Sunday, July 10, 2022: Abundance and Hope

Welcome before Prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Lisa 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: Appalachian Psalm

Shawnee Press Church Choral – Tom Lough from Psalm 23 arr. Jon Paige

Welcome: Look To This Day by Kalidasa

Look to this day: For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence.
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty
Are but experiences of time.

For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today well-lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day.

Song: Find a Stillness

First Unitarian Church of Baltimore Choir

Chalice Lighting: by Christine Robinson

We gather this hour as people of faith
With joys and sorrows, gifts and needs
We light this beacon of hope, sign of our quest
For truth and meaning,
In celebration of the life we share together.

– Reading 448, Singing the Living Tradition

Principles of Unitarian Universalism

Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles:
The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Story – A Chinese Farmer told by Allen Watts

Let us now take our offering

Epitaph of Seikilos Petros Tabouris Ensemble

While you live, shine have no grief at all
Life exists only for a short while and Time demands his due


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.

Reading: Psalm 23 (King James Version)

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Music: Psalm 23 (Dedicated to My Mother) Bobby McFerrin

This is another version of the 23rd Psalm. McFerrin says the song was inspired after he and his choir were rehearsing in a church and began discussing the many male images in the Bible.

He said in an interview “It just seemed to make sense. People forget, you know: a father’s love and then there’s a mother’s love, which complements the father’s love and they fit together, you know, nicely. So that’s why I wrote it.”

Reading: Matthew 6:25-34

Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?

Which of you by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature?

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:

And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.

Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which to day is, and to morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?

(For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

Hope and Abundance – Lisa deGruyter

“These studies are outcomes rather than realised objectives. In making the journey, I have no aims. These studies are intellectual footprints, not blueprints”

– Herbert Fingarette

I am open and I am willing
For to be hopeless would seem so strange
It dishonors those who go before us
So lift me up to the light of change

— Holly Near “I Am Willing”

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

Psalm 23

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

― Frank Herbert, Dune

I’m going to start with a bit about the meaning of the word comfort. Today we often think of it as meaning making us “comfortable”, physically at ease, something like sitting in an upholstered chair, being tucked under a down comforter, or sitting in front of a warm fire, snug in a warm and safe home when it is cold out. We often speak of “the comfortable” as smug, not just snug, and somehow even undeserving of being unafflicted, or less afflicted, when so many are.

But what are we to make of “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me” – how would a rod or staff make someone cozy? And what about treason as “aid and comfort” to the enemy?

The answer is that “comfort” has a fort in it – as in forts, fortification, forte, force – and effort. To comfort was to make more forceful – to strengthen – not to make life soft and pleasant. The 23rd Psalm, which is one of the best known and loved of the Psalms, often used for funerals and other times of distress, talks about ease and pleasantness, but also about walking in the paths of righteousness.

As does one of the core scriptures of Buddhism, the Metta Sutra

This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace: Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.

But then it goes on to say, what we are always to do is wish ease and comfort for all beings – which includes ourselves.

Wishing: In gladness and in safety, May all beings be at ease. Whatever living beings there may be; Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none, The great or the mighty, medium, short or small, The seen and the unseen, Those living near and far away, Those born and to-be-born — May all beings be at ease!

And Jesus, in the famous lilies of the field passage, tells us not to worry, to expect that everything we truly need is available to us.

And, of course, one of the contemporary definitions of “comfort” is freedom from anxiety.

We all walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death – at some times it is more apparent, but as Robert and I often say to each other, in various shades of alarm and irony, “We’re all going to die”. What matters is what we do with that knowledge. I – and he – have come to the (always tentative) conclusion that the purpose of life is life – if there is any meaning in the universe, it is only that – that life arose, and that the purpose of life is to perpetuate life – that seems to us to be self-evident.

Besides the Buddha, the Psalmist, and Jesus, many people, from the Stoic philosophers to modern psychologists, theologians, and philosophers, have said the same in many ways. Here is a sample:

“Choose not to be harmed — and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed — and you haven’t been.” – Marcus Aurelius

“It’s time you realized that you have something in you more powerful and miraculous than the things that affect you and make you dance like a puppet.” – Marcus Aurelius

“We are more often frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in imagination than in reality.” – Seneca

“Life is very short and anxious for those who forget the past, neglect the present, and fear the future.” – Seneca

“How does it help…to make troubles heavier by bemoaning them?” – Seneca

“Don’t seek for everything to happen as you wish it would, but rather wish that everything happens as it actually will—then your life will flow well.” – Epictetus

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own…” – Epictetus

Grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.

– Reinhold Niebuhr

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” – Viktor Frankl

As I was preparing this service, many relevant things showed up in my inbox and feeds, but the most relevant was probably a report of neurology research on mindfulness and pain which identified what parts of the brain seem to be quieted by mindful meditation during pain. The researcher says “”One of the central tenets of mindfulness is the principle that you are not your experiences,” said senior author Fadel Zeidan, PhD, associate professor of anesthesiology at UC San Diego School of Medicine. “You train yourself to experience thoughts and sensations without attaching your ego or sense of self to them, and we’re now finally seeing how this plays out in the brain during the experience of acute pain.”

They found that people who were meditating during applied pain reported significantly reduced pain – and that two areas of the brain in particular showed less activity.

“One of these default mode regions is the precuneus, a brain area involved in fundamental features of self-awareness, and one of the first regions to go offline when a person loses consciousness. Another is the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, which includes several sub regions that work together to process how you relate to or place value on your experiences. The more these areas were decoupled or deactivated, the more pain relief the participant reported.”

So we have evidence for a physical explanation of how our mind/brain works that validates what the Stoic philosophers, the Buddha, the Psalms, Jesus, right up to modern theologists and psychologists have said. We can’t control pain – all of the many things in the world that harm the welfare and happiness of ourselves or others, including the actions of other people. But we can control our own thoughts and actions and avoid suffering. Of course, we want to do what we can avoid physical harm and to secure happiness, health, safety, and peacefulness for ourselves and others. But to do that, we also need to not act from fear or anxiety.

Pink Floyd, in my youth which was another time of great distress – but also great progress, said in their song “Brain Damage”

The lunatic is on the grass
The lunatic is on the grass
Remembering games and daisy chains and laughs
Got to keep the loonies on the path
The lunatic is in the hall
The lunatics are in my hall
The paper holds their folded faces to the floor
And every day, the paperboy brings more

And if the dam breaks open many years too soon
And if there is no room upon the hill
And if your head explodes with dark forebodings too
I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon

But what we must do is, even though the paperboy, now our phones, bring more news of what seems to be lunacy, what we must do is keep our heads from exploding with dark forebodings.

The last few weeks have been yet another wave of bad news, and we have, as we have over many years, responded with dark forebodings. I think we need fewer Jeremiads and lamentations, and more of the 23rd Psalm, the lilies of the field, the Stoics, and the Serenity Prayer.

Much of what where we are today has been driven by fear, the little mind killer – fear of change and loss and I think what we must do is not be driven by fear ourselves. And, like the Chinese farmer in this morning’s story, we need to not judge what is good and what is bad. Not dwelling on the awful, fomenting fear, fixing blame, vilifying others. When we react in fear and loathing, no matter how justified it seems to us, we make the world a worse place.

We are here, so we all woke up this morning, and are alive and relatively well. There are woods and hills, green pastures, still waters, blue skies, art and music, families, friendship, community. What threatens them, and our happiness, health, safety, and peace of mind is not only the grasping and greed of others, but our own, and what we have the power to change is only our own mind. The good news is that changing our own mind changes our behavior, and makes the world just a bit better place, as well as alleviating our own suffering.

I’ll close with a bit of an essay that arrived in my email just this morning, although it was written in 2005, by Daisaku Ikeda.

Hope is a flame that we nurture within our hearts. It may be sparked by someone else—by the encouraging words of a friend, relative, or mentor—but it must be fanned and kept burning through our own determination. Most crucial is our determination to continue to believe in the limitless dignity and possibilities of both ourselves and others.

Mahatma Gandhi led the nonviolent struggle for Indian independence from British colonial rule, succeeding against all odds. He was, in his own words, an “irrepressible optimist.” His hope was not based on circumstances, rising and falling as things seemed to be getting better or worse. Rather, it was based on an unshakable faith in humanity, in the capacity of people for good. He absolutely refused to abandon his faith in his fellow human beings.

Keeping faith in people’s essential goodness, and the consistent effort to cultivate goodness in ourselves: these are the twin keys, as Gandhi proved, to unleashing the great power of hope. Believing in ourselves and in others in this way— continuing to wage the difficult inner struggle to make this the basis for our actions—can transform a society that sometimes seems to be plummeting toward darkness into a humane, enlightened world, where all people are treated with respect.

Let us recite our mission and covenant together

Mission and Covenant

Mission

Be a beacon and a refuge for all
Worship joyfully
Grow in spirit
Touch our community

Covenant

Love is the doctrine of this church, The quest of truth is our sacrament, and service is our prayer. To dwell together in peace, To seek knowledge in freedom, To serve others in community, To the end that all souls shall grow Into harmony with creation, Thus we do covenant with one another.

I think a good part of the work of our congregation in our meetings each week is to help and encourage each other in serenity, in courage, and in wisdom. Besides acceptance and lack of anxiety there is one other way recommended by the sages and philosophers and as we say prophetic people – that of working together and supporting each other

Alfred Adler said, and I believe it to be true, that the core of happiness – comfort, freedom from anxiety – is to feel that we are of use. The next song is a reminder that we do nothing singly.

Waldemar Hilles, who was music director at the Highlander School and then at First Unitarian in Los Angeles for 35 years, found the words of this song in the preamble of the American Mineworker’s constitution, and his friend Pete Seeger set it to an Irish tune.

Let’s rise in body or spirit and sing with Pete.

Step by Step

Waldemar Hille and Pete Seeger

Joys and Sorrows

(Please save announcements and comments until 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

The line that struck me most in this next song was “For to be hopeless would seem so strange, It dishonors those who go before us”

It seems to me that we do often dishonor those who came before us these days, when we are despairing, when we discount the progress that has been made, and when we judge our predecessors as if they were our contemporaries.

Song: I Am Willing – Holly Near

Video from Cascade UU Fellowship

Benediction: Traditional Irish Blessing

May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been

the foresight to know where you’re going

and the insight to know when you’re going too far.

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: The Work Continues by Martha Kirby Capo

Our time together is finished, but our work is not yet done:
May our spirits be renewed and our purpose resolved
As we meet the challenges of the week to come.
The chalice flame is extinguished
Until once again ignited by the strength of our communion.

Go now in peace.

Announcements, Shameless Self-Promotions, Etc.

Today we have a postlude which we can listen to as we move to the coffee hour

Postlude: Step by Step

Sweet Honey in the Rock

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil

I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

― Frank Herbert, Dune

In a time when much is driven by anger and fear, this service will consider the teachings of the Buddha, the Stoics, Jesus, and modern psychologists and theologians such as Alfred Adler and Reinhold Niebuhr about the cause of suffering and how we can find strength and comfort. Lisa deGruyter will be the service leader.

Our services are Sundays at 10:30 a.m. at the Progressive Women’s Association Event Center, 305 Washington Ave. in downtown Clarksburg, behind the Courthouse.  A coffee hour, a time for discussion and socializing, will follow from the end of the service until 12:00 noon.

Classes and worship are replaced by Spiritual Outings on the first Sunday of each month during the summer, with brief worship, a potluck picnic, and outdoor activities. The schedule is in the sidebar.

We would love to have you come worship with us.

Children are welcome. 

The building is wheelchair accessible, with an accessible restroom.

Map

The schedule for the current adult religious education class is here.

Email westforkuu@gmail.com or use our contact form for more information

or write to us at PO Box 523, Clarksburg WV 26302

Sunday, 16 January, 2022: Does Our Past Matter?

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? … There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

Does our religious past matter, or should we focus exclusively on what we want our religion to be, here, now? Robert Helfer will lead the service.

Please Join Us for Worship.


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.

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: End of the Line, The Traveling Wilburys

Welcome: Look to This Day, attributed to Kālidāsa
Hymns for the Celebration of Life, #472

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth,
The glory of action,
The splendor of beauty;
For yesterday is but a dream,
And tomorrow is only a vision;
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.

Welcoming Song
Let us rise in body or spirit and join in singing “Come, Come, Whoever You Are”

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

Chalice lighting: Audette Fulbright Fulson
https://www.uua.org/worship/words/chalice-lighting/light-we-kindle

This light we kindle
is set in the lamp of our history.
We inherit this free faith
from the brave and gentle, fierce and outspoken
hearts and minds that have come before us.
Let us be worthy inheritors of this faith
and through our good works, pass it boldly to a new generation.

Principles of Unitarian Universalism
(https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles)

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.

Invitation to Offering

I shall pass through this world but once. Any good thing, therefore, 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 or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.

– Henry Drummond, “Love, the Greatest Thing in the World”

Remember that our being here, together, all of us, in this virtual 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.

Offertory

Épitaphe de Seikilos, Petros Tabouris Ensemble

Response (Unison)

For the gifts which we have received — and the gifts which we, ourselves, are — may we be truly grateful. Yet more than that, may we be committed to using these gifts to make a difference in the world: to increase love and justice; to decrease hatred and oppression; to expand beloved community; to share, and to keep sharing, as long as ever we can. Amen.

Reading: from Nature, Ralph Waldo Emerson

Our age is retrospective. It builds the sepulchres of the fathers. It writes biographies, histories, and criticism. The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe?  Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs? Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us by the powers they supply, to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past, or put the living generation into masquerade out of its faded wardrobe? The sun shines to-day also. There is more wool and flax in the fields. There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.

Music: Minyan Man, Shlock Rock with The Maccabeats

Story: But He Reads the Newspaper in Synagogue!,
Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe
https://www.chabad.org/therebbe/letters/default_cdo/aid/2187478/jewish/But-He-Reads-the-Newspaper-in-Synagogue.htm

Rabbi Schneerson was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the chief rabbi of the Lubavitcher sect of Orthodox Hasidic Jews, from the early 1950s until 1994. Some time in the 1960s he responded to a letter from one of his congregants who had moved away.

In case you, like me, are unfamiliar with Jewish tradition, I’ll just add that a “minyan” is a quorum of ten, the minimum number of Jews (in Orthodox usage, adult male Jews) required for certain rituals to take place and certain prayers to be said.

You write about meeting a Jew in the course of your travels who comes to the synagogue to help make up a minyan, yet at the same time reads the newspaper. Everyone, or course, reacts to an experience in a way that is closest to him. Thus, for my part, I make the following two extreme observations: First I see in it the extreme Jewish attachment which one finds in every Jew. For here is a person who has wandered off to a remote part of the world, and has become so far removed, not only geographically, but also mentally and intellectually, as to have no concept of what prayer is or what a house of G‑d is, etc.; yet one finds in him that Jewish spark, or as the Old Rebbe, the founder of Chabad, expressed it in his Tanya: “The Divine soul which is truly a part of G‑d.” This Divine soul, which is the inheritance of every Jew, seeks expression as best it can, and in the case of this particular Jew, it seeks expression in at least enabling other Jews to pray congregationally, and he therefore goes out of his way to help them and at the same time to be counted with them.

My other observation, following from the above, is as follows; If, where the odds are so great against Jewish observance, yet a Jew can remain active and conscious of his Jewishness, it can easily be seen what great things could have been accomplished with this particular Jew if, at the proper time, he should have received the right education in his early life, or at least the proper spiritual guidance in his adult life. This consideration surely emphasizes the mutual responsibility which rests upon all Jews, and particularly on those who can help others.

I will not deny that the above is said not in a spirit of philosophizing, but with a view to stimulate your thinking as to your own possibilities in your particular environment, and what the proper attitude should be.

We must never despair of any Jew, and at the same time we must do all we can to take the fullest advantage of our capacities and abilities to strengthen the Jewish consciousness among all Jews with whom we come in contact. For one can never tell how far-reaching such influence can be. To conclude this letter on the happy note of the beginning of your letter relating to your marriage, may I again reiterate my prayerful wishes that you establish and conduct your home on everlasting foundations of the Torah and Mitzvos, and thus enjoy a tally happy and productive life, both materially and spiritually, which go hand in hand together.

A much shortened version of this story is also given in the Youtube video “Minyan Man” by the Jewish Learning Institute, (https://youtu.be/WZxCp3rNKbM)

Lesson: Does Our Past Matter?

Robert Helfer, Lay Leader

As usual, there’s a lot going on in the world. Some of it is just noise, but some of it does, or will, affect us, this tiny community. And some of it should just be noted.

Yesterday, 15 January, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would have turned 92. His life and work will be commemorated tomorrow as a federal holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, and we will hear many pious tributes. I hope that within all the ceremony we can also manage to remember the man himself, flaws as well as strengths.

And today, 16 January, is National Religious Freedom Day, marking the 236th anniversary of the adoption of the Statute for Religious Freedom by the Virginia State Assembly in 1786, which five years later became the model for the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. The text of the statute was written in 1777 by Thomas Jefferson, who described himself as “a Unitarian by myself.” For all his flaws, he was instrumental in making the United States into a fabled land of peace and freedom, that attracted, and continues to attract, immigrants from the whole world, and has affected the quest for freedom in many countries. May all of our flaws be so productive.

Perhaps not totally coincidentally, we should note that 28 January will mark the 454th anniversary of the Edict of Torda, a declaration of religious liberty enacted in 1568 in Transylvania by John Sigismund, the only Unitarian king to rule any country. This Edict, too, was flawed, and partial, and it remained unknown outside the eastern edge of Europe, but it nevertheless represents a significant moment in the growth of religious liberty.

And a potentially major winter storm is expected to be soon upon us. And let’s not forget that COVID-19 is still around. We are always in the midst of history.

I suppose it’s not too surprising that I would start a talk about Unitarian Universalist history with comments about history, and I suppose no one really thought that I might argue that our past does not matter.

The word History, like so many words, means more than one thing, and we easily confuse at least two of those meanings. History, first of all, is what actually happened in the past. Unfortunately, this can never be known fully, nor, probably, to any large extent. There is always something more that we cannot see, for which there is no record, for which the record is obscure and difficult to understand.

History also means the ongoing effort of humans to understand what happened in the past and how it affects the present. New information about past events is discovered, old records can be clarified, reinterpreted (or misinterpreted), possibly found to be false or forged. The past is constantly reexamined against the knowledge, beliefs, prejudices of the present. History in this sense is a dusty window through which we try to see something important, and one of our difficulties understanding it is that we tend to judge it all according to our own current morals and culture.

Lisa and I have recently watched reruns of Bergerac, a popular British detective program, on Britbox, the streaming service by BBC and itv. The series was produced in the 1990s, but nevertheless, some of the episodes are flagged with these words before the episode begins:

Bergerac is a classic programme which reflects the broadcast standards, language and attitudes of its time. Some viewers may find this content offensive.

Note that “its time” is only some 20 years ago. The world and attitudes can change very quickly. Now I suggest that we all take a moment to think about what we currently accept as “language and attitudes” of our time, and speculate which of these will be considered possibly offensive in the future.

But that’s just an aside. Our history is what we understand it to be now. And our history, as it is currently understood, contributes to our sense of community, or perhaps to our sense of isolation; it shows us that we’re not alone, or maybe that we’re totally on our own.

Community is an important factor in our lives, and for that to exist we need shared values and shared history. We need heroes, and we need crises, and we need to see how the past has shaped — continues to shape — our present. And we need to know that we are not totally alone.

A little while ago I read a letter written by Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, The Lubavitcher Rebbe. I think his comments are of interest to me because of what they tell us about the importance of traditions within the Lubavitcher community, and, by extension, to any religious group. The Minyan Man song and story strike a chord with me in their quest for community. Such traditions have contributed to the survival of many communities in a hostile world.

And our Unitarian Universalist history shows us heroes. It shows us Michael Servetus, and Francis David, and Joseph Priestly, and John Murray (and the unnamed young woman whose simple arguments confounded Murray and led to his conversion from Calvinism to universalism), and all those who persisted in their beliefs despite attacks and threats of death. It shows us James Reeb and Viola Liuzzo, who died while supporting the rights of others. We’ve talked about Reeb in the past, but we should also talk about Liuzzo, an apparently ordinary, White, 40-year-old mother of five from Detroit, who was murdered by the Ku Klux Klan while driving protesters between Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, during the Selma Voting Rights March of 1965. I certainly don’t deny the importance of James Reeb, but we need to talk more about Viola Liuzzo.

The stories of such heroes may help give us hope and courage to persist when our beliefs and values are rejected by the world around us.

And our history shows us models for thinking, models for beliefs, models for behavior that we might incorporate into our own lives. Sometimes the models revealed illuminate, make us wonder about the world or help us find a way to make sense of it all.

But after saying these things, I remember Emerson’s words: “There are new lands, new men, new thoughts. Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.” And I wonder whether we should be abandoning a past that might not apply to our new thoughts, “our own works and laws and worship.” Is it time to forget?

Identifying closely with a community is not invariably a good thing. As the economist and peace activist Kenneth Boulding has said, “One of the main purposes of national education is to distort the image of time and space in the interests of the nation … It is the history teachers above all who create the image of the Englishman, the German, the American, or the Japanese.” And adds, “This also is an important source of war.” While Boulding didn’t continue that thought, it’s clear that religious community, too, can become a source of prejudices and conflict. Could it be the religious education teachers who create the image of the Lutheran, the Catholic, the Unitarian Universalist?

A few years ago a great protest arose against remembering Thomas Jefferson as a .., well, as a semi-Unitarian, I guess. He never became a Unitarian formally, although he did attend Joseph Priestly’s Unitarian church in Philadelphia, and even described himself as a Unitarian in some sense, while maintaining his connections to the Episcopal church in Virginia — he sounds a bit like a number of people I’ve known over the years, who attended UU churches while remaining close to their religious past, often retaining old memberships.

But the protest wasn’t really about whether he could be claimed as a Unitarian, but about whether UUs should claim him. He was judged and found lacking, not up to the standard of a good Unitarian Universalist.

But in my opinion, the flaws are part of the story, part of what we need to learn and remember about how we got here, where we are now, and possibly where we are going. I don’t think we need unflawed heroes. And if we decide to purge our history of anyone who can’t be shown flawless, then we’re not likely to have any heroes at all.

One thing about Viola Liuzzo, actually, is the scandal her murder revealed. Liuzzo was a middle-class, white housewife from the north who had been inspired by stories of the Mississippi Freedom Summer project in 1964, and answered Martin Luther King’s call in 1965 for people to come to Selma in support of those who would march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, to carry their protest to the state capitol in Montgomery. When she was noticed by four Klansmen, she and another volunteer, a young black man, were alone in her car. They shot her, but didn’t realize that the young man had not been killed.

The four Klansmen were arrested and indicted within 24 hours, but nine days later one of them, Gary Thomas Rowe, was revealed to be an FBI informant, and all charges against him were dropped. And then, the smear campaign started, reportedly driven largely by the FBI director himself. She wasn’t perfect, she wasn’t pure, she wasn’t squeaky clean, and it wasn’t hard for those who wished to to find scandal in her life, to reinterpret simple facts of her life into reasons to accept her death as in some way justified. But we, here, now, cannot let any possible flaws prevent us from honoring the greatness of her life.

And here, for me, is one of the most important lessons we — I — should learn from our history. Our heroes were — are — human, not saints or angels; they — we — are flawed. And those flaws and falls from grace are often enough key to what makes them great. We honor them poorly, and serve our own history poorly, if we forget that.

Music: Garden Song, Dave Mallet

Joys and Sorrows
(Please save announcements and comments until 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
Let us join our hearts and minds in silent meditation

Song Go Now In Peace (3 times)
Let us 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: Through our temporary lives, Carl G. Seaburg
https://www.uua.org/worship/words/closing/6039.shtml

Through our temporary lives the great currents of history run.

Let us keep the channels open and free so not to obstruct purposes greater than our own.

Let us keep our minds set upon the high goals that here bind us into one sharing fellowship of loving hearts.

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

Go now in peace.

Announcements, Comments, Shameless Self-Promotions, Etc.

Sunday Service, January 9th, 2022

Welcome:

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

Welcome: Our Lives Intersect and Intertwine by Tania Márquez

Welcome Song:

Chalice Lighting: In This Small Flame Dwell by Jean L Wahlstrom

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

Sunday, October 10, 2021

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.

 [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.

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:

With a Little Help from my friends by Joe Cocker

Opening Words: Gathering in Our Own Spaces by Jeff May

Continue reading

Sunday, August 8, 2021

Welcome:

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

Opening Words: Wholeness by Sharon Wylie

Welcome Song: STLT #361 Enter, Rejoice, and Come In

Chalice Lighting: The Element of Fire Represents Passion, Veracity, Authenticity, and Vitality by Sarah Lammert

Rainbow Principles

Story for all Ages: The Blue Jackal who Showed his True Colors

Continue reading

Sunday, 25 July, 2021: Punishment and Universal Salvation

Kelso Jail 1940s - 1985

(Image: the old two-cell strap-iron jail in Kelso, California)

If I don’t believe God would punish people after death and send them to hell, because God is so loving and because punishment is not salvific, then why would I think punishment would be salvific on earth? That makes no sense. It’s just theologically inappropriate.

— Jason Lydon

Welcome before prelude

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

Thank you for joining us.

Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.

Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.

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: Prison Song, Graham Nash

Welcome: The Beauty of the Whole — Meg Barnhouse (https://www.uua.org/worship/words/welcome/beauty-whole)

We gather to worship, our hearts alive with hope that here we will be truly seen, that here we will be welcomed into the garden of this community, where the simple and the elegant, the fluted and frilled, the shy and the dramatic complement one another and are treasured. May we know that here, each contributes in their way to the beauty of the whole. Come, let us worship together, all genders, sexualities, politics, clappers and non-clappers, progressive or conservative, may we root ourselves in the values of this faith: compassion and courage, transcendence, justice and transformation.

Welcoming Song

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

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

Chalice lighting: First Principle Chalice Lighting — Florence Caplow (https://www.uua.org/worship/words/chalice-lighting/first-principle-chalice-lighting)

We light this chalice today in honor of the Unitarian Universalist First Principle: To affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person.

We recognize that these are not just words to be spoken; instead, they call us out of our comfort into an ever-deepening commitment:
a commitment we make to the rights of all whose inherent worth and dignity are denied, diminished, or destroyed by systems of oppression. And they call us into the practice of looking into our own hearts, with courage and honesty.

Principles of Unitarian Universalism
(https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles)

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.

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 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 our time and talents during the next week for this community and for our larger society.

Offertory
Épitaphe de Seikilos, Petros Tabouris Ensemble

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.

Readings:

Jason Lydon, interviewed by Lyra Walsh Fuchs in “Formerly incarcerated, this Unitarian Universalist minister is dedicated to abolishing prisons” (Times West Virginian, 16 April 2021, https://www.timeswv.com/news/national_news/formerly-incarcerated-this-unitarian-universalist-minister-is-dedicated-to-abolishing-prisons/article_b37c86c0-9e1b-11eb-895b-fb0a2162ea59.html)

If I don’t believe God would punish people after death and send them to hell, because God is so loving and because punishment is not salvific, then why would I think punishment would be salvific on earth? That makes no sense. It’s just theologically inappropriate.

Michael McClymond, interviewed by Paul Copan in “How Universalism, ‘the Opiate of the Theologians,’ Went Mainstream” (Christianity Today, March 11, 2019; https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/march-web-only/michael-mcclymond-devils-redemption-universalism.html)

In theological usage, universalism is the doctrine that all human beings — and perhaps all intelligent or volitional beings — will come to final salvation and spend an eternity with heaven in God. This is a theory about a final outcome, and it leaves open the way that this outcome might be attained. One reason my book is so lengthy is that there have been many different kinds of arguments for universal salvation over the last 1,800 years. At certain points, these arguments conflict with one another, so that if someone claims to be a universalist, you might ask: “What sort of universalist are you?”

One division is between the belief that everyone goes immediately to heaven at the moment of death (called “ultra-universalism”) and the belief that many or most people first undergo postmortem suffering (a view I call “purgationism”). This issue was fiercely debated in America during the 19th century, and universalists have never been able to resolve it.

The more robust arguments for universalism hold that God’s purposes in creating the world will fail if even one intelligent creature should finally be separated from God. This line of reasoning implies that not only human sinners but also fallen angels will finally be saved. The title of my book, The Devil’s Redemption, is an allusion to that idea.

Song: The Prisoner’s Song, Vernon Dalhart

Lesson: Punishment and Universal Salvation

Robert Helfer, Lay Leader

A couple of months ago, Bill gave me a link to an article about a young UU minister named Jason Lydon, a one-time prisoner, who was working to eliminate prisons in the United States. He suggested that I might want to post something about his work on the WFUU blog.

I took Bill’s suggestion seriously and pondered what I needed to do. There are complex issues involved, and eventually I decided that I couldn’t really do them justice in a blog post without essentially plagiarizing the article, and even then whatever I said wouldn’t really do anything beyond suggesting that the issues exist. So I sat with my thoughts for a few months, not sure how to proceed. Eventually this opportunity opened to bring my thoughts to the open forum we call our Sunday service, and, I hope, to the comments and criticisms of this community.

The quotation from Jason Lydon that precedes this lesson is from the article Bill gave me, and contains the words that I found most striking about this particular movement. It’s a direct call to universalists (whether with a small u or a large U) to consider how their faith should reflect itself into the world. Specifically, why do we continue to condone temporal punishment while we reject the idea of eternal punishment. It seems to me that this strikes to the heart of universalism, no matter what religious community it inhabits.

I’d thought about justice and imprisonment in the past, but I’d never thought about it overtly from the perspective of Universalism. This was something new.

Now, I think I’ll be wandering into some flaky semi-theology, a little speculation on people and society, a little browsing into our own Universalist history, and possibly a comment or two from my own personal history; please bear with me while I try to find my feet in this. I’ll probably be thinking about this for some time to come.

Of course we all know that being in prison is a terrible thing — you can just ponder the words of all the prison songs and stories of prison life that you’ve heard all your life — and it seems legitimate to think that, as the article says, “in a moral and just society, prisons would not exist”.

Do we live in a “moral and just society”? Not totally, I think; maybe not at all. In any case, prisons exist, and they are bound up into the many structures and customs of the culture around us.

I’m going to try to sort out a few factors, just so we all know what we’re talking about, but first I need to stick in a little personal disclosure; perhaps I have some preconceptions that might affect what I say.

I don’t think Bill realized when he gave me that URL that the issue might be at all personal. Half a century ago I worked for the Illinois Department of Corrections — the people who run the state penal institutions in Illinois. The division I worked for didn’t have any contact with prisons. Instead it was designed to keep young people from involving themselves in activities that would lead to their being in prison. Nevertheless this work (plus my father’s encouragement) lead to my joining both the Illinois Academy of Criminology and the John Howard Association of Illinois, an organization which, according to their web site, “has served as Illinois‘ only independent citizen correctional oversight organization” for more than 118 years.

I stayed with the Department of Corrections only about 3 years, but my father was at that time Public Defender in my rural home county, so my interest endured a bit longer than that, stoked by the work he was doing and the issues he talked about, before I was overwhelmed by different interests and different work.

Please remember as I speak that while I was once involved, I have not been involved in a very long time. I claim absolutely no authority or expertise. Fifty years ago I knew some things; now I know so very little.

So, let’s begin by trying to put prisons into their social context.

What’s a prison for? My father used to call them people warehouses — places where people are stored away, possibly forever, for having transgressed, having violated a law. These are places of punishment, basically. We might talk about law at another time; for now, I’m just going to talk about prisons.

During the 19th and 20th centuries there were movements by energetic “do-gooders” to get rid of the strictest forms of punitive prisons, replacing them with institutions that rehabilitate and retrain convicts, making them into good citizens capable of living in society. Many of these reforms have been successful, and they are still being legislated and expanded, but there are limits.

There are complicating factors. We have, for example, several kinds of for-profit prisons, which make their money by keeping people in prison, or by renting them out as laborers. Certainly, in a “moral and just society”, such things wouldn’t even be imagined.

Our criminal justice systems are also flawed, at least partly because our society has flaws. Vulnerable populations may be disproportionately affected by how we administer the law. I won’t go into detail about this; we’ve all got our opinions, and we’ve all seen the effects of wealth or poverty, social standing, and prejudices in the system.

Nevertheless, crime exists (although perhaps there would be less crime if we created our laws more thoughtfully). And those who do commit crimes must be dealt with.

Underlying whatever we do is what we like to call “justice”. A person wronged wants “justice”, to be “made whole”, as the legal phrase has it, either in the form of revenge or retribution. If someone steals money from me, I want money restored. But if the wrong cannot be righted we still want justice, usually produced by punishing the person judged to be the cause of the wrong.

And here’s where prison comes in to give us part of that justice: punishment, rehabilitation, and public safety. Punish the guilty; rehabilitate the convict to bring them back into society; and, in the meantime, protect society in general from dangers that at least some convicts may threaten.

Modern prisons certainly provide punishment, at least for most convicts. And some of the punishment goes way beyond what seems appropriate, especially for many especially vulnerable populations.

Modern prisons are supposed to provide rehabilitation, a route for a convict to rejoin society. Well, I’ll just say that much and stop, because if I try to expand this even a little bit it will swell into a whole new lesson.

I’m sure you’ve all noticed that I’ve skipped over a huge number of issues. The whole business is complex. And I’m sure you’ve also noticed that I’ve talked about the worldly, apparently avoiding the spiritual questions.

So, now that I’ve rather clumsily and inadequately outlined what prisons are, I can come back around to Jason Lydon’s call for their elimination, and the Universalism underlying his idea.

In case you don’t remember, here’s what he said:

If I don’t believe God would punish people after death and send them to hell, because God is so loving and because punishment is not salvific, then why would I think punishment would be salvific on earth? That makes no sense. It’s just theologically inappropriate.

Now, I think this is a perfectly understandable attitude for a Universalist. But not all Universalists think the same way. Well, maybe I should say “Christian Universalist” here, since it depends on a belief in the Christian God. I think this is a version of “Ultra-Universalism”, the belief the there will be no punishment after death. Most 19th century Universalists believed that souls that had not attained a certain level of righteousness would be held for some period after death in what a Catholic would call Purgatory. And even many “Ultra-Universalists”, while rejecting the notion of punishment after death, believe that the sinful soul is punished/purged during its time on Earth.

Ah, but is that quibbling about Universalism really relevant? I’ve never been in prison, and he has.

Well, I think that if we eliminate all prisons we will still have a problem providing justice for the wronged, rehabilitation for the guilty, and protection for everybody, not that we’ve been doing a fantastic job of providing those things with prisons. Would anyone believe that there was justice for George Floyd if Derek Chauvin had not be sent to prison? If he had received probation? If he had simply been released with the admonition “go and sin no more”?

But beyond all that, where does the First Principle fit into the criminal justice system, whether we have prisons or not? But this discussion could go on forever (and I hope that it does both within this community and the wider community in general) so I think I’ll stop there for today.

Music: Drift Away, Dobie Gray

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: May We Never Rest — John Cummins (https://www.uua.org/worship/words/closing/6028.shtml)

May we never rest until every child of earth in every generation is free from all prisons of the mind and of the body and of the spirit;

until the earth and the hills and the seas shall dance, and the universe itself resound with the joyful cry: “Behold! I am!”

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

Go now in peace.

Sunday, 20 June, 2021: Thinking Too Freely?

Freethinkers were fine people, but they shouldn’t go around thinking just anything. — Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

In the turmoil of early 19th Century religious thought in the United States, the Universalist minister Abner Kneeland set a high standard for controversy. A supporter of radical social reform, women’s rights, birth control, and interracial marriage, his views were too much even for the Universalists, who by 1830 had kicked him out of the denomination. In 1838 he became the last person imprisoned in the United States for blasphemy.

Welcome before prelude

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

Thank you for joining us.

Let us use the prelude for centering. We are about to enter sacred time. We are about to make this time and this place sacred by our presence and intention.

Please silence your phones… and as you do so, I invite us also to turn down the volume on our fears; to remove our masks; and to loosen the armor around our hearts.

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: Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show, Neil Diamond


Welcome: To Learn More About Being Human — Erika A. Hewitt
(https://www.uua.org/worship/words/welcome/learn-more-about-being-human)

Welcome to this morning, this day, and this opportunity to be together in community — which is a time of joy, comfort, and sometimes challenges. This Unitarian Universalist congregation is a place where we come to learn more about being human. We’re not here because we’ve figured out life’s questions, or because we think we’ve got it right.

We come here to learn more about being in relationship together: how to listen, how to forgive, how to be vulnerable, and how to create trust and compassion in one another.

Let us move into worship, willing to be authentic with each other, honest within ourselves, and opening to connection in all its forms.

Song

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

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

Chalice lighting: In Memory of All the Flames – Amarette Callaway
(https://www.uua.org/worship/words/chalice-lighting/memory-all-flames)

In memory of all the flames that didn’t die —
in the midst of darkness,
in spite of the darkness,
we light this flame today.


“The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness did not overcome it.” (John 1:5 NRSV)

Principles of Unitarian Universalism
(https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles)

Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;
  • Acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth in our congregations;
  • A free and responsible search for truth and meaning;
  • The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large;
  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;
  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

Story: How the Wren Became the King of the Birds
A tale from the British Islands, retold by Elizabeth Simpson
(http://littlebrownwren.com/2015/11/24/how-the-wren-became-the-king-of-the-birds/)

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 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 our time and talents during the next week for this community and for our larger society.

Offertory
Épitaphe de Seikilos, Petros Tabouris Ensemble

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: We Are the Earth Upright and Proud
(Singing The Living Tradition, #303)

Readings:

Abner Kneeland, from “Letter to Thomas Whittemore”

Kneeland wrote the following letter to Thomas Whittemore, editor of The Trumpet, in December 1833.

Dear Sir: You observed to me the other day, that people still consider me a Universalist, and said to me “If you will acknowledge that you are not, I will publish it.” I told you, in substance, that in some respects I am still a Universalist; but that in others, I am not. I shall now answer you more at large, which I hope you will publish in full, and thereby redeem your pledge.

I still hold to universal philanthropy, universal benevolence, and universal charity. In these respects, I am still a Universalist. Neither do I believe in punishment after death; so in this also I agree with the Universalists. But as it respects all other of their religious notions in relation to another world or a supposed other state of conscious existence, I do not believe in any of them; to that in this respect, I am no more a Universalist than I am an orthodox Christian.

1. Universalists believe in a god, which I do not; but believe that their god, with all his moral attributes, (aside from nature itself,) is nothing more than a chimera of their own imagination.

2. Universalists believe in Christ, which I do not; but believe that whole story concerning him is as much a fable and a fiction, as that of the god Prometheus, the tragedy of whose death is said to have been acted on the stage in the theatre in Athens, 500 years before the Christian era.

3. Universalists believe in miracles, which I do not; but believe that every pretension to them can either be accounted for on natural principles, or else is to be attributed to mere trick and imposture.

4. Universalists believe in the resurrection of the dead, in immortality and eternal life, which I do not; but believe that all life is mortal, that death is an eternal extinction of life to the individual who possesses it, and that no individual life is, ever was, or ever will be eternal.

Hence, as Universalists no longer wish to consider me as being of their faith, and I no longer wish to be considered as belonging to their order, as it relates to a belief in things unseen, I hope the above four articles will be sufficient to distinguish me from them and them from me. I profess to believe in all realities of which I can form any rational conception, while they believe in what I believe to be mere ideal nothings to which they give both a “location and a name.”

In giving the above a place in the Trumpet you will let me tell your readers, in my own language, what I do, as well as what I do not, believe and thereby oblige your once brother of the same faith with yourself, and still your personal friend.

Abner Kneeland

Abner Kneeland, “A Philosophical Creed”

I believe in the existence of a universe of suns and planets, among which there is one sun belonging to our planetary system; and that other suns, being more remote, are called stars; but that they are indeed suns to other planetary systems. I believe that the whole universe is NATURE, and that the word NATURE embraces the whole universe, and that GOD and NATURE, so far as we can attach any rational idea to either, are perfectly synonymous terms. Hence I am not an Atheist, but a Pantheist; that is, instead of believing there is no God, I believe that in the abstract, all is God; and that all power that is, is in God, and that there is no power except that which proceeds from God. I believe that there can be no will or intelligence where there is no sense; and no sense where there are no organs of sense; and hence sense, will, and intelligence, is the effect, and not the cause, of organization. I believe in all that logically results from these premises, whether good, bad, or indifferent. Hence, I believe, that God is all in all; and that it is in God we live, move, and have our being; and that the whole duty of man consists in living as long as he can, and in promoting as much happiness as he can while he lives.

Lesson: Thinking Too Freely?
Robert Helfer, Lay Leader

“Freethinkers were fine people, but they shouldn’t go around thinking just anything.”
— Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent

Today marks West Virginia’s 158th birthday. It’s also Father’s Day, and, by coincidence, the 111th anniversary of my father’s birth. The United Nations reminds us that it’s also World Refugee Day. And at 11:31 p.m. today the sun will stand still (or something like that), making today the longest day in the year — tomorrow the days begin to shorten again. (Midsummer is still four days in the future.) But as notable as all those things are, I’m not going to talk about any of them. Instead, I’m going to talk about Abner Kneeland.

Some years ago I discovered Kneeland while browsing aimlessly in Ernest Cassara’s Universalism in America: A Documentary History. I was taken by his short “A Philosophical Creed”, which I just read to you, and was somewhat startled by the fact that this statement of faith that seemed so modern and radical dated to 1833. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been, since I’ve known of other, even more radical religious sentiments that date from centuries before Kneeland. But somehow it seemed out of place in the early 19th century. And so, since today I’m to speak on Unitarian Universalist history, Kneeland sprang to mind.

But I need to start this story a bit closer to the beginning.

Abner Kneeland was born April 7, 1774, in Gardner, Massachusetts, to Timothy and Moriah Stone Kneeland. When he was 21, he and his older brother moved to Vermont to follow their father’s carpentry trade. In 1801 Abner joined a Baptist church in Putney, and shortly after that he began to preach. While still preaching as a Baptist, he began reading the works of Elhanan Winchester (the Dictionary of Unitarian & Universalist Biography describes Winchester as “the most wide-ranging and successful 18th century American Universalist evangelist”) and was converted to Universalism. In 1803 he met Hosea Ballou and formed a close friendship with him, and also adoped Ballou’s theology.

In 1804, with John Murray preaching the sermon, Kneeland was ordained as a minister-at-large, and soon became an itinerant preacher in New Hampshire. In 1805 he was ordained again, as settled minister of the church in Langdon, New Hampshire, this time with Ballou delivering the sermon. Lisa has discussed Ballou in the past, and I hope she will again.

Clearly Kneeland was among the stars of Universalism in the early 19th century. He was active in New England Universalist General Convention affairs, serving as treasurer in 1809 and standing clerk in 1811, and with Ballou and Edward Turner compiled a Universalist hymnal. Kneeland contributed 138 of the 410 hymns, but apparently he was getting more radical, and confrontational. One of his hymns, for example, included the words: “As ancient bigots disagree, The Stoic and the Pharisee, So is the modern Christian world/ In superstitious error hurl’d.” — words probably not conducive to good ecumenical relations with more conservative Christian ministers. The Convention declined to publish the hymnal.

In 1811 Kneeland moved to the church in Charlestown, Massachusetts, but in 1814 he suddenly resigned his pulpit and opened a dry goods business with his wife. When the Convention urged him to return to the ministry, he explained that he left the ministry for financial reasons. But he was struggling with doubt. He had come to doubt the authenticity of scripture and the authority of revelation. He turned to his friend Ballou, and they engaged in a debate by correspondence on these issues. Ballou reassured Kneeland, and he returned to the ministry. In 1816 he was settled in the church at Whitestown, New York. But Kneeland’s doubts persisted, and he sought out and read any skeptical literature he could find, including works of Joseph Priestly, beginning a drift toward unitarianism.

Perhaps this is a good time to widen the screen a bit. From around 1790 through 1840, the United States was immersed in what is now called the Second Great Awakening. This was a period of great religious turmoil and enthusiasm. It was a period of intense reassessment of Protestant Christianity. It was the era of Methodist circuit riders seeking out isolated settlers in the wilderness, emotional preaching, religious revivals, including “camp meetings” (such as “Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show”), great increases in church memberships in new churches and, in Wikipedia’s words, “personal connection with God instead of relying on a minister”. New colleges, seminaries, and mission societies were founded. New denominations appeared — Latter Day Saints, Baptists, Shakers, the Adventist movement, and Spiritualism. And it was a time of social activism — abolitionist groups and the Temperance movement.

And in the midst of all this, Kneeland doubted Christianity.

In 1818 he was called to the Lombard Street church in Philadelphia, where he seems nearly immediately to have alienated a portion of the congregation with his non-traditional opinions. He was quite energetic during his time in Philadelphia. The Dictionary of UU Biography reports: “He published sermons and tracts, edited denominational and secular newspapers, compiled a hymnal, made a translation of the New Testament, and developed a new system of spelling. … In addition to these ecclesiastical and scholarly pursuits, Kneeland found time to help his wife with a new store and to serve as government inspector of imported hats.” He also met Robert Owen.

Owen was a Welsh-born industrialist, and Utopian socialist. In 1824 he moved to the United States and soon invested much of his fortune in an experimental socialist community at New Harmony, Indiana. But the frontier in 19th century North America was littered with failed Utopian communities. New Harmony failed after about two years, and in 1828 Owen returned to England. His followers and supporters, called Owenites, continued some of his efforts, but ultimately failed as well. But his thinking was influential in development of cooperatives and the trade union movement, and led to child labor laws and free co-educational schools.

In that brief time, Kneeland became a disciple of Owen. But before his new ideas could affect his position in the Lombard Street church, he moved to the Prince Street church in New York. He was in residence there from 1825 until 1827 when his transformed thinking divided the church. Kneeland and those who supported him then created a new congregation, the Second Universalist Society. And by 1829 Kneeland had managed to alienate this congregation as well.

He had become a notorious freethinker, denounced by churches all through the denomination. But perhaps the last straw for the Universalists was his support of the even more freethinking and scandalous Frances Wright. Fanny Wright was a Scottish-born social reformer. In the Encyclopedia Britannica‘s words, her “revolutionary views on religion, education, marriage, birth control, and other matters made her both a popular author and lecturer and a target of vilification”. And Kneeland didn’t just support her ideas or her right to speak them, he allowed her the use of his pulpit when no one else would let her speak.

Clearly, as far as the Universalists were concerned Kneeland was thinking too freely, and they had had enough. In 1829, under pressure from Ballou, Kneeland voluntarily withdrew from fellowship, and the following year the Convention automatically disfellowshipped him.

Losing his pulpit wasn’t really such a bad thing. His ideas may not have pleased the Universalists, but he definitely still had an audience. In 1831 he moved to Boston and became lecturer for the newly formed First Society of Free Enquirers. The Dictionary of UU Biography reports that he “spoke to over two thousand people at gatherings on Sunday mornings at the Federal Street Theater in Boston, and to as many at his Wednesday evening lectures.” He also published his own newspaper.

Kneeland’s scandalous career eventually caught up with him. He had spoken out not just on religious issues, but also social issues, expressing opinions that must have distressed the conservative population. In 1838 the authorities brought him to trial under the blasphemy laws of Massachusetts’ colonial charter. Quoting once again from the Dictionary of UU Biography,

The prosecution portrayed his blasphemy as part of a pattern with his social thought. They were, in effect, trying him not just for his theology, but for his politics. For Kneeland had not only denounced the conservative influence of religion on society, but he had called for equal rights for women and equality of races. He had suggested women keep their own name and bank accounts. He had spoken out in favor of birth control, divorce, and interracial marriage. The prosecuting attorney for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts warned the jury that if Kneeland were not punished, “marriages [will be] dissolved, prostitution made easy and safe, moral and religious restraints removed, property invaded, and the foundations of society broken up, and property made common.”

It took 5 trials to finally convict Kneeland, and there was a huge uproar. He had many supporters. William Ellery Channing produced a petition to pardon Kneeland, based on freedom of speech and press. Among the many who signed were Ralph Waldo Emerson, Theodore Parker, George Ripley, William Lloyd Garrison, and Bronson Alcott, stars of liberal religion at the time, but not his old friend Ballou. To be fair, though, I should note that petitions in support of the authorities carried more signatures, showing continuing public support for the old law. Channing’s petition was not successful; Kneeland served 60 days in the Boston jail, the last person to be imprisoned for blasphemy in the United States. After his release he moved to Iowa, where, like a good Owenite, he started a small Utopian community that he called Salubria. The community did not survive long after his death in 1844.

Is there something we can learn from this story? I don’t know. But I do think that I need to learn more about this person, who fits so amazingly into a time of transition and who propounded a wide range of social reform. It seems that much of what Kneeland supported would be supported by most current Unitarians and Universalists. And for me it’s a bit disturbing that so much of what he tried to accomplish has not yet happened, some 188 years later. Maybe we’re slow learners.

Music: Drift Away, Dobie Gray

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: Cherish Your Doubts — Michael A Schuler
(https://www.uua.org/worship/words/closing/6006.shtml)

Cherish your doubts, for doubt is the servant of truth.

Question your convictions, for beliefs too tightly held strangle the mind and its natural wisdom.

Suspect all certitudes, for the world whirls on — nothing abides.

Yet in our inner rooms full of doubt, inquiry and suspicion, let a corner be reserved for trust.

For without trust there is no space for communities to gather or for friendships to be forged.

Indeed, this is the small corner where we connect — and reconnect — with each other.

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

Go now in peace.

Announcements, Comments, Shameless Self-Promotions, Etc.

Sunday, January 31, 2021

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.

[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.

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:

Continue reading

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.

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: Get Together, The Youngbloods

Continue reading