Sunday, September 4, 2016: Love in a Time of Fear and Loathing

Prelude: Once to Every Man and Nation

Welcome: Thich Nhat Hanh (SLT 505)

Let us be at peace with our bodies and our minds. Let us return to ourselves and become wholly ourselves. Let us be aware of the source of being, common to us all and to all living things.

Evoking the presence of the Great Compassion, let us fill our hearts with our own compassion—towards ourselves and towards all living beings.

Let us pray that we ourselves cease to be the cause of suffering to each other.

With humility, with awareness of the existence of life, and of the suffering that are going on around us, let us practice the establishment of peace in our hearts and on earth.

 Chalice Lighting: The Gift of Love

Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,
Our spirits long to be made whole.
Let inward love guide every deed;
By this we worship, and are freed.

Song: Gathered Here (3 times)

Gathered here in the mystery of this hour.
Gathered here in one strong body.
Gathered here in the struggle and the power.
Spirit draw near.

We usually read the UU Principles in our services, but they are abstract, and this morning I would like us to read our covenant together, which is a more concrete call to action.

Our Covenant

Love is the doctrine of this church,
The quest of truth is our sacrament,
and service is our prayer.
To dwell together in peace,
To seek knowledge in freedom,
To serve others in community,
To the end that all souls shall grow

Into harmony with creation,
Thus we do covenant with one another.

Story: The Sky Maiden From the book, Who Needs God by Harold Kushner

Once upon a time there was a tribe that was greatly blessed. It owned cattle and lands that produced fruits and vegetables in great abundance. But over time, tribe members noticed that their lands and cows were producing less and less milk and food. They could not understand why. The harder they worked, the less was available.

One young warrior decided to find out what was happening. He thought that perhaps someone in the tribe was taking more than his share of food or that thieves from other tribes were stealing the food at night. So he stayed up all night day after day looking for the thief. Finally, one night he saw a wondrous sight. A beautiful young woman descended from the stars carrying several large baskets. She milked the cows, picked vegetables and fruits and filled all of the baskets to the brim. She then returned to the stars.

The warrior was entranced. So he set a trap for her and continued his vigil until she returned again. When she descended, he captured her. He asked what she was doing and where she had come from.

She said that she was a member of a tribe in the stars. She told him that they had little food of their own and so she came down to find food for her community. She asked him to release her and let her go home.

He agreed on the condition that she return and marry him. She promised to return in three days.

When she came back she was carry a large box. She told the young warrior that she would marry him, but he must promise never to look in the box.

For months the couple was very happy with one another. But, one day when his wife had left to gather food, the warrior’s curiosity got the best of him and he opened the box. He was amazed! There was nothing in it.

When the young woman returned, she soon realized that her husband was staring at her as though she was very, very strange. She gasped and turned pale. “You looked inside the box. I can’t stay here anymore.”

He replied, “That’s ridiculous. There is no reason for you to leave. There was nothing in the box.”

She said sadly, “I am sorry. Its not that you looked into the box. I expected you might grow curious. But, you see, I filled my box in the stars with everything that was important to me in my world: the air, the smells, the sights, the sounds, the tastes.”

“I can’t love you anymore now that I know that you find those treasures to be nothing.”

Offering and Response (Unison)

For the gifts which we have received—and the gifts which we, ourselves, are—may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.

The next song is one which we sang in the church I grew up in. Now I know that it was written by a Unitarian, James Russell Lowell, in protest of our Mexican war in 1848, in which we took Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California from Mexico, and which was started in part because American immigrants to Texas refused to obey Mexico’s anti-slavery laws.

Hymn: Once to Every Man and Nation (HCL 220)

Reading; from Democracy in America, Alexis DeTocqueville

“Egoism is a passionate and exaggerated love of self which leads a man to think of all things in terms of himself and to prefer himself to all. Individualism is a calm and considered feeling which disposes each citizen to isolate himself from the mass of his fellows and withdraw into the circle of family and friends; with this little society formed to his taste, he gladly leaves the greater society to look after itself. Egoism springs from blind instinct; individualism is based on misguided judgement rather than depraved feeling. It is due more to inadequate understanding than to perversity of heart. Egoism sterilizes the seeds of every virtue; individualism at first only dams the spring of public virtues, but in the long run it attacks and destroys all the others too and finally merges in egoism.”

Reading: The fluctuations of your heartbeat may affect your wisdom

Researchers have found that people with more varied heart rates were able to reason in a wiser, less biased fashion about societal problems when they were instructed to reflect on a social issue from a third-person perspective. The study suggests that heart rate variation and thinking process work together to enable wise reasoning about complex social issues. The work by Igor Grossmann, professor of psychology at Waterloo, and colleagues based at the Australian Catholic University, appears in the online journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience.

Their study breaks new ground in wisdom research by identifying conditions under which psychophysiology impacts wise judgment.

“Our research shows that wise reasoning is not exclusively a function of the mind and cognitive ability,” says Prof. Grossmann. “We found that people who have greater heart rate variability and who are able to think about social problems from a distanced viewpoint demonstrate a greater capacity for wise reasoning.”

The study extends previous work on cognitive underpinnings of wise judgment to include consideration how the heart’s functioning impacts the mind.

A growing consensus among philosophers and cognitive scientists defines wise judgment to include the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge, to be aware of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, to acknowledge others’ points of view, and to seek reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.

The new study is the first to show that the physiology of the heart, specifically the variability of heart rate during low physical activity, is related to less biased, wiser judgment.

Human heart rate tends to fluctuate, even during steady-state conditions, such as while a person is sitting. Heart rate variability refers to the variation in the time interval between heartbeats and is related to the nervous system’s control of organ functions.

The researchers found that people with more varied heart rates were able to reason in a wiser, less biased fashion about societal problems when they were instructed to reflect on a social issue from a third-person perspective. But, when the study’s participants were instructed to reason about the issue from a first-person perspective, no relationship between heart rate and wiser judgment emerged.

“We already knew that people with greater variation in their heart rate show superior performance in the brain’s executive functioning such as working memory,” says Prof. Grossmann. “However, that does not necessarily mean these people are wiser — in fact, some people may use their cognitive skills to make unwise decisions. To channel their cognitive abilities for wiser judgment, people with greater heart rate variability first need to overcome their egocentric viewpoints.”

Reading: Love Makes a Bridge, a blog post by UU Dan Patrick

Bridges are so easy and convenient to use. But, let’s imagine them not being there for a minute.

I grew up in a rural community that was bisected by a creek. It was a deep creek. To get to our half of the community, one had to cross a wooden bridge. The bridge wasn’t very long, but it was very old and the chasm very deep. Many times, I remember hearing my parents, one urging the other, to “hit the treads” as we crossed the bridge. Hitting the treads meant making sure that the tires of the car hit the two planks that ran across the old cross boards of the bridge. I remember with great relief when the county we lived in replaced that rickety bridge with a new, solid bridge. I remember how crossing that bridge moved from deep anxiety for me, every time, to something that I no longer thought about–because it was safe.

That event led me over the years to reflect on the incredible art of bridge building. Even a very small, short bridge like ours that spanned a rural creek could immediately seem like the longest, most impossible journey if it disappeared. The space from one side of the deep creek to the other might as well have been a thousand miles–without the bridge.

Without bridges our possibilities, our dreams, our hopes, our future can become the impossible thing.

I don’t pretend to know much about building literal bridges. I can imagine that where space and water are concerned, a foundation, something solid is required. Once the solid foundation is found, the structures that will suspend the bridge from one side of the chasm to the other will take shape.

Ethically and spiritually building bridges to span chasms of misunderstanding, doubt and fear between people also must require some solid foundation. In Unitarian Universalism, we call that solid foundation the inherent worth and dignity of all beings. When people on both sides of a chasm value the dignity of all beings, bridges are fairly easy to build. When they do not, that becomes the first challenge. Can we move each other toward this essential value: the dignity and worth of one another? When we are struggling to find that solid foundation, things feel scary and uncertain. Once those solid structures are in place supporting the dignity and worth of all beings, we forget that it was ever an issue. It’s something, however, that we should never forget.

Lesson: Love in a Time of Fear and Loathing – Lisa deGruyter

I hope this service today speaks to you in some helpful way. I had a lot of trouble putting it together, because it is not a service that I felt I had something to say on, but a service that I felt I needed to hear. I follow the blog of Andrew Brown, an English Unitarian minister, and last spring he posted a sermon in which he said “it seems to me that my initial, primary practical task is not precisely to persuade you to adopt my own religious naturalist philosophy and communalist politics but to make an invitation — in particular the invitation to observe, look at or consider something and to encourage you to develop your own philosophical and political responses to what you see. I tell you my responses not simply because I have them and think that, on balance they are right enough, but because it is important to show how the invitations to consider “this” and now “that” effect the only person I really know anything about, me.”

So this service is an amalgam of things that I think speak to or point out the difficulties I am having, a sort of exploration of some issues.

This time in American life feels worse than it has since I was a teenager in the 60s, and I don’t have much hope that things aren’t going to get worse before they get better. I started complaining last summer that it wasn’t fair for people who lived through the 60s to have to live through this too. Having lived through the 60s – and all the decades afterward – I think that we will come through this the better for it, that some things won’t get fixed, and that some of the solutions will cause different problems down the road. But knowing that you will get through something doesn’t really compensate for having to live through it. Knowing that you can doesn’t mean that it will be easy, or that you will know what to do as you work through. The 60s didn’t get really bad until after the LBJ Goldwater election, when we thought Goldwater was awful – but how much worse is Trump. Still to come were assassinations, riots, bombings, student protesters being shot down, on and on. Much progress was made, but much was unresolved, and some things made worse. No matter how we decide, the turmoil and the work is not going to end with this election. I hope we have made enough progress in the last 50 years that resolving our divisions and solving problems will not result in decades like the 60s and 70s, or another generation where some things don’t get resolved, or are made worse.

So here are a few of my thoughts on the story and readings from this morning.

I’ll start with the hymn. In the strife of truth with falsehood, and the “good or evil side”, obviously it is noble to choose the good side, regardless of the difficulty. The problem is, all sides think they are picking the good. Sincere and thoughtful people disagree about the right things to do, and which means justify which ends. My good is the evil of a large part of our society. There are those who think our current government and society is evil, and many or most of our choices going forward are evil.

From DeToqueville: “Egoism springs from blind instinct; individualism is based on misguided judgment rather than depraved feeling. Individualism is based on misguided judgment rather than depraved feeling. It is due more to inadequate understanding than to perversity of heart.”

I think much of what I see in our country, focused by the election and the Movement for Black Lives, is a reflection of what has gone on in our society from the beginning, and will continue after the election, no matter who is elected. It is about individualism – the loss of the idea of the collective, the respect and care for everybody, and valuing not what is best just for ourselves and those closest to us, but for everyone. DeToqueville says it is based on misguided judgment, but we are all, much of the time, attributing the Other’s thoughts, feelings, and positions to “depraved feeling” rather than to “misguided judgment” or “blind instinct”. We attribute evil motives to everyone, to our current government, to most candidates at every level, to police, to government workers, to our friends and neighbors who support candidates or policies we don’t agree with. We make cruel jokes and memes about their stupidity and their malice.

What saddens and distresses me most is that, not only do we have a Presidential candidate who is spouting racism, xenophobia, misogyny, fomenting violence, and advocating a philosophy if individualism, where the only goal is winning, and not even winning as a goal of excellence, but winning to humiliate the loser.

Not only is that candidate is speaking to the beliefs his supporters already held, and not just the white supremacists, but everyday people, our friends and relatives, who, while not white supremacists, believe implicitly that some people are better than others, not just because of their behavior, but that their behavior proves their inferiority, and their membership in some group or other – black people, poor people, immigrants, non-Christians, women, LGBT people also means they are inferior, no matter what their behavior.

Not only all that, but also, my friends who are liberals, and their friends, are also behaving as if some people are stupid, lazy, wicked, evil, and not deserving of dignity. They are feeling free to bash any candidate not their own first choice, and to call their supporters, stupid, immoral, and worse. Just as we all know people, friends and relatives, who think, as often say, we are stupid, immoral, and worse

Dan Patrick said “building bridges to span chasms of misunderstanding, doubt and fear between people also must require some solid foundation. In Unitarian Universalism, we call that solid foundation the inherent worth and dignity of all beings.”

And the piece on the heart rate and wisdom talked about the parts of wisdom: “the ability to recognize the limits of one’s knowledge, to be aware of the varied contexts of life and how they may unfold over time, to acknowledge others’ points of view, and to seek reconciliation of opposing viewpoints.”

Our covenant, which we read earlier, is one that has been used in many variations in Unitarian and Universalist congregations for over a hundred years. We often quote, “Love is the doctrine”, and my previous church in Austin often sang the first three lines as an opening song. But we don’t often remember the purpose of our covenant, down there at the bottom:

To the end that all souls shall grow into harmony with creation

Not just our covenanted community, the us here, but all souls. And the beginning of the covenant which are a restating of the components of wisdom – dwelling in peace, seeking knowledge, serving others in community, outlines, how we do that.

Love is not just a warm fuzzy feeling. Love is work. Love is hard. Love is seeing and acting upon the inherent worth and dignity of all souls. We often interpret recognizing inherent worth and dignity to be for those who are often not given it, but in a good way – the poor, oppressed, downtrodden, marginal in our society – but we also need to recognize inherent worth and dignity in everyone you think of as wrong or even evil – people who work only for their own ends, or even who hate and hurt.

And I think that is part of the work of love learning empathy for those who are hard to love and understand. Empathy means “feeling with” but to really feel with someone, we must understand what they are feeling, and understand what thinking makes them feel that way. The Sky Maiden said “I can’t love you anymore now that I know that you find those treasures to be nothing”. How can we have empathy and respect for others when we can’t even see what they treasure?

This week, another UU sermon, this one by Carl Gregg, popped up, called Becoming Wise. He talked about Krista Tippet, who was the Ware Lecturer at General Assembly this year. He says:

In my training to become a spiritual director, I was taught that one definition of spiritual direction is “listening someone into speech.” Have you ever experienced someone being so fully present to you — so deeply listening to you — that you found yourself articulating new insights about yourself and the world? When was the last time you set aside your own agenda — thinking about what you want to say next — to listen to someone else that deeply, to listen someone into speech?

Tippet describes her approach to interviewing as “generous listening.” What might we learn from Tippet about how we can listen more generously to sources of wisdom in our world? She writes:

Generous listening is powered by curiosity…. It involves a kind of vulnerability — a willingness to be surprised, to let go of assumptions and take in ambiguity. The listener wants to understand the humanity behind the words of the other, and patiently summons one’s own best self and one’s own best words and questions.

He also quotes Dietrich Bonhoeffer “The person who’s in love with their vision of community will destroy community. But the person who loves the people around them will create community everywhere they go.”

In the Ware lecture, Tippet said

…our cultural mode of debating issues by way of competing certainties comes with a drive to resolution. We want others to acknowledge that our answers are right. We call the debate or get on the same page or take a vote and move on.

The alternative involves a different orientation to the point of conversing in the first place. To invite searching, not on who is right or who is wrong and the arguments on every side. Not on whether we can even agree, but on what is at stake for all of us in human terms? In our age that is increasingly in important spaces, defined by division and disagreement, there must be value in learning to speak together honestly and relate to each other with dignity without insisting on a goal of achieving common ground that would leave all the hard questions hanging or leave us calling it a failure when common ground doesn’t happen.

I’m going to end with a long quote from Martin Luther King from 1967. I think he is talking about not speaking truth to power, but being power – not ruthless individualist power, but the power of bringing everyone into a community that listens and understands and honors what each person treasures.

Now a lot of us are preachers, and all of us have our moral convictions and concerns, and so often have problems with power. There is nothing wrong with power if power is used correctly. You see, what happened is that some of our philosophers got off base. And one of the great problems of history is that the concepts of love and power have usually been contrasted as opposites—polar opposites—so that love is identified with a resignation of power, and power with a denial of love.

It was this misinterpretation that caused Nietzsche, who was a philosopher of the will to power, to reject the Christian concept of love. It was this same misinterpretation which induced Christian theologians to reject the Nietzschean philosophy of the will to power in the name of the Christian idea of love. Now, we’ve got to get this thing right. What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic. Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice, and justice at its best is power correcting everything that stands against love. And this is what we must see as we move on. What has happened is that we have had it wrong and confused in our own country, and this has led Negro Americans in the past to seek their goals through power devoid of love and conscience.

This is leading a few extremists today to advocate for Negroes the same destructive and conscienceless power that they have justly abhorred in whites. It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.

Responsive Reading: A Network of Mutuality – Martin Luther King Jr. (SLT 540)

We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
There are some things in our social system to which all of us ought to be maladjusted
Hatred and bitterness can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that.
We must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression, and retaliation.
The foundation of such a method is love.
Before it is too late, we must narrow the gaping chasm between our proclamations of peace and our lowly deeds which precipitate and perpetuate war
One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek but a means by which we arrive at that goal.
We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.
We shall hew out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope.

Song: The Gift of Love – Cricket Hall

Joys and Sorrows

If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it; or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.
For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.

These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.

Silent Meditation

Song: Go Now In Peace (3 times)

Go now in peace, go now in peace
May our love and care surround you
Everywhere, everywhere, you may go

Closing: The Work Continues by Martha Kirby Capo
Our time together is finished, but our work is not yet done:
May our spirits be renewed and our purpose resolved
As we meet the challenges of the week to come.
The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.

The chalice has been extinguished. Go now in peace.