Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton on 9/30/2008

at Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

This is a little embarrassing and a lot risky…I have a small 10th anniversary wedding gift for Nancy.  The brief history is that the last time we visited my son, Allan, and his wife, Jane, in Lancaster, PA…they had a striking black design hanging on their living room wall.  It was the design of an “exclamation point”, some 3’ tall, black on white.

For them and 16-year old Jenna and 11-year old Peter, the exclamation point represents the certainty of their faith…yes…this I believe!

There is no dogmatism here, no literal interpretation of the Scriptures, no judgment, no fundamentalism…but as a Christian, they are saying…yes, this I believe…and thus the exclamation point, a certainty!

Now, I have learned in my 10 years with “Unitarian” Nancy, and these past 5 years with KUUF that there is another equally valid punctuation mark…so here goes…

[Presentation to Nancy of 3 foot ? mark]

I think we can hang it over the mantle in the living room.  I have been waiting for this moment for 4 months!

Speaking of punctuation marks, some of you have read the clever and hilarious book by Lynne Truss on punctuation, based on this simple encounter…

A panda walks into a café.  He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

“Why?” asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes towards the exit.  The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.

“I’m a panda,” he says, at the door.  “Look it up”.

The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.

Panda.  Large black-and-white bear-like mammal, native to China.  Eats, shoots and leaves.”

And a few of you who are older will remember the wonderful punctuation bit, the sounds by Victor Borge…the comma [makes sound], the period [makes sound], the exclamation point [makes sound], and, of course, the question mark [makes sound]…something like that…I’m always wanted to do that from the pulpit.

And most of you remember the classic cartoon about the Unitarian who moved into the community…and the frightened neighbors burnt a question mark on his lawn.

I want, in the near future, to preach a series of sermons on our exclamation points or certainties.  Talking about this at home, Nancy said, “I have far more questions than certainties.”  Probably true for most of us,   But there are certainties in each of our lives…but they are frequently not the same certainties.

But now think of the basic questions many of us all are struggling with…

      Who am I?

      Why am I here?

      Where am I going?

      Whom do I trust?

      What happens next?

      How does it all end?

      And then, what?

And the profound question I am prepared to answer 4 weeks from today…

      Who should I vote for as President of the United States?  Really!  I’ll tell you!

But for this morning 2 questions that I believe are the basis for our human existence…

      First, where is my standing place?

      Second, where do I play?

As most of you know who have taken ballet…and I imagine many of you have…in ballet the dancer has a standing leg and a playing leg…the standing leg is the one that has most of the weight and the leg from which all the steps and leaps and turns are taken…the playing leg is the one that is free to lift and wave and circle.

The dancer always takes off from the standing leg…the leg of support, the foundation, the place of stability…the playing leg completes the moves with grace and color.

It’s a great metaphor…each of us has a standing leg and a playing leg.  Our standing leg is our foundation, the place of our security, that center to which we always return.  And our playing leg is the one engaged in action, in risks, in experimentation, in drama…in the world.

Let’s talk first about the standing leg.  Where are you standing…when everything else is falling apart, where is your security?  Where is the foundation, the support for your life…where is your standing place?

As many of you know, my sister is married to a fundamentalist Baptist preacher down in Kentucky.  Their standing place is the Bible, the historical, literal, word-for-word interpretation of the King James Bible…That’s their standing place.

But what interpretation…who are the interpreters for them…which interpretation and understanding do they affirm for themselves?

What about other Christians?  Do they accept an interpretation from a certain seminary, a group of theologies, a particular commentary?

Do they accept the understanding and traditions of their own denomination?

Do they accept the ancient church Fathers and martyrs and their words?

Do they accept the Scriptures as historical and literal…or as a collection of common myth and metaphor?  Is this totally an individualistic subjective interpretation?

Many other Christians and other “spiritual” persons are saying their standing place is the example and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and so the debate goes on.

Where is your standing place?  For many, the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights are a good standing place…but the same issues of interpretation remain…are we strict constructionists or is there room for contemporary interpretation within the changing culture and society of today?

Some find their standing place where their parents stand…and where they stood as children growing up…They are still comfortable within the village, the culture, the mores of their own community.

Some stand on a particular ethical or philosophical system with doctrinal statements and ancient stories, while engaged in a search for truth and wisdom and the enlightened life.

Some stand on a broad and deep understanding of the Golden Rule, lived out day by day through unconditioned love and forgiveness, justice and equality, dignity and peace.

And finally, some stand on the basic principles expressed in our Unitarian Universalist covenant…grateful for the religious pluralism which enriches and enables our faith, where we are inspired to deepen our understanding and expand our vision.  The search goes on, doesn’t it?

      Where is your standing place?

      And, as a dancer, where do you play?

In other words, where is the place that I risk and venture and grow and find meaning and fulfillment in life?  Where do I play?

You know this as well as I do.  Finding meaning and fulfillment and a sense of joy…is not believing the right think…it’s what our beliefs lead us to do.  Several years ago, when we gathered Christians – Jewish – and Muslim leaders to talk about our faith…we all agreed, very loudly…it’s not creed, it’s  deed…it’s not right belief…it’s right action.  That makes the difference in the world.

I have no idea the best place for you to play…I can’t determine that for you…but I do know, from experience and observation and personal contacts, that, when we begin to play…we discover life!  And questions turn into exclamation points!  Yes? Becomes Yes!  It means getting serious in our play…in our dance of life.

      It means struggling for the inherent worth and dignity of every person…

      It means justice, equity, and compassion in human relations…     

      It means acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth…

      It means a free and responsible search for truth and meaning…

      It means the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process…

      It means the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all…

      It means respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part…

Sounds like a darn good spiritual platform, doesn’t it?

      It means learning to play…learning to dance!

Some of you will remember this story…

Before he wrote “All I needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” Robert Fulghum was a participant in a workshop on “brotherhood and reconciliation” on the island of Crete.  It was a 6-months experience bringing together men and women from the Greek and German communities…men and women who were bitter enemies.

The leader of the seminar was a brilliant thinker and peace activist, a Dr. Pappandeus.  He worked various strategies and forms of dialogues.  At the final session at the close of the 6 months, the group gathered for concluding questions and answers.  Dr. Pappandeus asked the group, “Are there any final burning questions?”  Robert Fulghum writes “I know that the other participants were eager to leave and that they would undoubtedly snicker at my question, but I had to ask it.”  Dr. Pappandeus, what is the meaning of life?”

Well, he looked at me to see if I was serious, and, when he realized that I was, he motioned the group to come closer, and then he took out his wallet and from it he took a small flat mirror about the size of a quarter.  He held it for a moment for everyone to see.  And then he captured the sunlight from outside, and he turned it until the sunlight was reflected on my face.  And then he said, “That’s the meaning of life…reflecting light into dark places!”

Maybe that’s what learning to play, learning to dance is all about!


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