Guest In Your Pulpit - JD Stillwater
JD Stillwater is a past President and Trustee of the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg (UCH); frequent speaker and preacher at UCH and other UU congregations in PA and nearby states; active in the UCH Music Ministry; Transition Team; father of UU seminarian Robin Stillwater (Union Theological class of 2018). As president of UCH, JD shepherded the congregation through the process of purchasing a second campus in inner-city Harrisburg. JD is listed at uuspeakers.org, and his Seven Candles work is encouraged and supported by UU living legends Connie Barlow, Michael Dowd, Peter Mayer, Jim Scott and Howard Dana. You may watch videos of JD's sermons on YouTube.
Titles of programs/sermons and a brief statement of content on each:
Mystery: Today's culture war pushes us to perceive spirituality and science as enemies, and holds up a false dichotomy between reason and mystery. The universe, as science reveals it, speaks only of transcendent unity, and holds up Mystery as both muse and ground of reason.
One Song: For millennia mystics and prophets have told us “All is one” and yet we feel ourselves surrounded by separation, antagonism, and isolation, plenty of reasons to conclude instead that “All is horribly splintered.” Recent advances from mainstream science reveal an underlying integrity, connectedness, and wholism in everything from human bodies to ecosystems to the fabric of space-time. Science agrees: “All is one." New findings from science offer an interfaith, non-dual spirituality, grounded in Reality itself.
Active love: An Antidote for Anthropocene Angst: That humans are having major impacts on the planet is now quite clear, and some of those impacts may be evident millions of years from now. Are we a cancer on the biosphere, a plague? Would it be better if we had remained blissfully in the Stone Age? Our angst about such matters may be no more helpful to building sustainable systems than is white guilt in forging racial justice. JD will somehow relate all of this to romantic relationships, parenting teenagers, Venn diagrams, and Joni Mitchell.
How guilt about environmental destruction won't help build a sustainable society, but active love might, the kind of love we have for our teenagers when they're being especially obnoxious.
Befriending the Thief: (Ten- or twenty-minute versions) An exploration of both the loss and the grace offered by Death, and how science can help us make peace with it, especially if we remember the gifts it brings. Note: "Thief" was a one-time homily for my home church’s annual Service of Remembrance. It got such a favorable response, along the lines of “I can finally let go of my mom” that I plan to lengthen it, generalize it, and offer it more widely as a sermon.
Befriending the Thief; Remembering Mary Oliver: Mary Oliver, the Pulitzer-Prize winning poet revered by many UUs, died January 17, 2019. Mary was not one to deny or push off thoughts of her own mortality; death and loss were present in many of her works. In this service we join her in facing and embracing what will come, what IS coming, for each of us, while also remembering her and reveling in her powerful poetry.
This is Not My Beautiful House: One of our culture’s foundational myths is about ownership, security, and permanence. JD offers a bit of science, some personal experiences, and a Talking Heads song as puzzle pieces toward a new, more vulnerable humility.
Complementarity: Quantum Physics and the End of Dogma. Do you despise the question “What do you believe?” JD finally gets real about his own personal beliefs, and discovers a scientific approach towards a New Agnosticism, one that fully embraces the mysteries and ambiguities inherent in natural reality. Along the way we meet a cryptic cat, a famous psychic, a woman with a problem, and a religious organization for atheists. The exclamation “Poppycock!” also makes a cameo appearance.
Resurrection: Death, Science, and the Profound Meaning of Spring. Spring is a time of rebirth and renewal. Easter, whose name comes from the Pagan celebration of Ostara, celebrates spring within the Christian theology of resurrection and the defeat of death. What meaning might “resurrection” have for Non-theists? Science offers a springtime way of thinking about death and resurrection, one infused with hope, renewal, legacy, even rebirth.
- Seven Candles: Science for a Deeper Spirituality, my flagship multimedia presentation about the spirituality of science is great for both worship and RE, though it is nearly an hour long and replaces much of the traditional liturgical elements. UCH (PA), MainLine (PA), First Parish Concord (MA), and Marietta (OH) have all done this with good success. Other congregations prefer Seven Candles on Saturday evening, and a spinoff sermon the next morning for worship. All my talks are appropriate for RE from middle-school up. For younger kids, I can read my children's book about the Great Story and discuss other (non-science) origin stories.
Availability: Anytime within 3 hours of of Harrisburg, PA. Will go further in summer.
Fee arrangements: Home Hospitality for Saturday evening may be requested based on distance. Payment is whatever your congregation's standard fee for presenters is.
Contact: Email JD Stillwater at jdstillwater [at] gmail [dot] com.