Community, Identity and Connection. A sermon by Rev. David M Bryce Some reflections on what it means to be in community with others and the different kinds of connections that can tie us together.
Yom Kippur, the final day of the ten Days of Awe, was yesterday.
Around the world people who are Jewish commemorated those ten days with, celebration at Rosh Hashanah, self reflection and seeking and giving forgiveness during the ten days, and fasting at Yom Kippur.
Many of us who are not Jewish follow some of the practices during the Days of Awe days because we recognize in those practices an important part of our own spiritual quest—the restoration of right relationships with people and with God.
The English word “religion” is believed to come from the Latin Word “religare”—to bind, to tie, to fasten and so to connect.
So the rituals and practices of the Days of Awe, like the practices of many religious traditions, are meant to connect us with others and to our own higher power, and to connect in right relation to those.
One of the things that is important to many people who engage in a ritual or a practice, no matter what their particular religious or cultural tradition may be, is the sense they have of connecting with others around the world who are also engaging in the same practice now. But also there can be the sense of connecting with others across time, of connecting with people who have carried out that practice in the past. The sense of being part of an ongoing tradition that stretches across the years both into the past and into the future can bring an extra dimension of meaning to what one is doing. So when we in this congregation light our chalice on Sunday mornings for some of us there is that sense of engaging in the same ritual as Unitarians and Unitarian Universalists across the globe—and that gives deeper meaning to the chalice lighting.
I would note that means one need never have been in direct contact with someone to feel that connection with them. People do what others are doing around the world and they feel connected to them; people do what their great, great grandparents did and they feel the tie of history and legacy. They do what they believe their great, great grandchildren will do and they feel a sense of connection going forward in time.
So we human beings can have a genuine sense of community with people we have never met.
I do believe that direct connections are best, and that is why it is so valuable to have visitors with us his week from our PartnerChurch in Transylvania. I hope you will all join in welcoming them.
This week our congregation is having worship services in two different locations and I believe at three different times.
We have two services here in Belmont, one at 9 and one at 11; and there is also a service this morning on SandyIsland where more than one hundred of our fellow congregants are spending the weekend at a congregational retreat.
And we as a congregation are large enough that there are people here who have never met one another. Or perhaps you know people in the broader community and are unaware of the fact that they also attend this congregation. And yet, we are one congregation, one community.
The point is that we can have community and connection at a distance, a distance both geographic and chronologic.
I have often spoken of the need for all people everywhere in the world to feel that humanity is one, that we are all connected as a family. I have been told on more than one occasion by more than one person, that the concept of humanity is too broad, too vague, too large to conceive of having an attachment to that concept. But I do not accept that. We can relate to humanity as a whole.
There is but a single humanity and until we allow ourselves to relate fully to that oneness and as long as we continue to relate too strongly to smaller concepts—concepts like nation or religion or ethnic group—we will ignore the needs of the whole and will focus on needs and interests that are far too narrow.
One of the lessons of World War 2 and the genocide carried out against Jews and Roma and others was that all people are connected and that atrocities against humanity must be stopped. The phrase “never again” became common place, but has too often been ignored.
It is no always clear how that connection to the whole should cause us to act. In the case of Syria, for example, where the United States is threatening military action, should our sense of connection to all of humanity cause us to reject that violence which will cause destruction and pain—or should our sense of connection to all of humanity cause us to take that military action against a government that has engaged in atrocities against its own people?
I am somewhat heartened by the reaction within the United States to the possibility of action against Syria, because I have long said that in most cases when our government comes to us and speaks of military action we ought to immediately respond with a resounding, “No”, and should only slowly and reluctantly allow ourselves to be convinced that military action is necessary. But we must be willing to be convinced that we need to act.
I am not a pacifist. I believe in the use of diplomacy where possible to resolve conflict. But I also believe that diplomacy can fail.
I think of police being called in to a hostage situation. We want them to talk to the hostage takers, to talk them down, to resolve the problem without violence. But if the perpetrators begin shooting hostages, I no longer want the police to talk; I want them to act.
Also, I have two fundamental beliefs that apply to both our personal lives and to the life of our nation and our world: my belief that acting in self interest is the lowest form of justification for any action.
And second is my belief that while we have a right to defend ourselves, we need not act on that right; but we have a moral obligation to defend the weak and helpless.
And so I believe we have a duty—a moral duty—to respond in some cases.
I believe our intervention in Kosovo was justified because genocide had begun. We failed the people of Rwanda by refusing to intervene when genocide was taking place there and by refusing even to call it genocide, and in doing so we failed ourselves.
And now I am going to disappoint some of you; and in some ways I disappoint myself, but in Syria we must respond to the use of chemical weapons. Our human ties to the people of Syria require us to act against those who perpetrate atrocities. And the surrender of the chemical weapons is not sufficient; those who ordered their use must surrender themselves to the International Criminal Court and be tried before the bar of humanity, for it was crimes against humanity that they committed.
I do understand the point of view which says that our sense of connection to the Syrians should us to refrain from military action. I understand it, I sympathize with it, and I respectfully—and I mean respectfully–disagree.
What I do not understand is a viewpoint that says, “This is none of our business”. Violations of human rights and human decency are the business of all of humanity. Human rights transcend national boundaries.
So, while our connection to humanity as a whole my not provide us with easy solutions or answers it is important for us to cultivate that sense of connection. Humanity is not too large for us to relate to.
In fact, for me the concept of humanity is too small to allow me to end my sense of connection there.
This past week the National Aeronautics and Space Administration announced that the Voyager 1 spacecraft, launched thirty six years ago, had left the solar system and entered interstellar space. Now, there is no checkpoint at the border of the solar system, no customs booth where you show your luggage, and some people will dispute the actual boundaries of the solar system, but our messenger is going out into space. And it carries a golden record that has on it sounds of earth. [Now that is a problem, because if Voyager had turned around and came back to earth today, very few people would have the technology available to play a record.]
The point is, we are sending a message to other beings in the universe.
My feeling of attachment goes far beyond mere humanity. It goes to all of life, including life on Earth and life elsewhere; it goes to the universe as a whole. It is that higher attachment or connection to the whole that forms the basis of my spirituality.
And for some of us, for those here who believe in a divine power, that divine power is greater than humanity, and perhaps for some greater than even the universe entire. Humanity is but small piece of that universe.
And so the religious call that I hear is for connection with other people; with ourselves, our own consciences; with life; and with God, the Goddess, the Cosmos or whatever our own Ultimate Truth may be.
May we be religious in the most profound sense: bound, tied, fastened, connected not to a small group of people, not to a lesser concept, but connected deeply to all that is. And may we seek restoration of right relationship with others and with all that is.
So let it be.