When a person becomes a new member, they receive a book “A Chosen Faith.” The book is written by two well know Unitarian Universalist Ministers. John Buerhrens, former President of the Unitarian Universalist Association and Forrest Church, who is the son of former Idaho Governor Frank Church. Forrest Church had been a successful ministry at All Souls Church on the upper east side of New York City prior to his passing in 2009. First I would ask you to focus on the title. Our Chosen Faith. Unlike many other religions, which most people attend due to their birthrights, many of us have chosen to leave our birth religion and we have chosen to come together in this religion. Even those of you who were born UU, or with no religious background, we consciously choose to come here not out of sense of obligation, but out of a desire for a richer deeper real religious experience than we could find elsewhere
In the book Church wrote a chapter entitled The Cathedral of the world. He uses the image of a cathedral as a metaphor for our world. I recommend you read the book if you have not, I will read a short passage for you.
“The builders have labored in this cathedral from time immemorial. Daily, work begins that shall not be finished in the lifetime of the architects who planned, the patrons who paid for it, the builders who construct, or the expectant worshipers. Nonetheless throughout human history, one generation after another has labored lovingly, sometimes fearfully, crafting memorials and consecrating shrines. Untold centuries or millennia ago, from their once respected places, lie shattered on the cathedral floor. Not a moment passes without the dream of long dead dreamers being outstripped, crushed, or abandoned, giving way to new vision, each immortal in reach, ephemeral in grasp”
Since time immemorial there has been the concept of the oneness of all things. The concept that we come from some common source. Ours is a religion that proclaims that. The formal origins of Unitarianism as a religion come from King Sigismund in Transylvania in 1568. During this time in much of Europe the Unitarians were being harassed and oppressed.
However Transylvania was in the Mountains buffeted on one side by the Ottoman Empire and by the Holy Roman empire on the other. This allowed the King more freedom as he played both sides against the other and as it was difficult for the armies to move through the mountains. Sigismund clearly was a tolerant King and in his day when doctrinal disputes came up, they held formal public debates. On March 3, 1568. He invited Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists and those believing in Unitarianism to debate. The debate lasted ten days, beginning at 5 a.m. each day. Francis Daveed represented the Unitarian position and used scripture to support his arguments. At the conclusion of the debate, David's arguments were seen as stronger, and many in Transylvania embraced Unitarianism. Whereas as the other religions were putting non believers to death, David supposedly said “If I I win, I shall defend to the death you right to be wrong. “We need not think alike to love alike” David believed that pluralism in faith could lead to mean civic and moral order. He convinced the King whereby the King converted to Unitarianism and issued the Edict of Torda The Edict:
“Reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to their understanding of it, and if the congregation likes it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching.”
We sort of take it for granted today, as part of our country the freedom to speak and believe what we want. It is still part of our tradition that the minister is free to speak their beliefs, with the Congregation recognizing that it is not always going to be in agreement. Our experience tells us why. Just a few years after the Edict of Torda, King Sigismund was killed in a “hunting accident”, and subsequently, Frances David who refused to stop preaching Unitarianism and pluralism was jailed and put to death.
So whey do I look back to 1568 to for a 21st century religion. It is because David’s statement that we need not think alike to love alike is at the core of the Forrest Church’s message In his ongoing image of the Cathedral, Church goes on to say
“Above all else, contemplate the windows. In the Cathedral of the World there are windows beyond number, some long forgotten, covered with many patinas of dust, other revered by millions, the most sacred of shrines. Each in its own way is beautiful. Some are abstract, others representational, some dark and meditative, others bright and dazzling. Each tells a story about the creation of the world, the meaning of history, the purpose of life, the nature of humankind, the mystery of death.The windows of the cathedral are where the Light shines through.”
DH Lwarence said - “Religion has little to do with a body of beliefs or practices; it represents a gradual process of awakening to the depths and possibilities of life itself.” The trouble comes when we believe that our light is the one true light, that we hold the only truth. So what do we do when different realities collide, when different visions collide. When different cultures collide. In our ever connected world, this is happening more and more often. Pluralism sounds good until the rubber meets the road.
How do we tell someone when their actions are harmful to us if we believe others have their own version of the truth. I believe we do this as we do within community, by setting community values. This is something that is fluid and changes. That is the core of liberal religion, that we are open to changes based on the new experience and knowledge. This is a core value of a pluralistic society. I think we aspire to handle it well in this Congregation as we wrote in our Congregational Covenant of Right Relationship “We will accept the personal responsibility to behave toward each other with patience, respect, goodwill and honesty even when our thoughts and perceptions differ.”
I was thinking about this when I watched the NFC Playoff Game last weekend. The Seattle Seahawks won an exciting game that had a exciting ending, with San Francisco moving down the field for a touchdown. Then on a pass to the end zone to Michael Crabtree, Richard Sherman of Seattle tipped the ball up in the air and it was intercepted and Seattle won the game. Upon being interviewed after the game this is what happened
"I'm the best corner in the game," Sherman said "When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that's the result you going to get. LOB" LOB stands for Legion of Boom the nickname of the Seattle defense. Subsequent to this there were many many racist comments about Sherman calling him among other tings ignorant and a thug. There was then the counter arguments particularly from liberal and UU bloggers defending Sherman and indicating how smart he is, having gone to Stanford, and this was just him promoting himself. Adding that the public’s negative reaction to it was due to the fact that he was a proud black man. Sherman’s first response to all of this hubaloo was “A lion doesn't concern himself with the opinions of a sheep.” So we are not quite yet to that place where Jesus predicted a day when lions sleep with lambs I think Woody Allen said it best when he said the Lion and the Lamb may sleep together, but the lamb wont get much sleep.
Anyway I have seen Richard Sherman play. He may very well be the best cornerback in the NFL. He has had no problem telling everyone for years that he is the best in the NFL. I have no problem with that. We all need to lift ourselves up and promote ourselves at times. In his case there is validity to his claims. There has been much said defending Sherman about how intelligent he is. The fact that this has to be said speaks to negative stereotype about athletes in general and even more specifically about African American Athletes. The fact that he went to Stamford, in and of itself is not proof of intelligence though (Just ask anyone from Harvard). I have heard Sherman speak in numerous interviews and talk shows and it is clear he is a very intelligent person and a consummate professional in his vocation. Something we could all aspire to. And yet although intellectually I understand all that, the incident still left me unsettled. I guess what I found distasteful about the incident, was his putting down of the other player he had just vanquished. He just won the NFC Championship and the first thing he did was put down his opponent. What this connects with me is competing values in our American Culture.
I think that is what is at the core of my struggle with this. I ask myself would I want a young child learn to act this way in any area of their life, whether it be sports or school or business. I want everyone to reach their full potential. I want everyone to be supported in reaching their full potential. I do not think that is healthy for our society to be condemning people because they are less skilled, or less trained. Richard Sherman works in a hyper competitive environment where the attitude of victory at all costs is cultivated. I dont know Richard Sherman personally or of his background. (other than what I have read in articles).
But Richard Sherman is a public figure and thus his words and actions are scrutinized. There are many life experiences that led him to be who he is today. Maybe it is part of his culture to put down a vanquished opponent. That is not my culture. Nor is it something I want our culture to cultivate. I recognize the difference in our culture. . The fact that we have multiculturalism does not mean we should have the suspension of the ethical. This is an example of what we can do we do when we have competing cultures. We can talk about it, and try to understand each other and ultimately move to a way to live together with it.
I can choose not to bring football into my house or life. Or perhaps the discussion could lead to how athletes can develop a better habit of sportsmanship toward their fellow professional. And perhaps that type of value of sportsmanship can be interwoven into every part of our life. That is the conversation I am having with my family.
But it doesn’t end there. Here is the interesting thing. Richard Sherman had previously filmed a commercial for the headphone “Beats by Dre” which was released the night of the game, (either show video or explain) in which Sherman is being harassed by reporters and in the commercial is asked if he considers himself a thug. He then he puts on his headphones as he walks away and the tagline for the commercial is “Hear what you want” while playing an Elton John Song “you can tell everybody this is your song.” Now I never before would have connected Dr. Dre with Elton John (for those who don’t know dr. Dre is old school rapper, and Elton John is old school pop star.) So I have to say that this turn of events leads me to believe that his after game rant was planned as a way to promote the advertisement. Actually brilliant if you ask me, although manipulative. But I really objected to the tagline of the ad.
“Hear what you want”, is the antithesis of what my values are and what Forrest Church was speaking of. We may not agree with everything that we hear, but hearing only what we want leads to rigidity and fundamentalism. The light, the sound comes through all windows in a multitude of ways that we can not even begin to understand. We must not shut ourselves off from it. That doesn’t mean we accept all behavior carte blanche, but it should be a reminder to us to discern more deeply into what leads people to do things. To look beyond the illusions of what our culture tells us about a person, to look beyond our own experiences, and to lead by example. To act out our values in our lives, to talk about our values publicly, so that our values become a part of the human dialogue and the human experience. I believe there are many, many people who have similar values to ours but the airwaves always tell a different story. They tell the story of separating ourselves from the rest of humanity. They speak of individualism, they speak of putting up walls, whether they be physical walls, like headphones, or emotional walls that prevent us from communicating with each other. What Unitarian Universalism promotes is the wholeness of humanity.
If our voice, our message is not heard, then it will be drowned out by the corporate culture that would manipulate us into thinking we don’t need each other, that it is a dog eat dog world. But there is another way. There is better way. As the song says, “Speak it loud and speak it clear. For the whole world to hear.” Unitarian Universalism is the Theology for the 21st Century. A theology that allows us to explore the light from the many windows and to see the light from many windows more clearly. Let the light into your life, let many lights into your life and in so doing we move closer to wholeness.