Thursday, May 09, 2013


Merton’s Kentucky

A guided retreat w/optional trips

POST General Assembly Retreat for Clergy & Families
 June 24-26, 2013
Led by Rev. Cynthia P. Cain &
Joe Zaranontello of LooseLeaf Hollow


A  retreat for those who are interested in beginning, or further developing, a contemplative writing practice. With the spirit of Thomas Merton as our guide, we will explore eight contemplative writing practices. Using these "8 Pathways to the Center," you will experience a way to integrate body, mind, psyche and spirit"

The Integral Retreats and Life-Direction are guided by Joe Zarantonello, teacher, poet and the Creator of The Integral Journal.
Joe's undergraduate degree is from the University of Notre Dame where he majored in The Great Books. His M.A. is from University College, Dublin, where he studied the Irish Poets. Joe spends time on the road leading retreats in Illinois, Ohio, Indiana, Missouri and Tennessee, but most of the time he's at home running Loose Leaf Hollow, a guesthouse for solitary or guided retreats in the rolling knobs of Kentucky.

COSTS TBD based upon TOURS & ACCOMODATIONS, range $200-$250

#1 Only 45 minutes from Louisville, 25 minutes from Gethsemani, and only 10 minutes from Bardstown~ Loose Leaf Hollow is easily accessible, yet quite secluded
Bordered by gorgeous Bernheim Forest, Loose Leaf Hollow has a grace and beauty all its own, and will be a tonic for both your senses and soul.
Loose Leaf Hollow has a full kitchen, library, and a beautiful zendo for meditation. It can accommodate eight guests and is suitable for over-night, weekend, and longer solitary retreats.
The friendly, open and warm character of Loose Leaf Hollow sets it apart from larger retreat facilities. It is truly “a space for grace” where you can relax, reflect and re-energize your soul!  BEST FOR SINGLES & ADULTS

#2 Cinnamon House B&B Circa 1900. The colors on the inside and outside of this inn are just as spicy and playful as the name. Enjoy views of downtown Springfield, Kentucky, from the Nancy Hanks Lincoln room, the large family-friendly Elizabeth Maddox Roberts room, or the private en suite bathroom in the Marithelma Kelly room. Sit in a rocking chair on the front porch to read or explore the small town just steps away. All seven stops along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail are within one hour of this quaint town. Study the nation's great history by visiting civil war and Mary Lincoln Legacy sites.

Lincoln was NOT a Unitarian , but he associated with and sympathized with our forebears. His parents were wed and he was born right in these parts and there is much to see of beauty and history. Led by Rev. Cain, kids welcome.
Kentucky’s “knobs” have a rich but little known history that ranges from America’s earliest Catholic enclaves to Prohibition era- bootlegging and even-later, what has come to be called the “Cornbread Mafia.” Spirits interweave with spirituality in this area where Merton had his epiphany!
Tour will be guided by Rev. Cain

The Breakthrough is an opportunity to step out of your day to day worries and troubles and find a sense of peace you never knew existed. You don't want the time to end. Fortunately, it doesn't have to because you take the peace and serenity with you when you leave."
Shearene Conner
Murfreesboro, TN

"There are few ways on the path of compassion that take one from sleep to becoming awake in a brief five days. Joe’s Breakthrough Week, his gentle mastery as teacher, the practice of meditation and writing—whether you are just beginning or are seasoned in these arts—will lead you to profound changes in your world view. I have come to treasure The Breakthrough—the light that comes in, the surprise in that light."
Mary Luken, Director of Bethany Spring New Haven, KY

FOR MORE INFORMATION or to reserve a spot contact Rev. Cain:
CALL 859 221 3034 for more information! Deadline is May 20, 2013.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A reflection for water communion

So, are we meant to have fun?

And what exactly is fun anyway? I’ll get back to that.

My inspiration for these reflection came from today’s state, Florida, and the realization that over the years we have used the water service to talk about the spirituality, the symbolism, the interconnectedness, the ecology, the politics, and the economy of water, we have never really talked about how much we rely upon water as a source of pleasure. So often, our journeys are to places near water so that we can partake in the joy of floating, riding, surfing, splashing, sunning, or just gazing upon it. Let’s just pause and celebrate that.

My water came from Ireland, the Dingle peninsula to be exact, a place, I dreamed of visiting for almost forty years, since I studied Irish literature in my Freshman year of college, and became enraptured. But all my dreams of Ireland were of green hills and thatched roofs and country folk and sheep grazing, and blessed be, these things can still be found. Surprising for me was the extent to which water is part of every aspect of Ireland. Why wouldn’t it be! The place is surrounded by oceans and seas and permeated by streams, rivers and lochs. The story of Ireland is the story of an island and its water, including its tears. I got my little vial of water from a place that felt like the end of a very long pilgrimage, the ocean near the gravesite of Peig Sayers, a resident of the Great Blasket Island who wrote An Old Woman’s Reflections, my first glimpse of Irish literature. This place was holy ground for me. Seeing the Great Blasket from her mainland grave site, driving the roads of the Dingle peninsula, staying at the home of a storyteller and sitting up by his peat fire late with him was more fun to me than anything I can recall in many, many years. But that’s me, I’m a bit odd.

The Irish people are hard workers. I have a lot more Scottish than Irish in me, just a smidgen of Irish as far as I know, but I love to work and don’t get the culture of “fun.” For me, work is fun. Life is full of fun. 

Now Ireland has also been home to more traditionally “fun” pastimes, like vacations, cruises and recreation. From the ill-fated voyage of the Titanic, built in Belfast, and sailing from Cobh to today’s surfing culture (yes, I said surfing in Ireland) people have paid large sums of money and traveled far to satisfy their urge for enjoyment. These people who surf Ireland’s West coast come from all over the world to conquer some of the biggest waves anywhere. They are also some of the most dangerous because of their size, velocity, and the rocky shoals beneath them and outcroppings offshore. The surfers have to be towed into the waves in many cases, and sometimes travel as far as eight miles offshore to get the biggest surf. The surfers of Mullaghmore, County Sligo, who have become world famous, are called “slightly crazy” by a BBC article:
Ollie O'Flaherty recalled an occasion recently when his friend and towing partner, Peter Connolly, had to pull him out of the water after a very tricky situation:
"I've definitely had one or two pretty big scares...last October I got wiped out and was stuck at the bottom of one wave and I got picked up, hit and dragged over the reef three times," said Ollie.
In a sport where broken bones, and even death, can be the heavy price to pay for not catching a wave properly, he insists "the thrill outweighs the consequence for me."

Now that’s fun!
Please do not take this as a criticism of cruises, because I know many of you have taken or will take cruises and I am sure you had an enormously good experience. When Eric and Seth and I got to go to St. John as I was invited to preach there, (by the way that was lovely but about one-one hundredth as much “fun” as going to Ireland, for me) we saw the world’s biggest cruise ship in port. We just looked at each other and said, Yikes!  As introverts and people who don’t party or stay up late and who just like to be alone, it looked like a very terrifying place. For me, almost any boat situation is decidedly not “fun” because I have motion sickness. So, I save a lot of money and worry not going on cruises! But others may say that this was the most fun they have ever had.

That brings me back to “fun.”

The word “fun” used to mean to trick or hoax. No doubt you’ve heard people hear in Kentucky say, “He/she is just funning you.” But “fun” has come to be an important part of our vernacular, a noun rather than a verb. Almost daily we ask, did you have fun? Or report on Facebook: I had a lot of fun at the festival! If we were to look deeply into our beliefs, I think we’d agree that we believe that we should have fun, we deserve to have fun, that fun balances work and toil, and that we should budget time and money for fun. 

Jewish and Christian scriptures actually do not mention “fun” per se, although
So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.  - Ecclesiastes 8:15
"The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, 'What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.'
"Then he said, 'This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." '
"But God said to him, 'You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?'"
"This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God." - Luke 12:16-21
No one is calling for grim stoicism or renunciation!
“The theologian who has no joy in his work is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this science. May God deliver us from what the Catholic Church reckons one of the seven sins of the monk — t├Ždium [weariness] — in respect of the great spiritual truths with which theology has to do. But we must know, of course, that it is only God who can keep us from it.”

The quotation is from Karl Barth’s 1957 Church Dogmatics.

Children have lots of fun, and they know how to have it simply and joyfully, until we and the world teach them that they have to buy it, turn it on, that it need batteries, comes packaged, and requires ever- greater thrills.
Maybe, what we really need to emphasize is not fun,  something that is not in itself wrong, but that has been co-opted, exploited, commercialized, and made expensive, extravagant, exclusive, damaging to the environment, dangerous, and in some cases just slightly crazy, but recreation…. Re-creation, which water can do, which is one of the meanings of the traditional communion ritual, to cleanse and make new, and which can be done without expense or harming anyone or anything. It can be done by breathing, by smiling, by slowing down, by telling the truth, by letting go, by forgiving, by washing away the residue of expectations and demands upon ourselves and others that cause us grief. May you be surrounded by the healing waters of hope and renewal today and every day. AMEN

(yes, Che Guevara was in this town en route to Ireland's famous Lahinch surfing beach. Did he have fun?)

Saturday, September 08, 2012


a homily given on July 22, 2012

A few international stories in honor of the Olympics:

Hungarians will not clink glasses in a toast with beer. Why? Because they were defeated by the Hapsburgs in 1848 (who then toasted their victory) they vowed never to do this for 150 years so even after 1998 and even after everyone forgot which war started the tradition or from whence it came, they will scold you if you toast with beer.

Moral: Myth takes a life of its own and human ritualized behavior can long outlast its antecedents.

A political fracas occurred early yesterday in London:
"The most leftie opening ceremony I have ever seen - more than Beijing, the capital of a communist state! Welfare tribute next?" wrote Aidan Burley, a Conservative Party MP who was fired as a ministerial aide in David Cameron's government after revelations he attended a Nazi-themed stag party in France last year.
"Thank God the athletes have arrived! Now we can move on from leftie multi-cultural crap. Bring back red arrows, Shakespeare and the Stones!" he added minutes later.
 Moral: If Conservatism is still alive and well and in London and Europe, let’s acknowledge how long it is apt to thrive in this, our homeland, the South.

Liberal Religion in the South. Three questions: What is meant by the South? What is meant by Religion? And what does it mean for Unitarian Universalism?
The South:
The Southern United States/”Dixie” is most distinguished by its culture. The boundaries are clear to most (but not all), but the culture is nearly 100% discernible by any outsider. Kentucky is technically a border state, but almost any visitor from New Jersey, California, Germany or Mars would call it Southern because of 1) the accents, 2) the food 3) the music and 4) the religion. That said, it is “less” southern than some other places, for example… Tennessee, where just last week, I saw a sign that said if you fail to tip, a kid gets a mullet. When Anke asked what’s a mullet, the clerk said, you’ll see one soon. I said I don’t know, we’re headed back to Kentucky before nightfall, to which he said, Kentucky’s just as bad. I have not done a scientific study, but I guarantee you the number of Confederate flags goes up exponentially as soon as you pass Bowling Green.
But let’s just concentrate on #4, religion. The South has a special relationship with religion which is recognized by theologians, sociologists, and armchairs philosophers. It is referred to as the Bible belt. Since we are also the most out of shape and overweight maybe we will have to change it to the Bible elastic waist pants, but for now, it’s Bible belt. 

The good people of the South have a highly developed sense of place. I love to listen to the people of Springfield talk and tell stories. It’s like reading Faulkner. Everyone white is related somehow and everyone black is related somehow and there’s some overlap, too. Everyone is known by where they grew up, where the significant events occurred, and they tell and retell the stories. Religion, primarily Roman Catholic and Southern Baptist, is woven through these stories as is work, family, and politics.

The mythical story of the South is the story of the Civil war and in this myth, the noble Southerner was expelled from Eden, and the War (simply called the War) was the fall from Grace which is very much alive. It circumscribes and colors and haunts Southern religion the way the Austrian defeat does Hungarian beer drinking.  People don’t even need to know the beginning of the myth or the true story; they just know you’re a Yankee if you ain’t one of them.

What is Religion?
When we talk about Southern religion, we are primarily talking about “Southern Evangelical Protestantism.” What I’d love to do right now is make a sharp and clear definition for you between all religions that fall loosely or tightly under that aegis and all that are opposed to it, which I am going to call “American Civil Religion.”

In its most distilled form SEP is the response and a reaction of the victimization of the Southerner, his near-feeling of crucifixion after the “War.” Curiously, the very Southerners who most perpetuate this religion in its most virulent and exclusionary versions, and who continue who expound the most hateful doctrines of racism associated with the American South, are the members of the Underclass who would never have benefitted from a Confederate victory. But in culture of nations as in churches, I find the truth does not often interfere with myth.

The religion is 1) a rationalization 2) a relief and 3) a reinforcement for the “beleaguered and defeated southerner.
Rationalization~ As man is to God, so slave is to Master. This analogy explains the participation of Southern “Christian” clergy in system that seems to outsiders to be anathema: slavery and racism. By understanding their goal as that of converting heathen Africans, many Southerners rationalized a hierarchical and abusive form of religion.
Relief ~ Conquest over anxiety and guilt. “Blessed Assurance” is no mere platitude. The collective guilt that hovers at the periphery of every Southerner’s conscience is alleviated to some degree by the core doctrine of evangelical religion: the assurance of forgiveness: “The Christian is merely a Sojourner in the world. Evils have to be endured, and the gospel makes them endurable.”
Reinforcement ~ The culture and rituals of the evangelical tradition: “Hellfire, Bible thumping, serpent-swinging, camp meeting, tongue-talking, tear shedding,” and the ultimate ritual of the altar call and conversion (being “saved”) are forms of exorcism that expiate the guilt of racism, slavery, and its concomitant demons over and over again.
I read a blog by a liberal fellow in Alabama subtitled “the favorite thing for Southerners to bring up, RELIGION, and the least favorite, RACE…” that pretty well nails it.
Quite different than this is what has been named American Civil Religion, of which Unitarianism and Universalism, at least in their original forms, were the preeminent examples. 

Robert Bellah defined American Civil Religion as the religious dimension of a people through which they interpret their historical experience in light of transcendent reality. (Meyer, 68)

An article in Harvard Square Library lays out beautifully the historic development of American Civil Religion: The unifying theme in the new world epic is the open circle of the free way of life. Wholeness which is open for growth is the primary characteristic of the liberal way of life in America.
The core of ACR is the social gospel, forged in the aftermath of Industrialization which both blessed and cursed our society after the Civil war, and articulated most clearly by Niebuhr and Rauschenbusch, but exemplified most in Unitarianism and Universalism.
Key tenets of this Enlightenment understanding of religion are an emphasis on democracy, an allegiance to what has been called the Kingdom of God or the Open Circle, optimism about the nature of humanity, and and emphasis on freedom, reason and tolerance.
Wrote Dean Sperry of Harvard:
Something there is in American life which doesn’t love walls. There is a residual Leveller in all of us. Back of our Equalitarianism there lies the old prophetic ideal of the whole of life lived as a single consistent experience… hence one of the most marked differences between the religion of America and that of the old world : the idea of the Church is not and has never been the center of our religious interest. We are more interested in the Kingdom of God in its totality. (HSL, 2005, p.4)

There is indeed a Southern Civil religion or “Southern Way of Life” that could be described as “less optimistic, less liberal, less tolerant, less democratic, and more homogeneously Protestant.” (Meyer, 69)

Enter into this culture the UU churches and fellowships such as ours who planted themselves in the South. But we did not only enter in the mid 20th century. We were preceded by Horace Holley in 1820s who came from Boston to serve as the liberal President of Transylvania College and was run out of Lexington by the Presbyterian Synod. We were preceded by the Universalists who were here even before Holley, with meeting houses in Paris, KY and Louisville and all around the countryside, giving the lie to the hellfire and damnation of Edwards and the great Revival and preaching and living against Calvinism. 

Like all important discussions, this one is not simple. The myth has two sides. The South has been a scapegoat for Northerners who typify it to avoid facing their own complicity in our country’s long history of racism and exploitation. 

There is actually something liberal religion can learn now from Southern religious tradition. We have excoriated evangelical Christianity for its focus on personal salvation over what we proudly decree to be the social gospel. We have a highly developed notion of human potential but sometimes neglect the fallibility and the forgiveness available to every human heart. To quote Suzanne Meyer:
While human potential in the abstract may be virtually unlimited, individual limitations are very real. Human beings sin and are sinned against. I encounter people every day who are victims of brokenness and alienation. For those who are victims, liberal theology offers both moral outrage and compassion, but to those who are both victim and victimizer, both the sinned against and the sinner, liberal theology has less to offer. The Southern experience on the other hand has something to say to those of us who are both victim and offender.
I don’t know about you, but I want to be a part of a progressive, open, democratic faith with a word of hope, that is not a collection of self-righteous victims but a place where sinners and sinnees both and alike can come to listen to and learn from one another, and to grow a soul.       TBC