Lisa deGruyter, Lay Leader
Welcome before Prelude
Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I feel blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m especially glad to have all of you here today.
Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.
Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.
Let go of the expectations placed on you by others—and those they taught you to place on yourself.
Drop the guilt and the shame, not to shirk accountability, but in honest expectation of the possibility of forgiveness.
Let go of the thing you said the other day. Let go of the thing you dread next week. Be here, in this moment. Breathe, here.
God Is A River- Peter Mayer
The world is holy. Nature is holy. The body is holy. Sexuality is holy. The imagination is holy. Divinity is immanent in nature; it is within you as well as without. Most spiritual paths ultimately lead people to the understanding of their own connection to the divine. While human beings are often cut off from experiencing the deep and ever-present connection between themselves and the universe, that connection can often be regained through ceremony and community. The energy you put out into the world comes back.
― Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America
Gathered Here (3 Times)
Gathered here in the mystery of the hour.
Gathered here in one strong body.
Gathered here in the struggle and the power.
Spirit draw near.
Drawn Together – Jennifer Leota Gray
We come together every week bound not by a creed,
Or a mutual desire to please one God or many Gods
Yet we are drawn together by a belief, that how we are in the world,
who we are together, matters.
We light this chalice, together in the knowledge
That love, not fear, can change this world
Principles of Unitarian Universalism
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles:
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.
Utah Phillips on Anarchism
This is part of an interview with Utah Phillips, who was a Wobblie – a member of the International Workers of the World – and a protest singer-songwriter, about why he became an anarchist, and wrote his spoken piece, I Will Not Obey, which we will hear next.
I Will Not Obey
Epitaph of Seikilos – Petros Tabouris Ensemble
Since we cannot take up a collection, let us use the time during the offertory to contemplate how we can use out time and talents during the next week for this community and our larger society.
While you live, shine,
Have no grief at all;
Life exists only for a short while,
And Time demands its toll.
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.
Reading: excerpt from
“A passionately cool political/theological meditation on Robert Frost’s poem “Fire and Ice” by Rev. Andrew Brown
…at the same time as the fires continue burning and we are all begin to realise (à la “Game of Thrones”) that “winter is coming”, I find myself looking at the current British and international news and seeing everywhere all kinds of disturbing, highly destructive and increasingly violent behaviours and power struggles breaking out that are clearly rooted either in fire (i.e. in passionate, but wholly unreflective and uncritical commitment to certain wholly unproven beliefs/prejudices) or ice (i.e. in the use of cold reason knowingly to encourage, in oneself or in others, fraudulent practices of deception for the purposes of gaining unrestricted political and financial power)
In a world the human inhabitants of which are currently being polarised into either the fiery or the ice-bound there often seems no longer to be any point in adopting a more temperate approach. After all, at the moment, those of us who do try to make temperate points in the public space often quickly find their arguments (and nearly always themselves) simultaneously attacked by the fiery from one side and the ice-bound from the other. It can be — indeed, it often is — highly dispiriting. So, what on earth are those of us with a more temperate spirit to do?
The Courage to Be Disliked
My services come from whatever I, myself, have been thinking and needing, and while I use ideas that I have been thinking about and gathering over months, and put together the music and readings over the course of a week or two, I almost always write what I am going to say on Saturday, because you never know what is going to happen, and because I hope that I am always speaking as much from my heart as from my head – both the fiery and the ice-bound – and I can’t speak from the heart something I had felt days before. I also try to keep in the spirit of the quote on the screen – “These studies are outcomes rather than realised objectives. In making the journey, I have no aims. These studies are intellectual footprints, not blueprints” I have no truth, but only the outcomes from my studies, which may be of some use in your own search. I can lead you through a shared experience of some ritual, music, and words that affirm our principles and build our common experience, and I can share how what I have been thinking and my own perplexities. So – that is one way I live three of our principles –
- Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
- A free and responsible search for truth and meaning; and
- The right of conscience
The reading from Andrew Brown was from his weekly letter to his congregation which replaced his sermons when they were no longer meeting in person. I use it here because I have been feeling that way for some years, maybe most of my life, but particularly now – “what on earth are those of us with a more temperate spirit to do?”
Yesterday I posted a quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg “Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you.” She was an incrementalist, an often-maligned label, who believed you start where you are, work the system, step by step.
I’ve also been rereading Saul Alinsky who was also an incrementalist, and who who believed deeply in only one thing – he said
Believing in people, the radical has the job of organizing them so that they will have the power and opportunity to best meet each unforeseeable future crisis as they move ahead in their eternal search for those values of equality, justice, freedom, peace, a deep concern for the preciousness of human life, and all those rights and values propounded by Judaeo-Christianity and the democratic political position. This is my credo for which I live and if need be, die.
And that, of course, is the rest of our 4th principle “and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large”
So, that is part of living our principles. Something I have been thinking about also lately is how I believe our first principle, the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, an antidote to what I think I am seeing as an underlying problem in our culture, as expressed in a T-shirt I saw the other day “Calvinism #somelivesmatter”. I think we sometimes take that principle for granted and believe that is must be a principle that is taken for granted by every religion. But it isn’t. Our society, Christian and the secular civil society derived from it really tends to hold the Calvinist belief (and a belief in many other cultures) is that some are saved, some are not, that some lives are more worthy than others. and that it is right and natural for some to be treated better than others. It is a problem that encompasses racism, sexism, capitalism as we know it, many other biases, and how we relate to other people and our communities in general. But just preaching love, which is what we tend to do, without laying out specifics of what love and honoring inherent worth means in terms of particular situations (not labeling or calling out racism, for instance, but saying – I think that doing x in this situation is a problem because … and y would be better for everyone.)
So what I have been trying to do is respond every time I see that expressed and counter it with my belief. Sometimes, on Facebook, in a comment, sometimes by doing my own post with a counter view. Not arguing or criticizing, but speaking up. Not advocating for a candidate, just saying – “x” action is dangerous, “y” would be better; I can’t believe in “x”, I believe “y”; this is happening and it’s wrong and here is why. Not that I am always great at it. I have seen, over the last 5 years (starting with the previous presidential campaign), many people I know who agree with me but who had been afraid to speak up, starting to speak up. In PMs and then in their posts and comments. And, if you are still at work, doing that in work situations. People do what the people around them do, by and large. And learn to think differently, if they hear what other people think. We need to fight, as Ginsburg said, but do it in a way that helps them to think about it and agree, not be confronting them.
But – doing that consistently is really hard, and to do it well means that we have to be in a place in our lives, our hearts, our heads, that will guide us and sustain us. For months now I have been seeing people advocating self-care, in memes, in posts, in sermons and self-help articles. Most of those have been reminding people not to try to do too much, to indulge themselves in various ways. Sometimes it is mentioned that we should not try to live up to other people’s expectations, and I’d like us to consider that in a different way.
A book that have I have just reread for the third time since last fall is The Courage to Be Disliked by Ichiro Kashimi (you were all wondering whether I would ever get around to the topic, right?) It is a hard book to summarize, because it is a Socratic dialog between a Japanese philosopher and a young man, about Alfred Adler’s psychology. Adler didn’t write much, either, so there are no handy summaries. Much of what he believed has been incorporated into modern psychology, like Albert Ellis’s rational emotive behavioral therapy, and I think it also shares ideas with Buddhism. I think it is one way of thinking that allows us to be free from a lot of desires that the Buddha said caused our suffering, and can be useful in getting to a place where we can deal with the present multiple crises in our world. I’m going to talk a bit of how his thought might help us in these times.
People can change, and more than that, everyone can be happy, immediately, they only need to find the courage to do so – and know the steps they need to take
- Deny trauma
- All problems are personal relationship problems
- Discard other people’s tasks
- Where the center of the world is
- Live in earnest in the here and now
A key point, and the basis of Adler’s psychology, is that trauma does not exist – Adler says “No experience is a cause of success or failure. We do not suffer from the shock of our experiences, so-called trauma – but we make out of them just what suits our purposes.”
Adler says that being happy does not depend on our current situation or our history. Many of us may have the idea from Freud, that our experiences are the cause of our current actions. So therapy focuses on exploring what has happened to us and how we feel about it. On the other hand, Adler says that our purposes – our goals – are the cause, that “People are not driven by past causes, but move toward goals they themselves set.” We can’t change the past, but we can change how we think about it, especially our idea that it determines who we are and what we do. For example, if we go to the doctor because we are sick, just having it diagnosed, and having the cause, isn’t enough. Being told that it wasn’t our fault wouldn’t be enough, either, but that is what most therapy, and pop culture, tells us.
I think this is akin to the Buddhist concept that pain is unavoidable, but that suffering is caused by our desire to get pleasure, to avoid pain, and to agonize over not being able to get what we want or getting what we don’t want.
It’s all about the rut we get stuck in when we think that, because of where we are, where we have been, and what other people do, we think of ourselves as not able to get anywhere. And it is about taking responsibility for ourselves – because in the end, the only thing we can change is ourselves.
An example that Kashimi gives of how we manufacture trauma and emotion is getting angry at a waiter and yelling. We may say that what the waiter did was the cause of our trauma and anger, and that the anger was spontaneous, uncontrollable, justified. Kashimi says that we used the anger for a goal, and yelled at the waiter because we wanted to, to gain power, control over the waiter.
All problems are personal relationship problems
Discard other people’s tasks
Similarly, we manufacture all kinds of emotions to avoid working on our life tasks. Adler says that our problems in life come from avoiding our life tasks, which all involve interpersonal relationships – and those life tasks are work, friendship, and love. We may, for example, think that we can’t do a good job because we have an awful boss keeping it from us. And, the title of the book comes from the idea that we need recognition from others. Adler says that we cannot be free until we stop thinking that we need recognition – that as long as we think we do, that we shouldn’t be disliked, we are not living our own life, and doing our own tasks, but are living someone else’s idea of what our life should be. And, of course, since we have many interpersonal relationships, we cannot live in a way that will please everyone in those relationships.
So, a key way to live is to separate our tasks from everyone else’s, to not allow other people to do ours, and to avoid doing other people’s tasks for them. Or telling them how to do them, or even that they should be doing them. What we should be doing is doing our task, and being sure that other people know we are willing to help them if they need a hand.
Where the center of the world is
And that also implies that we are in peer relationships, not hierarchical ones, with everyone. Even in boss-worker or parent-child relationships, each person has their own tasks, with their own consequences, and are not responsible for making the other person do their task, or doing it for them. And we are not in competition with anyone, for recognition, or to do a task better than them, only to do our best with our own tasks. The ideas of inferiority complexes and superiority complexes were Adler’s. We all know about them, but we aren’t usually taught how to avoid them or get out of them. His solution is that the goal of interpersonal relationships is a feeling of community, and that we learn to regard everyone as comrades, not competitors, and not judge ourselves by others’ accomplishments but only strive to do better ourselves.
One fairly simple rule that he advocates to do this is “Do not rebuke or praise”.
He also says something that I think is if particular use right now –
“Choose freedom – listen to the voice of the larger community – do not cling to the small community right in front of yourself”
Live in earnest in the here and now
So, to sum up, Adler’s view is that to live well, we need to find ways to be of use without needing recognition; to feel others are our comrades, not enemies or competitors, not above or below us, walking side by side, or behind or in front, but on the same level; to do useful work for its own sake, not paying attention to bosses or demands and expectations from others; to have friends who are comrades, to have loving relationships with a partner, parents, children.
Theses are challenging times, and I think we can live better through them if we try to look at our lives from Adler’s perspective. I see many of us struggling with our ideas of how the world should be, our place in it, and exhaustion and despair. As I said, I’ve also been rereading Alinsky, and one of his rules for radicals is to choose tactics the people enjoy. If we approach our life now as competitors struggling with an enemy, whether it be the pandemic or the politics, we will be exhausted, and if we think that the situation determines our actions, we will despair.
We have all lost much that we would rather have, and we all fear losing more. But we can’t cling to those things. I would say, rather
Don’t lament what you can’t have – look at the challenge of finding how you can solve the problem.
Don’t tell people what they shouldn’t do or lament that – share your solutions and offer your help, but don’t try to make them do them, and don’t lament that they won’t.
Take this time to examine what your own goals are, and correct them if you find they are to avoid relationships or life tasks, and own and do your own life tasks. Try to operate from a place of joy in being useful, of comradeship and companionship with others, of the challenge of solving problems – not competing, not seeing others as competitors or enemies, not scolding, shaming, bossing, telling people how to do their own tasks. Most of all, don’t get into to power struggles – learn to see when people, or yourself, are using emotions to gain power, and give up that fight.
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.
~ John O’Donohue
For one who is exhausted, a blessing –
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken for the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
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
From the murmur and subtlety of suspicion with which we vex one another, give us rest.
Make a new beginning, and mingle again the kindred of the nations in the alchemy of love;
And with some finer essence of forbearance temper our minds.
The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.
Go now in peace.