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I just returned from a three-day retreat at the Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center in Hiawatha, Iowa (just north of Cedar Rapids). I was there with a group of ministers from around the Prairie Star District for the annualcosmic walk, evolution, cosmos, retreat center retreat of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association‘s PSD chapter. I’ve wanted to visit Prairiewoods for quite sometime because, according to my research, it’s one of the nicest retreat center’s in Iowa. According to their website, Prairiewoods is “focused on ecology and spirituality (or, as we call it, ecospirituality),” which fits in well with our UU values, especially our Seventh Principle and our Sixth Source. At any rate, I didn’t get to see much of Prairiewoods’ 70 acres of prairie and woodlands, but I did get to go on the Cosmic Walk they’ve set up.

The Cosmic Walk is a series of markers along one trail which “tells the story of the 14-billion-year journey of evolution.” It starts with “the Great Flaring Forth of the Emerging Universe” some 13 to 14 billion years ago, and ends, simple with “Consciousness Changing,” somewhere in the (I hope) not too distant future. In between there are markers that indicate when “Our Sun and Planetary System” formed, when “Multi-Cellular Species” first appeared on earth, and when the “First Humans” showed up. It was a wonderful way to begin my last morning at Prairiewoods.

The Cosmic Walk reminded me of inspiring work Michael Dowd and Connie Barlow have done to bring “The Great Story” to life all over the country, especially the “Great Story Beads,” which are “a symbolic representation of the 13.7 billion year epic of Cosmos, Earth, Life, and Humanity.” At any rate, for a really nifty glimpse of what 13.7 billion light years looks like, check out this video:


I had the good fortune of visiting our congregation in Duluth, Minnesota a couple of weeks ago to do a workshop on youth ministry. The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Duluth has moved into a new building that is seriously green…both in color and in philosophy. And there’s a great article in the today’s Duluth News Tribune that tells you all about it: (“Duluth Congregation Builds Environmentally Friendly Church“). You’ll find a nifty slideshow there that shows some of the highlights of their green design.

UUCD Sanctuary

One of the reasons I’d like to see more ministers blogging is that it can help demystify what ministry is all about. Some of the best minister/bloggers out there seek to make transparent the processes behind much of what they do: from planning the liturgical year to writing their weekly sermons. And in the spirit of true blogging, they even actively solicit feedback on what they’re up to. So…I thought I’d take a moment to share a sermon project that I’m currently working on. You see, since I don’t preach in the same place every Sunday, I have the luxury of writing only one or two sermons a year. And with two preaching gigs coming up right after the new year (January 6 in Saint Cloud, Minnesota, and January 13 in Northfield, Minnesota), I figured that I’d better get working on a new sermon.

I’ve already come up with a title and a blurb (something congregations always ask for, sometime several months in advance, other times the week before my visit). I’m calling it “Starting Small,” and the blurb goes something like this:

Sometimes it seems UUs believe that the bigger the idea, the better. But when it comes to building the Beloved Community, starting small makes much more sense.

Of course, often times the title and the blurb end up having nothing at all to do with the actual sermon (which is why “Something about [fill in the blank]” is the best sermon title imaginable!), but in this case, I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I want to preach about, and it does include the notion of starting small rather than big. So here’s my line of thinking as of today.

Unitarian Universalists do, indeed, love big ideas. Our Universalist forebears had the audacity to believe–and unashamedly promote–the big idea that God was just too loving of a being to condemn anyone to eternal damnation. In fact, Universalism has often been described as “the biggest word in the English language.” And even when humanist Unitarian Universalists remove God from the equation, our ideas remain just as grand, if not grander. Consider this vision of the future from Humanist Manifesto II (which was signed by such notable UUs a Khoren Arisian and William Schulz):

The next century can be and should be the humanistic century….We have virtually conquered the planet, explored the moon, overcome the natural limits of travel and communication; we stand at the dawn of a new age, ready to move farther into space and perhaps inhabit other planets. Using technology wisely, we can control our environment, conquer poverty, markedly reduce disease, extend our life-span, significantly modify our behavior, alter the course of human evolution and cultural development, unlock vast new powers, and provide humankind with unparalleled opportunity for achieving an abundant and meaningful life.

Phew! Why not throw in world peace while you’re at it. Which is, of course, exactly what we did in our relatively down-to-earth Principles and Purposes, where we couldn’t help but include such grandiose concepts as “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all.” Heck, even Prairie Star’s mission statement gets into the game when it proclaims that “The purpose of the Prairie Star District is to work to achieve…a world which lives by UU principles.”

But there’s a downside to these big ideas. If we stare too long into the bright and shiny future they present, we can lose our ability to see the less spectacular (but no less important) opportunities to change the world that are right in front of us.

(Okay, so that’s where I am at the moment. More on this sermon as it develops!)

The Lifespan Faith Development Staff Group’s presentation at LREDA Fall Conference included a breakdown of the various outcomes for each of the “strands”: Ethical Development, Spiritual Development, Unitarian Universalist Identity, and Faith Development. While admitting that the strands are, indeed, overlapping (interwoven), there are some specific outcomes in each individual strand. For this post I’d like to share with you the Goals and Elements of the Ethical Development strand:

This particular strand is built on the fourth and third components of the LFD Staff Group’s Vision Statement, “Nurturing children, youth, and adults who…”

  • Realize that they are moral agents, capable of making a difference in the lives of other people, challenging structures of social and political oppression, promoting the health and well-being of the planet, acting in the service of diversity, justice and compassion, and
  • Accept that they are responsible for the stewardship and creative transformation of their religious heritage and community of faith.

The Goals are

  • To live out one’s values
  • To want to make the world a better place
  • To be passionate seekers of justice and peace
  • To be good stewards of the environment, and
  • To have a moral basis for deciding right and wrong

The Elements include

  • Values, ethics, character development
  • Right relationship/right action
  • Stewardship and citizenship
  • Acceptance/affirmation/celebration of diversity
  • AR/AO/MC understanding and action (anti-racism/anti-oppression/multicultural)
  • UU heritage of moral agency

I’ll post more on the other outcomes in the next few days–and I’ll put together a rundown of release dates for future Tapestry of Faith curricula.

I’ve added a few more photos to my GA 2007 set here. I am sorry that I left a little early (about half way through GA proper), but I have to confess that a week away from the family is getting harder and harder to bear. When you have a two-year-old boy (or girl) change happens pretty quickly, and Henry David was a discernibly different little fellow when I saw him on Saturday morning than he was the Sunday before. In case you don’t know how much travel a district staff job entails, here’s a quick rundown: four days away in August for a Board/Program Council retreat, five days away in October for the LREDA Fall Conference, six days away late November/early December for the Big Complex Meeting of District Staff, five days away in February or March for the Mid-America District Staff group meeting in Ghost Ranch, Arizona, six days away in April for the Prairie Star District Annual Meeting and religious professionals’ retreat, (which reminds me: four days away in October for the PSD UUMA Chapter retreat in Windom, Minnesota), and finally, seven days away in June for General Assembly, including the pre-GA business of a day of District Staff meetings, plus UUMA Ministry Days or LREDA Professional Day or UU University. If I’m doing my math right, that’s thirty-seven days a year away from home, and that’s before setting foot in a single congregation.

I’m not complaining, mind you. It’s just that what may seem to be a extraordinary opportunity (like going to GA every year) might also be seen as a stressor on one’s family system. Fortunately, both the UUA and the Prairie Star District have been wonderfully kind and have allowed me to reduce my hours to three quarters time for the last year and a half, and I’m hoping to keep working at that level for the next three years. Unfortunately, this hasn’t reduced my travel requirements by a quarter. If it did, I’d have only twenty-seven or twenty-eight days of required meetings. Maybe somewhere in all of this is a case for fewer required days away, in the interest of being family-friendly and in the interest of making this work more sustainable.

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