An Ever-Wider Circle

(A homily delivered at the Hampton Roads Unitarian Universalist Revival on February 24th 2013.)

Toward the end of the nineties I lived in San Diego and was friends with someone who worked at one of the many biotech companies in that part of southern California.  With its famously mild climate, there were always plenty of things going on outdoors, and one Saturday my friend invited me to join her and some of her co-workers who were going to play volleyball.

Now I’ve never considered myself a particularly sporty person.  As a child in school I would much rather have stayed inside with a good book than play sports; unfortunately, they were mandatory, at least at the schools I attended while growing up in England, even if it seemed to me that rugby was just a popular means of ending up on an operating table.

In this case, though, it was supposed to be about fun with friends, and there’d be a picnic and maybe we’d see a movie afterwards.  Now I’d never actually played volleyball before and I quickly realized how strenous it was.  Afterwards I was pretty tired, but on the whole I’d had a good time.

A week or two later I was at my friend’s house and I asked if her co-workers were going to be playing volleyball again any time soon.  Well, my friend got that look on her face that people get when they feel awkward about needing to say something they’d really rather not say.  Since there wasn’t any avoiding it, though, she just said it: her co-workers didn’t want me to play volleyball with them again.  Yes, I had been explicitly dis-invited, excluded because I wasn’t good enough or hadn’t taken it seriously enough or something like that.

Ouch!  If you’ve ever had something like this happen to you, you know the pain that goes with it.  And I’m pretty sure that all of us here this morning have experienced some form of rejection in our lives.  Perhaps you were trying to join a group and it was made clear to you that you didn’t fit in.  Maybe it was something you said or did, or perhaps the way you said or did it, or, who knows, even the way you look or sound.  Perhaps you’ve found yourself excluded because of the questions you asked or the beliefs you claimed or the person you love.  And perhaps you ended up blaming yourself simply for being what and you are.

Now at about the same time I being rejected for whatever heresy I had committed against volleyball, I was also finding out about this religion called Unitarian Universalism.  I attended a couple of different events at the local church and I noticed something curious.  They had a pagan group.  They had a Christian fellowship.  There were humanist discussions and Jewish seders.  Atheists listened to sermons on spirituality and they all sang hymns with familiar church tunes, only the words had been updated to be gender-neutral and theologically inclusive.  How was this possible, I wondered to myself?  How could so many people believing so many different things actually form a community together?

I’ve since realized that when it comes to community, what each of us believes doesn’t really matter.  What really matters is how we behave, how we treat one another and the world around us.  And whether we choose to exclude certain people or to embrace them says less about what we believe than about who we are as human beings and what we love about ourselves as human beings.

A few years ago I was standing in the social hall of a different Unitarian Universalist church where I noticed, in amongst a number of framed pictures displayed on the wall, another frame containing not a picture but some printed words.  Looking closer, I saw that it was the poem “Outwitted” by American poet Edwin Markham:

“He drew a circle that shut me out —
heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle that took him in!”

For me this captures, in a mere thirty-one words, the central challenge of that unusual religion known as Unitarian Universalism.  Our faith strives to draw an ever-wider circle, providing a spiritual home to everyone no matter the questions they ask or the beliefs they claim or the person they love.  For we are all in this together and everyone should be welcome in the circle of love and life and hope.

Oh, and I should mention that my congregation here in Newport News has a softball league that meets every Saturday morning during the warmer months, and to my knowledge they’ve never disinvited anyone, not even me.

So let us live into the promise that is Unitarian Universalism: that we are different people with different life experiences and different understandings of the world and our places in it, and yet we can nonetheless come together in a boldly shared endeavor to grow the Beloved Community not only for ourselves but for our whole world.

So may it be.

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1 Comment »

  1. […] as you’ve heard me say before, neither religion nor faith are merely about belief.  They are also about behavior and belonging.  It’s not surprising that the atheist Sunday […]

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