April 23, 2017 ~ Right Relationships & Spiritual Communities

By Art McDonald

You may have heard the story of the growing UU church that decided to purchase an Episcopalian church that was experiencing decline in membership. Although the final moving date had yet to arrive, the UUs asked if they could move some things in as the Episcopalians were still moving out. No problem, responded the Episcopalians, we’ll put a curtain across the altar and you can store all of your things behind the curtain. The UUs did just that. The day before the final closing, as the Episcopalians were in the building for the final cleanup, they got very curious about just what was behind the curtain. Not able to contain their curiosity, they pulled the curtain back and the first thing they spotted was a huge coffee pot! In response to this discovery, one Episcopalian uttered to another, amazing, it’s true, UUs do worship a coffee pot!

This, of course, is one of so many not so flattering jokes about UUism and our religious beliefs, or, if you will, non-beliefs. When I first heard it, I thought, other religionists love to make fun of UUs and our perceived shallow theology. Actually, UUs ourselves often love to make fun of our vast differences from traditional religions – a coffee pot instead of a tabernacle on the altar; perfect!

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April 1, 2017 ~ Moral Revival

By Art McDonald

A week or so ago Melanie and I trekked down on the subway to my old neighborhood, Forest Hills, in Jamaica Plain, to an interfaith clergy meeting (Melanie got in because she’s a bishop, as you know) at my old Catholic Church, which was sold, several years ago, to Bethel AME church (black Methodists.) It’s always pretty emotional for me to be back in the old neighborhood and church buildings where I spent my formative years – baptized, serving as an altar boy, 8 years of parochial schooling, confirmation, and later returning to celebrate my first mass as a priest, then returning years later to bury a grandmother, and both of my parents. On my last visit I preached at my mother’s funeral in 2003, by then a practicing UU minister.

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March 19, 2017 “No Death, No Fear”

By Art McDonald

Some years back I was in a circle with other ministers doing what we call “check ins” – sharing what’s going on in our ministerial and personal lives. One colleague went on to lament that she had done way too many funerals in the last little while and was totally overwhelmed by the experiences, the difficulties, the mourning and sadness, trying to comfort parishioners and offering some solace. When it came to be my turn, I suppose the outlier in the group, I shared that I had recently come back from a funeral in my former church in Pittsburgh and how exhilarated I was by the experience. In fact, I went on, given the option of a funeral to preside over or a wedding, I’ll take a funeral any day! Too long to explain this phenomenon this morning, but suffice to say I think it’s one of the most important rituals a minister can do for congregational members in a time of sadness and grief and loss. But lest you go away this morning thinking this morning’s pulpit person has a strange take on life and ministry, where did Julie get him, I’ve also greatly enjoyed many of the weddings over the years I’ve had the privilege to witness.

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March 12, 2017 ~ Search for TRUTH: A UU Path

By Art McDonald

While still doing Catholic ministry in the Bronx around 1980 I began reading a book entitled: THE WAY of all the EARTH (John Dunne, a Catholic theologian). It began with the following words: “Is a religion coming to birth in our time? It could be. What seems to be occurring is a phenomenon we might call “passing over,” passing over from one culture to another, from one way of life to another, from one religion to another. Passing over is a shifting of standpoint, a going over to the standpoint of another culture, another way of life, another religion. It is followed by an equal and opposite process we might call “coming back,” coming back with new insight into one’s own culture, one’s own way of life, one’s own religion. The holy man of our time, it seems, is not a figure like Gotama, or Jesus, or Mohammed, a person who could found a world religion, but a figure like Gandhi, a person who passes over by sympathetic understanding from his own religion to other religions and comes back again with new insight into his own. Passing over and coming back, it seems, is the spiritual adventure of our time.”(ix)

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February 5, 2016 Hospitality to All

By Art McDonald

There are times, I presume, in most all of our journeys when certain events change our perspectives and even our lives; maybe even transform us. I’ve had a few of those times: in the military, in Peru, meeting MS Melanie (“The bishop”), finding UU, coming to Essex, etc. One other such time was while doing ministry in the Bronx in 1980.

In March of that year, the archbishop of El Salvador was murdered while celebrating mass. Then, in December, 4 church women, 3 nuns and a lay Catholic, were brutally raped and murdered because of their work and solidarity with El Salvador’s poor. We, especially in the Catholic community of religious, many of us who had spent time in Latin America and were transformed by that experience, were devastated and angered. Devastated that such a cruel and brutal thing could happen to such loving and dedicated religious women, and angered that our own government was supplying support and arms to a vicious Salvadoran government that was serving the interests of Salvadoran elites, the wealthy few, by suppressing calls for change on the part of the poor masses. The Salvadoran government had ordered these murders, history later showed, and military people carried them out. Once again our political leaders were on the wrong side of God’s people.

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February 12, 2017 “Womanist Ethics” (1/16/05; 031812)

 

By Art McDonald

Celebrating women’s history month I am reminded of a recent piece of Black folk wisdom concerning the Civil Rights’ Movement: “If Rosa Parks had not sat down, Martin King would not have stood up.”

In 1978 I was just ordained and doing a year of extra study at Union Theological Seminary in NY City. In a class I was taking with a brilliant feminist theologian, Beverly Harrison, throughout the term I sat next to the only African-American in a class of about 15. She was also female. There were not a lot of minority students at Union in those days. Katie was very down to earth, warm and friendly, more than a little timid. She was easy to talk with and I liked her a lot. One of the reasons I sat next to her was that I felt a wee bit intimidated, myself, in this rather high-powered, elite Divinity School. Katie offered me security. Despite our divergent backgrounds, she a black female from the rural South, I a white male from the urban Northeast, we had the following in common: we were outsiders at this elite, mostly male and Protestant school. There were not many more Catholics than Blacks at Union. Furthermore, neither Katie nor I had gone to elite colleges like the majority of students at Union many of whom were from Harvard, Yale and Princeton. Both Katie and I had attended small, parochial schools, reflective of our cultural, religious and class backgrounds. Neither of us felt smart enough to be at Union, so we hardly ever said anything in class, except to one another. Katie went to an all-Black college in NC, Barber-Scotia College. When I was asked where I went to college, this first generation college graduate would explain by saying oh Providence College, a small Catholic school cross town from Brown; at least it was within a few miles of the halls of ivy!

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December 4, 2016 Mysticism, Resistance, Transformation and Native (First) American Spirituality

By Art McDonald

On one of my recent trips to Pittsburgh I was asked to lead a two-day retreat for about 50 social activists associated with a peace and justice organization, where I once worked, called the Thomas Merton center, a center named after a Catholic monk who spent the last years of his life reflecting upon and writing about issues of social concern. I entitled the retreat and shaped my reflections on the topic of “Mysticism, Resistance and Social Transformation.” You might say the aim of the retreat was to offer some thoughts about how to maintain social activism for the long haul without burnout, i.e., how to work on a spiritual foundation, prayer, meditation and reflection, as a way to ground our life of activism.

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November 2, 2016 Cry, Heal, Hope and Act

 

By Art McDonald

I have been in Pittsburgh a few times over the last month, leading a weekend retreat for activists on the topic of Mysticism and Social Transformation, giving a talk on a history-writing project I’ve been asked to do for a group of activist priests, and I taught a class at the Univ. of Pittsburgh Law School on Community Organizing and the Law. After the class one of the students wanted to talk about a research paper he was writing for the class on the role of Law and the Church Sanctuary Movement of the 1980s, when religious organizations across the country harbored undocumented refugees, mostly from El Salvador, who were fleeing for their lives from a brutal civil war in that country.

What was great about this is that I was heavily involved in this movement in Pittsburgh, as a local Mennonite churched voted unanimously to declare their church a sanctuary, even though the concept which protected churches from prosecution in the Middle Ages, was not recognized in U.S. law, thus the church was in violation of immigration law. So I was able to give this student the names of several other people in Pittsburgh who were active in this effort whom I had worked with closely.

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Proclaim 01-01-17 ~ A Jubilee Movement

By Art McDonald

 

“On Jan. 1, 1863, supporters of the abolition movement gathered at churches all over Boston, where programs of oratory, hymns, poetry, and song celebrated the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation … in attendance at the Music Hall (on Winter Street) and nearby Tremont Temple were members of Boston’s oldest performing arts organization, the Handel and Hayden Society. To a crowd of 6,000, they sang a program including “The Night is departing,” from Mendelssohn’s “Hymn of Praise,” and “Hallelujah” chorus from Handel’s “Messiah.”

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Proclaim11-20-16 ~ Family, Values and Thanksgiving

By Art McDonald

 

I thought last Sunday was a challenging time to preach; then I began to prepare for this Sunday and realized that there is no more challenging time to preach than on Sundays close to holidays. Not only are holidays often somewhat mixed for people, some of whom can’t wait til they are over, but holidays often bring up the question of family gatherings, for some, wonderful, for others difficult at best, or, worse, some simply  choose to avoid them.

One of the most embellished stories of Thanksgiving and family for me and Melanie occurred in Pittsburgh, around 1995.  The brother closest to me in age, whom I grew up pretty tight, and who died some 15 years ago, lived in Northern Virginia at the time and he called to say he, his wife and 3 of his four kids, then young adults, and a soon to be son-in-law, wanted to come to Pittsburgh for Thanksgiving, stay til late Saturday afternoon, and see the City. Wonderful, we replied, can’t wait.

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