The One Minute UU
This was presented at TPUUF on 4/11/99, as part of a program which I led on why we are UUs. Members of the congregation spoke movingly about what brought them to the movement and what they gained from being within it. The title is a bit misleading: the sermon took longer than one minute but the recitation of names actually took only 62 seconds. On reflection I think that this is actually the sixth sermon in the series begun with Earth, Fire, Air and Water. (Ministry is apparently the fifth in this series.)
Over the past months, I have been asking you to consider what brings you here and what keeps you here.
And you have answered: to the congregation gathered here, to each other and, I have no doubt, in quiet places and, yes, sometimes, in moments of stress and busyness, to yourself.
When I asked and you answered, it has been largely about us here, members and friends of the Thomas Paine Unitarian Universalist Fellowship and about life here within our fellowship.
It is a rich, warm life, bursting with vigor and energy. It is open to all, accessible, and though we may take it for granted, visitors notice it at once.
In a word, we are a community.
Last night, in this room, we gathered to commemorate one of the roots of our faith, to take part in a Passover Seder. We came together, members and friends, young and old and we were family.
Now I ask you to draw back from the day to day, expand your focus a bit and consider with me who we are and what we are in the larger context.
I return to Conrad Wright, who defines a church, as:
"a covenanted body of religiously concerned men and women."#
We are that, whether we refer to our faith community as fellowship, church, or ·those folks I get together with on Sunday morning.'
We are that.
We are brought together by many needs and desires but important among these is our drive for truth and meaning, our need to travel a path towards understanding and to have good and trusted companions for our journey. This community is where we work out the questions and pursue the answers, matters of truly religious concern, even if we fail to recognize them as such. We are each members, participants, in this community.
We are that, and more.
I assert that we are not merely family, not merely a community, not merely, in Wright's term, a church, not merely an American religious organization but that we, as members of a member fellowship of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, exemplify, by Harold Bloom's definition, the American Religion.
Bloom, a self-styled religious critic, writes about America and Americans*:
"...(A) nation obsessed with religion; furiously searching for the spirit; each of us the object and subject of the one quest, for the original self, a spark or breath in us that we are convinced goes back to the creation."
Or as we UUs say, is a part of the interdependent web of existence.
Bloom, after examining a broad variety of American religious experience, both homegrown and imported, concludes that all of us demand two things of our personal practice:
* First, We each seek and wish to find God, or the holy, within our own self, in perfect solitude, by direct encounter.
* Second, We seek salvation or complete self-knowledge, not through a life lived out in community or congregation but through a one-on-one act of confrontation.
Thus, all adherents of the American Religion reject, to a lesser or greater degree, the intercessor role of priest, rabbi or minister, relying instead on revelation, past or present and, through reason, intuition and a sense of authenticity, we select those principles and practices which will guide each of us in our moral lives.
Despite focusing on American "exotics," as he calls them, home-grown methods of religious practice, such as Mormonism, Christian Science, Seventh-day Adventism and Pentecostalism, which embody and exemplify the common principles of the American Religion, Bloom inexplicably omits either Unitarianism or Universalism from his analysis.
I say inexplicably in light of Emerson's message*:
"Within us is the soul of the whole; the wise silence, the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One.
When it breaks through our intelligence, it is genius; when it breathes through our will, it is virtue; when it flows through our affection, it is love."
For that solitude, the wise silence, and its resulting self-knowledge, producing genius, virtue and love, are the core, the very essence, of the American Religion.
But perhaps Bloom's omission of our Unitarian and Universalist practices is understandable and predictable.
I suggest that we have forgotten our heritage, forgotten that we are the inheritors and the protectors of the precious light of liberal religion, of the original free church, the prototype on which free churches world-wide are based.
It's time to consider why we are UUs, to remember what it means to be a UU and, thus, recover and protect and proclaim our heritage.
Our Adult Religious Exploration Comm. has just completed a very successful series of classes entitled "Our UU History." More similar programs will, no doubt, follow.
I am going to do my part, to recover, protect and proclaim our heritage, by offering you today a one minute history of Unitarian Universalism:
Here it is:
Thales of Miletus
Origen of Alexandria
William Ellery Channing
Ralph Waldo Emerson
James Freeman Clarke
Henry David Thoreau
Thomas Starr King
Susan B. Anthony
Henry Whitney Bellows
William Channing Gannett
Clarence Russell Skinner
Issac Moran Atwood
Jenkin Lloyd Jones
James Luther Adams
Fredrick May Eliot
You may object, saying that this is not history, only a list of names.
Emerson, echoing Thomas Carlyle, wrote, "There is properly no history, only biography."
Our history, our faith heritage, is biography, the life stories of these 52 of our forefathers and foremothers, the stories of others unnamed here and, yes, even stories of those forgotten.
We need to remember their stories, for they are our stories. How many of these names from our more than two millennia of history, of the struggle for a free mind in a free church, did you recognize. Five? Ten? Twenty-five? Perhaps in time we will come to know them all and to honor their contributions to our rich treasure.
I have asked three members of our community to tell their UU stories and in doing so, to proclaim our heritage through their experience in becoming UUs.
And so they will, after the offertory is taken.
But, it is important that we each assert the primacy of the American Religion, and our role in it, by acting to recover and protect and proclaim our UU heritage.