JD Stillwater's full-time mission is to share the awe and wonder of natural reality, and to lift up insights from a science-informed worldview that promise to enrich our lives and repair the world. JD is a past President of the Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, an active part of the worship team and music ministry, and a frequent speaker there and at many other UU congregations, both remote and in person.
JD is an officer and board member of the Religious Naturalist Association, serves on the Council of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science, and co-founded Religious Naturalists of UU (RNUU). He’s the father of UU minister Rev. Robin Stillwater, and his work is encouraged and supported by UU living legends Peter Mayer, Michael Dowd, and Jim Scott. Video recordings of some sermons are available on YouTube and at JD's website.
Note: It’s not just a sermon; I work with your worship team to craft a coherent, inspiring, thought-provoking service experience, with all elements working in concert.
Another Note: all topics come with an optional after-service workshop, in which participants get a chance to go deeper into the ideas, to digest, personalize, and create community together.
Last Note (I promise): “Multimedia” means the talk includes extensive use of images and video.
- Defiant Love: Rejecting Our Inheritance - Multimedia, 20 min. What are we, crazy?! Some aspects of our inherited cultural system are clearly harmful to our planet, our descendants, and our own humanity. How did this happen? In the context of our damaged and dysfunctional culture, acting with honor for our ancestors, respect for ourselves, and love for future generations often looks like rudeness or radical defiance. Sometimes, Love requires us to defy our own heritage.
- Active Love and Anthropocene Angst - Multimedia, 20 min. 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 somehow relates all of this to romantic relationships, parenting teenagers, and Joni Mitchell. 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 especially annoying.
- This is Not My Beautiful House – Spoken, 20 min. 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.
- Building A New Way: DIY - (perfect for Father's Day, but not limited to it) - a few slides; Spoken, 20 min. JD describes lessons learned from his do-it-yourselfer father and grandfathers, and how those lessons might be applied to building a new way for our increasingly precarious global society. What kind of world do we want for our grandchildren, and for their grandchildren? Are we behaving accordingly? Building is not easy or comfortable—are we willing to do what it takes?
- Combustion Addition: 12 Steps to Climate Recovery - Multimedia, 20 min. Our dependence on fossil fuels looks an awful lot like addiction. Could the 12 steps of AA offer any helpful guidance as we seek a way out? If climate change is a moral/spiritual crisis, maybe a 12-step-style "spiritual awakening" can help.
- Complementarity: Quantum Physics and the End of Dogma. Spoken, 20 min. 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 growing religious organization for atheists. The exclamation “Poppycock!” also makes a cameo appearance.
- Defining Enough - Spoken, 20 min. Failure to define "enough" means never being satisfied. It makes us vulnerable to slick advertising, and fills our lives with tedium and chaos. It deflects our focus from sources of true happiness, like play, family relationships, community. Ultimately, it also leads to the desecration of Earth's living systems. Defining "enough" is a spiritual practice.
- Fiddling While Rome Burns - Spoken, 20 min. When the entire planet is engulfed in flames (climate change, nuclear arms, fascism, extinction, mass migration), isn’t full-time activism the only reasonable activity? Isn’t everything else a kind of indulgence? What if activism just isn’t your thing? What if your talents and passions lie in something like fiddling? JD shares his own wrestlings with this quandary, and where they have led him.
- Mystery: Koans of Science - Multimedia, 20 min. 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: the Science of Unity - Multimedia, 20 min. For millennia mystics and prophets have told us that “All is one” and yet we feel ourselves surrounded by separation, antagonism, and isolation! There are plenty of reasons to conclude instead that “All is horribly splintered.” Were all the mystics naive, or just wrong? Recent advances from mainstream science reveal an underlying integrity, connectedness, and wholism in everything from human bodies to ecosystems to the very fabric of space-time. Even the noble humble dung beetle, star of our service today. In short, science agrees: “All is one."
- Magic Recipes: Science and the Profound Meaning of Spring - Multimedia, 20 min. Eggs and seeds are quintessential symbols of birth and spring, but did you ever really contemplate the magic that hides inside them? The new science of emergence is like 1+1 = poetry; it’s magic, but also rigorous science, and spring is full of this magical unfolding. The secret is (shhh…) we are that magic, too!
- Resurrecting: Death, Science and 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. 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 - Multimedia Workshop, 2.5 hours.
Seven Candles is a multimedia exploration of thespirituality inherent in modern mainstreamscience. Seven Candles employs science in the service of awe, reverence, wonder, mystery, and oneness.
We live at a time when discoveries by the scientific community are challenging our old mechanical perceptions of reality, and offering insights from how nature works that can guide our personal and cultural work towards a more just and sustainable world.
Seven Candles is just science, described in a way that deliberately uncovers, emphasizes, and embraces the spiritual implications of scientific revelations.
Seven Candles: Repairing Ourselves & the World - Multimedia Workshop, 2.5 hours.
This interactive experience applies Seven Candles insights to what the world needs in this time of crumbling systems. We watch in dismay as ecosystems, political systems, economic expectations, civil society and the climate fall apart all around us. How can we each contribute to a world better aligned with how reality actually works? How can our behavior be more life-affirming, more sustainable, more satisfying?
This workshop applies science concepts from the original Seven Candles presentation to a world in crisis, asking and answering the question “What does the world need now?”
- The Great Turning: Stories and Music to Inspire Cultural Shift – Multimedia + Live Music Performance, 2 hours.
Science educator JD Stillwater teams up with award-winning songwriter Darryl Purpose for an evening of live music, science, revolutionary love, and inspiration to re-imagine and repair our world. Bring your joy, your exhaustion, your love for this world, your laughter, your hope, your dismay, your voice, and your friends.
Availability: Online and within 3 hours of Harrisburg, PA. I sometimes tour, too.
Fee arrangements: Standard honorarium is great. Home Hospitality for Saturday evening may be requested based on distance.