Sunday, January 6, 2019

Sunday Message - January 6, 2019 - Peculiar People Rule!

In the 15th century the word peculiar meant ‘private property’ or ‘something belonging exclusively to one person.’ Over time, that idea of singularity became laced with more judgemental terms such as ‘odd’ or ‘eccentric.’ Today, along with its now-layered meaning of odd and eccentric singularity, we have added a layer of complimentary value to the definition as one who thinks outside the box. Peculiarity has always had an evolving relationship with the rest of civilized society.
And thank God for that.
How many of us know someone who we might, by definition, consider peculiar? How many of us might consider ourselves the same? I absolutely know that I do. Sometimes it makes me feel special, sometimes it makes me feel a target. I don’t believe for one minute that everyone hasn’t experienced the same.
There’s a bit of biblical background for this word as well. Both Moses in the Old Testament as well as the disciple Peter in the New Testament used it to refer to a people who belonged specially to God.
To belong to something in that sense is not the same as thinking themselves property, let’s be clear. To belong to God in this particular sense means to embody It. To claim oneself a practitioner of a set of guidelines believed to be of divine origin. They belonged to those ways as they belonged to the ones who taught them. They were one with them.
Unitarian Universalism is a peculiar faith. In all senses of the word. It allows for dissent so long as it is presented with love and respect. In many ways, both of those ideas are quite peculiar. It says that you are allowed to be different here. In fact, it’s celebrated. But play nice. There are those who seek conformity at all costs. Even in the name of God. But that approach is a contradiction in terms. Here at First Parish you are allowed to think of the Ultimate Reality in any way you see fit. But contrary to popular belief that definitely does not mean that we have no beliefs. Love is our doctrine. All else is merely commentary.
That is quite peculiar.
It is peculiar in the sense that it is odd for an organized, essentially-Christian religion to tell you that you have permission to think for yourself. Which ties into the second idea behind peculiarity, that we expressly belong to something. One might think it means we belong to the church. But that is, in a sense, incorrect. You do not belong to this church building. Even if you are a member.
What the peculiar doctrine of love teaches us, through our sources and principles, is that you recognize that you belong to yourself first. You are the epicenter of your experience. You are the conduit of positive energy and compassion. You are the engine of love on this planet. This peculiar doctrine of love teaches that you are not just allowed, but encouraged to seek your own truth in the safe company of other seekers, and take action as a group, an ekklesia, a church body. Through this we find we belong to one another in the same way we belong to ourselves. How peculiar.
When someone is a revolutionary, they have made themselves peculiar to two opposing groups of people at the same time. To one they have declared they belong, to the other they have declared themselves different. A revolutionary seeks, through one method or another, to facilitate change. A revolutionary makes it a calling to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, because they both belong to one and differ from the other. A revolutionary has a long neck which sticks out above the crowd yet still can hold their hands.
We have had many such peculiar people in human history. People who have dragged our civilization out of the dark ages and prepared it for the dangerous time to come—which happens to be now—when we would be able to really see what everyone is up to behind closed doors. The keyhole has been enlarged by their action. And we are seeing through it more clearly than ever before. It is the peculiar people who have prepared us for the great shift we are experiencing at this very moment. Thanks be to them all. Especially those with inconvenient truths, for those are the ones we need to hear the most.
Being peculiar requires a tremendous amount of courage, fortitude and above all, willingness, to not just recognize the need for change, not just to know how to make that change happen, but the bravery to set that change in motion. The bravery to risk martyrdom for the sake of those to whom you belong; to whom you are most peculiar.
Let’s now list some peculiar people through the ages whose names may not all be familiar all to us, but for whose courage, our society now stands a chance of surviving the next age. Trust that they have prepared us well; to see truth, to sense lies, to insist upon integrity and design systems meant to protect us from our darker impulses while still allowing enough freedom to fail. And learn. And grow.

[Note: the following are excerpted from’s August 18, 2017 article “25 Unbelievable People Who Changed the World” by  ( accessed January 2019)]

Charles Darwin - A renowned English naturalist, geologist, and biologist, Charles Darwin came up with a theory that made us rethink our place in the world. Know as evolution by natural selection, his idea that all species of life (including humans) have evolved from common ancestors shook the whole world. Darwin published his theory of evolution with compelling evidence in his revolutionary book On the Origin of Species in 1859.

Tim Berners-Lee - Born in 1955, Tim Berners-Lee is an English engineer and computer scientist, best known as the inventor of the World Wide Web. Sometimes also referred to as the “Father of the Internet,” Berners-Lee designed and built the first Web browser, editor, and server. These widely adopted technologies have changed the way information is created and consumed forever.

Gautama Buddha - Gautama Buddha—also known as Siddhartha Gautama—was a spiritual leader on whose teachings Buddhism was founded. Buddha was born as a prince into luxury in the 6th century BC. However, when he grew up, he embarked on a journey of self-discovery. Through Buddhism, he has influenced lives of millions people all over the world.

Rosa Parks - Also known as “the first lady of civil rights” and “the mother of the freedom movement,” Rosa Parks was a pioneer of civil rights in a racially segregated Alabama in 1950’s. In 1955, the African-American civil rights activist refused to give away her seat to a white passenger on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, thereby, disobeying the bus driver’s orders. Her rebellious act triggered what later became known as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, one of the key events in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Albert Einstein - Albert Einstein is generally considered one the most respected and influential scientists of all time. Throughout his life, he devised a number of interesting and revolutionary concepts, ideas, and theories. It was his Theory of Relativity, however, that made him one of the greatest historical figures to change the world. Even now, a century later, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity is still reshaping how the modern scientific community thinks as they search for a grand Theory of Everything.

Leonardo da Vinci - This Italian Renaissance genius mastered many things during his lifetime, from sculpture and painting to architecture, music, mathematics, and anatomy to engineering and more. Considered one of the most diversely talented men who have ever lived on Earth, da Vinci is also credited with numerous revolutionary inventions including the parachute, helicopter, tank, and scissors.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. - One of the most influential figures of the 20th century, Martin Luther King Jr. is best known for his nonviolent campaign against racism (for which he received the 1964 Peace Prize). His vision of society in which race was not important in how people were treated has inspired millions all over the world. MLK Jr. also played a key role in the advancement of civil rights using nonviolent civil disobedience based on his Christian beliefs and Gandhi’s philosophy.

Abraham Lincoln - The 16th President of the US, Abraham Lincoln is known for many great things such as preserving the Union during the American Civil War, strengthening the federal government, and modernizing the American economy, but it was his anti-slavery efforts that earned him the reputation of a truly remarkable and inspirational historical figure. As a devoted emancipator of slaves, he created a legacy that endures.

Stephen Hawking - One of the most famous and respected modern scientists, Stephen Hawking has made a stunning contribution to the world of science (particularly to cosmology). What makes his credits even more impressive is the fact that he has been suffering from a rare, slow-progressing disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) that has left him completely paralyzed. Despite the horrible disease, Hawking is still continuing his research in order for us to better understand the world.

Tank Man - Also known as the Unknown Protester or Unknown Rebel, the Tank Man is the nickname of an unknown man who stood in front of a column of tanks to block their way after the Chinese military had brutally suppressed the Tiananmen Square Protests in June 1989. It is not known who the man was or what happened to him, but the photo of him has become an international and very powerful symbol of brave, non-violent resistance.

Muhammad - Born in 570 in Mecca (modern Saudi Arabia), Muhammad was the prophet and founder of the religion of Islam. He united Arabian nations into a single Muslim political entity and ensured that his teachings, practices, and the Quran formed the basis of Islamic religious belief. Muhammad had few early followers, but he managed to make most of the Arabian Peninsula convert to Islam before his death in 632. Islam has expanded immensely over the centuries and now is the second largest religion in the world with over 1.8 billion followers.

The 14th Dalai Lama - The winner of the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, the 14th Dalai Lama is known for his Buddhist peace philosophy based on reverence for all living things and the idea of a universal responsibility that embraces both man and nature. The current Tibetan leader has been always willing to compromise and seek reconciliation despite brutal violations. He has also been a keen supporter of women’s rights, inter-faith dialogues, and environmentalism to name a few things.

Princess Diana - Nicknamed “The People’s Princess,” Princess Diana won hearts of millions of people all over the world through her hard charity work. She devoted much of her short life (she died in a car accident at the age of just 36) to helping poor people in developing countries. A leader of a Nobel Peace Prize-winning campaign to ban landmines, Princess Diana was involved with dozens of charities and non-profit organizations including the London’s Great Ormond Street Hospital, The Red Cross, and AIDS research.

Nelson Mandela - The South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, politician, philanthropist, and former President of South Africa (1994 to 1999), Nelson Mandela was truly a transformative force in the history of South Africa and the world. Despite having been imprisoned for almost 26 years, Mandela never lost faith in winning freedom for the South African people. His tireless work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime and democracy has inspired millions all over the world and earned him the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize.

Joan of Arc - Also known as the Maid of Orleans, Joan of Arc is the greatest heroine of French history and one of the most famous and inspirational female figures. Born as a poor farm girl in 1412, she believed she was chosen to lead France to victory in the Hundred Years’ War against England. She died before the end of the war (she was burned at the stake in 1431), but her courage and dedication (particularly during the Siege of Orleans) significantly boosted the morale of the French army and paved the way for the ultimate French victory.

Jesus of Nazareth - The central figure of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth has changed the world in so many ways that he is often considered the most influential and inspirational figure of all time. These days, over 2.4 billion Christians follow his ideas and teachings. Jesus’s compassion and universal concern for suffering, his humility, and forgiveness were in contrast with what was considered virtuous by most ancient civilizations of his time.

These courageous, innovative, insightful, compassionate, and yes, peculiar people along with millions of others just like them yet remain unsung, are the engine of human progress toward a future age of peace.
    May we be more like them. May we see our own special and peculiar light, and in seeing it, know exactly what to do with it.

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