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Mastering Divinity

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					      Mastering Divinity                         use the words “see with the eyes” very
                                                 purposefully here, rather than use a phrase
      A Service for Association Sunday
         Sunday, October 12, 2008                like “think theologically” because I think it’s
                                                 a better way to talk about what a theological
             Service offered by                  education means. Theological education is
    Rev. Wayne Arnason & Pam Rumancik            not just about thinking in new ways, as a
   West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church      result of the reading and discussion you
             Rocky River Ohio                    have undertaken. Rather, it’s about
                                                 approaching all of your experiences with a
Sermon - Part 1: Wayne Arnason                   different set of eyes. The punch line for
                                                 these reflections we will offer today invites
    I’m a Master of Divinity! At least that’s    us beyond the walls and the student body of
what it says on a piece of paper I have filed    any seminary, however. We want to help
away some where. Of all the titles that there    you see that theological education is not just
are for graduate degrees in higher education,    something that happens in a formal degree
the one for people who are preparing for the     program. Indeed, it is one of the central
ministry has always seemed to me to be the       tasks of the church and one of the
most presumptuous. It sounds like a title that   possibilities and promises that you are
should be splashed in a forty point              offered when you become involved in a
Showcard font across a Comic Book cover          Unitarian Universalist Church.
rather than a college diploma. How do you             All of us have the opportunity and the
even study “Divinity”, let alone master it?      challenge to become Masters of Divinity in
That’s the koan, that’s the spiritual            our own unique way through the community
conundrum, that every seminarian who             of the church, and today we want to explore
enters an M.Div. degree program has to           what that means in some very concrete
answer for themselves – and so its very          ways. So let me give you an example of
appropriate and gratifying for all of us to be   seeing the world through the eyes of
able to have two seminarians, seekers of the     theology. Let’s look at the most pressing
mastery of divinity, here for this service       issue that has dominated the news and
today – our own West Shore member Pam            preoccupied our minds all week: the global
Rumancik, who will be sharing the sermon         financial crisis, and let’s look at how we see
and her colleague at Meadville Lombard           it through a different lens than the one used
Theological School Karen Mooney, who             by all the media commentators.
will be offering the special music. It’s good         I have to admit, that there have been
to have both of them here today also as a        times in our life together at West Shore
reminder of the larger association of            when Kathleen and I wish that the college
Unitarian Universalist congregations and         degrees we have in our drawers said Masters
institutions of which West Shore is a part,      of Business Administration instead of
and which we celebrate and affirm on this        Masters of Divinity!! This week has been
annual Association Sunday.Their theological      one of them! It is no small task to have
school and the congregations in the Chicago      scheduled a service like this one, which
area that they have gotten to know have          includes a request for a special offering for
broadened their understanding of what            denominational projects in theological
Unitarian Universalism means beyond the          education, at the end of a week when
culture and style of any one church.             everyone is worried about their money. So, I
    Both Pam and Karen, I’m sure, will tell      hope you won’t see it as a digression from
you that part of what it really means to         the themes of this service if I say a word as
become a Master of Divinity is to learn to       both your co-executive and your co-minister
see the world with the eyes of theology. I
about the stock market crash we have seen        How much does the meaning and purpose I
this week.                                       find in my life depend on the money that I
     During the upcoming weeks, our              have? It’s a question whose answer helps
Finance Committee and our Stewardship            determine the career you aspire to, the
Committee and our Board will be assessing        choices you make about marriage and
the damage and reassessing our planning for      family, where and how you choose to live,
our financial future. The ministers will be      and how you spend your time, as well as
telling our leadership that we think both our    your money. If what we are in the midst of
challenges and our plans remain the same,        is a financial hurricane that will require
only tougher, because of the decline in the      some time for recovery, and if some
equity markets. It has been clear for some       realignment of all our expectations for
time that the financial challenge before us is   credit, goods, and income will be one of the
finding a way to either pay off our              results, then I think a lot of people will be
remaining mortgage, or raise the funds           looking to reassess where and how they find
needed to keep paying the mortgage. This         meaning and purpose. This requires being
week has made it less likely that the capital    able to look with new eyes informed by
funds we thought would allow us to make          theological       depth       and       religious
those payments through 2011 will be              understanding.
available to help us that long.                      So let us look for a few minutes with
     I expect that this week we will be          theological eyes at what we are seeing in
looking at spending freezes or reductions,       this market panic. We hear the words “fear”
both for this year and next to make up for       and “trust” frequently from the media
lost investment income and capital               pundits who are explaining why the markets
resources. In the year following, we will        won’t turn around. “Fear” and “trust” are not
likely need to ask for an additional             numbers on a spread sheet. They are
commitment at canvass time to either pay         spiritual issues in our lives. The
off mortgage principle or to simply continue     mathematics and computer models of
to make the payments that the operating          economic theory prove to be less influencial
budget can’t afford.                             than a kind of spiritual crisis among
     I think almost all non-profits, churches,   investors, a crisis having to do with how
denominational bodies,          and    service   deeply we all fear taking our losses and how
organizations, will have to face doing more      much we are willing to trust each other to
with less over the next several years, and       respond to a crisis in a way that all will
they will all be asking their regular            finally benefit everyone.
supporters for more help to make up for lost         The fear of loss, at its root, is a denial of
investments assets. So the church will have      change and impermanence. If every investor
to make its case to remain high on               is acting all at once in a way that they think
everyone’s list of priorities. Luckily, the      will insure self-preservation even if
most valuable things that a church has to        everyone else goes down, then the end result
offer its members are not dependent on the       is that no one is safe and no one is
fluctuations of the economy. Indeed, in          preserved. It requires trust to act in ways
difficult times, people who have meaningful      that seem contrary to your short term self
church involvements have found that the          interest – to hold onto or to buy stocks that
church becomes even more important to            continue to decline, for example, but that is
them.                                            exactly the behavior, multiplied by millions
     Our mission as a church, after all, is to   of individual and corporate decisions, that
help more people lead lives of meaning and       will end the stock market free fall. The trust
purpose. One of the most important spiritual     that is required has to respond to the
questions that people ever ask themselves is:    question: If I go ahead and do this, will
other people will have the same trust that I        people acted in inexplicably hurtful ways
do and take that same leap, despite no              toward one another, but it didn’t stop me
guarantee it will work? Sometimes in the            from trying to live that way – to use the
world of the spirit, we are asked to set aside      golden rule as my childhood theology.
the intellectual debates about matters of           As I grew older I passed through different
belief or creed and ask ourselves: what if we       perspectives. Places where I suddenly saw
acted as if the highest and best moral claims       my relationship with the world in a new way
of religion were true? What if we took the          and tried to act from that understanding. I
leap and acted without being sure others            stumbled across a copy of Desiderata in 8 th
would do the same. Would we be abused by            grade and adopted its outlook. “Go placidly
those who thought that us naïve, or would           among the noise and haste, you are a child
others respond in kind? The same dynamic            of the universe, no less than the trees and the
is going on in the world’s financial markets        stars, you have a right to be here” It made
today, and they would probably benefit from         space – a place of peace in my rocky and
more theological reflection and less                seemingly isolated adolescence. I used it to
economic theory. The Masters of the                 steer my life without realizing I was doing
Universe on Wall Street could have used a           theological work.
Master of Divinity or two in their board                Later, when my children were born I
rooms.                                              embraced and clung tightly to a theology
                                                    that promised to keep us safe. To make us
Sermon - Part 2: Pam Rumancik                       part of God’s chosen people. I find myself
                                                    embarrassed now by the way I bought the
    When Wayne asked me to come here for            party line hook, line and sinker. The way I
Association Sunday and talk about how               loved God by making cupcakes for the bake
theological beliefs affect our lives my mind        sale, by becoming a cantor, a Eucharistic
went all over the place. It started at my           minister, by making my children be altar
seminary - Meadville Lombard – where I’ve           servers. These were the ways my theology
been in the midst of agonizing over just            channeled my actions. They were how I
what theology is – it’s a word we use daily         expressed my relationship with God, with
but what does it actually mean? What do I           the universe and looking back now it feels
believe? How do those beliefs affect my life        like a very small god, a very small universe.
choices?                                                When I found this church I found my
    But as I got quiet, as I settled in to listen   theological home. West Shore helped to
to my heart, a memory floated up from first         shape and guide me. It gave me language,
grade. It was the day I first heard the golden      perspective, context and examples. Through
rule. “Do unto others as you would have             sermons and relationships, I came to
them do unto you” I was quite struck by it. I       understand what respecting the inherent
had to walk a long mile home (really –              worth and dignity of each person looks like
although it wasn’t uphill both ways) and I          – up close and personal, warts and all. It
clearly remember my 6yr old theologian self         gave me confidence in my own perspective
thinking “wow – if everybody did that the           – a larger context in which to make sense of
world would be a wonderful place” We                views which seemed so out of kilter with
wouldn’t have to worry about the war we             much of the rest of society. That support
prayed about each night. People wouldn’t            gave me the confidence to take the big leap
be mean to each other. I thought Sister             and enter seminary.
Regina Marie was absolutely brilliant and               And now here I am on the path to
that the future of the world had suddenly           Unitarian Universalist ministry. I think my
gotten brighter. Eventually it dawned on me         universe has changed. I know my theology
that people didn’t always live like that – that     has. I’ve come to see the divine in each and
every being; to look for the worth and             our liberal religious history the evolution of
dignity inherent in each of us. I’ve come to       theology has been minister driven. It is in
recognize my actions as connected to my            the works of Emerson, Channing, and Parker
community, as shaping and affirming, as            that we find huge shifts taking place. Shifts
supporting and challenging. Kind of full           which affected not only Unitarians but
circle to the golden rule I guess…                 society at large.
    One of the great joys of seminary is               But they did not create those shifts in
discovering folks in history who have been         isolation. Ministers evoke – articulate –
exploring these topics – living these values -     what is happening in the world. They hold
for a very long time. I learned of a 60 year       up a mirror to their congregations and they
long experiment in Racovia, Poland in the          amplify the development and vision of the
1500’s where an entire city lived values of        people who sit in those pews, who make up
tolerance and reason – publishing books            those churches. The most amazing idea in
challenging the Trinity and leaving a space        the world will not have legs if it doesn’t find
for open dialogue – in the midst of                resonance with an audience, if it can’t be
reformation politics and the never ending          accepted as having pertinence and meaning
fires of the inquisition. They didn’t believe      to the lives of listeners.
in the divinity of Jesus but they thought              Unitarian Universalist seminaries offer
people should be able to trust their own           spaces for ideas to blossom. Enriched by
hearts in the matters of the spirit. Radical       ideas of our predecessors, we luxuriate in
heresy in that time – and our ancestors.           Emerson, we struggle with Schleiermacher,
    I’ve come across many engaging and             we open our hearts to Theodore Parker and
challenging people who changed the course          James Luther Adams. New ideas which
of liberal religion; William Emory                 reflect the lives and concerns of people
Channing, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Florence            today emerge from groundwork laid by past
Nightingale, Hosea Ballou. People who              thinkers.
struggled and worked hard at defining                  Seminaries are unique institutions. This
theologies which made sense to them –              same growth and evolution of thought takes
which enabled them to live lives of                place in the ivory towers of academia. In
authenticity and meaning even when those           the University of Chicago Divinity school
theologies ran counter to the prevailing           new theological ideas are hatched and new
mindset. Which is what it seems to be about        perspectives found – but these are offered to
in the long run - finding an authentic way to      other academics – taught to students who
live lives of meaning and purpose. Lives           will become professors and teach other
which are bigger than the scripts we’ve been       students. It’s all very heady and exciting in
handed; lives which call us to awareness of        the rarified air of academia –and rarely
our connection to one another, our                 seeps down to the public in any meaningful
interdependence, our relationship to the           way. When my classmates and I take classes
stars.                                             at the Div school there sometimes is a sense
    Why is theology important? Because             that seminarians are second class students.
our theologies, whether we work them out           We’re not scholars. We’re only going to be
explicitly or not are the road maps by which       ministers…
we guide our days. If they are grand                   But that misses an important point.
theologies, if we see ourselves as connected       Ministers are a link that brings these heady
to the stars, we live lives that reach for those   ideas into the real world where they are
stars.                                             tested to see if they have validity or not. Do
    So how do I see seminary as important –        they have anything to say in the lives of
vital – to this process? It’s in the space it      ordinary people? Is there any truth in this
creates and the bridges it forms. Throughout       fabulous new insight on the bible (or Hegel
or Kant) that helps to form a workable           majority      make     wonderful ministers.
understanding of life; a theology that           However, in my years on the Ministerial
nurtures and challenges; that feeds a hungry     Fellowship Committee, I have sometimes
spirit?                                          seen people whose true motivation was to
    Seminaries are places for new ideas, new     serve Unitarian Universalism and engage in
theologies to germinate – but our churches       a theological education, and they believed
are where they take root. It is in the           that the only way to do that was to go to
community that lived experience intersects       seminary and become a minister. Twenty
with theory and forms something real,            years ago, that belief was true. However, it
something tangible, something by which           today’s world you can easily obtain as much
lives can be lived, by which meaning and         theological education as you desire and
purpose can be found.                            serve Unitarian Universalism in a variety of
    It’s Association Sunday and we are           ways without leaving your home, uprooting
exploring how the Unitarian Universalist         your life, or changing your career.
Association helps us lead lives of meaning            The Unitarian Universalist Association
and purpose. I believe that happens in the       has recognized the importance of these
space made for larger conversations, for         changes, and wants to devote half the money
passed on knowledge, for generational            that is given to this year’s Association
wisdom. It happens in our seminaries, our        Sunday offering to new programs for lay
churches and our assemblies. It happens          theological education. But the Association
when we call one another to realize our          itself will not invent or manage those
place among the stars, call one another to       programs. They are inviting congregations
lives that are so much larger than we can        (like ours), districts, and our seminaries to
possibly imagine alone.                          apply for grants to create new programs
At least, as a seminarian, that’s my take on     which focus on spiritual and theological
things. Let me know if that finds resonance      deepening.
with you.                                             Congregations like ours have long
                                                 understood that one of our roles is being
Sermon - Part 3: Wayne Arnason                   “schools of the spirit” where anyone who
                                                 wants to devote the time can engage with the
     The theme for Association Sunday this       task of becoming a Master of Divinity in
year is “Growing in Spirit”. For the last        their own right. You may not have a degree
couple of weeks I’ve been enjoying a class       when you come out of it, but you may have
Barbara Howell and I have offered called         the same theological eyes that a seminarian
“The New Retirement”. Unfortunately,             seeks. You can also engage with our
retirement got even “newer” during the two       theological schools in the same credit
weeks that the class has been meeting, but       courses that are available to a seminarian,
since its not a financial planning class but a   and they ultimately could be applied towards
spiritual planning class for retirement, we’ve   completion of a degree if that’s your desire.
had a chance to look at issues of meaning        Our UU seminary, Starr King School for the
and purpose as you prepare for the last third    Ministry in Berkeley, CA has been offering
of your life. For many people some form of       some amazing on- line courses, at the same
new career after retirement has been part of     tuition rates that seminarians pay. This fall
their retirement plans. For the last three       people are studying from home in the
decades, we have routinely seen mid- life        company of seminarians with Starr King
and post-retirement career changers entering     faculty , taking courses on issues in UU
seminary to become Unitarian Universalist        theology, the interaction of Christianity,
ministers, particularly women leaving empty      Judaism and Islam, or organizational
nests and earlier career choices. The vast       systems thinking for church leaders . Our
UU Seminary in Chicago, Meadville                  and purpose in their lives. With travel
Lombard offers residential intensives in           increasingly expensive and difficult and
January where you can attend the school in         money tight, with relatives and friends that
Chicago for a week at a time studying, say,        need our support, with new stresses in daily
public ethics with William Schulz and              living or in making ends meet, I expect that
Sharon Welch or African American UU                we will all need to look out for each other a
History with Mark Morrison Reed.                   little more carefully, and look closer to
     Quite frankly, our theological schools        home for inspiration, for recreation, and for
have moved into expanded offerings for lay         support. We hope that your church will be
people because the financial stresses              for you an island of calm, and a place of
involved in operating a traditional seminary       centering where you do renew your purpose,
are currently very challenging. One of my          and find reminders of what’s important in
hopes during the year ahead is that another        life. The world viewed through theological
of our social action offering will be given        eyes is a world that still has the same
directly to the operating budgets of the           astonishing beauty and wonderful people as
seminaries which have been sending us such         it did a few weeks ago. It’s a world where
fine intern ministers over the years. For          grace and abundance are evident outside the
today’s offering, however, I am pleased that       bottom line of 401 K’s, and where patience,
the other half of money that we give today         perseverance, and the love and concern of
to Association Sunday will be divided up in        others are still the most important things that
three ways that will directly support those        get us through the day. If you’ve got that
who are seeking an initial or continuing           figured out, you may already be a master of
theological education --          support for      divinity.
scholarships for promising seminary
students, support for continuing education
for working ministers, and undergirding
support for the new Diversity in Ministry
program that is assisting new ministers of
color with educational and settlement issue.
This is the program that West Shore has
engaged with hoping that we will be able to
attract a seminarian of color as our next
intern.
     I am enthusiastic about the creative ways
in which our Unitarian Universalist
Association has decided to distribute the
funds that we contribute today directly to
churches, institutions and individuals rather
than have them stay inside the association
and be managed by their staff. It’s an
approach that invites creativity and
commitment across the Association to make
real the new possibilities for theological
education for all into realities.
     I think it’s what these times called for. I
said earlier that one of the consequences of
the changes we are now experiencing around
the world is that people will be looking to
reassess where and how they find meaning

				
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