It’s only your name that is my enemy;
You are yourself, not even a Montague.
It is not a hand, or a foot,
Or an arm, or a face, or any other part belonging to a man.
O, be some other name!
And what is in a name? that which we call a rose ould smell as sweet
if it had any other name.
So Romeo, if he wasn’t called “Romeo,”
would retain that dear perfection which he has without that title.
Romeo, throw your name away;
And for that name, which isn’t part of you,
Take all of me.
a modern translation of words by William Shakespeare
from: Romeo and Juliet; Act II Scene 2
The Truth can be talked about, but not the Eternal Truth.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.
As the origin of heaven and earth, it is namelsess.
As the sustainer of all tings, it is nameable.
So, as ever hidden, we should look at its inner essence.
As always manifest, we should look at its outer aspects.
These two flow from the same source, though differently named;
And both are called mysteries.
The Mystery of mysteries is the Door of all essence.
From the Dao De Jhing; Chapter 1
Good morning everyone...
Some of you out there see Robert Zamora. Some of you see Mr. Rob. And most of you see Robert Barreda, guitarist and lead singer of the band Paper Windows. Yes, that is a shameless plug.
Same person… different names. That’s what were going to talk about today. Semantics.
I guess I owe you all an explanation other than to say I’m using myself as a teaching tool. I imagine you were expecting someone else after hearing Jen read the bio of today's presenter or if you looked in the order of service today. For our visitors, I should explain that many of my friends here at FUUNCO recognize me as Robert Barreda. I have been a member here for several years. In fact, even sit on the board of directors.
Robert Barreda is my birth name. But about a year ago, I legally changed my name to Roberto Julian Zamora II and I am in fact a reverend. I hope you don’t feel tricked. I hope you don’t feel duped. It certainly wasn’t my intention. Ok, maybe it was a little.
But it’s taken me quite a while to figure out how to explain that I changed my name and after so many months having gone by… working up the nerve to do it. I’m sure you’re wondering why. Well, the short story is Barreda isn’t my family’s real name. For my father’s 65th birthday, I gave him a really cool gift. I changed my to name my grandfather’s name.
The long story is rather uninteresting and underwhelming. So let’s just leave it at that.
Anyway… in one respect, this is my chance to let a large number of people who are very dear to me know of my name change. You can still call me Rob, it is my first name, and I plan to use my old name as a stage name when Paper Windows and I play but if you hear Rhys or Kate (who by the way I call Emilie which is her middle name)… if you hear them call me Julian it’s because that is how they have always known me. They like my middle name better.
I’d like to quickly say something about the title reverend that was in the order of service. This is somewhat of a teaching moment as well using this robe as an illustration.
“’Reverend’ is also something that means different things to different people. There are some denominations that lay hands on members to ordain them as a pastor of their congregation. Our friends the Quakers believe that by virtue of God being in everyone, they are, by Divine Law, a minister to each other. If you go to the website for the Universal Life Church – not at all to be confused with Universalism – you can become a reverend for free, just by filling out a quick form.
And since I didn’t have anyone to lay hands on me, and I don’t regularly attend Quaker Silent Meetings, I am, according to the Universal Life Church, an ordained minister.
“However,” (taking off robe), “my church is here, my religion is here. Unitarian Universalism. And it takes a little longer here. You need a Masters of Divinity Degree. Time spent working as a hospital chaplain. An internship. Numerous career assessments and interviews. And finally, after all that, you’re still not a reverend. In this religion, only a congregation can ordain a minister. So you have to find a congregation willing to ordain you, to bestow upon you the responsibility of formally becoming an ordained minister in this religion. Quite a gap between what some groups call a minister, huh?” I’m explaining this to let you know I did not mean any disrespect to UU ministers or our seminarian.
But let’s get to what I wanted to talk about today.
Semantics of religious speak.
I tried looking up the word “semantics” and found this. It is the meaning or the interpretation of a word, sentence or phrase.
That didn’t really seem quite right. Not exactly what I was looking for. So I kept hunting and found this. Semantics is the relationship between words and objects or symbols and codes.
I thought, “ok, that might work.” I think it applies in this situation. Here in this example… the object, me (point to myself) and the relationship between it and the words assigned to that object; Rob, Julian, dad. Semantics.
Ok, maybe not the best example.
Ok, let’s look at this.
Can everyone see this. (hold up a can of Dr. Pepper)
Some people call it pop.
Some people call it soda.
Now when I was growing up and on the rare occasion that my family went to a restaurant, the waitress would come to the table and ask everyone what they’d like to drink.
When asked what I’d like the conversation would have gone something like this.
“Now sweetie what would you like to drink. Would you like a coke?”
“What kinda coke would you like.”
“A Dr Pepper.”
Back then and probably well into my college years, I thought nothing of this conversation. To me a black fizzy drink inside a can was a coke. To other’s it’s a pop. To others a soda. Some blend it together and soda pop.
And then there are just the weirdos who actually say Dr Pepper.
And so you can see the parallel in the reading from Shakespeare’s play… what’s in a name. I am still the same person regardless of being called Rob or Julian. This is still a black fizzy drink which I am telling you now is neither called pop, soda, soda pop or a coke. After my experience on this journey I call spiritual seeking I tell you this is the sweet black nectar of the gods! Later in the service we will have communion and those who are current with confession may participate. : )
Ok, so what does what part of the country you grew up in and calling this nectar of the gods a pop, soda or coke have to do with being a UU.
Several years ago I had a co-worker who was a devoted Christian. We were really close friends… extremely close and I can honestly say I loved her the way close friends do. I say this even though she was a Christian fundamentalist, Biblical literalist and young earth Christian. I am none of those so she and I didn’t exactly see eye to eye… but amazingly enough, we had a wonderful friendship despite this.
But believe it or not, on some things… actually many things we did agree very much-so, I just couldn’t convince her. Maybe I should have invited her to hear this sermon. : )
Anyway because of her staunch adherence to the religious speak of her Christian faith… now let me explain and be clear, I don’t think it was because of her Christian faith… Not at all, I think it was her inability to see past the language and words she and I both assigned to similar, if not exact same, concepts, of our belief system that our friendship ultimately ended after about five years.
An example of one of those ideas we shared was she believed in something bigger than herself that she loved with all her heart and that she could turn to in times of doubt or stress.
I believe in something bigger than myself that I love with all my heart that I can turn to in times of doubt or stress.
She called that thing God.
As UUs some of us call it my church community, nature, The Tao, Karma, science and yes some of us even call it God.
She believed in helping the poor and downtrodden, she believed in helping those weaker than herself, she believed in loving her fellow man. These concepts she learned from The Christian Holy Book and the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth.
For UUs we find those very same concepts in teachings from other sacred texts, great leaders and spiritual masters such as The Buddha, Martin Luther King Jr, The Tao Te Ching, theories constructed by Albert Einstein or the philosophy and writings of Thomas Paine. And yes… many of us look to the Bible as well as Jewish scripture for inspiration and hope.
Same teachings… many different sources.
The difficulty lies in finding and weeding through all the fluff, the non-sequitur, that which goes against any sense of reason.
Our sense of reason… remember we as UUs state that we draw teachings from many sources. One of them is: Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.
Unfortunately for us in this chosen faith, we don’t have one book that spells it out specifically for us. We have to interpret our seven principles of ours as best we can. In fact, it is our responsibility as UUs, as a people of faith, to find those teachings that reinforce and speak to our values. Remember?... responsible search for truth and meaning. We must be responsible in our search. It must be earnest. It must be sincere.
And that’s one of the reasons why we come into community with other UU believers. That is why we sit in the corner forum and why we attend small group ministry meetings… so we CAN find those ideas that reinforce our beliefs. So we can bounce ideas off of each other… so we can be challenged in our beliefs, dig further into our idea of spirituality and experience again in our liturgical year those concepts, the stories, the ideas, those songs, the rituals and traditions that renew our spirit.
And we come into community with other UUs so we can learn about what, in the grand scheme of things, will lead us to live a better life, be a better human being and find respite when things become difficult.
It is a misperception that UUs can believe whatever it is they want. In fact, I would say it is the exact opposite of what this religion teaches.
Yes... this RELIGION.
You know… It has been stated by some that ours is not a religion. It's been stated, that at best it's a group of like minded political activists organized to do social justice. At worst it is a fringe element, mocking “real” religion and operating under the guise of tax free status making money for a larger organization.
I don’t know about you but to hear that about a place I love so much, a place where I have learned so much and have become a much better person because of its teachings… well, that is a pretty nasty thing to hear.
Some of you may recall about five years ago when Carol Keeton Strayhorn, who was then the Texas State Comptroller, revoked the tax exempt status of a UU church in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I suspect she was jockeying for position to bring the whole UUA out of tax exempt status. Her reason: She claimed UUism was not a religion. Now to the best of my knowledge and research Ms. Strayhorn has been a lifelong politician and dedicated public servant but is by no means a theologian or regarded as a religious scholar. The comptroller's office reversed its stance rather quickly after a local paper reported on the incident.
It was certainly a sweet victory for the UU church in Dallas. And for me… my world was right again.
However... I think this incident begs the questions what is religion and secondly, why would our faith come into question regarding the classification.
So to the first…. What is religion? Philosophers through the ages have spent lifetimes contemplating the definition of religion. From what I’ve been able to discern, I don't think it's been defined quite yet.
Religion is ubiquitous. I mean it’s relatively easy to identify it when one sees it but somewhat difficult to encompass in words. Perhaps it’s easier to say what it is NOT rather than what it is.
For instance football is not a religion…
Hmmm… Perhaps there is not a God… I didn’t get struck down for saying such blasphemy in the state of Texas.
Well let’s look at this. The “adherents” and “practitioners” of football wear identifiable hats and specific robes or outfits, they have iconic symbols that identify them to a specific denomination if you will, they have their weekly meeting, annual rituals… think the NFL draft. And it all culminates in an annual high holy day.
I think we all know that football is not a religion but it has many of the items and regalia that most people feel a religion should have to be labeled a religion.
So now to that second question, regarding the tax exempt event, why would our faith come into question as being a religion. I mean certainly we’re more of a religion than football…
The reason it came into question is because we are different. We don’t have dogma to which we strictly adhere. We don’t have one literary source that we say is our holy word. We don’t have saints we lift up. We don’t have a single founder. We are different.
Like I said… philosophers, theologians, scholars and people much smarter than me have been trying to define it for centuries. I’m not even going to attempt it. But I will say this.
For us to be taken seriously as a people of faith, we must hold sacred our teachings. The things we hold dear and our religion as a whole should not be made a punchline. Hold them sacred and act.
And so here is the lesson in the sermon. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Truth is Truth no matter what label we assign to it.
We UUs loudly proclaim to be a church of the open mind and the open heart but say the word “God” in a UU pulpit and you can almost hear the drawbridge pull up from the mote and slam against the castle walls of our defenses.
You know… I think we UUs tend to get way too cerebral about terms, monikers, phrases and words. Let it go. Don’t get too caught up in the details.
I remember, a one-time member of our church used to every so often wear a t-shirt where he had scrawled the words Love is my God. I loved that shirt. He was an atheist by the way. Different words for the same thing.
And why should we work towards this endeavor. Why put down our pride a little. Because the most important thing, regardless of what we call "it", is that we "do". One of the fundamental aspects of our UU faith is that we "do". If we get too wrapped around the axle about the labels then we’ve spent the whole afternoon arguing about whether the word should be “happy” or whether it should be “glad”.
There’s a joke about UUs that says why don’t you ever hear UU’s singing hymns in their church. It’s because they’re too busy looking ahead to see if they agree with the lyrics. Don’t worry about the lyrics… sing!
If nothing else we must get out there and act on our beliefs, regardless whether the details of our own path has us get on our knees five times a day, beg forgiveness to a Son, give thanks at all meals or simply look out our window and sip on a cup of coffee and revel in the majesty of a new day.
I think I can speak for everyone here that we as UUs trust that if we do something towards the endeavor of helping those weaker than us it makes the world a better place. That is social justice work. Helping those weaker than us.
We have no proof of this. We can't measure and know for certain that our tiny, little, humble, one-on-one, well-intended actions helps anyone... but we hope that it does. We trust that it does. We have faith that it does. And so as a people of faith… we “do” our work. We do our faith work… our holy work.
And that is what makes us religion. Regardless of the words used… regardless of the semantics used to identify that which we find sacred, regardless of what Carol Strayhorn thinks .
I have a sticker on one of my guitar cases that reads, “Truth is the only thing that doesn’t change.”
There is only one Truth. No ONE religion has a monopoly on it either and there are a thousand ways to understand it. It is our job to find it… in all places, in all sources, weed through the fluff and filler; then act on it to help the poor and downtrodden, help those weaker than us, love our fellow man. Assist those in need. Comfort those who are hurting.
What would that look like? If you could hold and feel… if you could touch and smell the ideas that you hold sacred.
Don’t give up opportunities to grow in your UU faith just because the words used in some teachings may make you squirm. Don’t give up the joy of singing for fear of semantics. Don’t give up the chance to do your part to save the world for fear of being labeled a person of faith. You are better than that. You are better than letting yourself fall victim to semantics. Sift through that different language, interpret the words so they fit your view of the top of the mountain and stand in the circle at the top.
Amen, Shalom, Blessed Be, Namasté