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The Gift Half Understood

Sunday, April 16, 2017
a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Budd
Easter Sunday, April 16, 2017

READINGS

And when the Sabbath was past, Mary Mag’dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo’me, brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. And they were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?” And loking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back – it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you. And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them, for they were afraid.

- the Gospel of Mark, 16:1 – 8 (Revised Standard Version)

The point of intersection of the timeless

With time, is an occupation for the saint –

No occupation either, but something given

And taken, in a lifetime’s death in love,

Ardour and selflessness and self-surrender.

For most of us, there is only the unattended

Moment, the moment in and out of time,

The distraction fit, lost in a shaft of sunlight,

The wild thyme unseen, or the winter lightning

Or the waterfall, or music heard so deeply

That it is not heard at all, but you are the music

While the music lasts. There are only hints and guesses,

Hints followed by guesses; and the rest

Is prayer, observance, discipline, thought and action.

The hint half guessed, the gift half understood, is Incarnation.

- T.S. Eliot, from part V, “The Dry Salvages,” in Four Quartets

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A Different Kind of Failure

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Palm Sunday for me has long been a day to contemplate the times when an individual or an opportunity comes into your life offering great hope, only to crash and burn at some point, to become an epic failure. Our disappointment does not begin to touch how we feel: hurt, angry, confused, bitter, and even for a time perhaps, the despair of hopelessness. For me, that is how I read the story of Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem with his disciples for the Passover, the event that is acknowledged every Palm Sunday. The story tells of great excitement and anticipation (on the part of a few at least) which, as the week progressed, completely unraveled, until it all fell apart with his arrest and crucifixion.

Even though I know how the story ends, I think it is important to pause it here and spend a moment with a different kind of failure.

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To Be Announced - Rev. Patricia Shelden

Sunday, April 02, 2017
Homily by the Rev. Patricia Shelden

Other than Holiday services, Daniel and I have only shared the pulpit twice before. The first time we talked about the differences in our training and ministries. The second time we discussed Love in Ministry and Marriage and the Meaning of Life. In both services we explained the difference in the training for ministry we received, and our different specialities - Daniel in Parish Ministry, for me Pastoral Care, and Grief and Loss.

With only 3 months left we chose to share the pulpit once more preparing all of us for the separation to come. Every UU minister has used TBA as a sermon title at least once. Usually it is a metaphor for the uncertainty of our lives or the uncertain aspects inherent in planned change. Honestly, my ministry in Loss and Grief is built upon the fact that much of our lives is NOT under our control.

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To Be Announced - Rev. Daniel Budd

Sunday, April 02, 2017
Homily by the Rev. Daniel Budd

READINGS

“Quest”

Seek those who search for Presence,

who have abandoned the old mind games of

Is there? or, Isn’t there? –

who search in the depths for That Which Is.

Seek those who search with open minds –

open to wonder, to majesty, to absence,

to sorrow, to joy, to desire, to change –

who seek the Infinite in finite things,

never ceasing to pray, never ceasing

to be amazed.

“Awakening One Morning”

A gentle morning rain left Spring on the trees,

left the azaleas still glowing,

still glittering through the raindrops,

raindrops scattered here and there on tulip and hyacinth,

dampening the Earth

but not its fragile, indomitable Spirit.

Storms will pass, time will pass, we shall pass

through the orchards and the fields

through all the weathers of our lives

looking to Nature for some spark of recognition,

a reflection of our own nature

in and beyond ourselves,

the fragile, indomitable Spirit we share.

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Music and Spirituality

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

READING

I must despise the world for not perceiving that music is a higher revelation than any wisdom or philosophy. Music is the wine that inspires new creations, and I am the Bacchus, who presses out this wine for men, and makes them spiritually drunk; when they are sober they bring to shore all kinds of things which they have caught. God is nearer to me than to others. I approach him without fear, I have always known him.

- Ludwig Van Beethoven


READING from Frank Zappa

Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is not truth. Truth is not beauty. Beauty is not love. Love is not music. Music is the best.

I have a confession to make from the pulpit today: I consider myself a skeptical agnostic. I am not often prone to emotional outbursts or intense spiritual experiences, and I have never been one to wear my heart or my soul on my sleeve. I have tried on a number of religious hats in my lifetime, and I have not found anything I would consider a perfect fit. In fact, there is only one argument that keeps me from out and out atheism, but it is a very compelling and persuasive argument – in a word, music.

Who among us has never experienced something unexplainable, spiritual…almost magical while listening to or participating in the music of a favorite composer or ensemble? Do spontaneous tears or goose bumps count as magic? How about a shift in mood or outlook that comes unexpectedly, perhaps in spite of stubborn resistance from the conscious self? Has music ever instantaneously transported you to a faraway time or place? That one happens to me all the time.

Music touches and moves me in ways that my humanist, scientific self can neither comprehend nor explain. Music – when done right – can evoke physical and emotional reactions in me that are surprising. I guess the best way I can explain it is that there’s a part of me that comes awake and alive at those moments that remains dormant at all other times. This reaction is at once exhilarating (for obvious reasons) and disconcerting (because, control freak that I am, something both spontaneous and powerful has seized control of my emotional tiller). This can happen while performing (maybe some of you felt a spiritual connection during May Your Life Be As a Song…or “Let me see your Funky Chicken? Okay, how about when singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve?) As a professional musician, a spiritual response to music is more likely to happen for me while I am a listener rather than an active participant, probably because I don’t have to concern myself with any of the technical aspects of the music at those times. More often than not, these ‘spiritual awakenings’ catch me off guard.

Of course, the lyrics or the cultural context of a piece can make a big difference – As an example, I turn to a story from the early career of one Robert Shaw (maybe you’ve heard of him?) After a performance in a shabby industrial town in Tennessee of the Mozart Requiem, which the concert manager had requested the Robert Shaw Chorale not perform because ‘it was too highbrow," a young woman waited for the autograph seekers to depart. "I suppose," she told Shaw quietly, "there are two kinds of people who would understand the Mozart Requiem: those sufficiently skilled in musical materials and literature to appreciate its technical mastery, and those who have lately experienced a deep personal tragedy. I am no musician. Thank you very much."

But I would disagree – at least partially – with that unnamed young woman from the Tennessee hills. I think one needs neither musical expertise nor a recent brush with tragedy to have a deep and meaningful response to music as indescribably beautiful as Mozart’s Requiem. What Mozart wrote – the music itself - is enough.

One could hardly find two more divergent musical thinkers than Ludwig Van Beethoven and Frank Zappa, yet as we heard earlier, both men agreed on the notion that music contains more profound truth and revelation than the collective wisdom of traditional philosophy and religion, a philosophy shared by none other than Robert Shaw who said about music: “it’s an intellectual discipline and a creative act that is about the most wholesome thing that can happen in human life.” Now, one could argue that this unlikely quartet of Shaw, Beethoven and Zappa and well, this guy… all share a sort of professional bias, since music was for them - and is for me - the key to our livelihood and professional life. However, I believe that most professional musicians find it more difficult than the lay person to get in touch with the spiritual side of music. My personal experience goes like this: because I have a professional stake in the music I am rehearsing, directing or performing, it is easy for me to get caught up in the minutiae of technique or get bogged down with that small but crucial part of a piece that is just not quite coming together the way it should. Even in those moments when everything does finally ‘click’, it is difficult to quiet my professional musician’s mind, which is still searching for imperfections to be corrected, trying to catch even the smallest nuances that would most likely be of no concern to the audience.

But even with all of that going on, music has and continues to have the power to touch me in ways that no other human experience can. The right music can send chills up my spine, raise goose bumps on my arms and the back of my neck, or move me to spontaneous tears. Music can even occasionally cause me to enter an almost trance-like state where for a time, I feel as though I am no longer fully connected to my own body, and that is something I’ve never experienced via any of humankind’s other creations. At times like those, I understand why Khalil Gibran called music “the language of the spirit”.

Neurologists (Oliver Sacks, Musicophilia) have recently begun to scratch the surface of understanding how our brains respond to music. They have found, among other things, that although music triggers responses in many different parts of the brain, there seem to be neural circuits that are devoted exclusively to music, which explains why we have some extremely gifted musical savants who are severely limited in language and math, and also explains why there have been stroke victims who lose their ability to use spoken language or other fundamental brain functions, yet remain musically fluent. The social sciences have shown us that certain harmonies and rhythms can facilitate a particular mood within a given group of people (think of prayer music or work songs or military marches), but it’s difficult to measure how much of this effect is due to cognitive predisposition and how much is based on societal norms. On the other hand, scientists have found that when it comes to a particular song, composer, or type of music, the brains of different people react to it in very different ways, depending on each person’s musical tastes. I suppose those findings may have come as a disappointment to any researchers who believed that their own favorite type of music might have been revealed as the truest and best for all of humankind.

Despite our preferences in terms of style, however, human beings are hardwired to understand and appreciate music. Music is an important part of every human culture today, and evidence of music in early humans dates back at least 40,000 years and is found all over the globe. Many scientists and historians have wrangled with a particularly a tough question: why has music remained so central to human existence for so long? It does not shelter us in any physical sense, it does not help us find food or water, it does not protect us from harm – yet it pervades virtually every aspect of our lives. Darwin was clearly puzzled by this. In The Descent of Man, he wrote: “As neither the enjoyment nor the capacity of producing musical notes are faculties of the least use to man…they must be ranked among the most mysterious with which he is endowed”. The experimental psychologist Steven Pinker goes a step further by asking: “What benefit could there be to diverting time and energy to making plinking noises?” He goes on to say that “Music could vanish from our species and the rest of our lifestyle would be virtually unchanged.” I respectfully disagree with Dr. Pinker, and not just because of Einstein, who said of his theory of relativity "it occurred to me by intuition, and music was the driving force behind that intuition. My discovery was the result of musical perception."

Personally, I believe we as a species would find the absence of music very difficult to cope with. Aside from the considerable benefit that music has on our individual psyches, music has a role to play when it comes to fostering love, compassion and overall raison d’etre within society. To paraphrase Professor John Keating, as portrayed by Robin Williams in the 1989 film Dead Poets Society: Medicine, law, business, and engineering: these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life, but ask yourselves this: what is it that we stay alive for?

 

Why does an intense musical experience give me goose bumps, even if it’s 90 degrees outside? Why do tears well in my eyes when listening to a piece of music with which I am so intimately familiar that I know every twist and turn, anticipate every surprise the composer has in store for me long before it arrives?

Am I briefly touching another, deeper world that I cannot reach in any other way? Am I experiencing a taste of the divine? Is music truly "an echo of the invisible world”, as Mazzini wrote?

Perhaps Emerson put it best when he said: “[Music] takes us out of the actual and whispers to us dim secrets that startle our wonder as to who we are, and for what, whence, and whereto.” I know that for me, music’s ‘dim secrets’ are at once puzzling, frightening, and awe-inspiringly beautiful. And that is enough to keep my spiritual fire glowing.

As you listen to (and participate in the final refrain of) our closing song today, Alice Parker and Robert Shaw’s arrangement of the African-American Spiritual “Deep River”, I encourage you to let the music wash over you and find its way deep into your consciousness. To put it another way, I would borrow a phrase from Dr.Shaw himself and urge you to “invite the miracle”.

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The Way of Integrity

Sunday, March 05, 2017
a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Budd

READING

All things arise from the Way of Life (Tao);

they are nourished by Integrity (Te).

Their own being shapes them;

their own energy completes them.

Thus the ten thousand things all respect the Way and honor Integrity.

Respect of the Way and honor of Integrity are not demanded

because such respect is simply in the nature of things.

Therefore all things arise from the Way,

And by Integrity they are nourished,

Developed, cared for,

Sheltered, comforted,

Grown, protected.

Creating without claiming,

Doing without taking credit,

Guiding without interfering,

This is called “mysterious integrity.”

- Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, adapted from several translations

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The Search That Has No End

Sunday, February 26, 2017
a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Budd

READING

Care of the soul is not a project of self-improvement nor a way of being released from the troubles and pains of human existence. It is not at all concerned with living properly or with emotional health. These are the concerns of temporal, heroic, Promethean life. Care of the soul touches another dimension, in no way separate from life, but not identical either with the problem solving that occupies so much of our consciousness. We care for the soul solely by honoring its expressions, by giving it time and opportunity to reveal itself, and by living life in a way that fosters the depth, interiority, and quality in which it flourishes. Soul is its own purpose and end.

To the soul, memory is more important than planning, art more compelling than reason, and love more fulfilling than understanding. We know we are well on the way toward soul when we feel attachment to the world and the people around us and when we live as much from the heart as from the head. We know soul is being cared for when our pleasures feel deeper than usual, when we can let go of the need to be free of complexity and confusion, and when compassion takes the place of distrust and fear. Soul is interested in the differences among cultures and individuals, and within ourselves it wants to be expressed in uniqueness if not in outright eccentricity.

Therefore, when in the midst of my confusion and my stumbling attempts to live a transparent life, I am the fool, and not everyone around me, then I know I am discovering the power of the soul to make a life interesting. Ultimately, care of the soul results in an individual “I” I never would have planned for or maybe even wanted. By caring for the soul faithfully, every day, we step out of the way and let our full genius emerge. Soul coalesces into the mysterious philosophers’ stone, that rich, solid core of personality the alchemists sought, or it opens into the peacock’s tail – a revelation of the soul’s colors and a display of its dappled brilliance.

- Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul (1992)

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To Touch Inward Springs

Sunday, February 05, 2017
a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Budd

READING

The great end in religious instruction is not to stamp our minds upon the young, but to stir up their own;

Not to make them see with our eyes, but to look inquiringly and steadily with their own;

Not to give them a definite amount of knowledge, but to inspire a fervent love of truth;

Not to form an outward regularity, but to touch inward springs;

Not to bind them by ineradicable prejudices to our particular sect or peculiar notions,

But to prepare them for impartial, conscientious judging of whatever subjects may be offered to their decision;

Not to burden the memory, but to quicken and strengthen the power of thought;

Not to impose religion upon them in the form of arbitrary rules, but to awaken the conscience, the moral discernment.

In a word, the great end is to awaken the soul, to excite and cherish spiritual life.

- the Rev. Dr. William Ellery Channing, Discourse before the Sunday School Society in Massachusetts, 1837 (adapted as a responsive reading, #652 in Singing the Living Tradition, 1993.

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What Is

Saturday, January 21, 2017
a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Budd

READINGS

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But If God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek all these things; and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well.

Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.

- Matthew 7:25-34 (RSV)

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Tradition!

Sunday, January 08, 2017
a sermon by the Rev. Daniel Budd

READINGS

I.

…Mr. Gannett tells us that the denomination first took its stand on “reason and revelation,” but it had to move on. Later it took its stand at the supernatural or the miraculous; but it had to move on. Later still it made another stand at the Lordship of Christ, but again it was compelled to move on. Now the stand is made at Christian theism, but once more, he says, we must move on. Move on where?...

The fact seems to be, there is nothing about which there is more mental confusion than about this whole moving on idea…. If I am faced toward the edge of Table rock, Niagara, I can safely move on for a distance – move on until I am within 20 feet of the edge, 15 feet, 10, feet, 5 feet, 2 feet, 1 foot – but if I move on much beyond that it will be the last moving on I shall be likely to do in this world. So a religious body may move on for a time toward the edge of religion – nearer and nearer the edge – but what if it moves off? Our Unity friends have got us to the place where they want us as a body to move on and move off historic Unitarianism – move off Christianity; move all theism; they tell us if we will we shall find a religion of ethics which will be better….

- the Rev. Jabez T. Sunderland, 1886

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