Sunday, September 29, 2019: Serpents and Doves

Crest of the Transylvanian Unitarian Church: dove standing on a mountain, encircled by a serpent biting its tail, surmounted by a golden crown.

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. — Matthew 10:16

Welcome before prelude
Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert Helfer and I am 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: Heyr, himna smiður – Árstíðir

[Heyr, himna smiður (Hear, Smith of the Heavens) was written by the Icelandic chieftain and poet Kolbeinn Tumason, according to tradition, on his deathbed in 1208 AD. Þorkell Sigurbjörnsson set the poem to music in 1973. This recording features the Icelandic “Indie Rock” group Árstíðir. For more information, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kolbeinn_Tumason.]

Welcome: Come Sit By Our Fire
Jennifer Kitchen (www.uua.org/worship/words/opening/come-sit-our-fire)

Come sit by our fire and let us share stories. Let me hear your tales of far off lands, wanderer, and I will tell you of my travels. Share your experience of the holy with me, worshipper, and I will tell you of that which I find divine. Come and stay, lover of leaving, for ours is no caravan of despair, but of hope. We would hear your stories of grief and sorrow as readily as those of joy and laughter, for there is a time and a place and a hearing for all the stories of this world. Stories are the breath and word of the spirit of life, that power that we name love. Come, for our fire is warm and we have seats for all. Come, again and yet again, come speak to me of what fills your heart, what engages your mind, what resides in your soul.

Come, let us worship together.

Song: Come, come, whoever you are
(Singing the Living Tradition, 188)

Chalice Lighting: Open to Unexpected Answers
Julianne Lepp (www.uua.org/worship/words/chalice-lighting/open-unexpected-answers)

We seek our place in the world
and the answers to our hearts’ deep questions.
As we seek, may our hearts be open to unexpected answers.
May the light of our chalice remind us that this is a community of warmth,
of wisdom,
and welcoming of multiple truths.

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.

Story: King Lindorm

This morning’s story revolves around a Lindorm. Some might be familiar with this beast, since it is mentioned in some fantasy games, especially those inspired by Nordic mythology. It’s also a figure used in English heraldry, and sometimes called a Wyvern. Basically, it’s a dragon, usually a dragon of a rather specific form: wingless, not fire-breathing, more like a serpent than the typical European dragon, and bipedal. Such beasts can be seen, woven and twisted, on some ancient Rune stones. In Scandinavian mythology, Níðhöggr, chief among the serpents or dragons who gnaw the roots of the world tree, Yggdrasill, is pictured as a Lindorm.

The story of King Lindorm comes from the collections of the Danish folklorist Svend Grundtvig. It was gathered in 1854 from Maren Mathisdatter in North Jutland. This version was translated by D.L. Ashliman in 1998.

Read the story at www.pitt.edu/~dash/snake.html#lindorm

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.’

We will now receive an offering for the support of this religious community and its work in the world. You are invited to give generously and joyfully as you are willing and able.

Offeratory: Epitaph of Seikilos — Petros Tabouris Ensemble

[Epitaph of Seikilos is the oldest surviving complete musical composition, including musical notation, from anywhere in the world. The epitaph has been variously dated, but seems to be either from the 1st or the 2nd century AD. The song, the melody of which is recorded, alongside its lyrics, was found engraved on a tombstone from the Hellenistic town Tralles near present-day Aydın, Turkey, not far from Ephesus. (theancientrhythmoflove.weebly.com/seikilos-epitaph.html)]

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.

Song: Faith of the Larger Liberty
(Singing the Living Tradition, 287)

Reading: Matthew 10:16

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

Snakes and Doves
Robert Helfer, lay leader

What I really intend to talk about this morning is our third principle, “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations.” I think I’ll get there eventually, but first I’ve got some things to say about serpents and doves. And a little bit about magic. And maybe a bit about expectations and following instructions.

Each of us is on a pilgrimage, a journey of discovery, a quest, perhaps. It’s a personal journey, but at the same time it’s a shared experience. And each Sunday one of us stands up at the front of the room and shares a bit of their journey, some of the lessons they have learned along the way, attempting to describe it in a way that others can understand and that others might find useful. Sometimes the telling is beautiful, when the telling all flows together into something like a unified whole. Sometimes the telling is awkward, partial, confused. Sometimes the path we’ve followed has not led forward, but perhaps spiraled oddly without actually leading anywhere useful. I think it contributes to our spiritual growth to share all these pieces, even though the telling is by necessity always incomplete.

This past week my journey involved my discovery of a story.

A while back I happened across a discussion of the Lindorm tale I read a few minutes ago. I was intrigued. The discussion, of course, only summarized the tale, extracting those parts that were relevant to the writer’s arguments. So, I naturally decided to find the original tale.

That turned out to be a bit more complicated than I expected. I found many references, but the origin of the tale became more obscure as I searched. In the first places I looked it was identified as a story gathered by the Norwegian folktale collectors Asbjørnsen and Moe, but I quickly discovered that the story was not actually in any of their collections. It seems that a version had been inserted into an English language collection of Norwegian tales, most of which came from Asbjørnsen and Moe, thus implying that this story also came from them.

A bit more poking revealed that the story came instead from the Danish folklorist Svend Grundtvig’s publications.

I found the Danish original (isn’t the Internet wonderful?), but, alas, no English translation. But I had decided that it would make a great “story for all ages”, despite being a bit gory in places, and I wanted to use it, and it was clear that the original story was much superior to the “Norwegian” story I had found. I gritted my teeth and proceeded to poke at Google Translate and my various dictionaries, hoping to make a reasonable English version. And I actually did – well, sort of — but an hour or so after I had finished a rough first draft I discovered the fine English version by D. L. Ashliman that I read this morning. Hurrah!

If, by the way, you have any interest in European folklore, fairy tales, and mythology you should look at Professor Ashliman’s site (www.pitt.edu/~dash/folktexts.html).

But enough about my adventures of research. Let’s talk a bit about the story.

The queen, denied children by the writing on the marriage bed, longs for children anyway. The old woman in the woods provides her with a way to have one. And it works – a baby is born. But because the queen didn’t follow the instructions, the baby turns out to be a lindorm – a fearsome dragon. Well, it’s a baby fearsome dragon at first, and it vanishes under the bed. But when the king returns home, the lindorm demands to be recognized as the king’s lawful son. I like the matter-of-fact flow of the narrative, the way the king just goes along with this suggestion, with relatively little argument. “Okay, you’re my son.” And naturally, as the king’s son, the lindorm expects a bride. Unfortunately, we soon see the lindorm’s nature.

Having eaten two brides, the lindorm still demands another. I think about the parents here. They’re trying to provide for their child, no matter how beastly he is. One wonders, though, what the lindorm has been eating all this time. The story doesn’t tell us.

Anyway, the king forces his shepherd to give his daughter as the third bride, and while the young woman goes along with the deal she knows that it means her death. Enter an old woman in the woods again – the same old woman? — with a new set of magical instructions for the bride. Fortunately, unlike the queen, the bride follows the instructions to the letter, and we get a happy ending. The lindorm is transformed into a beautiful human prince.

Actually, this isn’t quite yet the “happily ever after” point, since the story continues through a new set of challenges, which reveal the kind and generous nature of the lindorm king and the resilience of his bride. But I left this part of the story out of the reading and we’re not going to worry about that today.

And here I think I’ve lost the point I was trying to make. Maybe. Can someone help me relate all this to the third principle – “Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations”?

Can we see “acceptance of one another” in how the lindorm was treated while still a lindorm? If so, is that a model for behavior in our religious community? This morning we sang “Come, come whoever you are”, and I believe that we meant it. But does our acceptance truly extend to literally everyone, or are there exceptions? Must the community accept a rapist? A murderer? A lindorm? Do we need to accept, as the lindorm’s parents did, everything a person says or does without regard for others?

Somehow I don’t think that’s what the third principle is supposed to mean. There must be limits of some kind, if only to protect other members of the community. And perhaps this is where the second part of the principle, “encouragement to spiritual growth” really comes into play.

I’d like to think that what the bride did amounted to “encouragement to spiritual growth”. Quite effective encouragement, in fact, since the lindorm’s entire being seems to have been transformed. But I wouldn’t recommend such techniques as a regular practice.

Now, my question is real, although not an issue in our current religious community. When Lisa and I were In a different congregation there was a member whose actions were suspect and possibly dangerous. I can’t say much more beyond that, since I was not directly involved. But I can say that the congregation did not reject him. Instead, while accepting the individual into the life of the congregation, it remained watchful, alert to any possible harm he might cause. And certain members of the congregation sought to guide him – “encouragement to spiritual growth” once again.

Of course, “encouragement to spiritual growth” is more general than helping someone overcome bad attitudes or practices. Those who told me I should stand in front of this room and talk was encouraging my spiritual growth, and those who describe spiritual practices are encouraging growth as well. And that brings us around to another serpent.

If you look on the wall to your left you’ll see the emblem of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania, which is part of Romania. In the center of the emblem a dove stands on a mountain, encircled by a serpent who is biting its own tail. And at the top of the emblem is a golden crown.

The emblem is intended to reflect the history of the Unitarian Church, and at the same time encourage development of character traits that have proven useful in the survival of this tiny minority church for over 400 years in an often hostile environment. The golden crown symbolizes John Sigismund, the only Unitarian king in history. John Sigismund ruled as King in Transylvania and part of Hungary from 1540 until 1570. It was under his rule that the Edict of Torda first declared religious tolerance in 1568. It also symbolizes the God or Goddess, as well as the goal of happiness that we can all obtain – to wear the crown of happiness.

The mountain of solid rock represents the ethical heights we must attain to fulfill our human potential; high because our goal is high, solid rock because we need a firm foundation. Perhaps we can help each other climb this mountain?

The serpent holds its tail in its mouth, forming a circle, the emblem of eternity, of regeneration, a reminder of Ouroboros.

The serpent and the dove reflect Jesus’s call to his apostles when he sent them out to preach. As part of his charge to the apostles, Jesus said, “Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”

So, here’s a different serpent, not something to be feared, but a symbol of wisdom. And perhaps we can take something for ourselves from this symbolism. The world is often a dangerous place for those who don’t fit comfortably, and obviously, into the general community. The wisdom of serpents might help. At the same time, we don’t want to become ourselves like those who might harm us. Remaining harmless as doves is necessary, too. And perhaps this should be at least part of our goal in our encouragement of ourselves and our fellows to spiritual growth: to be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.

I guess that’s really all I wanted to say for now; maybe I’ll try to continue these thoughts some time in the future.

Hymn: From All the Fret and Fever of the Day
(Singing the Living Tradition, 90)

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)
(Singing the Living Tradition, 413, modified)

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 (www.uua.org/worship/words/closing/6008.shtml)

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 flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.
Go now in peace.

Sunday, September 22, 2019: Drifting as a Spiritual Practice

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Lisa deGruyter 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 – Let Your Love Flow – Joan Baez

Chalice Lighting

There can be only one permanent revolution — a moral one; the regeneration of the inner man.
How is this revolution to take place? Nobody knows how it will take place in humanity, but every man feels it clearly in himself. And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself

(Leo Tolstoy “Three Methods Of Reform” in Pamphlets, trans. by Aylmer Maude).

We gather today in hopes of changing ourselves for the better.

Hymn in Honour of Our Ancestors
Ecclesiasticus 44:1-10,13-14

Let us now sing the praises of famous men, our ancestors in their generations.
The Lord apportioned to them great glory, his majesty from the beginning.
There were those who ruled in their kingdoms, and made a name for themselves by their valour; those who gave counsel because they were intelligent; those who spoke in prophetic oracles; those who led the people by their counsels and by their knowledge of the people’s lore; they were wise in their words of instruction; those who composed musical tunes, or put verses in writing; rich men endowed with resources, living peacefully in their homes — all these were honoured in their generations, and were the pride of their times. Some of them have left behind a name, so that others declare their praise.

But of others there is no memory; they have perished as though they had never existed; they have become as though they had never been born, they and their children after them. But these also were godly men, whose righteous deeds have not been forgotten; their offspring will continue for ever, and their glory will never be blotted out. Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name lives on generation after generation.

Introduction to Drifting

The idea for this week’s service comes from Andrew Brown, the minister of the Unitarian Church of Cambridge, England. A service he did last summer was on drifting. His sermon, or address, as he calls it, was a memento of what he had found on a drift. But this morning I thought, instead of a sermon, we would try the spiritual practice of drifting ourselves. We did this last July, but only a few of us were here, and I thought it was worth repeating.

It is appropriate that we ended up doing this service again now, rather than in August when it was originally scheduled. This month’s theme is Expectations, and, as you know, Robert and I just got back from our trip to the Netherlands. We like to make our travels pilgrimages, and I think an important part of a pilgrimage, like a drift, is not having too many expectations. We have some goals, in this case visits to places some of my ancestors lived, but we try not to know to much about where we are going, so that what we see is unexpected, and we pay more attention to what we see and experience rather than looking for what we expect.

I’m going to take a few minutes to talk about what we are doing, and then we will go out and drift for about half an hour.

Phil Smith, author of Mythogeography, describes drifting as a form of embodied contemplation for the ambulatory soul. This is Smith’s starter kit.

Starter Kit

Five steps to a drift or dérive

1. Knowing why.
It’s not a stroll in the park, but it doesn’t have to be complicated. ‘Drifts’ are for opening up the world, clearing eyes and peeling away the layers of spectacle, deception and that strange “hiddeness in plain sight” that coats the everyday. The disruptions that set a ‘drift’ or ‘dérive’ apart from other kinds of walk are there to shake up things (and you) so that rather than wandering ankle deep through the sediment of discarded images and illusions, you can explore the whole whirling snowglobe.

2. Knowing where.
You can ‘drift’ anywhere. But to begin with, start somewhere you know well, next to somewhere you don’t. Start in the familiar and straightway head off into the unknown. Remember, you don’t have to get anywhere, there isn’t a set destination. It’s all about the journey. Generally, keep out of shops, museums, art galleries. Go to places you wouldn’t normally visit – courtrooms, waste tips, fairgrounds, industrial estates, morgues, stadia car parks, ornamental gardens, bad zoos. Avoid suburbia and countryside on a first ‘drift’. Slip down alleys, chase any intriguing detail, follow instincts not maps.

3. Knowing me, knowing you.
While ‘drifting’ alone is fine, start with a least one other. Above six or seven you’ll probably split into smaller groups. Even if you organised the meeting place and the time and maybe a starting idea, you don’t need to be in charge. Let the group develop its own instincts and make its own discoveries. Drifts do NOT have guides or leaders. Remember, your focus is on the place you’re passing through, let it shift from self and others for a while – that leaves a space for ‘our (dis)placed selves’. ‘Drift’ with friends, with friends of friends. The ‘drifting group’ should be a web of friendship and acquaintance. You do not need to be a history buff or an architectural boffin to make mythogeography. In fact, experts may have to be tamed (distracted, really) and prevented from turning drifts into guided tours. Any group of people will have different skills, stories and sensitivities that can be shared in teasing out the mythogeography of the journey.

4. Knowing how.
You need to free yourselves from your usual walking habits. Maybe start at a time that is odd for you – 4.30am, 9.15pm, noon… Make sure you have at least half a day – the drift is not a stroll. Find a way to get you off your beaten tracks. Jump on any bus at random and get off at the 7th stop. Order a cab, close your eyes and ask the driver to drop you “somewhere anonymous”. Start with some kind of theme – look for traces of rebellion or snuffed-out difference, for wormholes, for powerful symbols, for voids, for where things are interwoven. If the drift diverts you onto another theme, that’s fine. The drift may begin to tell a story and you can look out for things that will develop the narrative. You might set out to collect things or take things to leave as memorials or surprises or plan to seek particular types of place: the tops and bottoms of buildings, rooms without windows.

5. Knowing what.
Sensible shoes, maybe – needs vary. Maybe, something to leave behind. Small torch. Some chalk. Notebook and pen. Camera. Water. Food to pass round. Something a little luxurious or unusual – a treat. Not maps usually. You’ll notice what you miss the first time, so take it on the second.

Après dérive: make some memento of your drift to share with your fellow drifters or show to others. They may become your next companions.

Drifting

(in downtown Clarksburg for about half an hour)

Invitation to Offering

We will now receive an offering for the support of this religious community and its work in the world. You are invited to give generously and joyfully as you are willing and able.

Response to the offering (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.

Hymn: Here on the Paths of Everyday

Here on the paths of everyday, here on the common human way,
Is all the stuff the gods would take to build a heaven, to mould and make
New Edens: Ours the gift sublime to build eternity in time.

We need no other stone to build our temple of the unfulfilled,
No other ivory for the doors, no other marble for the floors,
No other cedar for the beam and dome of our immortal dream.

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

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

May we go forth from this place thankful for the life that sustains and renews us, and open to the grace that surrounds and surprises us.

May we go forth from this place with openness and with thanksgiving.

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

Go now in peace.

Sunday, August 25, 2019: Wealth and Philanthropy

Pullman crushing the workers

This, then, is held to be the duty of the man of Wealth: … — the man of wealth thus becoming the mere agent and trustee for his poorer brethren, bringing to their service his superior wisdom, experience and ability to administer, doing for them better than they would or could do for themselves.

— from “The Gospel of Wealth”, 1889, by Andrew Carnegie.

Prelude: City of New Orleans — Steve Goodman

Continue reading

Sunday, July 21, 2019: Our Universalist Roots

Prelude: All God’s Critters Got a Place in the Choir

Welcome

The early Universalist Hosea Ballou saidMan, being not only a religious, but also a social being, requires for the promotion of his rational happiness religious institutions, which, while they give a proper direction to devotion, at the same time make a wise, and profitable improvement of his social feelings.” And so we gather here, not only to practice our religion, but to support each other.

Song: Come, Come Whoever You Are
Come, come, whoever you are
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving
Ours is no caravan of despair
Come, yet again come

Chalice Lighting 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

Seven Promises Responsive reading
from The Seven Promises: a Responsive Reading

Let us create a dynamic community that celebrates life and searches for truths,
for we honor minds that question, hearts that love and hands that serve.

Let us live lightly on the Earth, beginning with our church community,
for we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Let us embrace others both near and far in hope and compassion,
for we lift up the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.

Let us remember that everyone bears responsibility for the health of our congregation,
for we affirm the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process.

Let us remain open to new ideas, knowing that we need not be afraid of change,
for we trust in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Let us respect individual religious paths, even those we do not understand,
for we aspire to accept one another and to encourage spiritual growth.

Let us treat others as we would like to be treated,
for we desire justice, equity and compassion in human relations.

Let us listen actively and speak and act respectfully to others,
for we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

Story: The Rabbi’s Gift

The story this morning is The Rabbi’s Gift, which many of you have heard before, but I think it bears hearing over and over. This version is narrated by Scott Peck, who used it in his book The Different Drum, about community building.

Invitation to Offering
We will now receive an offering for the support of this religious community and its work in the world. You are invited to give generously and joyfully as you are willing and able.

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.

Song: What Wondrous Love

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul?
What wondrous love is this that brings my heart such bliss,
and takes away the pain of my soul, of my soul,
and takes away the pain of my soul.

When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down beneath my sorrows ground,
friends to me gather’d round, O my soul, O my soul,
friends to me gather’d round, O my soul.

To love and to all friends I will sing, I will sing,
to love and to all friends I will sing.
To love and to all friends who pain and sorrow mend,
with thanks unto the end I will sing, I will sing,
with thanks unto the end I will sing.

Reading: from A Treatise on Atonement by Hosea Ballou

The belief that the great Jehovah was offended with his creatures to that degree that nothing but the death of Christ, or the endless misery of mankind, could appease his anger, is an idea that has done more injury to the Christian religion than the writings of all its opposers, for many centuries. The error has been fatal to the life and spirit of the religion of Christ in our world; all those principles which are to be dreaded by men, have been believed to exist in God; and professors have been molded into the image of their Deity, and become more cruel than the uncultivated savage! A persecuting inquisition is a lively representation of the God which professed Christians have believed in ever since the apostasy. It is every day’s practice to represent the Almighty so offended with man, that he employs his infinite mind in devising unspeakable tortures, as retaliations on those with whom he is offended. Those ideas have so obscured the whole nature of God from us, that the capacious religion of the human mind has been darkened by the almost impenetrable cloud; even the tender charities of nature have been frozen with such tenets, and the natural friendship common to human society, has, in a thousand instances, been driven from the walks of man.

But, says the reader, is it likely that persecution ever rose from men’s believing, that God was an enemy to wicked man? Undoubtedly; for had all professors of Christianity believed that God had compassion on the ignorant and those who are out of the way, how could they have persecuted those whom they believe in error? But, with contrary views, whose who professed to believe in Christ, who professed to be the real disciples of him who taught his disciples to love their enemies, have been the fomenters of persecution; they have persecuted even unto death, those who could not believe all the absurdities in orthodox creeds. It may be asked, if those animosities did not arise from pride, ambition and carnal mindedness? I answer, yes; and so does the God in whom persecuting Christians believe, for they form a God altogether like unto themselves; therefore, while they vainly fancy they are in the service of the true God, they are following the dictates of pride and unlawful ambition, the natural production of a carnal mind; and atonement is the only remedy for the evil.

Lesson: Hosea Ballou and the Doctrine of Love

Hosea Ballou’s great contribution to American Universalism was to lay out in detail the idea that religions that believe people are wicked, so wicked that only a great sacrifice can save them, will encourage people to believe that other people can and even must be punished, or at least made to behave – so that we must be afraid of what people will do in the name of their God.

In a predominately Christian culture, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that there is not one Christianity, and that there have always been many different interpretations of Jesus’ teachings and the Bible. The dominant religious culture has a way of making us feel that we are some crazy new cult, and completely wrong, when what we believe is based on ideas people have thought through in many places over many centuries. Hosea Ballou was one of those people. He lived in a time and place where all truth was thought to be in the Bible, but he saw that how the Bible was interpreted made all the difference, and that the system most used in his time was one that led to bad results. He was able to explain that to his contemporaries in a way that changed American religion, not just Universalism.

Ballou was born just before the American Revolution, in 1771, and grew up the youngest of 11 children of Baptist minister Maturin Ballou, who had moved from Rhode Island to the New Hampshire frontier, in 1768. His great-grandfather, a Huguenot also named Maturin, was one of the founders of Rhode Island.

To understand where Hosea Ballou was coming from and what he objected to in Christian teaching, it helps to understand what religion was like on the American frontier where he grew up, and how it got that way.

Very early on in the history of Christianity, the church and state became intertwined. For three hundred years, the early Christians were a persecuted sect, and most heads of the church were killed by the Roman authorities. That all changed in 313, when Constantine became the Western Emperor, converted to Christianity, and, with the Eastern Emperor, declared religious tolerance. But the Roman Catholic church became the official religion. Councils were called, bureaucracies were built, and Roman Catholicism and the Roman Empire became co-dependent, each reinforcing the others’ policies. Catholic theology was set: Jesus was God, and it was necessary that he be sacrificed to save people, who were born evil, in original sin. As the Empire dissolved, Roman Catholicism continued to be the official religion in the kingdoms that followed, and expanded through the Dark Ages to the farthest reaches of Europe. The Church was a great landowner, and the church and the nobility together ruled.

This all lasted a thousand years and more, but by the time the American colonies were founded, it was spinning apart. Starting in the 14th century, many priests and laymen had begun to question recieved wisdom, had translated the Bible into the vernacular, and had started to interpret Christianity for themselves. Luther and Calvin had founded the Lutheran and Reformed Churches, and Henry the 8th had removed the Church of England from the Roman heirarchy. The Reformation spread throughout Germanic Europe. These churches had split off from Catholicism, but they were still the churches of the state, with the head of the government being the head of the church in place of the Pope, although some Calvinist churches like the Church of Scotland and the Dutch Reformed elected their own leaders. Each ruler of a state or sometimes even city, chose its religion, and everyone was expected to follow it, or leave. When governments changed, you could suddenly find yourself expected to be Lutheran instead of Catholic, or Reformed when you had been Lutheran.

Meanwhile, starting before the Reformation, hundreds of other protesting – Protestant – sects had been formed. The Hussites, the Mennonites, the German Brethren, the Moravian Brethren, and many other small German sects formed all over central and western Europe. Called the Radical Reformation, they were rejected by the Lutherans and the Calvinists as heretics, and often driven out of wherever they lived on pain of death, as the Mennonites were from Switzerland, and the Calvinist Huguenots had been driven from Catholic France. They were not part of the state churches, generally met in people’s homes, and moved, sometimes a long way, to gather in towns that tolerated them. There were similar movements in England. And, since there was much more disagreement on theology, and more churches tied in with various governments, many more Christians were imprisoning other Christians, or burning them at the stake, for their beliefs, as well as more wars being fought over what religion would be in control of a territory. This went on for several hundred years, in the British Isles and on the Continent, in the middle of which the English began to settle North America.

In American history, we usually hear about the 17th century, Pilgrims and the Puritans and then jump to the Revolution, with mentions of Ben Franklin and the Quaker settlement of Pennsylvania on the way, and perhaps the Baptists of Rhode Island. The Pilgrims were Calvinists who had left the Church of England, the Puritans Calvinists who wanted to reform it, and in the Southern colonies, the Church of England was established just as it was, Catholic without the Pope. Catholics were banned everywhere but Maryland. This was not so much because of their theology, but because of the political danger of their loyalty to the Pope. New Amsterdam was settled by the Dutch Reformed, and the small Swedish colony that became Delaware by Swedish, Norwegian, and Finnish Lutherans. Scots Irish, who were Scots Presbyterians who had been sent to Ireland by the British to make it Protestant, began coming in droves. By the beginning of the 18th century, thousands of Germans were coming, mostly to Pennsylvania, and they were both Reformed and Lutheran, but also from many of the sects of the Radical Reformation.

Those sects fell into two groups:

Pietists, like the Moravian Brethren, emphasised studying the Bible in small groups, laymen governing the church, the importance of living according to your religion, not just believing, and kind and sympathetic treatment of nonbelievers. Methodism, which began in England, also grew out of Pietist beliefs.

Anabaptists, who included the Amish and Mennonites, were similar, but went farther – they believed that baptism did not save you, but was a ritual that only adults who had thought through their beliefs should do. They also, like the Quakers, condemned oaths, using courts for disputes between believers, bearing arms or fighting, even in self-defense, and holding government office.

The Pietists and Anabaptists mostly believed, as did the Catholics, that everyone could be saved. The Lutherans believed that some people had been chosen by God to be saved, but that others could, also, if they accepted the grace of God and lived according to the rules.

The Calvinists maintained that every person was born “totally depraved”, in original sin, the old Catholic doctrine, but added that God had chosen only a few to be saved, many to be damned, and that there was nothing a person could do about it. All the established churches except the Lutherans were Calvinist, as well as the English Baptists.

The Quakers rejected all theology, and believed that Christianity was not a scheme of doctrine to be believed, but an experience to be entered into, and a life to be lived. George Fox said “I told them all their preaching, baptism and sacrifices would never sanctify them; and bid them look unto Christ in them, and not unto men; for it is Christ that sanctifies. Then they ran into many words; but I told them they were not to dispute of God and Christ, but to obey Him.”

All of these people came together on the American frontier, which in the 1730s was only about a hundred miles from coast. In New Hampshire, the frontier was also just to the eastern side of the Appalachian Mountains, and Richmond, where Ballou grew up, was not settled until the 1750s. There were few ministers outside the towns and cities along the coast, although people built churches and met. Moravians, Mennonites, Reformed, German Baptists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, Quakers, English and Welsh Baptists, small Pietist groups, among others, met and mingled, and in the 1730s both ministers and lay missionaries traveled the frontier, preaching in houses and churches wherever they were welcome. Even in areas with officially established churches, churches and ministers were not provided, and the old control of local government by church and state together fell away. People experimented with religious communes. German Baptists founded Ephrata, a commune near what is now Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, with a printing press for hymnals and religious books, and the first Bible printed in American, which was in German. The Moravians founded communes in Pennsylvania and in North Carolina. George De Benneville, who was the first universalist minister in America, had lived in Germany and been influenced by Pietists, came to Pennsylvania in 1740. In the 1740s, George Whiteside and John Wesley, both Anglicans who founded Methodism, were sent to Georgia, but ended up preaching through all the colonies in a movement that became known as the Great Awakening. They, and all the traveling ministers, were often abused, and sometimes beaten up. We are used to thinking of the Founding Fathers meeting in Philadelphia and planning a new country, but all along the frontier, people who had grown up in many religions and societies were living together and reinventing religion and government. Almost all of them were Protestant, and had come to believe in free thought, individual conscience, and the freedom of the press and speech so that ideas could be shared. In the years before the Revolution, there were dozens of petition from all over Virginia, for instance, for freedom of religion.

So this was the religious world Ballou was born into, one with many competing ideas, where people listened and often changed their beliefs, and where much of Christianity, including the church he grew up in, taught the basic evil of people.

Ballou grew up during the Revolution, and two of his older brothers became Universalists, although their Calvinist father never agreed. Ballou, like most ministers outside the established churches, didn’t go to college or seminary, but began preaching and was ordained at the first Universalist General Association meeting in 1793.

An early biographer, Oscar Safford said:

Mr. Ballou was one of the most radical of reformers. While other reformers assaulted depravity in human nature, he aimed his blows against the imagined depravity men ascribed to the Divine Nature.

A few stories handed down about Ballou:

Ballou was riding the circuit in the New Hampshire hills with a Baptist preacher, argiung theology as they traveled. At one point, the Baptist looked over and said, “Brother Ballou, if I were a Universalist and feared not the fires of hell, I could hit you over the head, steal your horse and saddle, and ride away, and I’d still go to heaven.” Hosea Ballou looked over at him and said, “If you were a Universalist, the idea would never occur to you.”
— adapted from the Rev. Elizabeth Strong

Ballou was riding the circuit again when he stopped for the night at a New England farmhouse. The farmer was upset. He confided to Ballou that his son was a terror who got drunk in the village every night and who fooled around with women. The farmer was afraid the son would go to hell. “All right,” said Ballou with a serious face. “We’ll find a place on the path where your son will be coming home drunk, and we’ll build a big fire, and when he comes home, we’ll grab him and throw him into it.” The farmer was shocked: “That’s my son and I love him!” Ballou said, “If you, a human and imperfect father, love your son so much that you wouldn’t throw him in the fire, then how can you possibly believe that God, the perfect father, would do so!”
—told by the Rev. Linda Stowell

And when someone asked Ballou how God could show such grace even to people who were bad, he responded by asking: If your child falls down and gets all filthy, and you wash them and get them clean clothes, do you love your child because they are now clean, or did you clean your child because you love them?

Ballou saw that believing that we, and others, must be made clean before they could be loved had led to everyday judging, discrimination and injustice, as well as persecution and even enslavement.

Ballou was not in the first generation of Universalists, or even the second – John Murray came to America when Ballou was three. But he was the one who consolidated Universalist thought, and became a leader in was is now called the Second Great Awakening, another round of religious revival that begin about the time Ballou was ordained and went on for a generation, and led to the temperance, abolition, and women’s rights movements.

Today, the extreme Calvinism that claimed only a few could be saved has faded away, and the liberal and mainstream Protestant churches have almost all adopted the Universalist idea that God is Love and that people are basically good, not evil. But much of Catholicism and the evangelical Christian churches still preach the idea that Ballou condemned: that people are born sinful, and that a violent sacrifice was necessary to save them. This idea still leads to what he pointed out, “that persecution … rose from men’s believing, that God was an enemy to wicked man” and those still as he says “[persecute] those whom they believe in error.”

We as Unitarian Universalists still believe in what we now call the “inherent worth and dignity of every human being”, “justice, equity and compassion”, and that our punishment or salvation comes not in a hereafter, but in the results of our actions in the here and now, whether or not we still believe in the concrete God that Ballou believed in. I think his greatest insight was not just that people were good and would eventually be either saved or punished by the consequences of their actions, but that people who believed otherwise were constructing a religion that would bring misery to themselves and the world.

Music: I Ain’t Afraid – Holly Near
Unitarian Universalist Church of Berkeley Choir

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

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:

Hosea Ballou said
“There is one inevitable criterion of judgment touching religious faith. Can you reduce it to practice? If not, have none of it.”

Let us go forth and practice love.

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

Go now in peace.

Announcements

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Prelude: Disappear From Dear Evan Hansen

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

Welcome Song:  “Enter Rejoice and Come in”

Chalice Lighting: Come we now out of the darkness By Annie Foerster

The Principles: Kidciples Song

The Story for All Ages:  You Will be Found from Dear Evan Hansen

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.

Hymn: Blue Boat Home

Reading: On this Trans Day of Visibility by Rev. Susan Frederick-Gray

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Sunday, 2 December 2018: Love Is Too Strong a Word

Prelude

Hackney Colliery Band – A Bit Of Common Decency

Chalice Lighting: Open to Unexpected Answers

By Julianne Lepp

We seek our place in the world
and the answers to our hearts’ deep questions.
As we seek, may our hearts be open to unexpected answers.
May the light of our chalice remind us that this is a community of warmth, of wisdom, and welcoming of multiple truths.

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.

Responsive Reading: Seven Promises

Let us live lightly on the Earth, beginning with our church community,
for we respect the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Let us embrace others both near and far in hope and compassion,
for we lift up the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all
.

Let us remember that everyone bears responsibility for the health of our congregation, for we affirm the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process.

Let us remember that everyone bears responsibility for the health of our congregation, for we affirm the right of conscience and the use of the democratic process.

Let us respect individual religious paths, even those we do not understand, for we aspire to accept one another and to encourage spiritual growth.

Let us remain open to new ideas, knowing that we need not be afraid of change, for we trust in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Let us remain open to new ideas, knowing that we need not be afraid of change, for we trust in a free and responsible search for truth and meaning.

Let us treat others as we would like to be treated, for we desire justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Let us listen actively and speak and act respectfully to others, for we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person

Music: Light One Candle – Peter, Paul, & Mary

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.

Lesson: Love Is Too Strong a Word

When Robert and I were first married and new UUs, we would spent Christmas in West Virginia with my family and then go to North Carolina where his sister was living. The year our daughter was born, our then brother-in-law, who was the UU minister in Greensboro, gave us this tape, and I first listened to it in the dark, driving over the mountains back to Tennessee. Vonnegut’s ideas really spoke to me then, and listening to him again now, I think shaped my ideas of faith more than I ever realized.

Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. Ware Lecture, UUA General Assembly, 1984

Almost 35 years later, UUism has largely ignored what Vonnegut had to say that night. Love is still the doctrine of this church, we have stood on the side of love, and now we side with it.

It was hard to find readings and music for this service. I discovered through a variety of searches that there are no hymns, UU, Christian, or otherwise, about respect. There were no chalice lightings or readings about respect, except for a few about the interdependent web. The idea for the prelude came from a Vonnegut quote:

Love is where you find it. I think it is foolish to go around looking for it, and I think it can be poisonous. I wish that people who are conventionally supposed to love each other would say to each other, when they fight, ‘Please — a little less love, and a little more common decency’.

― Kurt Vonnegut Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! (1976)

Vonnegut wondered what Jesus really said in Aramaic. All we have are the Gospels written in Greek, so I started there. In both “Love your neighbor” and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the word used is “agape“, which is one of the many Greek words for love, sometime translated loving kindness. When the Bible was translated into Latin, “caritas” – what became charity in English, was used in the love chapter from Paul’s letter, but “diligio” in Love your neighbor. Diligio is the root of what became diligent and diligence. Diligio means something more like esteem, regard for, taking care, respect, than what we now think of as charity, or of love. Respect God, and respect your neighbor.

I thought we would try a unison reading of the Love Chapter of Corinthians, to see how it feels to say Respect rather than Love.

Unison Reading

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not respect, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not respect, I am nothing.
And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not respect, it profiteth me nothing.
Respect suffereth long, and is kind; respect envieth not; respect vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
Respect never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part.
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

And now abideth faith, hope, respect, these three; but the greatest of these is respect.

– I Corinthians 13, King James Version

Hymn: Spirit of Life

Words and Tune: Carolyn McDade

Spirit of Life, come unto me.
Sing in my heart all the stirrings of compassion.
Blow in the wind, rise in the sea;
move in the hand, giving life the shape of justice.
Roots hold me close; wings set me free;
Spirit of Life, come to me, come to me.

Joys and Sorrows

(Please save comments and announcement for the end of the service)

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

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: May we go forth from this place – Charles A Howe

May we go forth from this place thankful for the life that sustains and renews us, and open to the grace that surrounds and surprises us.
May we go forth from this place with openness and with thanksgiving.

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

Go now in peace.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Prelude: “By Your Grace – Jai Gurudev” by Krishna Das
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IJ4nNzbkcY

 Welcome: Call from Beyond By Susan Maginn

Welcome Song: #361 Enter Rejoice and Come In

Chalice Lighting: Come, yet again, come By Anne Slater

Song: Come, Come Whoever You Are

The Principles 

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.

 Lesson Part 1 : Why Meditate?

If you google, Why Meditate, you will get a lot of answers, from a lot of places. The same is true if you were to Google, benefits of meditation.

Meditation helps reduce stress and therefore helps to reduce anxiety and raise productivity.
Meditation helps you focus.
Meditation opens up your mind to new possibilities.
Meditation can help you sleep better.
Meditation increases a sense of connection to yourself and to others.
Meditation increases our ability to get out there and connect with others as a result of feeling more connected to ourselves and clearer and more confident about what is happening inside us.

Video from the Dalai Lama
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yTCRdM71j2E

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