Truth and Lies”

Worship Script 1


 Worship Script (1 of 4)

Examining What Is True

 

OPENING WORDS

We Are Unitarian Universalists by John M Higgins

 

Welcome to this place. This is a home where no revealed truths are promoted and no scripture or human being accepted as infallible. This is a place for searching for truth.

But we are believers. We believe in intellectual freedom; we believe in justice; we believe in compassion and concern for each other and the whole world. We believe in commitment to those ideals which make us caring and active in the struggles for human dignity. We are Unitarian Universalists.

  

HYMN #331 Life is the Greatest Gift of All

 

FIRST READING

“Cherish Your Doubts”, a responsive reading by Robert T. Weston.

 

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

Doubt is the key to the door of knowledge; it is the servant of discovery.

A belief which may not be questioned binds us to error, for there is incompleteness and imperfection in every belief.

Doubt is the touchstone of truth; it is an acid which eats away the false.

Let no one fear the truth, that doubt may consume it; for doubt is a testing of belief.

The truth stands boldly and unafraid; it is not shaken by the testing:

For truth, if it be truth, arises from each testing stronger, more secure.

Those that would silence doubt are filled with fear; their houses are built on shifting sands.

But those who fear not doubt, and know its use, are founded on rock.

They shall walk in the light of growing knowledge; the work of their hands shall endure.

Therefore let us not fear doubt, but let us rejoice in its help:

It is to be the wise as a staff to the blind; doubt is the attendant of truth.

 

 

SECOND READING

Excerpt from “A Theology of Evolution” by Elizabeth Strong


In 1900 the Rev. Dr. Marion D. Shutter, minister of the Universalist Church of the Redeemer in Minneapolis, Minn. presented 12 lectures titled Applied Evolution in which he placed Darwin’s theories within the context of Universalist theology. Each of these lectures were attended by 1,000 to 1,200 people and were considered seminal in providing Universalists of the time with an understanding of these new theories and how they would strengthened their faith and beliefs.

He began his lectures with a case for how science aided religion by stating that "the long battle between Science and Religion was, to a certain extent, upon both sides a mistake.

"not only is there no real conflict," he stated, "when we come to understand the subject, religion, or religious thought, so far from suffering disaster at the hands of science, has been the actual gainer. It has lost nothing but some unscientific notions that were long, but erroneously, supposed to belong to religion. It is better without them. It stands upon solider footing. It can make stronger appeal to the human intellect."

  

HYMN #343 A Firemist and a Planet

 

STORY FOR ALL AGES
Special Glasses by  Shari Woodbury

 

Good morning! Do you notice anything different about me today? That’s right, I’m wearing glasses. Have you seen glasses like these before? Any idea where I might have gotten them?

They came from a 3-D movie theater and a movie where, if you put on these special glasses, some of things you see become more full: 3-dimensional. Instead of just flat on the screen, things are more like real life, where you can reach out and touch that dinosaur or that ship on the ocean or whatever is happening in the movie.

I’m wearing these because I want to talk with you about the way different people experience life differently – a little bit like how a person might see the world differently, depending on whether or not they are wearing glasses and what kind of glasses they are wearing. (Of course, some people use other senses besides their eyes to see.)

Let’s find out what is in the Wonder Box. (shake-a-shake…) Aha! More glasses. I wonder what you notice about these glasses? [the lenses are red] And what about this pair? [the lenses are blue]

I need two volunteers: one to wear the red-tinted glasses and one to wear the blue-tinted glasses. These special glasses are big enough that you should be able to put them on even if you already wear regular glasses to help you see. [get glasses on them]

I wonder what this little critter [stuffed lamb] looks like to you? [red glasses]
And how does lambie look to you? [blue glasses]
You can also touch the lamb and tell us how it feels... (For someone who doesn’t see with their eyes, but relies on touch and sound and other senses to perceive the world, this is one of the ways they could learn about lambie.)

Hmmm… how come ____ and ____ have a different perception of this lamb? Why are they giving me some different answers? Oh, because of their glasses!

How does it feel to look around at the congregation with these special glasses? Fun, silly, interesting… maybe a little strange, maybe a little confusing or uncomfortable. I guess it’s different than what you are used to.

So these glasses are a little bit like culture – ways that we understand the world around us and learn how to fit into it. We learn how to get along in life and make sense of the world through our family especially. Like how to dress, what to eat, our ideas about what is beautiful, the way we structure our day and relate to time, how we make decisions, how we express ourselves with our voices and bodies… there are so many things that you as children have been learning from the people around you, especially your families. After a while we may forget that these are things that we learned. They just seem like “the way life is.”

We learn our culture from other places too: from school, and what we call pop culture (movies, tv, music), and friends. And where else do we learn about how to make sense of the world and how to behave? Yes, here at church.

The thing about culture is, after we learn to understand the world this way, it becomes normal to us. It might even be hard to understand how someone else could have a different point of view.

Even though we might say the glasses are a bit like our culture – they help to color how we perceive the world – in real life it is much harder to “take off our glasses,” or stop understanding life through our culture, through all the ways of being that we have been taught. Let’s say you can’t really take your colorful glasses of culture off. I wonder if there is still a way that you can learn to understand better how your friend with different colored glasses is looking at life?

Well, I have some extra red transparency paper and some extra blue. Let’s see what happens when we put some red on top of your blue, ______, and some blue over your red lenses, _____.
Now what does the lamb look like? Aha… purple!? Well that’s neat. You might not be able to take your glasses off and put the other one’s on, but with some effort you can get a bit closer to how the other one is seeing… and suddenly you are experiencing life in a new way! Do you like purple? (me too)

Even though we’ve been talking about seeing as a metaphor, this is about much more than what we see with our eyes, right?… and everyone, whether they literally see or not, has culture – shared ways of making meaning and learning what ways of doing things are normal. I think it’s lovely that we have more than just one culture here at Westside. It makes things more interesting! And I can learn from other people who see differently than I do.

 

MEDITATION

“seeking truth” by Orlanda Brugnola, from Moorings: Moments of Meditation and Prayer.

 

In confusion we seek clarity.

In doubt we seek faith.

In time of questioning,

we seek certainties.

 

May we remember

in our very natures both exist:

            Confusion AND clarity

            Doubt AND faith

            Questioning AND certainty

and that without the first

we would fail the recognize the second.

May we learn to accept

the mystery

that our seeking

is itself a part of the truth

 

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

Hope As the Start of Healing from Mental Health Problems, by Barbara F. Meyers


Introduction
Last week, Liz and I returned from a two week Spanish immersion program in the Yucatán, in Mexico. The immersion was a lovely mix of several things: language, certainly, but also art, culture, and history. For the first week. our maestra, a local college level language teacher, worked with us in both Spanish, but could explain in English if necessary. For the second week, we had a different instructor who knew little English, or else pretended that he knew little English, so we had to communicate in Spanish. and if that didn’t work, he was an actor so we ended up doing a lot of miming and acting stuff out.


One of his exercises asked us to answer questions about our past in Spanish. One are those questions was, “Un lugar que fue esperitual para ti”, that is, “a place that was spiritual for you.” I wrote, “Un lugar que fui espiritual para mi fue ver un sitio “K-T boundary.” that is, “a place that was spiritual for me was seeing the site of the K-T boundary.”


My instructor was curious and asked about this, Qué?


I tried to explain in my very limited, broken, and badly accented Spanish.


En esté lugar fue piedras con la linea desde meteorite? un meteorito (hit) el mundo los seisentey cinco millones años pasado –
In that place was rock with a line from the meteorite that hit the earth 65 million years ago — and killed off the dinosaurs.


Our instructor got the importance of this right away, for that meteorite had hit the Yucatán all those years ago, and every schoolchild learns about the extinction of the dinosaurs.

Sermon Series
This is the fourth in a seven part sermon series on applying the seven principles in the world we currently live. Today we consider the fourth principle, the free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Now if we want to consider the search for truth and meaning, in all its complexity, what better way than to start with the man on the cover of your bulletin?


Evolution Weekend
Today is Charles Darwin’s birthday. He’s on the cover of your bulletin. If he were alive today, his beard might be a lot longer, for he’d be 208 years old.  His theory of evolution by natural selection, is universally accepted by scientists in biological and related fields today. The worrisome thing is that because evolution is not blindingly obvious, only about a third of Americans believe that the theory is true.[1]


We as Americans have a tendency to want to see truth as absolute: a thing is either true or it’s false. We are uncomfortable with doubt and uncertainty, and we avoid these if it all possible. If something is not obviously certain, we’re likely to give it a pass as false.


I wonder if there are things in our history that have led us down this path of truth as certainty. I’m most familiar with the world of science so let me give you some examples from there. Newton’s laws of mechanics were what enabled us to design and build bridges; the laws of thermodynamics allowed us to design and build locomotives and steam engines; faraday’s law allowed us to design generators and motors. All of these laws sounded absolute, and they work, And they helped usher in an age of industrialization and growth. So it’s easy to see how we could be seduced into believing that we could have all answers neat, straight up, absolute, full proof.
What works fairly well with the hard sciences can lead us into trouble in in the softer fields. Let me give you an example from medicine. In 1881, Pres. James Garfield was shot in the train station. He might have lived, but a doctor immediately rush to his side. He was taken back to the White House where no less than a dozen other doctors examined his wound and probed for the bullet. [2]


Now the bullet was in fact lodged in fatty tissue behind the pancreas and if it had been left alone, the tissue would have likely healed around it. But the doctors who examined him did not bother to wash their hands or clean their instruments. You see, they rejected the idea of germ theory of disease, a new idea recently over from Europe, in favor of their older theory that disease came from the bad air. They claimed that since you could not see germs, germs must not exist. Of course germs don’t care if you believe in them or not. And so Garfield became infected, lingering, unable to act as president, and he died in September. By the way, 25th Amendment to the constitution was added to deal with just such situations.


These doctors insisted that their theory of disease was right. We see this same kind of insistence on absolutism carried over today, for example, in the current administration’s denial of climate change. But the case of the current administration is particularly insidious, for not only does it deny climate change, it wants to deny the use of the very tools and approaches to better understand climate change.


At at least the death of Garfield help usher in the use of antiseptic medical practices in America. We don’t know what will be required to usher in a respect for the changing climate in our world.

Absolutes and Relativity
Now while we can see the danger of requiring truths to be so absolute, could we not also make the mistake of going to far the other way? Could we assume that truth is variable from person to person, and group to group? This is of course one of the central claims of the postmodern movement.

This months overarching theme is ‘identity.’ That is, what does it mean to be a community of identity? We as Unitarian Universalists recognize the value of having a wide variety of different identities among us: races, genders, orientations, abilities, and so on. We also recognize that each person’s own experience is their unique truth, and those truths each have value. Further, we know that our identities affect how he sees the world, and so the truth of our experiences are influenced by our identities.

In the analysis following the election, identity politics was criticized as a factor in democratic losses. A New York Times article, “The End of Identity Liberalism”, by Mark Lilla worried that the rise of identity politics among the left may have fed division rather than commonality. The article noted “Liberals should bear in mind that the first identity movement in American politics was the Ku Klux Klan, which still exists. Those who play the identity game should be prepared to lose it.” The article encouraged us to focus on what we share. [3]

And yet. Will trying to find our way to a common truth really get us to a capital-T truth, or simply back to the truth of the hetero white male, again labeled as the truth for everybody?
When I was in my Spanish language class, at one point I was trying to talk about an experience the previous evening — about hundreds of birds roosting and cawing in trees during our evening. I had the odd experience of wanting to say this one way, but feeling the language — or what I knew of it — wanted to pull me in another direction, a more natural direction, different than I would have used in English.

Maybe some of you who are bilingual or multilingual might know what I’m talking about? It was a definite feeling for me.

I realized that I would never notice such a thing in English because English is my first and only language. English is the communicative water in which I swim, and live and do not see.
So to step back and assume we can get to some deeper core truth we first have to notice the waters that we swim in and do not see. As a straight white man I try to be especially careful that

I’m not projecting my experience, my truth, as “the truth”.

As a society, we need to first understand the truths of all of our various identities and only then can we begin to probe for some more profound truth. If beforehand, we need to make assumptions about such a truth, we have to realize that those assumptions are provisional, changeable, and not absolute.

I hope that what you’ve realized by now is that truth, in our understanding as Unitarian Universalists, is not something that is just handed to us. We have to go looking for it. For us, truth is a verb, not a noun. It’s something we do. We search for truth, humble in the realization that the truth we possess right now is incomplete, uncertain, perhaps not quite right.

What to do?
A colleague, a UU minister now serving our association, James Kubal-Komoto, just posted an interesting observation. Reviewing studies from the Vietnam War protest era, he noted that people aren’t really looking for prophetic sermons to inspire them to engage in social justice work. [4] He noted instead that those people who connect with groups — inside or outside the church — are the ones who ultimately engage. They could  connect with any kind of group — for example, our small group ministry, Explorations, which meets next Wednesday, or the Choir on Thursday, or the Meditation group on Friday.

For others, it might start with connecting with action groups outside the church. Board Member Tom Beck started such a discussion a couple of weeks ago, and realized that many people might like a list of organizations whose values more or less align with our principles. His list is included in your Bulletin. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is meant as a starting place for engagement with these groups, many of which have local chapters or sections.

Because most of us feel the need to do something. As writer Lauren Duca says, “Do something.  Angry energy with nowhere to go often turns into despair.”

As time goes on, we hope to offer other ways that we can all be involved in helping to create a more compassionate and just world.

Finding your own truth and meaning.
Returning to the question of truth, we each are doing our own work of ‘truthing’, finding truth, however provisional and personal, that fits our own experience.

For me, my experience of truth aligns most closely with eastern teachings, such as Gandhi’s teachings of satyagraha, that is non-violent resistance, as we heard from Becky earlier. I found his autobiography, titled appropriately “The Story of My Experiments with Truth,” a powerful guide for how he came to his understanding of non-violence. Gandhi wrote this autobiography in the middle of his life, sort of as a self-reflection. Gandhi was criticized for writing an autobiography, as peers saw it as a Western, ego-driven exercise. He responded, “I simply want to tell the story of my numerous experiments with truth, and as my life consists of nothing but those experiments, it is true that the story will take the shape of an autobiography.” But he goes on to say that much of his intent is to describe his experiments with spirituality, with as he puts it, attempts to achieve “self-realization, to see God face-to-face, to achieve Moksha, [we might call it salvation]”. And in his exploration, he finds humility. He says, “But I worship God as Truth only. … As long as I have not realized this Absolute Truth, so long must I hold by the relative truth as I have conceived it.” [5]

And so for me, my experiments have been seeking a kind of non-attachment the psychic trauma of the current governmental situation. The words of the Buddha, in the Dhammapada ring true to me: “For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time: hatred ceases by love, this is an old [truth].”  Know that this is an aspiration, it’s an experiment, a desire, I’m still finding my way.

Which we each do. We each find our own way toward our truth, we each make our own meaning for our lives.

What We Need
What might we need to help us in this search for truth, in these times? Let me offer this small possibility — a poem by the Zen influenced hermit poet David Budbill. He wrote this poem over a decade ago, when a different president was in office, and the country was facing a different turmoil.

In the poem, “What We Need” he said,

The Emperor,
his bullies
and henchmen,
terrorize the world
every day
which is why
every day
we need
a little poem
of kindness,
a small song
of peace,
a brief moment
of joy.

I hope that every day, you can see a little poem of kindness, hear a small song of peace, and experience a brief moment of joy.

 

HYMN #339 Knowledge, They Say

 

BENEDICTION
“The Force of Truth” by Ma Theresa Gustilo Gallardo 

Truth manifests itself with its own force. Let us ride on the power of its revelation with a heart ready to receive, to forgive, and to learn.