745, Charles Stuart, a descendent of James II of England who had been deposed from the throne in the Glorious Revolution, traveled through Scotland and England, gathering up an army to overthrow King George II and restore his family to the throne.  He actually won some battles, but his army was defeated in the Battle of Culloden.  After the battle the prince fled to the Isle of Skye disguised as a maidservant, and from there returned to France, where he tried without success to gather the funds for another invasion.  He died in Italy 43 years later, embittered and alcoholic, but the image that lives on is of the handsome Young Pretender.  After the Battle of Culloden, the English dismantled the Scots system of clans which had ordered their families and their country, making it illegal to wear your clan tartan, play the bagpipe, or speak Gaelic.  So this mournful song about the “lad born to be king” who would come again seemed a natural outcome of the loss and devastation which followed the uprising.  But when Beth suggested singing it and I began to think how it would fit in with the service, I did some research and found that The Skye Boat Song was written nearly 150 years later and by an English Baronet!  How’s that for looking backwards – and to a past that never was!   The song was a product of a general wave of nostalgia in the second half of the 19th century.  As the Industrial Revolution reshaped society, strange alliances were formed.  The well-to-do and powerful mourned the clear distinctions of the former times; the poor mourned the loss of jobs to machines and the emptying of farms to factory cities.  The chivalry of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the valiant Highlanders who supported his lost cause became a metaphor for all that they were losing, regardless of whether they were Scots or not.

            And if their sense of loss and displacement sounds familiar, perhaps it’s because nostalgia has once again spread its warm, sepia tint over our view.   Once again our fears for the future have made many mourn for an idealized past – one of plentiful good jobs paying decent wages, of strong families, safe and welcoming communities, of the American dream making each generation more successful than the last.  Of course that never held true for all people at all times, especially for those not of European ancestry.   But those who did experience those benefits may feel like a time traveler transported from a lush valley to a barren desert.  “What happened?”  and “How can I get back?” are the natural human response.

            There is no easy response, no simple path to a society where all, not just a few, have work which feeds our sense of worth and dignity and also feeds, houses, and clothes our bodies.   Trying to go back to some imagined past won’t do it.  Jumping into an imagined future whatever it may be doesn’t help here and now either.  This though tends to be our Unitarian Universalist downfall.  We often minimize the way things aren’t working in the present so that we can see ourselves as on our way faster to our hoped for future.  I think this might have contributed to the recent problems at the UUA – the president and high level staff wanted to see their institution as healthy, so that rather than do the work around them that needed to be done, they could leap on to the more exciting work of getting others to transform their structures. 

            But we can’t get to the future we want if we don’t prepare the way here and now – doing the inner work, the close to home work, sometimes the boring and unglamorous work, of making sure our systems are healthy.  Though it didn’t turn out to be boring, this is the work our Vision and Mission Team is doing.  We are making sure we are clear about who we are, where we hope to go, and how we will get there.  And doing this work will direct our efforts toward that future more effectively than merely trying things that sound good but may not be in line with that envisioned end.

            Robert Louis Stevenson’s re-working of The Skye Boat Song gives us an example of how the future may build on a clear-eyed view of the present and the past.  He wrote his version a few years after the publication of the English Baronet’s verses, during that same period of nostalgia for a past that had never been.  But his differs sharply from the earlier one.  That one is told from the perspective of one of the defeated Highlanders and the final verse, which our choir didn’t sing, goes:   
Burned are their homes - exile and death
Scatter the loyal men;
Yet ere the sword cool in the sheath
Charlie will come again!

Stevenson’s poem offers the perspective of Charlie himself, no longer the young, bonnie prince, but the later disappointed adult in exile.  He wishes he could have again that younger self’s optimism and hope but recognizes that time as ended.  “All that was good, all that was fair,/ All that was me is gone,” ends this version.  And while this is version is more poignant than the earlier one, it also offers hope in a way that the first nostalgic song doesn’t.  For those who sang “Charlie will come again!” knew full well that Charlie will never come again.  But “all that was me is gone” is true of every age – not just Prince Charlie – each of us individually and communally are never the persons and institutions we were.  Only when we realize we must go forward from that knowledge rather than backward, can we flow to the future.  Perhaps if the real Prince had had the wisdom of the poetic one, his life would have had a happier ending, not as the restored King of England and Scotland, but living fulfilled in the circumstances that were his. 

This is the practical and spiritual tension we try to live in as Unitarian Universalists.  We don’t look to the past as a time of salvation or of glory; we look to the present to make sure our beliefs and our actions take their shape from the way things are.  And from that present, we flow toward the future.  These are the postures that give shape to our faith.
How shall we flow from here?
- Pamela M. Barz 

Readings
 
Sing Me a Song of a Lad that is Gone (1892) by Robert Louis Stevenson
Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul:
Where is that glory now?

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that’s gone!

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.
Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

From Nostalgia and Its Discontents by Svetlana Boym
The twentieth century began with utopia and ended with nostalgia. Optimistic belief in the future became outmoded, while nostalgia, for better or worse, never went out of fashion, remaining uncannily contemporary. !e word “nostalgia” comes from two Greek roots, nostos meaning “return home” and algia “longing.” I would define it as a longing for a home that no longer exists or has never existed.Nostalgia is a sentiment of loss and displacement, but it is also a romance with one’s own fantasy.
…..[N[ostalgia appears to be a longing for a place, but it is actually a yearning for a different time—the time of our childhood, the slower rhythms of our dreams. In a broader sense, nostalgia is a rebellion against the modern idea of time, the time of history and progress. The nostalgic desires to turn history into private or collective mythology, to revisit time like space, refusing to surrender to the irreversibility of time that plagues the human condition…. [And] nostalgia, … is not always retrospective; it can be prospective as well.The fantasies of the past, determined by the needs of the present, have a direct impact on the realities of the future. The consideration of the future makes us take responsibility for our nostalgic tales.


by First Parish on March 30th, 2017

Read about our Easter worship, celebration dinner, and other services, programs, and activities here:

by Pamela M. Barz on March 12th, 2017

     A modern comedian, an ancient Persian queen, and a Kenyan environmentalist walk into a bar – not quite, but my sources for this morning’s sermon do sound like the beginning of a joke.  What else could bring together Maggie Rowe, actress, comedy writer, and author of the new spiritual memoir Sin Bravely: My Great Escape from Evangelical Hell; Esther, one of only two women to have a book of the Bible named for her and the hero of the Purim story for saving her people; and Wangari Maathei, winner of the Nobel Peace prize for her work in the Green Belt Movement in Kenya?

     I guess the punchline is “Ubuntu.”  Last week I began a Lenten sermon series – something I’ve never tried before – reflecting on this concept and what it might mean for us today.  Ubuntu is a Bantu word meaning “humanity” and sums up African philosophy that a universal bond of sharing that connects all humanity or as the Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee defined it: “I am what I am because of who we all are.”

     Ubuntu offers a contrast to our customary western focus on the individual.  Individualism tells us that meaning is found in my own life; Ubuntu says that we find meaning together.  The concept of Ubuntu is present in all religions, just not often emphasized.  Maggie Rowe’s memoir shows the downside of individualized religion.  The story of Esther and the real life actions of Wangari Maathei show the power of Ubuntu.  “I am because we are, and because we are, I am.” 

      Maggie Rowe’s memoir opens with her at age 19 checking into a Christian psychiatric center.  After a dozen years of living with the terror that she was going to go to hell, she’d had a breakdown.  When she was six years old her Sunday school teacher told the class that

 “if we denied Jesus we would be condemned to an eternity in hell; that God would say to unbelievers on Judgement day, Depart from me.  I do not know you, and then toss them into a fiery pit, where there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth forevermore…..
[Then] Miss Trimly, satisfied that she had sufficiently spooked her charges, assured our trembling group we didn’t’ need to be afraid because God had also given us an unconditional gift.  A gift called grace.  The only string was we had to accept it by saying the Sinner’s Prayer:  Dear Jesus, I believe in You and accept You into my heart as my personal savior.  Please forgive my sins and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.
I said the prayer.  Of course I did.
But what if I didn’t really mean it? 
So I concentrated and said it again.
And again.
But my mind wouldn’t rest.  Maybe I’d gotten it wrong.  I’d been wrong before.  Plenty of times.  Like in math class, when I was sure that five minus four was nine so I wrote down nine on the test.  But I was wrong.  I had confused subtraction with addition.  What if the same type of thing was happening now?”

     She talked to her parents and her pastor but no one could reassure her that she was truly saved.  Over and over she imagined what an eternity of torment without anyone she loved would be like.  A breakdown in her sophomore year of college leads her to Grace Point Psychiatric Institute where at last a psychiatrist helps her to understand and accept the boundlessness of God’s love. 

     As I read the book though, I kept thinking what a waste all her angst was.  Nothing in the sermons or teachings she gives us highlights the deep Christian message of caring for the least among us or loving our neighbor as oneself.  In fact one of the counselors at the institute actively interferes when the patients try to support one another in their group therapy sessions.  What if she had learned this understanding of her religion?  How might this devout comedian have used her faith to make the world better as, say, Stephen Colbert uses his Roman Catholicism to point out discrepancies in our society?  What might she have learned from the story of Esther?

     Esther was sitting pretty.  She was the favorite wife of the king.  She had a beautiful Persian name – Esther means star – hiding her Hebrew name of Hadassah.  No one knew she was one of the Jews, and even if Haman’s plot hadn’t been foiled it’s likely that she could have kept her secret and survived the massacre or pleaded mercy from the king if her identity had been revealed.  So from the short-term point of view of Esther’s individual life, trying to save the people was not in her interest.  Instead of under the radar, she put herself into the king’s presence – that act alone could have meant her death, since the king hadn’t asked her to come in. And then she aligned herself with her people – so that if the king didn’t overturn his decree she was now sure to be part of the punishment.  And why did she do this?  Ubuntu.  Or in more appropriate words, because she understood herself as part of the people of Israel.  Judaism is not about the individual; it is about being part of a people.  In Judaism, the people have a covenant with God.  In Christianity, the understanding has shifted to see the covenant as between God and the individual.  So for Esther, if the people perished, she would perish whether her body lived or not.  She was because they were; they were because she was.

     Wangari Maathai considered herself a Roman Catholic; she was taught by nuns in her native Kenya and was always grateful for the education they gave her.  But her earliest spirituality came from her mother who taught her about the connections with the ancestors and the earth and that the connection was embodied in the fig tree which was sacred to her people.  She was taught not to take the wood of the fig tree, not to cut it down, or to burn it.  Later, after attending college and graduate school in the United States, where she earned a masters degree in biology, she returned to Kenya and found that the injunction against chopping down the fig tree carried environmental as well as spiritual wisdom.  For she came back to find that with Kenya’s independence in 1964, farming practices had shifted from small self-sufficient family plots to large farms focused on export crops.  As corporations took over the land, trees were cut down to create more fields.  Wangari Maathai wrote in her autobiography, she now learned that "[t]he trees [had] prevented soil erosion, and when this traditional wisdom was no longer taught, when the idea of the holiness of trees and the biodiversity of the environment was lost, the people suffered. Women especially suffered. Forests were burned to make space for cash crops-coffee and tea. Trees that were not native to Kenya were planted because they grew faster, but they did not have a beneficial effect on the environment."  Women now had to walk long distances to collect firewood.  With crops focused on growing coffee for export, children now were malnourished.  Soil erosion led to muddy streams and scarce clean water which led to illness. 

     Wangari Maathei began to think about what she could do to make things better for her people, though as a professor at the Veterinary College in Nairobi, none of these conditions affected her or her children.  But again, thanks to Ubuntu, she saw herself as part of the people, part of the land.  So she began planting seedlings and sharing them.  She worked with others to start the Green Belt Movement which paid women to plant the trees and share the seeds with others, thus empowering women and reforesting the earth.  Because of her work, she was jailed, beaten, her life threatened.  At times she moved from safe house to safe house.  Her husband left her because she was “too strong-minded for a woman.”  But she persisted.  Belts of trees began to recover the land.  Nutrition improved.  So did women’s lives and their ability to participate in all areas of civic life.  In 2004 she received a call from the Nobel committee telling her that they had chosen her to receive the Peace Prize that year for her work.  And how did she respond?  She wept, rejoiced with friends, and planted another tree.   The work went on.        
  
     Usually the stories of Esther and Wangari Maathai are told as the stories of courageous individuals.  Esther, queen “for such a time as this” as Mordecai tells her; Wangari Maathai, with her combination of biological studies, a sense of freedom and possibility from her time in America, and a rootedness in the traditions of her people also was uniquely able to meet the needs of her people.  But that “great woman” approach to history simplifies their stories.  Before Esther went in to meet the king her people prayed and fasted with her for three days.  She needed their strength to have her own.  Wangari Maathai didn’t plant all those trees on her own; the strength of the Green Belt Movement lay in its ability to bring in women across the country to plant trees and share seeds with their neighbors so they could plant trees.   Understanding themselves as part of a people didn’t just give them the vision for what they needed to do; they were able to do what they did only because of the support of their communities.  We need one another. 

      As we look at how we are called to heal and to work in our world, their stories remind us that these questions come to us as a community, not as individuals, and that the response will come from all of us together.  We are not alone.   Each of us was born “for such a time as this.”  And while that gives us the responsibility of acting for the good of all, Ubuntu also lightens the burden that responsibility can be.  For we do not have to do the work by ourselves.  We share it.  Not each of us is called to be an Esther or a Wangari Maathai.  We save the world by praying and fasting, by planting trees and sharing the seeds and joining others to block those who would bulldoze the trees.  Think of our new ministry, the Blue Boat Coffeehouse, which uses music to bring people of all ages together in a safe, sober space and raises money to support community organizations.  You don’t have to run the Coffeehouse to be part of its good work.  Musicians and ticket takers, bakers and publicists, and members of the audience all play their part in its success.  Because each of us is there, the coffeehouse happens.  How can this outlook encourage us as we look at the issues confronting the world today?

     As we look for instance at the defunding of crucial programs in the Environmental Protection Agency, the issues can seem overwhelming.  How can we save the Great Lakes, the Energy Star program, and programs which clean up already polluted sites?  We can start by singing our hopes and our fears together this afternoon, reminding ourselves in that physical way that no one of us carries the song alone; we can fill out postcards which will be there for an action; and then we can connect over coffee and cookies with other south shore Unitarian Universalists to find out what they are doing and how we can work together.  We are not alone. 

     Only misplaced nostalgia leads us to think that we are facing more difficult challenges than people before us faced.  The people who sat in these pews before we were born faced wars, slavery, influenza and polio epidemics; they lived through assassinations of national leaders, hurricanes, and the Great Depression.  Together, they not only supported one another through those times, but they joined with larger circles to work for equal rights for all and for laws protecting those rights; for clean water and air and the laws to protect the earth; for peace and for justice.  We draw on their strength and example, on the strength and example of Esther, of Wangari Maathai, of women and men throughout the ages and across the world who are working still that all may live and thrive.  What will we do that those who come after us will draw on 50 years or 500 years from now?  How will we live our good news that there is no hell to fear in another world? How will we take up our work, the work of humankind, the work of making real the realm of love here and now among us?


by Pamela M. Barz on March 5th, 2017

Though we often don’t think of religious practice in these terms, I’ve come to believe that the purpose of all religious practice at its base is really to help us stay present to the struggles going on around us that we may engage in the struggles to help one another.  This is the idea of ubuntu.   Read the whole sermon here:


by First Parish on March 2nd, 2017

Read the March Newsletter Here:





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