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

The Silence of the Season — Sermon by the Rev. David Pyle

Last Preached on December 22nd, 2013

Yesterday, I had the wonderful privilege of attending a performance of a new musical, being developed right here in Ventura at the Rubicon theatre, titled “Little Miss Scrooge”.  Now, you all know how much I love theatre… I try to bring at least one theatre performance to worship here each year, but I really loved this musical!  And not just because one of the leads was Andrew Samonsky, my favorite Broadway Star, Ventura native, and son of a member of this congregation.

No, I really loved the musical because it refuses to be silent about what matters just because it is Christmas.

The musical is a modern synthesis of “A Christmas Carol” and “Great Expectations”, both of which were written by Charles Dickens.  Throughout the years many have commented on how the works of Dickens, including these two and many others, highlight the social justice issues of their time and call for reform… and quite frankly most of those issues of Social Justice are very much like the ones we face today… we still have children dying for lack of appropriate and affordable health care, we still have too much wealth concentrated in too few hands, and we still have families who find themselves without the basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter… all issues Charles Dickens addressed in the stories he told.

I loved the musical so much I’m not ashamed to advertise for it… it is running at the Rubicon through tomorrow, and they are planning on bringing it back for its official world debut at the Rubicon in December of 2014.  If you can, go see it!

Many were surprised by the boldness with which Charles Dickens sought to call attention to these great injustices in the world… but we should never be surprised.  Why?  Because Charles Dickens was a Unitarian, at least for part of his adult life.

Like many of us, Charles Dickens found Unitarianism in the middle of his life, when he was 38 years old.  This was before our two traditions, Unitarianism and Universalism merged, becoming the Unitarian Universalism we know today.  Though others might be surprised at the primacy of the message of social reform in his stories, I see it as an expression of his Unitarian religious faith.  He believed that the world could be reformed, that we were never beyond hope.  He believed that for the world to change you had to reach people, touch their hearts, and give them a vision of how it could be better… all of which he did in almost all of his stories.

Even though Charles Dickens returned to British Anglicanism during the latter part of his life, he retained his connections with American Unitarians such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Oliver Wendell Holmes, among many others.  During his second tour of the United States in 1867 he returned to attending American Unitarian Churches, though he had left the British Unitarian Church back home.

Of all of the stories of Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol remains my favorite.  Why?  Because it refuses to remain silent about what matters, just because it is Christmas.

Our theme for the month of December is silence, and as I think back on all of my Decembers past, I am struck by how much silence there has been.  Oh, it is not a time of year for much silence, in the sense of there actually being quiet and peace… in that sense I find December to be the most noisy month.  Everywhere you go, someone is singing or playing hymns.  There are bells playing all around, from recorded church bells to the high pitched tings of people collecting for some charity or another.  There are car horns from frustrated drivers in too crowded store parking lots, and advertisements for everything you must buy for someone if you are going to be a good person, if you are not going to be a Scrooge, each and everywhere you turn.

I love how the image of Ebeneezer Scrooge is now being used by multi-million dollar corporations to describe us if we do not buy their products for someone.  Just goes to show the wonders a marketing department can do…

No, December is a noisy, busy, hectic month, with very little actual silence, and yet I also find it to be a time of profound silence… a time of things not being said.  The silence of Christmas is not a silence of peace… it is an oppressive silence of what matters most.

It manifests in many ways, this silence of what matters most.  Here is one many of you may be familiar with.

Each year, leading up to Christmas, I always have a few people ask to see me, to ask me for tips on how not to argue with their relatives over the holiday season.  We Unitarian Universalists seem to have an inordinate number of opportunities to argue with our relatives over the Christmas Holidays, from the Uncle who has gotten most of his worldview from watching the Fox News channel, to the cousin who is part of an aggressively Evangelical Christian Church, who sees the Christmas family time as another God given opportunity to save our souls.  Each year before this one, I have sat with members of the congregations I have served, and tried to help them see the point of view of their loved ones, so that they could be more compassionate when their relatives are fishing for an argument over the Christmas dinner table.  I have spoken of the importance of family, and of knowing that there is a time and a place for everything.  I have said that you have to find the time and place when someone may be receptive to a different idea or thought, and to be aware of how disagreeing with your family might be uncomfortable for you and for others…

In essence, I have advised people to remain in silence… in an oppressive silence during the Holiday Season.

No more.  No more.  You see, last year was the first in many years that I went home right after Christmas.  By home, I mean the American South, in particular Knoxville Tennessee and Atlanta Georgia.  It was my first time going home during the Holiday Season since I became a Candidate for the Unitarian Universalist Ministry.  It is not an opportunity that happens often, and only happened for me last year because a Church near my home town invited me to preach their first worship service in January and paid my way.

My family, knowing I was coming, they delayed a few of the Holiday family gatherings until I could be there.  Perhaps it was because my ministry here at this church and in the city of Ventura is so much generic imitrex price comparison about Social Justice.  Perhaps it was because I am far deeper in my faith and practice as a Unitarian Universalist than I was before going to seminary.  Perhaps it was because being an assistant minister I’m just feisty-er than I used to be… but I found that I was unable to stay in that Holiday oppressive silence.  I found that I was unable to keep silent about what matters to me.

And I think my family finally realized that I really and truly am a flaming liberal.

I remember arguing with one family member about how silly I thought it was that they were planning to not accept Social Security.  I told them that Jesus called us to be each other’s keeper, to take care of one another, and to love our neighbor… and that having a Social Safety Net was a part of how we live what Jesus taught.

I told another family member that, though I served in the military as a reserve chaplain, I thought our nation needed to stop invading foreign countries on behalf of corporate interests… and getting my soldiers killed for someone else’s profit margin.

I informed a friend from High School that I did believe that we needed to increase taxes on those who had more in society, not because I am a socialist, but because no one achieves wealth alone in this country.  When she asked if I was a “Socialist” I responded that depended on my mood any particular day…

I told one longtime friend that I believed more in the religion of Jesus, as best I could discover it, than in the religion about Jesus, which is what I find practiced in so many churches today.  He was rather confused.

I told the story of my favorite weddings and ceremonies of union of the last few years, two of which were for same-sex couples. You should have seen the looks in their eyes when I said that some of the strongest marriages I knew where of same sex couples, because they had to fight to be together in ways many of the rest of us did not.

In essence, I was an unabashed Unitarian Universalist, an out-of the closet liberal, and dared them to say anything about it.  I was me, and I was not silent.  And, I do not think they quite knew what to do with me.  I do believe I made something of a spectacle of myself.

So, I’ve quit advising silence.  I’ve stopped believing that “being in the holiday spirit” means having to sit on our own feelings, thoughts, and values for the sake of some familial peace that just means an oppressive silence.  When people have come to me this year with that question about how to get along with their relatives this Holiday, I’ve instead said to be respectful of what other people say and believe, but not at the expense of being who you are, and standing up for what you value in this world.

Because we need less silence.  Honestly, we can’t afford silence anymore.  That Uncle of yours, the one who has gotten his entire worldview from Fox News?  We all have someone in our family like that, don’t we?  Well, Christmas dinner with you might be the only time all year that he is out of his comfort zone enough to meet anyone who believes anything different than what he hears from Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly.  The only time… so you can’t waste it.

Those aggressively evangelical relatives, who are seeking to save your soul as the Christmas present they want to give you this holiday season?  My experience as a former conservative Christian and as a military chaplain tells me that the more evangelical someone is, often the less comfortable and confirmed they are in their own faith.  Many of the most aggressively proselytizing people I know, be they Christians or Atheists, are actually in serious doubt of their own religious beliefs, and are seeking to comfort and confirm those beliefs by convincing others to join them.  Your example of a religious faith that is comfortable with doubt, joyous at differences, and in tune with reason and science might end up being saving to them one day.  Show them your faith as Unitarian Universalists just as much as you listen to them about theirs, and who knows what seed you might be planting.

I am not asking you to be as annoying as that Fox News Uncle, or as aggressive as your Evangelical kin… I am only asking you to not hide who you are, what you believe, and what you know to be important.  I am only asking you to not be silent.  We cannot afford any more silence.  We cannot afford not to speak out for equity and justice.  Not anymore.  The challenges we face in the coming decades are enormous, from the growing tide of financial and political inequality, to the rising temperatures and oceans.  From the growth of a state of surveillance and incarceration to a world in which we use military force more and more freely.  From the denial that racism still exists to government encroachment upon the most basic of human freedoms.  From the shredding of the social safety net to the idea that the poor are the ones to blame for their own poverty… we face enormous challenges in the coming decades…

And, like Charles Dickens, I have hope.  To have this hope is as much a part of the Unitarian heritage we share with Charles Dickens as is to call attention to the need for social reform.  Old Ebenezer Scrooge, or more modernly Miss Estella Scrooge, really can be transformed.  Our greatest human gift is that we have the ability to change.  We have the ability to be transformed.  We have the ability for our hearts to break open, and for us to commit to a different way of being together.  It has happened for some of you in this room.  There is nothing that can inherently prevent it from happening for us all.

Hope is the gift that Charles Dickens gave in all of his stories… and it is hope that we can give to the world… but only when we break out of the oppressive silence about what matters most.  Only when we are willing to Speak our Truth in Love as much as we Dwell Together in Peace.

And that is how I call you to break your silence this Christmas… with hope.  Breaking the Silence with Hope… I can’t think of a better meaning for Christmas, can you?

 

So May it be, Blessed be, and Amen.  Merry Christmas!

 

 

One Thought on “The Silence of the Season — Sermon by the Rev. David Pyle

  1. Loved this sermon, and appreciate the importance of speaking up for our beliefs but always in a respectful way. I too, have southern relatives who showed concern that I didn’t believe in the concept of being “saved or born again.”

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