A recent book suggests that for some people, video games are better than reality, providing meaning and challenges far better than those in the real world. Today we’ll explore what motivates and inspires us.
Rev. Fiona Heath became a UU minister in September 2012 and was ordained in May 2013. She is now our part-time minister. She lives in Waterloo with her partner Marc and son Silas.
The complete sermon can be read below:
I was a stay at home mother and free-lance writer for many years. If you wish to be popular at parties, do not tell people you are a stay at home mother. I quickly learned to lead with free-lancer…
However, I have now found that the greatest conversation killer at parties is telling people you are a minister….
People sometimes look worried, as if I am going to suddenly sing “onward Christian soldier”. They straighten their backs and mentally review our conversation in case they swore. The well meaning ones tell me about their grandmother who still goes to church. But mostly, they just aren’t interested.
This does not surprise me. It saddens me, but it doesn’t surprise me.
Canada is an increasingly secular society; religion is not so much disliked but seen as a left over relic from the days of Prime Minister Diefenbaker,
like record players or playing hockey without helmets. Kind of cool in a retro nostalgic way, but most definitely not the way we live now.
And there is truth in that. We do live differently now. We aren`t embedded in one community, where we live and work and raise our families, where everyone looks pretty much the same. In this world the local church was the central hub of community, caring for people from birth to marriage to death, living in a straight line between heaven and hell.
Now we are embedded in multiple communities in multiple ways. We live in a network of relationships that are greatly expanded by technology. Our lives aren’t linear anymore, our choices complex. We don’t need a single community hub, because we have many communities, and we want to access them when we need them, not just Sunday mornings. We now live in a vast web in an infinite universe.
Much of what churches used to offer, people find elsewhere – hanging out with friends, with trusted counsellors, through music and art. And the tools we use – cell phones, texting, facebook, twitter – have drastically changed how we access information and communicate with each other.
But I am sure we need spiritual communities more now than ever. There is no other institution which considers the big picture, no other communal way to be together with a focus on the whole.
For me, religion is a system for understanding the relationships between things. It is a framework of perception, providing a meaningful narrative
which shapes how we interact with others. It is the bigger story within which we tell our own stories.
And I am convinced – indeed it is why I became a minister – that the perspective of Unitarian Universalism is the one our society desperately need, right here, right now.
There are so many people yearning for more out of living. They just don’t know where to find it or how to find it. Whether they call themselves spiritual but not religious, or atheist and spiritual, they are seeking a place where they can explore their fears and confusions, express their hopes and dreams.
They aren’t seeking answers from above, and aren’t willing to accept ones at odds with scientific knowledge. They want to explore questions of meaning and purpose in community, whether that is on-line or in a pub or on a Sunday morning. They want their lives to matter, to belong to something larger than themselves.
Our way of being in the world resonates with these seekers. We offer a way to explore life’s immensity, to stand in awe together before the universe unfolding, holding hands in love.
They need us and don’t know it. Small as we are, we are easily missed,
it can be hard to hear our signal in all the media noise. We are also young, for a religious tradition. Although you can see the beginnings of both Unitarianism and Universalism in the early Christianity of 2000 years ago,
we are less of a mature plantation and more of a freshly seeded garden.
The merging of Unitarianism and Universalism took place just over fifty years ago. Our chalice symbol dates back to world war two, but only came into common use in the seventies. Our newest ritual – the january fire communion - is barely 10 years old.
We are still integrating our Unitarian, universalist and humanist ancestry in a meaningful way, and learning language that expresses our particular perspective of mystery and kindness and connectedness.
There is much patient work to be done for us to truly bloom. Our leaves are still unfurling. But the potential is there, waiting to flower into glory.
And there are people in need of our harvest.
Students of history say you can tell what is important to a society by looking at its biggest buildings. The ancients of Great Britain built Stonehenge – as a memorial to their ancestors, as a celebration of the cycles of the seasons – we don’t know. The Egyptians built the pyramids as testaments to the god status of their pharaohs. Medieval Europeans built vast cathedrals to worship God. Downtown Toronto is filled with pinnacles celebrating business and commerce, and crowned by the CN Tower
– the ultimate tourist experience. Around here, big box stores and shopping malls trumpet the All Mighty Consumer, while luxury condos and big fitness centres elevate the Individual.
Business, Tourism, Consumerism, the Individual. All these focal points are great ways to generate wealth, but all are terrible ways to generate meaning. Watch advertising anywhere for more than five minutes and
you begin to believe the purpose of life is to have white teeth.
But we know deep down we are more than individual consumers, and that there is a greater bottom line than wealth.
Unitarian Universalism is a different – and better - understanding of how we are in the world; we offer a challenging vision of respect for all beings and a radical understanding of the interrelated web of life. Our way of being is a way of collaboration and community.
It is a challenge to the status quo, a quiet resistance to the powers around us. It is a way of hope. It is a vision of a better future. It is a way worthy of sharing, worthy of great care and dedication.
I want to retell a story I’m sure most of you will have heard before,
because it speaks so well to what it means to have a vision.
Almost 800 years ago in England, a traveler to Salisbury happened upon a large group of workers working a pile of stones beside an empty field.
He watched them as they went about their physical labour. Curious, he moved towards the man closest to him. “My dear fellow, he said heartily, what is it that you are doing?” The man continued his work, not looking up, and grumbled, “I am cutting stones.”
Realizing that the mason did not wish to engage in a conversation, the traveler moved towards another man working nearby and asked again,
“what is it that you are doing?” To the traveler’s delight this time the man stopped his work, and announced “I am a stonecutter.” The mason stretched his back, grimacing. “I cut each stone precisely and exactly. It`s hard work but I do it well. Though I`ll be glad when it`s done and I can get on home.”
The traveler thanked the second mason, and, still a curious man, decided to ask one more worker his question. “What is it that you are doing?” This time the mason paused, and looked skyward, smiling. “I am building a cathedral.” He continued, “People from all over England will come here to worship. It is to be a place of sanctuary and hope. It won’t be completed in my lifetime, but the future depends on my doing this work well. If these stones are not cut just right, the cathedral will not stand.” And he went back to his great work.
Imagine if we all felt like our lives were dedicated to something like building a cathedral. If instead of saying we collect garbage, we say we make our city more beautiful or we look after that which no one else wants.
What if we could understand ourselves in the context of the greater whole, know that we are contributing to a grand vision of a better world?
When we believe that our lives are making a profound difference to the others, to the future, anything is possible. We stretch ourselves to do more, to be more. It is the soaring vision that gives our lives meaning.
You may be simply cutting stones into squares, but you are creating something magnificent. To know that we have made a contribution to the greater whole satisfies our spirits. It gives us a firm place to stand when the storms of life are blowing strong. When we question the value of our lives,
knowing that we are creating a cathedral makes all the difference.
Here at UUCD it may look like we are simply hanging out on a Sunday morning, but we are also building a cathedral. All of us together. Each of us, whether we are playing a role or offering the gift of presence, are part of this grand and audacious exercise in meaning making.
Our Unitarian Universalist cathedral will look very different than the gothic Salisbury Cathedral in the story. The lives we lead as Unitarian Universalists here and now, the work we do together, these are the foundations for the generations who come after us.
This is a cathedral made not from cement and glass, but from hospitality. Acts of kindness and compassion shelter us. The walls are shaped by the stories and songs of this chalice tradition, made stronger each time we tell them anew.
This is a temple open to the universe, which celebrates the ever unfolding mystery, based in the knowledge of the interconnectedness of life.
This is a cathedral worthy of our energy and dedication. The part each of us may do may be small, but it all matters. Every stone well made creates a solid foundation. And on these foundations, our temple will offer hope
for the seekers of today and the generations to come.
One of the aspects of Unitarian Universalism which first drew me in
was the chalice. I loved that the symbol of this community was a living, flickering flame cupped in a beautiful container. I love that as a candle or with oil, it needs to be renewed, it needs care and attention.
We often speak of ourselves as a living tradition and I see the flaming chalice as perfectly embodying that livingness. The light flickers, grows stronger or dimmer, responds to the movement surrounding it, and needs oxygen, just like us. Just as Unitarian Universalism changes and evolves, so does the flame.
The chalice light is a symbol of the spark of life within all beings, of the spark of life on this little blue planet in this great big universe. We are the people of the chalice.
As we build our cathedral, we also tend the flame of the chalice. The light of our chalice guides the work of our hands and hearts, helping us to see clearly the meaning of our lives.
Unitarian Universalism says each of us matters, that each of us is welcome just as we are, that we are whole and holy beings, embedded in a whole and holy universe.
Our tradition offers hope without hell. We offer a world of belonging, of connection, of relationship, not just with one another but with all beings.
We are called to be in community with one another, working through difficulties with respect and compassion. We are called to strive for justice and end oppression. To live all of this out in our daily lives is a challenge!
But that challenge, to live into to this vision of a nurturing, life enhancing way of being, is one most worthy of our time and dedication.
I believe we have a message worth hearing. I believe that we have a path people want to walk. I believe that the world needs our spiritual community. My deepest hope is that you believe this too.
Let us carry the chalice with pride. May it’s shining light remind us of the worth of the work we do together, and blaze brilliantly as a beacon of hope, guiding those in need to our welcoming arms.
May it be so.
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