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Good morning, and thank you, Certainly this year no Minnesotan, no American, indeed not much of the world could have failed to watch our elected leaders at the state and national levels, struggling with the difficult questions of governance. We watched as each side made their case, each side foretelling dire consequences if their position and only their position was not adopted by everyone. First our State and then our Nation, each debate analyzed carefully by the news media and by the Fox network as well.  As summer dragged on anyone with an interest was able to get all the information needed to choose a side. Would your choice be with the Tea Party made attractive by its pledge of no new taxes and its careful use of patriotic imagery?    Or perhaps your belief is that some programs are so important, so vital, to not only Minnesota but to our Country that they must be protected by any means or any cost necessary. Environment, education, to name but two. Difficult questions, have you ever thought, why, why is it always so difficult?  And why are there so many questions?  And quite frankly why do we even need to spend time trying to find the elusive middle ground, when clearly most of us are firmly entrenched on one side or the other?  And while discussing these and all manner of difficult questions can and does and will continue to occupy coffee shops, workplace water cooler debate and even our own coffee and conversations, downstairs on any given Sunday.  I propose that this morning we set those questions aside, and that together you and I think about and indentify, some of the difficult questions that are unique to us as members of this Fellowship.  What are some of those difficult questions that we as Unitarian Universalists face? I am reminded at this time of what might have been first time that I heard the word… the name “Unitarian”.  It was during the time my Wife and I lived in Missouri, the very buckle of the Bible belt itself.  And there we discovered the television show the Simpson’s.  And by allowing our children to watch such a scandalous show, we not only provided all four them, much pleasure as they were able to retell each episode along with their classmates at school, but in addition made all of us, each of us, child and parent alike very suspect to our conservative neighbors. Ha-ha, we loved that show and hung on every word spoken by Homer and the rest of the citizenry of Springfield.   And it was on one such show that when the whole Simpson clan went to the fair, that Lisa Simpson, clearly the deep thinker of the family approached the ice cream booth manned by none other than the very droll Reverend Timothy Lovejoy. Now Reverend Lovejoy had renamed all the ice cream flavors with religious names. So you had Catholic flavor, Lutheran flavor, Buddhist flavor and so forth.  Well Lisa looked them all over and selected Unitarian… when she was handed the empty bowl, she responds as anyone would have “hey, it’s empty! And Reverend Lovejoy responds: that IS the point.” Now that’s a question.  Are we as empty as that bowl of ice cream? Are we empty as a faith? Many of us came to Unitarian Universalism for the freedom.  For some of us it may have been freedom from the threat of hell, for others freedom from the idea of god himself and for yet others it was just freedom to be our unique selves.  But in doing so, have we individually washed our spirits so thoroughly that collectively we have become as empty as Lisa’s bowl of ice cream?  Is that even possible? When I for one think of Unitarian Universalism I do not see an empty bowl. Because as each of us poured out the hate and poured out the despair of what we were, we at the same time filling the bowl of our faith, with what we have, what we share and what we will become.  And that is a significant part of what Unitarian Universalism is all about, it is not, nor has it ever been about what we used to be but rather, it has always been about what we are and what we have and will become.  The act of shedding our past beliefs did not, nor should it have stopped us in our search for each of our own universal truths. And as each of us grows into these new truths, we add them to the bowl of our joined faith.  We grow and our faith grows with us.  Now make no mistake, I am not suggesting that any of this is easy, that this is easy work, but rather, you need to make time for it in your life, as Oscar Wilde said: “  you cannot find truth if you don’t dig.”   Let’s think of it in a little different way, how many of us when asked about our faith and what we identify as, whether it be  here at the Fellowship, or just out and about as we interact with workmates and others in the community. Respond something like this; “me? Well I’m a recovering catholic attending the UUFM now”.  Or my own personal favorite, I was raised a Jehovah’s Witness but I was able to escape!  Whatever, fill in the blank you get the idea, we lead with a negative.    This question of, who we are, always is made more difficult by feeling the need to include what it is that we don’t believe. It’s made easy when we answer just with what we have given our hearts to.   I am a Unitarian Universalist!  Ultimately if we define our faith by what we don’t believe, we will be hindering each of our individual searches for truth and that is never very satisfying. If we can agree, that by the very act of embracing the truth of who we are NOW, we individually are doing the collective hard work of building our community of faith. We can open ourselves to even more truth and even more freedom. So what is it that we hope to achieve?  Where is it that we see our faith going?  And indeed, does Unitarian Universalism really need to go anywhere?   For that answer we need look no further than our principles.  These are the threads that hold not only our own community, but by and large the world community, together. Wherever things are working right, where there is peace in the world, you more likely than not, will find a joined commitment to UU principles. With these guideposts, that we ourselves have placed, for ourselves, cannot we clearly see the path to be taken?   When injustice against immigrants is applauded, and we read the 1st principle; “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” how can we not speak out in defense of them?  And when our Gay and Lesbian neighbors are denied equal rights, how can we not take action on their behalf?  And do not the words of 6th principle “the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all” sound in our hearts?  Are we not willing to work for peace? When we read the 4th principle “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning”; how can we not hear that as call to action in our own lives? To continue to dig.  As Unitarian Universalists we are faith in action, our faith stems not from one book or another book, but from each other, we are alive, and with our breath our faith is made live. If we but cast aside what we were, and concentrate on this wonderful shared faith of Unitarian Universalism we will individually and in community, as never before.   It is not easy, but it is what we do.  As Universalist L.B. Fisher said; “Universalists are often asked where they stand. The only true answer to give to this question is that we do not stand at all, we move”. And more than anything else that movement is our worship, is our praise, and is our community. Remember Reverend Lovejoy?  Well I say to him we are not an empty faith! We are full of love and full of joy and full of community and full of service and full of peace and full of happiness! What he perceived as empty, is just our willingness, to make room for more truth and more meaning.  Difficult questions will always be part of our lives. We all know that. As Unitarian Universalist’s we also know that there rarely is just one answer, and we are ok with that too.  For as a community of faith, we celebrate the very individual freedom for all to ask the questions. The questions will be difficult.  And many. How do we keep our youth in the church? How can we heal our members’ religious wounds so we can move forward as a religion?’ How can Unitarian Universalists respond in the right way to changes in the global economy and in the global environment? How are we preparing our community and our theology for the enormous and expanding income gap between rich and poor that has already defined revolutions elsewhere and may soon here? How do you ordain the poor, racial minorities and other disadvantaged economic groups, to serve and preach the good news of Unitarian Universalism? How do we turn the leadership of this church and congregation over to our members who are now 25 to 40 years old? How do we educate our own members on what it means to be a liberal religion? How can we let people know what we are about? Most of our congregations are wonderful places, if people happen to find them. What stops us from getting our message out there, and what are we willing to do to actively seek out the millions of potential Unitarian Universalists out there? What do we offer that will make people say “that totally changed my life”? What is our mission in the world? Or as our own David Rice stated so well “are we as a Fellowship a life boat or a rescue ship” As we individually ask the difficult questions that are found in our hearts, we will collectively find the answers in the soul of our faith. We always have. I would like to close today with the words of the Lakota shaman Black Elk, who had a wonderful vision of how the different religions of the world fit together: Then I was standing on the highest mountain of them all, and round beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw. For I was seeing in the sacred manner the shape of all things of the spirit. And the shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that make one circle, wide as daylight and starlight, And in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy. I truly believe Black Elk, could have been speaking about Unitarian Universalism, and whether individually, you believe that we are part of the hoop or part of the flowering tree, collectively together, we are surely made sacred and holy. Thank you and peace and Blessed Be