Sermon by Don Barker
Opening Words by Paul Simon, from Kathy’s Song:
And so you see I have come to doubt
All that I once held as true.
I stand alone without beliefs.
The only truth I know is you.
And as I watch the drops of rain
weave their weary paths and die,
I know that I am like the rain —
There before the grace of you, go I.
This morning, I would like to declare 4 new UU Principles
I know. We have Seven already:
- Each person is important.
- Be kind in all you do.
- We’re free to learn together.
- We search for what is true.
- All people need a voice.
- Build a fair and peaceful world.
- We care for the Earth.
And they sound like a poem or a song, don’t they? What more do we need than that?
Well, I want to share a few more principles that have become deeply meaningful to me as a member of our Fellowship. And more recently as a volunteer for our Social Media Ministry. You see, this is the best volunteer job here in the Fellowship. Because through my work with the UUFE web site and our weekly newsletter, I’ve learned …
UU Principle Number 8: People are Always More Interesting than the Truth
I’ve learned this because about six months ago, we rebranded our weekly email as UU liFE. We began publishing the “Five Big Questions” interviews. So far, more than 20 of you have answered these questions – for the record, in our blog — and through our UU liFE weekly email.
Here are the Five Big Questions:
- Where were you raised, and how?
- How have you made your living?
- What’s the most remarkable thing you’ve done?
- What’s the Next Big Thing for you?
- How do you serve UUFE and why?
That last question is at the heart of who we are as a fellowship, as friends, and as fellow wanderers and searchers.
By sending you these questions, reading your responses, asking more questions, and cropping and sizing your marvelous photos, I’ve learned that You are More Interesting than the Truth.
That insight helped me with a UUFE web site problem. We needed to refresh the front page banners. But we don’t have any creed or dogma we can proclaim there. No Truth product we can sell. What do we put there? Paul Simon’s lyrics came back to me: The only truth we know – is you.
So I asked Nancy if we could put her on our front page. Nancy was our first interview last year, “A Corn and Soybeans Kind of Girl”, is how she described herself. She said,
“UUFE is my spiritual and moral home. It nurtures personal development and wonderful friendships and connections.”
And we put that on our front page banner.
Mark Peach says on another front page banner, “It’s important to me to be helping the greater good. The Fellowship gives me the opportunity for personal growth.”
I have a few more of these new web site banners to read to you later as I illustrate a couple more of my new UU Principles.
We asked, “Where were you raised, and how?” Many of you told how you set out from home, on a search for something other than the truth you were raised with.
UU Principle Number 9: The Truth is not where they told you it was.
For some it was easy; for others, it’s been harder.
Dick– “Barbara and I decided to become members of the Unitarian Church in 2001 after our oldest son introduced us to this religion. While a Methodist I always had trouble believing in the Trinity.” Now, that was pretty easy, wasn’t it?
Russ: “I was raised in southeastern Pennsylvania in a Fundamental Evangelical Protestant family. It might sound like an exaggeration, but their “church” was my parent’s life. Being raised in a family where I did not feel unconditional, non-judgmental love has turned me against that path…. I recall being told that to have my ‘soul saved from hell’ was the most important thing in my life. “
Where was I raised, and how? I was raised with the Truth. I wrote in my own UU liFE interview that my great great grandparents walked across the Great Plains from Illinios to Utah Territory with Brigham Young in 1847. My dad was raised on a small farm in a Mormon community at the edge of Great Salt Lake.
By the time I graduated from high school, I was totally committed to the faith and worldview of my forebears. At age of 19, I was sent to Colombia to preach the truth. I was a True Believer preaching on street corners and going door to door for two years in Bogota, Barranquilla, Cartagena, and Cucuta. Today I feel deeply grateful for that experience of living in a Third World country. I realize now, looking back, that I carried from Colombia a seed that was buried deep inside. It was my actual lived experience whispering to me that the real world is much, much bigger, more diverse, complex, and extraordinary – than Salt Lake City.
Dick discovered this, too, but in a different way. He told us how he and Barbara have travelled through in the Middle East and Far East. He wrote: “The exposure to many of the world’s religions on these trips enlightened me and made me question the uniqueness of the Christian religion that I was raised in.”
Nina wrote about a similar insight gotten in a different way. She attended many churches while growing up. She described church #3 or #4 as “a very liberal, independent church which was at one time briefly a UU church. … This remarkable church changed my life by exposing me to the idea of actually questioning religious thought and seeking my own spiritual path – as well as making me highly aware of the inequities of our world.”
Wow, Nina. A church too independent even for the UUs? Maybe we get together at coffee hour, so I can hear more about that.
Heather: “I attended a Catholic high school and found a teacher freshman year who allowed me to question the church’s rules and express my distaste with the institution (without failing me) and still work within the confines of her class. I enjoyed learning about the differences and similarities in other religions and still do. Ironically, I am the only one in my family who belongs to any formal church congregation. “
So Heather and Dick could see right through this Truth that they had grown up with. And Nina had help early on. For others of us, it was harder. Some of us were True Believers.
When I returned home from Colombia, I had this insight slowly growing inside me – this new insight that Dick and Nina described – that life is a lot bigger than my small preaching. But I was still a True Believer when Rita and I married in a Mormon Temple, and when we moved our small family to Maryland to follow my career. I was a True Believer when we left the Annapolis suburbs and crossed over to the Eastern Shore in search of a homestead. Back then, True Believers knew that the Second Coming of the Lord was prophesied to happen 6000 years after God created the Garden of Eden. Time was running out.
So there I am in 1987, building our Little House on the Prairie before the Second Coming. We were also planting a garden, canning tomatoes, storing up a year’s supply of emergency food, and of course, doing Little League and soccer. I spent many nights high up on the timber frame, many nights through the summer and autumn, and into the winter. The Milky Way and sea of stars were wheeling overhead. I watched the planets move across the four seasons. By day, I was also devouring textbooks on astronomy and cosmology. Stephen Hawking’s Brief History of Time was a best-seller about that time. I could see in the dark, endless space above me, that the universe is very big, our Earth very small, and Salt Lake City was even smaller.
So the Lord and I both missed our deadlines. He’s still on his way, and I’m still working on the house.
It was painful to step away from long-held beliefs and truth, to leave our culture and worldview.
Jane: “When I was about 21 years old, I broke with the church and stopped attending weekly Mass when I was home. This was somewhat painful for me and my mother.”
So, the Truth was not there where we started. But how did you get from there to here?
That was question 4 1/2 that we slipped into the Five Big Questions: “How did you find UUFE?” Here is one surprising answer:
Mark on the banner: “Shalagh found the UUFE and turned me on to it. Our son, Eamon, was three years old at the time, and we wanted to raise him in a spiritual environment that had similar community qualities as my Catholic upbringing did.”
Really?! I went to see Mark about this. Mark had also written that he loved playing sports in high school – baseball, track, and soccer. I recall Mark saying that the parish priest was always out there on the sports field, working with the kids, showing in real life that he loved and cared for them.
Don on the banner: “When our daughter started asking about religion, we wanted to find a spiritual home without dogma. We found UUFE.”
I confess that I kind of made that up. In my interview, I wrote that by the time our last child, Audrey, was born, we were out of religion for good. But I left out the part about the endless cosmos above me each night, and how lonely that made me feel. I wrote briefly that when Audrey was 10, she and I almost drowned together in a rip tide at Rehobeth. While we were being rescued by beach lifeguards, we each thought the other had been lost and drowned. The part I left out was that, for brief time while I clinged to the lifeguard, I thought that I had been the cause of my child’s drowning. Can you imagine that feeling?
So it wasn’t just Audrey who asked questions about life and death and religion. I was asking, too. Which brings us to
UU Principle Number 10: The Truth is here – living and being with you.
You express this truth in many ways (and we put this on our front page banners):
Heather on the banner – “I give my time to UUFE because I get so much in return. It’s my family, my community, and my spiritual home.”
Laura on the banner – “UUFE has provided me with spiritual inspiration, support, growth, and some of the best friends I’ve ever known.”
Dick on the banner – “I value the freedom to believe whatever is meaningful. My soul is enriched by the variety of human experience within the Fellowship.”
Usually, Truth is the person standing before you, or sitting next to you. And yes, the person who just emailed you or sent you a text.
We have so much in common! And so much that is uniquely our own. So much to tell, if only we could.
And that truth brings me, finally, to my last new…
UU Principle Number 11: We need to get together often, to watch and listen.
How do we do that? Well, obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is… When I send you that email and ask you if you’re ready to do the Five Big Questions interview, I hope you say yes.
And when you read Mark’s story, or Jay’s, or Nina’s, and you say, “I didn’t know that”, and wonder about the parts they left out, go look them up at coffee hour and find out more. And if they’re not at coffee hour, send a tweet and find out when you can get together.
Besides that, the obvious answer is, just be here. It is so easy not to be here! There are so many other places to be. And no one is taking attendance. (One of the early things we noticed about attending UUFE is that we didn’t have to attend.)
There are many ways to be together in Fellowship. And not just Sundays. In our last weekly email, Kara invited us to come here yesterday afternoon, and again this coming Wednesday, to pull weeds. But did you feel the spirit of that? Her invitation was to come for “therapeutic gardening”, where we can enjoy “meditative list-making, problem-solving, idea-having, or even conversation with our fellow gardeners.” We had all that yesterday. I think there was a better sermon heard under the beautiful deodar cedar — and with a lot fewer printed words — than what you’re hearing here today.
For truth seekers, there’s also the Marshall Trail Rangers, who get together to look after our nature trail.
There’s our UUFE choir. Join the sopranos and ask Nina to tell you more about that church #4. Ask Mary how she and her Cooper Mini are getting along. And how is Ralph doing?
Gayle Scroggs and Judy Anglada are cooking up a new Adult Religious Education meetup. Easier to do – Sundays after the service, right?
Our UU liFE newsletter could always use another interviewer. Best volunteer job here at the Fellowship.
So, let’s get together often, because
The only sermon I really know is you.
The joys and concerns I know are you.
The only truth I know is you.
May it always be so.