Sunday, January 2, 2022

Welcome:

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Cricket 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.

 Breathe.

 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: Lyrics Here

Opening Words: Be About the Work by Andrea Hawkins-Kamper

Welcome Song:

Chalice Lighting: On the Brink of a New Year by Lois Van Leer

The Principles

Story for all Ages: A Collection of Aesop’s Fables

The Crow & the Pitcher

In a spell of dry weather, when the Birds could find very little to drink, a thirsty Crow found a pitcher with a little water in it. But the pitcher was high and had a narrow neck, and no matter how he tried, the Crow could not reach the water. The poor thing felt as if he must die of thirst.

Then an idea came to him. Picking up some small pebbles, he dropped them into the pitcher one by one. With each pebble the water rose a little higher until at last it was near enough so he could drink. In a pinch a good use of our wits may help us out.

The Goat and The Goatherd

A Goatherd had sought to bring back a stray goat to his flock. He whistled and sounded his horn in vain; the straggler paid no attention to the summons. At last the Goatherd threw a stone, and breaking its horn, begged the Goat not to tell his master. The Goat replied, “Why, you silly fellow, the horn will speak though I be silent.” Do not attempt to hide things which cannot be hid.

The Man and The Lion

A Man and a Lion traveled together through the forest. They soon began to boast of their respective superiority to each other in strength and prowess. As they were disputing, they passed a statue carved in stone, which represented “a Lion strangled by a Man.” The traveler pointed to it and said: “See there! How strong we are, and how we prevail over even the king of beasts.” The Lion replied: “This statue was made by one of you men. If we Lions knew how to erect statues, you would see the Man placed under the paw of the Lion.”One story is good, till another is told.

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.

Responsive Reading:  We Travel This Road Together By Tess Baumberger

Lesson: Intentionally Responsible by Cricket Hall

Our theme for this month is Living with Intention. Today I have decided to talk about living our principles. I’m going to focus on the fourth principle. The official language of this principle is: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” The UUA Website also has a section where the principles are written in easier to understand language for children. This is the fourth principle there: “We believe that each person must be free to search for what is true and right in life.” The fourth principle in the Rainbow Principle is “Grow by searching freely for what is true”.  Searching for truth is very important to us as UUs.

We often refer to ourselves as seekers. Instead of one holy book, we have six sources to pull from when we are looking for meaning. They are

1)    Direct experience of that transcending mystery and wonder, affirmed in all cultures, which moves us to a renewal of the spirit and an openness to the forces which create and uphold life;

2)    Words and deeds of prophetic people which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion, and the transforming power of love;

3)    Wisdom from the world’s religions which inspires us in our ethical and spiritual life;

4)    Jewish and Christian teachings which call us to respond to God’s love by loving our neighbors as ourselves;

5)    Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit;

6)    Spiritual teachings of Earth-centered traditions which celebrate the sacred circle of life and instruct us to live in harmony with the rhythms of nature.

Looking at this list, I realized that this is not a list of six individual sources, but a list of categories for if we listed all of the possible resources it would reach into the hundreds of thousands. This ability to look at multiple sources for our faith gives Unitarian Universalists a unique look on the world. According to Rev. Kathleen Rolenz, “Throughout history, we have moved to the rhythms of mystery and wonder, prophecy, wisdom, teachings from ancient and modern sources, and nature herself.”

While the fourth principle exists, we tend not to talk about it very much. Many talk about the first principle because it seems so important in our current world and possibly because it seems so very difficult. We shout the seventh principle from rooftops as we work to help save our environment and take care of Earth’s lifeboat because we know that it is a great danger to all of us and our planet if we do not. So great is our commitment to justice that we helped start an interfaith organization to show we are on the Side of Love.

The 4th principle, however, is a little sneaky, hiding in the middle lost in the shadows of words people consider more important. But all of the principles are equal in value. Searching for truth is at the root of who we are and what Unitarian Universalism is. According to Rev. Paige Getty of the UU Congregation of Columbia, Maryland

“As responsible religious seekers, we recognize that we are privileged to be free, to have resources to pursue life beyond mere survival, to continually search for truth and meaning, to exist beyond bonds of dogma and oppression, and to wrestle freely with truth and meaning as they evolve.

This privilege calls us not to be isolated and self-centered, believing that our single perspective trumps all others, but rather to be humble, to be open to the great mysteries of truth and meaning that life offers. And those mysteries may speak to us through our own intuition and experience—but also through tradition, community, conflict, nature, and relationships.

As a faith tradition, Unitarian Universalism makes sacred the right and responsibility to engage in this free and responsible quest as an act of religious devotion. Institutionally, we have left open the questions of what truth and meaning are, acknowledging that mindful people will, in every age, discover new insights.”

          Even more off the beaten path when it comes to the fourth principle is that pesky section where it says free and responsible to describe our search for truth. We all want to find truth and meaning. We all enjoy the freedom of finding truth. But often we ignore the word responsible. What does that mean anyway, “free and responsible”? The free part is easy, we are allowed to look everywhere.  The responsible part is a little more difficult. According to Merriam Webster, responsible is defined as

“: having the job or duty of dealing with or taking care of something or someone

: able to be trusted to do what is right or to do the things that are expected or required

Dictionary.com has a slightly more expansive definition. It has 7, but I am only going to read three of them.

1. answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control, or management

2. involving accountability or responsibility, as in having the power to control or manage:

4. having a capacity for moral decisions and therefore accountable; capable of rational thought or action:

When I look at these definitions and look at all of them together, I see that to be responsible is to have a duty or a job of taking care of trust and accountability. Being capable of rational thought, but also being capable of being accountable and holding others accountable. This means we have to investigate claims. This means we look into the products we use. This means we do our own research about political candidates, but it also means we look for multiple sources, from multiple viewpoints. In the story we heard earlier both the man and the lion thought that they would be the most powerful animal in the statue. This story is relevant today because in any argument or any event there is not one truth. There is Person As truth, Person Bs truth, and the actual truth. Sometimes there are even more truths because more people are involved.

I saw a TikTok yesterday. In it a young black woman said, “that multiple times in my lifetime, white people have said to me that ‘if I were a master and you were one of my slaves, I would be a good slave master to you.’” And she asked “what exactly does that mean? Or what do we think that means.” I responded to the video because I was taught at a very early age in the South. I spent several of my first years in elementary school in South Carolina. And I was literally taught from teachers and others what that meant. Of course, the short answer is that there were no good slave masters, obviously, because the idea of slavery, in particular the chattel slavery that happened here in the United States, is terrible. But we were taught in our classrooms that good slave masters didn’t beat their slaves or separate families. We were also taught that if you met a black person with your last name or the last name of one of your ancestors, it meant your ancestors were good slave owners. This is a comforting thought when you are in second grade and you are surrounded by all of this history, but it is a terrible thing to be teaching. More importantly, it is not an accurate thing to be teaching. And I wouldn’t know that wasn’t accurate had I not started opening up and listening to others’ experiences and others’ stories.

For years in school, we celebrated Black History Month and the only things we ever really learned about were Rosa Parks on the Bus and Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” Speech. But there is so much more to Black History. There is so much more to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the stories he told and shared. One of the key things I have shared, as a teacher, to my children from Dr. King is his “Letter from the Birmingham Jail,” because he was sent a letter that said “you need to sit down and shut up. You are not being a good Christian. You are not going to change things. You are not going to make a difference.” And he replied, “Oh no. I am making a difference. I am changing minds. I am doing the right thing. This is what good Christians should be doing. I am not being a bad Christian doing these things.” The letter he wrote back is so vitally important because it is different from the peaceful world of the “I Have a Dream” speech. It is also necessary to note that the letter Rev. Dr. King received was from white male preachers. Because when we are being responsible, particularly when we are being intentionally responsible, we have to look at the context and we have to see people where there are. We have to look at the stories we have been told. We have to look at other people’s stories. We have to make sure that we are listening, and we are paying attention. Context Matters. Context is vitally important.
          Sometimes when we as UUs are looking at our sources, instead of seeing them as points on a six-sided star all even and equal, we might see some of them as more important. I know that a lot of people focus on number five, “Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science.” That’s all well and good because reason and science are essential, but the words of prophetic people are just as crucial and significant. The direct experience of ourselves and others are just as important as reason and science. We cannot have a responsible search for truth and meaning if we are not listening to the experience of others if we are not listening to the words of others who have been in situations that we have not been in. We cannot just listen to the teachers who taught us the quick easy simple things and made us think that was all we needed to know. We cannot just look at the facts and the raw data because facts and raw data can be used to support multiple things. We cannot look at just the facts and the raw data because there are human stories behind them. For instance, looking at ecology and eco-justice. We look at the world and we have to do something; it is vital that we do something. Straws! Straws are terrible. They get caught in sea turtles’ noses. They are awful because they are one-time-use plastic. But we also have to think about getting rid of straws in a responsible way. There are some people with disabilities who cannot use metal straws, because metal straws do not bend. They are not adjustable. They are sometimes dangerous. Plastic straws are better. And yes, one-use plastic straws are terrible, but how can we work around that because we still have to hold the safety and experience and lives of our disabled siblings within our journey toward eco-justice.

So yes, we have facts. And yes, we have information. But we also have experience to think about. We have to use ALL of it to find that truth and meaning. Being free and responsible doesn’t mean just looking at the numbers. Being free and responsible means looking at the entire picture, the bigger picture, talking about hearts and people. It is my goal in the new year, and I hope that it will be one of yours as well, to focus on being intentionally responsible. That it is not just “oh I am doing this responsibly,” but more “it is my duty to do this responsibly.” Because we cannot make change, we cannot live up to our principles without an intentional free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

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.

Meditation:   All This Talk of Saving Souls By Linda M. Underwood

Silent Meditation

Chalice Extinguishing: Share Your Glorious Light with the World By James Morison

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