© Paul K. Davis 2010. All Rights Reserved.
Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation
May 30, 2010

  • Children's Story: Of Monkeys and Lawyers
  • Meditation: Unitarian Universalist Lives
  • Sermon: Remembering Our Heroes
  • Children's Story: Of Monkeys and Lawyers

    There once was a young man who got a job on a boat. The boat was going on a long cruise around South America and past lots of islands. The boat's captain was working for the king of England, and their job was to make better maps of South America and its islands.

    But this young man had a different job. Since the boat was going to places where hardly any scientists had been, he was given the job of finding and writing about all the strange plants and animals they might find.

    He had been to school and had been studying to be a minister, but he hadn't been very happy with those studies. Now, however, he found that he really liked being outside and finding new things. He worked very hard, and looked very carefully at the plants and animals he found, and wrote down what he saw.

    And he also spent some time daydreaming.

    He daydreamed about how the animals on the islands were like the ones on the mainland, but a little bit different. And he wondered about how the animals on each island were a little bit different from the animals on other islands. And he thought about how the animals on an island had to be good at finding and eating the kind of food there was on their island.

    Then he had an idea - the animals on the island were like those on the mainland because they were cousins, but they were a little bit different because they had to be better than their cousins at getting the food on their island, rather than the food on the mainland.

    After the boat trip he came home. He got married and raised a family. He earned some money writing books about his boat trip and all the strange plants and animals he had studied. But he kept thinking about his idea, which he called "evolution by natural selection."

    After many years he wrote a book about his idea. He named his book On the Origin of Species. It was so popular that all the copies sold out from all the bookstores by noon on the day they arrived. The publisher had to print more copies. Biologists all over the world thought his book was very important, and starting using it in their college classes.

    Charles (that was the man's name - Charles Darwin) thought some more. He thought, if all the animals are cousins, then people and animals are cousins too. So he wrote another book, called On the Descent of Man in which he explained that people and monkeys are cousins.

    But lots of people didn't like being told they were a monkey's cousin. They ignored the facts that Charles and other people around the world had found. They made up their minds based only on their feelings and not facts. They wanted to make others agree with them, so they decided other people should not see the facts. They convinced the government of the state of Tennessee in the eastern part of the United States to make a law against teaching evolution.

    But there was another young man, a teacher named John Scopes in a school in Tennessee, who had learned about evolution in college. He had considered all of the facts and concluded evolution was true and important. And he believed he should teach the kids in his classes about the facts and let them make up their own minds about what was true and important. So he taught them evolution in spite of the law.

    Then the sheriff arrested him, and took him to the court house, and there was a trial with a judge. People called this the "monkey trial".

    The young teacher couldn't afford a lawyer. But a famous lawyer heard he was in jail, and decided to volunteer to be the teacher's lawyer. His name was Clarence Darrow. But, even though the lawyer tried very hard, and brought in some college professors as witnesses that the facts should be taught in classes, the young man was still found guilty, and ordered to pay a fine of $100, a large amount of money back then.

    This trial was reported in a lot of newspapers. A lot of people thought it was crazy to have a law preventing a teacher from teaching what the teacher was convinced was true and was part of the subject he was supposed to teach. A lot of people laughed at the government of Tennessee and its "monkey trial." The government never made the teacher pay the $100 fine, because they were afraid he would appeal to another court, and they would be laughed at some more.

    I have known this story for a long time. I learned about evolution and natural selection in school when I was a kid, and I learned that it was Charles Darwin's idea. I learned about the "monkey trial" from the movie and play called Inherit the Wind. But I just learned something new about the story last year, when I was studying the history of Unitarianism and Universalism. I learned that two of my heroes, Charles Darwin and Clarence Darrow, were Unitarians just like I am. We share the value of a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

    Back to Top

    Meditation: Unitarian Universalist Lives

    We know there have been Christians and Muslims who sought martyrdom, and presumably adherents of other faiths. Perhaps Socrates sought martyrdom, but we Unitarians and Universalists do not generally seek martyrdom. Rather we seek to live our lives for good. Nevertheless, martyrdom has come upon some of us and it is fitting, this Memorial Day Sunday, to remember some of them as we meditate.

    Michael Servetus, the first European to describe the function of pulmonary circulation, rejected belief in the trinity because it was not based on the Bible. He fled the Spanish Inquisition only to be captured by Protestants and burnt at the stake in Geneva in 1553, by decision of John Calvin.

    Bishop Ferenc David founded Transylvanian Unitarianism and convinced the king to grant religious freedom. When a new ruler came to the throne he was imprisoned and died in prison in 1579.

    John Biddle, theologian and educator known as the "Father of English Unitarianism," died in 1662 as a result of illness contracted in prison.

    Norbert Capek, known as the founder of Czech Unitarianism, will be specially honored next Sunday when we hold our flower communion. In 1942 he was taken to the Dachau concentration camp where he was tortured and gassed.

    James Reeb was a UU minister from Boston. While marching for civil rights in Selma, Alabama in 1965, he was beaten to death by segregationists.

    Viola Fauver Gregg Liuzzo, another American civil rights worker, was murdered by Ku Klux Klan members, also in 1965.

    Toribio Quimada led Philippine Universalists to fellowship with UUs worldwide. In 1988, armed men ransacked his house, tied him with a rope, shot him once and burned him.

    Greg McKendry and Linda Kreager were killed in 2008 at a UU church event in Knoxville by a gunman who "hated the liberal movement."

    Let us remember these and other brave souls as we meditate.

    Back to Top

    Sermon: Remembering Our Heroes

    "During 1927, at age 32, bankrupt and jobless, living in public, low-income housing in Chicago, Illinois, [his] young daughter...died from complications from polio and spinal meningitis. Allegedly, he felt responsible, and this caused him to become drunk frequently and to contemplate suicide for a while, but he decided instead to embark on 'an experiment, to find what a single individual [could] contribute to changing the world and benefiting all humanity'". So reads a paragraph in a Wikipedia article.

    The subject was a Unitarian and grandnephew of the Transcendentalist Margaret Fuller. His name was (Richard) Buckminster Fuller, and he went on to develop numerous inventions and publish more than thirty books, including his autobiography, interestingly entitled, I Seem to Be a Verb. A recently discovered class of carbon molecules is now named for him, because their structure is the same as his geodesic domes. He is among the people who inspire me. He is also an example of Reverend Barbara Meyer's topic on May 23, an individual with "double trouble."

    I'd like to give you a sample of Bucky's thoughts from the Cambridge Forum national broadcast from the Unitarian Universalist Church in Harvard Square in 1980: "We're in for a very great revolution in education, in our technology, in evolution, where all humanity, instead of being specialized, is cultivated in what every child wants to be: a comprehensivist. Comprehensive information and intelligence now are only in the hands of those who are in great power - and using that power to keep everybody else conquered and kept conquered by keeping all the specialists and keeping them divided. All these things are going to have to be overcome."

    While I have known of Bucky as long as I can remember and admired his vision, I only learned last year, when I was preparing a course for our Adult Religious Education program on the history of Unitarianism and Universalism, that he had been a Unitarian-Universalist. I decided to include a class session on notable UUs, and found that a surprising number of the people I have admired were Unitarians and/or Universalists.

    We have already talked of some of them in the story about Charles Darwin and Clarence Darrow, and some that I already admired are among the martyrs we listed. I'd like to take this opportunity to survey a few more, and explain somewhat why I consider them heroes.

    In England, about a century before Buckminster Fuller, a young upper class woman, with admirable prospects for a comfortable life, was inspired by a "Christian divine calling" to become a nurse. Her parents were intensely angry but, as she had written in her diary, "God called me in the morning and asked me would I do good for him alone without reputation."

    This Unitarian was named Florence Nightingale.

    According to Wikipedia, "Nightingale played the central role in the establishment of the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army, of which Sidney Herbert became chairman. As a woman, Nightingale could not be appointed to the Royal Commission, but she wrote the commission's 1,000-plus page report, that included detailed statistical reports, and she was instrumental in the implementation of its recommendations." An advocate for women, she funded and opened the Women's Medical College. She was also a pioneer in the visual presentation of information and statistical graphics. Her writings on feminism and theology have not yet been completely published.

    Coming back across the Atlantic, a young Universalist woman was noted for her shyness and her family decided she could be cured of this by making her a teacher. She did take to teaching. Fearing that she would lose control of her classes, she took the unusual step of joining in sports activities with her students. She would continue to develop and have excellent rapport with people with whom she interacted. She was given an award for "discipline", and commented that, actually, she hadn't needed to perform any discipline.

    Her name was Clara Barton, and she went on to be a nurse during the American Civil War, often tending to men who had been her students. She was also a peace activist, a women's rights advocate, and the founding director of the American Red Cross. Several times she refused jobs because the pay offered her was less than the pay of men performing the same work. She also tended wounded Confederate soldiers as well as Union soldiers, despite reprimands from the Union army officers who hired and protected her.

    She was not, however, the best of administrators and it fell to others to build the American Red Cross into an effective organization.

    Another nurse in the American Civil War was the Unitarian, Louisa May Alcott, whose books Little Women and Little Men I eagerly read in school.

    Unitarians and Universalists, as well as Quakers and others who took to heart the value of all people, were also part of the abolitionist movement before the Civil War.

    Julia Ward Howe, a Unitarian was the lyricist noted for "Battle Hymn of the Republic". She was also a poet, essayist, lecturer, reformer and biographer, as well as being the founder of Mother's Day.

    An English Unitarian also took note of the plight of the American slave. Josiah Wedgwood was a potter, credited with the industrialization of the manufacture of pottery, and the invention of direct-mail marketing, money-back guarantees, buy-one-get-one-free and illustrated catalogs. He was an abolitionist and made a special set of anti-slavery medallions with the slogan "Am I Not A Man and A Brother?" below the picture of a chained Negro slave. He was also the maternal grandfather of Charles Darwin.

    None of these people were supermen or superwomen. They all had their personal failings, and they all accomplished their good as a part of their productive lives. They all had personal difficulties to overcome. Fuller had to overcome his depression and alcoholism. Nightingale's handicap, curiously, was her family's wealth, which led to their bitter opposition to her calling. Barton's handicap was her shyness. Alcott's family, though rich in intellect and values, was materially poor, and she had to go to work at a young age. Julia Ward's mother died when she was five. Wedgwood had become crippled early in life, and was forced to become inventive to continue as a potter.

    Of course, the women mentioned also had the problem of dealing with the absurd discrimination against their gender which our group of cultures inflict. They met it differently. Nightingale did her work despite not being allowed the proper credit, while Barton refused positions when there was not equal pay for equal work. I note that both of these approaches were needed. Nightingale showed what a woman can accomplish, even when not given the proper pay or credit, which was valuable. Barton refused unjust offers, which was also valuable. There can be more than one path to a better world, and we may need to take whatever path we can.

    However, there is one Unitarian Universalist hero who actually was a superman. I speak now of Christopher Reeve, who was Superman in several movies! He was raised a Unitarian, and then became a Scientologist for a while but later became critical of the organization and became a UU. As we all know, his acting career was terminated when he was in a severe equestrian accident, from which he never recovered. Despite his paralysis, he was still able to perform heroic deeds, lobbying for stem-cell research and co-founding the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.

    Perhaps all these lives can be summarized with another Buckminster Fuller quote: "The Things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done." All these people saw things that needed to be done, that others did not see, and they did them to the best of whatever their abilities were. They are among my heroes.

    You don't need super powers to be one of my heroes, just super values.


    Go in Peace and, as Buckminster Fuller found that he was a verb, be a verb with him and with all our heroes.

    Back to Top