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Sunday, September 15, 2013

So Many Windows

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Worship Associates Bettie Young and Mary Wester And Dayna Edwards, Director of Religious Exploration


Many Windows

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

September 15, 201

As Bettie Young said in her Chalice Reflection, “The words ‘many windows, one light’ … evoke a beautiful image of a soaring cathedral with sunlight streaming in through its many windows.” The image originated with the late Forrest Church, UU minister, whose book A Chosen Faith is my recommended reading for newcomers, copies of which will be available to buy in the foyer next Sunday. His idea is that there is a universal light of truth that shines through each of the world’s many religious traditions like sunlight through the varied pieces of stained glass in a cathedral.

But, as Bettie said, “This image [also] … says to me that we come here from many backgrounds, and we hold many beliefs, and we’re all at different places on the path, and it’s all good.” And that’s exactly how I mean to use the image today and I think she told the story of her path beautifully. I’ve heard many of you tell your stories of feeling “found” or even “saved” in discovering Unitarian Universalism, or of feeling like it was a home-coming, or of loving how you’ve been opened up to challenge and growth as a UU.

           

We each have such a story. For some of us, your paths started as children in Unitarian Universalism and here you are today! Quite a of us had never had a religious home until you checked out Unitarian Universalism, where perhaps you’ve now long been settled, or perhaps this very day is your first day in the process of discerning if this is the spiritual home for you. For many of us, like Bettie and myself, it began in another organized religion and we found our way to this or some other UU congregation as adults – directly or after a period without any involvement in religion at all, or a stop-over in another faith first.

           

The latter is my story. My family growing up was Presbyterian, very active in the church, and I thrived in congregational life.  While in college, I came to realize I was no longer a believer, so post-graduation I found my sense of community among other urban organizers and activists. However, moving to another city six years later was an uprooting that caused my new husband and I to seek a religious home, which we found in the Society of Friends, the Quakers. That was my stop-over on the way to Unitarian Universalism; in the silence of Quaker meeting, the spiritual was re-awakened in me. But we moved again after three years, to the Boston area, and there we sought and found ourselves at home in a Unitarian Universalist congregation. And that is where I began to sense a calling to ministry.

           

In a moment, we are going to learn a little about your stories too. I’m going to ask you to be willing to stand, briefly, or raise your hand if standing is difficult for you, when I name the religion, religions or lack thereof in which you were raised. We do this knowing that as Unitarian Universalists we affirm that there is worth in all religions. In fact, I encourage you to embrace particulars of value to you in the religion (or religions) of your past rather than rejecting it outright.

Please stand for each one that applies to your upbringing:

Raised Universalist, Unitarian, or Unitarian Universalist

Raised Jewish–secular, reform, conservative, or orthodox.

Raised Roman Catholic.

Raised Greek or other Orthodox Christian.

Raised Evangelical Christian.

Raised Protestant (Baptist, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Methodist, Lutheran etc) or generally Christian.

Raised Quaker.

Raised Muslim.

Raised Buddhist.

Raised Hindu.

Raised Pagan.

Raised “spiritual but not religious.”

Raised in a home without religion.

Raised in a home that was against religion.

What did I forget?

(Comment on the variety represented).

           

And now? Our paths led us here, that we can see!  How would you describe your beliefs today? What would you say is your theology, your belief in regard to God? Many people, I find, are not sure what words describe their religious beliefs.  Others may feel their religious beliefs are always in transition and therefore impossible to pinpoint.  Still others may think these categories unimportant or irrelevant to the actual living of their daily lives.  From my conversations with many of you, I know there is lots of variety.

           

But, even if you don’t like to be pinned down, I hope you'll participate so we can get a feeling for the range of theological perspectives among us.  I'll give you some definitions, and you can listen for which ones describe you.  You'll notice that the list doesn't include different religions per se–not Christianity or Judaism or Buddhism, etc. 

           

The list, instead, draws attention to our underlying beliefs about human life and the divine if any, without relation to organized religion of any sort.  I'll read the list once with definitions, so that you may consider which one or more describes you, more or less.  And then, I'll read it again, without the definitions.  It would be the second time through that you would stand, or if you are unable, to raise your hand; and you may stand for any and all that apply.

 

Agnosticism says that certainty about the existence of God is not possible.

Atheism denies the existence of God or gods.

Theism is belief in the existence of God or the Goddess, a knowable creator of the universe, possibly but not necessarily the God of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures, however.

Pantheism or Deism, which identify Deity with the various forces and workings of nature.

Panentheism says that the Divine is in everything and is more than everything.

Earth-centered spirituality is based on the cycles of the seasons and the rhythms of nature, and may or may not affirm either or both God and Goddess.

Humanism says that we humans are ultimately responsible to make the world a better place through our knowledge, love, service, and action.

Spiritual humanism says that humans are ultimately responsible for our lives and our world, and that there is a spiritual dimension to life in which humans can participate that grounds us and gives us energy and hope.

Mysticism

Transcendentalism seeks religious experience that transcends the human senses, which might be called the voice of God within, the human conscience, moral sense, or inner light.

Process Theology says that there is a cosmic creative process, which might be called "God," that has brought everything into being, that grows and changes, in which all living things, including humans, are participants.

Spiritual but not religious

None of the above or I don't know or I don’t wish to say.

(Repeat, asking people to stand for any that describe themselves)

So, now we've seen a quick portrayal of the religious diversity of those gathered here today, representative of the congregation of Paint Branch UU Church.  First, in our religious backgrounds growing up.  Second, in our current theological perspectives.

One wonders, how in the world do we manage to worship together, being so theologically diverse? 

As your minister, I strive to use language that provides openings for many to enter into the conversation while at the same time not excluding anyone. I trust you to let me know if I’ve put you off, at the same time I trust you to consider if you might open your mind so that you don’t feel put off.

Also, with as varied a congregation as we have, there probably isn’t ANYone who will be inspired by EVERY service, and I certainly don’t even try to make everybody HAPPY all of the time. Yet, I have to note, whether or not a person is inspired is as much their responsibility as mine – after all the roots of the word “liturgy” mean “the work of the people.” Worship is not just my work. It’s yours, too.

Still, how is it that we worship together, as different theologically as we have just seen we are?  I will highlight just two of several possible answers to this question.

First, we strive to be open to the idea that another person's theological perspective works and is true for them even though it doesn't work or seem true to us.

And, second, we strive for a sense of community that draws on but transcends our individual theological perspectives.

Our time together at Sunday morning worship reminds us that we are not alone in this world, whatever our ideas about the divine.  Here we are reminded that we have and need each other.  We all bring  "joys and sorrows" and we celebrate the life we share in all its complexity, and all its ups and downs.  We draw strength and solace from the quiet of this place, from the music and dance, and from being together.  We are reminded of our highest aspirations here, even if we also come up short most of the time. We learn and grow, we are challenged and maybe even provoked, we share commitments to do the work of love and justice in our world. We experience here the depth and height of the human spirit to the extent we individually and collectively are open to it. Actually, we create it together.

The hymn we will sing in a moment expresses beautifully this coming together of our community. While we might not always be – in the words of the hymn – “tranquil” since conflict is a normal part of life, we ARE nevertheless like “streams that meet and merge”… “kindred hearts and minds united.” I invite you to find in your hymnals #145 and rise in body or in spirit – let us join our voices in song.

HYMN

So, let me ask a probing question.  How much do you feel you know about each other, religiously, I mean?  Sometimes I wonder about Unitarian Universalist congregations— is our apparent congeniality deep because we have been open with each other or superficial because we avoid the heavy topics altogether, even religion? 

So, let us count the ways in which we are diverse theologically—yes. But then let us cultivate loving curiosity about those differences.  I do believe that the more we know and love our differences, the more deeply we will be able to draw on those differences in creating a sense of community that transcends them. 

Last June at the annual gathering of Unitarian Universalist ministers for professional development, we invited a rather witty United Church of Christ minister to speak to us. Lillian Daniel retold this little rant she’d published on The Huffington Post two years ago.

“On airplanes, I dread the conversation with the person who finds out I am a minister and wants to use the flight time to explain to me that he is ‘spiritual but not religious.’ Such a person will always share this as if it is some kind of daring insight, unique to him, bold in its rebellion against the religious status quo.

Next thing you know, he's telling me that he finds God in the sunsets. These people always find God in the sunsets…

Like people who go to church don't see God in the sunset! Like we are these monastic little hermits who never leave the church building…

Being privately spiritual but not religious just doesn't interest me. There is nothing challenging about having deep thoughts all by oneself. What is interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself.”

Now, the thing is, recent surveys of Americans regarding their religions show that the fastest growing segment is comprised of those who check the box that says “none.” And of those “nones,” many are the guy or gal on the airplane, spiritual but not religious.

The other thing is, Unitarian Universalism is the perfect haven for those who are “spiritual but not religious.” How many of you might have once described, or still describe, yourself as “spiritual but not religious”? I was that, once upon a time.

And the only reason any of us here might hold back from describing ourselves as “religious” is that we think that to be religious is to believe in a certain doctrine of faith. But in fact, the historical roots of the word have nothing to do with belief or lack thereof in a god, goddess, God, or any particular theology. The roots of the word mean simply “to bind together.”

Yes, we are bound together in community here, and that makes this a religion. By our common principles, by the common sources from which we draw, in bearing of each other’s sorrows and celebrating each other’s joys, and by sharing our stories with one another, we are bound together. 

Many of us are here first came here because we were lonely or confused having “deep thoughts all by ourselves” or maybe we worried we weren’t having any deep thoughts at all. We want to explore the meaning of life, discern the meaning of events in our own lives, ponder the injustices and problems in this world around us and find energy for acting to address them, and we want to revel in its beauties and the arts… but not by ourselves.

We want to do those things with others who similarly want to do it too. What is most interesting is doing this work in community, where other people might call you on stuff, or heaven forbid, disagree with you. “Where life with God gets rich and provocative is when you dig deeply into a tradition that you did not invent all for yourself,” as Lillian Daniel said.

And it gets even richer when we – with humility as well as courage – move our tradition into the future. It is not static. Unitarian Universalism is moving. It is a more than a denomination, and it is a movement as much as it is a tradition. That is why we say it is a “living tradition.”

And, the living tradition is alive and well here among us. For – in the words of the hymn we are about to sing - we have found a need, a time, and a place to be together, and we find joy in being together. 

Please find in your hymnal, the title of which is “Singing the Living Tradition,” #354 -  We Laugh, We Cry. And rise in body or in spirit to sing together.

Closing Words

The ending of a poem entitled “Reunion” by UU minister Barbara Pescan:

“…Yes,

I have danced and

I have told the stories

At my own fire and

I have sung well, to all eight directions.

But when I am with you,

My friends,

I know better who it is in me

That sings.”

Yes, it is in community that we know better who we are and why we sing.

Amen.

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Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church • 3215 Powder Mill Road • Adelphi, Maryland 20783-1097
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