Homily by Kevin Jagoe, Threads and Connections

2018 January 28
by Kevin

Unitarian Universalism does not have one sacred text. It also does not have one origin story or one moment that it all began. Unitarian and Universalist thought has been rediscovered time and time again. We are not a people of a single path to truth. We Unitarian Universalists are in fact a people of interconnectedness. Our history is also one of many threads and connections across space and time.

 

Many threads, many stories, many places, one religion.

 

We have the Lutherans to thank for one moment that A beginning occurred, just over five hundred years ago, in 1517 Martin Luther nailed ninety-five points of contention with the Catholic Church to a chapel door in Wittenberg, Germany. This began the Reformation. We Unitarian Universalists are among the many heirs to the moment that began an intellectual and religious debate which is still unfolding.

 

Radical communities have sprung up over and over again. As new thoughts were spread from town to town and city to city, new forms of religious community came to be. New ideals became the center of religious life such as – God is One, Love is Unconditional, and that all are welcome. These communities did not gather without risk though. Many were persecuted and those who dared to speak of love or change or the inherent worth of every person could lose their lives to that cause.

 

One such place was in Poland, just 37 years after the Edict of Torda in 1605. At this point another community began to gather around the Unitarian ideas of an Italian theologian, Fausto Sozzini. Sozzini joined with the Polish Brethren which published The Racovian Catechism as well as many other radical religious tracts. Racovia became the center of what came to be known as Socianian thought.

 

Socianian could be another word for Unitarian but for the chance of history. Socianians hold that Jesus was human, his life was an important exemplar, and they rejected the idea of original sin. They believe that revelation is not sealed and have many connections to our Transylvanian siblings as well.

 

So we have German and Italian and Polish and Transylvanian threads. There are also British and other European stories where Unitarian thought that has bubbled up over time and continues to the present day. Each of these are part of our heritage even when we do not know it. American Unitarianism, Universalism, and Unitarian Universalism came to be among many other threads. And we continue to be in relationship with places we may not even realize right now.

 

Our relationships matter. Our ideas matter. And most importantly, our ability to create community together matters. Each of these threads were small groups of people saying incredible things in the face of powerful institutions. These communities are in fact a movement, these communities are not solely of the past but very much of the present too.

 

Many threads, many stories, many places, one religion.

 

There is another part of the world I would like to tell you about and another time that Unitarian thought emerged. In the Khasi Hills of northeastern India, a man by the name of Hajom Kissor Singh became a self-created unitarian. Like many of us Sing had a path from the religion of his birth to the Reform Welsh faith of missionaries, to becoming a questioning Methodist. Singh sought a true religion, one that removed the many pieces he disagreed with from his birth religion and those he encountered from Europe. He sought a non-sectarian, non-creedal path to God.

 

At the age of 25, in the year 1890, Singh heard from a liberal Hindu friend that there might be a tradition that held many of his beliefs. He began exchanging letters with Charles Henry Appleton Dall who was an American Unitarian minister in Calcutta at that time. After this connection and relationship began, Singh had a name for the religion he sought to create in the Khasi Hills, Ka Niam Unitarian, the Unitarian Religion.

 

Today, there are more than 9,000 Unitarians in the Khasi Hills. And the International Council of Unitarian Universalists is gathering next month in Kathmandu, Nepal which was the closest place to the Khassi Hills that international travelers could easily obtain visas.

 

We have visited 17th century Poland and 19th century India as well as the many ways they connect to other places and times through to the present. The values we lift up here each week and that Unitarian Universalist congregations bring into the world are more universal and timeless than we know.

 

Many threads, many stories, many places, one religion.

 

Now we go back just a few years to 2001, when a Dominican Brother in the midst of theological wonderings and crisis within the Catholic tradition came to discover Unitarianism in Bujumbura, Burundi a small country on the Eastern side of Africa. Rev. Ndagijimana Fulgencedid not need to start a press as those in Rokovia did, nor did he exchange letters with Unitarians he heard about through happenstance. Fulgence was able to do what many of us might do when we wonder about something. He turned to google and began to explore websites.

 

Rev. Fulgence describes his path to Unitarianism from Catholicism not of conversion but of discovering the tradition he already was but did not know the name of. His path is perhaps similar to many sitting in this sanctuary or listening online at this very moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In 2011, the Unitarian Church of Bujumbura, Burundi was founded. They are the partner church of People’s Church of Kalamazoo, Michigan a UU congregation. The Unitarians of Burundi helped those orphaned by the AIDS crisis, created micro-lending opportunities, and were also a home to the humanists and non-theists in a country where Catholicism is practiced by more than 80% of people.

 

Just four years after the founding of the Unitarian Church of Bujumbura, members and Rev. Fulgencewere vocal in the political struggles against their president seeking an unconstitutional third term in office. Fulgencewas imprisoned and describes his eventual release in these words “they told me there was ‘too much hearing from Unitarian Universalists’”

 

This hearing from Unitarian Universalists was the result of an international call for pressure and media attention on the authorities of Burundi that UUs around the world responded to.

 

Today, most of the Unitarians in Burundi are political refugees in Rowanda or underground. The global Unitarian Universalist community has continued to support our Burundi siblings. Rev. Fulgencehas made a new home in Canada and is continuing the credentialing process to become a UU minister in North America.

 

The power of modernity is that we have the ability to be interconnected globally, we can support one another in places we may never visit ourselves. Our stories travel the world in seconds.

 

Many threads, many stories, many places, one religion.

 

It is through community that each of us grows and through discovery that many of us find ourselves Unitarian Universalists today. Our relationships matter. They are the source of resiliency in a world that would hold us apart.

 

  • In the 17th century, printing presses allowed new ideas to be spread across Europe.

  • In the 19th century, letters created connections across cultures and helped plant new seeds in the Khasi Hills of India.

  • In the 21st century, a monk with a modem was able to discover he was not alone in questioning the Catholics of Burundi.

 

We have been reformers and revolutionaries. We have been heretics and humanists. We have been builders of community and breakers of conventionality. We have been. We are today. All of these things and more.

 

Remember these stories, not because they are history but because they are sources of strength for right now. And they are just a handful. Among us here this morning there are countless more. We are in fact creating new stories each moment.

 

We are better together. Our relationships matter. Unitarian Universalism has been and continues to be a global religion, a movement that has been discovered and shared many times.

 

Many threads, many stories, many places, one religion.

 

 

 

 

 

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