Based on the remaining questions from the annual Question Box Sunday held in August of each year at Mt. Vernon Unitarian Church. Follow this link to hear the audio of this service: Question Box

How can we be kind and positive, live UU values, with so much suffering, war and bad news in the world, and in our community? Does UU philosophy help us with this issue?

While it’s important to keep up to date on relevant events in the world, much of which is soul crushing, it’s also important to control the quantity and quality of the news. I highly recommend choosing news sources carefully by avoiding the highly manipulative sensational styles. We don’t need our information provided by provocateurs that are really trying to keep us addicted to their emotive hype. And, we need to take a break when the news and events of war, murder and poverty get to us.  Find some joy, lots of laughter and a whole lot of love.  Balance!

I always start my news day by reading the comics.


And, yes, UU philosophy is grounded in a commitment to an incarnational love of creation and divine purpose.  To put this in humanistic terms, our faith is built upon a deep belief in a social responsibility of each and every person to serve creation, or be a co-creator.  This commitment demands that we fight against the sin of narcissism and hedonism.  We are here to serve, not be served.

In the face of global environmental degradation, how do we as UU’s constructively engage other religions who believe that their spiritual treasure lies not on this earth?

I have found in both my personal relationships and reading, that the mainline denominations, Evangelicals, Catholics, Jews, and Muslims have as much interest and passion for working to end global environmental degradation. They believe, as we do, that the earth is precious, limited and the host for creation, ie: a spiritual treasure, and we therefor have a responsibility to take care of it. While there are a few extreme churches that focus their energy on salvation in the next life, not this, but frankly I prefer to spend my time with those with whom we do have common ground.  We can accomplish a lot when working together.

Do ghosts have spirituality?

I don’t know.

Are there healthy benefits to chai tea? Is there a spiritual meaning connected with chai tea? How can one make amends to someone passed over?

The healthiest benefit to chai is to drink it with a friend or loved one. I’m not aware of any spiritual meaning connected with chai. BTW, “chai” means tea.


Making amends with someone who has died is both an emotional and a spiritual endeavor.  Emotional change depends upon one’s self-awareness; spiritual amends depends upon one’s personal beliefs about life after death. Ex: do you believe the person is still with you in spirit or not.  Guilt is usually the main impetus for wanting to make amends, which is a good reason. Guilt is not good to carry, it weighs too much on the heart and spirit. If the guilt is deeply entrenched, I recommend a professional therapist to help sort through the layers.  A spiritual discipline of learning to let go may help. Buddhist tradition is particularly good at it.  The Catholics have a long tradition of letting go through confession, sometimes successful.  I also recommend a ritual, there are several studies that show the act of making amends through a physical ritual can help encourage the release of deeply held emotions.




What is the most satisfying part of being a minister?

Preaching and pastoral care, and when someone says “thank you” for something I’ve said or done.

Please name one practically useful thing you learned in your current studies?

Conflict analysis and resolution, and a deeper understanding of religious transformation. The later two actually translate into curriculum and sermons.

What were the most interesting things you learned this summer?

About the enormous capacity for human irrationality from Dan Ariely and his colleagues who were the speakers of at Week Four of Chautauqua Institute.


How’s the puppy doing?

She’s growing bigger but no less fun. And she has stopped chewing on the house.


In what year do you see MVUC operating within its annual budget without draining the principal in the endowment fund? In your opinion, how important is it that we achieve that condition?

This year, 2015/16, due to generous gifts to Mount Vernon Unitarian Church from members in their estates. The recent well-executed drive to create the Legacy Fund has ensured the sustainability of our endowment fund. I think this is very important because it is going to become increasingly more difficult for younger members to pledge at the same level as previous generations due to changing economics, ie: more debt, lower pay.  In order for churches to be financially viable, they’ll need to diversify their income, and using endowments may be one important option as long as the principle is secured.


Humility is an important part of many world religions. Do you see it as important in UU’ism? If so, how do you integrate it into your religious experience as a UU?

I think humility is very important to humanity, including UU’s. I see myself as a mystical humanist. My faith is in the human spirit, ability to engage in reason and awesome creativity, balanced by my knowledge of human tendency toward hubris (see my above comment on irrationality). My desire for and recognition of the mystical reminds me of humility, as well as to seek awe and wonder.


Why didn’t the church specify in its contract to renovate the Commons that construction debris should be recycled rather than landfilled in a methane-generating landfills, which recycles hardly at all?

I referred this question to Doug MacCleery, the chair of the Commons Improvement Committee. He said:
“The addition was mostly new construction.  There was not much demolition.  The Commons Improvements Committee never discussed how the construction debris that was generated would be treated.  I assume that Harry Braswell, as a LEED certified builder, recycled what material made sense.”


How do I encourage my kids to come to church when they want to do other things.  (Also my spouse)?

>I referred this question to Ann Richards, our Director of Lifespan Spiritual Growth.

“Before you encourage anyone else, I would encourage you to think about what you hope your child (or spouse) will get out of attending Mount Vernon Unitarian Church.  What will they get here that they won’t get anywhere else, doing all those other things?  Why is it important to you?  Being clear about this yourself will help you as you discuss it with your family members.


“The reasons people go to church—or don’t go—are different for everyone.  It’s important that your children both understand your goals for them, as well as that they feel that their concerns are respected and understood.  Church is not a one-size fits all experience, as many other life experiences are.  Make sure you have listened carefully to the reasons why family members don’t want to attend, then look for alternatives, ideas, negotiating points and ways to make sure your goals are met.  Does your spouse not want to get up on Sunday mornings?  Maybe you could listen to the sermon together later on podcast (in the car?), and you could talk about your reaction to it when you heard it in person.  Does your 13-year-old feel he/she doesn’t have any friends at church?  Ask if that child would like to invite a friend, and maybe have an overnight on Saturday before going to church the next day.   Does your 11-year-old “just not like it,” unable to articulate his or her objections?  Call me, Ann Richards, Director of Lifespan Spiritual Growth, to brainstorm ways to make the experience more friendly and enticing.  Anything worth doing –such as going to church—is worth some time and effort.  Let your MVUC friends and staff help you put some creative effort into addressing this problem.”


Thank you for all the great questions. We look forward to next years Question Box, so start thinking now about your questions. Of, course, you don’t have to wait a year to ask. You can visit our Contact Us page to see who may be the best equipped person to answer your need, or drop me a note and I will see how I can help you get the answers best I can.