The Courage to Be Disliked: Sunday, 20 September 2020

Lisa deGruyter, Lay Leader

Welcome before Prelude

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

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.

God Is A River- Peter Mayer

Opening

The world is holy. Nature is holy. The body is holy. Sexuality is holy. The imagination is holy. Divinity is immanent in nature; it is within you as well as without. Most spiritual paths ultimately lead people to the understanding of their own connection to the divine. While human beings are often cut off from experiencing the deep and ever-present connection between themselves and the universe, that connection can often be regained through ceremony and community. The energy you put out into the world comes back.

― Margot Adler, Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess-Worshippers, and Other Pagans in America

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Sunday, September 13, 2020

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: Stones in My Pocket by Lena Anderssen

Welcome:  Heart full or heart empty by Krista Taves

Song: Sanctuary  X3

Love prepare me, to be a sanctuary

Pure and holy, love right through

With thanksgiving, I’ll be a living

Sanctuary a-new

Chalice Lighting: Global Chalice Lighting: September 2020

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Sunday August 30, 2020: The Great Showman

P.T. Barnum Circus poster

The noblest art is that of making others happy — P.T. Barnum

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert 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: Entry of the Gladiators, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus Band

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

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: Lullabye (Goodnight my Angel) by Billy Joel

Opening Words: Come down off the ladder by David S Blanchard

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Sunday, May 24, 2020: Things Worthy of Remembrance

Ancient stone tomb called Trethevy Quoit, near Tremar Coombe, Cornwall

And lest things worthy of remembrance should perish with time, and fall away from the memory of those who are to come after us, I, seeing these many evils, and the whole world lying as it were in the wicked one, among the dead, waiting for death til it come, as I have truly heard and examined, so have I reduced these things to writing. — Friar John Clyn, 17th June, 1349

In uncertain times, preparing for an uncertain future, are we also leaving a record of what is important in the present?

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert 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 Dust in the Wind – Kansas

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Sunday, April 19, 2020

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: 

Opening Words:  Surrender to This Life by Gretchen Haley

Chalice Lighting: April 2020 – Global Chalice Lighting

Welcome Song: Come, Come Whoever you are

Principles: There are Seven Principles which Unitarian Universalist Congregations affirm and promote

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Sunday, March 1, 2020: Dissent, Heresy, and Toleration

Dissenter of Sidmouth

Tolerance is a social rather than a religious virtue. A broad-minded view of the private belief of others undoubtedly makes for the happiness of society; but it is an attitude impossible for those whose personal religion is strong. For if we know that we have found the key and guiding principle of Life, we cannot allow our friends to flounder blindly in the darkness.

— Steven Runciman, The Medieval Manichee: A Study of the Christian Dualist Heresy

Unitarianism and Universalism were both born in heresy, challenges to the beliefs and mores of the world around them.

Welcome before prelude

Good morning and welcome to West Fork Unitarian Universalists. I’m Robert 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 Belief – John Mayer

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Sunday, February 16, 2020: The Kingdom of God

Some time ago, in a conversation with Wes Jackson in which we were laboring to define the causes of the modern ruination of farmland, we finally got around to the money economy. I said that an economy based on energy would be more benign because it would be more comprehensive.

Wes would not agree. “An energy economy still wouldn’t be comprehensive enough.”

“Well,” I said, “then what kind of economy would be comprehensive enough?”

He hesitated a moment, and then, grinning, said, “The Kingdom of God.”

— Wendell Berry, “Two Economies”

Our lives are embedded in a complex web of interconnections, some of which we can understand and some of which we cannot, some of which we cannot even know. Is that the Kingdom of God?

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: That’s How Every Empire Falls – RB Morris

Welcome: There are some heights to which we have not risen, and never will — Paul H Bicknell
https://www.uua.org/worship/words/opening/5427.shtml

There are some heights to which we have not risen, and never will; there are some depths to which we have not fallen, and never will, we pray. Somewhere between there are places where we can reach up and reach out for the strength we need for our journey.

This is such a place.

Thus we pause for refreshment; thus we worship in thanksgiving.

Song: “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: All the Lights of the Heavens –Cynthia Landrum
https://www.uua.org/worship/words/chalice-lighting/all-lights-heavens

For the wonder and inspiration
We seek from sun and stars
And all the lights of the heavens
We light this chalice.

Principles of Unitarian Universalism
Unitarian Universalist congregations affirm and promote seven Principles:

https://www.uua.org/beliefs/what-we-believe/principles

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

Story for All Ages: By Right of Mercy, by Lin Jensen
from Deep Down Things: The Earth in Celebration and Dismay

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.

Offertory
Épitaphe de Seikilos, Petros Tabouris Ensemble

While you live, shine,
Have no grief at all;
Life exists only for a short while,
And Time demands its toll.

Response (Unison)

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

Song: Earth Is Enough
(Hymns for the Celebration of Life, 180)

Reading: from “Two Economies”, Home Economics, by Wendell Berry

Some time ago, in a conversation with Wes Jackson in which we were laboring to define the causes of the modern ruination of farmland, we finally got around to the money economy. I said that an economy based on energy would be more benign because it would be more comprehensive.

Wes would not agree. “An energy economy still wouldn’t be comprehensive enough.”

“Well,” I said, “then what kind of economy would be comprehensive enough?”

He hesitated a moment, and then, grinning, said, “The Kingdom of God.”

Reading: from The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

After awhile the tenant who could not leave the place came out and squatted in the shade beside the tractor.

“Why, you’re Joe Davis’s boy’!”

“Sure,” the driver said.

“Well, what you doing this kind of work for — against your own people?”

“Three dollars a day. I got damn sick of creeping for my dinner — and not getting it. I got a wife and kids. We got to eat. Three dollars a day, and it comes every day.”

“That’s right,” the tenant said. “But for your three dollars a day fifteen or twenty families can’t eat at all. Nearly a hundred people have to go out and wander on the roads for your three dollars a day. Is that right?”

And the driver said, “Can’t think of that. Got to think of my own kids. Three dollars a day, and it comes every day. Times are changing, mister, don’t you know? Can’t make a living on the land unless you’ve got two, five, ten thousand acres and a tractor. Crop land isn’t for little guys like us any more. You don’t kick up a howl because you can’t make Fords, or because you’re not the telephone company. Well, crops are like that now. Nothing to do about it. You try to get three dollars a day someplace. That’s the only way.”

Lesson: The Kingdom of God
Robert Helfer, Lay Leader

Today I find myself in the midst of several occasions, about which I think I should at least comment. Briefly. Last Friday was St. Valentine’s Day, the day on which we celebrate the patron saint of bee keepers, epilepsy, and fainting, among other things. It also marked the beginning of this year’s four day Great Backyard Bird Count. If you’ve not been counting there’s still time – the count continues through tomorrow. And tomorrow is Presidents’ Day, the US holiday that used to celebrate George Washington but now celebrates all the past Presidents of the United States.

Besides all that, today is also just past the middle of Black History Month. This is important, but I won’t be speaking about it. I’ll not be reciting significant events and people in Black History, mostly because I don’t feel competent to speak about these things without trivializing them, or seeming to steal someone else’s identity. I would, however, like to say one thing. The comedian Dick Gregory once said that February is Black History Month because it’s the shortest month. It’s a pointed comment, with a barb on it. It rings of truth, with an understandable note of bitterness. It makes you think a bit about priorities, our government’s and our own. But despite all that, it’s not quite true.

The origin of Black History Month lies in 1926, the year Carter G. Woodson organized the first “Negro History Week”. Woodson created this observance, because, he said, “the achievements of the Negro properly set forth will crown him as a factor in early human progress and a maker of modern civilization.” And he scheduled the observance for the second week of February because that week included the birthdays of two men whose lives he considered significant for Blacks in the United States: Abraham Lincoln on 12 February and Frederick Douglass on 14 February. Woodson, who established the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History and its journal, The Journal of Negro History, was the son of former slaves and had been for a time a coal miner in West Virginia. Despite the limited educational opportunities available to Blacks of his time, he accomplished much, including a master’s degree in History from the University of Chicago and a doctorate from Harvard – his life is a good case study in resilience. Today he is known as the Father of Black History. In 1976 Woodson’s Negro History Week was expanded to the full month as Black History Month. So, that, despite Gregory is why February.

But that’s not what I want to talk about today. The title I’ve given this talk, which might seem surprising, comes from that little conversation of Wendell Berry’s I read a few minutes ago.

As some may know, Wendell Berry is a long-term environmentalist (very long-term, since the 1960s at least), a poet, and the author of both fiction and non-fiction works. He also farms land on the Kentucky River in Kentucky, land that has been in his family for several generations; and he often writes, and protests, about the plight of rural populations in the face of the degradation of the land by corporate interests – particularly the coal industry.

Berry’s conversation introduces an essay contrasting the world that people can affect with a wider world that people cannot affect, at least not in the same way. He talks of the former as “little economies”, “human economies”, and the latter first as “The Kingdom of God” and then as “The Great Economy”. In Berry’s terms, people live in little economies, but any little economy is dependent upon the Great Economy. “The difference between the Great Economy and any human economy is pretty much the difference between the goose that laid the golden egg and the golden egg. For the goose to have value as a layer of golden eggs, she must be a live goose … The golden egg, on the other hand, can be fully valued by humans according to kind, weight, and measure – but it will not hatch, and it cannot be eaten.”

He’s talking about ecology, of course. And he spends a lot of time talking about topsoil. We all know that we need good topsoil if plants are to grow, if we are to get food from our fields. But topsoil can wander. Notably, it is pulled into the rivers by the natural flow of water across the land. And the rivers then take it on to the sea, where it is lost to us. Waste.

We often talk of waste. I recently read an article that declared that “US Households waste nearly a third of the food they acquire”. But perhaps in a sense nothing is ever actually wasted. Food not eaten by people will be eaten by something else. My compost pile, for example, is currently converting our kitchen vegetable scraps into rich, black dirt. We never ate it, but someone else is now.

Similarly, the topsoil that has left our fields, carrying away the fertility, goes to nourish something else. Perhaps it builds up the river delta, extending the land out into the Gulf and making a fertile base in a different place. That is to say, the concept of waste reflects a human value judgment. Someone or something else gets the benefit, not me.

But Berry emphasizes that human activities, poor farming practices, result in the loss of topsoil; before there was farming, the topsoil stayed put, mostly. And here he points at human economy vs. the Great Economy, and the importance of a human economy that reflects the Great Economy. “Only a little economy, only a good human economy, can define for us the value of keeping the topsoil where it is.”

Well, I guess this is going to be really short, mostly because I’m doing a poor job of saying what I had to say. When I first read Berry’s essay I was intrigued. There is something in the way he blends ecology and Christian beliefs and notions of virtue that appealed strongly to me. But the more I buried myself in my attempt to explain all that the more I realized that my words weren’t doing it. I can think of no better way to explain what I was trying to say than to read this final section of Berry’s essay.

Music: God Bless the Grass – Melvina Reynolds

Joys and Sorrows

If you woke this morning with a sorrow so heavy that you need the help of this community to carry it;

or if you woke with a joy so great that it simply must be shared, now is the time for you to speak.

…..

For the joys and sorrows that haven’t been spoken, but which remain in the silent sanctuaries of our hearts.

…..

These joys and griefs, spoken and unspoken, weave us together in the fabric of community.

Silent Meditation
Let us join our hearts and minds in silent meditation

Song Go Now In Peace (3 times)

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

Closing: from: “The Wood Thrush”, by Sam Keen,
in Sightings: Extraordinary Encounters with Ordinary Birds

The proper name for this experience of unknowing is not mysticism but wisdom. When Socrates was told that the Oracle of Delphi said he was the wisest man in Greece, he replied that it could only mean he knew what he did not know. Wisdom arises from the certain knowledge of our ignorance, and it teaches us that we dwell within a small circle of light surrounded by an immense mystery. According to tradition, the owl — the symbol of Athena, the goddess of wisdom — spreads its wings only with the arrival of dusk. Wisdom is the paradoxical art of seeing in the dark.

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

Go now in peace.

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.