Sunday, January 24, 2021: In Other Capitals

Bronze figure of a Sewer worker peeks through the manhole in Bratislava

I walked up to a counter in Antalya Airport to tell a disbelieving airline employee that our flight would shortly be canceled because the tanks being reported in the streets of Istanbul meant that a coup attempt was under way. It must be a military exercise, she shrugged. Some routine transport of troops, perhaps? If so, I asked her, where is the prime minister? Why isn’t he on TV to tell us that? Another woman approached the counter. “This must be your first,” she said to the young woman behind the counter, who was still shaking her head. “It’s my fourth.”

— Zeynep Tufekci, “This Must Be Your First”, The Atlantic, December 7, 2020.

The Sixth Principle of Unitarian Universaism encourages us to affirm and promote “the goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all”. This Sunday Robert Helfer will explore some of the implications for Unitarian Universalists in our time.

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.

[If guests] I’d like to welcome our guests. Thank you for taking a chance and taking the time to walk through our doors and join us for worship.

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: Get Together, The Youngbloods

Welcome: As We Proclaim Worth

Dan Lambert (

You are welcome here no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, no matter what your background. You are welcome here to join us as we proclaim worth in our spiritual journeys. You are welcome to join us as we sing songs that uplift our very beings. You are welcome to join us in community as we learn, live, and love together. All are welcome as we worship that which gives us each meaning and value. No matter what you call this building, this hour, or this gathering of people, we worship as one body, illuminated by the light of the chalice.

Welcoming Song
Please rise in body or spirit and join in singing “Sanctuary”

Chalice lighting: Out of the Flames – Sara Eileen LaWall

Out of the flames of fear
We rise with courage of our deepest convictions
to stand for justice, inclusion and peace

Out of the flames of scrutiny
We rise to proclaim our faith
With hope to heal a fractured and hurting world

Out of the flames of doubt
We rise to embrace the mystery, wonder and awe
of all there is and all that is yet to be

Out of the flames of hate
We rise with the force of love
Love that celebrates our shared humanity

Out of the flames we rise

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.

Reading: “This Must Be Your First”, Zeynep Tufekci

On the evening of September 11, 1980, my mom was approached by a neighbor who held rank in the Turkish military. He told her to stock up on bread and rice. “Oh, another coup,” she immediately groaned. The neighbor was aghast—he wasn’t supposed to tell anyone what was coming. But my mom, of course, had immediately understood what his advice must have meant. Turkey is the land of coups; this was neither the first nor the last coup it would face.

A little more than two decades later, I walked up to a counter in Antalya Airport to tell a disbelieving airline employee that our flight would shortly be canceled because the tanks being reported in the streets of Istanbul meant that a coup attempt was under way. It must be a military exercise, she shrugged. Some routine transport of troops, perhaps? If so, I asked her, where is the prime minister? Why isn’t he on TV to tell us that? Another woman approached the counter. “This must be your first,” she said to the young woman behind the counter, who was still shaking her head. “It’s my fourth.”

— Zeynep Tufekci, “This Must Be Your First”, The Atlantic, December 7, 2020.

Invitation to Offering

Say to thyself, ‘If there is any good thing that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now; let me not defer it nor neglect it, for I may not pass this way again.’
– Anonymous

Remember that our being here, together, all of us, in this electronic space, is part of our offering, our sharing and building of this community. 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 for our larger society.

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.


Épitaphe de Seikilos, Petros Tabouris Ensemble

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: Keep Your Hand on the Plow, Mahalia Jackson

Reading: from Reveille for Radicals by Saul D. Alinsky

Democracy is that system of government and that economic and social organization in which the worth of the individual human being and the multiple loyalties of that individual are the most fully recognized and provided for. Democracy is a system of government in which we recognize that all normal individuals have a whole series of loyalties — loyalties to their churches, their labor unions, their fraternal organizations, their social groups, their nationality groups, their athletic groups, their political parties, and many others.

Democracy provides for the fulfillment of the hopes and loyalties of our people to all of the various institutions and groups of which they are a part. It is not a single, unqualified, primary loyalty to the state, as the totalitarians would have it — a loyalty in which all other institutions and organizations are completely swept out of the picture. Under totalitarianism, you may be loyal to your church if your state decrees that you may be. But it is a loyalty by sufferance of the state.

Democracy is a way of life and not a formula to be “preserved” like jelly. It is a process — a vibrant, living sweep of hope and progress which constantly strives for the fulfillment of its objective in life — the search for truth, justice, and the dignity of man. There can be no democracy unless it is a dynamic democracy. When our people cease to participate — to have a place in the sun — then all of us will wither in the darkness of decadence. All of us will become mute, demoralized, lost souls.

Some sincere intellectual believers in democracy voice two major objections to the building of People’s Organizations.  First, they fear that it is revolution.  They forget that democracy is one of the greatest revolutions in the history of man.  They forget that the American government was born out of the Revolutionary War and they forget that the birth certificate of these United States, known as the Declaration of Independence, proudly proclaims as a human right, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Those who fear the building of People’s Organizations as a revolution also forget that it is an orderly development of participation, interest, and action on the part of the masses of people.  It may be true that it is revolution, but it is orderly revolution.  To reject orderly revolution is to be hemmed in by two hellish alternatives: disorderly, sudden, stormy, bloody revolution, or a further deterioration of the mass foundation of democracy to the point of inevitable dictatorship.  The building of People’s Organizations is orderly revolution; it is the process of the people gradually but irrevocably taking their places as citizens of a democracy.

The second objection voiced by those who fear the building of People’s Organizations stems from distrust of power in the hands of the people.  They fear that the development and building of People’s Organizations is the building of a vast power group which may fall prey to a fascistic demagogue who will seize leadership and control and turn an organization into a Frankenstein’s monster against democracy.  Those who fear this possibility have learned very little from our present historic period.  The road to fascism and dictatorship is paved with apathy, hopelessness, frustration, futility, and despair in the masses of people.  It is this fear and complete hopelessness on the part of the masses which ultimately make them relinquish all control over their lives and turn the power over to a dictator.

Fascism does not have a chance of establishing itself over a people who are active, interested, participating, co-operating, informed, democratically minded, and who above all have learned through their experiences to have confidence in themselves and their fellow men.  They have learned to become self-reliant, and this feeling of self-respect, respect for their fellow men, and confidence in the power of the people which comes out of a People’s Organization is actually the strongest barrier and safeguard against fascism which a democracy can possess.

The critics in this case continue to think of democracy only in terms of its form and structure.  It is easier to think of democracy in those terms; it is neat and orderly.  The other kind of democracy, real democracy, is as disorderly as life itself — it does not hold to a form; it grows, expands, and changes to meet the needs of the people.

Lesson: In Other Capitals
Robert Helfer, Lay Leader

I began preparation for this service in a fit of anger and frustration. Although it had been obvious for months that some group of terrorists was planning some violent action to prevent their dear leader from being removed from the presidency, it still came as a shock that there were so many of them, so committed. While the attack was short-lived and did not attain its goals, the fact that so many of our fellow citizens have become so violently angry is disturbing. And it was even more worrisome that officials of the US government apparently were quite happy to encourage them.

Clearly, we are living in “interesting times”. But this anger and frustration have colored the course of my preparations. This week I’ve had a terrible time deciding what to use as a prelude. I like the prelude as much as possible to set the tone for what I am going to say in the service, and I’ve not been able to distill a positive message, a positive tone, from the fumes of my frustration. At various times over the week I’ve considered using “The Eve of Destruction”, or “For What It’s Worth”, or some other tune from ‘60s and ‘70s apocalyptic liturgy. As you’ve probably noticed, I eventually chose a bit of ‘60s anti-apocalyptic poetry instead.

But it is not only this insurrection that concerns me. There has been evidence for some time that some foreign countries are making an effort to disrupt US politics, not just by persuasion and traditional propaganda, but also by direct interference in something or other.

I’m beginning to think that the tares we’ve been sowing elsewhere are following us home. We’ve done that, too. We’ve manipulated other countries’ governments to get something, usually something that will enrich some tiny fraction of our population. And we’re famous, and hated, for it in some other countries.

Some time in all this confusion, a friend pointed out to me that in Latin America there’s a joke: “Why are there no coups in the US? It’s because there are no US embassies in the US.” A couple of days later, another posted “Due to covid restrictions, the US had to set up a coup locally this year.” And thus the title of my service, “In Other Capitals”, a reference to the governments, often democratically elected by their own citizens, that our agents have overthrown either covertly or overtly because these elected officials ignore US desires.

That would have been an angry service, probably not quite “Hellfire and Damnation” since I am, after all, a believing Universalist. But something akin to a Universalist version (whatever that might be). And it would not have been either pleasant or fair to you, my listeners today.

But then, as my temperature lowered a bit, and especially after the inauguration of a new President, one whose plans sound much more gentle than those of the previous one, I started thinking along other lines.

Lisa and I spent part of September 2019 touring in the Netherlands. We happened to be there during the 75th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of much of Western Europe in 1944. Numerous small cities were holding celebrations for the day the Nazis went away. And when we arrived in Amsterdam small groups of US World War II veterans, who had actually been the liberators 75 years before, were arriving, invited by the local citizens to be honored by the celebrations. We didn’t seek the celebrations out, but nevertheless, just because we were Americans, we were sometimes thanked, sometimes effusively. US meddling in other countries’ affairs hasn’t always been a bad thing.

And so, I’ve come back to the Sixth Principle: “The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all,” and how we might affirm and promote this principle in the world as it is.

I’m not terribly good at this. I’m generally better at knowing what not to do than at knowing what to do. But I think we – whoever that “we” might refer to – need to learn to see the rest of the world more clearly. And I think we need to start at home.

The anger and pain evident in the assault on the US Capitol cannot be turned off simply by calling the participants “racists” or “White supremacists” or “fascists” and expecting them to step back once we have revealed their shame. While we see the world through different eyes, through different news sources, through different standards of “good and evil”, the way they see the world is just as real to them as ours is to us. “Stupid” seems much too often to mean “thinks or believes something that I think or believe is wrong”. If we are to have “peace, liberty, and justice for all” we need to find some way to communicate with them that doesn’t involve shouting insults.

This is a hard thing to do. It’s hugely hard for me. And I think it’s hard for all of us.

But if we’re going to approach the goal throughout the whole world we have to come to grips with it in our own home.

Beyond that, I believe that we have to purge our nation of the bias that tells us the rest of the world must work for our best interests rather than their own. We have to see that when we destroy a country’s government, whether democratically elected or not, we may convert those people into enemies.

We have the example of Iran. In 1953 the democratically elected government of Iran nationalized their petroleum industry, expelling the foreign interests that they believed were in effect stealing Iran’s assets. The US and Great Britain decided to subvert the government of Iran, sponsoring a coup that August. The result strengthened the Shah, whose rule was noted for its brutality to both left and right. In 1979 a coalition of leftist and conservative Islamic forces overthrew the Shah and imposed an Islamic republic under strict Islamic control. The US and Iran have been at war ever since. This is an obviously over simplified version of what happened, but illustrates, I think, the dangers we assume when we meddle in other countries’ affairs, even if we don’t care about the morality or justice of our actions.

Similarly, the flow of refugees into the US across our southern border is largely a result of our government’s creation of right-wing governments across South and Central America. We meddle to get what we want, but people are always hurt. And in this case they flee from the terrors of their homelands toward the imagined America that we’ve told them exists.

Well, here my biases are revealed. But I think one thing we as UUs can do is to discourage our government’s involvement in coercing other countries to satisfy the desires of our economic elite. And perhaps we can attain this goal if we can imagine a practical path.

But, I don’t know. I like to think that if we just treat everyone fairly that we can all get along. But nothing is really that simple. For the time being all I know is to echo Kurt Vonnegut’s observation from The Sirens of Titan:

I don’t know what’s going on … and I’m probably not smart enough to understand if somebody was to explain it to me. All I know is we’re being tested somehow, by somebody or some thing a whole lot smarter than us, and all I can do is be friendly and keep calm and try and have a nice time till it’s over.

We are being tested, I think. Not by some supernatural intelligence, but by the realities of the world and our behavior in it.

Music: This Land Is Your Land, Woody Guthrie

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)
Please rise in body or spirit and join in singing Go Now In Peace

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

Closing: The World Is Too Beautiful
Eric Williams (

The world is too beautiful to be praised by only one voice.
May you have the courage to sing your part.

The world is too broken to be healed by only one set of hands.
May you have the courage to use your gifts.

May you go in peace.

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

Go now in peace.

Note: The image that heads this service is Čumil, the sewer worker of Bratislava, or “Man at Work,” by Viktor Hulík. Further information can be found here.

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