Thinking Things

By Alison Reiheld

The story by Terry Bisson presents an interesting kind of question: what kinds of things are capable of thinking? Do we know them by their works, or what they are made of?  We humans are indeed thinking things.  Indeed, our thoughts about our thinking can be used as a fundamental proof of our own existence.

As Rene Descartes famously said in his Meditations, “I think, therefore I am.”  He said this in the context of examining what we can really know. Suppose, Descartes said, that an evil demon—or, in our modern age, a computer simulation—has manufactured for me illusory sensations.  I then could not trust my sense data about the external world.  I cannot at any point be precisely certain these sensory impressions of the world are true in any sense.  Even if I am not being manipulated, I still cannot be sure how true they are for I can perceive only part of the picture both because I am an individual and because my senses do not perceive all that exists. There are colors I will never see, degrees of translucency I will never perceive, smells I can never detect.  Well, Descartes, said, what then can I know?  Is there anything? We can at least know that if we are deceived, there is something to be deceived. If we are only partial knowers, there is a knower.  If I am thinking, there is a thinker, and I am that thinker. here to read the entire sermon.


For the Beauty of the Earth

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

This is the day the earth has given us. Let us rejoice in its beauty.

Carl Sagan says we are made of star stuff, but Marge Piercy reminds us that we are all of this humble earth, that we are all connected to it as much as every tree or blade of grass.

Mass, like energy, can be neither created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed. The atoms of the earth that make up the rich soil that grow our food were once part of other kinds of life – of plants, of animals. here to read the entire sermon.


Leaving Egypt: Envisioning a New Future

By Rev. Morgan Forrest

Good morning! It is spring, and we are only a few days away from what
most of you know as Passover. In Hebrew, we use the word Pesach. We also
refer to this festival by several other names, such as Chag ha’Aviv, which
means Festival of Spring. And there is Chag ha’Matzot, which means
festival of Matzahs, and if any of you have ever eaten the cardboard we call
matzah, I don’t know why anyone would call it a festival! Some people call
it The Feast Without Yeast. But perhaps the least often heard, yet most
meaningful term we use for this time is, Z'man Cheiruteinu, which means,
the time of our freedom. here to read the entire sermon.


(Un)Holy Mischief

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

Laughter is the best medicine. We’ve all heard it, and to some extent, it is easy to believe at face value. Certainly there are scientific studies done by serious people in lab coats and clutching clipboards, resulting in dull, dry reports that use words like ‘qualitative’ and ‘within vectors of tolerance.” Or some such. There’s nothing like science to take the fun right out of fun.

But laughter is the thing we need when times get tough. Not to dismiss or diminish whatever kind of pain we’re in, but to ease the stress, to let off steam like a pressure valve on one of those old terrifying pressure cooker things. here to read the entire sermon.


The Power of Nope: A View of Religion and Science

By Steve Harvey

Good morning. Our story today begins with a group of kids around a
campfire. It’s a true story. I was around 11 or 12 years old, and the other
kids were about the same age as me. It was a Boy Scout camp. All of us
were from the same small town, and we all knew each other from
school. Most of us even lived in the same neighborhood and played
tackle football together in the big open field – which was on the other
side of the dirt road that ran in front of my house. That night at the
campout we were standing there, trying to warm up by the
fire. Occasionally the wind would change direction, and we’d all kinda
shift around to the other side to try to get away from hot smoke blasting
into our faces. here to read the entire sermon.


Losing King Again: The Whitewashing of his Legacy

By Lauren Lyerla

How does one introduce Dr. King as a subject? Our schools start teaching kids as young as preschool about him, so pretty much everyone knows who he is. But on the other hand, what most of us learn about him is pretty limited, not all that much more than was included in the book Kevin read to us this morning: "A man named Martin Luther King Jr. taught us unyielding compassion. He gave us a dream that all races and creeds would walk hand in hand. He marched and he prayed and, one at a time, opened hearts and saw the birth of his dream in us."

And so it is with losing Dr. King. Most of us know that he was assassinated in the prime of his life. He was only 39 years old when he died on April 4, 1968, in Memphis. James Earl Ray spent the rest of his life in prison for taking Dr. King from us. here to read the entire sermon.


Still, She Persisted

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

“She was warned. She was given an explanation. Still, she persisted.”

Let it be noted that today I quoted United States Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in a sermon.

People who are socialized as female in our culture recognized easily what happened this week when senators from one party voted to silence a senator from the other party. This was about more than stopping uncomfortable words from being spoken into the congressional record: this was about exerting power, flexing muscle, sending a message that uppity behavior would not be tolerated, particularly by women members of the body.

After Warren was formally censured and barred from speaking again, no fewer than four of her male colleagues read the same letter from Coretta Scott King into the record. None of them were opposed, silenced or harassed in any way. here to read the entire sermon.


The Tension Between Reason and Wonder

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

All around us, we are surrounded by wonder, if we only choose to see it. The cold this week has created intricate patterns of frost on windows and metal railings, and the lingering, bent remains of last summer’s tomato plants that never got pulled at the end of the season.

And yet, wonder can have a darker side. Rarely are things as idyllic as we’d like to imagine them to be.

Thunderstorms that light up the night sky can also blow down trees and damage homes. Frost that etches delicate lace on windows and spiderwebs can kill delicate plants and freeze pipes.

Fields of flowers carry pollen and bugs and all manner of things to irritate humans – things that make us sneeze or itch or break out in a rash. here to read the entire sermon.


When Hope is Hard to Find

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

Hope is a thing with feathers, Emily Dickinson tells us. She wrote:

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land,
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me. here to read the entire sermon.


Endurance:  Being a Community of Hope Bound Together by our Why

By Rev. Morgan Forrest

Those of you who were here when I preached on October 9th might remember that I opened by using the St. Louis arch as a metaphor. This morning I would like to talk about the arch again, for just a moment.

Who here can tell us the definition of an arch?  (a curved symmetrical structure spanning an opening and typically supporting the weight of a bridge, roof, or wall above it.)

So that’s the technical definition. Now I would like to share with you the spiritual definition of an arch:  The poet John Ciardi tells us that an arch is “two weaknesses that lean into a strength.” Think about that…. two weaknesses that lean into a strength. here to read the entire sermon.


My Irresponsible Search for Truth and Meaning

By Andy Grizzle

A few weeks ago, I was asked to describe my personal theology - apparently it's a thing they do in seminary.  I said that I had a sense of something larger than all of us, a unifying energy, something beyond our understanding that connected us all in ways that we are able to experience from time to time if we are attentive.  The reply to my answer was, "So you just haven't figured out the rest of it yet?"

And here, I thought I had really nailed it down. here to read the entire sermon.


Finding Center Amid The Storm

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

I chose the theme of “Integrity” for October thoughtfully and with intention, knowing that these were the last weeks in our national presidential election. I had no idea how challenging it would be to consider “integrity” when it is so absent from our daily discourse.

As Unitarian universalists, we are so devoted to the democratic process that we enshrined it as one of our foundational principles. It is, in its very essence, who we are.

And yet, democracy can be messy. Scribes and pundits have likened the democratic process to a sausage factory: we might like the result, but we’re happier not seeing exactly how it’s made. Winston Churchill once famously said that democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the others. here to read the entire sermon.


Our Connections Define Us

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

Our Seventh Tradition reminds us to respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Each week, the news of the world comes to us through a variety of media – through our radios, our television sets, and through our computers and smart phones. We cannot pretend that we are not connected to the world, no matter how tempting it might be to try to unplug and step away.

This week, the world was moved by the image of a small boy in the back of an ambulance in Aleppo, Syria. Covered in dust and mud and blood, he sits alone and in shock as emergency workers scrabble through the rubble of a bombed building to find his mother, father, his two sisters, and his brother. According to news reports,[1] It took workers nearly an hour to get to the little boy, who looks like he is around three or four years old. An hour after he was pulled from the rubble, the rest of the building collapsed completely. here to read the entire sermon.


We're All in this Together

By Lauren Lyerla

One day last month, I found myself feeling really hopeless about the world. It's been rough lately, you know? Between the ugliness of election rhetoric, serious concerns about the potential election outcome, the massacre at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, a promising filibuster and sit-in in Congress that STILL didn't lead to any progress on commonsense gun legislation, and the Utah vs. Strieff Supreme Court decision chipping away at civil liberties, I was feeling pretty low indeed about the future of my country, the nature of humanity, our political system, and more. It all just felt really bleak. here to read the entire sermon.


Are You Awake?

By Mark Fish

Today’s reading is the lyrics to a song called “Halfway home” from a band called Billy Pilgrim and was written by Kristian Bush.

On clear days it’s fast black dead west. Sun on my cheek, fly on my chest. I am one, driving with all the citizens. Halfway to work, halfway home. And the radio says there’s been a terrible accident, somewhere out by the waterway. I do more driving before 8:00 then most people do all day. But the work is honest, the customers human, don’t guess I can ask much more. The kids are in college, my wife is buying every single dress in the store. And me. I’m half way to work, halfway home. And me. I’m half way to work, halfway home. My doctor says my blood in pressuring me. Momma says this love is . . . here to read the entire sermon.


Muslims in Mexico: The Making of 'Merica

By Andy Grizzle

When making my decision to enter the ministry, I contemplated the need to be where the parishioners are – spiritually, socially and physically – and it was clear that I will often need to meet people where they are comfortable, even if I’m not.  As a strengthening practice, I started listening to country music.  I don’t like country music.  I wanted to build a tolerance for things that aren’t my things, aren’t important to me, but are important to someone else.  I have not felt any love growing for the genre, with its Appalachian roots and western themes morphing into the anthem of the white man with a blue collar.  But I can listen to it now, and enjoy it when it’s done well.  And that’s tolerance.  Tolerance is boring.  You sit by and let a thing happen without complaining.  It’s also easy, and not too much to ask. here to read the entire sermon.


Unity: Commitment, not Conformity

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

There are days when ministry can be a real challenge. There are days when I wonder if people hear my
words, whether they listen to the things I say or whether they’re planning their next trip to the grocery
store while I preach.

This year, I have talked about grief – a lot. And grief takes time and it takes different people on different
paths, and people respond differently to it. For some, it is a reason to curl up and hide in bed, and for
others it manifests in anger, combativeness, and putting distance between themselves and others to
minimize the pain of further loss, a kind of “if I leave you before you leave me, it will hurt me less”
mentality. here to read the entire sermon.


Flowers are Dangerous

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

Flowers are dangerous

Love is hazardous

Threatening, even.

Particularly to tyrants.

Love is the thing that overcomes fear and division, and it is the thing that brings us together each week.

It was the subversive message that Norbert Capek preached – that all people had worth and dignity in the eyes of the divine – that was so dangerous to the authority of the Third Reich and caused him to be imprisoned and killed at the hands of Dr. Mengele’s minions. here to read the entire sermon.


Covenants: the difference between social clubs and beloved community

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

What is the difference between a covenanted community and a social club?

Depending on the covenanted community, there might be a lot of pieces of that covenant that look like the requirements for membership in a social club. There might be dues, or an expectation of regular attendance at meetings and an obligation to volunteer time and effort. There may be an expectation of a certain kind of behavior among members. Governance may be locally autonomous, with voluntary association with a larger network of similar groups, with officers elected annually, and regional and national conventions occurring with some regularity. here to read the entire sermon.


Shameless Sex

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

Some  years ago, I started asking every sex educator I met the same question: If you had a room full of clergy, what would you tell us to make us better ministers?  

Now, I asked this question of every big-shot sexuality educator I encountered. I asked Carol Queen of the Center for Sex and Culture in San Francisco, I asked Megan Andelloux from Rhode Island, and Charlie Glickman, and Reid Mihailko and David Jay, and Joani Blank, Alex Morgan and Monique Darling from San Francisco; Laura Antoniou,  and Mollena Williams from New York; Annie Sprinkle, and Tristain Taormino from LA. I talked to academics and activists, sexologists and sex workers, porn stars . . . here to read the entire sermon.


Angry Letters to God

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

Dear God,

Why is life so unfair?

Sometimes it feels like we play by the rules only to get kicked in the teeth by those who
cut in line ahead of us.

Where is the incentive to do the right thing?

That adage “Nice guys finish last?” well, there’s a reason it’s an adage – because a lot
of the time it’s true. Nice guys – the ones who play by the rules, don’t dope, don’t cheat,
the rest of us – we come in second or third or sixth, or last. here to read the entire sermon.


Communication and Connection

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

Communication is the key to connection, and connection is the key to spiritual experience.
Not all experiences of connection are spiritual ones, but I would argue that most spiritual experiences involve a very deep connection, however we define the divine.

When Rev. Claudia Hall led worship in this space a month or more ago, part of what she did was to create a large “word cloud” of people’s experiences of Emerson. What came up more often than almost any other word, was “community.” The word “connection” was also very popular among those asked to describe their experience of Emerson. here to read the entire sermon.


March Madness - Life After Super Tuesday

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

We – America – must figure out how to deal with our mad drunken uncle.

A hundred years ago, it was not uncommon for families to stash their mentally ill or addicted relative in an attic room or an asylum, let out only rarely to minimize the potential for embarrassment. After Super Tuesday’s primary results, though, it appears that America’s mad, drunken uncle is leading in the polls, and his minions are emboldened to the point where they are attacking those with different opinions, religions, or skin color. here to read the entire sermon.


Deadly Expectations

By Rev. Dawn Fortune

The demands and expectations experienced by today’s suburban youth are unlike those pressed upon any previous generation.  

This is the generation that grew up in a world with a competitive application process for pre-school, the children of Boomers or Gen-Xers, wired from day one, their lives playing out online in real time. They have never known a time without the internet. They are unlikely to remember a time before everyone had a cell phone. here to read the entire sermon.


"Who am I, when I'm with you?"

By Rev. Dr. Claudia Hall

Good morning Emerson! Many of you know me, but for those of you who do not, I’m a long-time friend of Emerson Chapel. I’ve been a minister since 2001, and since 2007 I’ve been doing community based work, mostly pastoral care with people questioning the intersection of their faith and their gender or sexual orientation. Those experiences have given me a lot of time to reflect on what makes identity, and it was fabulous to get together a couple of weeks ago with my friend Mark Fish and collaborate on these sermons. If you missed his sermon last week, he spoke about the importance of creating a personal identity, choosing from all of your experiences and preferences the parts that you want everyone to see and those that are reserved for those closest to you. here to read the entire sermon.


"Evolution of Identity"

By Mark Fish

The summer before my 6th grade, I moved from the wooded hills of Maine to the open fields of Iowa. In Maine, I saw myself as an explorer, adventurer and a guide. I lived in a neighborhood used exclusively for Navy families and it was near the woods. New families were always moving into the neighborhood while older families were moving out. After spending all of my elementary school years there, I felt like I knew every pond, every trail, and every tree. I was an outgoing and confident kid, eager to share what I knew with new people moving in. I saw myself as a cub scouter, trumpet player and a tree climber. And then I moved to a small town in one of the flattest parts of Iowa –where I quickly learned that knowledge and skills in sports, farming and cars were valued. I didn’t have any of those attributes and my classmates didn’t see any of those in me. So fitting in was extremely difficult. There weren’t any trails to explore and hardly any trees so I couldn’t be the guide or the adventurer. The only thing of my previous self that I was able to take with me to this foreign land was my identity as a trumpet player. But for the most part, I felt like I lost who I was during that move. I became shy and socially awkward and it was difficult for me to make friends. I eventually found ways to adapt and survive in my new environment and I gradually developed a new identity: I pictured myself as a wolf, a single solitary hunter living alone. I developed an armor of aloofness. I became cocky, independent, and someone who didn’t have to rely on anyone and didn’t care what anyone else thought about me. At least that’s how I wanted to see myself and how I wanted others to see me. first time I stood here before you, I told you a story about a short film by the Three Stooges. In it, Curly encountered a cactus that left spines in his posterior. His two brothers set to removing those quills, one snipping them off at the surface with shears, and the other pulling each quill out with a pair of pliers. I told you then that the work before us would present us with similar choices: to take the easy way, throwing a proverbial fresh coat of paint on the project, or to do the hard work of deep repair. here to read the entire sermon.


"Paths in the Wood"

By Rev. Dawn Fortune, Interim Minister

The first time I stood here before you, I told you a story about a short film by the Three Stooges. In it, Curly encountered a cactus that left spines in his posterior. His two brothers set to removing those quills, one snipping them off at the surface with shears, and the other pulling each quill out with a pair of pliers. I told you then that the work before us would present us with similar choices: to take the easy way, throwing a proverbial fresh coat of paint on the project, or to do the hard work of deep repair. here to read the entire sermon.


"Be It Resolved"

By Rev. Dawn Fortune, Interim Minister

Some years ago, I conducted an informal survey of people I knew. I asked if they made New Year’s resolutions, and if not, I asked why.

Lots of people I talked to said they don’t do resolutions any more. Not on New Year’s anyway.

Too much pressure. They fail and feel bad and give up before Valentine’s Day.

Resolutions are serious business. here to read the entire sermon.


"History: flavor not fate"

By Rev. Dawn Fortune, Interim Minister

How we were made – the ingredients, the method, those early experiences of our lives – matter. Genetics are a science we understand. There was a monk – an Augustinian friar, to be specific – ages ago who charted the characteristics of peas in his garden, carefully cross-pollinating different strains to create predictable results. Gregor Mendel, through patient, deliberate observation and record-keeping, was able to describe for the first time the nature of hereditary genetics. His 19th Century diaries did not have language or concepts for what we know now as DNA and RNA and genomes, he observed that if you pollinated a tall pea plant with pollen from a short pea plant, that the seeds that resulted from that specific match would produce – in predictable numbers – some tall, and some short plants. Later scientists studied human hair and eye color and developed theories about dominant and recessive
genes in the matrix of hereditary traits. here to read the entire sermon.


"The Power of a Sabbath as Spiritual Practice"

By Dawn Fortune, Interim Minister

Let us breathe together. (three deep breaths)

Some time ago, I sat in a little meetinghouse with box pews and a worn pine floor
and listened to a choir sing and a minister preach and we had worship. And it was
good. At one point during the service, I slipped my feet out of my sandals and let
them rest bare on the cool boards of the sanctuary floor while a gentle breeze blew
through the open window, bringing with it the murmur of Commercial Street
coming awake on a warm Sunday morning in July. I was in Provincetown,
Massachusetts. I was visiting a friend who has a small cabin and no internet access,
and it was marvelous. For the first time in weeks, perhaps even months, I felt my
internal batteries begin to recharge. I felt my shoulders relax, the muscles across
my chest uncoiled, my toes seemed to wiggle with a joy all their own. Thus is the
purpose of a Sabbath. here to read the entire sermon.


"Shedding Our Skins"

By Andy Grizzle

When my kids were young, we lived in the woods up in northern Illinois.  It was a great place to build a connection to the earth and her creatures, so I worked on explaining the behaviors of different life in the woods and clearing around us.  Which seems like a good idea until they take the exploration into their own hands.  One afternoon Jason ran back to the house all excited because while flipping over dead logs, he had found a snake – found it and brought it back with him.  He had already named it Sparky.  It was a tiny milk snake, a little baby thing, but as I reached to take it from him it reared back and struck out at me.  I jumped back, but was immediately a little embarrassed to be so frightened of such a skinny, cute child of Mother Nature.  I decided Jason could keep holding it while I explained that it was not good for one to take wild creatures as pets.  We walked down to the extreme far end of the pasture and let sparky go in the low branches of an old hickory tree, so we could “visit” sparky some time in the future, but gosh, look as we might, we never saw sparky again. here to read the entire sermon.


"A Wealth of Blessings"

By Dawn Fortune, Interim Minister

When my godfather died, my aunt and I described him in his eulogy as one of the wealthiest men we ever knew.  Many in his family were shocked to hear such an assessment, having grown up with him working long hours to provide for his wife and five children, working hard to fix up their home, doing all the work himself on nights and weekends.  He drove an old truck, and they never had a new vehicle.  All the kids got jobs as soon as they were able, because there was no money for allowances during those growing-up years.

Yet each Christmas, the house where they lived was teeming from early morning to late at night with people.  Family came from far and wide to sleep on air mattresses and couches, friends came for meals and company, and sometimes because their own homes were not safe or welcoming places to be. here to read the entire sermon.


"Change and Choice"

By Dawn Fortune, Interim Minister

There is a science to change. It has a beginning, middle, and an end. At least that’s what the books all tell us.  I find the notion that there is a process to upheaval to be reassuring.
And like most simple explanations of the human experience, there is truth to it, but the whole answer is far more complex than can be adequately outlined on a motivational poster or in a paperback book in the “Self Help” section of the is meant to be taken." here to read the entire sermon.


"Transformation:  A process, not an event"

By Dawn Fortune, Interim Minister

"The work of an interim is to encourage transformation.  There are a series of specific tasks involved, but I'll save that discussion for another day.  What is important today is for you to get to know a little bit about me and about what my role is.

First, I am a minister.  I perform all the typical duties of a minister: pastoral care, preaching, spiritual direction, teacher, confessor and comforter.  My role is also to encourage, empower and challenge this congregation as it moves from the grief of the loss and changes you've experienced in the past couple of years to a place where you are ready to take your next step as a congregation. here to read the entire sermon.


"Getting to Know Your President"

By Pat Baker

"As many of you know, I am a very shy, private person.  Since I have become the president of this congregation on very short notice, it occurred to me that it might be helpful to tell you something about myself.

I was born in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada January 7, 1943.  For those who need help with math I am 72.  When I was about 6 months old I was adopted and brought to the USA. In 1952 we moved to Clayton MO.  The only way my father got my mother to move here, was to promise that she would never have to spend a summer here, and she never did. here to read the entire sermon.

"News to Me"

By Rev. Julie Taylor

Three years ago I preached a sermon at the Fourth Universalist Society in New York City called "Wearing a Hoodie."  It was a response to the killing of Trayvon Martin. I joined ministers all around New York preaching in hooded sweatshirts that day to remember a 17 year old African American high school student walking home to his father’s house unarmed, when he was killed in Sanford, Florida —shot to death by a white, self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, George Zimmerman. At the time I preached that sermon, Zimmerman had not been charged with any crime. Ultimately he was charged and would be found not guilty of the murder. here to read the entire sermon.


"Turn and Face the Strange: Changes"

By Rev. Julie Taylor

David Bowie’s song, Changes, initially became very important to me my senior year of high school. I was on the senior film team. In my high school we had a film program; now we’re going back to the late 80s so this is not high definition, not even camcorders to VHS, I’m talking about Super 8mm film that gets developed and we spliced by hand and taped together, and to get the soundtrack right you put a tape on and started the film and hoped you caught it at the right time so it would synch. Some of you know what I’m talking about. As part of the senior film team we spent the entire year documenting our final year of high school and debuted the film at our senior banquet in the spring. The theme we chose was David Bowie’s Changes. And so for me this song always means one place, one time, it always takes me back to then. here to read the entire sermon.


"Freeing the Forest Floor" 

By Rev. Krista Taves

"Peace and balance doesn't happen on its own.  It happens because human beings make strategic choices that allow us to take the place that is meant to be taken." here to read the entire sermon.