The Bold Adventurers

 

 

There’s a way,
There’s a road,
That will lead me home.

There’s a voice,
I can hear,
That will lead me home.

Rise up
Follow me
I will lead you home.

These words from our anthem today remind us that home, being home, arriving home, leaving home—all of these bring to mind so much for so many of us. And this is the weekend when many of us will reflect on this, our home, America.
The Fourth of July will mark for many one of their favorite holidays. We will see American flags draping porches, yards, and even shoulders. Truly is there anything more American than the Fourth of July…well, perhaps baseball and some fresh apple pie?
Many of us know the story of why the Fourth of July is so important. It was the date when the Second Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence. This document announced the breaking of the bonds between the English Crown and the new American colonies. And the bonds did not break neatly. July Fourth is often mistaken as marking the beginning of the Revolutionary War, but it wasn’t. Battles between sets of militia fighters throughout the colonies had been raging here and there for years. No, July Fourth was not a declaration of war. Months before this date, George Washington had already been appointed to lead the Continental Army. It wasn’t even really a declaration of independence, entirely. Many colonies had ceased commerce with the Crown and ceased paying any taxes long before that date.
But July Fourth was a declaration…a declaration of unity. It was the reason that the Second Continental Congress was assembled in 1776 with representatives from each colony. The Congress passed its resolution, it’s declaration of independence, without a single vote against. Their voice was united and unanimous. Perhaps we should call July Fourth “Last Time a U.S. Congress Agreed on Anything Important Day.”
Much more mysterious than the well-documented history of this signing is the history of our other All-American institution: baseball. Now, I should mention that baseball has a special place in my heart. See, I have done a lot to prepare to be a minister. I still am doing a lot to prepare to be a minister. But nothing I have done, nothing I have read, and nothing I will likely ever do in the future has prepared me as well to be a minister as this: I am a New York Mets fan.
I won’t bore the overwhelming majority of you here who could not possibly care less about the Mets. But consider this: to be a Mets fan requires the almost entirely irrational hope in outcomes that would require the occurrence of a miracle in my lifetime. Actually, now that I think of it, you Blazers fans out there might understand this. Maybe there’s a future in the ministry for you, too. This kind of spiritual preparation, or spiritual fortification, allows me to face the kinds of daunting tasks we face together in our work out in the world. In short, I’m not expecting miracles, but I’d sure welcome one.
But unlike the Fourth of July and all of its complete, concise documentation, there is simply no agreement about how baseball really started in the US. Commissions have been appointed. Histories have been written. Wikipedia has been edited, re-edited, re-re-edited, on the subject. Some say that baseball is a derivative of the English game of rounders. Others say that is was simply a pastime created in Massachusetts in the late 18th century. Others have still many more tales and theories about the birth of baseball. There is no united voice about how baseball came about.
So we are left with our delicious third pillar of Americana: apple pie. Apple pie, you may be keen to know, outranks both pecan (pee-can) pie and pecan (puh-kahn) pie as the favorite pie in the United States. That’s a joke for any southern guests who may be visiting with us today. But among all pies in America, apple pie is the favorite. How do we know this? Well, there was a poll. This is still America, after all.
The American Pie Council, which is a real and wonderful thing, reports that apple pie is holding strong at 19% approval, trailed at a safe distance by pumpkin pie (13%) and pecan pie (12%). Looking at those results, for something so American, apple pie had more of a European victory, earning more of a plurality than a decisive majority. But we can overlook this decidedly un-American victory this once I think. Great tasting food covers a multitude of sins.
It strikes me that with our guests visiting from our sister church in Budapest, it is difficult to explain exactly why these are such American things: Fourth of July, baseball, and apple pie. But explaining American things to people abroad has a long, great tradition. One of the first people to try to explain to the world what America really is was French sociologist Alexis de Tocqueville. De Tocqueville came to the U.S. in 1831, about 55 years after our first fateful Fourth of July, to see how the experiment in democracy across the Atlantic was faring.
The resulting work, Democracy in America, begins by describing at length the many who came to this land, fleeing persecution, or others who simply wanted to make a way for themselves in a new place. And among these groups, one in particular caught his attention. The Puritans were the group that arrived on these shores and founded what they later named New England. They were not like some of the other bold adventurers coming to America’s shores, at least by de Tocqueville’s estimation:
His words:
“The emigrants who came to settle the shores of New England all belonged to the comfortable classes of the mother country. Their gathering on American soil presented, from the beginning, the singular phenomenon of a society in which there were neither great lords, nor lower classes, neither poor, nor rich, so to speak. […it can be said that, in a way, these emigrants {the Puritans} carried democracy even within democracy.] ….The other colonies had been founded by adventurers without families; the emigrants of New England brought with them admirable elements of order and morality; they went to the wilderness accompanied by their wives and children. But what distinguished them, above all, from all the others was the very aim of their enterprise. It was not necessity that forced them to abandon their country; there they left a social position worthy of regret and a secure livelihood. Nor did they come to the New World in order to improve their situation or to increase their wealth; they tore themselves from the comforts of their homeland to obey a purely intellectual need. By exposing themselves to the inevitable hardships of exile, they wanted to assure the triumph of an idea.[1]”
The idea they hoped would triumph was the idea of democracy. Not the democracy we so often think of outlined in our constitution. This was an earlier, older form of democracy. One that was more literally, more closely related to the original Greek meaning: demos: the people; kratia: rule—the people rule. The Puritans believed that their faith, their religion, required that they rule, that they govern themselves, and their faith disclosed to them that this requirement must extend to their lives of faith together as well.
To accomplish this, about thirty families of Puritans in Massachusetts devised an agreement among themselves to start a church. It had information about how to be a member, how to call clergy, how decisions should be made…it’s quite a document. It was named “The Cambridge Platform” for short. I’ll spare you the decidedly and very Puritan full name. Sixty four other churches also thought it was a pretty good document and they signed on to it as the form of their own church organization. Though much of what we choose to believe or how we choose to believe as Unitarian Universalists has changed, twenty one of those sixty five original signing congregations of the Cambridge Platform are today, Unitarian Universalist congregations.
And this document stands as the foundational document for Congregational Polity, the form of organization for the entire Unitarian Universalist collection of communities still today. So when de Tocqueville is talking about those who arrived here in the 1600s, the New Englanders, who were the staid, pragmatic, and thoughtful people, we not only are related to the New Englanders, some of our congregations were those New Englanders.
They sought a simple, balanced life in their new home. As simple, as they say, as pie.
As it turns out, pie is not as simple as you might think. Along with the American Pie Council, there are a great many who take an interest in the history of pies. And that history tells us that apple pie dates back quite a ways. It was in Chaucer’s writing from the fourteenth century in England that we learn that people were happily munching on apple pies more than seven hundred years ago. This was English apple pie. That recipe didn’t call for the ingredient that makes this treat so delectable for so many today.
Culinary historians tell us that it was not until the 17th century or so that what we now know as an American apple pie came to be. Until then sugar was too expensive for common, everyday people to afford to bake into a tart or a pie. Surely, the wealthy might already have been enjoying the delights of the apple pie we know so well now, but it was not until cheap sugar was available that the ingredient found its way into our pies.
Now, you don’t have to look far in many health magazines or online to see the effect that sugar has in our diets. Entire municipalities now tax foods that are rich in sugar due to the real costs of those areas addressing the health impacts the ingredient has on people.
Recently I was listening to my favorite podcast, Unlearned. This is a podcast started by two of the most intelligent, most funny, most fearless people I know—I love it. Kat, one of the hosts, shared a story about her relationship with sugar. She expressed to her therapist that she was struggling with the cravings she has to have sugar and the way she knows that in impacts her health. And then she shared one of the most surprising things I think I’ve ever heard a therapist say. Rather than launching in on strategies for managing cravings, rather than looking at some of the emotional causes that might lie at the root of my friend’s concerns, the therapist simply remarked to my friend who is a woman of color that the history of refined sugar is inextricably linked forever with the institution of slavery and the subjugation and violent murder of hundreds of thousands of people—almost entirely people of color. So maybe there’s something unconsciously linked to sugar that is creating this harmful relationship.
Adding sugar to apple pie, just the way we are so fond of it today, was only possible for average people because of the systematic perpetuation of some of the most heinous crimes of the past millennium. When I struggle to understand the legacy and the pervasiveness of the ways that American culture differs for people, for all of the people who call it their home, I only have to consider the arrangement of condiments on virtually every table in every kitchen in every town in this great country we share.
And I want to be absolutely clear. I do not call this a great country with even a hint of irony.  The “tempest-tost” teeming to our shores, huddling close to the mother of freedom, is more than an idea for me. It’s more than an idea for you. It’s more now, than any idea that could have been dreamed by pilgrims at Plymouth, too. This is our home.
And though we acknowledge our Puritan ancestors for the foundations of our home…we’ve done a little redecorating over the years.
At our General Assembly over the past weekend, UUs took to the streets, more than a thousand strong, to raise their voice and chant that “Love Resists” and to dance to the music of born out of the fertile lands of the Mississippi Delta.
Also this past weekend, the UUA adopted a statement of conscience that all congregations will be able to sign denouncing the pervasive economic inequality that threatens so many so unjustly, especially people of color, throughout so much of this nation.
This is how the voice of the people, Unitarian Universalist people, is uniting together just this week. And friends, the world is watching…again. There is much our ancestors did that should never be too far from our minds—making their new homes at the cost of entire nations of indigenous people, participation in the institution of slavery—these are horrors of conscience. There is no doubt about that.
But we hold these truths together with the truth that at our foundation is a tiny group of dedicated individuals who left the comforts of old, exposed themselves to hardships, and assured the triumph of an idea. That bold adventure of an idea began before this nation was established. And only the boldest adventurers will be able to withstand the trials we face today as a nation.
But liberty and liberation are not bound up in a nation or a country. That is thinking too small. The beginning of our shared faith, our cherished tradition, began before any documents were signed in a Continental Congress, before the first pitch was ever thrown at a baseball game, and before the first slice of pie was served on these shores. Our past is an idea bound in history, but boundless in possibility. Our future is an expression of love bound in our own hearts, but seeking to cross the boundless sea for the blessed harbor of our home. And the full liberation of our souls is bound to the liberation of every other living soul.
Those bold adventurers spoke into time to us. They said, and they believed,
There’s a way,
There’s a road,
That will lead us home.

They searched their hearts and they searched their conscience and found that,

There’s a voice,
We can hear,
That will lead us home.

And we owe this debt, to those whose lives our ancestors harmed, to those of us here, our friends and neighbors, and to that lonely voice yet unknown in the world who will yearn for the freedom we offer. It is that voice—the voice of the outsider, the outcast, the outnumbered, the outgunned, and the outrun. That is the voice we must hear, that we must be vigilant to hear when that voice calls out to us:
Rise Up,
Follow me,
I will lead you home.
And may it ever be so. Amen.

[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, vol. 1 (1835).