Humility”

Worship Script 1


 Worship Script (1 of 5)

“Grounded in Humility”

OPENING WORDS

by Lise Friedman, #4 in Lifting Our Voices

 

We touch the floor

To remember that wherever we bring our best self is holy ground

We reach for the sky

To remember that was are part of a mystery bigger than ourselves

We hold hands

To remember that we need one another and are part of one human family

We join voices

To remember that we each have a gift to offer the world

And to use in making the world a better place.

 

HYMN #359 When We are Gathered

 

FIRST READING

By Hannah Gadsby, transcripted from “Nanette” (2018) Comedy Performance on Netflix

 I do think I have to quit comedy though. And seriously. I know it’s probably not the forum… to make such an announcement, is it? In the middle of a comedy show. But I have been questioning… you know, this whole comedy thing. I don’t feel very comfortable in it anymore. You know… over the past year, I’ve been questioning it, and reassessing. And I think it’s healthy for an adult human to take stock, pause and reassess. And when I first started doing the comedy, over a decade ago, my favorite comedian was Bill Cosby. There you go. It’s very healthy to reassess, isn’t it? And I built a career out of self-deprecating humor. That’s what I’ve built my career on. And… I don’t want to do that anymore. Because, do you understand …do you understand what self-deprecation means when it comes from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation. I put myself down in order to speak, in order to seek permission… to speak. And I simply will not do that anymore. Not to myself or anybody who identifies with me. And if that means that my comedy career is over, then so be it.

 

SECOND READING

“Legacy of Caring’ by Thandeka

Despair is my private pain
    Born from what I have failed to say
        failed to do
        failed to overcome.
Be still my inner self
    let me rise to you
    let me reach down into your pain
    and soothe you.
I turn to you
    to renew my life
I turn to the world
    the streets of the city
         the worn tapestries of
             brokerage firms
             crack dealers
             private estates
             personal things in the bag lady’s cart
        rage and pain in the faces that turn from me
         afraid of their own inner worlds.
This common world I love anew
    as the life blood of generations
           who refused to surrender their humanity
           in an inhumane world
           courses through my veins.
From within this world
    my despair is transformed to hope
    and I begin anew
    the legacy of caring.

 

HYMN #123 Spirit of Life

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
“The Wise Salimai, a Muslim Tale from China” by Sarah Conover , Freda Crane from Tapstery of Faith Stories

 A Muslim folk tale from Ayat Jamilah: Beautiful Signs, A Treasury of Islamic Wisdom for Children and Parents collected and adapted by Sarah Conover and Freda Crane (Spokane: Eastern Washington University Press, 2004); originally from Mythology and Folklore.

Begin by saying, "Today we will hear a story about a wise young girl. She will teach us how love surrounds us in many ways."

Note: "Sailimai" is pronounced SAIL-ee-my. "Hui" is pronounced 'Whee.

Long, long ago in the country of China, lived a young woman of the Muslim Hui people whose name was Sailimai. Although she was a farm girl, too poor to attend school, Sailimai nonetheless paid close attention to life around her. When an old woman in the village needed help, but was too proud to ask for it, Sailimai would know just the right time to visit. When children scraped their knees, Sailimai arrived to assist, even if they were not her own children. She may have been poor and unschooled, but Sailimai possessed a wise and deep heart.

Once, her father-in-law, a carpenter...

(Leader: Who has the hammer that the carpenter used? Please stand.)

...named Ali, was ordered by the emperor to make some repairs in his palace. Fearful of doing less than his best for the emperor, Ali pushed himself to work his very hardest, working both day and night. Yet, as it sometimes happens, the time came when Ali went beyond his limits. Dizzy with fatigue, hands shaking, momentarily careless, Ali tipped over the emperor's most precious vase. The pieces shattered—all too loudly—in the great hall. Servants came running.

Soon enough the emperor heard the story of his ruined, priceless vase.

"Bring this carpenter...

(Leader: Who has the hammer that the carpenter used?)

...to me at once," he demanded.

Handcuffed and escorted by three guards, Ali, trembling, stood speechless before the emperor. The emperor drew his sword. As it hovered over Ali's head, Ali at last spoke up; "Forgive me your worship! I did not mean to break the vase. I promise to pay for it. I promise to pay!"

The emperor lowered his sword just a bit. "A poor, old Hui like yourself could never replace such a treasure. Do not jest with me!"

"Have mercy on me," Ali begged. "I will pay."

The emperor re-sheathed his sword with a sly smile. "Very well old Hui, I do not expect you to replace my vase. Instead, I will give you ten days to find me four things." The emperor hesitated in thought, tugging lightly on his beard. "The first thing you must get me...

(Leader: Who has the "Number 1" sign?)

"...is something more black than the bottom of a pan."

(Leader: Who has the pan?)

"Second: ...

(Leader: Who has the "Number 2" sign?)

"...You must find me something clearer than a mirror."

(Leader: Who has the mirror?)

The emperor waited a moment, watching Ali's reactions, but Ali stared blankly at the floor. The emperor continued. "The third:...

(Leader: Who has the "Number 3" sign?)

"...Something stronger than steel."

(Leader: Who has our strong metal?)

The emperor smirked. "And lastly,...

(Leader: Here is the fourth thing. Who has the "Number 4" sign?)

"...find me something as vast as the sea.

(Leader: Who has the picture of the vast sea?)

"...If you fail at any of these, I will chop off your head." Finished, the emperor smiled broadly, quite pleased with himself.

Ali looked stricken. "How," he wondered, "could I achieve these impossible tasks? Does the emperor simply wish to torture me for the last ten days of my life?" Sick with dread, he hung his head, turned away and headed home.

For the next week he could neither eat nor sleep. His family knew that something was terribly amiss, but Ali would not discuss it. "Please father," Sailimai said, calling her father-in-law by the customary term of respect. "What is the trouble? Perhaps we can help?" Begging and pleading, Sailimai at last coaxed Ali into talking. He cradled his head between his hands and wept as he named the emperor's four impossible tasks.

But Sailimai responded as if these were everyday requests. "This isn't a problem! Father, don't worry. I will have all these things when the emperor comes tomorrow. I shall present them to him myself."

Ali assumed that Sailimai was trying only to comfort him. He didn't want her to get in trouble with the emperor too. "Don't be foolish, Sailimai," he warned. These four things do not exist. The emperor just wanted to make me suffer further before killing me."

Sailimai persisted. "Father, I really do have these things. I know you don't believe me now. But wait until tomorrow. I will show them to both you and the emperor!"

And so it was that the very next day, the tenth day since the broken vase, the emperor appeared—surrounded by troops—at Ali's door. "Old Hui! Come forward and give to me the four things you owe me," bellowed the emperor.

Ali came outside with Sailimai by his side. They both bowed humbly, never daring to meet the emperor's gaze. Sailimai then stepped forward. "Your majesty," she said, "The four things you requested are ready to be presented. Please name them one by one."

"The first thing I must have, "said the emperor, "is that which is more black than the bottom of a pan."

(Leader: Who has our "Number 1" sign?)

He touched the sheath of his sword with a glint in his eye.

Sailimai answered, "This, your majesty, can be found in the bottomless, greedy heart."

The emperor hid his surprise. This girl, he reassured himself, cannot be so smart. She is a farm girl. He nodded briefly, "The next thing you must present is something more clear than a mirror. Do you have that?" he asked.

(Leader: Who has our "Number 2" sign?)

Sailimai answered: "Yes, knowledge offers a clarity greater than any mirror."

The emperor looked dumbstruck. "Well," he stammered, " Do you have something stronger than steel to give me?"

(Leader: Who has our "Number 3" sign?)

"Love," said Sailimai, "is the strongest thing in the world."

Knowing he had been bested, the emperor stood speechless. Ali glanced at Sailimai, and stood a little taller. At last the emperor cleared his throat and made his last request.

(Leader: Who has the "Number 4" sign?)

"And what do you have, that could possibly be as vast as the sea?" he asked.

"A virtuous heart is as vast as the sea, your majesty." Her head lowered, Sailimai smiled and said not more.

Flustered and humbled, the emperor sputtered, "It's time to leave. Old Hui, you are hereby pardoned!" He turned to his troops and shouted, "March!"

As the Emperor of China distanced himself, Sailimai held her father-in-law's hand. Together, she and Ali bowed in relief and gratitude to Allah. Because of Sailimai's wise heart, Ali could now live a long and happy life.

 

MEDITATION
“Acknowledgement of Limitations” by Burton D Carley

 I wonder if the river ever despairs of its downward destiny,
and harbors a secret desire to flow uphill.

I wonder if winter yearns to be summer,
or if a flower wishes it could bloom out of season.

I wonder if silence would like to shout,
or if the sky wants to fall down and become the earth.

I wonder if the bird longs to become a rabbit,
or if the fish ever dreams of walking on the land.

I wonder if the mountains envy the valleys,
or if snow secretly covets the warmth of June.

I wonder if the moon complains that is it not the sun,
or if the stars envy the earth.

I wonder if rain prefers a cloudless sky,
or if grass tires of green and hopes for blue.

I wonder if spring really likes growing,
or if fall rages against its colorful dying.

I wonder if the world ever sighs after more than it is—
like you and I, like you and I.

O Spirit of life, we struggle against our limitations. Teach us to accept them. Amen.

  

CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN

Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives.  As you do, you may briefly share what it is.  We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.

 

SERMON

Humility, by Meg Riley, senior minister, Church of the Larger Fellowship

Perhaps you watched the comedy special on Netflix by Australian comedian Hannah Gadsby, entitled “Nanette.” If you didn’t, perhaps you’ve seen some of the media coverage about it, using words like “game-changing” and “comedic revolution.” Gadsby delivers a show which is part comedy and part deconstruction of comedy, particularly related to gender and sexuality. (She is a lesbian who identifies as female but is often mistaken as male.)

One of the most quoted lines of Gadsby’s show is: “I have built a career out of self-deprecating humor and I don’t want to do that anymore. Because do you understand what self-deprecation means from somebody who already exists in the margins? It’s not humility. It’s humiliation.”

As we explore the theme of humility this month, Gadsby’s words keep coming back to me. When does what appears to be humility become participation in your own humiliation, and when does it not? If a famous, rich, man acts normal and kind we notice with something like amazement, and marvel to one another about how much humility he has. If a poor, unknown, woman acts normal and kind, we might think she should be grateful if we notice her at all. So, what does it really mean to be humble?

The old joke has a rabbi going into the synagogue and crying out to God, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!” Then the cantor comes in and cries, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!” Then the janitor comes in and cries, “I’m nobody! I’m nobody!” The cantor nudges the rabbi and says, “Look who thinks he’s nobody!”

“It’s not my place to be angry on a comedy stage,” Gadsby says. “People feel safer when men do the angry comedy; they’re the kings of the genre. When I do it, I’m just a miserable lesbian ruining all the fun and the banter. When men do it, ‘heroes of free speech!’”

Humility and humiliation come from the same root word, related to humus, earth. And yet our experience of the words is vastly different. Humility radiates from our own center; humiliation is done to us. Humility means we are grounded, of the earth; humiliation is being ground into the dirt. The opposite of humility is arrogance. The opposite of humiliation is respect or honor.

Though we tend to think of humble as our own orientation toward ourselves, when I reflect on it, the people I know who are genuinely humble stand out not because they think little of themselves, but rather because they think with genuine regard of other people. And the people who humiliate other people often seem to do so because they actually have low regard for themselves and want to feel better by putting others down—they don’t think they can afford to lift up others without looking worse themselves. Both humility and humiliation are team sports.

Gadsby is right that self-deprecation might be humility, or it might be humiliation. What can’t be so twisted is sincere and abiding respect for others—not seeing ourselves as either superior or inferior, but rather as simply one among many whose needs and gifts are also important.

When I reflect on it, the most gifted, intelligent, respected, people I know are also humble. This doesn’t mean that most of them don’t have pretty healthy egos. It does mean, however, that they also know and value other people in the worlds they inhabit, for whom they also exhibit great respect.

My favorite singer ever, Ferron, sings in her song “Proud Crowd/ Pride Cried”:

A friend tried to find me and saw through to my wheel

She said you're now on the bottom, it's either that or

the top

You can keep yourself tiny and bang on the big door

Or take the space saved for the queen of the hop…

I’ve always envisioned that wheel she describes, the interplay of “I’m the greatest/ I’m the worst,” as a Ferris wheel, and whether someone is riding high on the top at the moment or down at the very bottom, they’re still on that wheel. We’re all kind of stuck on it, we who wrestle with our egos, and ever shall it be. But perhaps in some ideal world we’d just announce we were dizzy and climb out of the little car.

We’d climb out of the car where our feet had been dangling and we’d sit on the bank next to all kinds of other people, knowing we were one among many, knowing that each of us had gifts and each had liabilities, each held an important piece of the puzzle but not the whole thing, each needed the others to be whole and human. On that bank, I think we’d know real humility.

HYMN #338 I Seek the Spirit of a Child

 

BENEDICTION
By Jay E Abernathy, Jr

 Let us be humble, for the worst thing
in the world is of the same
stuff as we are.

Let us be confident, for we too are
composed of the same stuff
as the stars.

Amen.