Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Something New, Something Sacred — Sermon by the Rev. David Pyle

Last preached on September 1, 2013


We human beings are pretty incredible,

when you think about it.

Universally, I mean.

If you think about the universe,

and then consider our place in it,

we are actually quite amazing.


There is a Disciples of Christ minister whose work I love.

His name is Rev. Michael Dowd.

For the last ten years or more he and his wife Connie

have been traveling the United States

preaching a Gospel of Evolution.

When I met them 8 years ago

they were traveling from town to town,

going to schools and churches,

quite a few of them Unitarian Universalist,

teaching a new way to understand Evolution…

not as just a Scientific Theory,

but also as a Sacred Story,

as a Creation Myth to rival that

which is in the Hebrew book of Genesis.


Some of you have seen a version

of that kind of sacred story,

in the “We Are All Stardust” ritual

that Rev. Jan has made a part

of the life of our church for so many years.

Imagine that as the basis for an entire theology

arising from the scientific understanding

of the beginnings of the universe,

and you touch on the life work of Rev. Michael and Connie.


When they pulled into the parking lot

of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship

of Galveston County, Texas,

where I was serving as the student minister,

I was struck by the decoration on the side of their van…

it was of a Christian Fish and an Evolution Fish kissing,

with cute little hearts floating up into the heavens.


Starting later this spring, I will be offering

an Adult Spiritual Growth Class

where we explore the theological work of Michael and Connie,

called Journey into the Great Story,

and if you are interested I would love it if you would join us.


One of the parts of his theological work

that I have been most moved by

has been his evolutionary understanding

of the place and importance of humanity

amidst all of the cosmos.

One of the problems my conservative Christian friends have

with accepting the truth of evolution

or scientific understandings of the beginning of the universe

is that it seems to them to reduce humanity

to being rather unimportant.


I admit, I’ve had that feeling more than a few times.

When I think of all of the stars,

and the universe, and the planets…

when I try to wrap my brain around all of the images

that have been collected

by the Hubble Space Telescope and others…

And to know that even what we have been able to see

is only a part of all that is…

it has had the tendency to make me feel small,

inconsequential even.


My conservative Christian friends have shared with me that,

besides evolution and the big bang not being in the bible,

they are disturbed by how they perceive

the theory of evolution and of how the universe came to be

seems to make humanity unimportant…

less than an afterthought,

living on a small, inconsequential Blue Green planet,

on the remote end of a backwoods planet

in the western spiral arm of a minor galaxy,

to paraphrase Douglas Adams.


For someone who has been raised in a theology

that the earth was created just for us,

where we are the center of the attention

of the greatest power in the universe,

and therefore we, humanity, are of the utmost importance…

than it is understandable how threatening evolution

and a scientific understanding of the creation

of the universe can seem.

It is less about whether or not the Bible is true,

and more about whether or not humanity

is important in the grand scheme of things.


That is what I love about this one part

of the Great Story theology

that Rev. Dowd and his wife Connie have developed…

because they see in humanity

not an inconsequential nothingness

in the western spiral arm of a minor galaxy…

but rather the pinnacle for which all of this creation,

all of these stars and planets,

atoms and cells, nebulae and clouds…

they see humanity as the pinnacle and purpose

of all of this immensity in the universe.


That’s a big statement, right?

All of the universe exists to produce humanity,

or something like humanity.

I dare say that’s even more egotistical

than the idea that God created the heavens and the earth

to be a garden for humanity.

Humanity, or something like it,

is the forefront of the next major development in the Universe.


That is… if we can keep from destroying ourselves.


Michael Dowd frames the place of humanity

in the universe this way.

We humans, each and every one of us sitting here.

We are part of the universe.

We, our bodies and our minds,

we are made up of the stuff of stars…

the origin of every atom in our bodies

was in the heart of a star.

Our existence is as deeply rooted in the natural processes

of this universe as is every nebulae, every star, every galaxy,

every plant, every animal, every element.

We are not separate from this universe that surrounds us,

we are an integral part of and product of that universe.


When we speak of the Universe,

we have to include ourselves in it.

The Universe is as much in here as it is out there.


Are you still with me?


Now, there is a way that we, humanity,

we are a new and unique development within the universe.

Well, as far as we know we are a new and unique development…

I still have my laptop set to scan radio signals from space

hoping to be wrong about the unique part.

But we are at least a representative

of a new development in the Universe.


We, I, you, all of us… we are the universe waking up.

We are the universe becoming self-aware.

We are the part of the universe

that can look upon other parts of the universal whole in awe,

and wonder, and can explore that universal whole

in a detail never understood before.


Stop and think about that with me for a minute.

Feel about that with me for a minute.

Say to yourself, “I am the Universe becoming Self-Aware”.

I mean really say it with me …

“I am the Universe becoming Self Aware”.

Let’s try it again… “I am the Universe becoming Self-Aware”.


A bit awe-inspiring, isn’t it?

Far from being humbled by the immensity of it

and my own little physical location in it,

when we feel our connection to all that there is,

our connection to the interdependent web of all existence

of which we are a part,

and when we see that we, humanity,

are the part of this immense universe

that can perceive that it is immense.

That we are the part of this beautiful universe

that can perceive that it is beautiful.

That we are the part of this intricate universe that can study,

and learn, and develop, and create

even more new and intricate stuff…

Well, it is hard to feel inconsequential after that realization, isn’t it.


Try saying it to yourself sometime,

when you are feeling small and unimportant…

“I am the Universe becoming Self-Aware”.

See if you don’t start to feel a little better

about your place amidst it all…

and if you do not then feel a bit inspired

to do something with that Universal Self-Awareness.


What I believe that Universal Self-Awareness

most often calls us to do is to explore and create.

Our theme for the month of September is Creativity…

but before I moved into our theme directly

I wanted to share where I think

our creativity as human beings comes from…

I think it comes from our new and unique place in the universe.

I think it arises as a natural growth

from our being the part of the universe that grew into the ability

to look up at the stars and see something that was inspiring.

Something to sing to.  Something to tell stories about.

Something to paint.  Something to worship.


I have never met any human being who was not creative.

I have met a lot of people who believed they were not creative…

but not a single one of them was right about that.

We are not the only creatures who are creative… that is true.

Anyone who has ever watched a group of squirrels

trying to get into a birdfeeder knows

that humanity does not have a monopoly

on the conscious act of creativity in the universe.


No, what I think makes human creativity different

is that it arises from within our unique state

that we are both individually self-aware,

and universally self-aware.

We humans, we are not the only creatures

that are individually self-aware.

The tabby-cat who lives with Sandy and I,

Athena Warrior Princess,

she is individually self-aware.

She knows who she is,

and has in fact a very strong opinion

about how wonderful she is.

She has trouble understanding why Sandy and I

do not spend every moment of our time

luxuriating in how wonderful she is.


Yet, her understanding of or interest in

anything involving the rest of the universe

is limited to how it may intrude

upon her luxuriating in her wonderfulness.

So while she may be quite creative at times,

usually in her many strategies to refocus

my and Sandy’s attention upon the wonderfulness

that is Athena Warrior Princess,

and away from anything that might be distracting us

from our obvious purpose of petting and feeding her…

no matter how creative she may indeed be,

that creativity is limited to the sphere immediately around her.


The human development that has led to

an explosion of our creative impulse

has been our developing the Universal Self-Awareness

that Rev. Michael Dowd names for us.

It has been our developing the ability

to look beyond our immediate personal sphere,

and into the vastness of our wider universal self

in awe and wonder.


Like the universe, our spheres of creativity

expand outward from us.

In the closest spheres, our creativity might begin

with the stories we tell ourselves.

We do like to tell ourselves stories,

sometimes quite amazing and complex stories.

I’m not knocking that!

I love to tell stories, and some of the best ones I have

are the ones I tell myself!

We humans can be endlessly creative within our own minds.

I have invented whole universes within my own mind,

for good and for ill.


We are also creative in the relationships

that we build among each other.

I sometimes wonder if those who try to enforce

a single set of relationship values and ideals

are really just afraid of the endlessness of human creativity.

Among each other we create relationships, stories,

ways to make each other laugh…

and we also create injustices,

hurt feelings, and painful memories…

sometimes without meaning to, but sometimes with hurtful intent.


You see, human creativity is neither good nor bad… it simply is.

What we create, through our self-awareness

and universal awareness,

can be positive for the overall whole of the universe

or it can have a negative impact

on the overall whole of the universe.

One person might view something we create as good,

while another might view it as bad, or evil.

Something created with intentions towards the good

might be used for the bad or the evil,

either intentionally or unintentionally.


Because, our creativity does not end with the stories

we tell one another or the relationships we form.

We humans have the ability to create symbols

for the universe within and without

that we have grown into awareness of…

Art, Music, Maps, Dance, Mathematics,

Chemistry, Language, Molecular Biology…

All efforts to express some of our self-awareness…

of our individual self and of our universal self,

in a form which we can more easily grasp and share.


And from this exploration, our creativity bursts again

into more and more spheres,

from the beauty of poetry that transcends time and place

and becomes an expression of human longing and need,

to the creation of new elements

that have never existed in nature,

and only exists for a fleeting moment

when we intentionally smash two other elements together,

to create, for fleeting milliseconds, something brand new…

just to show it is possible.


My favorite of these new elements

we have created for such fleeting moments

is Element 117 on the periodic table,

known temporarily as UnUnSeptium,

and signified by the Atomic Symbol UUS.

I love that we Unitarian Universalists have,

at least for now, an element named after us…


So, why are we unique in the universe?

Why has not the universe created a species of life like us before?

Why has this vast, ancient, and immense universe

not woken up before, not become self-aware before?


Humanity has created many theories about this…

like the one that the timeline of the Universe

has just taken this long for the natural processes

to have developed something like humanity.

Another is that the Universe is actually waking up all over…

that there are lots of different beings

all waking up out there just like us,

being creative just like us…

only the distances between us are so vast

we are not yet able to be aware of each other.

Someday, one of us, perhaps humanity,

will use our creativity to find a way

all these different forms of universal self-awareness

can share what they have created and learned.


And… there is another more challenging

and less-hopeful theory that our human creativity has arrived at.

Carl Sagan and Iosif Shklovsky theorized together

that the reason that the universe

does not seem to be brimming to wonderful, successful beings

who are both individually aware and universally aware is that,

with sentience and creativity comes the ability

for said individually and universally aware beings

to destroy themselves.


That with the ability to see the immensity of the universe

comes an ability to manipulate the smallest parts of the universe

in ways that can have disastrous consequences,

like leaking nuclear power generators.

With the ability to find planets around other stars

comes the ability to create enough pollution

to damage the planet we are living on.

With the ability to create new chemicals

that can help us to understand the building blocks of life

comes the ability to create chemicals that can destroy life,

and then use those chemicals as weapons upon each other.


In essence, Sagan’s and Shklovsky’s theory

is that the reason we have not yet been contacted

by other self-aware beings in the universe is that,

each time the universe has been waking up to say

“Wow, isn’t all of this amazing”,

we, the self-aware universe,

have also created the method of our own destruction.


We, we humans… we are the universe waking up.

We are the universe becoming self-aware.

We are the part of the universe that can create

something new, something sacred.

We are unique and wonderful,

and we have developed the ability

to bring new things into existence…

from a new poem, never written before

by anyone that you jotted on a napkin

while you were out with friends one night,

to elements that have never existed before anywhere we know of,

we have the ability to create the new…

And it is possible that misusing that ability to create the new

is why we seem to be all alone in this vast universe…


Let that realization be the guide as we ask not the question,

can we make and use a new something…

but should we make and use a new something.


So may it be, blessed be, and amen.

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