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Thursday, June 19, 2003

Another sermon contest entry!

We're off and running in the first-ever Philocrites Treasure Hunt, scouring the Internet for great Unitarian Universalist sermons. (The rules are simple; send your nominations any time.)

Today's nomination is from Peg Duthie, author of Measured Extravagance, a fine blog. She nominates "The Interdependent Web of All Existence" by the Rev. Dr. Randolph W.B. Becker, preached Aug. 24, 1997, to the Williamsburg, Virginia, Unitarian Universalists. (The title refers to the last of the Unitarian Universalist Association's seven Principles, for those who may be unfamiliar with the lingo.) Here's a selection:

There has been an assumption that the phrase "...of all existence..." is descriptive of physical reality. The interdependent web which we respect is taken to be a web of physical entities and forces. But, the phrase continues "...of which we are a part." I know that in my life, I am a part of a much greater web than can ever be limited to physical reality. I know I cannot now envision all of the dimensions of my being, but I envision enough more to know that my physical being is but one dimension of who I am.

I'm intrigued by this part of the sermon in part because I just picked up the new Harper's, with a long and fascinating folio essay on the religious dimensions of the modern environmental movement; if I hadn't left the magazine in the office, I'd quote from it. But Peg points to another aspect of the sermon — a helpful description of the differences between the explicit, implicit, and "null" dimensions of a religious tradition, which concludes:

And beyond the explicit and the implicit lies the null — that which we communicating [sic] by not speaking about it. For example, when we just say Unitarian and not Unitarian Universalist, we say something about Universalism whether we intend to or not. What is absence [sic] is often as virtually present, strikingly, as that which is actually present.

She writes about the nominated sermon:

It was delivered back in 1997, but I find its perspective strikingly relevant today given the current tensions over the issue of reverence (language, approach, etc.). And denominational growth, as well — something that periodically troubles me about UU discussions about growth is the tendency for certain members to put down or disparage other religious traditions/denominations in talking up why UU-ism is so great. It's not that I can't empathize with the fact that many of these people are speaking about congregations/denominations that failed to meet their religious needs, but at some point I feel there's going to have to be a more concerted, collective effort to be mindful that "interdependent" includes "interfaith," and that interfaith is more than incorporating the interesting bits of other traditions into UU rituals and [religious education].

The sermon strikes me as more thought-provoking than well-written, but it also reminds me of William James's observations in the final chapter of The Varieties of Religious Experience, where James explains his notion of "the more":

Apart from all religious considerations, there is actually and literally more life in our total soul than we are at any time aware of. . . . Let me then propose, as an hypothesis, that whatever it may be on its farther side, the "more" with which in religious experience we feel ourselves connected is on its hither side the subconscious continuation of our conscious life.

By the way, 2003 is the hundredth anniversary of the publication of James's book, and if it no longer represents current perspectives in the psychology of religious experience, it's certainly worth a read.

Update. In the bright light of day, I've corrected some spelling and filled in some omissions in this post.

Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 19 June 2003 at 10:31 PM

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