Ironicschmoozer’s Weblog

What’s Your Tee-Shirt Gospel? (Third Annual Tee-Shirt Theology Service)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Unitarian Universalist Society

Sacramento, CA

Advance Publicity/Invitation to Participation:  Please wear a tee shirt with words or images that reflect one of your religious, spiritual, ethical, organizational or social justice commitments. We’ll be invited to show our messages around. (What to wear?!?)  Please, no shirts with partisan political attacks or adults-only content.


Hymns: When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place (1008); Enter, Rejoice and Come In (361); Dear Weaver of Our Lives’ Design (22), Maglipay Universalist (Be Joyful, Universalists, printed on insert)

Shared Offering: Family Promise of Sacramento


Introduction to First Song

Good morning!  Welcome.  It’s good to see all of you here.  I serve as one of the ministers here.  On most Sunday mornings I don’t look like this.  [In a tee shirt.]  Usually I have on a suit and tie.

Some people may not like to see a minister be so informal.  “So under-dressed, un-accessorized.  He’s dishonoring the specialness of this holy place.  He diminishes his role in in worship!”

Well, I can accessorize a little bit for this occasion of worship.  [Put on sunglasses with candy-apple red frames.]  Maybe my eyes can adjust by the time I have to give the sermon.

But really, our coming together here is not about how we look, what clothing we wear or the shoes we have on.  It’s about what’s in your heart.  We come here to bring our hearts into a holy place.  May it be that for you today, a holy place, a place of love, courage, and joy. Now let us sing hymn number 1008, from the teal song book, When Our Heart Is in a Holy Place.  Please rise as you’re comfortable for number 1008.


[Tee-Shirt Processional Followed Sermon]


Recently a member said:  “When I came here the first time, I didn’t know anything about Unitarian Universalism.  My spouse had been a UU before, but I hadn’t had any experience.  It would have helped me to see a paper with some bullet points, saying ‘This is what we are.’”  I’ve heard that request over the years.  No matter how many brochures we have in stock or what’s on the website, people still ask for an explanation of our faith.  We don’t have a creed or any published articles of belief.  There’s not one definitive list.  Instead, there’s a variety.  These lists don’t all read the same, but neither do they cancel out one another.

I have one for you to try on for size, right now.  These bullet-pointed words come from Laila Ibrahim, a lay leader and religious educator at our church in downtown Oakland. You can find these words on a tee-shirt.  Laila wrote them as the slogan for Chalice Camp, a children’s UU summer day camp.  Our church hosted chalice camp in 2006.  We didn’t have enough kids for it this year, but maybe next summer.   The words are on the front of your order of service.  Why don’t we read them aloud together?

It’s a blessing each of us was born.

It matters what we do with our lives.

What each one of us knows about god                        is a part of the truth.

You don’t have to do it alone.

Unitarian Universalism.

This is our good news.  A UU gospel message.  It’s not the only message, but it’s a valid one.  In times like these, in a world with so much hurt, we dare not limit our expressions of good news.  Now I’d like us to look at each statement, going from bottom to top.

            You don’t have to do it alone.

Life can be hard, and unfair.  Every day of the week, wherever you might go, you are surrounded by people who are living with grief, uncertainty, regret, anxiety.  Some us here are dealing with health challenges, physical pain and scary diagnoses.  Or we may feel well ourselves, but we worry about someone we know.  Many of us have emotional pain, feelings of self-doubt or depression, fear or loneliness.  Many of us have lost people we love.  Lost them to old age and illness, and sometimes to violence—accident, suicide, murder, war. We worry about our economy, our country, our world and those who live and die in oppression or misery.

With all our burdens, it’s easy to think we are alone and separate.  We can think:  “Everybody else has got their stuff together!  But even if they don’t, how can I be of any help?  What can somebody like me do to help others?”

Here’s the problem, in my view.  We live at a time that celebrates the individual. Individual accomplishments and personal success deserve praise and celebration, of course.  Still, too many messages in our culture tell us that success, happiness, prosperity and well-being are up to the individual alone.  This message, this myth, makes up the plot of inspiring movies and the so-called “secret” of best selling advice books.  It’s behind a lot of our politics and public policy.  Everybody who wins is a winner by choice and by will, only by their efforts.  Those who fall short, or suffer or face financial devastation—they just let themselves be losers.  Such an ideology blames individual people for their misfortunes.

It makes us forget how important we are to one another.  Let’s think about those who have made our success possible, those who’ve made our lives good:  Our ancestors, our teachers, the founders of our schools, museums, libraries and recreational programs.   Friends and social workers.  Public safety and medical professionals,  custodians and construction workers.

It’s just not possible to live and to thrive without being dependent on other people!  We need clothing makers, farm workers, and community volunteers.  Food inspectors, call center operators, webmasters, accountants, store managers and clerks. We cannot exist in isolation, and we don’t. This is why we come together in religious community.  We come together to remember that we are not alone, to renew our hope.

Notice how good it feels to be heard and accepted, how much it helps to talk over a challenge with another person, to gather suggestions for how to face a problem.   How does it feel to work together, to pursue common goals for the common good?  How empowering feels to share power, share ideas, share problems.

You don’t have to do it alone.”  No, you don’t, and you better not go through it alone, for your own sake.

Back to the list:

What each one of us knows about god is a part of the truth.


Both Universalism and Unitarianism started as movements of protest.  Our predecessors argued against narrow ideas of God and negative teachings about the nature of the human being.  Their gospel was radical, but simple.  God was a loving creator, not a tyrant.  As children of such a creator, all human beings have a divine spark in them.  That’s it!

Our forebears based this message on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.  They argued that he was a teacher and a prophet, a very special person, but a human being.  Now Unitarian Universalists honor many great spiritual teachers from history, and we know that we can learn also from people sitting around us in church.

Universalists and Unitarians emerged in liberal Christianity but we kept evolving.   Our tradition grew and changed through study and conversation with non-Christian religions.  We have been enriched by non-religious thinkers, artists, and activists.

One of you may object:  God is not a useful concept! Most ideas of God are not based on evidence!  Okay, that’s a piece of the truth.

Yet another one may say:  I have a personal relationship with God.  That’s a piece of the truth too.

So is the image of the Goddess on the altar in your corner at home, and so is the practice of sitting in silence every day for a certain length of time.  So is the experience of rock climbing, surfing, snow boarding, gardening painting or literature.  We gain pieces of the truth from astronomy and poetry, from genetics and geology and so much more.  What each of us knows is a piece of the truth … about Life with a capital L.     This is another reason why you don’t have to do it alone:  Instead of the stubborn isolation of certainty, we hope to learn from different perspectives.  We strive to welcome doubt in our spiritual lives.

            It matters what we do with our lives.


            Any one of us can feel insignificant when we consider the forces that shape our lives and powers that rule our world.  But that’s thinking too big, which means it’s also thinking too small about our potential.           Whatever we do to spend our time, how we do it makes a difference:  whether we are working, retired from our work lives, or… looking for work.  Whether we’re studying, volunteering, child-rearing, resting.  It does make a difference if we are reliable, helpful, generous, and kind.

It matters if we practice compassion.  We can choose to be calm when we could be aggressive.  We can act out of our values when we’d prefer to retaliate out of our hurt.  The quality of our intentions and actions can make a difference.  We have occasions to say I’m thinking of you, I hear you, I’m grateful for you.  We all have occasions to say thank you.

It’s a blessing each of us was born.

This includes you and me.  It includes mean people and those who enrage us on the freeway or the TV news.  It’s not easy to affirm this, I know.  But consider…

When we hear that somebody has had a baby, or when a baby has become part of a family through adoption, we smile.  We say congratulations.  That’s because each child is a blessing.  Each one of us is a blessing.  No matter the circumstances of the child’s birth.  No matter that the future will include the circumstance in family life known as the teenage years… Each one is a blessing.

We affirm this value at church by preparing to welcome those who come here.  We show intentional hospitality to newcomers as well as to those already part of the congregation.  Each arrival is a gift.  Each person’s time and presence is a gift of themselves.  All people are worthy of welcome, for all people are children of the same Spirit.  All are worthy of welcome and caring.

I’ve had my own struggles of self-doubt.  I’ve had times when I’ve felt bad, unworthy, not good about myself.  But when we dwell on feelings and thoughts that there’s little of worth inside us, we’re not only being unreasonable.  We’re letting down our Unitarian Universalist heritage!  To diminish yourself–or anybody else–is to try to extinguish the divine spark.

Our ancestors in this faith were charged with heresy!  They suffered for this value:  the value of human dignity and worth.  How can we not protect it, and promote it, as a precious inheritance.

There’s no need to prove yourself worthy of acceptance and love.  In our faith, it’s part of your lifetime guarantee.  It is a blessing each of us was born.  And because we’re not alone, we can remind one another of this value and this principle.

Our message is indeed good news.  It’s a reason for joy and celebration.  As I mentioned, these few sentences of Unitarian Universalist gospel are printed on the tee-shirts of kids going to camp, though you can order one in your size, too.  You can get a fridge magnet as well.  I’ve got one!

Think about why Unitarian Universalists would invent a day camp for children, or hold summer conferences and weekend retreats, and have church potlucks and Friday night shindigs.

We do these things for fun.  We do things for fun, because joy and humor and playfulness and making music can be religious experiences.   It matters that we celebrate life, and give thanks for it.

Loving life is part of our tradition.  It’s the heart of it. Let us always give thanks for life, and for all the gifts of life.

So may it be.  Amen and blessed be.


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