Progressive Faith Sermons - Dr. Roger Ray

For most of us, our lives are dominated with messages that reduce our worth to productivity, exhaust us with constant comparisons and competitions, and trap us in a ruthless cycle of praise and blame. This simple chant from the Buddhist tradition - ‘My very life is sustained through the gifts of others’ - invites us to reflect on how we relate to life, one another, and the earth with more gratitude, open-heartedness, and joy.

Direct download: 20210926_Sermon.mp3
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Whistle blowers are modern prophets. You don’t have to be a minister or a famous politician to do the work of a prophet, you just have to be willing to speak truth to power. Just don’t expect to have a statue raised in your honor. Most whistle blowers are shunned in public in their own time, if they are lucky enough to not be put in prison or murdered. Still, progress is made by being the unreasonable person in the mix who refuses to go along in silence in the face of great injustice.

Direct download: 20210919_Sermon.mp3
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This week marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks in the USA, and the violent response that has shaped so much of the world during the last twenty years. With outrage over the tragedies accompanying the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, we also take time to reflect on the world we have created during two decades of occupation and war. And we remember the words of Daniel Berrigan, who, along with countless others through the centuries, taught us to insist that another way is possible and to do the work to bring it into existence: “One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the U.S. around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better.”

Direct download: 20210912_Sermon.mp3
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The owners of Purdue Pharma have been released from any liability in the deaths of a half a million people in the opioid crisis because they were willing to give a fraction of their ill-gotten gain to the victims of the opioid crisis that they helped to create. When did you ever hear of a drug dealer getting a suspended sentence for giving a donation to an addiction treatment program? We see billionaires spending the wealth earned by low waged employees for a joy ride in space while the wealth gap in America grows. On this Labor Day weekend we need a wakeup call, a reminder that the disproportionate amount of wealth going to the top of the income ladder is making more and more Americans poor for no good reason and eroding any claim we ever had to being a democracy.

Direct download: 20210905_Sermon.mp3
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Though most public school history classes are silent about it, there was a serious insurrection attempt made in 1932 to overthrow the administration of Franklin Roosevelt and install a fascist leader who would reverse the New Deal legislation in favor of a wealthy ruling class. Although the coups was stopped, none of the finances and planners of the coups were charged or tried…. familiar names like DuPont, J. P. Morgan, William Randolph Hurst, and the father of George H. W. Bush, Prescott Bush, were among those fans of Hitler and Mussolini who wanted to see Roosevelt removed. Do you hear echoes of today?

Direct download: 20210829_Sermon.mp3
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The oldest known written story is the Gilgamesh Epic, the four-thousand-year-old tale of an ancient king who becomes obsessed with finding the secret to eternal life. From the dawn of civilization, humans have tried to grapple with the awareness that we are mortal, some turning to entirely unsubstantiated religious promises of life after death but some, like Gilgamesh, discover that eternity is beyond our grasp and that we must finding meaning and purpose in a life that is, by definition, limited and yet has the potential for great joy.

Direct download: 20210822_Sermon.mp3
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As Dr. Ray turns 65, he and David Ketchum will begin to share the preaching load equally. On this special Sunday, Dr. Ray reflects back on his 43 years in the pulpit (so far) with some important observations on the nature of parish ministry with all of the wonders and horrors that come with trying to break out of merely being a priest and striving to become a prophet, leading the community of faith to speak truth to power.

Direct download: 20210815_Sermon.mp3
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The history of forced assimilation of Indigenous peoples, such as residential schools, has often been hidden or excused in popular memory. By looking at the historical context that brought about these institutions, we can understand how a cultural shift is needed to move away from the attitudes and ideas that were prominent in the history of colonization and continue to be embedded in our collective consciousness. Especially for White folx, our work of the present moment is to heal and transform our collective consciousness, honoring the great web of life and finding our place within it. And to do that, we must part ways with the sins of superiority, forced assimilation, and greed, learning that our own well-being cannot be separated from the well-being of the diversity of humans and human cultures, or from the earth itself.

Direct download: 20210808_Sermon.mp3
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The realities of residential schools and the tragedies of forced assimilation have filled the news this summer, to our grief, rage, and shame. So while we welcome Secretary Haaland's investigation into these schools and their impacts on Native children and their families, we also recognize our own work that needs to be done. All of us who are not Indigenous, especially White Christians, need to honor and participate in the process of accountability: to own up to injustice when we are confronted with our own complicity, and to speak out and act to help heal the harm.

Direct download: 20200801_Sermon.mp3
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While many of us long for greater social equality, moving past the identity politics that emphasizes race, gender, and sexual orientation, often times at the expense of discussing ideas, budgets, policies, and infrastructure development, we cannot pretend that such divisions do not exist or that they do not matter. Perhaps one of the most lethal expressions of white, male, hetero dominance is to claim that it does not exist. So, how do we intelligently move past either being afraid of our differences or feeling compelled to “check all of the boxes” towards a more meaningful and way to create a unified society that cherishes its diversity, while affirming the equal worth of all?

Direct download: 20210725_Sermon.mp3
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Capitalism is here to stay but that might not be a bad thing if we could put up the kind of guardrails that can harness the greed that drives it in a way that does not allow for the abuses it also engenders. Progressive communities of faith can be a part of the “fifth estate” providing alternatives to corporate media and the propaganda spewed by corporations and the politicians they own.

Direct download: 20210718_Sermon.mp3
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The way that we have settled into minimum wage laws is not simply an exploitation of the labor of the poor and, in fact, in many ways looks like a reconfiguring of slavery. Slave owners provided housing, food, clothing, and basic care of slaves. Does $7.25 an hour provide even that for minimum wage workers anywhere in America, particularly in LA, NYC or Boston? We are not suffering from a lack of resources in our country but we do have an apparent lack of both imagination and compassion. We can fix this.

Direct download: 20210711_Sermon.mp3
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For many of us, July 4th is a time to forget about history and indulge in nostalgic and sentimental celebrations of freedom. But the holiday can provide us with more than just an opportunity for barbecue cookouts and firework displays, if we are willing to look beyond the romantic notions of popular nationalism. The recent controversies over the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory invite us to re-examine how we relate to history and how to provide a "true civic education." By doing so, we find that history can become the honest study of human experience, giving us humility in the face of our mistakes (from the most laughable to the most cruel) and hope in the face of our greatest challenges. It is an opportunity to remember that we are making history right now, and we can make a better, freer future not only possible, but something real.

Direct download: 20210704_Sermon.mp3
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People often have passionate beliefs about things for which they have no evidence or, even worse, they believe in spite of contradictory evidence. In religion, such baseless convictions often masquerade as a virtue but isn’t blind belief just a narcissistic projection of personal preferences? Karen Armstrong, the late Marcus Borg, and Bishop John Shelby Spong have argued that faith has more to do with courage and commitment than it does with belief in a literal set of creedal statements. This sermon takes the position that presenting sacred stories as being literal historical accounts actually robs them of their intended meaning and purpose. A faith community’s sacred stories are the myths they use to bind them to one another and by which they define themselves and their purpose. Perhaps progressives can once again renew their love for their faith community if they cease trying to force themselves to believe in the absurd and the obviously false claims of creedal faith. The major world religions are always the most healthy when they focus on right behaviors rather than right beliefs!

Direct download: 20210627_Sermon.mp3
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Let’s be honest, most of the truth claims made by traditional forms of almost all religions are not just beyond anyone’s ability to prove, they are, by and large obvious absurd to any critical thinker. It wasn’t just Voltaire and Bertrand Russell who clearly articulated deep skepticism about religion, most of us have in less articulate ways. But the choice is not between either total atheism or assassinating our brains to pretend to believe silly things. There is a way of being intensely spiritual within the mystery and wonder of existence. The way of the mystic promotes love rather than division, and joy rather than fear. We can live beyond the guilt and manipulation of our former religious lives into a much more honest and happy existence.

Overcoming Religious Trauma - Tuesday June 22 at 7:00 PM Central Time

Direct download: 20210620_Sermon.mp3
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Events of the past few years have brought the issue of race much more clearly into focus, especially for the dominant white culture that has been willing to learn about the ways in which race has affected wealth disparity, policing, the judicial system, the penal system, as well as housing and employment. We recently discovered that most white people had never even heard of the Tulsa Race Massacre until the city was marking the 100th anniversary of this most violent attack on the black population in America’s history. Even still, there are public protests in many states against teaching Critical Race Theory even when what is basically at stake is making our history lesson more factual and less dishonestly “white washing” America’s history of discrimination. How we think shapes our culture and when it comes to race, it is time for us to prophetically embrace truth and reject propaganda.

Direct download: 20210613_Sermon.mp3
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In addition to today’s sermon, we will be hosting an online event via Zoom on June 22 discussing “Overcoming Religious Trauma.” Despite our growing understanding of religious and spiritual abuse, many people continue to suffer. And despite the public record of this harm, too many religious individuals and institutions refuse to take these issues seriously. We need to reflect on our own experiences in light of 1) historical and sociological analysis of religious institutions and 2) with our best psychological modalities for addressing religious trauma. By doing so, we can continue to move ourselves and our communities toward relationships that are not built around delusions and threats, but around reason, curiosity, wisdom, compassion, and love.

Direct download: 20210606_Sermon.mp3
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This Memorial Day weekend we mark the passing of 600,000 Americans in the Covid-19 pandemic and we are similarly aware of the many ways in which millions of lives have been impacted in lost jobs, damaged health, and in the closure of many vital and familiar businesses and institutions. We also acknowledge that churches, synagogues, and mosques have suffered from the pandemic, many will never re-open for in-person community services. As our Emerging Church, which has been a hybrid of on-line and “seated” congregations for 13 years now becomes an almost exclusively on-line resource, we acknowledge the grief that comes with change but we double down in hope of being a meaningful force for social justice for many years to come.

Direct download: 20210530_Sermon.mp3
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Childhood poverty in many American communities now exceeds 50% of school aged children. A part of the proposed stimulus bill addresses this problem in the most direct way possible, offering a monthly stipend paid to parents as well as support in child care and education. If this bill is passed it will be the most transformative correction to poverty since FDR's "New Deal." It may be too much to hope for but if we don't all speak up in support of this, what does that say about how we really value our children?

Direct download: 20210523_Sermon.mp3
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The word “socialism” has been, through media and political manipulation, turned into a term that means little more than “pure evil.” That’s just crazy. The belief that economic resources should be owned and controlled by the few rather than the many is contrary to all world religions and fundamentally favors slavery over freedom. Christian Socialism was a very strong movement in the late 19th and early 20th century and was undermined only by associating socialism with fascist dictators. What we really need to do in our sharply partisan country, is to set aside the name calling and talk about the most effective and compassionate way that we can share resources.

Direct download: 20210516_Sermon.mp3
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We often think of the great moral leaders of history as if they just fell from the sky in our hour of need. The truth is that people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and even Ruby Bridges had courageous mothers who taught them, inspired them, and even held their hand while facing a culture in desperate need of change. It often seems to be "reasonable" to adapt to the status quo but, as George Bernard Shaw pointed out, progress depends on the unreasonable person who demands change.

Direct download: 20210509_Sermon.mp3
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One of the lessons we have continually been reminded of throughout the pandemic is how interconnected we are all, whether we like it or not. Similarly, both social and ecological justice issues remind us that our worlds are intimately connected, even if we create artificial boundaries that give the illusion that harmful actions don't have consequences. The last year has been terrifying in so many ways, but we've also witnessed wonderful acts of creativity, compassion, wisdom, and community. We carry both that pain and that joy with us as we take tentative steps toward creating communities of care in a post-pandemic world.

Direct download: 20210502_Sermon.mp3
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This live event is taking place on Monday evening, May 10, at 7 p.m. central. It will involve about 30 minutes of conversation between me and Jay Thomlinson (of Best of the Left fame) and then we open the floor for participant conversations with us and with one another. This is a huge experiment for both of us. Please click on this link to register (it is free but signing up with get you reminders and invitations to the event) https://www.airmeet.com/e/e7617ed0-a228-11eb-adb3-57581f4a41d1

Direct download: Roger__Jay_live_event_announcement.mp3
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The death of George Floyd at the hands of the police has finally resulted in a guilty verdict in the murder charges against the responsible officer(s). What have we learned from the highly publicized cases of unarmed black men (and women) being killed by the police in relatively minor cases? Beyond even the call for massive reform in how policing is carried out, this message is concerned with the undeniable fact that it is common for police to try to hide their own crimes under a smokescreen of press releases and media propaganda. While we want to show respect and support for public servants generally, such respect must also be met, especially now, with a willingness to question authority and to challenge the racism and classism that is so deeply embedded in policing.

Direct download: 20210424_Sermon.mp3
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While many are uncomfortable with calling for defunding the police, there is no way around the need for massive reform of our nation’s police force (and military) to root out the systemic racism that makes encounters between white police and black citizens turn out to be so very tragic, so very often. Clearly, there are too many guns on the street. We are sending heavily armed police out to make mental health calls and way too many traffic stops that are nothing but a pretense for cops to stop drivers whom they have profiled as being suspicious, what many call “driving while black.” Police shoot and kill nearly 1000 people every year while, in the United Kingdom, police shoot and kill between 0 and 6 people per year. Something is dramatically wrong with American policing and we cannot turn a blind eye to it any longer.

Direct download: 20210418_Sermon.mp3
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As we emerge from our covid isolation into increasing social contact, we realize that during these months of spending too much time on social media and watching conflicting news reports, our stress and anxiety has inevitably damaged some of our relationships. Do we need to be generously forgiving and reconciling, or do we need to evaluate which relationships really are toxic to us and erect boundaries to protect ourselves in a post pandemic world? Or, obviously, some of both?

Direct download: 20210411_Sermon.mp3
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The list of the suffering in this world could go on indefinitely, and this week has been no exception. From the courtroom where Derek Chauvin is being tried to the growing refugee crisis in Ethiopia, we find ourselves asking: how do we grieve the oppression and violence, while we also celebrate the moments of joy and justice that we encounter along the way, and encourage each other to live like another world is actually possible? On this Easter Sunday, we reflect on how spiritual practice can help us continually find new life as we dismantle supremacy and claim our dignity and joy.

Direct download: 20210404_Sermon.mp3
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Events of the past week have revealed the weakness of our nation’s lax gun laws, the dangerous escalation of anti-Asian prejudice, the insidious racism behind a wave of new voter suppression laws, and even the unworkable nature of attempts at legislating morality. The good news is that the problems that seem impossible to solve to our elected officials have all been fairly well resolved in most western democracies. What remains for Americans is to wake up to the best practices that were implemented in western Europe a generation ago.
Direct download: 20210327_Sermon.mp3
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In most western nations, the penal system is designed to reform convicted criminals so that they can return to a productive life in society. In the USA, where we have two million people in prison and nine million on parole, a far greater percentage of our population than any other western democracy, prison terms are more likely to be used for a kind of social revenge than they are for reform. Sex crimes are typically considered to be the most heinous, but in a penal system bent on putting more people in prison for longer sentences, have we lost our way in imprisoning those who have not committed rape, assault, or even sexual harassment but who have viewed illegal pornography in their own homes? A teenager with the impulse control issues that often accompany autism or bi-polar disorders who watches child porn in private may not be "innocent" but is their crime on the scale of murder? If not, then why do we punish them more severely than we do murderers? Have they, somehow, committed the unforgivable sin?

Direct download: 20210321_Sermon.mp3
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The question that echoes from the primeval pages of Genesis demands a new answer in this era of a global pandemic, "Am I my brother's (sister's) keeper?" We all know that the right answer is "yes" but fear sure can make us a lot more selfish than in our more relaxed moments. Some of us are afraid of either getting or spreading the virus, others are afraid of being manipulated by what they see as public hysteria. On either side of the fence, fear doesn't bring out our best qualities. But, in spite of the way the pandemic has been made into a partisan issue, we have a common though invisible enemy, Covid-19. And in the midst of the pandemic, we have myriad opportunities to find and express our better selves by being mindful of the needs of our sisters and brothers.

Direct download: 20210314_Sermon.mp3
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When injustice and oppression become normal in a society, it often requires persistent and even outrageous actions to unveil, resist, and ultimately transform it. Like Jesus turning over tables in the temple, we must continually braid our own whip of cords by learning and applying creative tactics that help us both unveil the evil of injustice and live our way into another world.

Direct download: 20210307_Sermon.mp3
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This year’s conservative Republican gathering, CPAC, included the surprising presence of a golden statue of Donald Trump. It is surprising that the gathering of largely Evangelical Christians did not immediately see the easily drawn analogy to the golden calf idol from Exodus. But, it is a fitting symbol of the idol the former president’s supporters have bowed down to worship: greed, racism, oppression, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and more. The statue represents in a very real way the “id” of our culture but, as an idol, it is slated to be destroyed. The liberation of America from the shadow of our heritage of white supremacy and economic oppression must end.

Direct download: 20210228_Sermon.mp3
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This talk has been prepared for a group of progressive clergy in the United Kingdom who posed this question: What must be done to rebuild America after Trump. This message proposes 4 key responses: Massive campaign finance reform. A restoration of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine. A renewed commitment to education. An emphasis on vital but achievable goals around which we can unite.

Direct download: 20210221_Sermon.mp3
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In the novel, Love in the Time of Cholera, two young lovers are thwarted in their desire to be together, only to be given a second chance at love when they are old. Still, though about half of us now live alone, that does not mean that we have to give up on hope that we, even in our later years, might not have, at long last, a real opportunity for a meaningful connection. This sermon speaks to the stresses we are feeling, a year into our pandemic, that might tear at the fabric of existing relationships and dash hopes for single people of ever making a meaningful connection. Regardless of the challenges, as the poet Marty McConnell has written, “You deserve a lover who takes away the lies and brings you hope, coffee, and poetry.”

Direct download: 20210214_Sermon.mp3
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It's now common for us to hear false accusations that social justice movements are just "ideological poison" and honest treatments of the more difficult aspects of US history are just "toxic propaganda." Activists and historians alike have come under increasing attacks, especially when it comes to racial justice, while so-called "patriotic education" programs have inspired conspiratorial beliefs and Capitol riots. Over the last year, the 1619 Project and the 1776 Commission have become symbols of these two approaches, reminding us that how we remember the past impacts how we deal with the present. And how we deal with the present shapes the possibilities of creating a better, more just, more compassionate, and more livable future.

Direct download: 210207_Sermon.mp3
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Though Gandhi and MLK are lauded as great social heroes in our day, during their lifetimes they were often put in jail and were regarded as enemies of the state. To be honest about some of the people currently regarded in the USA as being traitors or at least being guilty of espionage, we should wonder if they will one day be regarded as heroic whistleblowers? Already, in Berlin, there are statues erected in honor of Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning, and Edward Snowden but here in the United States, Manning has served seven years in prison and the US government is trying to get their hands on Edward Snowden and Julian Assange, both of whom are doing everything they can to avoid extradition from Russia and England. History will be the eventual jury of all three, but it seems that the crimes of the whistleblowers are dwarfed by the government crimes they have revealed. 
Direct download: 20210131_Sermon.mp3
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The laudable stated goal of the new Biden administration to bring unity to the red and the blue factions of America is obviously necessary, but it is a steep hill to climb. For the most part, the Jan. 6 insurrection was the product of a constant diet of lies and propaganda. Certainly, the first step of reuniting the United States calls for a renewed commitment to the truth, from politicians, in the media, and from the pulpit! Secondly, the huge gulf in how justice is applied to the rich and powerful and how it is applied to the rest of us must be closed. It is not just those who desecrated the Capitol Building who should be arrested and criminally charged, we must treat those who incited the insurrection in the same way. It will be simultaneously internationally embarrassing and a source of reassurance that democracy prevails to see a former president and several members of the Senate and Congress on trial, facing almost certain jail time, but it is necessary.

Direct download: 20210124_Sermon.mp3
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A Haitian proverb declares, "No one listens to the cry of the poor or the sound of a wooden bell." That seems like a sad resignation to the way that things are but what we realize about Martin Luther King, Jr. is that his peculiar genius was to amplify the voices of the poor, to make the injustice of racism visible, on the evening news, to people who had been covering their ears and looking the other way for a century. Honoring King's memory is more than a mere exercise of reciting history. It really should be finding a way to continue his work in the 21st century. The Voters' Rights Act that King fought to get passed has been gutted. Voter suppression, especially in southern states, is back again. How can we amplify the cry of the poor in our day? (and, seriously, shouldn't our pulpits be on the front line of that project?)

Direct download: 20210117_Sermon.mp3
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America is horrified and embarrassed but not many of us are shocked. The failed insurrection that took place on Wednesday, January 6th, was planned, orchestrated, inspired, and incited by our president who recently lost re-election and who has been desperate to hold onto power even if he had to destroy democracy to do so. We have witnessed the embodiment of Voltaire’s prophetic declaration that those who can make believe in absurdities can make you commit atrocities. Having blown the dog-whistles of racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia, and Islamophobia for five years, the president’s minions desecrated our Capitol building, the seat of Democracy. The next ten days may contain even greater atrocities but with hope and determination, we must resolve to overcome lies with the truth, irrational conspiracies with evidence and critical thinking, and fearmongering with disciplined love and community.

Video mentioned in sermon: Trump family watching crowds/rioters

Direct download: 20210110_Sermon.mp3
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Changes are coming that give us reason for substantial hope. We will have a change in administrations in early 2021 and an amelioration of the pandemic later in the year followed by a huge economic recovery. But looking past this new year, very soon, electric cars will replace gas burning cars and sustainable energy will end carbon pollution from generating electricity. Artificial Intelligence will not only drive our cars for us, AI will largely build our cars. People will be liberated from mundane repetitive labor but they may also be liberated from an income. The promise of new technologies is huge but the risk of lapsing into a world dominated by the few who are wealthy while most are relegated to a peasant class similar to the Dark Ages is very real. We can use this new technology to design an economy that gives us a kind of heaven on earth, or unrestrained capitalism can consign most of us to a living hell of poverty and want. Now is the time for persons of conscience to become in

Direct download: 20210103_Sermon.mp3
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