Sunday, May 14, 2017: Hypocrite!

Empress with two faces

Prelude: Deportee – Cisco Houston

Welcome: To learn more about being human – Erika A. Hewitt

Welcome to this morning, this day, and this opportunity to be together in community — which is a time of joy, comfort, and sometimes challenges. This Unitarian Universalist congregation is a place where we come to learn more about being human. We’re not here because we’ve figured out life’s questions, or because we think we’ve got it right, or even because we think we know what the questions are.

We come here to learn more about being in relationship together: how to listen, how to forgive, how to be vulnerable, and how to create trust and compassion in one another.

Let us move into worship, willing to be authentic with each other, honest within ourselves, and opening to connection in all its forms.

Come, let us worship together.

Chalice lighting: Embrace the Night – Jennifer Leota Gray

Universal mystery,
Guide us away from the desire to
Shine light in all the corners.
Teach us to embrace the night,
For without the darkness,
We never see the stars.

Song: Gathered Here (3 times)
Please rise in body or in spirit and join in singing Gathered Here, three 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.

Principles of Unitarian Universalism
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles, which we hold as strong values and moral guides:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Song: The People’s Peace
Hymns for the Celebration of Life, 179

Story for All: A Dean and a Magician – Juan Manuel
From: A Medieval Storybook, selected and edited by Morris Bishop

Offering and Response (Unison)

Offertory: Die Gedanken sind Frei — Pete Seeger

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.

Lesson: Hypocrite: Living our Principles
Robert Helfer

Good morning. Today, as I’m sure all of you know, is the second Sunday in May — Mothers Day in the United States — and I’d like to wish every mother and every child of a mother a fine day for celebration.

When I was a child, Mothers Day was one of those special spring occasions, raised above all ordinary days, raised above all Sundays in general. The week or so previous was given to preparation. We made cards and picked flowers, and my father made sure we had an appropriate gift to give. Lilies-of-the-valley were usually blooming in our yard, and, if they were, my father would pick a small bouquet. I remember being thoroughly cleaned up and attired in my finest Sunday suit (my only suit, actually), waiting, not very patiently, for parents to be ready (why did they always take so long? surely they knew I’d just get dirty from waiting), then being whisked into the car for a trip to one of those very special restaurants – frequently Maxson’s Manor, on the banks of the Rock River – for a special dinner. When the day was bright and sunny it was a lovely place to be. As children we played on the groomed lawn between the restaurant and the river and our parents walked about the lawn and gazed at the statue of “Blackhawk” while we waited to be seated – it was a popular place and there was usually a crowd. I can’t imagine that Mothers Day was any less work or any less stressful for my mother than any other day, but I think all the fuss did make her feel appreciated.

But today I’m thinking about one specific Mothers Day, when my mother was 77 years old, the spring before she died. The second year after my father died we persuaded my mother to come to us in Texas for Christmas. I was afraid that she was suffering from depression and I was concerned about her health; I didn’t realize at the time how sick she was. How all this came about is too long a story to tell here, but in short we didn’t let her go back to Florida and in January we put her in a nursing home near our house in Austin after it became clear that she couldn’t stay alone in the house when we were at work. We took her on frequent excursions and to church each Sunday, except for those days she was too sick to go anywhere or was in the hospital. But on Mothers Day that year she seemed strong enough and well enough, and Lisa and the kids and I accompanied my mother to church, dressed up and corsaged in proper Mothers Day fashion.

The service was pretty forgettable until the sermon began, at which point the minister proceeded to level a stinging criticism of anyone who might be inclined to commemorate Mothers Day by dressing mother up and giving her a corsage. I don’t now remember the specific words, but I do remember that the corsage was mentioned, and I do remember that I felt very uncomfortable during the sermon. I glanced furtively around the room, trying to assess the level of my guilt.

I don’t believe the minister actually directed these words at me, but I felt like he was looking directly at me as he spoke, and it wasn’t the first time I’d been scolded from the pulpit in that church. I wondered how much my mother followed what was being said, and hoped it wouldn’t spoil the occasion for her.

Now the burden of that Mothers Day sermon was hypocrisy, particularly the hypocrisy of those who would make a big deal of Mothers Day. And that brings us around to what I wanted to talk about this Sunday.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties the world seemed on the verge of major changes. Young people all over the world, or at least all over the US and Europe, seemed to be moving toward a more open society. The Hippies were flamboyantly ignoring social limitations, choosing to live as they saw fit rather than trying to fit into existing norms. Racial segregation was under attack, and young people were actively fighting it, many of them risking their lives in the process. An unpopular war was growing more unpopular, and young people were defying authority trying to end it. And our elders – our parents and our friends’ parents – who seemed to be trying to maintain the world they had inherited, were seen as hypocrites. To us it seemed all too clear that instead of supporting these movements, instead of listening to their consciences, instead of following Jesus’ teachings, to which they only paid “lip service”, our elders were defending a blighted past. Bob Dylan sang that “the times they are a’changin’”, and they were standing, hypocritically, in the way. I came of age in this world, and it wrote its legacy clearly all over me.

Well, that era isn’t really the point I intended to make. If you’re interested, you can easily learn all about what happened in the ‘60s, viewed from many perspectives. My point here is rather what I learned about people from watching, and hearing, and participating in what went on, and how that word, “hypocrite”, applies.

I have observed that “hypocrite” is a popular word, used frequently. There are a lot of quotations about hypocrites and hypocrisy floating around out there:

  • “The hypocrite takes good advice as an insult” (Nouman Ali Khan)
  • “A man who moralizes is a hypocrite, and a woman who does so is invariably plain” (Oscar Wilde)
  • “A humanitarian is always a hypocrite” (George Orwell)

Those all sound a bit bleak. Clearly hypocrite means something bad.

My own experience over the years suggests that “hypocrite” as often as not means simply “a person who acts according to different beliefs than I think I do – or than I think other people ought to act”. When I was young we called our elders hypocrites at least partly because they supported the status quo, which by definition was something at least a bit evil.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines hypocrite as:

1. a person who puts on a false appearance of virtue or religion
2. a person who acts in contradiction to his or her stated beliefs or feelings

That sounds simple enough. Does it sound familiar? That second definition could easily be seen to include some of my own actions. I don’t always act according to what I claim to believe. Does it make me a hypocrite when I try to ignore the beggar who approaches me for a handout, despite my desire to acknowledge “the inherent worth and dignity of every person”?

Maybe what I’m trying to talk about should be phrased: What do we mean when we say that we ”live our principles?” What actions does that imply, what actions does that reject?

Well, clearly I’ve bitten off more than I can chew with that one. I’ve thought about this a long time, and I’ve spoken about some of these thoughts in the past. But my thoughts are still far too disorganized to make any general sense. And this isn’t really the time to ramble on about each Principle. So I’ll back up a bit.

Among those quotations I’ve found is this one that seems to reflect my feelings about this whole topic:

  • “Everybody is a hypocrite. You can’t live on this planet without being a hypocrite.” (Paul Watson)

If that Merriam-Webster’s second definition is correct, then I think this statement has to apply to most of us. I know it applies to me.

Or perhaps we can take some comfort in William Hazlitt’s 1828 definition:

“He is a hypocrite who professes what he does not believe; not he who does not practice all he wishes or approves. It might on the same ground be argued, that a man is a hypocrite who admires Raphael or Shakespear, because he cannot paint like the one, or write like the other. If any one really despised what he affected outwardly to admire, this would be hypocrisy. If he affected to admire it a great deal more than he really did, this would be cant. Sincerity has to do with the connexion between our words and thoughts, and not between our belief and actions. The last constantly belie the strongest convictions and resolutions in the best of men; it is only the base and dishonest who give themselves credit with their tongue, for sentiments and opinions which in their hearts they disown. “

I certainly won’t claim that there are no hypocrites in Hazlitt’s sense, but I will claim that they are relatively few.

But perhaps we shouldn’t let Hazlitt get us off the hook. If we assume a strict adherence to the dictionary definition, I don’t think we can escape realizing that we all are – well, I at least am – hypocrites to at least some degree.

As David Guterson commented:

  • I’m a hypocrite, of course, and I live with that, but I live.” (David Guterson)

May we all find the strength to keep our hypocrisies small, the courage to admit our own failings, and the faith to forgive hypocrisy in ourselves and others.

Music: Lean on Me – Bill Withers

Joys and Sorrows
(Please save announcements and comments until the end of the service)

By custom in our community, each person may chose to tie a ribbon to our “Tree of Life” to represent that person’s joy or sorrow, whether it was spoken or left unspoken. An additional ribbon is also tied to the Tree each Sunday to represent all unspoken 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.

Litany: A Place to Forgive and to Be Forgiven – Cathy Cartwright-Chow

For those we have hurt in any way, whether through words or deed or thoughts.
Here is a place to forgive and to be forgiven.

For the excuses we have made, just to be right.
Here is a place to forgive and to be forgiven.

For the blame we have placed on someone else, again and again.
Here is a place to forgive and to be forgiven.

For passing up the opportunity to help because we were afraid.
Here is a place to forgive and to be forgiven.

For hiding the truth from someone.
Here is a place to forgive and to be forgiven.

For working beyond the anger and resentment.
Here is a place to forgive and to be forgiven.

For the times I have not felt heard.
Here is a place to forgive and to be forgiven.

Forgiveness is never easy, whether for yourself or someone else.
Here is a place to forgive and to be forgiven.

Silent Meditation
Let us join our hearts and minds in silent meditation

Song: Go Now In Peace (3 times)
Please rise in body or in spirit and join in singing Go Now in Peace, three times.

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

Closing: As we part now one from another – Eileen B Karpeles

As we part now one from another, let these be our thoughts:

If that which is most holy lies within the human person, and if the greatest power in the world shines flickering and uncertain from each individual heart, then it is easy to see the value of human associations dedicated to nurturing that light: the couple, the family, the religious community.

For the power of good in any one of us must at times waver. But when a group together is dedicated to nurturing the power of good, it is rare for the light to grow dim in all individuals at the same moment.

So we borrow courage and wisdom from one another, to warm us and keep us until we’re together again.

The chalice is now extinguished.
Go now in peace.

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