Sermon by Rev. Diane Rollert, 17 January 2016
Laughing at Ourselves Part 1
As Unitarian Universalists, we affirm and promote the free and responsible search for truth and meaning, so…
What does the KKK do when they find out that a Unitarian family has moved into their neighbourhood?
They burn a question mark on their lawn.
Many years ago, a former neighbour of ours, a fellow UU in Massachusetts named Stoney Ballard, started collecting all the UU jokes he could find on the Internet. Now he has a large online repository of just about every good, bad and ugly UU joke ever told. Google “UU jokes” and you’ll find Stoney.
The fascinating thing about Stoney’s collection is how lopsided it really is. There are a couple jokes that explain the difference between Unitarians and Universalists, a handful of light bulb jokes and a whole lot of jokes about what UUs don’t believe and another slew of jokes that have a very limited perspective on what we value.
The fact that we dare to question, that we don’t have a specific dogma to follow, the fact the we invite our members to seek their own truth, sets us up for a lot of jokes.
Unitarian Universalism - Where all your answers are questioned.
We live our faith by thinking it through. We are in constant dialogue with each other about what we each believe. Unitarianism first developed at the time of the Reformation in the 16th century. The early Unitarians took the radical view that all people had the God-given right to reason for themselves. When they read the Bible, they didn’t find the Trinity there and they dared to question the divinity of Jesus. They upheld the individual right of intellectual freedom, religious tolerance and reason. Those early foundations paved the way for us to promote a free and responsible search for truth and meaning in our lives. They gave us the freedom and the responsibility to always question the status quo.
Why are UUs the worst hymn singers? Because they are always reading ahead to see if they agree with the next line.
Hundreds of years later, we are still independent thinkers.
The copy machine broke down at the Unitarian Universalist church -- a disaster of biblical proportions! Because it was Sunday, no repair person could be called until the next day, and they desperately needed more copies of the morning hymn. After fluttering around the machine in distress for some time, a member, more mechanically inclined than the rest, found the problem.
"It's just out of paper. The flashing box said right there 'Replace Paper in Tray 2.' Sheesh, can't anyone here follow directions?"
Another member retorted, "If we were the kind of people who followed directions we wouldn't be Unitarian Universalists!"
Daring to question, we have moved away from a faith that tells only one story. We do draw from many sources for our spiritual inspiration. We do honour all the scriptures although we take none of them literally or at face value. By the 19th century, we were questioning whether we needed anyone or anything to mediate between us and God. By the 20th century, we were questioning whether we needed God.
A street corner evangelist rhetorically asked a passer-by, "Friend -- do you know what path leads to the denial of God and Christ and straight into the arms of heathenism and atheism?"
"Oh, sure," said the passer-by. "The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is just two blocks that way.”
In the 1950s and 60s, secular humanism became a significant focus within our congregations and especially in the fellowship movement in Canada. The fellowships were gatherings of like-minded people who built congregations and often didn’t have the desire or the money to have a minister. In those days, there was still a cultural expectation that people would belong to some religious institution. The Unitarian Church and the fellowships became places where people found a home on Sundays, where they could debate, talk about science, and many subjects that were taboo elsewhere.
A convict on Death Row, the night before his scheduled execution, was visited by the warden. The warden, in talking with the condemned man, said,
"Usually at this point, persons in your situation find great comfort in talking to a member of the clergy. With that in mind, would you like us to send the prison chaplain for a visit?"
The convict replied, "Well, warden, I have to tell you - I was raised a Unitarian Universalist."
The warden then said, "Well, then, would you like to talk to a math professor?”
Unitarians and then Unitarian Universalists became known for their intellectual, rational perspectives, sometimes causing us to be perceived as elitist.
Jesus said to them, "Who do you say that I am?" The Unitarian Universalist Christian replied "You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the kerygma of which we find the ultimate meaning in our interpersonal relationships."
And Jesus said “What?”
With time, we lost track of our Christian roots. Many of our members were what we called “come-outers”. They had been badly wounded by other religious traditions. They came to us rejecting everything that reminded them of their religious pasts. They taught their children about everything, except what they had learned as children.
A UU Sunday School teacher asks her class if they know the meaning of Easter.
"I know,” says the first child, “Easter is when we put up a pine tree and decorate it with lights, and wrap presents.”
A second child says,”Easter is when you fill the house withthe smell of cooking turkey and you watch football all day."
"No, no, no," cries the exasperated teacher, "Doesn't anyone know?"
Finally, one child pipes up...
"Easter is when we remember that, after a three year ministry among the Judean people, Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey, was put on trial by the Roman authorities for being a troublemaker,and then was crucified on a hill with two thieves, and finally buried in acave."
“Yes, excellent!”says the teacher. “Go on…”
The child continues, “And then after a couple of days the rock rolled away… Jesus comes out and, if he sees his shadow, there'll be six more weeks of winter.”
How did the world come to see us? They, and maybe we, came to see us as a gathering of people who only valued debate and coffee — an unfair assessment, if you ask me!
When the fire breaks out on Church and Temple Street, the churches and synagogue are empty. When the priest hears the news, he runs into the church long enough to bring out the consecrated wine and wafers. The rabbi rescues the Ark of the Torah. Of course the UU minister and the church council rushed into the church and held A DISCUSSION GROUP about what to save.
Eventually they emerged carrying the conference table.
(Other versions of this joke have them saving the coffee urn.)
What would cause a crisis of faith in a Unitarian? Offering one a choice between coffee hour and a discussion of coffee hour!
But time marches on, and we began to change again. In the 1980s and 90s, there was a growing movement to remember our roots of tolerance and to encourage spiritual growth within our communities. We became home to a more theologically diverse population. Many of the young adults who had grown up as UUs were crying out for more ritual and more freedom to seek what they considered to be holy and sacred.
After the secular humanists came along, we said that UUs believed in One God - at Most. Now, what with the 6th Source and the pagans, we say that UUs believe in One God - More or Less.
Into this changing world came a diverse group of seekers wondering if Unitarian Universalism could be a home for them… People like Susan Gray and Philippe Chevalier, our stand- up comedians of the morning. [Susan and Philippe speak. You can hear them on audio.]
Laughing at Ourselves, Part II
Many of the jokes we or others tell about us hardly convey the story of the richness of thought, the openness of spirit, the commitment to social justice that have long been the core of our tradition. When we laugh at ourselves, we tend to laugh at our mistakes and our weaknesses — and that’s okay. That’s why laughing at ourselves is so essential to our health and survival. It gets us to take ourselves less seriously, to let go of our regrets and move on. But we have to be careful that we don’t come to believe that the jokes we tell reflect reality. They are often caricatures of flaws that we need to acknowledge, but they don’t offer a full picture of who we are or what we can become.
We tend to laugh at others to make ourselves feel as though we belong. Us against them has a powerful, and often very negative effect. It can make us feel falsely strong. But when we laugh at ourselves, we rejoin humanity on equal footing. We admit that we are just as fallible as everyone else.
I’ve saved a few choice jokes to close with:
What do you get when you cross a Unitarian Universalist with a Jehovah's Witness? Someone who knocks on your door and asks you what you believe.
What is a Unitarian Universalist? Someone who believes in life before death.
A UU is told “I hear you deny the divinity of Christ.” “That’s not true!” said the UU, “We don’t deny the divinity of anyone.”
Finally, this Elevator Story, from Rev. Dana Worsnop.
At a great international interfaith gathering at a major convention hotel, five delegates found themselves waiting and waiting for the elevator following one of the sessions. To break the monotony and silence, one of them suggested they play a little game: "Let's see if we can explain our faith in the time it takes the elevator to go from here to the first floor!" Although this meant that they would have to travel up and down several times, they agreed.
On the trip down from the tenth to the first floor, the Roman Catholic delegate volunteered to go first. He recited the Apostles' Creed, and finished just as the doors opened on the lobby.
Next, the Universalist delegate pushed the button for the tenth floor and proceeded to say, "We Universalists believe in the essential goodness of humanity and of God. We believe that God loves all creatures, and intends our well-being and happiness, in this world and the next. We believe in a God who rewards, and does not punish." The Universalist was finished well before the elevator reached the tenth floor.
Next, it was the Hindu delegate's turn. Pressing the button for the lobby, she began, "We Hindus believe in the great wheel of life. All is a cycle, and what has been will be again. It is for us to understand our place in this turning, to do what falls to us to do, and to celebrate our place in the scheme of existence." Like the Universalist, she was finished long before the elevator reached its destination.
Now it fell to the Zen Buddhist delegate to push the button for the tenth floor. All waited eagerly for him to begin, but there was only silence as the car traveled the ten floors. When the doors opened, they asked the Zen Buddhist: "Why did you not say anything to us about your belief?" He replied: "In saying nothing, I said all that there is to say."
The interfaith conference delegates scratched their heads, then looked to the Unitarian delegate, the last to take a turn. The elevator doors closed, and she reached out to push the button. All were surprised when she pushed "2."
Why did you not push the button for the lobby?" they asked.
"Because," the Unitarian delegate replied, "there's a great little coffee shop on the second floor where we can kick back and really discuss this!”
Amen. Blessed Be. Namasté.