Sunday, November 15, 2020: The Hardest Principle?

The Principles are not dogma or doctrine, but rather a guide for those of us who choose to join and participate in Unitarian Universalist religious communities.

— Rev. Barbara Wells ten Hove

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert Helfer and I feel blessed to serve this congregation as a lay leader. I’m glad to see all of you here today.

Thank you for joining us.

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.

Prelude: Breathe in, breathe out, Peter Mayer

Welcome: All of us are welcome here; all of us are loved, Erika A. Hewitt

Good Morning, and Welcome!

Some of us are bringing our best selves to this space, and some of us are bringing our struggling selves, including pieces we might be ashamed of. All of us are welcome here, and all of us are loved.

Some of us already have open hearts; and some of us aren’t quite there yet, because our hearts have gotten a little beat up this week and might’ve forgotten how to trust and open. Your heart is welcome here, no matter how bruised. We welcome you among us.

All of us are imperfect, but we’re here to drop our defenses and trust that what happens in worship is powerful and life-giving. Together, we affirm that this day—and our being together—can make each of us braver, more compassionate, and wiser than when we woke up this morning.

We welcome you here.


Please rise in body or spirit and join in singing “Come, Come, Whoever You Are”
(Singing the Living Tradition, 188)

Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again come

Chalice lighting: Sacred Unknowing. Amy Carol Webb

We light this flame
For the art of sacred unknowing.
Humbled by all that we cannot fathom in this time,
We come into the presence of what we do know,
Perhaps the only thing we can ever know:
That Love is now and forever
The only answer to everything
And everyone
In every moment.

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.

Story for All Ages: Thanksgiving 1986

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us. Like so many events of 2020, it is likely to be different from how it has been in previous years. Large gatherings of family and friends are not going to happen in the ways they did in the past. And so, I’d like to offer a little story about the first year Lisa and I celebrated Thanksgiving without family.

Thanksgiving 1986


Épitaphe 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.

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.

Song: Holy Now – Peter Mayer

Reading: “Paradoxical Commandments”, by Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you’ll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

Reading: from Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami

And once the storm is over
You won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive.
You won’t even be sure, in fact, that the storm is over.
But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm,
You won’t be the same person who walked in.
That’s what this storm is all about.

Lesson: The Hardest Principle?
Robert Helfer, Lay Leader

This time of the year, as our drift toward the holiday season of Winter Solstice, Christmas, and New Year, seems to increase in speed, always seems to me as if we’re in the midst of significant events of our history and our current lives. Many of these events have special place in our religious history.

27 October, nearly three weeks ago, was the anniversary of the death by fire in 1553 of Michael Servetus, burned to death on John Calvin’s command in the market square of Geneva, Switzerland.

Two weeks ago, 31 October, we saw Reformation Day (also known as Halloween), marking the day in 1517 that Martin Luther is said to have launched the Protestant Reformation by nailing his Ninety-five Theses to the door of All Saints’ Church in Wittenberg, Saxony. This year it was also the day of the full moon, the second within the month of October and thus called a “Blue Moon”.

Earlier this week was Veteran’s Day, which, conservative contrarian that I am, I insist on calling Armistice Day because it marks the day in 1918 when the guns fell silent and war ended, if only for a short time. A holiday commemorating peace instead of war and warriors – surely we could have such a thing.

Two days ago was Friday the 13th,, a date with no real significance except that it seems to increase anxiety among some people – like we need more anxiety right now.

And today, 15 November, is the anniversary of the death in 1579 of Francis David, first bishop of the Transylvanian Unitarian church, in the dungeon of Deva Castle where he was imprisoned for religious innovation. Or perhaps he died on the 7th – the records are a little unclear.

And did I mention this year’s tropical storms? We don’t usually have to use Greek letters to name them. And the pandemic, which just keeps going on and on, charged, I believe, by human error and hubris.

Fittingly, our country is currently in the throes of political distress, as the current President of the United States refuses to acknowledge his political loss in the most recent election, disrupting the traditional transfer of powers.

If I believed in portents and omens, I’d say that this year, this part of it at least, was destined to be a time of turmoil.

But that’s not actually what I wanted to talk about. I actually wanted to talk about healing – and I think we will have a lot of healing to do when we get through all this.

And part of that healing, I think, can come through affirming, that is to say Living, our First Principle, “The inherent worth and dignity of every person”.

I have named this lesson “The Hardest Principle?” because over the years some Unitarian Universalists whom I have known or whose comments I have read have indicated that it is difficult for them to accept. When I was first using Facebook I began encountering posts by people saying that of all the principles, they “had the hardest time following the first principle”. Some rejected it entirely, either saying that it did not belong among the Principles or that they themselves could never be fully Unitarian Universalists because of it.

So, before getting into the problems of the First Principle, I’d like to pause for a moment to discuss the Principles themselves.

As we all know, there are seven Principles. Originally there were Six Principles, approved as the Unitarian and Universalist denominations consolidated in 1961. The UUA revised and adapted these, adopting them as the current Seven Principles in 1985. The new Principles don’t look quite like the old six, but they share the original sentiments.

These were never intended to be either dogma or doctrine; one does not have to subscribe to the Principles in order to be a Unitarian Universalist. But we are all encouraged to use them as a guide for how we live our lives.

But what does it mean to “affirm and promote” the inherent worth and dignity of every person?

Does it mean that we must always accept anyone who comes to the door (well, figuratively at least)? This morning, we sang together “come, come whoever you are”. It sounds like that’s what we meant. And surely we do mean it for people who have been pushed to the margins of society – people with physical or mental disabilities, And people who are like us (I’m not going to try to define “like” in this case; it will vary with situations).

But there’s something beyond that. We seek other seekers. We seek those who, like us, are open to a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

But being a seeker doesn’t automatically make a person “good”, or good for our community. What of people who are dangerous to our community? People who pose a threat to vulnerable friends, especially those who are part of our congregation in some way? Do we open our door to them?

But if we do not, then our opening song is a lie. Of course, it’s not just our song. The song is intended to express something about us, about our beliefs. But if it’s a lie we should stop saying it, stop saying that we’re open to all new people, anyone who is searching for truth, or make it clear which people we want to welcome here.

I have read comments recently saying that allowing wolves to join with sheep means, ultimately, that there will be only wolves. The basic notion is clear. We must restrict our membership to those who will protect, or at least those who will not harm. But how do we know who those people are?

I understand that President-elect Biden is planning to appoint a woman as Secretary of Defense. And the reaction I see is outrage. Not from the conservatives, upset that a woman might reach is level of authority, but from progressives who don’t want a woman to be tainted by association with the evils of war. A few years ago the author J.K. Rowling was cheered as a hero for her progressive actions – donating most of her fortune to charity and revealing that one of her most beloved characters is gay, among other things. Then she made a comment that made the whole progressive world angry and ever since she’s been a villain and pariah. It’s hard to keep track, because no one is universally and always perfect.

Maybe we need to screen everyone who comes to the door? (Yeah, I know, we aren’t likely to have this problem when so few ever come to our door.)

The real problem for me is that rejecting the first Principle means rejecting Universalism, rejecting the possibility of redemption, for us as well as for those whom we find to be “evil”.

Now the people I mentioned earlier who said they had problems with the First Principle were talking mostly about people they deemed evil or dangerous. Hitler comes to mind. Did Hitler have inherent worth and dignity? Stalin? How about their followers, who unquestioningly obeyed orders to exterminate thousands of people? How about those extremists in our current society who proudly announce that they will kill anyone whose political views are different from theirs? In short, do people who are “evil” or dangerous have inherent worth? These are the same questions that have challenged universalism since the beginning.

I know there are times when I think that universalism robs me of the emotional release of believing that my enemies will burn forever in Hell. Or at least be punished in some clear and definitive (and perhaps painful) way. Of course, it doesn’t work that way, and I do think that the universalist way of thinking is the most likely path to healing that we all need after the brutality and disappointment of the past four or five years.

I call the little homilies or whatever in my services “lessons”. That’s not because I think I’m teaching anyone else something, but because they are part of my own lessons, my explorations into my own beliefs and their sources. And I hope that if I have learned something along the way I can share it with others. So, the lessons don’t always (or even often) turn out the way I expected. And at the end I always realize that I’ve left out something important or made a factual error.

When I started playing with today’s topic I thought I could see the direction it would take. But as I muddled through the various pieces of the service – exploring various sources, searching out references that I’ve seen in the past but haven’t bothered to bookmark, selecting music, selecting readings, outlining what I wanted to say – what I wanted to say became less clear. And so, I’d like to ask for a bit of support from this congregation. Many UU churches have commonly included a “talkback”, an informal discussion, within the service to allow members of the congregation to respond to comments from the pulpit. I don’t know if anyone is prepared to discuss, or if anyone has opinions that need to be aired. But if so, I would like to hear what you have to say.

Music: Ashokan Farewell, Jay Ungar and Molly Mason with Fiddle Fever

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
Let us join our hearts and minds in 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: “Each of us ministers to a weary world”, Darcy Roake

There is too much hardship in this world to not find joy,
every day
There is too much injustice in this world to not right the balance,
every day
There is too much pain in this world to not heal,
every day

Each of us ministers to a weary world.
Let us go forth now and do that which calls us to make this world
more loving, more compassionate and more filled with the grace of divine presence,
every day

The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.

Go now in peace.

Announcements, Comments, Shameless Self-Promotions, Etc.