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Rev. David E. Grimm First Unitarian Society of Ithaca
September 9, 2012 I begin with the words of the Rev. Forrest Church, from an address he delivered at
the Unitarian Universalist Association’s General Assembly in 2003: “… In what I call the Cathedral of the World there are millions of windows, each
telling its own story of who we are, where we came from, where we are going, each [attempting to] illuminat[e] life’s [ultimate] meaning. In this respect, we [with all our
different windows on the world] are many. But we are also one, for the one Light shines through every window. No individual, however spiritually gifted, can see this Light directly -- this Light, Truth or God [or animating power of the Universe,] call it
what you will. . We cannot look God in the eye any more than we can stare at the sun without going blind. This should counsel humility and mutual respect for those whose reflections on ultimate meaning differ from our own.
“Gaze into the light of the heavens. There are 1.7 trillion stars for every living human
being. The star to person ratio is 1.7 trillion to one. That is awesome and it counsels humility. It should certainly discourage the scourge of human pride. But does it? No. Instead, we sit on this [earth, this] tiny, munificently fixtured rock… arguing over who
has the best insider information on the creator and the creation. Is it the Christian? The Buddhist? The Atheist? The Humanist? The Theist? Please! We humans trumpet our differences, some even kill one other over them, while, in every way that [really]
matters, we are far more alike than we are different. We are certainly more alike in our ignorance than we differ in our knowledge. In fact, by the time we die, we will barely
have gotten our minds wet. The wisest of us all will have but the faintest notion of what life was all about. This counsels humility, but it also affirms oneness. My favorite etymology speaks eloquently to this very point. Human, humane, humanitarian,
humor, humility, humus. Dust to dust, the mortar of mortality binds us fast to one another. Truly we are one. “The acknowledgement of essential unity is a central pillar, the central pillar, of Unitarian Universalism. In contrast, fundamentalists, perceiving the Light shining
through their own window, conclude that theirs
is the only window through which
[the light] shines. They may even incite their followers to throw stones through other
people’s windows. Secular materialists make precisely the opposite mistake. Perceiving
the bewildering variety of windows and worshippers, they conclude there is no Light.
But the windows [of our world views or religious beliefs] are not the Light; the
windows are where the Light shines through.” Sermon We live in a land of religious freedom. We aren’t told what religion to practice. We aren’t taxed to support an official state or national
religion. We aren’t penalized because
of the religion that we’ve chosen – we aren’t penalized if ‘no religion’
is the choice that we’ve decided is the right choice for us. In other words, we’re free to follow our own conscience in making our choice and practice of religion. And what a good thing that is! To be able to choose a religious
path that seems to be the right one for us!
A path that speaks to our soul, that empowers us to become the best person we can become and to live the most loving and helpful life that we can. To find a religious community that supports us in our
being and our becoming, our living, our learning, our growing; a community that feels like home to us and is one that we naturally want to get involved in very real, tangible ways.
In other words, the freedom to choose our religion makes it possible for us to find a
religion that can become for us a living thing, a religion that becomes alive to us, becomes part of us, becomes meaningful to us and blesses us heart, mind and soul as well as all the lives that we interact with.
This the American way, where all are welcome. Freedom of religion for all. And yet not all Americans welcome religious differences. Some people do. Some people
welcome and embrace religious diversity. But some people just tolerate religious differences and just barely at that -- they think badly of religious difference because
they believe religions other than their own religion are wrong, not good. And some of these people even throw stones at other’s windows like what happened just this past month.
• “On Aug. 4, teenagers pelted a mosque in Hayward, Calif., with fruit. • On Aug. 5, Wade Michael Page murdered six congregants and wounded a
police officer at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin
• That same day, a man vandalized a mosque in North Smithfield, R.I. • On Aug. 6, a mosque in Joplin, Mo., was burned to the ground. • On Aug. 7, two women threw pieces of pork at the site of a proposed Islamic
• On Aug. 10, a man allegedly shot a pellet rifle at a mosque near Chicago while
• On Aug. 12, attackers fired paintball guns at a mosque in Oklahoma City, and a
homemade bomb filled with acid was thrown at an Islamic school in Lombard, Ill.
• On Aug. 15, assailants threw a Molotov cocktail at the home of a Muslim
family in Panama City, Fla.” (www.thedailybeast.com/newsweek/2012/08/19/a-quiet-campaign-of-
And this happened right here in America, in the land of religious freedom? Violence
committed against people and religious property simply because the religion practiced was different than the religion of the attackers? Simply because, in the Cathedral of
the world, they looked at the wonder of life through a different window than their attackers did? Come on! Aren’t we beyond this as a species? Not yet? We should be. The time has come. In a land where we set up our government so that no numerical majority could make their
religion the law of the land and impose their
religious way on everybody
else. If a numerical majority today were to pass a law establishing theirs as the national religion, it would be ruled unconstitutional at once. Separation of church and state,
that’s the American way, religious freedom for all. And it’s also the Unitarian Universalist way! Freedom of conscience: that’s at the heart
of our liberal religious way; it’s one of the key principles of Unitarian Universalism. I mean, if a numerical majority at some UU congregation wanted to impose their
theological position on everybody else in the congregation, they simply couldn’t do it and remain true to the spirit of Unitarian Universalism.
• A numerical majority of UU God-believers could not proclaim “We’re a
congregation of theists, no humanists or atheists are allowed here!”
• Nor could a numerical majority of UU humanists and atheists proclaim “We’re
a congregation of non-theists, no God-believers are allowed here!”
It simply wouldn’t be Unitarian Universalist to do that. It would go against our foundational principles.
Freedom of conscience and the resulting religious diversity is our way. And we don’t
just tolerate religious differences among us, we’re also willing to look at different windows and see meaningful ways that the Light shines through some of those windows that may be different from our own. Sometimes we see things that are very
similar to what we usually see in our own window, sometimes we come upon something new and insightful and spiritually useful for us. But more than anything
else, we create a sacred space in our Unitarian Universalist congregations where
everyone is welcome, included, and embraced, no matter their religious orientation. As many Unitarian Universalist leaders have pointed out, “We model in our churches the way the world should work: mutual respect; no stone throwing; democracy; religious freedom…" (Rev. Forrest Church, 2003 General Assembly address)
We see how the world could be if it honored religious diversity. And we seek to be the change that we want to see. And we seek to be “…a place where nobody has to
feel excluded and everyone can feel welcome; … we come to [this place to] be an incarnation of the world [that] we know is possible, when human beings… rise above
what divides [them] and learn to celebrate [their] differences. A world …Where no one is shamed because of … what they believe or don’t believe…” (Rev. Marlin Lavenhar, “We are Family” http://allsouls.publishpath.com/read-sermons)
As it was said long ago: “We don’t have to think alike to love alike.” And we can work together in many ways to make the world a better place. (Anon.)
We are called to honor diversity, To respect differences with dignity, And to challenge those who would [seek to] forbid it.
We are people of a wide path. Let us be wide in [our] affection And go our way in peace [and love, working to change things for the better non-
violently].” (Jean Rickard, adapted) May we celebrate our diversity, learn from it, and, in so many ways, be the change we wish to see.
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