Whose Are We? Rev. Mark Stringer

The Rev. Mark Stringer , guest minister from the UU church of Des Moines was our visiting minister this Sunday, during Rev. Eva Cameron’s sabatical. This year the UU Minister’s Association is inviting ministers and congregations to share theological reflection and conversation based on the question “Whose are We”? As UU’s we are not expected to answer or (even understand!) this question the same way and yet, it strikes your guest minister as provocative, nonetheless. Listen as Rev Mark speaks to the topic by clicking here.



Chalica! is seven days long and runs from the first Monday in December through the following Sunday .  Each day represents a different Unitarian Principle:  a chalice is lit and actions, gifts, or volunteering that expresses that day’s Principle are given and received.  One can have seven different chalices or one common chalice.
Monday:     We light our chalice for the inherent worth and dignity of every person.
Tuesday:     We light our chalice for justice, equity and compassion in human relations.
Wednesday: We light our chalice for acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth.
Thursday:   We light our chalice for a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.
Friday:       We light our chalice for the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process in society at large.
Saturday:    We light our chalice for the goal of world peace, liberty and justice for all.
Sunday:      We light our chalice for respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Heather Flory, Moria Brown, Kathy Klink-Zeitz and Karen Impola all shared in bringing us this service based on the seven principles and Chalica. Some of the principles were represented by musical pieces which are not included here. To listen to this service please click here.

Taking Inventory

A service by Worship Associate Staci-Chananie-Hill.
To listen to an original tune by member Bill Brown, the opening words and Chalice lighting click here.

To listen to the sermon by Staci-Chananie-Hill click here.

UN Sunday: What Do We Gain From What We Give UP

Worship Associate Staci Chananie-Hill focuses on exploring new pathways, the constancy of change, and how loss can help make us find new ways of doing things. To listen to this service click here.

On What I Hope To Learn: Saying Good-Bye Part II

Rev Eva speaks to the congregation about what her sabbatical can mean for the church itself. It can be a wonderful time for reflection and restoration, before we continue again in love. To listen to this service click here.

On What I Hope To Learn While I’m Gone: Saying Good-Bye Part I

Rev Eva speaks to the congregation about her plans while on sabbatical. To listen to the opening words, chalice lighting and meditation click here.  To listen to the sermon  click here.

Association Sunday: Fiftieth Anniversary

Our UUA Celebrated 50 years since the merger of the Unitarians and the Universalists. We joined thousand of UUs on Oct 3rd in celebrating the past 50 years of UUism and the future of our faith. Beginning in the spring of 2010 the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) embarked on an in-depth strategic review of leadership and growth in order to develop an action plan to strengthen our community for future generations. To listen to this service click here.

Festival Sunday: Fall Equinox Fesitval Team

Continuing with the monthly theme of harvesting the Spiritual Tools for the journey of life, we celebrate the full abundance of life. To listen to this Festival Sunday service in celebration of the fall equinox click here.

The Yom Kippur Message: The Weight We Carry

“There is no love without forgiveness, and there is no forgiveness without love”.  Listen in as Rev. Eva helps us explore this relationship to our monthly theme of preparing for the journey.  Click here.

Pilgrimage of Life

An exploration of this year’s Spiritual Theme, as we begin our journey together as we look at what it means to belong to a religion of spiritual journey. Rev. Eva shares with us as we explore what resources we need to be on this journey, what we expect to find along the way, and what has shaped and formed us. To listen to this service click here.

Water Communion 2010

Each year we come together at the end of summer, and the beginning of the new church year for Water Communion Sunday.  To listen to this service click here.

Delemmas and Choices – John Miller

Every day we are faced with choices that challenge us to apply our seven UU Principles. John Miller helps us explore the choices we make and how those choices impact our relationships, our community and our world, as well as our own personal religious journey. To listen to this service click here.

We All Want The Same Thing –

Staci Chananie-Hill & Stephen Orsborn present todays sermon. To listen to the Opening Words, Chalice Lighting and Children’s Story click here.

To Listen to the Sermon click here.

Matin Luther: A Heretic an Educational Reformer

Neil Martinsen-Burell traveled in Central Germany this summer, studying the Lutheran influence on higher education. In this service he shares his experiences and his reflections. To listen to this service click here.


Today’s sermon theme was on this 4th of July Sunday was Freedom. Worship Associate Stephen Orsborn did the service. To listen to the opening words, chalice lighting by Maureen Murphy and the children’s story read by Stephen click

To listen to the sermon by Stephen Orsborn click

Love Will Find You – Staci Chananie-Hill

Associate Minister Staci Chananie-Hill and Worship Associate Stephen Orsborn presented this morning’s service. Staci’s sermon dealing with loving, starting anew and loving yourself and loving others.
To listen to the opening words and the children’s story on listening click here.

To listen to the sermon click here.

Reflections on the Summer Solstice

Karen Impola presents this Sundays service on the eve of the longest day of the year. ( in the northern hemisphere). She looks at solstice celebrations old and new, how our agricultural past informs us and what it means to live on a tilted planet with changing amounts of darkness and light. To listen to the sermon click here.

To listen to the open words, chalice lighting, children’s story and meditation click here.

Come Celebrate!

Today Rev Eva Cameron, Worship Associate Lara Martinsen-Burrell and the congregation witness Anne Pelikan and Darnelle Van Hales from MN take part in a wedding ceremony during our Sunday Service.  There was also a Renewal of Vows for all couples in the congregation who wished to take part.  Rev. Eva and Lara conducted this celebration of committed loving relationships, with Lara offering the message.  To listen to this celebration click here.

Prejudice: What Does it Feel Like – Bill Chene

This Sunday Service was presented by lay member Bill Chene.  He spoke to us about the effects of prejudice from his experience as a child in school.  This Podcast of the service includes the opening words, the chalice lighting, the Thank UU award and the Sermon.  To listen click here.

Memorial Day Chapel

This Chapel Service honors all those who have served our country.  There was a special reading about one of our members who served in WW2 . To listen to this service click here.here.

Ministry Sunday

A minister, by its old Latin roots, is someone who acts as a
servant. In the case of ministry in a church, we acknowledge that
some people feel deep in their hearts a desire to serve the cause
of our community, and our Unitarian Universalist faith. On this day,
with joy we commissioned two new lay ministers: Staci
Chananie-Hill and Lara Martinsen-Burrell. Our current lay
ministers also shared some of their ministerial experiences. To listen to this service click here.

Religious Education Sunday

Religious Education Sunday
~ REAP Council, Steve Orsborn (WA)
Today we celebrated all the people in our community who work to
teach us week after week. Dan Rather said “The dream begins
with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and
leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp
stick called ‘truth’.” To listen to this service click here.

Festival Sunday

This is our annual Flower Communion and New Member In-gathering Service.  Each member brings a flower to share and we welcome the new members to the congregation with a short ceremony.  To listen to this service click here.

Music Sunday

Music Director Tim Purdum, with Special presentations from the Adult and Children’s Choirs and well as the band presented a wonderful musical service for us. To listen to this service click here.

Earth Day

Earth Day

Listen as the Festival Team helps us celebrate Earth Day in this thought provoking, musical and contemplative service.  click here.

Healing as Art – Deblyn Russell

The Power of the creative process of art as a healing force. To listen to this service click here.

Easter: Celebrate

This is the day to remember and celebrate the high moments, the moments of your life that lifted you, inspired you, filled you with hope, joy; awakened you to god/dess, love, life! To listen to this service click here.

Rite of Spring

Rite of Spring: A Festival Sunday
~ Festival Team, Stephen Orsborn (WA)
The Festival Team celebrates the arrival of Spring with
music, drama and poetry. To listen to the meditation, a skit about spring by the UU Drama Team and the closing words click here. To listen to the opening words and the Child Dedication click here.

Smash The Jug and Come to the River

Smash the Jug and Come to the River
~ Rev. Eva Cameron, Staci Chananie-Hill
This year as we think about “Standing on the Side of Love” we
must consider the first step of love, and that is self-love.
Interestingly, self-love often involves self-loss, and then you can
love others more fully too. To listen to this service click here.

La Dolce Vita – Abundance Sunday

Rev Eva Cameron and Mike Knapp were  co-preaching for this Sunday service.  During the service they read some of the many comment cards the members wrote about what this church meant to them.  The congregation was asked to bring their pledge forms to the service and they were collected and tallied during the service, with the total being annonced at the end.  Click here to listen to the sermon, the card readings and the tally.  Abundance Service

Sharing the Good News

A non-typical service, Rev. Eva Cameron leads us in a course in Biblical Self-defense. We look at our bibles and the passages that are often quoted from the Bible to show that same-sex marriage is wrong. Many people feel that the bible says that homosexuality is wrong although they are not entirely sure what it says. Eva shared with us what these passages really say and what the context of the message is. Unfortunately the recording ended before the service ended. To hear the recording click here.

The Sparrow

The Sparrow ~ Rev. Eva Cameron, Maureen Murphy (WA)
Purchased by Brittany Flokstra at the Treats & Talents auction, this
sermon is based on the book The Sparrow. Agnostics, true believers
and misfits are the first to explore an alien race. To listen to the Opening, the Thank UU Award and the Meditation click here.

To listen to the sermon click here.

Youth Sunday

The UU Youth provided a thought-provoking service on “Standing on the Side of Love” from their point of view.  To listen to the service click here.

Chalice Lighter Sunday

To listen to news about the Chalice Lighter program and how our neighboring UU congegations have been using the funds for projects click here.

Standing on the Side of Love: Welcoming Our Neighbors

Part of the challenge offered up by our theme this year “Standing on the Side of Love” is opening our arms wide to those who don’t know we are here. How can we do that? Who are our neighbors anyway? To listen to this service click here.

Anniversary Sunday

On the first Sunday of the year we celebrate the founding of the Universalist branch of our church.  On a cold day in January, in 1874, a group gathered to form a church for people who had questions, and yet still felt that God loved them just as mch.  They called themselves the Universalists.  Listen in as we learn a bit about our past and clebrate those early stalwarts of our faith.  In the first part of the service we share communion using our historic Universalist communion set with the children.  To listen click here

Chapel Service – New Year’s Revolutions

Al Hays using the inspiration of the Beatles’ song “Revolution”, reflects on the relationship between personal, spiritual and social change.  To listen to the sermon click here.

Candlelight Christmas Eve

An Evening of Carols and Lights.  An evening full of traditional Christmas stories and a modern one, along with traditional Christmas Carols.  To listen to the singing and the sermon click here.

Walking in a Winter Wonderland

~ Rev. Eva Cameron, Staci Chananie-Hill (WA)
Sometimes the more natural elements of this season get lost in
the all the shopping and hectic Christmas plans and parties. But
on this solstice day, we paused and reflected on what nature has to tell us about how to be better humans. To listen to the sermon click here.

A UU Christmas Pageant

This is our annual production of the story of the birth of Christ, with lots of commentary along the way, giving us different ideas about ways that UU’s can make meaning of this story, as we share some laughter.  To listen to this program click here.

Sunset in Sabula

Rev. Eva Cameron and Deblyn Russell (WA). Sometimes we really anticipate things in life, which leads to a lot of waiting. Advent is the time of year where we honor the spiritual practice of watching, and being open to the moment.

To listen to the Opening words, chalice lighting and message from Rev Eva click here.

On some Sundays Rev Eva leads us in a journaling time, to listen to this weeks journaling message click here.

A new UU Holiday Celebration called Chalica is presented by the Director of Religious Education Kathy Klink-Zeitz to hear about Chalica click here.

Standing on the Side of Love: Gay Marriage

The service began with a special chalice lighting in honor of the Veterans in the Congregation. To listen to this section and the Meditation click here.

To listen to the 3 Congregation members share what equal marriage rights mean to them and explore the role a congregation such as ours can have as we stand on the side of love click here.

Auction Sermon: Excluded

Each Year at the Treats and Talents Acution, Eva offers a sermon based on a book of the winning bidder’s choice.  The lucky winner at the 2008 acution was Russ Campbell.  Russ chose the book entitled Excluded by Robert Cummins  The book tells the story of the Council of Churches and their decision to exclude the Universalists from the Council.  To hear the sermon based on this story click here.

Day of the Dead: Festival Sunday

Christan Churches celebrate All Souls Day, and in Mexico ancient traditions mix with the holiday to creat a poignant time of stories and remembering, on this day the congregation joined together to share stories of loved ones who had departed. To listen to the Opening Words, Chalice lighting, The Committee on Ministry’s Thank UU Awards and Eva’s words click here.

Chief Black Hawk’s Story

Rev Eva Cameron ask’s us to pause before we enter the month of “thanksgiving and pilgrims” to honor a man “Chief Black Hawk” whose story is not so well know to us as that of the “founding fathers”.  Rev. Eva shared with us some history about the man for whom Black Hawk County is named and his moving words.  To listen to this service click here.

Missed Lincoln’s Cabin by Five Miles

Every summer as Eva travels, there are things she gets so close to, and yet misses.  This year, it was Lincoln’s cabin.  This got her to thinking about the nature of life, choices, and what we give up as we go along life’s journey.  To listen to this service click here.

Association Sunday – Grow Our Spirit

On this Sunday we joned with UUs all over the country to celebrate our common movement and to raise money to help fund the growth of Unitarian Universalism.  In fact, some of the money raised has helped us join with our churches in Iowa to create sponsored spots about UUism on IPR.  To listen to Rev. Eva’s service on Growing Our Spirit click here.

Ghandhi Jayanti – Bill Chene

This talk and meditation on Ghandhi is presented by member Bill Chene on the occasion of Chandhi’s Birthday.  To listen to this service click here.

Returning to Oneness – Rev Eva Cameron

This podcast begins with the Chalice Lighting by Judy Harrington. The Rev. Eva Cameron sermon is about recognizing the power of realizing the blessings you have in your life, choosing to listen for love. The web of life that surrounds us speaks to us everyday. This was also a journal Sunday. To listen to this service click here.

Fall Equinox – Rev Eva Cameron, Service For All Ages

The service for all ages team, Karen Impola and the Rev. Eva Cameron put together a service to celebrate the autumn and the lessons it offers us on our Spiritual journey with song, drama, poetry and joy.   To listen to the Introduction, the Apple Tree Skit, the Meditation, a poem by Mary Oliver and conclusion click here.

Standing on the Side of Love

Together UU’s from all over the country are working toward Standing on the Side of Love.  Today Rev. Eva Cameron helps us explore the Spiritual Theme for the coming year.  To listen to the Opening Words,Chalice Lighting and the Meditation click here.

To listen to the sermon click here.

Labor Day Chapel – Al Hays

Professor Al Hays brought us the message on Labor Day, with a Message titled “The Labor Theory of Value”. To listen to the Opening Words, the Chalice Lighting and the Message click here. This was a short service after which there was an all church clean up and then a pot luck luncheon.

Universalism: Past, Present and Powerful – Rev Kalen Fristad

Rev. Kalen Fristad is an ordained United Methodist Minister.  After serving churches in Iowa for twenty-seven years, he embarked upon an independent ministry, consisting of traveling around the contry with his wife, Darlene.  He accepted invitations to speak to churches and other groups, countering the teaching that many people will suffer for eternity in hell and instead, proclaiming the hopeful message of universalism.  He went back to parrish ministry in July 2006.  As of Jan 2008, while continuing to serve churches in Iowa part-time, he has resumed his traveling ministry, spending half-time on the road speaking on the subject of universalism.  To listen to this service click here.

Standing on the Side of Love – Rev Eva Cameron

During this Chapel service the Rev Eva Cameron introduced us to this year’s theme, Standing on the Side of Love.  Which is also the denomination’s theme for the year.  To listen to this service click here.

HalfTime:Planning the Second Half of Your Life – Sean McNally

This chapel service was presented by member Sean McNally. To listen to the service click here.

Poetry Sunday – Rev. Eva Cameron

A Celebration of the lyrical voice of our hearts and souls.  The congregation was asked to bring a poem, one their own or by someone else to share.  To listen to this service click here.

Not Only a Fair Weather Faith – Jim Paprocki

Jim Paprocki’s talk comes from the book, “Not Only  a Fair Weather Faith” by the Rev. William Murry.  The intro includes a solo instrumental from one of the youth.  To listen to the service click here.

The Goldilocks Theory – Bill Chene

This summer service was led by lay member Bill Chene.  To listen to the service click here.

The Tragedy of the Commons

The Service for this service was partly inspired by a 1968 article by Garrett Hardin.  The message looks at the tension between what’s good for the individual and what’s good for the interdependent web.  Karen Impola is the speaker at this service.  To listen to this service click here.

Summer Solstice Celebration

The summer solstice celebration was led by Al Hays.  Due to the weather the celebration was held indoors.  The podcast of the ceremony follows, but the last section where the congregation moves into the circle is not picked up well by the microphones and may be difficult to hear.  To listen click here.

Harvesting The Energy Through Sacred Dance

Harvesting the Energy Through Sacred Dance Join Deblyn Russell and Lara Martinsen-Burrell as they integrate breath and movement from different traditions.  To Listen click here

Joseph Campbell, Your Hero’s Journey

Ben Kieffer, Del Carpenter (WA)
What can Joseph Campbell teach us about our hero’s journey?  Iowa Public Radio host, Ben Kieffer,  spoke to us about the influence of mythologist Joseph Campbell on his life.  In particular, he recounted how Campbell’s concept of a hero’s journey came to mind when he covered the peaceful revolutions in eastern Europe in 1989.  To listen to this service click here.

Question Box Sunday

During this annual event the Rev. Eva Cameron answers questions from the “Question Box” where we have have been leaving our “Questions” for her to respond to for the last several weeks.  In a religion where we like to say “Even to question truly is an answer” it’s fun to pause and think about what leaves us puzzled: and hear what Eva thinks!

To listen to the opening words and chalice lighting click here.

To listen to the Questions and Answers from Rev. Eva Click here.

Memorial Day Service

A Chapel Service in honor of those who have died in service of our Country.  Those who have experinced a personal loss were invited to bring an item or photo to place on the altar.  To listen to the service click here.

Butterflies Under our Hats

Rev Eva Cameron and Kathy Klink-Zeitz , our Director or Religious Education, joined together to acknowledge and celebrate the power of religious education.  Knowledge is power and our children and adults go forth from our doors with strength from the many lessons they learn here together.  To listen to the RE honors part of the service click here.

To hear the meditation with Rev. Eva Cameron Click here.

To hear Rev. Eva Cameron’s message click here.

Flower Communion: A Service For All Ages

On this Mother’s Day we honored the marvelous human potential to find hope, even when times are difficult.  Everyone was asked to bring a flower to share with someone.  New Members were welcomed in a New Member Ceremoney.

To listen to this service click here.

To listen to the New Member Ceremony click here.

Love A Lichen

Lichen are those small grayish green things that grow on rocks ( mostly).  They just kind of sit there, minding their own business.  We mostly ignore them.  They offer us a unique spiritual message. 

To listen to the Opening Words, Chalice Lighting and Choir click here.

To listen to the Sermon click here.

Earth Day: Blind To Your Bounty

Rev Eva Cameron, the Service For All Ages Team helped with this celebration of Earth Day with story, song and play.  To listen to this service click here.

What’s Wrong With Atheism – Lynn Brant

That question can be asked (and answered) in the same way as “what’s wrong with my eating an ice cream cone?” either from the point of view of a vegan or from the point of view on a hot July afternoon while standing in front of a Dairy Queen.  Lynn’t talk is in response to several best-selling books on atheism and another defending “the faith”.  To listen to his sermon click here. The script of the sermon is reprinted  below.


Lynn A. Brant
Emeritus Professor of Geology
April 2009

The question of “what’s wrong with atheism?” is similar to the question, “what’s wrong with an ice cream cone?”  The latter can be answered in the spirit of a vegan opposed to eating animal fat on health, ecological, and moral grounds – or in the spirit I would have on a hot July afternoon while standing in front of a Dairy Queen.

In the past few years, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens have all written best-selling books that are critical of religion and the supernatural.  They are sometimes referred to as “the new atheists”, and they have no use for a god or the religious beliefs arising from faith in a god.  But they confuse all religion with belief in the supernatural.  Religion and God need not be the same.

Religion is an integral part of the culture in which it exists.  It is a story, according to Ursula Goodenough (1998), that binds together that culture and makes sense of the larger universe.  It is a story that tells how things are (such as the origin of the world and how humans have come to be.) and which things matter (giving rise to morality and how to live).  William James’s definition, quoted in a recent issue of Newsweek: “Religion … shall mean for us the feelings, acts, and experiences of individual men in their solitude, so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they consider the divine.”  (I assume this would also apply to women!)

There have been many cultures throughout history and there have been many religions.  The stories have been modified and embellished over time and institutionalized with holy writings, holy places, and so on.  But as Loyal Rue (2005) points out in the title of his book, “religion is not about god.”  God does not have to be part of religion, which is counter to the usual view in our society that religion is all about a supernatural being.  As cultures mix and evolve over time, the religious stories evolve.  The stories are updated and holy texts are reinterpreted, while  other stories are simply ignored as they become irrelevant in the context of the changing culture.  The evolution of the stories becomes a source of tension between liberal and conservative thinkers.  And, of course, the mixing of cultures brings different stories into conflict, often with deadly consequences.

Sam Harris wrote The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason (2004) and Letter to a Christian Nation (2006), in which he argues that faith in a supernatural god is both against reason and a threat to civilization. The End of Faith was published in the third year after the terrorism of September 11 and is, in part, a reaction to those events.  He lays out what he thinks are the reasons underlying terrorism and other evils in the world.  Basically he blames models of the universe based on supernaturalism originating in the dawn of human civilization.

“Atheism is not a philosophy; it is not even a view of the world; it is simply an admission of the obvious.  In fact, “atheism” is a term that should not even exist.  No one ever needs to identify himself as a “non-astrologer” or a “non-alchemist.”  We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle.  Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.”

Harris simply ignores aspects of religion that are less extreme and harmful, and ones that, perhaps, have a legitimate place in a healthy culture.

Richard Dawkins, a scientist and author of other best-selling books, wrote The God Delusion (2006).  Dawkins covers many of the same points as Harris.  At the beginning of his book, he recognizes “a quasi-mystical response to nature and the universe” but distinguishes it from belief in a supernatural being out of which many religions arise.  Dawkins discusses this response to nature as expressed by several famous scientists then quotes Einstein as saying:

“To sense that behind anything that can be experienced there is a something that our mind cannot grasp and whose beauty and sublimity reaches us only indirectly and as a feeble reflection, this is religiousness.  In this sense I am religious.”

Dawkins then adds:

“In this sense I too am religious … but I prefer not to call myself religious because it is misleading.  It is destructively misleading because, for the vast majority of people, ‘religion’ implies ‘supernatural’.”

The delusion Dawkins writes about is the God he describes:

“The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

Dawkins’s book centers around this concept of God and fails to include more modern and liberal interpretations found throughout much of modern Christianity.

Daniel Dennett, a philosopher, wrote Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon (2006).  He makes an analogy between religion and a tiny parasite that infects the brain of an ant to make the ant serve the purposes of the parasite.  Many people serve the interests of religion under a spell of religious belief.  Religion becomes an entity that propagates itself through the minds of humans, an entity worthy of consideration as a natural phenomenon.  Although much of the world’s population believes that the best hope for the world is through their own religious traditions, there are those who believe the world would be better off without any religions.  Dennett claims there is a great “asymmetry” between the openness of atheistic thought and religious claims.  To many, the examination and criticism of religious ideas is sacrilege and an affront to believers.  Dennett advocates this very examination – not just of a particular religion, but religion in general.  But he asks another important question:
… are people right that the best way to live a good life is through religion?”

Dennett is, of course, asking this particularly of traditional religions.  Religion, he says, is an evolved entity (culturally evolved) that need not be good for people and society for it to survive.

“… people may well love religion independently of any benefits it provides them. … Religion is many things to many people.  For some, [religion provides] undeniable benefits of sorts that cannot be found elsewhere.  … Religion provides some people with a motivated organization for doing great things – working for social justice, education, political action, economic reform, and so forth.  For others, [religion is] more toxic, exploiting less savory aspects of their psychology, playing on guilt, loneliness, the longing for self-esteem and importance.”

“The current situation is scary – one religious fanaticism or another could produce a global catastrophe, after all.”

The last of these authors, Christopher Hitchens, wrote God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (2007) from a perspective of one who has been out in the world covering political and social events.  The sub-title of his book, How Religion Poisons Everything is a damning of all religions, including the “eastern” ones.  He has no more sympathy for Hindus and Buddhists than for the followers of the three great Abrahamic religions.

“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”

The poisonous effects of religion are largely the results of abandonment of reason, “resistance of the rational.”   About himself and his co-thinkers he says this:

“Our belief is not a belief.  Our principles are not a faith.  We do not rely solely upon science and reason, because these are necessary rather than sufficient factors, but we distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.  We may differ on many things, but what we respect is free inquiry, openmindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake.”

In wanting to throw out all religion and seeing it only as poison, Hitchens completely misses any possible benefits of religious community.  In looking at only the causes of bad effects, he could as well have written a book critical of international commerce and money as the root of all evil.

Many of us would agree with much of what the new atheists say in their books, but they leave out a lot.  They miss a side of religion that is not so hostile toward reason and human welfare.  Except for Dennett, most of what they say is a catalog of complaints against the supernatural.

John Haught is a highly regarded Catholic theologian, and he tried to respond to “the new atheists” with his own book, God and the New Atheism, A Critical Response to Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens (2008).  But Haught fails to get at the problems of his adversaries.  He makes fun of and belittles the “new atheists.”  He claims that all atheists have a mind-set of “scientific naturalism” which holds that there is no god outside of nature.  His “scientific naturalism” is a boogeyman; it is neither scientific nor the mind-set lying behind all unbelief in the supernatural.  I find no particular enlightenment in Haught’s book.

In any argument involving a posited hypothesis, in this case that there is a supernatural God, the burden of proof ought to lie with those making the hypothesis.  Theists ought to argue the existence of God to those whom they wish to convince.  Those non-believers who are not convinced have no obligation to make an argument.  However, in this largely Christian culture it is assumed that it is the atheists who need to defend their position.  Not only do the atheists not need to make an argument against belief in a God, they may reject the God hypothesis for different reasons.  Haught not only wants a philosophical argument from the non-believers that can be compared and debated, but he also assigns to all atheists a “mind-set” which explains their viewpoint: “scientific naturalism.”

Is There Value in Religion?

By concentrating on the existence and characteristics of a supernatural God and the actions some people take on faith in that God, both Haught and the new atheists (except Dennett) gloss over the important question Dennett asks: “… are people right that the best way to live a good life is through religion?”  We can ask: 1) is there value in religion? and 2) is there value in religious communities?

If religion, as defined by Goodenough, is regarded as a story that tells how things are and which things matter, and further, that most of us have the capacity for feelings of awe and respect for nature, for life, and for the lives of those around us, then the answer to whether religion has value must be a “yes.”  Individuals as well as a culture cannot exist without stories.  There is no one among us who is “non-religious”.  The very outcome of the process of science is the telling of a story of how things are.  Stories cannot be excised from society any more than our minds can be cut out and cast into the ditch.  But stories range widely in what they tell.  The stories of astronomy differ from those of astrology.  The stories of creationists differ from those of science.  Some stories tell of a supernatural God, and others explain how things are without resorting to explanations involving such a god.  Religion need not be about God.  But which stories to believe?

A former minister here once idly speculated that we, perhaps, could develop a belief system based upon today’s science.  That would be fine, I told him, until the next issue of Science magazine (which is published weekly).  Our understandings of how things are and what matters are in constant flux.  Those who want a static, traditional religion are left behind as culture evolves.  Religious stories must also evolve if they are to have value.  But, some may claim, there must be some constant values and ethics, some absolutes, upon which we can base our lives.  Relativism surely cannot be a good thing, they say, and there is nothing new in the areas of ethics and values.  That this is certainly not the case is exemplified by the Bible’s description of God in the Old Testament (Dawkins’s unpleasant bully) compared to the loving and forgiving God of the New Testament and the non-personal concept of God among some modern, liberal theologians.

In other words, even for many Christians, some of the biblical stories are out of date. Religions are by necessity dynamic entities, but just how dynamic varies.  Whether religion leads the evolution of society or drags it down with outdated dogma also varies.  Indeed, in the nineteenth century some interpretations of Christianity supported the practice of slavery in the United States while, at the same time, others used Christianity to fight and help eliminate slavery.  Today, for instance, some religious groups support the rights and dignity of homosexual persons while others fight that same social movement in the name of religion.  We see the same in areas of environmental concern.  Based upon religious interpretations of the value of the earth and biosphere, groups have supported environmental actions with differing degrees of enthusiasm.

The current environmental movement is an example of part of the evolving cultural story.  We see part of this story – of how things are and which things matter – in the descriptions of nature that Thoreau saw around him in nineteenth century New England, “The Land Ethic” of Aldo Leopold, the poetic essays of Loren Eiseley, Rachel Carson’s call for concern in Silent Spring, and E.O. Wilson’s, The Creation.  Leopold’s conclusion to “The Land Ethic” is as religious as it gets:

“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

In his Religion is Not About God (2005), Rue discusses some ideas pertaining to religious naturalism, and he quotes Margaret Atwood who says, “God is not the voice in the whirlwind.  God is the whirlwind.”  Rue says the central core of religious naturalism is:

“Nature is the sacred object of humanity’s ultimate concern.  Nature is the ultimate ground of natural facts, and eco-centric values are justified by the claim that Nature is sacred.”

In an attempt to denigrate environmentalists and some of their positions, their detractors sometimes refer to them as religious.  They are, of course, correct.  Those hurling the charge and those who might be offended assume religion is a bad word.  That some in the environmental movement may be considered misguided does not alter the fact that environmentalists tell part of the story of how things are (eg. loss of biodiversity, pollution, depletion of resources) and some of which things matter (eg. beauty, integrity, and stability of the biotic community).  But as Rue points out:

“… religious naturalists may affirm the sacredness of Nature and practice eco-centric piety sincerely, yet deep down they must know that religion is no more about Nature than it is about God.”

Quoting Rue again in his making the case that religion has to do with human welfare and not a god:

“The ultimate function of a religious tradition is to enhance personal wholeness and social coherence by nurturing the conscious and unconscious lives of individuals. … this ultimate function has both a therapeutic and a political focus. ”

Humble Curiosity

If religion is inescapable, is there any value in religious communities?  One of the “new atheists”, Daniel Dennett, seems to answer this in part by describing “spirituality” which could also be called “the religious”:

“If you can approach the world’s complexities, both its glories and its horrors, with an attitude of humble curiosity, acknowledging that however deeply you have seen, you have only just scratched the surface, you will find worlds within worlds, beauties you could not heretofore imagine, and your own mundane preoccupations will shrink to proper size, not all that important in the greater scheme of things.  Keeping that awestruck vision of the world ready to hand while dealing with the demands of daily living is no easy exercise, but it is definitely worth the effort, for if you can stay centered, and engaged, you will find the hard choices easier, the right words will come to you when you need them, and you will indeed be a better person.  That, I propose, is the secret to spirituality, and it has nothing at all to do with believing in an immortal soul, or anything supernatural.”

A lone guru sitting on a mountain top, or maybe a lone UU, might be able to accomplish the above in solitude, but none of us is a lone guru – or even a lone UU.  Each of us approaches the complexities of life and the world in the company of others.  We all live in a multitude of interconnected and nested communities in which we function as a society and obtain physical and emotional strength from each other.  A humble curiosity in the search for answers to life’s questions can form the basis of a religious community in which we share what we have found as we learn from others who are on the same type of quest.  There are religious communities that do that.  I like to think that, at our best, we are that kind of community.  This approach has value for the survival and welfare of each of us.

It is the attitude of certainty that is the enemy of humble curiosity.  Unwavering and unreasonable certainty is antithetical to science, education, art, and life.  It is unwavering and unreasonable certainty which makes some religious practices and beliefs so dangerous.  The attitude of humble curiosity in the face of great mystery is missing in much of religion – whether that has to do with a supernatural God or correct thinking about soil erosion.  To “know” God with certainty or to know with unreasonable certainty God’s will and to devote a life to carrying out that will can be unfounded and dangerous.  That attitude of certainty is what drives suicide bombers, bombs abortion clinics, and stands in the way of justice for those groups of persons who are out of favor with the accepted theology.  But the problem of certainty cuts both ways.  Atheism is often promoted or perceived as certainty that there is no God of any kind.

So, what’s wrong with atheism?  I do not subscribe to the supernatural, but I claim that we understand nature (the universe) very poorly.  We are a very long way from answering the ultimate questions about nature, such as why it exists.  We cannot describe nature’s limit, if such could be described, or its overall form, if that could be described in terms understandable to our minds.  We don’t even know what the universe is made of.  In the past few years physicists have concluded that “ordinary matter” is but a small part of it – the universe being mostly dark matter and dark energy – two “things” that are quite mysterious right now.  If the universe is the totality of what exists, how can there be something outside of it – the supernatural?  But there is the rub.  We really don’t know what’s on the inside.  To claim non-belief in the God of the Old Testament is easy, but atheism goes beyond that in saying no to anything lying outside our puny imaginations.  We might criticize belief in a particular god or form of god but we cannot rule out anything that might exist well beyond our imaginations.  That too must be approached with humble curiosity.

Easter Angel

For some of us, this powerful story of resurrection gives us hope, and for others of us, we all find hope in life restored, in goodness and joy restored.  What “Easter Angels: have been in our lives, coaching us, encouraging us to indeed see the moment for what it is – a moment of great joy?

To listen to the Opening words and the Choir singing by clicking here.

To listen to the Sermon and then the Choir click here.

Palm Sunday

Tim Purdum, Rev.  Eva Cameron &    Deblyn Russell worked together on this Palm Sunday service.  To listen to the Choir sing, the Chalice Lighting,  a song played and sung by Tim Purdum, the closing hymn and the closing words click here.

To listen to Tim’s sermon on Palm Sunday click here.

Justice Sunday 2009

Each year the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee is featured at a Sunday service.
To listen to the opening song by the Theoretical String Band, Opening Words, the Chalice Lighting, The Children’s Story read by Al Hays and the Meditation led by the Rev. Eva Cameron click here.

To listen to the Rev Eva Cameron’s sermon on Justice Sunday click here.

Rite of Spring – Children’s Dedication

This early spring service is an opportunity to celebrate Spring with music and drama.  We also dedicate children who are new to our UU faith.  In the first podcast you can listen to the Children’s Choir sing the Garden Song, hear the Chalice lighting and the Children’t Dedication.  To listen click here.

In the second podcast you can listen to the drama team perform the skit, “Are You My Mother?”, the Message by the Rev Eva Cameron and the closing words.  To listen click here.

Feeling Crabby

March is supposed to “come in like a lion” but sometimes it seems to bring a lot more crabs than lions as we are all weary of winter weather.  What can we do with the upsets, angers and crabbiness we find popping up in our lives?

To listen to the opening words, chalice lighting, children’s story, meditation and sermon click here.

To listen to just the sermon click here.

Dare to Give

The Stewardship Team and Rev Eva Cameron explore the deeper meaning of giving during this service. The first podcast includes the opening music, the opening words, chalice lighting and the children’s story. To hear this section of the service click here.

The second podcast includes the Stewardship moment, Offering, The Sermon by Mike Knapp and The Rev. Eva Cameron and a Meditation with Deblyn Russell. To hear this section of the service click here.

Where Do My Passions Meet the World’s Deepest Needs?

Reflections On Postville.

Perry-O Sliwa brought us her ongoing story of intentional living and thoughtful action as she shared her story of thougts and vocation and her engagement with a family profoundly changed since the Postville Immigration raids.

To listen to the choir and then to Perry-O tell the children a story about the family click here.

To listen to Perry-O Sliwa message and a final song by the choir click here.

Lincoln Bicentennial

Lincoln’s values and causes are central to UU beliefs. Our forefathers and the forefather’s of his day had an active involvement in the abolitionist movement and other progressive causes of that era. Let’s celebrate 200 years of progress.  To hear this program click here.

Love – A Service For All Ages

The  Rev. Eva and the Service For All Ages Team  used music, drama and poetry to share with the congregation about all the many ways that love touches our lives.

This podcast of the service is divided into 3 separate podcasts.

To listen to part 1, which includes the Children’s Choir, the Opening words, the Global Chalice Lighting and a play “Bennu’s Story” by the Drama Team.  click here.

Part 2, which includes the first 2 of the 4 Valentines that the congregation was asked to write in their journals.  The journaling music has been shortened in the podcast, so if you would like to follow along and journal you may wish to pause the podcast while you write.  To listen click here.

Part 3, includes the last 2 of the 4 Valentines and the closing words.  To listen click here.

Darwin Day. A Celebration of Darwin’s 200th Birthday

We have a special love of the relationship of science and religion.
For some, Darwin’s evolution has become their religious myth as
well as a scientific theory. Let’s celebrate the man, his ideas and
how they have rocked our religious world!
To listen to the Theoretical String Band play “Hey Charley”, The Rev. Eva Cameron’s opening words and Laura Walter’s Chalice Lighting click here.

To Listen to the message as the Rev. Eva Cameron presents “The Mythos of Evolution” , Jim
Demastes presents- “Darwin and his Big Idea”, Laura Jackson presents- “Meet Darwin” and Lynn Brant presents “Into Darwin’s World” click here.

Facing Our Fears: Youth Sunday

What are we afraid of, and why? In order to “dare to grow” we need
to face these questions. The UUYouth will lead us in a service
exploring the theme of fear.  To listen to this service click here.

Teach Us Love – Martin Luther King, Jr Sunday

The Artistic Youth Ensemble of Minnesota joined us on this special Sunday to bring some special music to celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. To hear this special music and Rev. Eva Cameron’s special words about his dreams and ours, click here.

If you would like to learn more about the Artistic Youth Ensemble of

Minnesota their website is www.ayem.us

Meet Everett Hale

Hale once said, “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do
everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do
everything I will not refuse to do the something I can do.” The
Rev. Eva Cameron is preaching joined by Worship Associate Al Hays.  To listen to this service click here.

Spreading Like Wildfire

Once Universalist congregations spread across the Midwest with giant revival meetings.  What message did they offer the spirit-weary of the plains?  Strong enough to leave Iowa with over one hundred congregations at the turn of the last century!  What can we learn from this past? To listen to this service click here.

Anniversary Sunday – Communion

Every January we celebrate the Aniversary of the Universalist Church in Waterloo by having communion with the orginal communion service used by the Universalists.  To listen to the Communion story told to the children and the congregation by the Rev Eva Cameron click here.

New Year’s Chapel

New Year’s Chapel
Some say doing the same thing again expecting different results is foolish.
Others say the variables are always changing so doing the same thing
again expecting the same results is also foolish. Whether either or both
views are correct, stopping to take a look back and a look forward is worth
doing.  Del Carpenter and Worship Associate Esther Kieffer presented this service to listen click here.

UU Christmas Pageant

The Service For All Ages Team , Rev. Eva , and others enacted the Christmas story with reflection on just what it all means from voices of UUs with differing theological points of view–funny, respectful, and inspiring.   To listen to the service click here.

Hurry Up, Slow Down

Does the ‘holiday season’  get your blood pressure up as you
think of all the things that need to get done before the 25th?! Just as
the one approach to this holiday asks us to rush about at break-neck
speed, there is another side that asks us to slow down, to reflect, to
listen, to anticipate. The Rev. Eva, asks us to take another look at Advent,
and make some choices for ourselves in this season.  To listen to this service click here.

Giving Thanks: Sprituality and Food

Sue Hill, Commissioned Lay Minister helps us reflect on the role that food plays in our spiritual lives.  To listen to this service click here.

Thanksgiving Festival with Bread Communion

A service to celebrate the richness of life and all that we have for which to be thankful. The choir and worship associate Karen Impola assisted with this service.  To listen to this service click here.

Daring To Grow Our Church

What does it take to grow our Church?  Is growth really necessary.  Lara Martinsen-Burrell joins Rev Eva Cameron with the service and the New Member Ceremony.  To listen to this service click here.

To Serve

To Serve is what Minister means in Latin.  Our three Commissioned Lay Ministers, John Miller, Sue Hill and Deblyn Russell share their faith and spiritual perspectives on how becoming Commissioned Lay Ministers has “dared them to grow”.  To listen to this service click here.

Day of the Dead/All Souls Day

Attendees were asked to bring mementos or photos of loved one who were no longer with us to decorate the alter on this day as we honored the dead.  We shared stories and remembered those who helped shape our lives.  The family Choir sang, Al Hays shared some words from favorite poets and the Rev Eva Cameron gave a short Sermon.  To listen to the service click here.

God Put a Rainbow in the Clouds for Me

This service explores the idea of Covenant, and just what it can mean for us UUs.  The band helps out with a theme song. To listen to the  and the Meditation Click here. To listen to this Sermon  click here.

Prophetic Sisterhood – Rev Eva Cameron

This Service was a Treats and Talents Sermon purchased by Jan Gallagher.  Jan selected the Book, Prophetic Sisterhood, about the sisterhood of Unitarian women who build churches in Iowa over one hundred twenty years ago.  Rev Eva Cameron, Jan Gallagher and Worship Associate Karen Impola put together hymns, a childrens story and a sermon from the book.  Click here to hear the Chalice lighting and Children’s story. Click here to hear the meditation and sermon.

Association Sunday: Grow Our Spirit

This Association Sunday Service is a celebration of our connection with the larger Unitarian Universalist movement around the country.  To listen to the Intro and Meditation click here.  To listen to the Children’s Story click here. To listen to Del Carpenter, Rev. Eva Carpenter and Jeff Heiden speak about our connections to the UUA click here.

Yom Kippur – Rev. Eva Cameron

This is the time set aside in the Jewish calendar for reconnecting ourselves to others, to the world, to God. It is a time of reconciliation. Each year we follow the lead of this ancient tradition, and pause, reflect on our lives, and work towards at-one-ment yet again. Rev Eva Cameron, Bill Harwood , Judith Harrington & Esther Kieffer present this service. To listen to this service click here.

Gandhi Jayanti – Rev. Eva Cameron – Sept 28, 2008

This service honors the Birthday of Gandhi and his committment to effecting large changes in governments and in societies using the tools of ahimsa.  To listen to this service click here.

Fall Equinox – Rev. Eva Cameron

Crisp fall leaves, brilliant blue sky, harvesting crops and fruits while the squirrels harvest their nuts.  All these and many other images fill our heads as we dream of fall.  Autumn offers a special message inviting us to grow ourselves spiritually as well, if we only pause to read the scripture written on the turning of the year.  Listen to this service by Eva and the Service For All Ages Team by clicking here.

The Knocking of Our Hearts: Knoxville Remembered

This summer, Unitarian Universalist hearts joined ours in lurching as we heard the news that the Knoxville UU Church had suffered critical losses due to a man entering the sanctuary with a gun and firing it.  It is important to pause, and hold closely all those peole, memories, places and ideas we hold sacred, special, as we recognize that sometimes the world leaves our hearts knocking.  This recorded service includes the opening words, the childrens story , meditation and some contributions from some members of our UU Society in addition to the Sermon by the Rev. Eva Cameron.  To listen to this service click here.

Dare to Grow – Meditation from Service -Rev. Eva Cameron

To listen to the Time for Meditation and Journaling click here.