Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship
Stone Chapel, Proctor Academy, Andover, NH
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EDUCATION WITHOUT CHARACTER
Sermon given by Rev. Dick Dutton 6/05/2011
at Kearsarge Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

“It was the best of times . . . it was the worst of times. . . “   I was the pastor of the Winn’s Creek Baptist Church in Southside, Virginia . . . my first church right out of Seminary.  They lovingly referred to me as a ‘damnyankee’, one word … being from New York State.

This happened 50 years ago … in the midst of the Civil Rights movement, in the South.   I felt I needed to speak out to the colored issue, but as a Pastor from a Biblical perspective.

My sermon topic went up on the bulletin board by the road  - “The Fatherhood of God, the Brotherhood of Man”, innocuous, fundamental, but everyone knew the sermon was going to be about integration – and they were already angry!

I heard that the Deacons were going to ask for my resignation – without hearing the sermon.  I decided I’d better take the initiative so I invited the 8 Deacons over to the Parsonage.  They all came …and as was their custom to start the meeting we all got down on our knees for prayer.  And every one of us prayed out loud.  And when we finished and got up, we were all in tears.

They said, Pastor, we love you, but you’re making a bad mistake . . you don’t know us.”  And they were right.  “we’ve been here for generations, and you need to listen to us, and we need to talk and listen to each other before you preach at us.”

And then we hugged each other & we went to our homes.  I stayed much longer as their Pastor and I still love to go back for Homecoming and Dinner on the Grounds and a lot more hugs!

What an incredible education experience!

What a weekend of character building!

I had what I thought was a rather superior education .. I had 12 years of public school, 8 of those in a Jewish community where the parents demanded exceptional teaching .. and then 4 years of college at an excellent private institute .. then beyond that 3 years at the Baptist Seminary with the highest academic marks & credentials across the country & graduated with a Masters in Theology Degree.  See how fortunate you are … just kidding.

At that early stage in my ministry I was terribly well educated, but Winn’s Creek Baptist Church taught me that I had a lot to learn about character!!

Of all Gandhi’s ‘7 Deadly Social Sins’ the one this morning “Education Without Character”, this is the one where you and I can really get involved .. here is where individually and as a Fellowship we can make a significant difference .. and isn’t that really why we come to church, and why we listen to sermons & why we want the message to be provocative … isn’t it?  It’s why I feel compelled to preach ! “Education Without Character”

Recently I saw Wynton Marsalis being interviewed on PBS … and he was talking about his love of teaching and working with very young students … teaching them to love music…teaching them technical skills, teaching them an understanding of the music and the composer … but he said, in effect, what I really enjoy is seeing the development of their character, their love of learning and discipline and inspiration and the spiritual dimension.  Marsalis said math and science are incredibly valuable and the other subjects like history and language, but we must not cut out of our school budgets the arts … music, drama, creative skills because that’s where we develop the character of a man and a woman.

There’s a simple brief verse in the Book of Luke in the New Testament .. it’s a brilliant universal statement of truth and fits our UU Principles.

It refers to Jesus of Nazareth and it says … “He increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man!”   .. a challenge to growth and comprehensive education in his life and in our own lives as well.  Those 4 components reflect the words we repeat every Sunday:  “We light this beacon of hope, sign of our quest for truth and meaning. . .”   Do we see our quest in these four components . . . wisdom, stature, favor with God and man?

There’s a summer camp I attended about 100 years ago in Michigan, bounded on one side by Lake Michigan, and the other side by Stony Lake, good for sailing & swimming.  It’s called Camp Miniwanca.  The Camp was founded by William H. Danforth CEO of the Ralston-Purina Company of Checkerboard Square outside St. Louis, Mo.

But among the recreation and camping experiences and Native American folklore was the underlying theme … “My own self at my very best all the time . . .”  and based on that singular Scripture from Luke 2:52 “And Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and man.”  They called it the ‘Four-Fold Life”  Physical ..Spiritual .. Social .. Mental.  

This emphasis on “Education With Character”  refers both to our national priorities with regard to education and to our individual commitment to growth and learning, given our unique opportunities.

Sadly, education through public schools in the United States has not been and is not now a major priority.  The U.S.  Discretionary Funding for 2011, our national budget, will spend 58% of that budget on the military and 4% on education.  Crazy things are happening in the realm of science education.  In many states, textbooks and teachers are still referring to evolution as an unproved theory while celebrating creationism & Biblical

literalism,

Compared with the rest of the world, our high school students are struggling to keep up.  The latest results from PISA, the Program for International Student Assessment, which measures 70 nations:

In reading literacy, 15 year old American students are in 14th place, behind South      Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, and Shanghai in China.

In mathematics, U.S. 15 year olds are ranked 25th

In science, we have moved up over three years to 17th place.

How much money we spend per student is not the problem .. rather it’s the inequities, as in NH where it ranges from $3,200 to $18,000 a student and the commensurate problem of spending too little on special needs and disadvantaged students . . as communities, newly empowered, vote down essential school budget increases.

How long will we sacrifice our students for the sake of false security needs, weapons contractors, and America’s military-industrial complex.  Trying to re-define education with character, let’s look at these components of the ‘four-fold life’.  There are extraordinary educational opportunities you and I have for our continuing mental growth. .  . whether our KUUF Book Group or the local AIL program or ILIAD at Dartmouth or ‘continuing education’ courses in high schools and colleges . . . conversations with people of other faiths . .  collaborationwith those from other racial and ethnic backgrounds . . . individual research and study.  Few limits to increasing our mental prowess.

I think of 23 year old Sarah, who weighs in at 101 lbs, who already in her young life has learned to break horses in Wyoming and received certificates in massage therapy, and is studying criminology in Texas, and this month is traveling to the Rio Grande on an archaeological dig.

Or a wonderful friend Mirvais, an Afghani from the northern province of Kunduz, a student at Middlebury College who declares over and over again how fortunate he is to be able to take advantage of all the diverse courses and special lectures and frequent trips & outings offered to him as a college student in the U.S. 

And now all of us are watching the Arab Spring in the Middle East and North Africa where young people and adults are demonstrating, and marching and dying . . for personal and cultural and educational freedom.  Each of us shares with them the hope of the realization of their dreams . . . Salaam, Inshallah!

The second dimension of education isn’t character …it’s the physical one.  Most of you are walkers ..or bikers.. or now swimmers .. honoring your body as a ‘temple of the spirit’.

But learning and growing in this physical dimension of education takes some risks .. some letting go.. some faith.. some character.. some serious challenge!

In Sam Kean’s book, Learning to Fly, he traces his early childhood fascination with the trapeze, and how at 61 years of age he joined a trapeze training program at the San Francisco School of Circus Arts where he learned to fly . . . he writes:

            “After several weeks of climbing and swinging, midway in one class the catcher showed up.  One look was enough to give me confidence that if we could make hand contact he would not drop me.  He looked like Superman without a shirt.  He climbed hand over hand up the rope without raising his feet, perched on the catcher’s trapeze, and began to build up his swing.  He dropped to his knees and pulled himself over into the catcher’s lock with his legs entwined in the ropes and shouted, “Ready.”  When he reached the apex of his arc he yelled, “Hip.” 

            I lifted the trapeze and took off from the platform, but I got into the knee-hand too late to meet him at the midpoint.  No catch.  The second time I folded myself as tightly as and quickly as possible, locked my knees around the bar, took my hand off, and reached for the catcher.

            It happened.

            Suddenly out of nowhere, out of the kingdom of the flying man, the catcher appeared.  As he grasped my wrists I released my knees from the bar and we flew out over the apron, over the crown, over the years, and swung back again.  He released me and I fell into the net and into my future.”

What a thrill to fly . . to fly beyond our fears, our limitations, our horizons, our imaginations, our possibilities.  And what is required . . trust and letting go .. some call it faith.

The Four-Fold Life  .. Education With Character involves the mental, the physical, and now the spiritual  .. the deepest, most profound.. the unknown realm of the Spirit within and beyond.

Education is so much more than algebra and Spanish, isn’t it.  Learning to confront and struggle with the essential questions … Who am I….Why am I here… What is my calling … Where am I going… When everything else breaks down… What is the source of my strength?

Forrest Church, long time Pastor of All Souls Unitarian Church in NYC, author of Love and Death, the personal journey of his dying.  Forrest Church wrote:

            “The power which I cannot explain or know or name, I call God.  God is not God’s name.  God is my name for the mystery that looms within and arches beyond the limits of my being.  When I pray to God, God’s answer comes to me from within, not beyond.  God’s answer is yes, not to the specifics of my prayer but in response to my hunger for meaning and peace.  He says, Choose life and trust life.  Grow in service and love.  Take nothing fir granted.  Be thankful for the gift.  Suffer well.  Dare to risk much.  Consecrate your world with laughter and with tears.  And know not what I am or who I am or how I am, know only that I am with you.” 

The truest education with character is four-fold . . . mental, physical, spiritual, and now social.  Am I my brother’s keeper? Am I my sister’s keeper?  How can I take what I have learned and who I am, and stand and walk and if necessary carry my brother

The surgeries took place in Stanford, CT. about a year ago, March 2010.  Mirtala Garcia and Julio had 3 children. . 5, 8 and 11.  It happened so suddenly.  Julio was really handsome with a mischievous smile, he was deeply religious.  He was at work one day when it happened… he died almost immediately, it was a brain hemorrhage at 35 years of age.  But Mirtala and Julio had agreed in advance that if anything happened to either one if them they wanted to donate their organs.  So the surgery involved 5 people . . . adults and a child . . . his heart, one lung, his pancreas, both kidneys, and his liver … 5 people with new life…. Because of Julio Garcia.  Talk about the social component. 

Algebra yes ….Spanish yes … but empathy and compassions!  The four-fold life.

            “Education with Character”

 

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