“Hope and Despair”
Worship Script 2
Worship Script (2 of 4)
Speaking Truth to Power
by John Gibb Millspaugh, #30 in Lifting Our Voices
Leave aside the little thoughts that distract you.
For this place, like all places, is a holy place, and
now , like all times, is a holy time.
this community of seekers,
And together, let us find.
HYMN #403 Spirit of Truth, of Life, of Power (sing twice through)
From the Dhammapada, an ancient Buddhist text that presents a wide
array of teachings in an accessible, poetic form. This reading is the first two verses of
Chapter 6, which is titled “The Skilled Person.”
Regard the person who sees your faults
as a revealer of treasures.
Associate with that skilled person
as one who is wise, who speaks reprovingly.
Keeping company with such a person,
things get better, not worse.
They should exhort, instruct,
and restrain you from poor behavior.
To the good, they are endearing,
To the bad they are unpleasant.
“Marginal Wisdom” by Leslie Takahashi
They teach us to read in black and white.
Truth is this—the rest false.
You are whole—or broken.
Who you love is acceptable—or not.
Life tells its truth in many hues.
We are taught to think in either/or.
To believe the teachings of Jesus—OR Buddha.
To believe in human potential—OR a power beyond a single will.
I am broken OR I am powerful.
Life embraces multiple truths, speaks of both, and of and.
We are taught to see in absolutes.
Good versus evil.
Male versus female,
Old versus young,
Gay versus straight.
Let us see the fractions, the spectrum, the margins.
Let us open our hearts to the complexity of our worlds.
Let us make our lives sanctuaries, to nurture our many identities.
The day is coming when all will know
That the rainbow world is more gorgeous than monochrome,
That a river of identities can ebb and flow over the static, stubborn rocks in its course,
That the margins hold the center.
HYMN #1023 Building Bridges
STORY FOR ALL AGES
Let My People Go! by Christopher Buice from "A Bucketful of Dreams: Contemporary Parables for All Ages"
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Rosa, who loved to read her Bible. One of her favorite stories was the story of Moses, and how he helped the Hebrew slaves gain freedom.
Moses was a young man who lived in Egypt. He knew it wasn’t right for the Hebrew people to be the slaves of the Egyptian king, Pharaoh. One day, he heard a voice inside him say, “Moses, go tell Pharaoh to let my people go!”
The voice of conscience was loud and clear for Moses knew right from wrong. He also knew that when one’s conscience speaks the truth, it is the very voice of God. Moses decided that he had to go see Pharaoh and tell him to “Let my people go!”
When the Hebrew people saw Moses walking toward Pharaoh’s palace, a voice in their hearts began to sing:
“Go down, Moses,
Way down in Egypt land,
Tell ol’ Pharaoh,
Let my people go!”
But, when Moses told Pharaoh to free the Hebrew people from slavery, Pharaoh simply said, “No, no, no, no, no.”
Moses said, “Be careful, Pharaoh. All God’s children were born to be free. You may be a king but every child of God has royal blood. No one on earth was born to be a slave. You may say slavery is good but the powers of the earth and sun will rebel against that lie. The waters will turn red. The land will be filled with millions of frogs, gnats, flies, and bugs. Cows, horses, and donkeys will get sick. Hailstorms will send ice falling from the sky that will beat down everything growing in the fields. Egypt will be filled with locusts. And darkness will cover the land, turning day into night. Pharaoh, you are on the side of slavery but the universe is on the side of justice.”
And everything Moses said came to pass. Bad stuff started happening. Bugs, frogs—you name it, it happened. Sometimes Pharaoh would get sick and tired of all the misery and he would tell Moses and the Hebrew people, “You are free to go.”
But, as soon as the Hebrew people started packing their bags, Pharaoh would say, “I’ve changed my mind,” and so they would unpack their bags. Finally, Pharaoh got tired of fighting against the cause of freedom. He got sick and tired of frogs in his food and gnats in his ears. He realized that the universe was on the side of justice, and he told Moses and his people to go.
And they did go. Moses and the Hebrew people marched right out of Egypt singing:
“Ain’t gonna let no Pharaoh turn me round, turn me round, turn me round
I’m gonna keep on walking, keep on talking, marching into freedom land.”
Rosa loved to hear this story of Moses and the Hebrew slaves walking to freedom. But as she grew up and got bigger and taller, she began to look around her at the world in which she lived and she realized something . . . she realized that her people were not free.
Everywhere Rosa looked there were signs that said, “Whites Only.” Black people were not allowed in some parks, motels, lunch counters, swimming pools, and schools. They were told to sit at the back of the bus. If a white person needed the seat then the black person had to stand up and give up their seat. Rosa believed that all people should be treated fairly, and she knew in her heart that these rules were wrong.
A lot of other people agreed with her, and they agreed that they needed to challenge these unfair rules. One day Rosa got on the bus, tired after a long day’s work, and sat down. The bus went down the street a few blocks and stopped to let a lot of people who were mostly white get on board. The bus driver told some of the black passengers, including Rosa, to get up from their seats so that the white folks could sit down.
Everyone obeyed the driver—except Rosa. The bus driver told her again to get up, but she still sat in her seat. The driver threatened to call the police but Rosa still sat in her seat. Finally, the police came to take Rosa down to the station. As the other black passengers watched the police take Rosa away, there was a song in their hearts:
“Go down, Rosa, way down in Alabama,
Tell America, let my people go.”
At the police station they fined Rosa $14. But she had started something the police could not stop. The black people of Montgomery, Alabama, decided that they would not ride the buses until all people were treated fairly. This meant that the bus company would lose money. Now, in Egypt, suffering meant frogs, flies, and rivers turning red. In America, suffering means losing money. After a year of boycotting by black people, the bus company took down their “Whites Only” signs, and Rosa sat on the front seat of that bus. Rosa Parks had started a movement to lead her people from oppression toward equality.
Go down, Rosa, way down in Alabama,
Tell America, let my people go!
“Invocation for a City Council Meeting” by John Saxton, framing words by Emily DeTar Birt
Listen carefully to this prayer, intended for civic leaders.
“Holy One, known by many names and beyond all names—Spirit of Life, Spirit of Love, Spirit of Community, Spirit of Justice:
We ask your blessings on the people who have been called to lead the community in which we live and work and play.
Help them as leaders to not ask first “How do we fix this?” but “What do we need to learn?” “How might we need to change?” and “To whom do we need to listen?”.
Remind them, because we all forget from time to time especially in the noisy-ness of what passes for political debate today, that they are not only leaders but also servants and that it is their responsibility and ours to serve the common good of all.
Remind them that, no matter where we live, everyone—gay, straight, transgender, black or white, Hispanic or Asian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Sikh, or atheist—is our neighbor, our sibling and that throughout the ages prophets have called the leaders of the people to respect and protect the least of those among us—our children, the elderly, the poor, those who are hungry, those who have no homes, those who are ill in body, mind, or spirit, the strangers and immigrants in our midst, those who live on the margins, those who are alone, those who are forgotten.
Grant them and us the wisdom and courage to know and do what is right and good and true. May they and we speak out when it is time to speak out and listen, patiently and receptively, when it is time to listen. May they and we always be guided by the spirit of community, by the spirit of justice, and by the spirit of love.
This we pray in the name of all that we hold sacred and holy—all that we hold good and right and true.
May it be so.”
May we also take these words to heart, for in the community of a congregation we ask each other to be leaders in our community and in the world. Whenever we gather, we are preparing to serve and lead. May we then remember the wisdom and courage to listen, and speak truth in the service of the sacred and holy.
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.
Listening to a Powerful Truth, by Emrys Staton
Who, in your life, speaks truth to you?
In this brief reading from the Dhammapada, what I hear it saying is that we need people
in our lives who can speak truth to us - someone who notices our faults. And I love this
twist to it - upon being revealed to us, our faults are transformed into treasures. Treasures,
because if we are willing to accept honest and truthful feedback, we can become more
aware of who we really are - we receive an opportunity to know ourselves better, and if
needed, to change our ways. Or, as it says, be restrained from poor behavior.
The teaching tells us, “Keeping company with such a person, things get better, not
worse.” We all benefit from those friends and acquaintances who can be honest with us.
The question for us today is…. can we hear it?
One of the bedrocks, the foundations of Unitarian Universalism as a faith, as a religion,
as a movement - is the free and responsible search for truth. All kinds of truth. Scientific
truths, political truths, historical truths, and, as we continually evolve as a faith
community, discovering religious, moral, and philosophical truths.
I would say that this is one of our strongest attractions as a faith - we are a religion that
accepts and affirms scientific truth. But science is only one area where we seek out truth -
I’m also interested in our truths as a human society - how we interact as social and moral
and political beings. Particularly, I’m interested in the kinds of truth that come from
social and political movements, from justice-oriented movements.
We’ve all heard, I hope, of the concept of speaking truth to power. For me, that idea
invokes a deep emotion, something that feels inspiring and invigorating… empowering.
It is the way of the great prophets and leaders.
I imagine some of us have experienced moments in our lives where we were able to
speak truth in the presence of someone that needed to hear it. An employer, a politician or
some person in a powerful position…. someone has heard your words of truth, whether
pre-planned or spontaneous.
Or, there are those moments when we witness this act taking place. When we see
someone else, eloquently and boldly proclaiming the truth, standing up and holding a
person or a system accountable. We cheer them on, right? [ Tell it - go on! ]
As an example, I watched a video recording from a San Francisco city council meeting
last December where Cat Brooks, a co-founder of the Anti Police Terror Project in the
Bay Area, addressed the city council and police chief shortly after, Mario Woods, a black
man was killed. he was shot something like 20 times on a sidewalk by San Francisco
Police Officers on December 2nd - a event documented by bystanders with cell phones.
These are Ms. Brooks’ words to the city council and police chief:
After Mario was murdered, I asked myself, "how long is it going to take the chief to
come to the community and say that we didn't see what we thought we saw on that
How long was it going to take for the police to come out and say [to us] "we didn't
understand the circumstances surrounding that murder." Because that's the tape. That's
what happens every time.
We see what happens, and you trot yourself out and tell us that we are not intelligent
enough to understand that we saw a black man gunned down execution style in broad
daylight in the streets of San Francisco... and somehow you think that talking to us like
we are children, who have not been examining, studying, watching you and your system
for hundreds of years as we figure out how to tear it down, push back, and eventually
win. As you continually talk to us like children, you are inciting the rage of the people. I
want to be clear with you that a new day has come...
To San Francsicso, to Oakland, to Baltimore, to Furgeson, to Atlanta, there is a
movement sweeping this country, and we are not going to stop until you stop killing us.
We will continue to shut it down, to interrupt business as usual. We're going to take to the
streets, and interrupt your election cycles. And I have news for you, Chief Suhr [that’s the
chief of police], we are going to shut it down until you resign, or until each of you get the
courage to fire him.
I got goose bumps listening to Ms. Brooks speak. And then I wondered, did those in
power really hear her? Do they actually hear any of this?
It’s not hard to look at the world today and see all kinds of truths being spoken to power.
The big truths about…. about climate change, about racism, truths about the real
motivations for wars.
And within the broad truths are many more specific truths… That indigenous and poor
communities are often the most severely impacted by climate change. That, when we
look at police violence and prison abuse, its our transgender friends and family and
community members who are treated most brutally, especially trans folks of color. That
women and families take the brunt of the violence from veterans exposed to the violence
of war, or the violence of occupation, or the violence of colonization, the violence of
migration and the violence of poverty.
All this truth is being spoken, reports published, exposés, wikileaks, documentaries, self-published blogs and videos and books, whistleblowers and congressional hearings. We’ve
got letter writing campaigns and online petitions, independent news stations, university
classes, endless hours of youtube videos. Bold protesters interrupting politicians and
blocking streets while speaking truth through megaphones. Dashboard cameras and
bystander cell phone footage capturing police violence. There’s Department of Justice
investigations, Government Accountability Office investigations, Outside investigations,
inside investigations, independent investigations. Investigations of investigations. Pages
of discovery and evidence and findings and de-classified documents…
Our world today is saturated in truths. There is no lack of clear, distilled, well-researched
So again I ask, is “power” listening to all that? Communication of truth is effective only
when it is heard and understood and believed. It seems to me that with all this truth being
spoken, if power was actually, really listening - things would be changing a whole lot
While I was in seminary, the concept of prophetic speech was constantly ringing in our
minds. Most of us took it as a given - speaking truth to power was an expectation of our
In the final year of my program, when we were searching for a new president for the
school…. the candidates each gave a lecture so we could hear them and get a sense of
who they were. One of these candidates, Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima-Brock, was the one I
remember. She is known for some powerful research into the concept of moral injury - or
the idea that soldiers’ souls can be deeply wounded or damaged in the course of war - an
issue entirely separate from post traumatic stress disorder.
Anyways - here I am nearing the end of seminary, and Dr. Nakashima-Brock gives her
talk about speaking truth to power, and she says…. it’s ineffective.
It’s no use to speak truth to power, power doesn’t care about truth, it doesn’t listen to
truth, it’s not threatened by truth… You’re wasting your breath.
Hearing that was like being up in a hot air balloon, and someone just shot a hole in it.
I thought about that statement, my lofty, prophetic ideals careening back towards the
ground... - what did she mean, what she right? Was it true??
Well, if I imagine myself sitting on that San Francisco city council, and hearing someone
speaking truth that I might not want to hear - then yes, what Dr. Nakashima-Brock said
Because, if I’m honest and real about this, I need to recognize that quite often, I am
“power” or a representative of power. When I do that, when I acknowledge and identify
as being on the side of power, I can easily see the times where someone was speaking
truth to me, and I didn’t want to hear it or believe it. ¿How do I hear that person, from the
Dhammapada reading, who is pointing out my faults, or pointing out how I’m complicit
in oppressive systems?
Here’s an illustration of that. So if we acknowledge a big truth, like Patriarchy - it exists
and it takes the basic form of men being more entitled to power and privilege in society.
One of the ways patriarchy manifests itself is through sexism. So far, this sounds OK to
By sexism, I mean both big picture systemic discrimination, like how men still receive
higher wages than women for similar work. Or the sexism that plays out in day to day life
- like women being catcalled, whistled at, and stared at on the streets by men. And I’m
still OK with hearing these truths - and there are many others that go along with it.
But, when it comes to me, personally, that’s when my reaction starts changing. I am
sexist, and I have done and said sexist things. Hearing that truth is much harder.
And what if it’s real specific - like someone calls me out on specific behaviors that are
sexist, that I interrupted and spoke over a woman at a meeting, and I dismissed her ideas
with negative criticism. When it gets personal, I know that I start to find ways to deflect
and avoid the truth. A strong desire to defend myself wells up in me.
That’s the moment, the point to focus on - the moment when I shut down and become
defensive. Maybe that’s what Dr. Nakashima-Brock is getting at in her assessment that
speaking truth to power is ineffective. If power is unwilling or unable to hear it, you’re
wasting your breath.
Perhaps some of you have heard of the book called “The Four Agreements.” It’s a
wonderful book of indigenous Toltec wisdom and teachings, published in the 90s. The
agreements are to be impeccable with your word, don’t make assumptions, don’t take
things personally, and do your best.
The son of the original author released a new version a few years ago called “the fifth
agreement.” What is this new amendment to the first four? “Learn to listen.” As much as
listening is an intellectual endeavor, it is profound spiritual work. Listening is profound
What I find just as impressive as the moments when people are speaking truth to power is
when power is able to listen to that truth. When those in power don’t flinch, don’t deflect,
don’t defend - but listen, and ask questions. How do we train ourselves to listen more, to
listen better, to listen more deeply?
This is our challenge, our calling...to act like the “Skilled Person” of our reading - the one
who welcomes honest, critical feedback, who even seeks it out. And who treats the
feedback as treasure, who is grateful for hard and powerful truth. - we are called to listen
First, we need to acknowledge the places where we hold positions of power. And then the
The lesson in our story for the children from Katie this morning was about speaking your
truth - so I am not saying that we should just stop speaking our truths - but alongside the
speaking, we’ve got a lot of work to do on the listening. Those folks on the San Francisco
City Council, and politicians and leaders all over, have to step up their listening and
With brilliant truth being spoken, directed at the powerful - and especially in social
movements around racism and poverty and gender and climate and all these issues that
we and our planet are currently facing - I constantly remind myself - “hey, I’m being
asked to listen and understand this - to really hear and believe what these prophetic folks
Even this simple statement, Black Lives Matter - is a truth being spoken to power, to me,
to all of us. As such, it is a treasure.
May we hear the truth around us, and believe it.
And may it continue transforming us into better people.
HYMN #119 Once to Every Soul and Nation
“Having Been the Other” by Natalie Fillmore
May what we know of suffering, redemption, and salvation
Bring us to Love.
Having been the other,
May our hearts exclude no one.
Having been the slave,
May we long to be nobody’s master.