global village

Today’s sermon is going to start a little differently. I’d like to show you all a short video from youtube. It’s a video that explains some of the expansion of technology in modern life, and how the technology impacts the globe. www. youtube. com/watch? v=cL9Wu2kWwSY I wanted to show you that video for a couple of reasons. First it makes the point clearer and faster than I can. Technology, particularly computer technology has permeated daily life for Americans. And the speed at which it develops and grows is exponential.

Technology has changed the way we live our lives and the way that we relate to one another, in our families, in classrooms and around the globe. The world we live in is intricately connected in a sometimes shocking way. But this shrinking world idea is nothing new. It’s defiantly more apparent these days, and a little disturbing because it is moving so rapidly. But people have anticipated this global connectedness via the internet for a very, very long time, even before the world wide web was ever created, some folks anticipated a new technology that would connect the masses in a whole new way.

You may be familiar with the name Marshal McLuhan. There has been some talk about him in recent weeks because July 21st marked the centennial of his birthday. He was an English teacher and a public thinker. But most importantly, he was a media critic. He came up with Timothy Leary’s famous saying, “Turn on, tune in, drop out,” about engaging in your intellectual life and political action, using LSD, and dropping out of society to practice self reliance in the 1960s. Needless to say he was a controversial figure. But I’m talking about him today, because he’s the person that coined the phrase global village, the title of the sermon.

Amazingly, McLuhan came up with this idea 30 years before the world wide web was ever invented. And he described a global village that would one day be made possible by a flow and freedom of information that was shockingly similar to what you and I know as the internet. McLuhan’s major concept was that the medium is the message. That is to say, the technology used to convey information is more impactful than the information itself. In Oral traditions, stories are told over and over again, passed down through families and clans.

The effect is an enrichment of human relationships and kinship. McLuhan believed that the creation of the printing press created a society that was geared toward mechanization, and sameness. Books could be printed, but a limited number of them. There existed a great ability to spread information, but that information came through centralized places, printing presses. But the Global Village would change all that. With what McLuhan predicted as a technologically based “expansion of consciousness”, what we know as the internet, information would flow freely from one individual to another.

The global village would be a vast web of involved relationship where people were compelled to care about a wider sphere of concerns. Also, diversity of opinion would flourish as the ability to generate media became accessible to the masses. Welcome to the blogosphere. It’s a lovely picture of mutual respect and freedom that he painted. But it remains to be seen if the internet and the proliferation of digital technology will serve to unite this village, or be just another platform for competition and strife. But this question of getting long is with technogy is much older than even McLuhan.

In fact it’s a challenge as old as civilization. I want to talk a little bit about the reading that we did earlier in the worship service. No doubt these words are familiar to most, if not all of you. It’s beautiful language, probably made most popular to modern American by the way Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King used the words in many of his speeches. They shall beat their swords into plowshares, And their spears into prunninghooks; Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, Neither shall they learn war any more; But they shall all sit under their own vines and fig trees,

And no one shall make them afraid. Beyond using the words to inspire, I wanted to look a little deeper at the way they are used in the Bible. This passage that is so often quoted, was actually written as a poem. We often don’t realize it because of translation, but many passages, especially in the old testament are actually poems. They are recitations of pieces of oral tradition from even earlier times. And we know that this particular poem was passed down to the author of Micah, because the same thing is written, almost word for word in the book of Isaiah.

Two completely different writers of different times used this powerful poem to describe a time of peace. No wonder we call on it often today when we talk of peace. It was already a commonly used statement back then. The swords into plowshares bit is wonderful. It is about conserving a highly valuable commodity of metal, to convert weapons into agricultural tools. It’s a nice concept. Food, not bombs. We don’t think about it often, but this poem isn’t far from what McLuhen was talking about. It is about how to wield the technology of the day for the best purposes, to kill or to feed people.

Metal was a precious and limited resource. I could be used for a variety of things, for live giving things, or for death dealing things. Did you know that the exact opposite concept is used in another passage of the Old Testament? Joel 4:10 says : Proclaim this among the nations:? Prepare war,? stir up the warriors.? Let all the soldiers draw near,? let them come up.? Beat your plowshares into swords,? and your pruning hooks into spears;? let the weakling say, “I am a warrior. ” Yikes! I guess in ancient times, there wasn’t a great consensus about how technology should be used either.

I mentioned earlier that this poem is found both in Micah, and in Isaiah. But, there is a big different between the two. Mica continues with the poem where Isaiah leaves off. Micah continues in a critical statement about what happens when these nations turn their spears into pruning hooks. “but they shall all sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees,? and no one shall make them afraid;”? repeat This little passage, is the key to the global community that we seek as Unitarian Universalists. This is the challenge for us, as we aim to embrace wider and wider concepts of human community.

We want to know and understand others, and feel a sense of similarity and common humanity. But they shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees. In the midst of that good intention and common humanity, we must recognize that peoples of the world are radically different. Lifestyles vary beyond belief, as do religious traditions, political structures, cultural norms, art, and history. If we as Unitarian Universalists are going to embrace the idea of global community then we must remember not only to celebrate our sameness, but also to honor our differences.

This is a bigger challenge for us than you might think. Universalism has a somewhat precarious relationship with celebrating difference in a genuine way. In it’s very basic understanding, Universalism is about universal salvation. It’s a belief that a loving God would never condemn people to hell, especially in a arbitrary way like predestination. Today, that doesn’t sound like such a radical belief. But in the 1700s it was big news. In the peak of fire and brimstone preaching, Jonathan Edwards style, Universalists held a radically different view. And they wanted to share it.

We forget that Universalism was an evangelical tradition. That’s right. They wanted desperately to share their good news with the world. John Murray, father of Universalism in America was a powerful preacher. More importantly, he inspired a whole cadre or young preachers who would travel the countryside with the new message. In addition to impassioned ministers preaching in person, they spread Universalism via publications. They published 182 periodicals in the early 1800s. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about these publications was their names.

The Gospel Advocate, The Gospel Banner, The Gospel Foundation, The Universalist Trumpet, The Southern Pioneer, The Southern Evangelist, The Western Evangelist, Light of Zion, Genius of Truth, The Herald of Life, The Herald of Gospel Liberty, The Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate, and the Evangelical Universalist. To name a few. American Universalism was an evangelical tradition. Our forbearers were convinced that they knew the truth, and the way, and they were destined to share it with the world. We certainly don’t know any Unitarian Universalists who think they know THE truth these days, do we. The Universalism that was all about salvation was evangelical. That message took a twist in later years from universal salvation to a Universal religion. It’s a pretty natural progression if you think about it. If God wouldn’t condemn anyone to Hell, and if people believed a whole huge variety of different things, then it would only follow that each of those traditions had some meaningful insight into the divine.

After the second World War, A group of new young ministers made it their mission to transform Universalism into a religion for all. A group of new ministers, known as the Humiliati. (Their name, taken from that of an ancient Italian order, means “the humble ones”” made the expansion of Universalism their mission. They committed to the renewal of their denomination with a new message of Universalism for the current time. They adopted the symbol of the off-center cross, enclosed by a circle. The cross was off-center, and in the new Universalism, Christianity would be off center.

It would remain present in Universalist thought, but it was time to make room, to make a Universal religion that called on all faiths and philosophies availability to humanity. The circle represented the all-embracing nature of Universalism; the off-center cross recognized Universalism’s Christian roots while at the same time implying that Christianity was no longer central to the faith. ” The dream was big, a Universal religion for everyone. One church that would embody all faith. One religious voice to speak to the world. They thought that their vision might save a fractured world.

Today there are around 200,000 Unitarian Universalists in the United States. Which is about the same number of Unitarians and Universalists that there were in the 1950s when this crusade began. Needless to say, the dream of one church for all people did not pan out. Thank God! Maybe we can’t be all things to all people. I am fine with that. While we do have a tremendous religious tradition, I am tremendously glad the the attempt at a Universal religion did no succeed. There are some perfectly good religions out there and we don’t need everyone to be a part of ours.

I wanted to talk about this history of Universalism to point out that overreaching our message, is sort of in our DNA as a religion, at least the Universalist side. Being aware of that tendency, and fighting the urge is a big part of being good neighbors in the Global Village. “But they shall all sit under their own vines and fig trees,” As a country, as a religious tradition, we may have something great to offer the world. We can force that on others, or we can see the global village as an opportunity to learn from others.

Today’s sermon topic came up, not to commemorate Marshal McLuhan’s birthday. That was just a magical coincidence. It came up because one of our principles as UUs is that will “affirm and promote the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all. ” As far as I can tell, the first part of that goal is a forgone conclusion. We are rapidly moving toward a world community. Human beings experience a breadth of connection never before imagined. It’s true that people in the developing world without access to the internet don’t experience the same type of connections.

Still their economies are interwoven with the fabric of the wider world. And more and more digital technologies are penetrating into even the most remote villages. The global village is an emerging reality. The question is, will we turn our swords into plowshares, or our plowshares into swords. Will we as the most powerful nation in the world, encourage the use of technology for learning from others, or forcing them to believe the way we do, for agriculture or for weapons? Will we feed the body and the spirit of our neighbors in the village or will we kill them? -Amen-

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