Flower Medicine

Jesus once said,  “Consider the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.” Of course, Buddha took a simpler approach. He once offered a message that tradition has called the Flower Sermon. The Buddha did not say a word. All he did was hold up a single flower. Not everyone in the crowd understood the point he was making but it is said that at least one person reached enlightenment. 

To be honest, I’m not completely sure I know what point he was trying to make either. Perhaps the Buddha was trying to say the same thing Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote, “The roses under my window make no reference to former roses or better ones; they are what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.” 

As someone who spent three years in theology school I can tell you the history of religion is full of a lot of references to former roses; the poets, prophets and preachers of the ancient past. Along these lines, I once had a friend who went to visit a historic church in our denomination but walked away disappointed. When I asked about her experience she said “the congregation seemed to be a group of people who worshiped their own antiquity.” Ouch! And yet this is one of the great challenges of any church with a noble history including our own – we must avoid the temptation to worship our own antiquity. 

The poet Emily Dickinson once wrote a poem called May Flower about how Nature reminds us to place our reverence for the past in its proper perspective. 

Pink, small, and punctual,

Aromatic, low,

Covert in April,

Candid in May,

Dear to the moss,

Known by the knoll,

Next to the robin

In every human soul.

Bold little beauty,

Bedecked with thee,

Nature forswears


Nature forswears antiquity. When we walk through a garden in springtime we do not see any of the former roses. We see flowers that are blooming today. The color and variety of flora preach to us with their mere presence saying, “Live now! Forswear antiquity! Live today!”

Have you ever noticed that very powerful women are often named after flowers? Susan B Anthony helped launch the women’s rights movement in this country and was instrumental in getting women the right to vote. Susan is the Hebrew word for lily. This gives a whole new meaning to the words, “Consider the lilies of the field” doesn’t it?

Rosa Parks launched the civil rights movement with the Montgomery bus boycott. Rosa is the Latin word for Rose. Viola Liuzzo, a Unitarian from Michigan became a martyr to the civil rights movement in Selma, Alabama. Viola is Latin for violet.  

Recently, I was reading an article about a young Muslim climate change activist from Michigan who has instrumental in organizing people of color in her community. Her name is Zaynab Elkolaly and she lives not far from the city of Flint where the public water supply has been tainted by lead poisoning.  She recently told the media, “The climate movement young people have been fighting for their lives…We’re disrupting the status quo, so we cannot go around doing business as usual. We have to literally dismantle the systems in place. So it’s not going to be comfortable.” Zaynab is Arabic for flowering tree. 

The flower can be a powerful revolutionary symbol. In the Ukraine, the floral crown associated with wedding ceremonies has now become a symbol of resistance to tyranny and oppression. 

In Hinduism flowers are said to share a likeness to God. The lotus is associated with the goddess Lakshmi, the red hibiscus with the goddess Kali, palash with the goddess Saraswati.  The ancient French word for “likeness to God” is Michelle. I mention this because Michele Pfeffer, of blessed memory, was a young adult instrumental in starting our congregation’s environmental concerns committee in 2005. If you walk around the grounds of this church you can see how her work continues even after her untimely death. You can walk through our community garden that is an outdoor classroom and a source of food for people in need. You can walk past our compost piles to get to the top of the hill where you can see the solar panels on our roof. Walking around the inside of our building you can see our recycling containers, our skylights and our energy efficient lightbulbs. Less visible is all the rewiring we did to lower our carbon footprint. Eco-theologians tell us that when we protect the earth then we share a likeness to God. Michelle lived that faith. 

After today’s service we invite you to come to a conversation in the Lizzie Crozier French room to learn more about what our congregation has done and how to get involved in making a difference for the environment. Suffice it to say that the conversation will not be only about our noble past but our work in the present moment.  In Hinduism, our relationship to the earth is seen as the dance of Shiva, the dance of creation and destruction. Native American tradition teaches that we must “walk in balance.” So as a congregation our goal is to find balance so that our destruction never overtakes creation. 

A few years back I went to a gardening show in France and I walked through one garden where I noticed a lot of red flowers. I must have walked through the section backwards because it wasn’t until the end that I saw the description of the exhibit which was called “Le Pouvoir Des  Sorcière,” the power of witches. In France even the gardeners are philosophers and so they offered this detailed philosophical explanation of their garden. “Women were known as healers and benevolent mediators between humankind and nature before they were demonized as witches. This demonization of the feminine has led to a way of living that is destructive to both flora and fauna. The flowers in this garden have medicinal properties and can be used to heal people, calling us back to a more benevolent relationship with nature by making good use of the power of flowers. The many red flowers symbolizes the power of women’s blood.”  The description of that garden gives a whole new meaning to the hymn, “There is power, power, wonder working power in the blood…” With a few tweaks feminist theologians could create a new hymn. 

In the Canary Islands there is a flower known as the Marguerite Daisy and in Unitarian Universalism we have a spiritual ancestor known as Margaret Fuller who presaged the 20th declaration that “Women’s Rights Are Human Rights.” She also spoke to the spectrum of gender identity when she wrote, “There is no wholly masculine man, no purely feminine woman.” Indeed, the term witches is not limited to women. It has been a label put on anyone willing to be healers, willing to mediate between humanity and nature, willing to work to see all living things flourish. 

In the 1960’s people spoke a lot about “flower power,” and one of those powers is the medicinal quality of flowers and plants. For instance rose petals can be eaten in salads and are a good source of vitamin C. Rose hips can be placed in teas that soothe sore throats. Saint John’s Wort is a flowering herb that can serve as a mild antidepressant. Jasmine can be used to treat an upset stomach and improve digestion. Hyssop can improve rheumatism and arthritis. Violets can be turned into a syrup that can ease respiratory problems. Lavender can help in the treatment of insomnia. I could go on and on. 

Throughout human history powerful women, healers and revolutionary leaders,  have been named after flowers. In 1912 labor activist Rose Schneiderman gave a speech that inspired the creation of a labor song Bread and Roses, a song we will sing together later in this service. She said, “What the woman who labors wants is the right to live, not simply exist — the right to life as the rich woman has the right to life, and the sun and music and art…The worker must have bread, but she must have roses, too.” 

Last week I helped a family grieve the loss of their mother and bury her body in the ground in a graveyard on a very steep Appalachian hillside and as I drove away from the grave after the ceremony I couldn’t help but notice that just beside the road, where not many people might notice, there were tulips blooming in the afternoon sun, purple, yellow and red. For a brief moment they commanded my full attention. Nothing else was on my mind. I can only describe that moment as a personal flower communion. When we lose someone words are not enough. When we are grieving words are not enough. At such moments what we may need most is a flower sermon. 

The Buddha gave his flower sermon many centuries ago. You may not know this but the word Buddha has its roots in the words “to bud” to blossom, to bloom, to flourish. So consider the lilies of the field and the roses and the violets. Consider the trillium, the iris and the columbine. Consider the blue flox, the flaming azalea, the morning glory and the wild hydrangea. Consider the tulips and choose to live today. 

(Rev. Chris Buice gave this sermon at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday April 24, 2022)


The Universe and Unitarian Universalism (an Easter Sermon)

If you keep up with religion in the news you may be aware that NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has hired 24 theologians to help prepare humanity for the possibility that we may encounter extraterrestrial life somewhere out there. I think many of my friends forwarded the article to me because they thought I would be perfect for the job. Oddly enough, when I read the article the first thing that came to my mind was a joke that seems particularly appropriate to share on Easter Sunday. 

Once there was a group of Christian missionaries who took a rocket ship to another planet to spread the faith. Their plan was to tell the aliens about Jesus only when they got there they found out the aliens already knew him. “Yes, we know Jesus. He comes to our planet once or twice a year to visit.” The missionaries were shocked to hear this news. “Jesus comes to your planet once or twice a year? He hasn’t been to our planet in over 2,000 years,” they said. “Yes,” said the aliens, “Everytime he comes to our planet we give him chocolate. He just loves our chocolate. He can’t get enough chocolate. What did you guys do when he came to your planet?”

Jesus was badly treated in his lifetime. However, human beings don’t have a great track record for how we treat each other either. During the era of the pandemic human beings have not been on their best behavior. Just ask any cashier or waiter or teacher or health care professional or anyone really. In Tennessee it is not that uncommon to see a billboard that reads, “Jesus is coming! Are you ready?” However, Jesus may be waiting for a better offer or Jesus may be waiting until we get our act together and start treating each other better. And so this Easter Sunday let’s explore some of the ways we can treat each other better. On Easter Sunday let’s explore some ways we might find wholeness and healing together after the trauma of the last two years and grow in compassion and kindness toward each other. 

Over the last two years there has been a lot of loneliness, isolation and depression. And when we are feeling depressed it can be very hard to get out of bed in the morning. That’s why I find it interesting that there is a rabbinic tradition that says every time we go to bed at night it is a tiny death and every time we get out of bed in the morning it is a tiny resurrection. Every 24 hours of our lives is a cycle of life, death and resurrection. So if you managed to get out of bed this morning give yourself a pat on the back. This is a small miracle. On Easter Sunday let’s remember that this too is a form of resurrection. 

Life can be tough. Yesterday, I led a memorial service where there was lot of grief. And yet, as our cars moved from the funeral home to the graveyard I couldn’t,  help but notice the many dogwoods in bloom, new life in the midst of death. Because life can be so tough we need to be good to each other and to ourselves. I have to admit that sometimes when I am feeling down in the dumps I am guilty of practicing a very specialized form of retail therapy by going to a bookstore. Recently I picked up a book by Rabbi Naomo Levy called Einstein and the Rabbi: Searching for the Soul, a book that helps put spirituality in its cosmic perspective just like the theologians at NASA would want us to do. 

In the book she tells the story of Rabbi Robert Marcus who once wrote a letter to Albert Einstein after the death of his son. For reasons that are not entirely clear, the rabbi decided to write a scientist for words of comfort and perspective ( a reversal of roles as it were.) We do not know for sure why he wrote Einstein but we do know that Einstein wrote back and that letter contains a few sentences that are often quoted out of context, words that succinctly summarize the philosophy of this great physicist or dare I say it – his religion. 

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us the “Universe,” a part limited in time and space. We experience ourselves, our thoughts and feelings as something separate from the rest—a kind of optical delusion of our consciousness. The striving to free oneself from this delusion is the one issue of true religion…it is the way to reach the attainable measure of peace of mind.”

These words remind me of something the Hindu tradition teaches us. Each one of us is like a drop of water separated from the ocean and one day that drop returns to the sea. This idea may (or may not) be a comfort at the moment of death. I remember once Dottie Burnham shared this idea with Dian Igou after the death of Dian’s grandmother. Dian remained unconsoled. She said, “Dottie, you don’t understand. My grandmother was a really great drop.” And so it is. Healing has its own timetable and not every form of grief is amenable to the comforts of philosophy.  

Even so, Einstein’s ideas do resonate with the Zen Buddhist tradition where we are taught that we must discover that the concept of “self” is an illusion, the idea that there is a “me in here” and that there are “others out there.” We cannot draw a clear line that divides us from others or from the moon, the stars, the planets, the comets and the galaxies. We are one. 

Einstein described this kind of experience of oneness by saying, “The most beautiful emotion we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of all true art and science.” He said that if we cannot experience this emotion then we are as good as dead. And yet when we rekindle this emotion there can be resurrection. 

One of the times when I feel this emotion rekindled in me is when our congregation goes on its Fall Retreat to Pickett State Park which is part of the International Dark-Sky Association. On a clear night you can stand in a field and look up at a breathtaking display of stars and planets from horizon to horizon. You can even see the stars shining through the branches of the leafless trees. The philosopher Immanuel Kant once said, “Two things fill me with breathless awe, the starry heavens above and the moral law within.”  Something “in here” is connected to everything “out there.” Looking up at the night sky we become aligned with all true religion. 

Not everyone thinks like a physicist. Even so, I do feel a certain kinship with Einstein and with Rabbi Naomi Levy who offered her own interpretation of Einstein’s ideas, “If the mission of Einstein’s ‘true religion’ is to help us see the underlying oneness of things, then as a rabbi I consider it my mission to spread the word about a faith that can unite people of all religions and races. A meta-religion we can all agree upon and belong to. A religion of universal connectedness, a unity that holds us together.” She contends that every once in a while we catch a glimpse of that oneness – a sense that we are part of something infinite and wondrous that not only surrounds us but flows through us. 

Oddly enough, I’ve found that I often learn a lot about my own faith by studying other faiths. Indeed, in many ways Rabbi Levy offers us a succinct definition of the words Unitarian Universalist. Yes, it is the name of our denomination. Yes,  it is a name found within the name of our church, Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church. However,  the name points to something bigger than our church or a synagogue or a mosque or a temple or a denomination.  It is a name that points to our unity with everything that is, our unity with the cosmos, our unity with all life and our universal connectedness, Unitarian Universalism. 

This week my daughter Sally expressed confusion about why Easter Sunday falls on different dates every year. I explained that  Easter is always on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox and she said, “How very pagan of the Christians.” 

This year Easter Sunday falls within the season of Passover in the Jewish tradition and the month of Ramadan in the Muslim tradition. The proximity of all the holidays and holy days is not an accident but evidence of our universal connectedness. Both Ramadan and Passover are based on the lunar calendar. So all of these holidays show our connection to the universe. 

During Ramadan it seems appropriate to share words from  Sufi Muslim poet Hafiz who once wrote, 

Just sit there right now

Don’t do a thing

Just rest

For your separation from God

Is the hardest work in this world. 

Similarly, our separation from each other is the hardest work we do. On our altar we have some Ukrainian eggs for Easter. And the war in that country reminds us of how hard we human beings will work to be in conflict with each other, how hard we will work at polarization, discord and division. Like Christ on the cross, innocent people are bleeding into the soil of the Ukraine and we are reminded of the words of the prophet that echo down the corridors of time, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” 

However, we also have violence in our country. We also have violence in our community. We have children who fear for their lives when they walk to school in the morning or home in the afternoon. We might also say, “Forgive us, we know not what we do.” 

NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, has hired 24 theologians to help prepare humanity for the possibility that we may encounter extraterrestrial life somewhere out there. We are committed to exploring the stars even though we barely understand ourselves. We are committed to exploring the universe even when we haven’t solved all our problems here on earth. So let me end this sermon by suggesting at least three small steps we can take toward world peace. 

The first step we can take is to give away more chocolate. In that spirit I am placing an Easter basket full of chocolates on the altar. Feel free to come get some chocolate after the service. May this chocolate remind you of love,  the love that is the spirit of this church, the love that can renew, restore and sustain us. 

The second step we can take toward peace iis we can heed the advice of another physicist, Stephen Hawking, who once said when we are depressed or discouraged or demoralized, “Don’t look down at your feet, look up at the stars. 

And the third step we can take toward world peace can be summarized in this sentence – If our separation from each other is the hardest work we do then let’s stop working so hard. Let’s stop working so hard and rest. For when we rest we become kinder people. When we rest we become more generous people. When we rest we rekindle those feelings of reverence, wonder and awe without which we are as good as dead. When we rest we open ourselves to the possibility of resurrection. 

(Rev. Chris Buice delivered this sermon at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday April 17, 2022)

Cringeworthy Moments in Unitarian Universalist History

Since this is the season of Lent and Ramadan, a time for self examination and reflection, this morning I want to talk about some cringeworthy moments in Unitarian Universalist history. For those of you not up to date on your slang, a cringeworthy moment is an awkward and embarrassing moment that fills us with shame. A cringeworthy moment often revolves around a decision we’ve made in the past that in retrospect we can see was a really a huge mistake, one that leaves us totally mortified. So today, I want to look at cringeworthy moments in the history of our faith, cringeworthy moments in the lives of our spiritual ancestors, in hopes that it will help us navigate our own lives better in our own times. 

In the Unitarian Universalist Church we have a tendency to remember our noblest ancestors in their noblest moments, consciously or unconsciously, edited out their more cringeworthy moments. When I joined the Unitarian Universalist Church in the 1990’s it was common to see a list of Famous Unitarian Universalists that included women’s rights activists like Susan B Anthony and Margaret Fuller, abolitionists like Theodore Parker and Julia Ward Howe, pioneers in deaf education like Samuel Gridley Howe and mental health reform like Dorothea Dix, humanitarians and medical missionaries like Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton, writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, educational reformers like Elizabeth Peabody. Our religious education director, Catherine Farmer Loya, grew up in the UU church and she has a memory of wearing a t-shirt that had a long list of Famous UUs on it and at the bottom it read in big letters “and me.” In retrospect, the t-shirt is kind of cringeworthy because every name on the list was a white person. 

Our own congregation’s history includes African American civil rights leaders Jim Person who integrated this church by walking through our doors in 1950, Jack and Edna Leflore who helped organize the civil rights sit-ins, Joe and Charlyne Michaels who were supporters of Historically Black Colleges including and especially Knoxville College, Elandria Williams who was the first black moderator of our denomination, but you will not find their names on any list of Famous Unitarian Universalists. So our emphasis on the Famous means we often overlook the very meaningful work for change that all too often goes unseen and is done by relatively anonymous people. Consciously or unconsciously our emphasis on Famous UUs is a way to whitewash history. 

Now even though that list of Famous Unitarian Universalists does include some very admirable people, and I will be the first to admit that I admire many of them, I think we may also need a list of “Infamous Unitarian Universalists.” The Famous Unitarian Universalists who make us want to cringe. 

No list of infamous Unitarian Universalists would be complete without the name of John C. Calhoun on it. John C. Calhoun (who lived from 1782-1850)  is a reminder that there is a big difference between having a good resume and being a good person. Calhoun was a United States Congressman, a United States Senator, Secretary of War, Secretary of State and Vice President of the United States. That’s an impressive resume. And yet when I learned he had been a Unitarian it made me want to cringe. You will not find the name of John C. Calhoun on any t-shirt advertising Famous Unitarian Universalist even though he was a founding member of All Souls Unitarian Church in Washington DC. 

No one did more to start the American Civil War than John C. Calhoun even though he did not live to see the shots fired on Fort Sumter in his native South Carolina. He had an explosive temper. He was a bully, a polarizer, divider and schismatic. In a time when many Americans felt that slavery was an institution that needed to be abolished or allowed to die of natural causes he argued that slavery was a virtue that needed to be expanded pushing for more slavery in more states even if it dissolved the Union. He used the symbols of the flag and the rhetoric of freedom and liberty to justify and promote human bondage, and the violence and oppression necessary to uphold it.. He advocated for state’s rights that trampled over every human right. Many who supported slavery saw it as a necessary evil. John C. Calhoun saw it as a positive good. He saw slave holding as the hallmark of civilization. He was unapologetic white supremacist arguing that it was natural for the elite race to enjoy the fruits of the labor of the inferior group. Although he did not live to see the Civil War, no one did more to foment it, offering an intellectual, strategic and political justification for it. He was an unapologetic racist and unprincipled white supremacist.  

John C. Calhoun deserves to be on any list of Infamous Unitarian Universalists and his memory is cringeworthy not only for our faith but for the citizens of his native state of South Carolina. Clemson University was founded on land donated by the Calhoun family, even so John C. Calhoun’s name has been removed from the buildings there. The university released this statement, “We must recognize there are central figures in Clemson’s history whose ideals, beliefs and actions do not represent the university’s core values of respect and diversity”.

During the Jim Crow era of the late 19th century white supremacists erected a statue of John C. Calhoun in Charleston, South Carolina, in close proximity to an African American neighborhood. It was almost immediately vandalized by local black neighbors. So the white supremacists decided to put the statue on top of a 115 foot column with an iron fence around it and somehow people still found ways to vandalize the statue. On June 24, 2020, the statue was removed by the unanimous vote of the Charleston City Council. This was in the immediate aftermath of the killing of George Floyd and within recent memory of the white supremacist hate crime that killed 9 people in a Bible study at Mother Emmaneul AME church in that same city. It took over 100 years but eventually Clemson University and the city of Charleston found the memory of John C. Calhoun to be too cringeworthy. 

In addition to any list of Infamous Unitarian Universalists we could create another list of milder candidates that we could call “Unitarian Universalists we are simply embarrassed to mention.” One of those Unitarians might be Neville Chamberlain, the prime minister of Great Britain, who is best remembered for his policy of appeasement that involved negotiating  with Adolf Hitler and waving the diplomatic agreement with him before cameras declaring “Peace in our times.” 

When Neville Chamberlain ran for political office his opponents used the fact that he was a Unitarian as a reason to vote against him. Since there is no separation of church and state in Great Britain once elected Prime Minister he handpicked bishops for the Church of England causing the more orthodox Lord Hugh Cecil to declare, “I think it unseemly that a Unitarian should have the predominant voice in the appointment of Bishops….If we lived in the reign of Henry VIII a Unitarian would not be in Downing Street. He would be burned at Smithfield.” The archbishop of Canterbury lamented in private that Chamberlain was not only a Unitarian but also a reverent agnostic. 

When Neville Chamberlain declared, “Peace in our time” he was lionized as a hero by his countrymen. It was a very politically popular action.  After Germany invaded Poland he was denounced as a fool. Many remember Churchill’s comment that the policy of appeasement was like feeding a crocodile hoping you would be the last one eaten. Today, Neville Chamberlain is remembered as dangerously naive and unforgivable gullible. Chamberlain was never as heroic as his early popular approval ratings suggested nor was he as foolish as his political rivals villainized him to be later. He wasn’t a pacifist nor was he a pushover. Essentially he used a treaty for peace to buy time to prepare for war. However, the moment he declared “Peace in our time” is one of the more cringeworthy moments in history which may explain why his name does not usually appear on any list of Famous Unitarian Universalists. 

We may well think of Neville Chamberlain in the midst of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine as a reminder of how quickly well intentioned diplomacy can deteriorate into bloodshed, violence and genocide. Of course, hawks should not be complacent. There are military equivalents like the former President of our country posing on an aircraft carrier under a banner that said “Mission Accomplished” at the very beginning of what became one of the longest wars in our nation’s history.. Lately, when I hear politicians talk about how the pandemic is over I wonder if we aren’t seeing the modern equivalent of “Peace in our time” or “Mission Accomplished”as death rates rise in China and Great Britain. I sincerely hope not. The infection rates are declining rapidly. However I noticed that in Dr. Fauci’s last press conference he kept using the word “hopefully” over and over again. History has a way of showing us sometimes there is a thin line between hope and hubris. 

In downtown Knoxville there is a statue of the Unitarian suffragist Lizzie Crozier French. Her efforts were instrumental in gaining women the right to vote because Tennessee was the last state needed to ratify that amendment to the Constitution. We have a room named after her in the church. I’ve researched her life and I’ve done presentations about her in the community. Of course, I have to confess that one of my greatest fears is that one day in my continuing research I might come across a cringeworthy letter that she wrote. After all she worked for the right for women to vote in a segregated city and a segregated state. There was more than a little racism in the suffragist movement so a cringeworthy letter may be out there somewhere and if we find it what will do about that statue or our room name? Will there be vandalism? Will the statue be toppled or removed by a vote of city council one day? Once again, let me say, I hope not, even as I am mindful of that thin line between hope and hubris. 

Now I’ve spent most of the morning talking about cringeworthy moments in Unitarian Universalist history but let me also say that I do not believe that history should be an exercise in traveling back in time to slay dragons guilty of the immoralities of the past, if only because we have enough immoralities in the present. I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, “Modern slaves are not in chains, they are in debt.” Unitarian Universalism has strong ties to higher education. We value lifeline learning. The average student loan debt in America is $39, 351 and some of those undergraduates go on to study for the ministry of the Unitarian Universalist Church adding another $30-60,000 of debt to the pile. Many of the jobs out there in the world (including but not limited to those in the church) do not pay enough to make these debts easily repayable. Indeed, my prediction is that we have a student loan bubble now, similar to the housing bubble of the 90’s. When the bubble bursts it will affect everyone of us. The church, the state, the non-profit and for profit sectors are all complicit in this debt crisis, not only student loan debt but credit card debt, mortgage debt and so many other forms of debt that keep people below a living wage. If modern slaves are not in chains but in debt, if that is true, then who is to say than any of us will be remembered any more fondly that John C. Calhoun. 

In 1992 Senator Al Gore (later Vice President) wrote a book called Earth in the Balance about climate change. In that book he called for the elimination of the internal combustion engine in 25 years to protect our planet. That would have been the year 2017. And yet this morning many of us came to church in some kind of vehicle with an internal combustion engine myself included. And while electric vehicles are an improvement they still depend on coal fueled power plants at this time. So how will future generations judge us? Will they look back at us and want to vandalize our statues or condemn us for surrendering to the power of the economic forces by too easily declaring, “Peace, peace when there is no peace”? Who knows that the future holds

But just for today, let me say, if we are wise, the cringeworthy moments of our past can help us examine our lives in the present. The season of Lent and Ramadan can be a time of self-examination where we ask ourselves, “What are we doing today that we might find cringeworthy tomorrow?” 

It is interesting to note that the All Souls Unitarian Church co-founded with John C. Calhoun was a major leader in the civil rights movement. Today, it is an organizing hub for many progressive causes and anti-racism initiatives. This should serve as a reminder that our faith is not limited to the most cringeworthy moments of our past. 

The hymn Amazing Grace was written by the Christian evangelist John Newton who advocated for the abolition of slavery in later life but looked back on his past life as a slave trader and found it utterly cringeworthy. Thus he wrote, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see” and he wasn’t talking about cheap grace. He was talking about the grace that transforms lives, the grace that reorients us and makes us change our ways, the grace that turns slavery into freedom, the grace that sees a wrong and makes it right, the grace that transforms cringeworthiness into compassion, kindness and courage. This kind of amazing Grace is the only thing that can save us from the more cringeworthy moments of Unitarian Universalist history. 

(The Reverend Chris Buice gave this sermon at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church on Sunday, April 3, 2022)