Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

October 14, 2007: “Association Sunday (Bring A Guest)- Our Liberal Religious Heritage”

opening song”YOU, ME, AND THE UNIVERSE” -Words and Music by A. SEVERANCE










How to know that you’re a Unitarian Universalist ?

You may be a Unitarian Universalist if you and your cat share the same therapist. You may be a Unitarian Universalist if you consider Charlie Brown, Doonesbury, & Dilbert to be spiritual leaders. If you take your day planner to church instead of the Bible,.

You may be a Unitarian Universalist if on Hallowe’en you explain to everyone the Pagan significance of their costumes, if you know at least 5 ways to say – Happy holidays!, if your Christmas tree has 7 symbols on its top, or if Santa Claus was the last entity in which you believed.

And lastly if you think “Whatever” is a valid theological point. (You May Be a Unitarian Universalist if…by Tom Cook)

When he was preaching in the early 1800’s, an elderly woman inquired of Universalist Hosea Ballou whether he had the habit of asking his parishioners the line which was popular at other Protestant churches: ‘O, ye generations of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?’

He responded in his typical laconic wit: ‘No madam,’ he said. ‘That class of people do not attend my church.’

Someone, Who must have been a Unitarian Un iversalist once said: “Blessed are we who can laugh at ourselves, for we shall never cease to be amused.”

If being a UU was a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Our history, our liberal religious heritage, is one of constant religious evolution, primarily because at its heart was religious freedom, reason, tolerance, love, and the right to question everything! Working for social justice was always important, and our forbears would say that ‘good works’ are more important than ‘right belief.’

Unitarianism grew out of a heresy which denied the concept of the trinity as unscriptural, an invention by the fathers of the early church, but not a teaching or doctrine which Jesus taught. Search the Christian Bible called the New Testament and see if you can find the doctrine of the trinity explained. Hence any Christians who believe in a human Jesus, no matter how much a prophet and sage one might think would be called Unitarian, the opposite of Trinitarian.

Very early in our history, we were the challengers and changers of orthodoxy, of dogmatism. Universalizm grew out of a rejection of the Augustinian and later Calvinist doctrine of predestination where one could only be saved by the grace of God, who had already pre-determined whether we would be saved or damned to the fires of Hell. Universalism taught that a loving God would not condemn anyone to hell who didn’t least have a chance to redeem him or herself. Indeed, some Universalizes believed that there was no Hell, because a loving God would never create such a place to begin with.

Most of us would go along with the statement of Freud’s famous student, Dr. Carl Jung once said, “One of the main functions of formalized religion is to protect people against a direct experience of God.” That is why, perhaps that the mystics of all religions were often considered heretics themselves. Indeed, Freud himself rejected religion in general, especially his Jewish heritage, when he said in his book The Future of an Illusion: ‘ . . . these ancestors of ours were far more ignorant than we are. They believed in things we could not possibly accept today; and the possibility occurs to us that doctrines of religion may belong to that class too.’ I would agree about the doctrine part, but I don’t believe religion is an illusion, it is, however, a subjective experience of our own, or it is just following the crowd, and never questioning or doubting doctrines od ancient time which rational humanity would need to change.

We celebrate today Association Sunday and take a special offering to help fund outreach; we don’t try to convert, folks who are satisfied with their religious perspective, we try to reach those, like many of us, who yearn for religious meaning that makes sense in the 21st century and which college graduates would nopt fell like they had to check their minds at the door. We are not a denomination, but the UU Association of independent churches, similar to the Congregationalists in their church governance. But most of us usually think of denomination so take your choice: it doesn’t matter to most of us.

Because each church, fellowship, society, congregation is independent we often forget the need for the supporting institution, its staff, and its various ways of support, until we need it, like for an interim minister, a new minister, a capital campaign, or especially when there is great conflict. So Association Sunday is also an opportunity to remember the institution, especially since so many of came here because we had the infamous ‘problems with authority.’ It may be helpful to remember that the UUA is made up of our congregations, ministers and staff, all working toward the same goal of making sure there is always a liberal religious home/dimension for those of us who no longer find spiritual/emotional/relational nurture.

For us, we are united. not in the same theological beliefs, but in the freedom to explore a variety of religious experiences, as William James put it at the beginning of the 20th century. Are we Christian? Some consider themselves such, most do not. Again, it all depends on who is doing the religious defining. We at least we believe in God, right? Some do; most don’t, but again it depends on what the questioner defines, both as ‘God’ and ‘believe.’

I think that if we could give truth serum for communion in the many of the Christian churches, and then asked religious questions, we’d find many who would be UU without knowing it. I like to say that we take religion so seriously, that we can joke about it, because we believe that religious beliefs are more like opinion ns than fact proven knowledge. Proscribed Belief doctrines, especially those with ancient language, aren’t what bring us spiritual sustenance. Many if not most of us here don’t really know what we believe to describe it simply in a sentence od two. Most surveys show that more than 90% of Americans believe in God, but no surveys follow up the question, how has that made them better people. Another survey claimed that 20% of all atheists pray daily.

I resonate to Songwriter Holly Near’s religious song entitled “I Ain’t Afraid.”
“I ain’t afraid of your Yahweh/I ain’t afraid of your Allah
I ain’t afraid of your Jesus
I’m afraid of what you do in the name of your God.’

The two traditions or denominations that we have evolved from, the Unitarians and the Universalists. developed in the 19th century here, but both were considered heresies by the traditional church as far back as the teachings of Jesus, and some might say before that. There is just no such thing as one statement that all Christians past and present could agree upon. Indeed the need to form the first creed, the Nicene creed, was pushed, not be God, but by the Emperor Constantine who wanted to control his new and vast empire by deciding on one religion and Christianity one, perhaps because it has a divine human in its beliefs. But he then found that there was no such thing as Christianity, only different kinds and beliefs. That, by the way, is the constant over the millennium. So he called together the 7 bishops, this was before the pope, and ordered them to come up with a creed everyone could agree on, but they couldn’t. One bishop, Arius, held out against a divine Jesus being the same as God, hence rejecting the trinity. But majority overruled him and the trinity became a required creed. The other familiar creed, the Apostle’s Creed, sounds like the blessed twelve of Jesus actually sat down and hammered this out. Interestingly, though religious scholars for many years have realized that it was written ina Greek of the 4th century, not the days of Jesus. Many churches to this day recite one of these creeds every Sunday as part of the Church liturgy

I remember reciting the Apostles Creed, and I think that this became more like sacred or magic, or just comforting words when spoken by the whole congregation become a kind of Gregorian chant or even Buddhist chant, a portal, if you will, through the mundane to the sacred to what I call the religious dimension, not unlike the old TV show, ‘Twilight Zone!

Most of the denominations were begun because of other religious practices, beliefs, or creeds in the 19th century and by the mid 1960’s started to merge as differences became less pronounced. How many people know the difference between Methodist and Presbyterian?

So our two traditions, also merged in 1961 after discussions that actually began in the 1920’s! The Universalizes go back to late 18th Century and Unitarians to 1825. Both really started in Massachusetts, w here Boston was more of the hub of the universe, so to speak, like New York is today. The Unitarians were mostly upper class, wealthy, educated and urban. stressing reason; Universalizes where blue collar, rural, and and stressed the heart if religion. The two stereotyped as Unitarian was the head, and Universalists the heart. Today, we hope we have combined those along with the transforming power of love.

William Ellery Channing often called the ‘father of American Unitarianism’ would write back in the mid 19th century, sounding very contemporary: ‘Let us unite hearts and hands in doing the truth, in loving, in toiling and suffering for the cause of humanity, in spreading intelligence, freedom, virtue, in resisting the abuses and corruption’s of past ages, in exploring and drying up the causes of poverty, in succoring the orphan and widow, in standing with and helping to elevate the depressed portions of the community, in breaking the yoke of the oppressed and enslaved, in exposing and withstanding the horrors of war, in sending God’s word to the end of the earth, in redeeming the world from sin and woe. The angels and pure spirits who visit our earth come not to join a sect, but to do good to all. May this universal charity descend on us, and possess our hearts! May our narrowness, exclusiveness, and bigotry melt away under this mild, celestial fire!’

But as we moved into the twentieth century, as science and psychology began to over shadow religion, there was a move toward returning to the fundamentals, and fundamentalism was born again. FOr many of of us, however, and out liberal religious heritage, we felt like it was time for a religious change, one that could, well, make sense, while still calling us to love and justice. We felt our selves living this story:;

“Years ago in Russia, a czar came upon a lonely sentry standing at attention in a secluded corner of the palace garden. “What are you guarding?” asked the czar. “I don’t know. The captain ordered me to this post,” the sentry replied.

The czar called the captain. His answer: “Written regulations specify a guard was to be assigned to that area.” The czar ordered a search to find out why. The archives revealed the reason. Years before, Catherine the Great had planted a rose bush in that corner and ordered a sentry to protect it for that evening. One hundred years later, the sentries were still guarding that barren spot.” (Minding Your Own Business , Murray Raphel)

Our liberal religious heritage contains the names and lives of many of this country’s beginnings and its shaping in the 18th and 19 century; indeed, our heritage goes back to the Pilgrims who felt like they ahd to purify the 17th century Anglican Church; they were separatists. Later the Puritans would also influence us; they were for purifying the church from within. Of the Pilgrims 14 churches, half of them evolved into Unitarianism, including the Pilgrim church n Plymouth!

The list of famous UU’s sounds like the Who’s Who of the scientific, religious, political, social reformers working towards equality for all and in more present times including the welcoming of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and transgender folk with those of us who intentionally became ‘Welcoming Congregations.’

When the Unitarian Universalist Association was formed in 1961, the principles to which it was dedicated were these:

Support the free and disciplined search for truth as the foundation of religious fellowship.

Cherish and spread the universal truths taught by the great prophets and teachers of humanity in every age and tradition, immemorially summarized in the Judeo-Christian heritage as love to God and love to humankind;

Affirm, defend, and promote the supreme worth and dignity of every human personality, and the use of the democratic method in human relationships;

Implement the vision of one world by striving for a world community founded on ideals of brotherhood [sic], justice, and peace. (UUA bylaws)

Our beliefs today really are a theological spectrum or continuum; indeed, maybe a circle or web would be a better way to describe us today. We gather in religious community even though we might hold different theological stances, what unites us is somewhat mysterious but certainly at our heart is that love is not just imprint it is the reason for living; we may hold liberal Christina beliefs, we might believe in a more pagan approach or even Wiccan. for here we gather in freedom, reason, tolerance, love, and working toward justice and peace. Perhaps the most significant fact about us is that the vast majority of us are at least college educated and independent thinkers. The old saying that you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to be a UU, but it helps, is not far fro the truth.

But we are not just an intellectual debating club, either, we yearn for a community, more than a neighborhood watch group, but a beloved community, a religious community where we can find a place to call our religious home, after often wandering in the spiritual desert having been turned off by traditional religion. It is not that we believe traditional religion is wrong, but that it does not nurture us, does not call to us, does not demand of us, something more than selfish consumption or exclusivist salvation. We often combine religious practices, from Buddhist meditation to Jewish stories, Christian celebrations that we have discovered contain many universal religious layers from times ancient to today.

We don’t choose our religion so much as we discover it, perhaps even experience it, eureka-like, when we find our way, when we discover a religious language, and a religious community that not only makes sense to us but comforts us as well as challenges us. No, we may not yet know the right language, perhaps we may not even know what the word God is really pointing to, but we find ourselves called to be faithful in our doubt, in our questioning as well as our questing. It is not that we can believe anything we want to here, but that we have the freedom to develop and discover what it is we do believe, what words and songs have the most meaning, and all in the context of a beloved community with a long and hallowed tradition of choosing, of heresy as a positive term. We translate, perhaps the language of the Judeo Christian heritage. From the teachings of Jesus, we translate the Lord’s Prayer. Here is a wonderful translation by one of our historical mystic ministers, Jacob Trapp:

O Thou, whose kingdom is within,
may all thy names be hallowed.
May no one of them be turned against the others
to divide those who address thee.

May thy presence be known to us
in mercy, beauty, love, and justice.
May thy kingdom come to be in the life
of all humankind.
May it come with peace, with sharing,
and in a near time.

Give us this day our daily bread
free from all envy and alienation,
broken and blessed in the sharing.

Keep us from trespass against others
and from the feeling that others are
trespassing against us.
Forgive us more than we have forgiven.
Deliver us from being tempted by lesser things
to be heedless of the one great thing:
they gift of thyself in us.

May we heed the call that the prophets spoke of to love one another, to love ourselves, and to love the world, enemy, friend, unknown, oh, let us love it still, and may the spirit of Life and Love be with us, be in and among us,. Let is heed our inner call,

Love is the one great answer
Religion from the heart
Love your neighbor and yourself
Love is religion’s start

Hear all the stories ever told
The greatest is always this-
most of the hurts that we suffer
Can still be healed with a kiss.

Amen, Shalom, (Peace in Hebrew), Assalaamu Alaikum (may Peace be upon you in Arabic), Abrazos a todos (Hugs all around) Namaste, (A Hindu greeting the divinity within you) Blessed Be, and let me add one more blessing that I adapted from the Spanish long before I went in to ministry. ‘Vaya con Dios’ is Spanish for Good-bye, but literally is ‘Go with God,’ SO I adapted it to say ‘Vaya Con SU dios, ‘Go with your idea or interpretation of God.’