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When Faith Works (Oct 19, 2014)

I Build My House

By Andy Collins

When there is a well defined process
Reliable, repeatable, open to change
And I know it has been proven by experience and experiment
And it works for others as well as it does for me
I build my house on a well defined process

When there is a gentle breeze across my brow
Cooling the sweat of a long day working in the sun
And my body is sore and tired
And I know I have to do it all again tomorrow
I build my house on a gentle breeze

When there is a glimmer of understanding
After hours or days or weeks of blank stares
And frustrated outbursts
And wondering why any of this even matters
I build my house on a glimmer of understanding

When there is clarity in moments sprinkled throughout life
Bringing a feeling of rightness
And a reminder that my rational mind is an approximation
And I cannot say I know, but I know
I build my house on clarity

When there is doubt
Swallowing me in wet darkness
And the light I have known is out or is hiding
And the world has abandoned sense and purpose and I have nothing left
I build my house on doubt

When there is solid ground
Well suited for a strong foundation
And for laying pipes and power and fibre optic cabling
And plenty of space for all the various rooms a modern life demands
I build my house on solid ground

When there is sand
Shifting and carried by on the wind
And finding a way into my eyes and my mouth and my clothes
And I know the whole thing may roll away before I’m finished
I build my house on sand

Some houses are comfortable and strong, providing years of shelter
Some crumble and collapse quickly, leaving only vague memories and bits of foundation

Some are nondescript, undistinguished from others on the street
Built from one of two or three sanctioned designs picked from a vinyl-bound book
Offered up by a man in a shiny suit with promises that this is Home

Some are mocked and feared by neighbors who lament over property values
And question just what the hell has happened to this neighborhood
And whose children hurl rocks and toilet paper and dare each other to knock on the door

All are mine
And I prefer some over others
But any house will do when my body and my mind and my spirit cry out for rest
Any house will do when the rain and the hail fall outside
So I build
And I am thankful

On Rediscovering Prayer (Feb 2, 2014)

This is a short essay I wrote after reflecting on my personal history and experience with prayer.

– Andy Collins


The word ‘prayer’ has many meanings.  It may mean lighting a candle, speaking directly to a Deity, calling the corners, a quiet meditation or countless other things.  And to many of us the word ‘prayer’ has no real meaning at all.  It’s a word whose definition has been stretched too broadly, or perhaps has been used too often in a context we cannot relate to or even feel hostile toward.

In our culture the word ‘prayer’ usually has a Judeo-Christian-Islamic connotation.  It means talking – either out loud or internally – to God.  And often to a narrow concept of God.  To a God who sits on a throne handing out good fortune to those whom He favors.  It means asking for things: forgiveness, mercy, cash, love.

This idea of prayer might be confusing or off-putting to many of us.  Still, though, there are a few of these verbal prayers that most of us will recognize.  “Oh, God, thank you for this food.”  “Oh, God, please look after this person I love.”  “Oh, God, if you can just get me out of this, I promise I will…”

I’m a UU, so given this prevailing concept of prayer, my response it to ask questions.  Who is this “God”?  Is God really responsible for the food I’m about to eat?  What about the farmers and packers and truck drivers?  What about the animals and the plants and the Earth itself?  And can God really help me or my loved one?  Does God intervene like that?  And if I hadn’t taken a moment to ask, would God have just let us suffer?

To me, now, this concept of prayer seems naive.  But years ago as I was growing out of the conservative Christianity in which I was raised, the idea that prayer is a direct line to the ruler of the universe seemed like a pretty reasonable possibility.  And the questions that rose up in me were very serious and more than a little bit scary.

Over time as I slowly separated myself from the religion of my youth, I began trying other approaches to prayer.  I dabbled in meditation, yoga and neo-paganism.  I tried being buddies with God, and I tried yelling at God.  In retrospect, I can see that my approach in each of these attempts was very much affected by my childhood idea of prayer.  And it’s no surprise that nothing seemed to stick for very long.  I was unable to find what I was looking for.  Until finally, I’ll confess, I turned away from prayer.  I just stopped.  Mostly, at least.  Now and then i find myself calling out in something like the prayers of my youth.  “Oh, Jesus, it’s cold” has been a recent favorite.  But I’m not sure that counts.

But in response to this month’s topic, I’ve been thinking about prayer again.  I’ve begun to think it’s a shame that I gave up on it.  Sure my childish conception of prayer didn’t survive my doubts, and the half-hearted exploring that followed left me feeling unfulfilled, but is that reason enough to throw the whole concept away?  Prayer has been practiced in one form or another for at least 5,000 years.  And, sure, maybe it didn’t bring the rain or heal the sick.  But I find it hard to believe that anything could survive so long without providing some value.  And I don’t know about you, but I can’t honestly claim to be so different from those ancient peoples.  They prayed to draw themselves closer to their ancestors, to their conception of God and to the deeper mysteries of the world around them.

I’m coming to think the common denominator in prayer is not about speaking out, but about reaching out.  Reaching out for a connection – for a link to the universe around us, to other people, and to the lesser known areas within ourselves.  This can be done in words or in actions.  In song or in silence.  In work or in play.  I”m not certain of what I’ll find, but with this idea of prayer in mind, I think I’m ready to give it another try.


So Much Is In Bud: A Multi-generational Celebration (April 21, 2013)

The Rev. Gail Seavey, the Rev. Jason Shelton, and
Marguerite Mills

We will celebrate Earth Day by imagining earth justice and
mercy, with story, music, poetry and our annual flower
communion. Each of you is invited to please bring a flower
to symbolize your love for the earth.

Software Development as an Art

A reading from the January 13, 2013 sermon, The Liberation of Creativity.

Sermon by Rev. Gail Seavey. Reading by Andy Collins.

The idea that software development is an art form is pretty controversial.   Google it and you’ll find blogs full of rants on both sides.  ‘Craft’ is a far more acceptable term, but even then there’s disagreement.  Still, no one can deny that software development is a creative process.  It begins with an idea and ends with an application.  Something that — while not exactly tangible — is usable.  Once it’s complete (if it ever is) something that did not exist, now does.  It’s been created, brought forth from…someplace

I’m a computer programmer.  I work for a product company that builds web-based, healthcare education and talent management software.  The code I write is a mixture of C#, TSQL, Javascript, HTML and CSS.  My job requires a knowledge of both object oriented and functional programming concepts, test-driven development, security, SCRUM, HTTP, REST, XML, JSON, design patterns and that’s just a random sampling.

So, clearly, I am an artist.

Yeah, sometimes, I have a hard time buying it too.

Okay. I can tell you a time when I feel like an artist.  It’s common practice when developing software as part of a team to have code reviews.  These may be one-on-one or may be in a packed conference room around a large screen TV, but in either case the goal is the same: to judge my code — to pick it apart, to search for defects, for inefficiencies, for poor style.  These code reviews are essential in developing quality software.  It’s well known that the earlier a bug is found the cheaper and easier it is to fix and one, two or 12 extra sets of eyes can see things I can’t.  I know it’s useful.  I know it’s for the best.  I even know that soon I’ll be the one doing the reviewing.  But it hardly matters in the moment.  My code is on display.  The thing I created with all its unnecessary object instantiations, its bloated method bodies, its classes with too many reasons to change.  It’s all there.  My code stands naked.  And these people are all so much smarter than me.

So that’s why I think software development is, at least, kinda like art.  I’m attached to the code I write.  I care about it.  I worry about it.  I spend too much time playing with it…a process so common amongst developers, it has a name:  Refactoring.  This class could be shorter.  This name could be more meaningful.  That call should probably return in less than 20 minutes.  It could be better.  I can make it better.

So I figured if software is an art form, I could probably write a poem about it.  Something that might describe it’s beauty to those who’ve never heard the term “curly braces”.  Here’s my attempt.  If anyone has any suggestions for cleaning it up or improving it, please let me know.

It’s about crafting worlds
Objects built, set out and decorated
Actors passing notes on a silent stage
Scene playing out behind the curtain

It’s about transformation
One structure becomes another
Then another
Is wrapped in abstraction
And stripped to its frame

To the outsider
It’s foreign.  Ugly
Letters and spaces
Abominable use of punctuation
Best left to basements

To the novice
It’s syntax. Branching. Iteration
A mystery unraveling slowly between failed compilations and segmentation faults
Until finally IT WORKS!  But wait…is that right?

To the veteran
It’s solid
Turning and pulsing
The running thing
Not the code
But where code and machine meet
Shapes and colors. Pulses of light along connecting lines

It can be beautiful
It can be ugly
But I guess that’s true of a lot of things

Paul Conkin Sermon on James Reeb

In Memory of James Reeb, Minister


Click on the link above to view a pdf of Paul Conkin’s 1999 sermon about James Reeb.

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